« AnkstesnisTęsti »
even tried, save a few metrical exercises, for experiment's sake alone, much less to please the popular moment. The thing shaped was the legitimate child of natural thought and natural feeling. Vital sincerity or living correspondence between idea and form, that absolute necessity for all fine art as for all noble life, was his, and it is contained in what I have called his simplicity.
His clearness is also contained in this simplicity -clearness in thought, in expression, and in representation of the outward world, one of the first and greatest things an artist can attain. It is true that Tennyson never went down into the obscure and thorny depths of metaphysics and theology; it is true that he did not attempt to express the more dreadful and involved passions of mankind, such as Shakespeare in his Tragic worked upon, nor the subtle and distant analogies and phases of human rature in which Browning had his pleasure. It was easy, then, it may be said, for him to be clear. But I think it was not from inability to try these subjects that he did not write about them, but from deliberate choice not to write about that which he could not express with lucidity of thought and form. He determined to be clear. He chose plain and easy lines of thought in philosophy and theology, but he expressed them with art—that is, in beautiful form proceeding outwards from impassioned feeling ; and a poem like The Two Voices or Out of the Deep is an instance of the way this was done. The same choice of the easy to be understood presided over his human subjects. For the most part he wrote of the everyday loves and duties of men and women; of the primal pains and joys of humanity; of the
aspirations and trials which are are common to all ages and all classes and independent even of the disease of civilisation; but he made them new and surprising by the art which he added to themby beauty of thought, tenderness of feeling, and exquisiteness of shaping. The main lines of the subjects, even of the classical subjects, are few, are simple, are clear.
And I think all the more that this choice of clearness (of clearness as a part of simplicity) was deliberate, because of his representation of Nature. It is plain that he might have entered into infinite and involuted description; that he could, if he pleased, have expressed the stranger and remoter aspects of Nature, for he had an eye to see everything from small to large. But he selected the simple, the main lines of a landscape or an event of Nature, and rejected the minuter detail or the obscurer relations between the parts of that which he described. What was done was done in the fewest words possible, and with luminous fitness of phrase.
English literature owes him gratitude for this clearness. At a time when we are running close to the edge of all the errors of the later Elizabethans, Tennyson never allowed himself to drift into obscurity of thought or obscurity of expression, and showed (as those did not who restored clearness to English song in the time of Dryden) that simplicity of words, as well as jewelled brightness of thought and description, might be also compact of imagination. The lamp of language which he held in his hand burnt with a bright, keen, and glowing flame. The debt we
owe Tennyson for this is not owed by English literature alone; it is personal also. Every writer should acknowledge the debt and follow the example. Clearness in thought and words ought to be a part of a writer's religion; it is certainly a necessary part of his morality. Nay, to follow clearness like a star, clearness of thought, clearness of phrase, in every kind of life, is the duty of all. But the poets are most bound to feel and fulfil that duty, and it is not one of the least which belong to their art and their influence. Tennyson felt it and fulfilled it.
One other thing I may briefly add to these judgments concerning his simplicity. It is that (after his very earliest work) his stuff is of almost an equal quality throughout. I do not mean that all the poems are equally good, but that the web on which their pattern was woven kept, with but a few exceptions, the same closeness and fineness throughout. The invention, the pictures, the arrangement, and the colouring of the things wrought on the web were variable in excellence, but the stuff was uniform. This is an excessively rare excellence in a poet, and it continued to the close. The workmanship is curiously level from youth to age; and that kind of simplicity has also
its root in character.
Mingled with this simplicity, which was due to the unconscious entrance of his character into his art, there was also in all his poetry, as I have said with regard to his death, a certain stateliness entirely conscious of itself, and arising out of a reverence for his own individuality. The personality of Tennyson, vividly conscious of itself and
respecting itself, pervades his poetry, is part of his art, and gives it part of its power. I have called it self-respecting to distinguish it from the personality of those poets who, like Byron, spread out their personality before us, but whom we cannot suspect of reverencing themselves. "Reverencing themselves " seems an invidious term, but in the case of poets like Tennyson, and there is a distinct class of such poets, it means that they look upon themselves as prophets, as endowed with power to proclaim truth and beauty, as consecrated to do work which will delight, console, and exalt mankind. It is, then, rather their high vocation which they reverence than anything in themselves; and this bestows on all their work that stateliness which is self-conscious, as it were, in all their poems, They are never seen in undress, never without their singing and prophetic robes, never unattended by one or other of the graver Muses.
We have had two great examples of this type of poet in the past. Milton was one, Wordsworth was another. Milton never moved his verse unconscious of Urania by his side. Wordsworth never lost the sense that he was a consecrated spirit. And Tennyson never forgot that the poet's work was to convince the world of love and beauty; that he was born to do that work, and to do it worthily. This is an egotism (if we choose to give it that term) which is charged with power and with fire. Any individuality, conscious of itself, respecting itself because of its faith in a sacred mission entrusted to it and beneath which it may not fall without dishonour, lifts and kindles other individualities, and exalts their views of human life.
It does this work with tenfold greater force when it is in a poet, that is, in one who adds to its moral force the all-subduing power of beauty.
This conviction, which cannot belong to a weak poet, but does (when it is consistent throughout life) belong to poets whose nature is hewn out of the living rock, (enters as stateliness into all their verse, gives it a moral virtue, a spiritual strength, and emerges in a certain grandeur or splendour of style, more or less fine as the character is more or less nobly mixed. This sense of the relation the poet bears to mankind, this sense he has of his office and of the duty it imposes on him, was profoundly felt by Tennyson, became a part of him as an artist, and was an element in every line he wrote. Personal it was, but it was personal for the sake of humanity; and dignity, stateliness in subjects, in thoughts and in style, issued naturally from that conviction.
These are things which belong to a poet's art, but by themselves they would not, of course, make him an artist. The essential difference of an artist is love of beauty and the power of shaping it. The greatness of an artist is proportionate to the depth and truth of his love of beauty; to his faithfulness to it, and to his unremitting effort to train his natural gift of shaping it into fuller ease, power, and permanence. As to beauty itself, men talk of natural beauty, of physical, moral, and spiritual beauty, and these term-divisions have their use; but at root all beauty is one, and these divided forms of it are modes only of one energy, conditioned by the elements through which it passes. They can all pass