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his art, and of the law of its practice; and it is characteristic of this conclusion that now for the first time he begins that poetry of common human life, of the daily love of child and lover and wife and father and mother, of the ordinary sorrows and joys of men and women, which he wove all his life long with so much sweetness, tenderness, and power, in homespun thread and colour, that there is no class, of whatever rank and knowledge, who will not take pleasure in it for all time, who will not love him for it. What Wordsworth had done for the beginning of this century, Tennyson has done for the midst of it. He brought us into touch with the general human heart in the midst of common life. Shelley, Keats, and Byron had not done this, nor Southey, Coleridge or Scott. Since the waters of the Lyrical Ballads had streamed into the heart of man, this simple, fruitful subject had been neglected by other poets than Wordsworth; this subject which lies among the roots of the tree of all the arts, and which, when other subjects of a more grand or fantastic kind are exhausted, sends its ever youthful life into the tree, and renews the arts. Its essence, pure and faithful love, is eternal in the human heart, and beyond it, in all spirits, and in God Himself. It takes in every true sorrow and true joy. It is universal, and yet its forms are infinite. It is everywhere, like the grass that we love so well, and of which we never weary. All men, women, and children feel and understand it. It varies from the lowest note of the commonplace to the highest note of imaginative passion, and the artist can choose whatever note he pleases to strike.
There are many other subjects for the poet; but if he wish to initiate a new world of song, this is one of the subjects to which he must devote a part of his work; and we shall find, when we are out of this transition period of poetry in which we live at present and are fully wearied with its fantasies of Nature and passion and words, that the poet who will recreate our song will take up again the common love and life of men. He will drink of the wayside fountains of humanity.
It was thus now with Tennyson. this vein with The May Queen, to which the galloping verse has sometimes given an air of sentimentalism. The same thing would have made a different impression had the verse been shorter in line, and a little statelier in form. But it is sweet and gracious enough, and the mother, the poor pretty child and Robin her lover are our friends. He began it also with The Miller's Daughter, a simple story of true sweethearting and married love; but raised by the loveliness of the scenery which is interwoven with charm and grace into the tale, and by the simplicity of the expression, into a steady and grave emotion, worthy of a love built to last for life betwixt a man and woman. This was the sort of love for which Tennyson cared, for which Byron and Shelley did not care, which was not in the world where Keats lived at all-but which was in Wordsworth's world, and which, after all our excursions into phases of passion, is not only the deepest and highest of the affections, but the father and mother of all the other loves of earth. It was first in Tennyson's mind, but it had many companions. Love of
many kinds, joy and sorrow of many kinds, as they were felt by the common human heart, not only by the great, but by the lowly upon earth, were now his interest, and many and lovely were the poems he dedicated to them. Who is likely to forget Dora, The Gardener's Daughter, Sea Dreams, The Brook, Enoch Arden, and a host of others ? This is the democratic element in Tennyson. It is, in all its phases, the democracy of the artist.
THE POEMS OF 1842
I Do not think that since the time of Shakspere there have been in England any poets so close to the life of their own time as Tennyson and Browning; no, not even Wordsworth. Other men, like Pope, have got as close, or even closer, to distinct phases of thought or classes of society, but Tennyson and Browning settled themselves down to paint as far as they could all classes and their interests. They did this in different ways, but they both had a more universal aim than their predecessors, and covered a much larger and more various extent of ground. Of course they had more opportunities, more means. The steam-road, with its rapid travelling, extended literature to the country and brought the country into contact with the towns. The poet in London or the poet in the Isle of Wight touched a great number of different types of men which would have remained unknown to him fifty years before. In the same way the manifold forms of natural scenery in England or abroad were much more easily brought to his knowledge. Moreover, Tennyson and Browning were lucky in their time. Their present was full of aspiration, of ideals, of questioning, of excitement. They were like ships
floating into a great sea-loch, on a brimming tide and with a favouring wind.
Tennyson's interest in the humanity of his own day now grew continuously. I shall show in the next chapter how he could not help modernising the Greek and the romantic subjects of which he treated. Keats went away to Athens or Florence, and living in an alien age forgot his own time. Tennyson said to Ulysses or Arthur, "Come down from the ancient days, and live with me, here in England." And they came, and did their best to wear the modern dress. When we turn from these Greek subjects, we find him altogether English and modern. A series of poems entered into various phases of youthful love. The Gardener's Daughter painted with beauty and simplicity the upspringing of the fountain of love in a young artist's soul, and carried it on to marriage. And the love was set in a framework of soft and flower-haunted English scenery, every touch of which, in Tennyson's way, way, was woven into the feelings of the two young hearts. Moreover, though I think that the collecting of the story round two pictures is awkward, it enables Tennyson to throw over this tale of first love the glamour and tenderness of memory. The man who tells it has lost the wife of his youth, whose picture he shows to his friend. The loveliness of unselfish sorrow, which makes remembrance joyful in regret, veils the story with the delicate vapour of spiritual love. At first reading, there is a want of closeness, of reality in the feeling described. But when we know that it is a mature man recalling what has been when she whom he loved of old has