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ART. VI.- SHORT REVIEWS AND NOTICES.
1.- The Princess. By ALFRED TENNYSON. Boston: W. D.
Ticknor & Co. 1848. 16mo. pp. 168.
On the day after the publication of “ The Princess” we were informed that Timms had pronounced it an entire failure. Timms is a gentleman who readily admits whatever has been universally admitted for a century or two, but has his fears that the world will admire too much. He therefore devotes his energies to putting down all new aspirants to the lucrative office of giving the public a fresh source of delight. He protects his fellow-citizens from being too easily pleased. For this desirable purpose he has erected a small battery, mounted with what he calls the received canons of criticism, and serves the guns himself. When there is no immediate danger of a hostile incursion, he fires at nothing, for practice; and it must be allowed that his shots tell upon this kind of target with admirable precision and effect. It cannot be denied that Timms possesses a large amount of valuable information. He is as familiar with schools of poetry as a Cape Ann fisherman is with schools of mackerel, and regards them very much from the same point of view. He has a notion that Pope and Goldsmith are exactly alike, and that, though nobody can ever be like them, every body ought to be. Within a few years he has made prize of the terms “ objective” and “subjective," which he uses merely as conductors whereby to convey his own confusion of ideas into the heads of other people. He considers poetry as only a convenient disguise assumed by designing men whose real object is to destroy all our time-honored institutions. He has a vague horror floating in his mind with regard to some German school, the master of which must be a very abandoned man, judging from our friend's account of the principles advocated by his scholars. Timms keeps a kind of private Valhalla, into which he admits the statues of such poets only as have nothing dangerous in them. A new idea, a new rhyme, a new metre, constitutes with him a violent presumption of poetical Jacobinism and heresy. Any one of these he considers as a blow aimed at the foundations of society. He only declared peace with Wordsworth on his being appointed laureate, and that out of reverence for an office which had been illustrated by a Pye and a Whitehead. He is a conservative of the amber kind, which conserves only grubs. In short, he is a valuable member of society, and the original (there have been five since,) American Jeffrey.
This fulmination of our respected friend ringing in our ears, we opened the “ Princess" with a tremulous hand. Not that we
ourselves had not been in the habit of interpreting his judgments, like dreams, by contraries, but we feared the effect of his verdict on the public, which has always shown a curious predilection for having its opinions made up for it by its Timmses. We read the book through with a pleasure which heightened to unqualified delight, and ended in admiration. The poem is unique in conception and execution. It is one of those few instances in literature where a book is so true to the idiosyncrasy of its author that we cannot conceive of the possibility of its being written by any other person, no matter how gifted. Had Tennyson left it unfinished, it ald have remained a fragment for ever, like the sto
es of Cambuscan bold and Christabel. We beg pardon, — Mr. Martin Farquhar Tupper has completely finished the latter poem.
We will therefore qualify our remark, and say, that had – The Princess” been broken off in the middle, it would have continued a torso till Providence sent us another Tupper.
In the first place, we must look at the poem not as the work of a beginner, but of an acknowledged poet, and of one who has gained his rank and maintained it by the unerring certainty with which he has produced his effects, and his conscientious adherence to the truths of Art. We know of few poets in whose writings we have found that entire consistency which characterizes those of Tennyson. His conception is always clear, his means exactly adequate, and his finish perfect. So entirely free is he from any appearance of effort, that many have been led to underrate him, and to praise his delicacy at the expense of his strength. It is true that he never wastes an atom of force. He never calls all his muscles into play for the plucking of a flower. Yet he is never found wanting to the demand of the occasion. Milo, with his fingers in the oak-cleft, made, after all, rather a sorry display of sinew. Though one chief characteristic of Tennyson's mind be a flowing grace, and a feminine sensitiveness to every finest gestion of beauty; though thought in him seems to be rather a luxury of sensation than an activity of intellect; though his metres adapt themselves to every subtle winding of expression with the yielding freedom of water, yet his outlines are always sharpcut and severe. Perfection of form seems to be with him a natural instinct, not an attainment. We must therefore regard “The Princess” as the work of a master, and it must argue a poverty in ourselves if we cannot see it as a harmonious whole. fect is Tennyson's appreciation of his own strength, that he has never in a single instance fallen below himself. His self-command is not the least wonderful quality in him.
The growth of the poem is as natural as its plan is original. The gradual absorption of the author in his subject, till what was begun as a song “turns out a sermon,” the growing predominance NO. II.
For so per
of the poet over the mere story-teller, as the higher relations of his subject appeal to him, and the creative faculty feels itself more and more taxed, are exquisitely true to the intellect and the heart. We know of no other man who could have mingled the purely poetical with the humorous in such entire sympathy as nowhere to suggest even a suspicion of incongruity. But Tennyson's humor is peculiar to himself
. It is as refined as all the other parts of his mental constitution. We were about to compare it with Chaucer's. It is as genial and simple, but not so robust. It has more of the polish of society. It is like Addison's, etherealized and sublimated by the poetic sense. It has none of that boisterousness which generally goes with it when it is the predominant quality of the mind. It is not a laugh, but a quiet smile and a light in the eyes. It is a delicate flower which we can perceive and enjoy, but which escapes definition. In short, it is Tennyson's. If we take by itself any one of the little touches of humor scattered through “ The Princess,” it will seem nothing extraordinary, and we shall wonder whither its charm bas flown, so perfectly and artistically dependent on each other are all parts of this delicious poem. For Art is like the invention of the arch. Each piece taken singly, , has no especial fitness. The material is no rarer than that of the Cyclopean doorway, two upright blocks with a third laid across the top. Nor is the idea less simple, after we have once found it out. We feel this book to be so true an expression of the man, its humor is so thoroughly a part of him, and leads up to or falls off from the higher and graver passages with so graceful an undulation, that the whole poem would suffer vitally by losing the least shade of it. It subsides out of the story as unobtrusively as it had entered, at the moment when the interest, becoming concentrated in the deeper moral to which the poem is naturally drawn, necessarily excludes it. The progress of the poem is carried forward, and its movement modulated, with the truest feeling and tact. It is as if some composer, in a laughing mood, had seated himself at the organ to fantasy for the entertainment of a few friends. At first, he is conscious of their presence, and his fingers run lightly over the keys, bringing out combinations of notes swayed quaintly hither and thither by the magnetism of the moment. But gradually he becomes absorbed in his own power and that of his instrument. The original theme recurs less and less often, till at last be soars quite away from it on the uplifting wings of his art.
One striking excellence of Tennyson's poetry, as noticeable in “ The Princess"
as elsewhere, is its repose and equilibrium. There is nowhere the least exaggeration. We are never distracted by the noise of the machinery. No one beauty is so prominent as to divide the effect, and to prevent our receiving the full pleasure arising from our perception of completeness. The leading idea keeps all the rest in perfect subjection. He never gives us too much. With admirable instinct, he always stops short where the reader's imagination may be safely trusted to suggest all the minor accessaries of a thought or a situation. He gives all that is essential, not all that he can. He never indulges his invention with two images, where one is enough. And this self-denial, this entire subordination of the author to his work, has been remarkable in him from the first. It marks the sincere artist, and is worthy of all praise. If some of his earlier poems were chargeable with slighter excesses of mannerism, it was only the mannerism natural to a mind which felt itself to be peculiar, and was too hasty in asserting its peculiarity before it had learned to discriminate clearly between the absolute and the accidental. But he bas long since worked himself clear of this defect, and is now only a mannerist because he is a Tennyson.
The profound and delicate conception of female character for which Tennyson is distinguished, and which, from the nice structure of his mind, we should expect to find in him, is even more perfectly developed in “The Princess” than hitherto. It marks the wisdom of the man no less than the insight of the poet. Whatever any woman may think of the conclusions he arrives at, she cannot help being grateful to the man who has drawn the Lady Psyche and Ida.
The design of “The Princess" is novel. The movement of the poem is epic, yet it is redolent, not of Homer and Milton, but of the busy nineteenth century. There are glimpses of contemporary manners and modes of thought, and a metaphysical question is argued, though without infringing upon the freedom of the story. Indeed, it is the story itself which argues. On the whole, we consider this to be the freest and fullest expression of Tennyson which we have had. The reader will find in it all the qualities for which he is admirable so blended and interfused as to produce a greater breadth of effect than he has elsewhere achieved. The familiarity of some passages, while it is in strict keeping with the character he assumes at the outset, indicates also the singer at last sure of his audience, and reposing on the readiness of their sympathies.
2.-1. Traitement Moral, Hygiène, et Education des Idiots et
des autres Enfants arrièrés, fc. Par EDOUARD SEGUIN. Paris. 1846.
2. De l'Idiotie chez les Enfants, fc. Par Felix VOISIN.
3. Briefe ueber den Abendberg und Heilanstalt fur Cretinismus, von Dr. med. GUGGENBUHL. Zürich. 1846.
During the tempestuous and bloody fermentation of the French Revolution, when the human intellect was goaded into a delirium of excitement and put forth its fiercest energies; when demi-gods struggled with demons; many noble plans for the elevation of humanity were proposed, and partially tried, but speedily failed in consequence of the death of their authors, or were forgotten in the excitement of new and more brilliant schemes. Many of those plans, however, contained germs of vitality which can never perish, and we find them reappearing after long years of neglect and forgetfulness. Among these was the plan of the philosopher and physician Itard, for teaching the SAVAGE OF AVIGNON.
This wild and strange creature in the human form, who was caught in the woods, furnished to the delighted savans of Paris an opportunity of proving the truth of their theory, that man was originally savage, and rose to civilization through long ages of painful travail in barbarism, savagedom, and semi-civilization. They thought that an individual might skip all these transition stages, and become at once a highly civilized being, if he were properly instructed.
Itard undertook to train, teach, and civilize this savage. No one was more capable of the task, and his enthusiastic confederates, accustomed to the rapid changes of the drama of the Revolution, expected that the savage of yesterday would be a petit maître on the Boulevards to-morrow, an haranguer of his fellowcitizens the next day; ready to be a leader of some reform the next week, and a victim to the guillotine the next month.
But Itard failed, because, as it proved, his subject was not a savage, but only an idiot! Itard failed, but truth never fails. He got a glimmer of it; he saw that idiots might be taught; he communicated the feeble light which dawned upon him to one of his disciples, Monsieur Seguin, who, by following it up, has been guided to the knowledge of a method of teaching all idiots, and vastly improving their physical, moral, and mental condition.
The first work named above contains not only the beautiful and satisfactory results of his treatment, but the theory on which he bases all his mental and physical appliances. It is not altogether sound and philosophical, but we have no heart to find fault with a man's philosophy when his practice brings such a harvest of good fruit.
The second work, De l'Idiotie chez les Enfants, par Felix Voisin, shows a more intimate acquaintance with what we regard as the only philosophy which can guide us in training and teaching idiots and backward children; namely, the absolute and entire dependence of all mental manifestations upon the structure and condition of the bodily organization. In all cases where the mind does not manifest itself at the usual period, or in a normal manner, the cause must be sought in some original defect of the physical organization, or in some derangement of its functions.
Voisin is also a practical and successful educator of idiots : his