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And I have loved thee, Ocean! and my joy
And trusted to thy billows far and near,
hand upon thy mane--as I do here.' It is from an instinctive yearning for natural grandeur and beauty, that, after an admirable comparative sketch of Voltaire and Rousseau, he breaks off:
But let me quit man's works, again to read
His Maker's, spread around me.' And no mortal man ever read them more reverently, or penetrated more deeply into their recondite meanings, or drew from them a finer moral, or breathed round them an atmosphere so charged with the electricity of thought. It is here that he may defy comparison with anywriter since Wordsworth; and yet it is with Nature's works that the Tennysonians claim to be most conversant. They disclaim the mechanical and artificial. The description of natural objects—of hills, dales, trees, flowers, meadows, and rivulets—is their forte ; and their master's use of these materials in his own manner is irreproachable: whether it be the Gardener's daughter, with the shadow of the roses trembling on her waist; or the Miller's daughter, leaning over her long green box of mignonette'; or the Lady of Shalott, with “the leaves upon her falling light'; or the silvery cloud that lost its way in Cnone's glen; or the hollow ocean-ridges, as seen from Locksley Hall. Nothing, generally speaking, can be more appropriately selected, or more artistically employed, than these gems of rural scenery. When they are not a picture in themselves, they form an admirable setting to one : they are always fresh and sweet, always redolent of innocence and simplicity; and it is the reader's, not the poet's fault, if the wicked reflection will occasionally arise
"Oh, Mirth and Innocence, oh, Milk and Water,
Ye happy mixtures of these happy days.' Mr. Tennyson's Nature differs from Byron's as a flower-piece by Van Huysum or an English landscape by Creswick differs from a Salvator Rosa or a Gaspar Poussin. In the elaborate minuteness of his finish, he may be compared to the painters of the pre-Raphaelite school, who (by a perverse abuse of power) convert their backgrounds into foregrounds, and make you look
more at the roses and apple-blossoms than at the damsels who are embowered in them. Minute details are ruinous to great effects, and the poet who rises to sublimity must always rank above the one who simply attains to prettiness. The quality of the aspiration inust cast the balance, assuming the execution to be equal. When Mr. Tennyson is moralising on a bending lily or describing the ripple of the rivulet, Byron is apostrophising a crashing forest or an avalanche, or pouring out his whole mind and soul in unison with the roar of the cataract and the mountain capped with snow. He rises far the highest, and he continues longest on the wing.
We know from long experience that it is useless to refer. To produce the desired impression, or maintain the given argument, we must quote; and we shall quote three of the stanzas on Rome and the Coliseum as a specimen of the poet's power of enveloping the wrecks of vanished empires, the emblems of human vanity, with the halo which he flings around the rocks and valleys of the Alps :
"Oh Rome! my country ! city of the soul !
Whose agonies are evils of a day-
· Arches on arches! as it were that Rome,
For which the palace of the present hour
The Pantheon, St. Peter's, the Venus de' Medici, the Laocoon, the Gladiator-all the finest creations of architecture and sculpture that Italy can boast - are similarly invested with the brightest or deepest hues of poetry. But we can only find room for the Apollo
Or view the Lord of the unerring bow,
And majesty, flash their full lightnings by
A ray of immortality--and stood,
Starlike, around, until they gather'd to a god!' There is hardly any variety of poetic power that may not be illustrated from Don Juan. In the opinion of all competent judges, it forms the copestone of Byron's fame. But it confirmed the worst charges that had been levelled against the spirit, tone, and tendency of his writings, and thereby strengthened the bigoted opposition against which we are at this moment struggling, to the full recognition of his genius by his country
The epithet 'meanest,' attached to the name of a great philosopher, has been merged and forgotten in wisest,'' brightest.' The recent attempt of an accomplished scholar and critic to gauge a great poet by his personal weaknesses has fortunately failed; but the spirit which denied Byron a place in Westminster Abbey is abroad and stirring; and it is melancholy to reflect what an amount of narrow-minded sectarian hostility was brought into mischievous activity by Mrs. Stowe. Hardly an American or foreign journal of note took her part, whilst a majority of the most influential English journals sided with her.
The run against Byron cleared the course for the new comers, but an unusually long interval elapsed before any fresh poet arose to replace him, although several candidates were started or pretenders set up.
• Sir Walter reigned before me, Moore and Campbell
Then there's my gentle Euphues; * who they say
And Wordsworth hath supporters, two or three.' Then came Keats, the alleged victim of a critique in this •Review':
· Tis strange the mind that very fiery particle
Should let itself be snuffed out by an article.' It was the literary lower empire' when (1830) Tennyson made his first appearance, diffident and sensitive, in the arena :
* First Fear his hand, its skill to try,
His reception was not encouraging, despite of an applauding circle of young friends; and his earliest poems, if not actually withdrawn, were suffered to remain out of print for some years, by way of testing the patience of the general public, or to punish them. It was not till after the collected edition of 1842 that he began to be looked upon as the poet of the epoch, or was talked of for the laureate throne.f Except amongst the older race of critics, who remained obdurate and unappreciating, the finer qualities of his genius were then frankly recognised at once. With an inexhaustible fancy, an exquisite perception of moral and natural beauty, a well stored and highly cultivated mind, a trained eye for observation, a rich vocabulary, and a familiarity with rythmical composition acquired in a long apprenticeship to the craft, what more was wanting to entitle him to the throne ?
* Barry Cornwall (Procter).
† When Tennyson published his first poems, the critics spoke ill of them. He was silent: during ten years no one saw his name in a review, nor even in a catalogue. But when he appeared again before the public, his books had made their way alone and underground, and at the first bound he passed for the greatest poet of his country and his time.'—(Taine, vol. iv. p. 432.) Mr. Tennyson's first publication was in 1830; his second in 1832; his third in 1842. As the first and second comprised many of the minor poems most distinctive of his genius, it would be curious to inquire to what change in the public mind it was owing that what was coldly or slightingly received in 1830 and 1832 elicited such enthusiastic applause in 1812.
He wanted spontaneity and continuity; his productions were la boured and disconnected; little interest was felt beyond that of picking out the abounding pearls and rubies at random strung ; the incidents were commonplace; the reflections lay upon the surface; the groundwork was too thin for the embroidery; the foundations were not broad or strong enough for the superstructure; there was no linked sweetness long drawn out; no sustained rush or flow, although we were met at every turn by fountains or jets that sparkled in the moonlight or flashed in the sun. Why did he not carry out the fine conception of “The Poet':
· Dower'd with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn,
The love of love.
And bravely furnished all abroad to fling
Of Hope and Youth. To realise a noble dream like this there must be a set purpose, an appointed goal, a comprehensive plan, an intense earnestness, a pride of genius which will not consent to be frittered away, which will not complacently accept exaggerated congratulations and applause even for the production of such charming specimens of the poetic art as 'Ènone,' The Miller's Daughter,' • A Dream of Fair Women,' • Locksley Hall,' or (a formidable rival to 'Christabel') •The Lady of Shalott.'
Most of Byron's poems were the result of a sudden inspiration, eagerly followed out: he struck, and continued striking, whilst the iron was hot. He never, like Pope, stopped waiting for his imagination for weeks; and he compared himself to the tiger, which, when the first spring fails, withdraws into the jungle with a growl. Mr. Tennyson leaves the impression of a diametrically opposite habit.
conceive him working doggedly against the grain, and overlaying a description, a narrative, or a train of thought, which he had better have left as it originally suggested itself or left alone altogether. The Palace of Art' is overdone; “The Two Voices’ is weakened by dilution: the best of the May Queen' is 'The Conclusion'; and there are verses in The Miller's Daughter' which, diffusely sentimental, ill-harmonise with such as these :
*I loved the brimming wave that swam
Thro' quiet meadows round the mill,