By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Alfred Tennyson
Author: Lang, Andrew
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Alfred Tennyson" ***

Transcribed from the 1901 William Blackwood and Sons edition by David
Price, email ccx074@pglaf.org

                          [Picture: Book cover]

                             ALFRED TENNYSON

                                * * * * *

                               ANDREW LANG

                                * * * * *

                        WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
                           EDINBURGH AND LONDON

                                * * * * *


IN writing this brief sketch of the Life of Tennyson, and this attempt to
appreciate his work, I have rested almost entirely on the Biography by
Lord Tennyson (with his kind permission) and on the text of the Poems.
As to the Life, doubtless current anecdotes, not given in the Biography,
are known to me, and to most people.  But as they must also be familiar
to the author of the Biography, I have not thought it desirable to
include what he rejected.  The works of the “localisers” I have not read:
Tennyson disliked these researches, as a rule, and they appear to be
unessential, and often hazardous.  The professed commentators I have not
consulted.  It appeared better to give one’s own impressions of the
Poems, unaffected by the impressions of others, except in one or two
cases where matters of fact rather than of taste seemed to be in
question.  Thus on two or three points I have ventured to differ from a
distinguished living critic, and have given the reasons for my dissent.
Professor Bradley’s _Commentary on In Memoriam_ {1} came out after this
sketch was in print.  Many of the comments cited by Mr Bradley from his
predecessors appear to justify my neglect of these curious inquirers.
The “difficulties” which they raise are not likely, as a rule, to present
themselves to persons who read poetry “for human pleasure.”

I have not often dwelt on parallels to be found in the works of earlier
poets.  In many cases Tennyson deliberately reproduced passages from
Greek, Latin, and old Italian writers, just as Virgil did in the case of
Homer, Theocritus, Apollonius Rhodius, and others.  There are, doubtless,
memory, from an English poet.  But I am less inclined than Mr Bradley to
think that unconscious reminiscence is more common in Tennyson than in
the poets generally.  I have not closely examined Keats and Shelley, for
example, to see how far they were influenced by unconscious memory.  But
Scott, confessedly, was apt to reproduce the phrases of others, and once
unwittingly borrowed from a poem by the valet of one of his friends!  I
believe that many of the alleged borrowings in Tennyson are either no
true parallels at all or are the unavoidable coincidences of expression
which must inevitably occur.  The poet himself stated, in a lively
phrase, his opinion of the hunters after parallels, and I confess that I
am much of his mind.  They often remind me of Mr Punch’s parody on an
unfriendly review of Alexander Smith—

    “Most _women_ have _no character_ at all.”—POPE.

    “No _character_ that servant _woman_ asked.”—SMITH.

I have to thank Mr Edmund Gosse and Mr Vernon Rendall for their kindness
in reading my proof-sheets.  They have saved me from some errors, but I
may have occasionally retained matter which, for one reason or another,
did not recommend itself to them.  In no case are they responsible for
the opinions expressed, or for the critical estimates.  They are those of
a Tennysonian, and, no doubt, would be other than they are if the writer
were younger than he is.  It does not follow that they would necessarily
be more correct, though probably they would be more in vogue.  The point
of view must shift with each generation of readers, as ideas or beliefs
go in or out of fashion, are accepted, rejected, or rehabilitated.  To
one age Tennyson may seem weakly superstitious; to another needlessly
sceptical.  After all, what he must live by is, not his opinions, but his
poetry.  The poetry of Milton survives his ideas; whatever may be the
fate of the ideas of Tennyson his poetry must endure.


     II.  POEMS OF 1831–1833.                    22
    III.  1837–1842.                             35
     IV.  1842–848—THE PRINCESS.                 46
      V.  IN MEMORIAM.                           61
     VI.  AFTER IN MEMORIAM.                     81
    VII.  THE IDYLLS OF THE KING.               103
    VIII  ENOCH ARDEN.  THE DRAMAS.             158
     IX.  LAST YEARS.                           194
      X.  1890.                                 203
     XI.  LAST CHAPTER.                         212


THE life and work of Tennyson present something like the normal type of
what, in circumstances as fortunate as mortals may expect, the life and
work of a modern poet ought to be.  A modern poet, one says, because even
poetry is now affected by the division of labour.  We do not look to the
poet for a large share in the practical activities of existence: we do
not expect him, like Æschylus and Sophocles, Theognis and Alcæus, to take
a conspicuous part in politics and war; or even, as in the Age of Anne,
to shine among wits and in society.  Life has become, perhaps, too
specialised for such multifarious activities.  Indeed, even in ancient
days, as a Celtic proverb and as the picture of life in the Homeric epics
prove, the poet was already a man apart—not foremost among statesmen and
rather backward among warriors.  If we agree with a not unpopular
opinion, the poet ought to be a kind of “Titanic” force, wrecking himself
on his own passions and on the nature of things, as did Byron, Burns,
Marlowe, and Musset.  But Tennyson’s career followed lines really more
normal, the lines of the life of Wordsworth, wisdom and self-control
directing the course of a long, sane, sound, and fortunate existence.
The great physical strength which is commonly the basis of great mental
vigour was not ruined in Tennyson by poverty and passion, as in the case
of Burns, nor in forced literary labour, as in those of Scott and
Dickens.  For long he was poor, like Wordsworth and Southey, but never
destitute.  He made his early effort: he had his time of great sorrow,
and trial, and apparent failure.  With practical wisdom he conquered
circumstances; he became eminent; he outlived reaction against his
genius; he died in the fulness of a happy age and of renown.  This
full-orbed life, with not a few years of sorrow and stress, is what
Nature seems to intend for the career of a divine minstrel.  If Tennyson
missed the “one crowded hour of glorious life,” he had not to be content
in “an age without a name.”

It was not Tennyson’s lot to illustrate any modern theory of the origin
of genius.  Born in 1809 of a Lincolnshire family, long connected with
the soil but inconspicuous in history, Tennyson had nothing Celtic in his
blood, as far as pedigrees prove.  This is unfortunate for one school of
theorists.  His mother (genius is presumed to be derived from mothers)
had a genius merely for moral excellence and for religion.  She is
described in the poem of _Isabel_, and was “a remarkable and saintly
woman.”  In the male line, the family was not (as the families of genius
ought to be) brief of life and unhealthy.  “The Tennysons never die,”
said the sister who was betrothed to Arthur Hallam.  The father, a
clergyman, was, says his grandson, “a man of great ability,” and his
“excellent library” was an element in the education of his family.  “My
father was a poet,” Tennyson said, “and could write regular verse very
skilfully.”  In physical type the sons were tall, strong, and unusually
dark: Tennyson, when abroad, was not taken for an Englishman; at home,
strangers thought him “foreign.”  Most of the children had the
temperament, and several of the sons had some of the accomplishments, of
genius: whence derived by way of heredity is a question beyond
conjecture, for the father’s accomplishment was not unusual.  As Walton
says of the poet and the angler, they “were born to be so”: we know no

The region in which the paternal hamlet of Somersby lies, “a land of
quiet villages, large fields, grey hillsides, and noble tall-towered
churches, on the lower slope of a Lincolnshire wold,” does not appear to
have been rich in romantic legend and tradition.  The folk-lore of
Lincolnshire, of which examples have been published, does seem to have a
peculiar poetry of its own, but it was rather the humorous than the
poetical aspect of the country-people that Tennyson appears to have
known.  In brief, we have nothing to inform us as to how genius came into
that generation of Tennysons which was born between 1807 and 1819.  A
source and a cause there must have been, but these things are hidden,
except from popular science.

Precocity is not a sign of genius, but genius is perhaps always
accompanied by precocity.  This is especially notable in the cases of
painting, music, and mathematics; but in the matter of literature genius
may chiefly show itself in acquisition, as in Sir Walter Scott, who when
a boy knew much, but did little that would attract notice.  As a child
and a boy young Tennyson was remarked both for acquisition and
performance.  His own reminiscences of his childhood varied somewhat in
detail.  In one place we learn that at the age of eight he covered a
slate with blank verse in the manner of Jamie Thomson, the only poet with
whom he was then acquainted.  In another passage he says, “The first
poetry that moved me was my own at five years old.  When I was eight I
remember making a line I thought grander than Campbell, or Byron, or
Scott.  I rolled it out, it was this—

    ‘With slaughterous sons of thunder rolled the flood’—

great nonsense, of course, but I thought it fine!”

It _was_ fine, and was thoroughly Tennysonian.  Scott, Campbell, and
Byron probably never produced a line with the qualities of this nonsense
verse.  “Before I could read I was in the habit on a stormy day of
spreading my arms to the wind and crying out, ‘I hear a voice that’s
speaking in the wind,’ and the words ‘far, far away’ had always a strange
charm for me.”  A late lyric has this overword, _Far_, _far away_!

A boy of eight who knew the contemporary poets was more or less
precocious.  Tennyson also knew Pope, and wrote hundreds of lines in
Pope’s measure.  At twelve the boy produced an epic, in Scott’s manner,
of some six thousand lines.  He “never felt himself more truly inspired,”
for the sense of “inspiration” (as the late Mr Myers has argued in an
essay on the “Mechanism of Genius”) has little to do with the actual
value of the product.  At fourteen Tennyson wrote a drama in blank verse.
A chorus from this play (as one guesses), a piece from “an unpublished
drama written very early,” is published in the volume of 1830:—

    “The varied earth, the moving heaven,
       The rapid waste of roving sea,
    The fountain-pregnant mountains riven
       To shapes of wildest anarchy,
    By secret fire and midnight storms
       That wander round their windy cones.”

These lines are already Tennysonian.  There is the classical transcript,
“the varied earth,” _dædala tellus_.  There is the geological interest in
the forces that shape the hills.  There is the use of the favourite word
“windy,” and later in the piece—

    “The troublous autumn’s _sallow_ gloom.”

The young poet from boyhood was original in his manner.

Byron made him _blasé_ at fourteen.  Then Byron died, and Tennyson
scratched on a rock “Byron is dead,” on “a day when the whole world
seemed darkened for me.”  Later he considered Byron’s poetry “too much
akin to rhetoric.”  “Byron is not an artist or a thinker, or a creator in
the higher sense, but a strong personality; he is endlessly clever, and
is now unduly depreciated.”  He “did give the world another heart and new
pulses, and so we are kept going.”  But “he was dominated by Byron till
he was seventeen, when he put him away altogether.”

In his boyhood, despite the sufferings which he endured for a while at
school at Louth; despite bullying from big boys and masters, Tennyson
would “shout his verses to the skies.”  “Well, Arthur, I mean to be
famous,” he used to say to one of his brothers.  He observed nature very
closely by the brook and the thundering sea-shores: he was never a
sportsman, and his angling was in the manner of the lover of _The
Miller’s Daughter_.  He was seventeen (1826) when _Poems by Two Brothers_
(himself and his brother Frederick) was published with the date 1827.
These poems contain, as far as I have been able to discover, nothing
really Tennysonian.  What he had done in his own manner was omitted,
“being thought too much out of the common for the public taste.”  The
young poet had already saving common-sense, and understood the public.
Fragments of the true gold are found in the volume of 1830, others are
preserved in the Biography.  The ballad suggested by _The Bride of
Lammermoor_ was not unworthy of Beddoes, and that novel, one cannot but
think, suggested the opening situation in _Maud_, where the hero is a
modern Master of Ravenswood in his relation to the rich interloping
family and the beautiful daughter.  To this point we shall return.  It
does not appear that Tennyson was conscious in _Maud_ of the suggestion
from Scott, and the coincidence may be merely accidental.

_The Lover’s Tale_, published in 1879, was mainly a work of the poet’s
nineteenth year.  A few copies had been printed for friends.  One of
these, with errors of the press, and without the intended alterations,
was pirated by an unhappy man in 1875.  In old age Tennyson brought out
the work of his boyhood.  “It was written before I had ever seen Shelley,
though it is called Shelleyan,” he said; and indeed he believed that his
work had never been imitative, after his earliest efforts in the manner
of Thomson and of Scott.  The only things in _The Lover’s Tale_ which
would suggest that the poet here followed Shelley are the Italian scene
of the story, the character of the versification, and the extraordinary
luxuriance and exuberance of the imagery. {7}  As early as 1868 Tennyson
heard that written copies of _The Lover’s Tale_ were in circulation.  He
then remarked, as to the exuberance of the piece: “Allowance must be made
for abundance of youth.  It is rich and full, but there are mistakes in
it. . . . The poem is the breath of young love.”

How truly Tennysonian the manner is may be understood even from the
opening lines, full of the original cadences which were to become so

    “Here far away, seen from the topmost cliff,
    Filling with purple gloom the vacancies
    Between the tufted hills, the sloping seas
    Hung in mid-heaven, and half way down rare sails,
    White as white clouds, floated from sky to sky.”

The narrative in parts one and two (which alone were written in youth) is
so choked with images and descriptions as to be almost obscure.  It is
the story, practically, of a love like that of Paul and Virginia, but the
love is not returned by the girl, who prefers the friend of the narrator.
Like the hero of _Maud_, the speaker has a period of madness and
illusion; while the third part, “The Golden Supper”—suggested by a story
of Boccaccio, and written in maturity—is put in the mouth of another
narrator, and is in a different style.  The discarded lover, visiting the
vault which contains the body of his lady, finds her alive, and restores
her to her husband.  The whole finished legend is necessarily not among
the author’s masterpieces.  But perhaps not even Keats in his earliest
work displayed more of promise, and gave more assurance of genius.  Here
and there come turns and phrases, “all the charm of all the Muses,” which
remind a reader of things later well known in pieces more mature.  Such
lines are—

       “Strange to me and sweet,
    Sweet through strange years,”


    “Like to a low-hung and a fiery sky
    Hung round with _ragged rims_ and burning folds.”


    “Like sounds without the twilight realm of dreams,
    Which wander round the bases of the hills.”

We also note close observation of nature in the curious phrase—

    “Cries of the partridge like a rusty key
    Turned in a lock.”

Of this kind was Tennyson’s adolescent vein, when he left

       “The poplars four
    That stood beside his father’s door,”

the Somersby brook, and the mills and granges, the seas of the
Lincolnshire coast, and the hills and dales among the wolds, for
Cambridge.  He was well read in old and contemporary English literature,
and in the classics.  Already he was acquainted with the singular
trance-like condition to which his poems occasionally allude, a subject
for comment later.  He matriculated at Trinity, with his brother Charles,
on February 20, 1828, and had an interview of a not quite friendly sort
with a proctor before he wore the gown.

That Tennyson should go to Cambridge, not to Oxford, was part of the
nature of things, by which Cambridge educates the majority of English
poets, whereas Oxford has only “turned out” a few—like Shelley.  At that
time, as in Macaulay’s day, the path of university honours at Cambridge
lay through Mathematics, and, except for his prize poem in 1829, Tennyson
took no honours at all.  His classical reading was pursued as literature,
not as a course of grammar and philology.  No English poet, at least
since Milton, had been better read in the classics; but Tennyson’s
studies did not aim at the gaining of academic distinction.  His aspect
was such that Thompson, later Master of Trinity, on first seeing him come
into hall, said, “That man must be a poet.”  Like Byron, Shelley, and
probably Coleridge, Tennyson looked the poet that he was: “Six feet high,
broad-chested, strong-limbed, his face Shakespearian and with deep
eyelids, his forehead ample, crowned with dark wavy hair, his head finely

Not much is recorded of Tennyson as an undergraduate.  In our days
efforts would have been made to enlist so promising a recruit in one of
the college boats; but rowing was in its infancy.  It is a peculiarity of
the universities that little flocks of men of unusual ability come up at
intervals together, breaking the monotony of idlers, prize scholars, and
honours men.  Such a group appeared at Balliol in Matthew Arnold’s time,
and rather later, at various colleges, in the dawn of Pre-Raphaelitism.
The Tennysons—Alfred, Frederick, and Charles—were members of such a set.
There was Arthur Hallam, son of the historian, from Eton; there was
Spedding, the editor and biographer of Bacon; Milnes (Lord Houghton),
Blakesley (Dean of Lincoln), Thompson, Merivale, Trench (a poet, and
later, Archbishop of Dublin), Brookfield, Buller, and, after Tennyson the
greatest, Thackeray, a contemporary if not an “Apostle.”  Charles
Buller’s, like Hallam’s, was to be an “unfulfilled renown.”  Of Hallam,
whose name is for ever linked with his own, Tennyson said that he would
have been a great man, but not a great poet; “he was as near perfection
as mortal man could be.”  His scanty remains are chiefly notable for his
divination of Tennyson as a great poet; for the rest, we can only trust
the author of _In Memoriam_ and the verdict of tradition.

The studies of the poet at this time included original composition in
Greek and Latin verse, history, and a theme that he alone has made
poetical, natural science.  All poetry has its roots in the age before
natural science was more than a series of nature-myths.  The poets have
usually, like Keats, regretted the days when

    “There was an awful rainbow once in heaven,”

when the hills and streams were not yet “dispeopled of their dreams.”
Tennyson, on the other hand, was already finding material for poetry in
the world as seen through microscope and telescope, and as developed
through “æonian” processes of evolution.  In a notebook, mixed with
Greek, is a poem on the Moon—not the moon of Selene, “the orbed Maiden,”
but of astronomical science.  _In Memoriam_ recalls the conversations on
labour and politics, discussions of the age of the Reform Bill, of
rick-burning (expected to “make taters cheaper”), and of Catholic
emancipation; also the emancipation of such negroes as had not yet tasted
the blessings of freedom.  In politics Tennyson was what he remained, a
patriot, a friend of freedom, a foe of disorder.  His politics, he said,
were those “of Shakespeare, Bacon, and every sane man.”  He was one of
the Society of Apostles, and characteristically contributed an essay on
Ghosts.  Only the preface survives: it is not written in a scientific
style; but bids us “not assume that any vision _is_ baseless.”  Perhaps
the author went on to discuss “veridical hallucinations,” but his ideas
about these things must be considered later.

It was by his father’s wish that Tennyson competed for the English prize
poem.  The theme, Timbuctoo, was not inspiring.  Thackeray wrote a good
parody of the ordinary prize poem in Pope’s metre:—

    “I see her sons the hill of glory mount,
    And sell their sugars on their own account;
    Prone to her feet the prostrate nations come,
    Sue for her rice and barter for her rum.”

Tennyson’s work was not much more serious: he merely patched up an old
piece, in blank verse, on the battle of Armageddon.  The poem is not
destitute of Tennysonian cadence, and ends, not inappropriately, with
“All was night.”  Indeed, all _was_ night.

An ingenious myth accounts for Tennyson’s success: At Oxford, says
Charles Wordsworth, the author was more likely to have been rusticated
than rewarded.  But already (1829) Arthur Hallam told Mr Gladstone that
Tennyson “promised fair to be the greatest poet of our generation,
perhaps of our century.”

In 1830 Tennyson published the first volume of which he was sole author.
Browning’s _Pauline_ was of the year 1833.  It was the very dead hours of
the Muses.  The great Mr Murray had ceased, as one despairing of song, to
publish poetry.  Bulwer Lytton, in the preface to _Paul Clifford_ (1830),
announced that poetry, with every other form of literature except the
Novel, was unremunerative and unread.  Coleridge and Scott were silent:
indeed Sir Walter was near his death; Wordsworth had shot his bolt,
though an arrow or two were left in the quiver.  Keats, Shelley, and
Byron were dead; Milman’s brief vogue was departing.  It seemed as if
novels alone could appeal to readers, so great a change in taste had been
wrought by the sixteen years of Waverley romances.  The slim volume of
Tennyson was naturally neglected, though Leigh Hunt reviewed it in the
_Tatler_.  Hallam’s comments in the _Englishman’s Magazine_, though
enthusiastic (as was right and natural), were judicious.  “The author
imitates no one.”  Coleridge did not read all the book, but noted “things
of a good deal of beauty.  The misfortune is that he has begun to write
verses without very well understanding what metre is.”  As Tennyson said
in 1890, “So I, an old man, who get a poem or poems every day, might cast
a casual glance at a book, and seeing something which I could not scan or
understand, might possibly decide against the book without further
consideration.”  As a rule, the said books are worthless.  The number of
versifiers makes it hard, indeed, for the poet to win recognition.  One
little new book of rhyme is so like another, and almost all are of so
little interest!

The rare book that differs from the rest has a _bizarrerie_ with its
originality, and in the poems of 1830 there was, assuredly, more than
enough of the bizarre.  There were no hyphens in the double epithets, and
words like “tendriltwine” seemed provokingly affected.  A kind of
lusciousness, like that of Keats when under the influence of Leigh Hunt,
may here and there be observed.  Such faults as these catch the
indifferent eye when a new book is first opened, and the volume of 1830
was probably condemned by almost every reader of the previous generation
who deigned to afford it a glance.  Out of fifty-six pieces only
twenty-three were reprinted in the two volumes of 1842, which won for
Tennyson the general recognition of the world of letters.  Five or six of
the pieces then left out were added as _Juvenilia_ in the collected works
of 1871, 1872.  The whole mass deserves the attention of students of the
poet’s development.

This early volume may be said to contain, in the germ, all the great
original qualities of Tennyson, except the humour of his rural studies
and the elaboration of his Idylls.  For example, in _Mariana_ we first
note what may be called his perfection and accomplishment.  The very few
alterations made later are verbal.  The moated grange of Mariana in
_Measure for Measure_, and her mood of desertion and despair, are
elaborated by a precision of truth and with a perfection of harmony
worthy of Shakespeare himself, and minutely studied from the natural
scenes in which the poet was born.  If these verses alone survived out of
the wreck of Victorian literature, they would demonstrate the greatness
of the author as clearly as do the fragments of Sappho.  _Isabel_ (a
study of the poet’s mother) is almost as remarkable in its stately
dignity; while _Recollections of the Arabian Nights_ attest the power of
refined luxury in romantic description, and herald the unmatched beauty
of _The Lotos-Eaters_.  _The Poet_, again, is a picture of that which
Tennyson himself was to fulfil; and _Oriana_ is a revival of romance, and
of the ballad, not limited to the ballad form as in its prototype, _Helen
of Kirkconnell_.  Curious and exquisite experiment in metre is indicated
in the _Leonine Elegiacs_, in _Claribel_, and several other poems.
Qualities which were not for long to find public expression, speculative
powers brooding, in various moods, on ultimate and insoluble questions,
were attested by _The Mystic_, and _Supposed Confessions of a Second-rate
Sensitive Mind not in Unity with Itself_, an unlucky title of a
remarkable performance.  “In this, the most agitated of all his poems, we
find the soul urging onward

    ‘Thro’ utter dark a full-sail’d skiff,
    Unpiloted i’ the echoing dance
    Of reboant whirlwinds;’

and to the question, ‘Why not believe, then?’ we have as answer a simile
of the sea, which cannot slumber like a mountain tarn, or

    ‘Draw down into his vexed pools
    All that blue heaven which hues and paves’

the tranquil inland mere.” {16}

The poet longs for the faith of his infant days and of his mother—

    “Thy mild deep eyes upraised, that knew
    The beauty and repose of faith,
    And the clear spirit shining thro’.”

That faith is already shaken, and the long struggle for belief has
already begun.

Tennyson, according to Matthew Arnold, was not _un esprit puissant_.
Other and younger critics, who have attained to a cock-certain mood of
negation, are apt to blame him because, in fact, he did not finally agree
with their opinions.  If a man is necessarily a weakling or a hypocrite
because, after trying all things, he is not an atheist or a materialist,
then the reproach of insincerity or of feebleness of mind must rest upon
Tennyson.  But it is manifest that, almost in boyhood, he had already
faced the ideas which, to one of his character, almost meant despair: he
had not kept his eyes closed.  To his extremely self-satisfied accusers
we might answer, in lines from this earliest volume (_The Mystic_):—

    “Ye scorn him with an undiscerning scorn;
    Ye cannot read the marvel in his eye,
    The still serene abstraction.”

He would behold

    “One shadow in the midst of a great light,
    One reflex from eternity on time,
    One mighty countenance of perfect calm,
    Awful with most invariable eyes.”

His mystic of these boyish years—

       “Often lying broad awake, and yet
    Remaining from the body, and apart
    In intellect and power and will, hath heard
    Time flowing in the middle of the night,
    And all things creeping to a day of doom.”

In this poem, never republished by the author, is an attempt to express
an experience which in later years he more than once endeavoured to set
forth in articulate speech, an experience which was destined to colour
his finial speculations on ultimate problems of God and of the soul.  We
shall later have to discuss the opinion of an eminent critic, Mr Frederic
Harrison, that Tennyson’s ideas, theological, evolutionary, and generally
speculative, “followed, rather than created, the current ideas of his
time.”  “The train of thought” (in _In Memoriam_), writes Mr Harrison,
“is essentially that with which ordinary English readers had been made
familiar by F. D. Maurice, Professor Jowett, Dr Martineau, _Ecce Homo_,
_Hypatia_.”  Of these influences only Maurice, and Maurice only orally,
could have reached the author of _The Mystic_ and the _Supposed
Confessions_.  _Ecce Homo_, _Hypatia_, Mr Jowett, were all in the bosom
of the future when _In Memoriam_ was written.  Now, _The Mystic_ and the
_Supposed Confessions_ are prior to _In Memoriam_, earlier than 1830.
Yet they already contain the chief speculative tendencies of _In
Memoriam_; the growing doubts caused by evolutionary ideas (then familiar
to Tennyson, though not to “ordinary English readers”), the longing for a
return to childlike faith, and the mystical experiences which helped
Tennyson to recover a faith that abode with him.  In these things he was
original.  Even as an undergraduate he was not following “a train of
thought made familiar” by authors who had not yet written a line, and by
books which had not yet been published.

So much, then, of the poet that was to be and of the philosopher existed
in the little volume of the undergraduate.  In _The Mystic_ we notice a
phrase, two words long, which was later to be made familiar, “Daughters
of time, divinely tall,” reproduced in the picture of Helen:—

    “A daughter of the Gods, divinely tall,
       And most divinely fair.”

The reflective pieces are certainly of more interest now (though they
seem to have satisfied the poet less) than the gallery of airy fairy
Lilians, Adelines, Rosalinds, and Eleänores:—

    “Daughters of dreams and of stories,”


    “Faustine, Fragoletta, Dolores,
    Félise, and Yolande, and Juliette.”

Cambridge, which he was soon to leave, did not satisfy the poet.  Oxford
did not satisfy Gibbon, or later, Shelley; and young men of genius are
not, in fact, usually content with universities which, perhaps, are doing
their best, but are neither governed nor populated by minds of the
highest and most original class.

       “You that do profess to teach
    And teach us nothing, feeding not the heart.”

The universities, in fact, teach a good deal of that which can be
learned, but the best things cannot be taught.  The universities give men
leisure, books, and companionship, to learn for themselves.  All tutors
cannot be, and at that time few dreamed of being, men like Jowett and T.
H. Green, Gamaliels at whose feet undergraduates sat with enthusiasm,
“did _eagerly_ frequent,” like Omar Khayyám.  In later years Tennyson
found closer relations between dons and undergraduates, and recorded his
affection for his university.  She had supplied him with such
companionship as is rare, and permitted him to “catch the blossom of the
flying terms,” even if tutors and lecturers were creatures of routine,
_terriblement enfonces dans la matière_, like the sire of Madelon and
Cathos, that honourable citizen.

Tennyson just missed, by going down, a visit of Wordsworth to Cambridge.
The old enthusiast of revolution was justifying passive obedience: thirty
years had turned the almost Jacobin into an almost Jacobite.  Such is the
triumph of time.  In the summer of 1830 Tennyson, with Hallam, visited
the Pyrenees.  The purpose was political—to aid some Spanish rebels.  The
fruit is seen in _Œnone_ and _Mariana in the South_.

In March 1831 Tennyson lost his father.  “He slept in the dead man’s bed,
earnestly desiring to see his ghost, but no ghost came.”  “You see,” he
said, “ghosts do not generally come to imaginative people;” a remark very
true, though ghosts are attributed to “imagination.”  Whatever causes
these phantasms, it is not the kind of _phantasia_ which is consciously
exercised by the poet.  Coleridge had seen far too many ghosts to believe
in them; and Coleridge and Donne apart, with the hallucinations of Goethe
and Shelley, who met themselves, what poet ever did “see a ghost”?  One
who saw Tennyson as he wandered alone at this period called him “a
mysterious being, seemingly lifted high above other mortals, and having a
power of intercourse with the spirit world not granted to others.”  But
it was the world of the poet, not of the “medium.”

The Tennysons stayed on at the parsonage for six years.  But,
anticipating their removal, Arthur Hallam in 1831 dealt in prophecy about
the identification in the district of places in his friend’s
poems—“critic after critic will trace the wanderings of the brook,”
as,—in fact, critic after critic has done.  Tennyson disliked—these
“localisers.”  The poet’s walks were shared by Arthur Hallam, then
affianced to his sister Emily.

POEMS OF 1831–1833.

BY 1832 most of the poems of Tennyson’s second volume were circulating in
MS. among his friends, and no poet ever had friends more encouraging.
Perhaps bards of to-day do not find an eagerness among their acquaintance
for effusions in manuscript, or in proof-sheets.  The charmed volume
appeared at the end of the year (dated 1833), and Hallam denounced as
“infamous” Lockhart’s review in the _Quarterly_.  Infamous or not, it is
extremely diverting.  How Lockhart could miss the great and abundant
poetry remains a marvel.  Ten years later the Scorpion repented, and
invited Sterling to review any book he pleased, for the purpose of
enabling him to praise the two volumes of 1842, which he did gladly.
Lockhart hated all affectation and “preciosity,” of which the new book
was not destitute.  He had been among Wordsworth’s most ardent admirers
when Wordsworth had few, but the memories of the war with the “Cockney
School” clung to him, the war with Leigh Hunt, and now he gave himself up
to satire.  Probably he thought that the poet was a member of a London
clique.  There is really no excuse for Lockhart, except that he _did_
repent, that much of his banter was amusing, and that, above all, his
censures were accepted by the poet, who altered, later, many passages of
a fine absurdity criticised by the infamous reviewer.  One could name
great prose-writers, historians, who never altered the wondrous errors to
which their attention was called by critics.  Prose-writers have been
more sensitively attached to their glaring blunders in verifiable facts
than was this very sensitive poet to his occasional lapses in taste.

_The Lady of Shalott_, even in its early form, was more than enough to
give assurance of a poet.  In effect it is even more poetical, in a
mysterious way, if infinitely less human, than the later treatment of the
same or a similar legend in _Elaine_.  It has the charm of Coleridge, and
an allegory of the fatal escape from the world of dreams and shadows into
that of realities may have been really present to the mind of the young
poet, aware that he was “living in phantasy.”  The alterations are
usually for the better.  The daffodil is not an aquatic plant, as the
poet seems to assert in the first form—

    “The yellow-leavèd water-lily,
    The green sheathed daffodilly,
    Tremble in the water chilly,
       Round about Shalott.”

Nobody can prefer to keep

    “Though the squally east wind keenly
    Blew, with folded arms serenely
    By the water stood the queenly
       Lady of Shalott.”

However stoical the Lady may have been, the reader is too seriously
sympathetic with her inevitable discomfort—

    “All raimented in snowy white
    That loosely flew,”

as she was.  The original conclusion was distressing; we were dropped
from the airs of mysterious romance:—

    “They crossed themselves, their stars they blest,
    Knight, minstrel, abbot, squire, and guest;
    There lay a parchment on her breast,
    That puzzled more than all the rest
       The well-fed wits at Camelot.”

Hitherto we have been “puzzled,” but as with the sublime incoherences of
a dream.  Now we meet well-fed wits, who say, “Bless my stars!” as
perhaps we should also have done in the circumstances—a dead lady
arriving, in a very cold east wind, alone in a boat, for “her blood was
frozen slowly,” as was natural, granting the weather and the lady’s airy
costume.  It is certainly matter of surprise that the young poet’s vision
broke up in this humorous manner.  And, after all, it is less surprising
that the Scorpion, finding such matter in a new little book by a new
young man, was more sensitive to the absurdity than to the romance.  But
no lover of poetry should have been blind to the almost flawless
excellence of _Mariana in the South_, inspired by the landscape of the
Provençal tour with Arthur Hallam.  In consequence of Lockhart’s
censures, or in deference to the maturer taste of the poet, _The Miller’s
Daughter_ was greatly altered before 1842.  It is one of the earliest, if
not the very earliest, of Tennyson’s domestic English idylls, poems with
conspicuous beauties, but not without sacrifices to that Muse of the home
affections on whom Sir Barnes Newcome delivered his famous lecture.  The
seventh stanza perhaps hardly deserved to be altered, as it is, so as to
bring in “minnows” where “fish” had been the reading, and where “trout”
would best recall an English chalk stream.  To the angler the rising
trout, which left the poet cold, is at least as welcome as the “reflex of
a beauteous form.”  “Every woman seems an angel at the water-side,” said
“that good old angler, now with God,” Thomas Todd Stoddart, and so “the
long and listless boy” found it to be.  It is no wonder that the mother
was “_slowly_ brought to yield consent to my desire.”  The domestic
affections, in fact, do not adapt themselves so well to poetry as the
passion, unique in Tennyson, of _Fatima_.  The critics who hunt for
parallels or plagiarisms will note—

    “O Love, O fire! once he drew
    With one long kiss my whole soul thro’
    My lips,”

and will observe Mr Browning’s

       “Once he kissed
    My soul out in a fiery mist.”

As to _Œnone_, the scenery of that earliest of the classical idylls is
borrowed from the Pyrenees and the tour with Hallam.  “It is possible
that the poem may have been suggested by Beattie’s _Judgment of Paris_,”
says Mr Collins; it is also possible that the tale which

       “Quintus Calaber
    Somewhat lazily handled of old”

may have reached Tennyson’s mind from an older writer than Beattie.  He
is at least as likely to have been familiar with Greek myth as with the
lamented “Minstrel.”  The form of 1833, greatly altered in 1842,
contained such unlucky phrases as “cedar shadowy,” and “snowycoloured,”
“marblecold,” “violet-eyed”—easy spoils of criticism.  The alterations
which converted a beautiful but faulty into a beautiful and flawless poem
perhaps obscure the significance of Œnone’s “I will not die alone,” which
in the earlier volume directly refers to the foreseen end of all as
narrated in Tennyson’s late piece, _The Death of Œnone_.  The whole poem
brings to mind the glowing hues of Titian and the famous Homeric lines on
the divine wedlock of Zeus and Hera.

The allegory or moral of _The Palace of Art_ does not need explanation.
Not many of the poems owe more to revision.  The early stanza about
Isaiah, with fierce Ezekiel, and “Eastern Confutzee,” did undeniably
remind the reader, as Lockhart said, of _The Groves of Blarney_.

    “With statues gracing that noble place in,
       All haythen goddesses most rare,
    Petrarch, Plato, and Nebuchadnezzar,
       All standing naked in the open air.”

In the early version the Soul, being too much “up to date,”

    “Lit white streams of dazzling gas,”

like Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford.

    “Thus her intense, untold delight,
    In deep or vivid colour, smell, and sound,
       Was flattered day and night.”

Lockhart was not fond of Sir Walter’s experiments in gas, the “smell”
gave him no “deep, untold delight,” and his “infamous review” was biassed
by these circumstances.

The volume of 1833 was in nothing more remarkable than in its proof of
the many-sidedness of the author.  He offered mediæval romance, and
classical perfection touched with the romantic spirit, and domestic
idyll, of which _The May Queen_ is probably the most popular example.
The “mysterious being,” conversant with “the spiritual world,” might have
been expected to disdain topics well within the range of Eliza Cook.  He
did not despise but elevated them, and thereby did more to introduce
himself to the wide English public than he could have done by a century
of _Fatimas_ or _Lotos-Eaters_.  On the other hand, a taste more
fastidious, or more perverse, will scarcely be satisfied with pathos
which in process of time has come to seem “obvious.”  The pathos of early
death in the prime of beauty is less obvious in Homer, where Achilles is
to be the victim, or in the laments of the Anthology, where we only know
that the dead bride or maiden was fair; but the poor May Queen is of her
nature rather commonplace.

    “That good man, the clergyman, has told me words of peace,”

strikes a note rather resembling the Tennysonian parody of Wordsworth—

    “A Mr Wilkinson, a clergyman.”

_The Lotos-Eaters_, of course, is at the opposite pole of the poet’s
genius.  A few plain verses of the _Odyssey_, almost bald in their
reticence, are the _point de repère_ of the most magical vision expressed
in the most musical verse.  Here is the languid charm of Spenser,
enriched with many classical memories, and pictures of natural beauty
gorgeously yet delicately painted.  After the excision of some verses,
rather fantastical, in 1842, the poem became a flawless masterpiece,—one
of the eternal possessions of song.

On the other hand, the opening of _The Dream of Fair Women_ was marred in
1833 by the grotesque introductory verses about “a man that sails in a
balloon.”  Young as Tennyson was, these freakish passages are a
psychological marvel in the work of one who did not lack the saving sense
of humour.  The poet, wafted on the wing and “pinion that the Theban
eagle bear,” cannot conceivably be likened to an aeronaut waving flags
out of a balloon—except in a spirit of self-mockery which was not
Tennyson’s.  His remarkable self-discipline in excising the fantastic and
superfluous, and reducing his work to its classical perfection of thought
and form, is nowhere more remarkable than in this magnificent vision.  It
is probably by mere accidental coincidence of thought that, in the verses
_To J. S._ (James Spedding), Tennyson reproduces the noble speech on the
warrior’s death which Sir Walter Scott places in the lips of the great
Dundee: “It is the memory which the soldier leaves behind him, like the
long train of light that follows the sunken sun, _that_ is all that is
worth caring for,” the light which lingers eternally on the hills of
Atholl.  Tennyson’s lines are a close parallel:—

    “His memory long will live alone
       In all our hearts, as mournful light
    That broods above the fallen sun,
       And dwells in heaven half the night.”

Though Tennyson disliked the exhibition of “the chips of the workshop,”
we have commented on them, on the early readings of the early volumes.
They may be regarded more properly as the sketches of a master than as
“chips,” and do more than merely engage the idle curiosity of the
fanatics of first editions.  They prove that the poet was studious of
perfection, and wisely studious, for his alterations, unlike those of
some authors, were almost invariably for the better, the saner, the more
mature in taste.  The early readings are also worth notice, because they
partially explain, by their occasionally fantastic and humourless
character, the lack of early and general recognition of the poet’s
genius.  The native prejudice of mankind is not in favour of a new poet.
Of new poets there are always so many, most of them bad, that nature has
protected mankind by an armour of suspiciousness.  The world, and
Lockhart, easily found good reasons for distrusting this new claimant of
the ivy and the bays: moreover, since about 1814 there had been a
reaction against new poetry.  The market was glutted.  Scott had set
everybody on reading, and too many on writing, novels.  The great
reaction of the century against all forms of literature except prose
fiction had begun.  Near the very date of Tennyson’s first volume Bulwer
Lytton, as we saw, had frankly explained that he wrote novels because
nobody would look at anything else.  Tennyson had to overcome this
universal, or all but universal, indifference to new poetry, and, after
being silent for ten years, overcome it he did—a remarkable victory of
art and of patient courage.  Times were even worse for poets than to-day.
Three hundred copies of the new volume were sold!  But Tennyson’s friends
were not puffers in league with pushing publishers.

Meanwhile the poet in 1833 went on quietly and undefeated with his work.
He composed _The Gardener’s Daughter_, and was at work on the _Morte
d’Arthur_, suppressed till the ninth year, on the Horatian plan.  Many
poems were produced (and even written out, which a number of his pieces
never were), and were left in manuscript till they appeared in the
Biography.  Most of these are so little worthy of the author that the
marvel is how he came to write them—in what uninspired hours.  Unlike
Wordsworth, he could weed the tares from his wheat.  His studies were in
Greek, German, Italian, history (a little), and chemistry, botany, and
electricity—“cross-grained Muses,” these last.

It was on September 15, 1833, that Arthur Hallam died.  Unheralded by
sign or symptom of disease as it was, the news fell like a thunderbolt
from a serene sky.  Tennyson’s and Hallam’s love had been “passing the
love of women.”  A blow like this drives a man on the rocks of the
ultimate, the insoluble problems of destiny.  “Is this the end?”
Nourished as on the milk of lions, on the elevating and strengthening
doctrines of popular science, trained from childhood to forego hope and
attend evening lectures, the young critics of our generation find
Tennyson a weakling because he had hopes and fears concerning the
ultimate renewal of what was more than half his life—his friendship.

    “That faith I fain would keep,
       That hope I’ll not forego:
    Eternal be the sleep—
       Unless to waken so,”

wrote Lockhart, and the verses echoed ceaselessly in the widowed heart of
Carlyle.  These men, it is part of the duty of critics later born to
remember, were not children or cowards, though they dreamed, and hoped,
and feared.  We ought to make allowance for failings incident to an age
not yet fully enlightened by popular science, and still undivorced from
spiritual ideas that are as old as the human race, and perhaps not likely
to perish while that race exists.  Now and then even scientific men have
been mistaken, especially when they have declined to examine evidence, as
in this problem of the transcendental nature of the human spirit they
usually do.  At all events Tennyson was unconvinced that death is the
end, and shortly after the fatal tidings arrived from Vienna he began to
write fragments in verse preluding to the poem of _In Memoriam_.  He also
began, in a mood of great misery, _The Two Voices_; _or_, _Thoughts of a
Suicide_.  The poem seems to have been partly done by September 1834,
when Spedding commented on it, and on the beautiful _Sir Galahad_,
“intended for something of a male counterpart to _St Agnes_.”  The _Morte
d’Arthur_ Tennyson then thought “the best thing I have managed lately.”
Very early in 1835 many stanzas of _In Memoriam_ had taken form.  “I do
not wish to be dragged forward in any shape before the reading public at
present,” wrote the poet, when he heard that Mill desired to write on
him.  His _Œnone_ he had brought to its new perfection, and did not
desire comments on work now several years old.  He also wrote his
_Ulysses_ and his _Tithonus_.

If ever the term “morbid” could have been applied to Tennyson, it would
have been in the years immediately following the death of Arthur Hallam.
But the application would have been unjust.  True, the poet was living
out of the world; he was unhappy, and he was, as people say, “doing
nothing.”  He was so poor that he sold his Chancellor’s prize gold medal,
and he did not

       “Scan his whole horizon
    In quest of what he could clap eyes on,”

in the way of money-making, which another poet describes as the normal
attitude of all men as well as of pirates.  A careless observer would
have thought that the poet was dawdling.  But he dwelt in no Castle of
Indolence; he studied, he composed, he corrected his verses: like Sir
Walter in Liddesdale, “he was making himsel’ a’ the time.”  He did not
neglect the movements of the great world in that dawn of discontent with
the philosophy of commercialism.  But it was not his vocation to plunge
into the fray, and on to platforms.

It is a very rare thing anywhere, especially in England, for a man
deliberately to choose poetry as the duty of his life, and to remain
loyal, as a consequence, to the bride of St Francis—Poverty.  This
loyalty Tennyson maintained, even under the temptation to make money in
recognised ways presented by his new-born love for his future wife, Miss
Emily Sellwood.  They had first met in 1830, when she, a girl of
seventeen, seemed to him like “a Dryad or an Oread wandering here.”  But
admiration became the affection of a lifetime when Tennyson met Miss
Sellwood as bridesmaid to her sister, the bride of his brother Charles,
in 1836.  The poet could not afford to marry, and, like the hero of
_Locksley Hall_, he may have asked himself, “What is that which I should
do?”  By 1840 he had done nothing tangible and lucrative, and
correspondence between the lovers was forbidden.  That neither dreamed of
Tennyson’s deserting poetry for a more normal profession proved of great
benefit to the world.  The course is one which could only be justified by
the absolute certainty of possessing genius.


IN 1837 the Tennysons left the old rectory; till 1840 they lived at High
Beech in Epping Forest, and after a brief stay at Tunbridge Wells went to
Boxley, near Maidstone.

It appears that at last the poet had “beat his music out,” though his
friends “still tried to cheer him.”  But the man who wrote _Ulysses_ when
his grief was fresh could not be suspected of declining into a
hypochondriac.  “If I mean to make my mark at all, it must be by
shortness,” he said at this time; “for the men before me had been so
diffuse, and most of the big things, except _King Arthur_, had been
done.”  The age had not _la tête épique_: Poe had announced the paradox
that there is no such thing as a long poem, and even in dealing with
Arthur, Tennyson followed the example of Theocritus in writing, not an
epic, but epic idylls.  Long poems suit an age of listeners, for which
they were originally composed, or of leisure and few books.  At present
epics are read for duty’s sake, not for the only valid reason, “for human
pleasure,” in FitzGerald’s phrase.

Between 1838 and 1840 Tennyson made some brief tours in England with
FitzGerald, and, coming from Coventry, wrote _Godiva_.  His engagement
with Miss Sellwood seemed to be adjourned _sine die_, as they were
forbidden to correspond.

By 1841 Tennyson was living at Mablethorpe on the Lincolnshire coast;
working at his volumes of 1842, much urged by FitzGerald and American
admirers, who had heard of the poet through Emerson.  Moxon was to be the
publisher, himself something of a poet; but early in 1842 he had not yet
received the MS.  Perhaps Emerson heard of Tennyson through Carlyle, who,
says Sterling, “said more in your praise than in any one’s except
Cromwell, and an American backwoodsman who has killed thirty or forty
people with a bowie-knife.”  Carlyle at this time was much attached to
Lockhart, editor of the _Quarterly Review_, and it may have been Carlyle
who converted Lockhart to admiration of his old victim.  Carlyle had very
little more appreciation of Keats than had Byron, or (in early days)
Lockhart, and it was probably as much the man of heroic physical mould,
“a life-guardsman spoilt by making poetry,” and the unaffected companion
over a pipe, as the poet, that attracted him in Tennyson.  As we saw,
when the two triumphant volumes of 1842 did appear, Lockhart asked
Sterling to review whatever book he pleased (meaning the Poems) in the
_Quarterly_.  The praise of Sterling may seem lukewarm to us, especially
when compared with that of Spedding in the _Edinburgh_.  But Sterling,
and Lockhart too, were obliged to “gang warily.”  Lockhart had, to his
constant annoyance, “a partner, Mr Croker,” and I have heard from the
late Dean Boyle that Mr Croker was much annoyed by even the mild applause
yielded in the _Quarterly_ to the author of the _Morte d’Arthur_.

While preparing the volumes of 1842 at Boxley, Tennyson’s life was
divided between London and the society of his brother-in-law, Mr Edmund
Lushington, the great Greek scholar and Professor of Greek at Glasgow
University.  There was in Mr Lushington’s personal aspect, and noble
simplicity of manner and character, something that strongly resembled
Tennyson himself.  Among their common friends were Lord Houghton
(Monckton Milnes), Mr Lear of the _Book of Nonsense_ (“with such a
pencil, such a pen”), Mr Venables (who at school modified the profile of
Thackeray), and Lord Kelvin.  In town Tennyson met his friends at The
Cock, which he rendered classic; among them were Thackeray, Forster,
Maclise, and Dickens.  The times were stirring: social agitation, and
“Carol philosophy” in Dickens, with growls from Carlyle, marked the
period.  There was also a kind of optimism in the air, a prophetic
optimism, not yet fulfilled.

    “Fly, happy happy sails, and bear the Press!”

That mission no longer strikes us as exquisitely felicitous.  “The
mission of the Cross,” and of the missionaries, means international
complications; and “the markets of the Golden Year” are precisely the
most fruitful causes of wars and rumours of wars:—

       “Sea and air are dark
    With great contrivances of Power.”

Tennyson’s was not an unmitigated optimism, and had no special confidence

    “The herd, wild hearts and feeble wings
       That every sophister can lime.”

His political poetry, in fact, was very unlike the socialist chants of Mr
William Morris, or _Songs before Sunrise_.  He had nothing to say about

    “The blood on the hands of the King,
       And the lie on the lips of the Priest.”

The hands of Presidents have not always been unstained; nor are
statements of a mythical nature confined to the lips of the clergy.  The
poet was anxious that freedom should “broaden down,” but “slowly,” not
with indelicate haste.  Persons who are more in a hurry will never care
for the political poems, and it is certain that Tennyson did not feel
sympathetically inclined towards the Iberian patriot who said that his
darling desire was “to cut the throats of all the _curés_,” like some
Covenanters of old.  “Mais vous connaissez mon cœur”—“and a pretty black
one it is,” thought young Tennyson.  So cautious in youth, during his
Pyrenean tour with Hallam in 1830, Tennyson could not become a convinced
revolutionary later.  We must accept him with his limitations: nor must
we confuse him with the hero of his _Locksley Hall_, one of the most
popular, and most parodied, of the poems of 1842: full of beautiful
images and “confusions of a wasted youth,” a youth dramatically
conceived, and in no way autobiographical.

In so marvellous a treasure of precious things as the volumes of 1842,
perhaps none is more splendid, perfect, and perdurable than the _Morte
d’Arthur_.  It had been written seven years earlier, and pronounced by
the poet “not bad.”  Tennyson was never, perhaps, a very deep Arthurian
student.  A little cheap copy of Malory was his companion. {39}  He does
not appear to have gone deeply into the French and German “literature of
the subject.”  Malory’s compilation (1485) from French and English
sources, with the _Mabinogion_ of Lady Charlotte Guest, sufficed for him
as materials.  The whole poem, enshrined in the memory of all lovers of
verse, is richly studded, as the hilt of Excalibur, with classical
memories.  “A faint Homeric echo” it is not, nor a Virgilian echo, but
the absolute voice of old romance, a thing that might have been chanted

    “The lonely maiden of the Lake”


    “Nine years she wrought it, sitting in the deeps,
    Upon the hidden bases of the hills.”

Perhaps the most exquisite adaptation of all are the lines from the

    “Where falls not hail nor rain, nor any snow.”

“Softly through the flutes of the Grecians” came first these Elysian
numbers, then through Lucretius, then through Tennyson’s own _Lucretius_,
then in Mr Swinburne’s _Atalanta in Calydon_:—

    “Lands indiscoverable in the unheard-of west
    Round which the strong stream of a sacred sea
    Rolls without wind for ever, and the snow
    There shows not her white wings and windy feet,
    Nor thunder nor swift rain saith anything,
    Nor the sun burns, but all things rest and thrive.”

So fortunate in their transmission through poets have been the lines of
“the Ionian father of the rest,” the greatest of them all.

In the variety of excellences which marks Tennyson, the new English
idylls of 1842 hold their prominent place.  Nothing can be more exquisite
and more English than the picture of “the garden that I love.”
Theocritus cannot be surpassed; but the idyll matches to the seventh of
his, where it is most closely followed, and possesses such a picture of a
girl as the Sicilian never tried to paint.

_Dora_ is another idyll, resembling the work of a Wordsworth in a clime
softer than that of the Fells.  The lays of Edwin Morris and Edward Bull
are not among the more enduring of even the playful poems.  The _St
Simeon Stylites_ appears “made to the hand” of the author of _Men and
Women_ rather than of Tennyson.  The grotesque vanity of the anchorite is
so remote from us, that we can scarcely judge of the truth of the
picture, though the East has still her parallels to St Simeon.  From the
almost, perhaps quite, incredible ascetic the poet lightly turns to
“society verse” lifted up into the air of poetry, in the charm of _The
Talking Oak_, and the happy flitting sketches of actual history; and
thence to the strength and passion of _Love and Duty_.  Shall

             “Sin itself be found
    The cloudy porch oft opening on the Sun?”

That this is the province of sin is a pretty popular modern moral.  But
Honour is the better part, and here was a poet who had the courage to say
so; though, to be sure, the words ring strange in an age when highly
respectable matrons assure us that “passion,” like charity, covers a
multitude of sins.  _Love and Duty_, we must admit, is “early Victorian.”

The _Ulysses_ is almost a rival to the _Morte d’Arthur_.  It is of an
early date, after Arthur Hallam’s death, and Thackeray speaks of the poet
chanting his

    “Great Achilles whom we knew,”

as if he thought that this was in Cambridge days.  But it is later than
these.  Tennyson said, “_Ulysses_ was written soon after Arthur Hallam’s
death, and gave my feeling about the need of going forward, and braving
the struggle of life, perhaps more simply than anything in _In
Memoriam_.”  Assuredly the expression is more simple, and more noble, and
the personal emotion more dignified for the classic veil.  When the
plaintive Pessimist (“‘proud of the title,’ as the Living Skeleton said
when they showed him”) tells us that “not to have been born is best,” we
may answer with Ulysses—

       “Life piled on life
    Were all too little.”

The Ulysses of Tennyson, of course, is Dante’s Ulysses, not Homer’s
Odysseus, who brought home to Ithaca not one of his mariners.  His last
known adventure, the journey to the land of men who knew not the savour
of salt, Odysseus was to make on foot and alone; so spake the ghost of
Tiresias within the poplar pale of Persephone.

_The Two Voices_ expresses the contest of doubts and griefs with the
spirit of endurance and joy which speaks alone in _Ulysses_.  The man who
is unhappy, but does not want to put an end to himself, has certainly the
better of the argument with the despairing Voice.  The arguments of “that
barren Voice” are, indeed, remarkably deficient in cogency and logic, if
we can bring ourselves to strip the discussion of its poetry.  The
original title, _Thoughts of a Suicide_, was inappropriate.  The suicidal
suggestions are promptly faced and confuted, and the mood of the author
is throughout that of one who thinks life worth living:—

    “Whatever crazy sorrow saith,
    No life that breathes with human breath
    Has ever truly long’d for death.

    ’Tis life whereof our nerves are scant,
    Oh life, not death, for which we pant;
    More life, and fuller, that I want.”

This appears to be a satisfactory reply to the persons who eke out a
livelihood by publishing pessimistic books, and hooting, as the great
Alexandre Dumas says, at the great drama of Life.

With _The Day-Dream_ (of The Sleeping Beauty) Tennyson again displays his
matchless range of powers.  Verse of Society rises into a charmed and
musical fantasy, passing from the Berlin-wool work of the period

    (“Take the broidery frame, and add
    A crimson to the quaint Macaw”)

into the enchanted land of the fable: princes immortal, princesses
eternally young and fair.  The _St Agnes_ and _Sir Galahad_, companion
pieces, contain the romance, as _St Simeon Stylites_ shows the repulsive
side of asceticism; for the saint and the knight are young, beautiful,
and eager as St Theresa in her childhood.  It has been said, I do not
know on what authority, that the poet had no recollection of composing
_Sir Galahad_, any more than Scott remembered composing _The Bride of
Lammermoor_, or Thackeray parts of _Pendennis_.  The haunting of
Tennyson’s mind by the Arthurian legends prompted also the lovely
fragment on the Queen’s last Maying, _Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere_,
a thing of perfect charm and music.  The ballads of _Lady Clare_ and _The
Lord of Burleigh_ are not examples of the poet in his strength; for his
power and fantasy we must turn to _The Vision of Sin_, where the early
passages have the languid voluptuous music of _The Lotos-Eaters_, with
the ethical element superadded, while the portion beginning—

    “Wrinkled ostler, grim and thin!”

is in parts reminiscent of Burns’s _Jolly Beggars_.  In _Break_, _Break_,
_Break_, we hear a note prelusive to _In Memoriam_, much of which was
already composed.

The Poems of 1842 are always vocal in the memories of all readers of
English verse.  None are more familiar, at least to men of the
generations which immediately followed Tennyson’s.  FitzGerald was apt to
think that the poet never again attained the same level, and I venture to
suppose that he never rose above it.  For FitzGerald’s opinion, right or
wrong, it is easy to account.  He had seen all the pieces in manuscript;
they were his cherished possession before the world knew them.  _C’est
mon homme_, he might have said of Tennyson, as Boileau said of Molière.
Before the public awoke FitzGerald had “discovered Tennyson,” and that at
the age most open to poetry and most enthusiastic in friendship.  Again,
the Poems of 1842 were _short_, while _The Princess_, _Maud_, and _The
Idylls of the King_ were relatively long, and, with _In Memoriam_,
possessed unity of subject.  They lacked the rich, the unexampled variety
of topic, treatment, and theme which marks the Poems of 1842.  These were
all reasons why FitzGerald should think that the two slim green volumes
held the poet’s work at its highest level.  Perhaps he was not wrong,
after all.

1842–848—THE PRINCESS.

THE Poems, and such criticisms as those of Spedding and Sterling, gave
Tennyson his place.  All the world of letters heard of him.  Dean Bradley
tells us how he took Oxford by storm in the days of the undergraduateship
of Clough and Matthew Arnold.  Probably both of these young writers did
not share the undergraduate enthusiasm.  Mr Arnold, we know, did not
reckon Tennyson _un esprit puissant_.  Like Wordsworth (who thought
Tennyson “decidedly the first of our living poets, . . . he has expressed
in the strongest terms his gratitude to my writings”), Arnold was no
fervent admirer of his contemporaries.  Besides, if Tennyson’s work is “a
criticism of Life,” the moral criticism, so far, was hidden in flowers,
like the sword of Aristogiton at the feast.  But, on the whole, Tennyson
had won the young men who cared for poetry, though Sir Robert Peel had
never heard of him: and to win the young, as Theocritus desired to do, is
more than half the battle.  On September 8, 1842, the poet was able to
tell Mr Lushington that “500 of my books are sold; according to Moxon’s
brother, I have made a sensation.”  The sales were not like those of
_Childe Harold_ or _Marmion_; but for some twenty years new poetry had
not sold at all.  Novels had come in about 1814, and few wanted or bought
recent verse.  But Carlyle was converted.  He spoke no more of a spoiled
guardsman.  “If you knew what my relation has been to the thing called
‘English Poetry’ for many years back, you would think such a fact” (his
pleasure in the book) “surprising.”  Carlyle had been living (as Mrs
Carlyle too well knew) in Oliver Cromwell, a hero who probably took no
delight in _Lycidas_ or _Comus_, in Lovelace or Carew.  “I would give all
my poetry to have made one song like that,” said Tennyson of Lovelace’s
_Althea_.  But Noll would have disregarded them all alike, and Carlyle
was full of the spirit of the Protector.  To conquer him was indeed a
victory for Tennyson; while Dickens, not a reading man, expressed his
“earnest and sincere homage.”

But Tennyson was not successful in the modern way.  Nobody “interviewed”
him.  His photograph, of course, with disquisitions on his pipes and
slippers, did not adorn the literary press.  His literary income was not
magnified by penny-a-liners.  He did not become a lion; he never would
roar and shake his mane in drawing-rooms.  Lockhart held that Society was
the most agreeable form of the stage: the dresses and actresses
incomparably the prettiest.  But Tennyson liked Society no better than
did General Gordon.  He had friends enough, and no desire for new
acquaintances.  Indeed, his fortune was shattered at this time by a
strange investment in wood-carving by machinery.  Ruskin had only just
begun to write, and wood-carving by machinery was still deemed an
enterprise at once philanthropic and æsthetic.  “My father’s worldly
goods were all gone,” says Lord Tennyson.  The poet’s health suffered
extremely: he tried a fashionable “cure” at Cheltenham, where he saw
miracles of healing, but underwent none.  In September 1845 Peel was
moved by Lord Houghton to recommend the poet for a pension (£200
annually).  “I have done nothing slavish to get it: I never even
solicited for it either by myself or others.”  Like Dr Johnson, he
honourably accepted what was offered in honour.  For some reason many
persons who write in the press are always maddened when such good
fortune, however small, however well merited, falls to a brother in
letters.  They, of course, were “causelessly bitter.”  “Let them rave!”

If few of the rewards of literary success arrived, the penalties at once
began, and only ceased with the poet’s existence.  “If you only knew what
a nuisance these volumes of verse are!  Rascals send me theirs per post
from America, and I have more than once been knocked up out of bed to pay
three or four shillings for books of which I can’t get through one page,
for of all books the most insipid reading is second-rate verse.”

Would that versifiers took the warning!  Tennyson had not sent his little
firstlings to Coleridge and Wordsworth: they are only the hopeless
rhymers who bombard men of letters with their lyrics and tragedies.

Mr Browning was a sufferer.  To one young twitterer he replied in the
usual way.  The bard wrote acknowledging the letter, but asking for a
definite criticism.  “I do not think myself a Shakespeare or a Milton,
but I _know_ I am better than Mr Coventry Patmore or Mr Austin Dobson.”
Mr Browning tried to procrastinate: he was already deeply engaged with
earlier arrivals of volumes of song.  The poet was hurt, not angry; he
had expected other things from Mr Browning: _he_ ought to know his duty
to youth.  At the intercession of a relation Mr Browning now did his
best, and the minstrel, satisfied at last, repeated his conviction of his
superiority to the authors of _The Angel in the House_ and _Beau
Brocade_.  Probably no man, not even Mr Gladstone, ever suffered so much
from minstrels as Tennyson.  He did not suffer them gladly.

In 1846 the Poems reached their fourth edition.  Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton
(bitten by what fly who knows?) attacked Tennyson in _The New Timon_, a
forgotten satire.  We do not understand the ways of that generation.  The
cheap and spiteful _genre_ of satire, its forged morality, its sham
indignation, its appeal to the ape-like passions, has gone out.  Lytton
had suffered many things (not in verse) from Jeames Yellowplush: I do not
know that he hit back at Thackeray, but he “passed it on” to Thackeray’s
old college companion.  Tennyson, for once, replied (in _Punch_: the
verses were sent thither by John Forster); the answer was one of
magnificent contempt.  But he soon decided that

    “The noblest answer unto such
    Is perfect stillness when they brawl.”

Long afterwards the poet dedicated a work to the son of Lord Lytton.  He
replied to no more satirists. {50}  Our difficulty, of course, is to
conceive such an attack coming from a man of Lytton’s position and
genius.  He was no hungry hack, and could, and did, do infinitely better
things than “stand in a false following” of Pope.  Probably Lytton had a
false idea that Tennyson was a rich man, a branch of his family being
affluent, and so resented the little pension.  The poet was so far from
rich in 1846, and even after the publication of _The Princess_, that his
marriage had still to be deferred for four years.

On reading _The Princess_ afresh one is impressed, despite old
familiarity, with the extraordinary influence of its beauty.  Here are,
indeed, the best words best placed, and that curious felicity of style
which makes every line a marvel, and an eternal possession.  It is as if
Tennyson had taken the advice which Keats gave to Shelley, “Load every
rift with ore.”  To choose but one or two examples, how the purest and
freshest impression of nature is re-created in mind and memory by the
picture of Melissa with

       “All her thoughts as fair within her eyes,
    As bottom agates seen to wave and float
    In crystal currents of clear morning seas.”

The lyric, “Tears, idle tears,” is far beyond praise: once read it seems
like a thing that has always existed in the world of poetic archetypes,
and has now been not so much composed as discovered and revealed.  The
many pictures and similitudes in _The Princess_ have a magical

          “From the illumined hall
    Long lanes of splendour slanted o’er a press
    Of snowy shoulders, thick as herded ewes,
    And rainbow robes, and gems and gem-like eyes,
    And gold and golden heads; they to and fro
    Fluctuated, as flowers in storm, some red, some pale.”

The “small sweet Idyll” from

    “A volume of the poets of her land”

pure Theocritus.  It has been admirably rendered into Greek by Mr Gilbert
Murray.  The exquisite beauties of style are not less exquisitely blended
in the confusions of a dream, for a dream is the thing most akin to _The
Princess_.  Time does not exist in the realm of Gama, or in the ideal
university of Ida.  We have a bookless North, severed but by a frontier
pillar from a golden and learned South.  The arts, from architecture to
miniature-painting, are in their highest perfection, while knights still
tourney in armour, and the quarrel of two nations is decided as in the
gentle and joyous passage of arms at Ashby de la Zouche.  Such confusions
are purposefully dream-like: the vision being a composite thing, as
dreams are, haunted by the modern scene of the holiday in the park, the
“gallant glorious chronicle,” the Abbey, and that “old crusading knight
austere,” Sir Ralph.  The seven narrators of the scheme are like the
“split personalities” of dreams, and the whole scheme is of great
technical skill.  The earlier editions lacked the beautiful songs of the
ladies, and that additional trait of dream, the strange trance-like
seizures of the Prince: “fallings from us, vanishings,” in Wordsworthian
phrase; instances of “dissociation,” in modern psychological terminology.
Tennyson himself, like Shelley and Wordsworth, had experience of this
kind of dreaming awake which he attributes to his Prince, to strengthen
the shadowy yet brilliant character of his romance.  It is a thing of
normal and natural _points de repère_; of daylight suggestion, touched as
with the magnifying and intensifying elements of haschish-begotten
phantasmagoria.  In the same way opium raised into the region of
brilliant vision that passage of Purchas which Coleridge was reading
before he dreamed _Kubla Khan_.  But in Tennyson the effects were
deliberately sought and secured.

One might conjecture, though Lord Tennyson says nothing on the subject,
that among the suggestions for _The Princess_ was the opening of _Love’s
Labour’s Lost_.  Here the King of Navarre devises the College of
Recluses, which is broken up by the arrival of the Princess of France,
Rosaline, and the other ladies:—

    _King_.  Our Court shall be a little Academe,
    Still and contemplative in living art.
    You three, Biron, Domain, and Longaville,
    Have sworn for three years’ term to live with me,
    My fellow-scholars, and to keep those statutes.

                                  * * * * *

    _Biron_.  That is, to live and study here three years.
    But there are other strict observances;
    As, not to see a woman in that term.

                                  * * * * *

    [_Reads_]  ‘That no woman shalt come within a mile of my Court:’ Hath
    this been proclaimed?

    _Long_.  Four days ago.

    _Biron_.  Let’s see the penalty.  [_Reads_]  ‘On pain of losing her

The Princess then arrives with her ladies, as the Prince does with Cyril
and Florian, as Charles did, with Buckingham, in Spain.  The conclusion
of Shakespeare is Tennyson’s conclusion—

    “We cannot cross the cause why we are born.”

The later poet reverses the attitude of the sexes in _Love’s Labour’s
Lost_: it is the women who make and break the vow; and the women in _The
Princess_ insist on the “grand, epic, homicidal” scenes, while the men
are debarred, more or less, from a sportive treatment of the subject.
The tavern catch of Cyril; the laughable pursuit of the Prince by the
feminine Proctors; the draggled appearance of the adventurers in female
garb, are concessions to the humour of the situation.  Shakespeare would
certainly have given us the song of Cyril at the picnic, and comic enough
the effect would have been on the stage.  It may be a gross employment,
but _The Princess_, with the pretty chorus of girl undergraduates,

    “In colours gayer than the morning mist,”

went reasonably well in opera.  Merely considered as a romantic fiction,
_The Princess_ presents higher proofs of original narrative genius than
any other such attempt by its author.

The poem is far from being deficient in that human interest which Shelley
said that it was as vain to ask from _him_, as to seek to buy a leg of
mutton at a gin-shop.  The characters, the protagonists, with Cyril,
Melissa, Lady Blanche, the child Aglaia, King Gama, the other king, Arac,
and the hero’s mother—beautifully studied from the mother of the poet—are
all sufficiently human.  But they seem to waver in the magic air, “as all
the golden autumn woodland reels” athwart the fires of autumn leaves.
For these reasons, and because of the designed fantasy of the whole
composition, _The Princess_ is essentially a poem for the true lovers of
poetry, of Spenser and of Coleridge.  The serious motive, the question of
Woman, her wrongs, her rights, her education, her capabilities, was not
“in the air” in 1847.  To be sure it had often been “in the air.”  The
Alexandrian Platonists, the Renaissance, even the age of Anne, had their
emancipated and learned ladies.  Early Greece had Sappho, Corinna, and
Erinna, the first the chief of lyric poets, even in her fragments, the
two others applauded by all Hellas.  The French Revolution had begotten
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and her _Vindication of the Rights of Women_,
and in France George Sand was prominent and emancipated enough while the
poet wrote.  But, the question of love apart, George Sand was “very, very
woman,” shining as a domestic character and fond of needlework.  England
was not excited about the question which has since produced so many
disputants, inevitably shrill, and has not been greatly meddled with by
women of genius, George Eliot or Mrs Oliphant.  The poem, in the public
indifference as to feminine education, came rather prematurely.  We have
now ladies’ colleges, not in haunts remote from man, but by the sedged
banks of Cam and Cherwell.  There have been no revolutionary results: no
boys have spied these chaste nests, with echoing romantic consequences.
The beauty and splendour of the Princess’s university have not arisen in
light and colour, and it is only at St Andrews that girls wear the
academic and becoming costume of the scarlet gown.  The real is far below
the ideal, but the real in 1847 seemed eminently remote, or even

The learned Princess herself was not on our level as to knowledge and the
past of womankind.  She knew not of their masterly position in the law of
ancient Egypt.  Gynæocracy and matriarchy, the woman the head of the
savage or prehistoric group, were things hidden from her.  She “glanced
at the Lycian custom,” but not at the Pictish, a custom which would have
suited George Sand to a marvel.  She maligned the Hottentots.

    “The highest is the measure of the man,
    And not the Kaffir, Hottentot, Malay.”

The Hottentots had long ago anticipated the Princess and her shrill
modern sisterhood.  If we take the Greeks, or even ourselves, we may say,
with Dampier (1689), “The Hodmadods, though a nasty people, yet are
gentlemen to these” as regards the position of women.  Let us hear Mr
Hartland: “In every Hottentot’s house the wife is supreme.  Her husband,
poor fellow, though he may wield wide power and influence out of doors,
at home dare not even take a mouthful of sour-milk out of the household
vat without her permission . . . The highest oath a man can take is to
swear by his eldest sister, and if he abuses this name he forfeits to her
his finest goods and sheep.”

However, in 1847 England had not yet thought of imitating the Hodmadods.
Consequently, and by reason of the purely literary and elaborately
fantastical character of _The Princess_, it was not of a nature to
increase the poet’s fame and success.  “My book is out, and I hate it,
and so no doubt will you,” Tennyson wrote to FitzGerald, who hated it and
said so.  “Like Carlyle, I gave up all hopes of him after _The
Princess_,” indeed it was not apt to conciliate Carlyle.  “None of the
songs had the old champagne flavour,” said Fitz; and Lord Tennyson adds,
“Nothing either by Thackeray or by my father met FitzGerald’s approbation
unless he had first seen it in manuscript.”  This prejudice was very
human.  Lord Tennyson remarks, as to the poet’s meaning in this work,
born too early, that “the sooner woman finds out, before the great
educational movement begins, that ‘woman is not undeveloped man, but
diverse,’ the better it will be for the progress of the world.”

But probably the “educational movement” will not make much difference to
womankind on the whole.  The old Platonic remark that woman “does the
same things as man, but not so well,” will eternally hold good, at least
in the arts, and in letters, except in rare cases of genius.  A new
Jeanne d’Arc, the most signal example of absolute genius in history, will
not come again; and the ages have waited vainly for a new Sappho or a new
Jane Austen.  Literature, poetry, painting, have always been fields open
to woman.  But two names exhaust the roll of women of the highest rank in
letters—Sappho and Jane Austen.  And “when did woman ever yet invent?”
In “arts of government” Elizabeth had courage, and just saving sense
enough to yield to Cecil at the eleventh hour, and escape the fate of
“her sister and her foe,” the beautiful unhappy queen who told her ladies
that she dared to look on whatever men dared to do, and herself would do
it if her strength so served her.” {58}  “The foundress of the Babylonian
walls” is a myth; “the Rhodope that built the Pyramid” is not a
creditable myth; for exceptions to Knox’s “Monstrous Regiment of Women”
we must fall back on “The Palmyrene that fought Aurelian,” and the
revered name of the greatest of English queens, Victoria.  Thus history
does not encourage the hope that a man-like education will raise many
women to the level of the highest of their sex in the past, or even that
the enormous majority of women will take advantage of the opportunity of
a man-like education.  A glance at the numerous periodicals designed for
the reading of women depresses optimism, and the Princess’s prophecy of

    “Two plummets dropped for one to sound the abyss
    Of science, and the secrets of the mind,”

is not near fulfilment.  Fortunately the sex does not “love the
Metaphysics,” and perhaps has not yet produced even a manual of Logic.
It must suffice man and woman to

       “Walk this world
    Yoked in all exercise of noble end,”

of a more practical character, while woman is at liberty

       “To live and learn and be
    All that not harms distinctive womanhood.”

This was the conclusion of the poet who had the most chivalrous reverence
for womanhood.  This is the _eirenicon_ of that old strife between the
women and the men—that war in which both armies are captured.  It may not
be acceptable to excited lady combatants, who think man their foe, when
the real enemy is (what Porson damned) the Nature of Things.

A new poem like _The Princess_ would soon reach the public of our day, so
greatly increased are the uses of advertisement.  But _The Princess_
moved slowly from edition to revised and improved edition, bringing
neither money nor much increase of fame.  The poet was living with his
family at Cheltenham, where among his new acquaintances were Sydney
Dobell, the poet of a few exquisite pieces, and F. W. Robertson, later so
popular as a preacher at Brighton.  Meeting him for the first time, and
knowing Robertson’s “wish to pluck the heart from my mystery, from pure
nervousness I would only talk of beer.”  This kind of shyness beset
Tennyson.  A lady tells me that as a girl (and a very beautiful girl) she
and her sister, and a third, _nec diversa_, met the poet, and expected
high discourse.  But his speech was all of that wingless insect which
“gets there, all the same,” according to an American lyrist; the insect
which fills Mrs Carlyle’s letters with bulletins of her success or
failure in domestic campaigns.

Tennyson kept visiting London, where he saw Thackeray and the despair of
Carlyle, and at Bath House he was too modest to be introduced to the
great Duke whose requiem he was to sing so nobly.  Oddly enough Douglas
Jerrold enthusiastically assured Tennyson, at a dinner of a Society of
Authors, that “you are the one who will live.”  To that end, humanly
speaking, he placed himself under the celebrated Dr Gully and his
“water-cure,” a foible of that period.  In 1848 he made a tour to King
Arthur’s Cornish bounds, and another to Scotland, where the Pass of
Brander disappointed him: perhaps he saw it on a fine day, and, like
Glencoe, it needs tempest and mist lit up by the white fires of many
waterfalls.  By bonny Doon he “fell into a passion of tears,” for he had
all of Keats’s sentiment for Burns: “There never was immortal poet if he
be not one.”  Of all English poets, the warmest in the praise of Burns
have been the two most unlike himself—Tennyson and Keats.  It was the
songs that Tennyson preferred; Wordsworth liked the _Cottar’s Saturday


IN May 1850 a few, copies of _In Memoriam_ were printed for friends, and
presently the poem was published without author’s name.  The pieces had
been composed at intervals, from 1833 onwards.  It is to be observed that
the “section about evolution” was written some years before 1844, when
the ingenious hypotheses of Robert Chambers, in _Vestiges of Creation_,
were given to the world, and caused a good deal of talk.  Ten years,
again, after _In Memoriam_, came Darwin’s _Origin of Species_.  These
dates are worth observing.  The theory of evolution, of course in a rude
mythical shape, is at least as old as the theory of creation, and is
found among the speculations of the most backward savages.  The Arunta of
Central Australia, a race remote from the polite, have a hypothesis of
evolution which postulates only a few rudimentary forms of life, a marine
environment, and the minimum of supernormal assistance in the way of
stimulating the primal forms in the direction of more highly
differentiated developments.  “The rudimentary forms, _Inapertwa_, were
in reality stages in the transformation of various plants and animals
into human beings. . . .  They had no distinct limbs or organs of sight,
hearing, or smell.”  They existed in a kind of lumps, and were set free
from the cauls which enveloped them by two beings called Ungambikula, “a
word which means ‘out of nothing,’ or ‘self-existing.’  Men descend from
lower animals thus evolved.” {62}

This example of the doctrine of evolution in an early shape is only
mentioned to prove that the idea has been familiar to the human mind from
the lowest known stage of culture.  Not less familiar has been the theory
of creation by a kind of supreme being.  The notion of creation, however,
up to 1860, held the foremost place in modern European belief.  But
Lamarck, the elder Darwin, Monboddo, and others had submitted hypotheses
of evolution.  Now it was part of the originality of Tennyson, as a
philosophic poet, that he had brooded from boyhood on these early
theories of evolution, in an age when they were practically unknown to
the literary, and were not patronised by the scientific, world.  In
November 1844 he wrote to Mr Moxon, “I want you to get me a book which I
see advertised in the _Examiner_: it seems to contain many speculations
with which I have been familiar for years, and on which I have written
more than one poem.”  This book was _Vestiges of Creation_.  These poems
are the stanzas in _In Memoriam_ about “the greater ape,” and about
Nature as careless of the type: “all shall go.”  The poetic and
philosophic originality of Tennyson thus faced the popular inferences as
to the effect of the doctrine of evolution upon religious beliefs long
before the world was moved in all its deeps by Darwin’s _Origin of
Species_.  Thus the geological record is inconsistent, we learned, with
the record of the first chapters of Genesis.  If man is a differentiated
monkey, and if a monkey has no soul, or future life (which is taken for
granted), where are man’s title-deeds to these possessions?  With other
difficulties of an obvious kind, these presented themselves to the poet
with renewed force when his only chance of happiness depended on being
able to believe in a future life, and reunion with the beloved dead.
Unbelief had always existed.  We hear of atheists in the _Rig Veda_.  In
the early eighteenth century, in the age of Swift—

    “Men proved, as sure as God’s in Gloucester,
    That Moses was a great impostor.”

distrust of Moses increased with the increase of hypotheses of evolution.
But what English poet, before Tennyson, ever attempted “to lay the
spectres of the mind”; ever faced world-old problems in their most recent
aspects?  I am not acquainted with any poet who attempted this task, and,
whatever we may think of Tennyson’s success, I do not see how we can deny
his originality.

Mr Frederic Harrison, however, thinks that neither “the theology nor the
philosophy of _In Memoriam_ are new, original, with an independent force
and depth of their own.”  “They are exquisitely graceful re-statements of
the theology of the Broad Churchman of the school of F. D. Maurice and
Jowett—a combination of Maurice’s somewhat illogical piety with Jowett’s
philosophy of mystification.”  The piety of Maurice may be as illogical
as that of Positivism is logical, and the philosophy of the Master of
Balliol may be whatever Mr Harrison pleases to call it.  But as Jowett’s
earliest work (except an essay on Etruscan religion) is of 1855, one does
not see how it could influence Tennyson before 1844.  And what had the
Duke of Argyll written on these themes some years before 1844?  The late
Duke, to whom Mr Harrison refers in this connection, was born in 1823.
His philosophic ideas, if they were to influence Tennyson’s _In
Memoriam_, must have been set forth by him at the tender age of
seventeen, or thereabouts.  Mr Harrison’s sentence is, “But does _In
Memoriam_ teach anything, or transfigure any idea which was not about
that time” (the time of writing was mainly 1833–1840) “common form with
F. D. Maurice, with Jowett, C. Kingsley, F. Robertson, Stopford Brooke,
Mr Ruskin, and the Duke of Argyll, Bishops Westcott and Boyd Carpenter?”

The dates answer Mr Harrison.  Jowett did not publish anything till at
least fifteen years after Tennyson wrote his poems on evolution and
belief.  Dr Boyd Carpenter’s works previous to 1840 are unknown to
bibliography.  F. W. Robertson was a young parson at Cheltenham.  Ruskin
had not published the first volume of _Modern Painters_.  His Oxford
prize poem is of 1839.  Mr Stopford Brooke was at school.  The Duke of
Argyll was being privately educated: and so with the rest, except the
contemporary Maurice.  How can Mr Harrison say that, in the time of _In
Memoriam_, Tennyson was “in touch with the ideas of Herschel, Owen,
Huxley, Darwin, and Tyndall”? {65}  When Tennyson wrote the parts of _In
Memoriam_ which deal with science, nobody beyond their families and
friends had heard of Huxley, Darwin, and Tyndall.  They had not
developed, much less had they published, their “general ideas.”  Even in
his journal of the _Cruise of the Beagle_ Darwin’s ideas were religious,
and he naïvely admired the works of God.  It is strange that Mr Harrison
has based his criticism, and his theory of Tennyson’s want of
originality, on what seems to be a historical error.  He cites parts of
_In Memoriam_, and remarks, “No one can deny that all this is exquisitely
beautiful; that these eternal problems have never been clad in such
inimitable grace . . . But the train of thought is essentially that with
which ordinary English readers have been made familiar by F. D. Maurice,
Professor Jowett, _Ecce Homo_, _Hypatia_, and now by Arthur Balfour, Mr
Drummond, and many valiant companies of _Septem_ [why _Septem_?] _contra
Diabolum_.”  One must keep repeating the historical verity that the ideas
of _In Memoriam_ could not have been “made familiar by” authors who had
not yet published anything, or by books yet undreamed of and unborn, such
as _Ecce Homo_ and Jowett’s work on some of St Paul’s Epistles.  If these
books contain the ideas of _In Memoriam_, it is by dint of repetition and
borrowing from _In Memoriam_, or by coincidence.  The originality was
Tennyson’s, for we cannot dispute the evidence of dates.

When one speaks of “originality” one does not mean that Tennyson
discovered the existence of the ultimate problems.  But at Cambridge
(1828–1830) he had voted “No” in answer to the question discussed by “the
Apostles,” “Is an intelligible [intelligent?] First Cause deducible from
the phenomena of the universe?” {66}  He had also propounded the theory
that “the development of the human body might possibly be traced from the
radiated vermicular molluscous and vertebrate organisms,” thirty years
before Darwin published _The Origin of Species_.  To be concerned so
early with such hypotheses, and to face, in poetry, the religious or
irreligious inferences which may be drawn from them, decidedly
constitutes part of the poetic originality of Tennyson.  His attitude, as
a poet, towards religious doubt is only so far not original, as it is
part of the general reaction from the freethinking of the eighteenth
century.  Men had then been freethinkers _avec délices_.  It was a joyous
thing to be an atheist, or something very like one; at all events, it was
glorious to be “emancipated.”  Many still find it glorious, as we read in
the tone of Mr Huxley, when he triumphs and tramples over pious dukes and
bishops.  Shelley said that a certain schoolgirl “would make a dear
little atheist.”  But by 1828–1830 men were less joyous in their escape
from all that had hitherto consoled and fortified humanity.  Long before
he dreamed of _In Memoriam_, in the _Poems chiefly Lyrical_ of 1830
Tennyson had written—

    “‘Yet,’ said I, in my morn of youth,
    The unsunn’d freshness of my strength,
    When I went forth in quest of truth,
    ‘It is man’s privilege to doubt.’ . . .
       Ay me!  I fear
    All may not doubt, but everywhere
    Some must clasp Idols.  Yet, my God,
    Whom call I Idol?  Let Thy dove
    Shadow me over, and my sins
    Be unremember’d, and Thy love
    Enlighten me.  Oh teach me yet
    Somewhat before the heavy clod
    Weighs on me, and the busy fret
    Of that sharp-headed worm begins
    In the gross blackness underneath.

    Oh weary life! oh weary death!
    Oh spirit and heart made desolate!
    Oh damnèd vacillating state!”

Now the philosophy of _In Memoriam_ may be, indeed is, regarded by
robust, first-rate, and far from sensitive minds, as a “damnèd
vacillating state.”  The poet is not so imbued with the spirit of popular
science as to be sure that he knows everything: knows that there is
nothing but atoms and ether, with no room for God or a soul.  He is far
from that happy cock-certainty, and consequently is exposed to the
contempt of the cock-certain.  The poem, says Mr Harrison, “has made
Tennyson the idol of the Anglican clergyman—the world in which he was
born and the world in which his life was ideally passed—the idol of all
cultured youth and of all æsthetic women.  It is an honourable post to
fill”—that of idol.  “The argument of _In Memoriam_ apparently is . . .
that we should faintly trust the larger hope.”  That, I think, is not the
argument, not the conclusion of the poem, but is a casual expression of
one mood among many moods.

The argument and conclusion of _In Memoriam_ are the argument and
conclusion of the life of Tennyson, and of the love of Tennyson, that
immortal passion which was a part of himself, and which, if aught of us
endure, is living yet, and must live eternally.  From the record of his
Life by his son we know that his trust in “the larger hope” was not
“faint,” but strengthened with the years.  There are said to have been
less hopeful intervals.

His faith is, of course, no argument for others,—at least it ought not to
be.  We are all the creatures of our bias, our environment, our
experience, our emotions.  The experience of Tennyson was unlike the
experience of most men.  It yielded him subjective grounds for belief.
He “opened a path unto many,” like Yama, the Vedic being who discovered
the way to death.  But Tennyson’s path led not to death, but to life
spiritual, and to hope, and he did “give a new impulse to the thought of
his age,” as other great poets have done.  Of course it may be an impulse
to wrong thought.  As the philosophical Australian black said, “We shall
know when we are dead.”

Mr Harrison argues as if, unlike Tennyson, Byron, Wordsworth, Shelley,
and Burns produced “original ideas fresh from their own spirit, and not
derived from contemporary thinkers.”  I do not know what original ideas
these great poets discovered and promulgated; their ideas seem to have
been “in the air.”  These poets “made them current coin.”  Shelley
thought that he owed many of his ideas to Godwin, a contemporary thinker.
Wordsworth has a debt to Plato, a thinker not contemporary.  Burns’s
democratic independence was “in the air,” and had been, in Scotland,
since Elder remarked on it in a letter to Ingles in 1515.  It is not the
ideas, it is the expression of the ideas, that marks the poet.
Tennyson’s ideas are relatively novel, though as old as Plotinus, for
they are applied to a novel, or at least an unfamiliar, mental situation.
Doubt was abroad, as it always is; but, for perhaps the first time since
Porphyry wrote his letter to Abammon, the doubters desired to believe,
and said, “Lord, help Thou my unbelief.”  To robust, not sensitive minds,
very much in unity with themselves, the attitude seems contemptible, or
at best decently futile.  Yet I cannot think it below the dignity of
mankind, conscious that it is not omniscient.  The poet does fail in
logic (_In Memoriam_, cxx.) when he says—

    “Let him, the wiser man who springs
       Hereafter, up from childhood shape
       His action like the greater ape,
    But I was _born_ to other things.”

I am not well acquainted with the habits of the greater ape, but it would
probably be unwise, and perhaps indecent, to imitate him, even if “we
also are his offspring.”  We might as well revert to polyandry and paint,
because our Celtic or Pictish ancestors, if we had any, practised the one
and wore the other.  However, petulances like the verse on the greater
ape are rare in _In Memoriam_.  To declare that “I would not stay” in
life if science proves us to be “cunning casts in clay,” is beneath the
courage of the Stoical philosophy.

Theologically, the poem represents the struggle with doubts and hopes and
fears, which had been with Tennyson from his boyhood, as is proved by the
volume of 1830.  But the doubts had exerted, probably, but little
influence on his happiness till the sudden stroke of loss made life for a
time seem almost unbearable unless the doubts were solved.  They _were_
solved, or stoically set aside, in the _Ulysses_, written in the
freshness of grief, with the conclusion that we must be

          “Strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

But the gnawing of grief till it becomes a physical pain, the fever fits
of sorrow, the aching _desiderium_, bring back in many guises the old
questions.  These require new attempts at answers, and are answered, “the
sad mechanic exercise” of verse allaying the pain.  This is the genesis
of _In Memoriam_, not originally written for publication but produced at
last as a monument to friendship, and as a book of consolation.

No books of consolation can console except by sympathy; and in _In
Memoriam_ sympathy and relief have been found, and will be found, by
many.  Another, we feel, has trodden our dark and stony path, has been
shadowed by the shapes of dread which haunt our valley of tribulation: a
mind almost infinitely greater than ours has been our fellow-sufferer.
He has emerged from the darkness of the shadow of death into the light,
whither, as it seems to us, we can scarcely hope to come.  It is the
sympathy and the example, I think, not the speculations, mystical or
scientific, which make _In Memoriam_, in more than name, a book of
consolation: even in hours of the sharpest distress, when its technical
beauties and wonderful pictures seem shadowy and unreal, like the yellow
sunshine and the woods of that autumn day when a man learned that his
friend was dead.  No, it was not the speculations and arguments that
consoled or encouraged us.  We did not listen to Tennyson as to Mr
Frederic Harrison’s glorified Anglican clergyman.  We could not murmur,
like the Queen of the May—

    “That good man, the Laureate, has told us words of peace.”

What we valued was the poet’s companionship.  There was a young reader to
whom _All along the Valley_ came as a new poem in a time of recent

    “The two-and-thirty years were a mist that rolls away,”

said the singer of _In Memoriam_, and in that hour it seemed as if none
could endure for two-and-thirty years the companionship of loss.  But the
years have gone by, and have left

       “Ever young the face that dwells
    With reason cloister’d in the brain.” {72}

In this way to many _In Memoriam_ is almost a life-long companion: we
walk with Great-heart for our guide through the valley Perilous.

In this respect _In Memoriam_ is unique, for neither to its praise nor
dispraise is it to be compared with the other famous elegies of the
world.  These are brief outbursts of grief—real, as in the hopeless words
of Catullus over his brother’s tomb; or academic, like Milton’s
_Lycidas_.  We are not to suppose that Milton was heart-broken by the
death of young Mr King, or that Shelley was greatly desolated by the
death of Keats, with whom his personal relations had been slight, and of
whose poetry he had spoken evil.  He was nobly stirred as a poet by a
poet’s death—like Mr Swinburne by the death of Charles Baudelaire; but
neither Shelley nor Mr Swinburne was lamenting _dimidium animæ suæ_, or
mourning for a friend

          “Dear as the mother to the son,
    More than my brothers are to me.”

The passion of _In Memoriam_ is personal, is acute, is life-long, and
thus it differs from the other elegies.  Moreover, it celebrates a noble
object, and thus is unlike the ambiguous affection, real or dramatic,
which informs the sonnets of Shakespeare.  So the poem stands alone,
cloistered; not fiery with indignation, not breaking into actual
prophecy, like Shelley’s _Adonais_; not capable, by reason even of its
meditative metre, of the organ music of _Lycidas_.  Yet it is not to be
reckoned inferior to these because its aim and plan are other than

It is far from my purpose to “class” Tennyson, or to dispute about his
relative greatness when compared with Wordsworth or Byron, Coleridge,
Shelley, or Burns.  He rated one song of Lovelace above all his lyrics,
and, in fact, could no more have written the Cavalier’s _To Althea from
Prison_ than Lovelace could have written the _Morte d’Arthur_.  “It is
not reasonable, it is not fair,” says Mr Harrison, after comparing _In
Memoriam_ with _Lycidas_, “to compare Tennyson with Milton,” and it is
not reasonable to compare Tennyson with any poet whatever.  Criticism is
not the construction of a class list.  But we may reasonably say that _In
Memoriam_ is a noble poem, an original poem, a poem which stands alone in
literature.  The wonderful beauty, ever fresh, howsoever often read, of
many stanzas, is not denied by any critic.  The marvel is that the same
serene certainty of art broods over even the stanzas which must have been
conceived while the sorrow was fresh.  The second piece,

    “Old yew, which graspest at the stones,”

must have been composed soon after the stroke fell.  Yet it is as perfect
as the proem of 1849.  As a rule, the poetical expression of strong
emotion appears usually to clothe the memory of passion when it has been
softened by time.  But here already “the rhythm, phrasing, and
articulation are entirely faultless, exquisitely clear, melodious, and
rare.” {74}  It were superfluous labour to point at special beauties, at
the exquisite rendering of nature; and copious commentaries exist to
explain the course of the argument, if a series of moods is to be called
an argument.  One may note such a point as that (xiv.) where the poet
says that, were he to meet his friend in life,

    “I should not feel it to be strange.”

It may have happened to many to mistake, for a section of a second, the
face of a stranger for the face seen only in dreams, and to find that the
recognition brings no surprise.

Pieces of a character apart from the rest, and placed in a designed
sequence, are xcii., xciii., xcv.  In the first the poet says—

    “If any vision should reveal
       Thy likeness, I might count it vain
       As but the canker of the brain;
    Yea, tho’ it spake and made appeal

    To chances where our lots were cast
       Together in the days behind,
       I might but say, I hear a wind
    Of memory murmuring the past.

    Yea, tho’ it spake and bared to view
       A fact within the coming year;
       And tho’ the months, revolving near,
    Should prove the phantom-warning true,

    They might not seem thy prophecies,
       But spiritual presentiments,
       And such refraction of events
    As often rises ere they rise.”

The author thus shows himself _difficile_ as to recognising the personal
identity of a phantasm; nor is it easy to see what mode of proving his
identity would be left to a spirit.  The poet, therefore, appeals to some
perhaps less satisfactory experience:—

    “Descend, and touch, and enter; hear
       The wish too strong for words to name;
       That in this blindness of the frame
    My Ghost may feel that thine is near.”

The third poem is the crown of _In Memoriam_, expressing almost such
things as are not given to man to utter:—

       And all at once it seem’d at last
    The living soul was flash’d on mine,

    And mine in this was wound, and whirl’d
       About empyreal heights of thought,
       And came on that which is, and caught
    The deep pulsations of the world,

    Æonian music measuring out
       The steps of Time—the shocks of Chance—
       The blows of Death.  At length my trance
    Was cancell’d, stricken thro’ with doubt.

    Vague words! but ah, how hard to frame
       In matter-moulded forms of speech,
       Or ev’n for intellect to reach
    Thro’ memory that which I became.”

Experiences like this, subjective, and not matter for argument, were
familiar to Tennyson.  Jowett said, “He was one of those who, though not
an upholder of miracles, thought that the wonders of Heaven and Earth
were never far absent from us.”  In _The Mystic_, Tennyson, when almost a
boy, had shown familiarity with strange psychological and psychical
conditions.  Poems of much later life also deal with these, and, more or
less consciously, his philosophy was tinged, and his confidence that we
are more than “cunning casts in clay” was increased, by phenomena of
experience, which can only be evidence for the mystic himself, if even
for him.  But this dim aspect of his philosophy, of course, is “to the
Greeks foolishness.”

His was a philosophy of his own; not a philosophy for disciples, and
“those that eddy round and round.”  It was the sum of his reflection on
the mass of his impressions.  I have shown, by the aid of dates, that it
was not borrowed from Huxley, Mr Stopford Brooke, or the late Duke of
Argyll.  But, no doubt, many of the ideas were “in the air,” and must
have presented themselves to minds at once of religious tendency, and
attracted by the evolutionary theories which had always existed as
floating speculations, till they were made current coin by the genius and
patient study of Darwin.  That Tennyson’s opinions between 1830 and 1840
were influenced by those of F. D. Maurice is reckoned probable by Canon
Ainger, author of the notice of the poet in _The Dictionary of National
Biography_.  In the Life of Maurice, Tennyson does not appear till 1850,
and the two men were not at Cambridge together.  But Maurice’s ideas, as
they then existed, may have reached Tennyson orally through Hallam and
other members of the Trinity set, who knew personally the author of
_Letters to a Quaker_.  However, this is no question of scientific
priority: to myself it seems that Tennyson “beat his music out” for
himself, as perhaps most people do.  Like his own Sir Percivale, “I know
not all he meant.”

Among the opinions as to _In Memoriam_ current at the time of its
publication Lord Tennyson notices those of Maurice and Robertson.  They
“thought that the poet had made a definite step towards the unification
of the highest religion and philosophy with the progressive science of
the day.”  Neither science nor religion stands still; neither stands now
where it then did.  Conceivably they are travelling on paths which will
ultimately coincide; but this opinion, of course, must seem foolishness
to most professors of science.  Bishop Westcott was at Cambridge when the
book appeared: he is one of Mr Harrison’s possible sources of Tennyson’s
ideas.  He recognised the poet’s “splendid faith (in the face of every
difficulty) in the growing purpose of the sum of life, and in the noble
destiny of the individual man.”  Ten years later Professor Henry
Sidgwick, a mind sufficiently sceptical, found in some lines of _In
Memoriam_ “the indestructible and inalienable minimum of faith which
humanity cannot give up because it is necessary for life; and which I
know that I, at least so far as the man in me is deeper than the
methodical thinker, cannot give up.”  But we know that many persons not
only do not find an irreducible minimum of faith “necessary for life,”
but are highly indignant and contemptuous if any one else ventures to
suggest the logical possibility of any faith at all.

The mass of mankind will probably never be convinced unbelievers—nay,
probably the backward or forward swing of the pendulum will touch more
convinced belief.  But there always have been, since the _Rishis_ of
India sang, superior persons who believe in nothing not material—whatever
the material may be.  Tennyson was, it is said, “impatient” of these
_esprits forts_, and they are impatient of him.  It is an error to be
impatient: we know not whither the _logos_ may lead us, or later
generations; and we ought not to be irritated with others because it
leads them into what we think the wrong path.  It is unfortunate that a
work of art, like _In Memoriam_, should arouse theological or
anti-theological passions.  The poet only shows us the paths by which his
mind travelled: they may not be the right paths, nor is it easy to trace
them on a philosophical chart.  He escaped from Doubting Castle.  Others
may “take that for a hermitage,” and be happy enough in the residence.
We are all determined by our bias: Tennyson’s is unconcealed.  His poem
is not a tract: it does not aim at the conversion of people with the
contrary bias, it is irksome, in writing about a poet, to be obliged to
discuss a philosophy which, certainly, is not stated in the manner of
Spinoza, but is merely the equilibrium of contending forces in a single

The most famous review of _In Memoriam_ is that which declared that
“these touching lines evidently come from the full heart of the widow of
a military man.”  This is only equalled, if equalled, by a recent
critique which treated a fresh edition of _Jane Eyre_ as a new novel,
“not without power, in parts, and showing some knowledge of Yorkshire
local colour.”


ON June 13 Tennyson married, at Shiplake, the object of his old,
long-tried, and constant affection.  The marriage was still
“imprudent,”—eight years of then uncontested supremacy in English poetry
had not brought a golden harvest.  Mr Moxon appears to have supplied £300
“in advance of royalties.”  The sum, so contemptible in the eyes of
first-rate modern novelists, was a competence to Tennyson, added to his
little pension and the _épaves_ of his patrimony.  “The peace of God came
into my life when I married her,” he said in later days.  The poet made a
charming copy of verses to his friend, the Rev. Mr Rawnsley, who tied the
knot, as he and his bride drove to the beautiful village of Pangbourne.
Thence they went to the stately Clevedon Court, the seat of Sir Abraham
Elton, hard by the church where Arthur Hallam sleeps.  The place is very
ancient and beautiful, and was a favourite haunt of Thackeray.  They
passed on to Lynton, and to Glastonbury, where a collateral ancestor of
Mrs Tennyson’s is buried beside King Arthur’s grave, in that green valley
of Avilion, among the apple-blossoms.  They settled for a while at Tent
Lodge on Coniston Water, in a land of hospitable Marshalls.

After their return to London, on the night of November 18, Tennyson
dreamed that Prince Albert came and kissed him, and that he himself said,
“Very kind, but very German,” which was very like him.  Next day he
received from Windsor the offer of the Laureateship.  He doubted, and
hesitated, but accepted.  Since Wordsworth’s death there had, as usual,
been a good deal of banter about the probable new Laureate: examples of
competitive odes exist in _Bon Gaultier_.  That by Tennyson is
Anacreontic, but he was not really set on kissing the Maids of Honour, as
he is made to sing.  Rogers had declined, on the plea of extreme old age;
but it was worthy of the great and good Queen not to overlook the Nestor
of English poets.  For the rest, the Queen looked for “a name bearing
such distinction in the literary world as to do credit to the
appointment.”  In the previous century the great poets had rarely been
Laureates.  But since Sir Walter Scott declined the bays in favour of
Southey, for whom, again, the tale of bricks in the way of Odes was
lightened, and when Wordsworth succeeded Southey, the office became
honourable.  Tennyson gave it an increase of renown, while, though in
itself of merely nominal value, it served his poems, to speak profanely,
as an advertisement.  New editions of his books were at once in demand;
while few readers had ever heard of Mr Browning, already his friend, and
already author of _Men and Women_.

The Laureateship brought the poet acquainted with the Queen, who was to
be his debtor in later days for encouragement and consolation.  To his
Laureateship we owe, among other good things, the stately and moving _Ode
on the Death of the Duke of Wellington_, a splendid heroic piece,
unappreciated at the moment.  But Tennyson was, of course, no Birthday
poet.  Since the exile of the House of Stuart our kings in England have
not maintained the old familiarity with many classes of their subjects.
Literature has not been fashionable at Court, and Tennyson could in no
age have been a courtier.  We hear the complaint, every now and then,
that official honours are not conferred (except the Laureateship) on men
of letters.  But most of them probably think it rather distinguished not
to be decorated, or to carry titles borne by many deserving persons
unvisited by the Muses.  Even the appointment to the bays usually
provokes a great deal of jealous and spiteful feeling, which would only
be multiplied if official honours were distributed among men of the pen.
Perhaps Tennyson’s laurels were not for nothing in the chorus of
dispraise which greeted the _Ode on the Duke of Wellington_, and _Maud_.

The year 1851 was chiefly notable for a tour to Italy, made immortal in
the beautiful poem of _The Daisy_, in a measure of the poet’s own
invention.  The next year, following on the _Coup d’état_ and the rise of
the new French empire, produced patriotic appeals to Britons to “guard
their own,” which to a great extent former alien owners had been
unsuccessful in guarding from Britons.  The Tennysons had lost their
first child at his birth: perhaps he is remembered in _The Grandmother_,
“the babe had fought for his life.”  In August 1852 the present Lord
Tennyson was born, and Mr Maurice was asked to be godfather.  The
Wellington Ode was of November, and was met by “the almost universal
depreciation of the press,”—why, except because, as I have just
suggested, Tennyson was Laureate, it is impossible to imagine.  The
verses were worthy of the occasion: more they could not be.

In the autumn of 1853 the poet visited Ardtornish on the Sound of Mull, a
beautiful place endeared to him who now writes by the earliest
associations.  It chanced to him to pass his holidays there just when
Tennyson and Mr Palgrave had left—“Mr Tinsmith and Mr Pancake,” as Robert
the boatman, a very black Celt, called them.  Being then nine years of
age, I heard of a poet’s visit, and asked, “A real poet, like Sir Walter
Scott?” with whom I then supposed that “the Muse had gone away.”  “Oh,
not like Sir Walter Scott, of course,” my mother told me, with loyalty
unashamed.  One can think of the poet as Mrs Sellar, his hostess,
describes him, beneath the limes of the avenue at Acharn, planted, Mrs
Sellar says, by a cousin of Flora Macdonald.  I have been told that the
lady who planted the lilies, if not the limes, was the famed Jacobite,
Miss Jennie Cameron, mentioned in _Tom Jones_.  An English engraving of
1746 shows the Prince between these two beauties, Flora and Jennie.

“No one,” says Mrs Sellar, “could have been more easy, simple, and
delightful,” and indeed it is no marvel that in her society and that of
her husband, the Greek professor, and her cousin, Miss Cross, and in such
scenes, “he blossomed out in the most genial manner, making us all feel
as if he were an old friend.”

In November Tennyson took a house at Farringford, “as it was beautiful
and far from the haunts of men.”  There he settled to a country existence
in the society of his wife, his two children (the second, Lionel, being
in 1854 the baby), and there he composed _Maud_, while the sound of the
guns, in practice for the war of the Crimea, boomed from the coast.  In
May Tennyson saw the artists, of schools oddly various, who illustrated
his poems.  Millais, Rossetti, and Holman Hunt gave the tone to the art,
but Mr Horsley, Creswick, and Mulgrave were also engaged.  While _Maud_
was being composed Tennyson wrote _The Charge of the Light Brigade_; a
famous poem, not in a manner in which he was born to excel—at least in my
poor opinion.  “Some one _had_ blundered,” and that line was the first
fashioned and the keynote of the poem; but, after all, “blundered” is not
an exquisite rhyme to “hundred.”  The poem, in any case, was most welcome
to our army in the Crimea, and is a spirited piece for recitation.

In January 1855 _Maud_ was finished; in April the poet copied it out for
the press, and refreshed himself by reading a very different poem, _The
Lady of the Lake_.  The author, Sir Walter, had suffered, like the hero
of _Maud_, by an unhappy love affair, which just faintly colours _The
Lady of the Lake_ by a single allusion, in the description of
Fitz-James’s dreams:—

    “Then,—from my couch may heavenly might
    Chase that worst phantom of the night!—
    Again returned the scenes of youth,
    Of confident undoubting truth;
    Again his soul he interchanged
    With friends whose hearts were long estranged.
    They come, in dim procession led,
    The cold, the faithless, and the dead;
    As warm each hand, each brow as gay,
    As if they parted yesterday.
    And doubt distracts him at the view—
    Oh, were his senses false or true?
    Dreamed he of death, or broken vow,
    Or is it all a vision now?”

We learn from Lady Louisa Stuart, to whom Scott read these lines, that
they referred to his lost love.  I cite the passage because the extreme
reticence of Scott, in his undying sorrow, is in contrast with what
Tennyson, after reading _The Lady of the Lake_, was putting into the
mouth of his complaining lover in _Maud_.

We have no reason to suppose that Tennyson himself had ever to bewail a
faithless love.  To be sure, the hero of _Locksley Hall_ is in this
attitude, but then _Locksley Hall_ is not autobiographical.  Less
dramatic and impersonal in appearance are the stanzas—

    “Come not, when I am dead,
       To drop thy foolish tears upon my grave;”


    “Child, if it were thine error or thy crime
       I care no longer, being all unblest.”

No biographer tells us whether this was a personal complaint or a mere
set of verses on an imaginary occasion.  In _In Memoriam_ Tennyson speaks
out concerning the loss of a friend.  In _Maud_, as in _Locksley Hall_,
he makes his hero reveal the agony caused by the loss of a mistress.
There is no reason to suppose that the poet had ever any such mischance,
but many readers have taken _Locksley Hall_ and _Maud_ for
autobiographical revelations, like _In Memoriam_.  They are, on the other
hand, imaginative and dramatic.  They illustrate the pangs of
disappointed love of woman, pangs more complex and more rankling than
those inflicted by death.  In each case, however, the poet, who has sung
so nobly the happiness of fortunate wedded loves, has chosen a hero with
whom we do not readily sympathise—a Hamlet in miniature,

    “With a heart of furious fancies,”

as in the old mad song.  This choice, thanks to the popular
misconception, did him some harm.  As a “monodramatic Idyll,” a romance
in many rich lyric measures, _Maud_ was at first excessively unpopular.
“Tennyson’s _Maud_ is Tennyson’s Maudlin,” said a satirist, and “morbid,”
“mad,” “rampant,” and “rabid bloodthirstiness of soul,” were among the
amenities of criticism.  Tennyson hated war, but his hero, at least,
hopes that national union in a national struggle will awake a nobler than
the commercial spirit.  Into the rights and wrongs of our quarrel with
Russia we are not to go.  Tennyson, rightly or wrongly, took the part of
his country, and must “thole the feud” of those high-souled citizens who
think their country always in the wrong—as perhaps it very frequently is.
We are not to expect a tranquil absence of bias in the midst of military
excitement, when very laudable sentiments are apt to misguide men in both
directions.  In any case, political partisanship added to the enemies of
the poem, which was applauded by Henry Taylor, Ruskin, George Brimley,
and Jowett, while Mrs Browning sent consoling words from Italy.  The poem
remained a favourite with the author, who chose passages from it often,
when persuaded to read aloud by friends; and modern criticism has not
failed to applaud the splendour of the verse and the subtlety of the mad
scenes, the passion of the love lyrics.

These merits have ceased to be disputed, but, though a loyal Tennysonian,
I have never quite been able to reconcile myself to _Maud_ as a whole.
The hero is an unwholesome young man, and not of an original kind.  He is
_un beau ténébreux_ of 1830.  I suppose it has been observed that he is
merely The Master of Ravenswood in modern costume, and without Lady
Ashton.  Her part is taken by Maud’s brother.  The situations of the hero
and of the Master (whose acquaintance Thackeray never renewed after he
lost his hat in the Kelpie Flow) are nearly identical.  The families and
fathers of both have been ruined by “the gray old wolf,” and by Sir
William Ashton, representing the house of Stair.  Both heroes live
dawdling on, hard by their lost ancestral homes.  Both fall in love with
the daughters of the enemies of their houses.  The loves of both are
baffled, and end in tragedy.  Both are concerned in a duel, though the
Master, on his way to the ground, “stables his steed in the Kelpie Flow,”
and the wooer in _Maud_ shoots Lucy Ashton’s brother,—I mean the brother
of Maud,—though duelling in England was out of date.  Then comes an
interval of madness, and he recovers amid the patriotic emotions of the
ill-fated Crimean expedition.  Both lovers are gloomy, though the Master
has better cause, for the Tennysonian hero is more comfortably provided
for than Edgar with his “man and maid,” his Caleb and Mysie.  Finally,
both _The Bride of Lammermoor_, which affected Tennyson so potently in

    (“_A merry merry bridal_,
    _A merry merry day_”),

and _Maud_, excel in passages rather than as wholes.

The hero of _Maud_, with his clandestine wooing of a girl of sixteen, has
this apology, that the match had been, as it were, predestined, and
desired by the mother of the lady.  Still, the brother did not ill to be
angry; and the peevishness of the hero against the brother and the
parvenu lord and rival strikes a jarring note.  In England, at least, the
general sentiment is opposed to this moody, introspective kind of young
man, of whom Tennyson is not to be supposed to approve.  We do not feel
certain that his man and maid were “ever ready to slander and steal.”
That seems to be part of his jaundiced way of looking at everything and
everybody.  He has even a bad word for the “man-god” of modern days,—

    “The man of science himself is fonder of glory, and vain,
    An eye well-practised in nature, a spirit bounded and poor.”

_Rien n’est sacré_ for this cynic, who thinks himself a Stoic.  Thus
_Maud_ was made to be unpopular with the author’s countrymen, who
conceived a prejudice against Maud’s lover, described by Tennyson as “a
morbid poetic soul, . . . an egotist with the makings of a cynic.”  That
he is “raised to sanity” (still in Tennyson’s words) “by a pure and holy
love which elevates his whole nature,” the world failed to perceive,
especially as the sanity was only a brief lucid interval, tempered by
hanging about the garden to meet a girl of sixteen, unknown to her
relations.  Tennyson added that “different phases of passion in one
person take the place of different characters,” to which critics replied
that they wanted different characters, if only by way of relief, and did
not care for any of the phases of passion.  The learned Monsieur Janet
has maintained that love is a disease like another, and that nobody falls
in love when in perfect health of mind and body.  This theory seems open
to exception, but the hero of Maud is unhealthy enough.  At best and
last, he only helps to give a martial force a “send-off”:—

    “I stood on a giant deck and mixed my breath
    With a loyal people shouting a battle-cry.”

He did not go out as a volunteer, and probably the Crimean winters
brought him back to his original estate of cynical gloom—and very

The reconciliation with Life is not like the reconciliation of _In
Memoriam_.  The poem took its rise in old lines, and most beautiful
lines, which Tennyson had contributed in 1837 to a miscellany:—

    “O that ’twere possible,
       After long grief and pain,
    To find the arms of my true love
       Round me once again.”

Thence the poet, working back to find the origin of the situation,
encountered the ideas and the persons of _Maud_.

I have tried to state the sources, in the general mind, of the general
dislike of _Maud_.  The public, “driving at practice,” disapproved of the
“criticism of life” in the poem; confused the suffering narrator with the
author, and neglected the poetry.  “No modern poem,” said Jowett,
“contains more lines that ring in the ears of men.  I do not know any
verse out of Shakespeare in which the ecstacy of love soars to such a
height.”  With these comments we may agree, yet may fail to follow Jowett
when he says, “No poem since Shakespeare seems to show equal power of the
same kind, or equal knowledge of human nature.”  Shakespeare could not in
a narrative poem have preferred the varying passions of one character to
the characters of many persons.

Tennyson was “nettled at first,” his son says, “by these captious remarks
of the ‘indolent reviewers,’ but afterwards he would take no notice of
them except to speak of them in a half-pitiful, half-humorous,
half-mournful manner.”  The besetting sin and error of the critics was,
of course, to confound Tennyson’s hero with himself, as if we confused
Dickens with Pip.

Like _Aurora Leigh_, _Lucile_, and other works, _Maud_ is under the
disadvantage of being, practically, a novel of modern life in verse.
Criticised as a tale of modern life (and it was criticised in that
character), it could not be very highly esteemed.  But the essence of
_Maud_, of course, lies in the poetical vehicle.  Nobody can cavil at the
impressiveness of the opening stanzas—

    “I hate the dreadful hollow behind the little wood”;

with the keynotes of colour and of desolation struck; the lips of the
hollow “dabbled with blood-red heath,” the “red-ribb’d ledges,” and “the
flying gold of the ruin’d woodlands”; and the contrast in the picture of
the child Maud—

    “Maud the delight of the village, the ringing joy of the Hall.”

The poem abounds in lines which live in the memory, as in the vernal

    “A million emeralds break from the ruby-budded lime”;

and the voice heard in the garden singing

    “A passionate ballad gallant and gay,”

as Lovelace’s _Althea_, and the lines on the far-off waving of a white
hand, “betwixt the cloud and the moon.”  The lyric of

    “Birds in the high Hall-garden
       When twilight was falling,
    Maud, Maud, Maud, Maud,
       They were crying and calling,”

was a favourite of the poet.

“What birds were these?” he is said to have asked a lady suddenly, when
reading to a silent company.

“Nightingales,” suggested a listener, who did not probably remember any
other fowl that is vocal in the dusk.

“No, they were rooks,” answered the poet.

“Come into the Garden, Maud,” is as fine a love-song as Tennyson ever
wrote, with a triumphant ring, and a soaring exultant note.  Then the
poem drops from its height, like a lark shot high in heaven; tragedy
comes, and remorse, and the beautiful interlude of the

       “lovely shell,
    Small and pure as a pearl.”

Then follows the exquisite

    “O that ’twere possible,”

and the dull consciousness of the poem of madness, with its dumb gnawing
confusion of pain and wandering memory; the hero being finally left, in
the author’s words, “sane but shattered.”

Tennyson’s letters of the time show that the critics succeeded in
wounding him: it was not a difficult thing to do.  _Maud_ was threatened
with a broadside from “that pompholygous, broad-blown Apollodorus, the
gifted X.”  People who have read Aytoun’s diverting _Firmilian_, where
Apollodorus plays his part, and who remember “gifted Gilfillan” in
_Waverley_, know who the gifted X. was.  But X. was no great authority
south of Tay.

Despite the almost unanimous condemnation by public critics, the success
of _Maud_ enabled Tennyson to buy Farringford, so he must have been
better appreciated and understood by the world than by the reviewers.

In February 1850 Tennyson returned to his old Arthurian themes, “the only
big thing not done,” for Milton had merely glanced at Arthur, Dryden did

    “Raise the Table Round again,”

and Blackmore has never been reckoned adequate.  _Vivien_ was first
composed as _Merlin and Nimue_, and then _Geraint and Enid_ was adapted
from the _Mabinogion_, the Welsh collection of _Märchen_ and legends,
things of widely different ages, now rather Celtic, or Brythonic, now
amplifications made under the influence of mediæval French romance.
_Enid_ was finished in Wales in August, and Tennyson learned Welsh enough
to be able to read the _Mabinogion_, which is much more of Welsh than
many Arthurian critics possess.  The two first Idylls were privately
printed in the summer of 1857, being very rare and much desired of
collectors in this embryonic shape.  In July _Guinevere_ was begun, in
the middle, with Arthur’s valedictory address to his erring consort.  In
autumn Tennyson visited the late Duke of Argyll at Inveraray: he was much
attached to the Duke—unlike Professor Huxley.  Their love of nature, the
Duke being as keen-eyed as the poet was short-sighted, was one tie of
union.  The Indian Mutiny, or at least the death of Havelock, was the
occasion of lines which the author was too wise to include in any of his
volumes: the poem on Lucknow was of later composition.

_Guinevere_ was completed in March 1858; and Tennyson met Mr Swinburne,
then very young.  “What I particularly admired in him was that he did not
press upon me any verses of his own.”  Tennyson would have found more to
admire if he had pressed for a sight of the verses.  Neither he nor Mr
Matthew Arnold was very encouraging to young poets: they had no sons in
Apollo, like Ben Jonson.  But both were kept in a perpetual state of
apprehension by the army of versifiers who send volumes by post, to whom
that can only be said what Tennyson did say to one of them, “As an
amusement to yourself and your friends, the writing it” (verse) “is all
very well.”  It is the friends who do not find it amusing, while the
stranger becomes the foe.  The psychology of these pests of the Muses is
bewildering.  They do not seem to read poetry, only to write it and
launch it at unoffending strangers.  If they bought each other’s books,
all of them could afford to publish.

The Master of Balliol, the most adviceful man, if one may use the term,
of his age, appears to have advised Tennyson to publish the _Idylls_ at
once.  There had been years of silence since _Maud_, and the Master
suspected that “mosquitoes” (reviewers) were the cause.  “There is a note
needed to show the good side of human nature and to condone its frailties
which Thackeray will never strike.”  To others it seems that Thackeray
was eternally striking this note: at that time in General Lambert, his
wife, and daughters, not to speak of other characters in _The
Virginians_.  Who does not condone the frailties of Captain Costigan, and
F. B., and the Chevalier Strong?  In any case, Tennyson took his own
time, he was (1858) only beginning _Elaine_.  There is no doubt that
Tennyson was easily pricked by unsympathetic criticism, even from the
most insignificant source, and, as he confessed, he received little
pleasure from praise.  All authors, without exception, are sensitive.  A
sturdier author wrote that he would sometimes have been glad to meet his
assailant “where the muir-cock was bailie.”  We know how testily
Wordsworth replied in defence to the gentlest comments by Lamb.

The Master of Balliol kept insisting, “As to the critics, their power is
not really great. . . .  One drop of natural feeling in poetry or the
true statement of a single new fact is already felt to be of more value
than all the critics put together.”  Yet even critics may be in the
right, and of all great poets, Tennyson listened most obediently to their
censures, as we have seen in the case of his early poems.  His prolonged
silences after the attacks of 1833 and 1855 were occupied in work and
reflection: Achilles was not merely sulking in his tent, as some of his
friends seem to have supposed.  An epic in a series of epic idylls cannot
be dashed off like a romantic novel in rhyme; and Tennyson’s method was
always one of waiting for maturity of conception and execution.

Mrs Tennyson, doubtless by her lord’s desire, asked the Master (then
tutor of Balliol) to suggest themes.  Old age was suggested, and is
treated in _The Grandmother_.  Other topics were not handled.  “I hold
most strongly,” said the Master, “that it is the duty of every one who
has the good fortune to know a man of genius to do any trifling service
they can to lighten his work.”  To do every service in his power to every
man was the Master’s life-long practice.  He was not much at home, his
letters show, with Burns, to whom he seems to have attributed _John
Anderson_, _my jo_, _John_, while he tells an anecdote of Burns composing
_Tam o’ Shanter_ with emotional tears, which, if true at all, is true of
the making of _To Mary in Heaven_.  If Burns wept over _Tam o’ Shanter_,
the tears must have been tears of laughter.

The first four _Idylls of the King_ were prepared for publication in the
spring of 1859; while Tennyson was at work also on _Pelleas and Ettarre_,
and the Tristram cycle.  In autumn he went on a tour to Lisbon with Mr F.
T. Palgrave and Mr Craufurd Grove.  Returning, he fell eagerly to reading
an early copy of Darwin’s _Origin of Species_, the crown of his own early
speculations on the theory of evolution.  “Your theory does not make
against Christianity?” he asked Darwin later (1868), who replied, “No,
certainly not.”  But Darwin has stated the waverings of his own mind in
contact with a topic too high for _a priori_ reasoning, and only to be
approached, if at all, on the strength of the scientific method applied
to facts which science, so far, neglects, or denies, or “explains away,”
rather than explains.

The _Idylls_, unlike _Maud_, were well received by the press, better by
the public, and best of all by friends like Thackeray, the Duke of
Argyll, the Master of Balliol, and Clough, while Ruskin showed some
reserve.  The letter from Thackeray I cannot deny myself the pleasure of
citing from the Biography: it was written “in an ardour of claret and
gratitude,” but posted some six weeks later:—

                                                  FOLKESTONE, _September_.
                                              36 ONSLOW SQUARE, _October_.

    MY DEAR OLD ALFRED,—I owe you a letter of happiness and thanks.  Sir,
    about three weeks ago, when I was ill in bed, I read the Idylls of
    the King, and I thought, “Oh, I must write to him now, for this
    pleasure, this delight, this splendour of happiness which I have been
    enjoying.”  But I should have blotted the sheets, ’tis ill writing on
    one’s back.  The letter full of gratitude never went as far as the
    post-office, and how comes it now?

    D’abord, a bottle of claret.  (The landlord of the hotel asked me
    down to the cellar and treated me.)  Then afterwards sitting here, an
    old magazine, Fraser’s Magazine, 1850, and I come on a poem out of
    The Princess which says, “I hear the horns of Elfland blowing,
    blowing,”—no, it’s “the horns of Elfland faintly blowing” (I have
    been into my bedroom to fetch my pen and it has made that blot), and,
    reading the lines, which only one man in the world could write, I
    thought about the other horns of Elfland blowing in full strength,
    and Arthur in gold armour, and Guinevere in gold hair, and all those
    knights and heroes and beauties and purple landscapes and misty gray
    lakes in which you have made me live.  They seem like facts to me,
    since about three weeks ago (three weeks or a month was it?) when I
    read the book.  It is on the table yonder, and I don’t like, somehow,
    to disturb it, but the delight and gratitude!  You have made me as
    happy as I was as a child with the Arabian Nights,—every step I have
    walked in Elfland has been a sort of Paradise to me.  (The landlord
    gave two bottles of his claret and I think I drank the most) and here
    I have been lying back in the chair and thinking of those delightful
    Idylls, my thoughts being turned to you: what could I do but be
    grateful to that surprising genius which has made me so happy?  Do
    you understand that what I mean is all true, and that I should break
    out were you sitting opposite with a pipe in your mouth?  Gold and
    purple and diamonds, I say, gentlemen, and glory and love and honour,
    and if you haven’t given me all these why should I be in such an
    ardour of gratitude?  But I have had out of that dear book the
    greatest delight that has ever come to me since I was a young man; to
    write and think about it makes me almost young, and this I suppose is
    what I’m doing, like an after-dinner speech.

    _P.S._—I thought the “Grandmother” quite as fine.  How can you at 50
    be doing things as well as at 35?

    October 16th.—(I should think six weeks after the writing of the

    The rhapsody of gratitude was never sent, and for a peculiar reason:
    just about the time of writing I came to an arrangement with Smith &
    Elder to edit their new magazine, and to have a contribution from T.
    was the publishers’ and editor’s highest ambition.  But to ask a man
    for a favour, and to praise and bow down before him in the same page,
    seemed to be so like hypocrisy, that I held my hand, and left this
    note in my desk, where it has been lying during a little
    French-Italian-Swiss tour which my girls and their papa have been

    Meanwhile S. E. & Co. have been making their own proposals to you,
    and you have replied not favourably, I am sorry to hear; but now
    there is no reason why you should not have my homages, and I am just
    as thankful for the Idylls, and love and admire them just as much, as
    I did two months ago when I began to write in that ardour of claret
    and gratitude.  If you can’t write for us you can’t.  If you can by
    chance some day, and help an old friend, how pleased and happy I
    shall be!  This however must be left to fate and your convenience: I
    don’t intend to give up hope, but accept the good fortune if it
    comes.  I see one, two, three quarterlies advertised to-day, as all
    bringing laurels to laureatus.  He will not refuse the private
    tribute of an old friend, will he?  You don’t know how pleased the
    girls were at Kensington t’other day to hear you quote their father’s
    little verses, and he too I daresay was not disgusted.  He sends you
    and yours his very best regards in this most heartfelt and artless

                                                     (note of admiration)!
                                             Always yours, my dear Alfred,
                                                          W. M. THACKERAY.

Naturally this letter gave Tennyson more pleasure than all the converted
critics with their favourable reviews.  The Duke of Argyll announced the
conversion of Macaulay.  The Master found _Elaine_ “the fairest,
sweetest, purest love poem in the English language.”  As to the whole,
“The allegory in the distance _greatly strengthens_, _also elevates_,
_the meaning of the poem_.”

Ruskin, like some other critics, felt “the art and finish in these poems
a little more than I like to feel it.”  Yet _Guinevere_ and _Elaine_ had
been rapidly written and little corrected.  I confess to the opinion that
what a man does most easily is, as a rule, what he does best.  We know
that the “art and finish” of Shakespeare were spontaneous, and so were
those of Tennyson.  Perfection in art is sometimes more sudden than we
think, but then “the long preparation for it,—that unseen germination,
_that_ is what we ignore and forget.”  But he wisely kept his pieces by
him for a long time, restudying them with a fresh eye.  The “unreality”
of the subject also failed to please Ruskin, as it is a stumbling-block
to others.  He wanted poems on “the living present,” a theme not selected
by Homer, Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, Virgil, or the Greek dramatists,
except (among surviving plays) in the _Persæ of_ Æschylus.  The poet who
can transfigure the hot present is fortunate, but most, and the greatest,
have visited the cool quiet purlieus of the past.


THE Idylls may probably be best considered in their final shape: they are
not an epic, but a series of heroic _idyllia_ of the same genre as the
heroic _idyllia_ of Theocritus.  He wrote long after the natural age of
national epic, the age of Homer.  He saw the later literary epic rise in
the _Argonautica_ of Apollonius Rhodius, a poem with many beauties, if
rather an archaistic and elaborate revival as a whole.  The time for long
narrative poems, Theocritus appears to have thought, was past, and he
only ventured on the heroic _idyllia_ of Heracles, and certain adventures
of the Argonauts.  Tennyson, too, from the first believed that his pieces
ought to be short.  Therefore, though he had a conception of his work as
a whole, a conception long mused on, and sketched in various lights, he
produced no epic, only a series of epic _idyllia_.  He had a spiritual
conception, “an allegory in the distance,” an allegory not to be insisted
upon, though its presence was to be felt.  No longer, as in youth, did
Tennyson intend Merlin to symbolise “the sceptical understanding” (as if
one were to “break into blank the gospel of” Herr Kant), or poor
Guinevere to stand for the Blessed Reformation, or the Table Round for
Liberal Institutions.  Mercifully Tennyson never actually allegorised
Arthur in that fashion.  Later he thought of a musical masque of Arthur,
and sketched a _scenario_.  Finally Tennyson dropped both the allegory of
Liberal principles and the musical masque in favour of the series of
heroic idylls.  There was only a “parabolic drift” in the intention.
“There is no single fact or incident in the Idylls, however seemingly
mystical, which cannot be explained without any mystery or allegory
whatever.”  The Idylls ought to be read (and the right readers never
dream of doing anything else) as romantic poems, just like Browning’s
_Childe Roland_, in which the wrong readers (the members of the Browning
Society) sought for mystic mountains and marvels.  Yet Tennyson had his
own interpretation, “a dream of man coming into practical life and ruined
by one sin.”  That was his “interpretation,” or “allegory in the

People may be heard objecting to the suggestion of any spiritual
interpretation of the Arthur legends, and even to the existence of
elementary morality among the Arthurian knights and ladies.  There seems
to be a notion that “bold bawdry and open manslaughter,” as Roger Ascham
said, are the staple of Tennyson’s sources, whether in the mediæval
French, the Welsh, or in Malory’s compilation, chiefly from French
sources.  Tennyson is accused of “Bowdlerising” these, and of introducing
gentleness, courtesy, and conscience into a literature where such
qualities were unknown.  I must confess myself ignorant of any early and
popular, or “primitive” literature, in which human virtues, and the human
conscience, do not play their part.  Those who object to Tennyson’s
handling of the great Arthurian cycle, on the ground that he is too
refined and too moral, must either never have read or must long have
forgotten even Malory’s romance.  Thus we read, in a recent novel, that
Lancelot was an _homme aux bonnes fortunes_, whereas Lancelot was the
most loyal of lovers.

Among other critics, Mr Harrison has objected that the Arthurian world of
Tennyson “is not quite an ideal world.  Therein lies the difficulty.  The
scene, though not of course historic, has certain historic suggestions
and characters.”  It is not apparent who the historic characters are, for
the real Arthur is but a historic phantasm.  “But then, in the midst of
so much realism, the knights, from Arthur downwards, talk and act in ways
with which we are familiar in modern ethical and psychological novels,
but which are as impossible in real mediæval knights as a Bengal tiger or
a Polar bear would be in a drawing-room.”  I confess to little
acquaintance with modern ethical novels; but real mediæval knights, and
still more the knights of mediæval romance, were capable of very ethical
actions.  To halt an army for the protection and comfort of a laundress
was a highly ethical action.  Perhaps Sir Redvers Buller would do it:
Bruce did.  Mr Harrison accuses the ladies of the Idylls of
soul-bewildering casuistry, like that of women in _Middlemarch_ or
_Helbeck of Bannisdale_.  Now I am not reminded by Guinevere, and Elaine,
and Enid, of ladies in these ethical novels.  But the women of the
mediæval _Cours d’Amour_ (the originals from whom the old romancers drew)
were nothing if not casuists.  “Spiritual delicacy” (as they understood
it) was their delight.

Mr Harrison even argues that Malory’s men lived hot-blooded lives in
fierce times, “before an idea had arisen in the world of ‘reverencing
conscience,’ ‘leading sweet lives,’” and so on.  But he admits that they
had “fantastic ideals of ‘honour’ and ‘love.’”  As to “fantastic,” that
is a matter of opinion, but to have ideals and to live in accordance with
them is to “reverence conscience”, which the heroes of the romances are
said by Mr Harrison never to have had an idea of doing.  They are denied
even “amiable words and courtliness.”  Need one say that courtliness is
the dominant note of mediæval knights, in history as in romance?  With
discourtesy Froissart would “head the count of crimes.”  After a battle,
he says, Scots knights and English would thank each other for a good
fight, “not like the Germans.”  “And now, I dare say,” said Malory’s Sir
Ector, “thou, Sir Lancelot, wast the curtiest knight that ever bare
shield, . . . and thou wast the meekest man and the gentlest that ever
ate in hall among ladies.”  Observe Sir Lancelot in the difficult pass
where the Lily Maid offers her love: “Jesu defend me, for then I rewarded
your father and your brother full evil for their great goodness. . . .
But because, fair damsel, that ye love me as ye say ye do, I will, for
your good will and kindness, show you some goodness, . . . and always
while I live to be your true knight.”  Here are “amiable words and
courtesy.”  I cannot agree with Mr Harrison that Malory’s book is merely
“a fierce lusty epic.”  That was not the opinion of its printer and
publisher, Caxton.  He produced it as an example of “the gentle and
virtuous deeds that some knights used in these days, . . . noble and
renowned acts of humanity, gentleness, and chivalry.  For herein may be
seen noble chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendliness, love, cowardice,
murder, hate, virtue, and sin.  Do after the good and leave the evil.”

In reaction against the bold-faced heroines and sensual amours of some of
the old French romances, an ideal of exaggerated asceticism, of stainless
chastity, notoriously pervades the portion of Malory’s work which deals
with the Holy Grail.  Lancelot is distraught when he finds that, by dint
of enchantment, he has been made false to Guinevere (Book XI. chap.
viii.)  After his dreaming vision of the Holy Grail, with the reproachful
Voice, Sir Lancelot said, “My sin and my wickedness have brought me great
dishonour, . . . and now I see and understand that my old sin hindereth
and shameth me.”  He was human, the Lancelot of Malory, and “fell to his
old love again,” with a heavy heart, and with long penance at the end.
How such good knights can be deemed conscienceless and void of courtesy
one knows not, except by a survival of the Puritanism of Ascham.  But
Tennyson found in the book what is in the book—honour, conscience,
courtesy, and the hero—

    “Whose honour rooted in dishonour stood,
    And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.”

Malory’s book, which was Tennyson’s chief source, ends by being the
tragedy of the conscience of Lancelot.  Arthur is dead, or “In Avalon he
groweth old.”  The Queen and Lancelot might sing, as Lennox reports that
Queen Mary did after Darnley’s murder—

    “_Weel is me_
    _For I am free_.”

“Why took they not their pastime?”  Because conscience forbade, and
Guinevere sends her lover far from her, and both die in religion.  Thus
Malory’s “fierce lusty epic” is neither so lusty nor so fierce but that
it gives Tennyson his keynote: the sin that breaks the fair
companionship, and is bitterly repented.

“The knights are almost too polite to kill each other,” the critic urges.
In Malory they are sometimes quite too polite to kill each other.  Sir
Darras has a blood-feud against Sir Tristram, and Sir Tristram is in his
dungeon.  Sir Darras said, “Wit ye well that Sir Darras shall never
destroy such a noble knight as thou art in prison, howbeit that thou hast
slain three of my sons, whereby I was greatly aggrieved.  But now shalt
thou go and thy fellows. . . .  All that ye did,” said Sir Darras, “was
by force of knighthood, and that was the cause I would not put you to
death” (Book IX. chap. xl.)

Tennyson is accused of “emasculating the fierce lusty epic into a moral
lesson, as if it were to be performed in a drawing-room by an academy of
young ladies”—presided over, I daresay, by “Anglican clergymen.”  I know
not how any one who has read the _Morte d’Arthur_ can blame Tennyson in
the matter.  Let Malory and his sources be blamed, if to be moral is to
be culpable.  A few passages apart, there is no coarseness in Malory;
that there are conscience, courtesy, “sweet lives,” “keeping down the
base in man,” “amiable words,” and all that Tennyson gives, and, in Mr
Harrison’s theory, gives without authority in the romance, my quotations
from Malory demonstrate.  They are chosen at a casual opening of his
book.  That there “had not arisen in the world” “the idea of reverencing
conscience” before the close of the fifteenth century A.D. is an
extraordinary statement for a critic of history to offer.

Mr Harrison makes his protest because “in the conspiracy of silence into
which Tennyson’s just fame has hypnotised the critics, it is bare honesty
to admit defects.”  I think I am not hypnotised, and I do not regard the
Idylls as the crown of Tennyson’s work.  But it is not his “defect” to
have introduced generosity, gentleness, conscience, and chastity where no
such things occur in his sources.  Take Sir Darras: his position is that
of Priam when he meets Achilles, who slew his sons, except that Priam
comes as a suppliant; Sir Darras has Tristram in his hands, and may slay
him.  He is “too polite,” as Mr Harrison says: he is too good a
Christian, or too good a gentleman.  One would not have given a tripod
for the life of Achilles had he fallen into the hands of Priam.  But
between 1200 B.C. (or so) and the date of Malory, new ideas about “living
sweet lives” had arisen.  Where and when do they not arise?  A British
patrol fired on certain Swazis in time of truce.  Their lieutenant, who
had been absent when this occurred, rode alone to the stronghold of the
Swazi king, Sekukoeni, and gave himself up, expecting death by torture.
“Go, sir,” said the king; “we too are gentlemen.”  The idea of a “sweet
life” of honour had dawned even on Sekukoeni: it lights up Malory’s
romance, and is reflected in Tennyson’s Idylls, doubtless with some
modernism of expression.

That the Idylls represent no real world is certain.  That Tennyson
modernises and moralises too much, I willingly admit; what I deny is that
he introduces gentleness, courtesy, and conscience where his sources have
none.  Indeed this is not a matter of critical opinion, but of verifiable
fact.  Any one can read Malory and judge for himself.  But the world in
which the Idylls move could not be real.  For more than a thousand years
different races, different ages, had taken hold of the ancient Celtic
legends and spiritualised them after their own manner, and moulded them
to their own ideals.  There may have been a historical Arthur, _Comes
Britanniæ_, after the Roman withdrawal.  _Ye Amherawdyr Arthur_, “the
Emperor Arthur,” may have lived and fought, and led the Brythons to
battle.  But there may also have been a Brythonic deity, or culture hero,
of the same, or of a similar name, and myths about him may have been
assigned to a real Arthur.  Again, the Arthur of the old Welsh legends
was by no means the blameless king—even in comparatively late French
romances he is not blameless.  But the process of idealising him went on:
still incomplete in Malory’s compilation, where he is often rather otiose
and far from royal.  Tennyson, for his purpose, completed the

As to Guinevere, she was not idealised in the old Welsh rhyme—

    “Guinevere, Giant Ogurvan’s daughter,
    Naughty young, more naughty later.”

Of Lancelot, and her passion for him, the old Welsh has nothing to say.
Probably Chrétien de Troyes, by a happy blunder or misconception, gave
Lancelot his love and his pre-eminent part.  Lancelot was confused with
Peredur, and Guinevere with the lady of whom Peredur was in quest.  The
Elaine who becomes by Lancelot the mother of Galahad “was Lancelot’s
rightful consort, as one recognises in her name that of Elen, the
Empress, whom the story of Peredur” (Lancelot, by the confusion) “gives
that hero to wife.”  The second Elaine, the maid of Astolat, is another
refraction from the original Elen.  As to the Grail, it may be a
Christianised rendering of one or another of the magical and mystic
caldrons of Welsh or Irish legend.  There is even an apparent Celtic
source of the mysterious fisher king of the Grail romance. {112}

A sketch of the evolution of the Arthurian legends might run thus:—

  Sixth to eighth century, growth of myth about an Arthur, real, or
  supposed to be real.

  Tenth century, the Duchies of Normandy and Brittany are in close
  relations; by the eleventh century Normans know Celtic Arthurian

  After, 1066, Normans in contact with the Celtic peoples of this island
  are in touch with the Arthur tales.

  1130–1145, works on Arthurian matter by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

  1155, Wace’s French translation of Geoffrey.

  1150–1182, Chrétien de Troyes writes poems on Arthurian topics.

  French prose romances on Arthur, from, say, 1180 to 1250.  Those
  romances reach Wales, and modify, in translations, the original Welsh
  legends, or, in part, supplant them.

  Amplifications and recastings are numerous.  In 1485 Caxton publishes
  Malory’s selections from French and English sources, the whole being
  Tennyson’s main source, _Le Mort d’Arthur_. {113}

Thus the Arthur stories, originally Celtic, originally a mass of
semi-pagan legend, myth, and _märchen_, have been retold and rehandled by
Norman, Englishman, and Frenchman, taking on new hues, expressing new
ideals—religious, chivalrous, and moral.  Any poet may work his will on
them, and Tennyson’s will was to retain the chivalrous courtesy,
generosity, love, and asceticism, while dimly or brightly veiling or
illuminating them with his own ideals.  After so many processes, from
folk-tale to modern idyll, the Arthurian world could not be real, and
real it is not.  Camelot lies “out of space, out of time,” though the
colouring is mainly that of the later chivalry, and “the gleam” on the
hues is partly derived from Celtic fancy of various dates, and is partly

As the Idylls were finally arranged, the first, _The Coming of Arthur_,
is a remarkable proof of Tennyson’s ingenuity in construction.  Tales
about the birth of Arthur varied.  In Malory, Uther Pendragon, the
Bretwalda (in later phrase) of Britain, besieges the Duke of Tintagil,
who has a fair wife, Ygerne, in another castle.  Merlin magically puts on
Uther the shape of Ygerne’s husband, and as her husband she receives him.
On that night Arthur is begotten by Uther, and the Duke of Tintagil, his
mother’s husband, is slain in a sortie.  Uther weds Ygerne; both
recognise Arthur as their child.  However, by the Celtic custom of
fosterage the infant is intrusted to Sir Ector as his _dalt_, or
foster-child, and Uther falls in battle.  Arthur is later approven king
by the adventure of drawing from the stone the magic sword that no other
king could move.  This adventure answers to Sigmund’s drawing the sword
from the Branstock, in the Volsunga Saga, “Now men stand up, and none
would fain be the last to lay hand to the sword,” apparently stricken
into the pillar by Woden.  “But none who came thereto might avail to pull
it out, for in nowise would it come away howsoever they tugged at it, but
now up comes Sigmund, King Volsung’s son, and sets hand to the sword, and
pulls it from the stock, even as if it lay loose before him.”  The
incident in the Arthurian as in the Volsunga legend is on a par with the
Golden Bough, in the sixth book of the _Æneid_.  Only the predestined
champion, such as Æneas, can pluck, or break, or cut the bough—

       “Ipse volens facilisque sequetu
    Si te fata vocant.”

All this ancient popular element in the Arthur story is disregarded by
Tennyson.  He does not make Uther approach Ygerne in the semblance of her
lord, as Zeus approached Alcmena in the semblance of her husband,
Amphitryon.  He neglects the other ancient test of the proving of Arthur
by his success in drawing the sword.  The poet’s object is to enfold the
origin and birth of Arthur in a spiritual mystery.  This is deftly
accomplished by aid of the various versions of the tale that reach King
Leodogran when Arthur seeks the hand of his daughter Guinevere, for
Arthur’s title to the crown is still disputed, so Leodogran makes
inquiries.  The answers first leave it dubious whether Arthur is son of
Gorloïs, husband of Ygerne, or of Uther, who slew Gorloïs and married

    “Enforced she was to wed him in her tears.”

The Celtic custom of fosterage is overlooked, and Merlin gives the child
to Anton, not as the customary _dalt_, but to preserve the babe from
danger.  Queen Bellicent then tells Leodogran, from the evidence of
Bleys, Merlin’s master in necromancy, the story of Arthur’s miraculous

    “And down the wave and in the flame was borne
    A naked babe, and rode to Merlin’s feet,
    Who stoopt and caught the babe, and cried ‘The King!
    Here is an heir for Uther!’”

But Merlin, when asked by Bellicent to corroborate the statement of
Bleys, merely

    “Answer’d in riddling triplets of old time.”

Finally, Leodogran’s faith is confirmed by a vision.  Thus doubtfully,
amidst rumour and portent, cloud and spiritual light, comes Arthur: “from
the great deep” he comes, and in as strange fashion, at the end, “to the
great deep he goes”—a king to be accepted in faith or rejected by doubt.
Arthur and his ideal are objects of belief.  All goes well while the
knights hold that

    “The King will follow Christ, and we the King,
    In whom high God hath breathed a secret thing.”

In history we find the same situation in the France of 1429—

    “The King will follow Jeanne, and we the King.”

While this faith held, all went well; when the king ceased to follow, the
spell was broken,—the Maid was martyred.  In this sense the poet
conceives the coming of Arthur, a sign to be spoken against, a test of
high purposes, a belief redeeming and ennobling till faith fails, and the
little rift within the lute, the love of Lancelot and Guinevere, makes
discord of the music.  As matter of legend, it is to be understood that
Guinevere did not recognise Arthur when first he rode below her window—

    “Since he neither wore on helm or shield
    The golden symbol of his kinglihood.”

But Lancelot was sent to bring the bride—

       “And return’d
    Among the flowers, in May, with Guinevere.”

Then their long love may have begun, as in the story of Tristram sent to
bring Yseult to be the bride of King Mark.  In Malory, however, Lancelot
does not come on the scene till after Arthur’s wedding and return from
his conquering expedition to Rome.  Then Lancelot wins renown, “wherefore
Queen Guinevere had him in favour above all other knights; and in certain
he loved the Queen again above all other ladies damosels of his life.”
Lancelot, as we have seen, is practically a French creation, adopted to
illustrate the chivalrous theory of love, with its bitter fruit.  Though
not of the original Celtic stock of legend, Sir Lancelot makes the
romance what it is, and draws down the tragedy that originally turned on
the sin of Arthur himself, the sin that gave birth to the traitor Modred.
But the mediæval romancers disguised that form of the story, and the
process of idealising Arthur reached such heights in the middle ages that
Tennyson thought himself at liberty to paint the _Flos Regum_, “the
blameless King.”  He followed the _Brut ab Arthur_.  “In short, God has
not made since Adam was, the man more perfect than Arthur.”  This is
remote from the Arthur of the oldest Celtic legends, but justifies the
poet in adapting Arthur to the ideal hero of the Idylls:—

    “Ideal manhood closed in real man,
    Rather than that grey king, whose name, a ghost,
    Streams like a cloud, man-shaped, from mountain-peak,
    And cleaves to cairn and cromlech still; or him
    Of Geoffrey’s book, or him of Malleor’s, one
    Touched by the adulterous finger of a time
    That hovered between war and wantonness,
    And crownings and dethronements.”

The poetical beauties of _The Coming of Arthur_ excel those of _Gareth
and Lynette_.  The sons of Lot and Bellicent seem to have been originally
regarded as the incestuous offspring of Arthur and his sister, the wife
of King Lot.  Next it was represented that Arthur was ignorant of the
relationship.  Mr Rhys supposes that the mythical scandal (still present
in Malory as a sin of ignorance) arose from blending the Celtic Arthur
(as Culture Hero) with an older divine personage, such as Zeus, who
marries his sister Hera.  Marriages of brother and sister are familiar in
the Egyptian royal house, and that of the Incas.  But the poet has a
perfect right to disregard a scandalous myth which, obviously
crystallised later about the figure of the mythical Celtic Arthur, was an
incongruous accretion to his legend.  Gareth, therefore, is merely
Arthur’s nephew, not son, in the poem, as are Gawain and the traitor
Modred.  The story seems to be rather mediæval French than Celtic—a
mingling of the spirit of _fabliau_ and popular fairy tale.  The poet has
added to its lightness, almost frivolity, the description of the unreal
city of Camelot, built to music, as when

    “Ilion, like a mist, rose into towers.”

He has also brought in the allegory of Death, which, when faced, proves
to be “a blooming boy” behind the mask.  The courtesy and prowess of
Lancelot lead up to the later development of his character.

In _The Marriage of Geraint_, a rumour has already risen about Lancelot
and the Queen, darkening the Court, and presaging

    “The world’s loud whisper breaking into storm.”

For this reason Geraint removes Enid from Camelot to his own land—the
poet thus early leading up to the sin and the doom of Lancelot.  But this
motive does not occur in the Welsh story of Enid and Geraint, which
Tennyson has otherwise followed with unwonted closeness.  The tale occurs
in French romances in various forms, but it appears to have returned, by
way of France and coloured with French influences, to Wales, where it is
one of the later Mabinogion.  The characters are Celtic, and Nud, father
of Edyrn, Geraint’s defeated antagonist, appears to be recognised by Mr
Rhys as “the Celtic Zeus.”  The manners and the tournaments are French.
In the Welsh tale Geraint and Enid are bedded in Arthur’s own chamber,
which seems to be a symbolic commutation of the _jus primæ noctis_ a
custom of which the very existence is disputed.  This unseemly
antiquarian detail, of course, is omitted in the Idyll.

An abstract of the Welsh tale will show how closely Tennyson here follows
his original.  News is brought into Arthur’s Court of the appearance of a
white stag.  The king arranges a hunt, and Guinevere asks leave to go and
watch the sport.  Next morning she cannot be wakened, though the tale
does not aver, like the Idyll, that she was

    “Lost in sweet dreams, and dreaming of her love
    For Lancelot.”

Guinevere wakes late, and rides through a ford of Usk to the hunt.
Geraint follows, “a golden-hilted sword was at his side, and a robe and a
surcoat of satin were upon him, and two shoes of leather upon his feet,
and around him was a scarf of blue purple, at each corner of which was a
golden apple”:—

    “But Guinevere lay late into the morn,
    Lost in sweet dreams, and dreaming of her love
    For Lancelot, and forgetful of the hunt;
    But rose at last, a single maiden with her,
    Took horse, and forded Usk, and gain’d the wood;
    There, on a little knoll beside it, stay’d
    Waiting to hear the hounds; but heard instead
    A sudden sound of hoofs, for Prince Geraint,
    Late also, wearing neither hunting-dress
    Nor weapon, save a golden-hilted brand,
    Came quickly flashing thro’ the shallow ford
    Behind them, and so gallop’d up the knoll.
    A purple scarf, at either end whereof
    There swung an apple of the purest gold,
    Sway’d round about him, as he gallop’d up
    To join them, glancing like a dragon-fly
    In summer suit and silks of holiday.”

The encounter with the dwarf, the lady, and the knight follows.  The
prose of the Mabinogi may be compared with the verse of Tennyson:—

    “Geraint,” said Gwenhwyvar, “knowest thou the name of that tall
    knight yonder?”  “I know him not,” said he, “and the strange armour
    that he wears prevents my either seeing his face or his features.”
    “Go, maiden,” said Gwenhwyvar, “and ask the dwarf who that knight
    is.”  Then the maiden went up to the dwarf; and the dwarf waited for
    the maiden, when he saw her coming towards him.  And the maiden
    inquired of the dwarf who the knight was.  “I will not tell thee,” he
    answered.  “Since thou art so churlish as not to tell me,” said she,
    “I will ask him himself.”  “Thou shalt not ask him, by my faith,”
    said he.  “Wherefore?” said she.  “Because thou art not of honour
    sufficient to befit thee to speak to my Lord.”  Then the maiden
    turned her horse’s head towards the knight, upon which the dwarf
    struck her with the whip that was in his hand across the face and the
    eyes, until the blood flowed forth.  And the maiden, through the hurt
    she received from the blow, returned to Gwenhwyvar, complaining of
    the pain.  “Very rudely has the dwarf treated thee,” said Geraint.
    “I will go myself to know who the knight is.”  “Go,” said Gwenhwyvar.
    And Geraint went up to the dwarf.  “Who is yonder knight?” said
    Geraint.  “I will not tell thee,” said the dwarf.  “Then will I ask
    him himself,” said he.  “That wilt thou not, by my faith,” said the
    dwarf; “thou art not honourable enough to speak with my Lord.”  Said
    Geraint, “I have spoken with men of equal rank with him.”  And he
    turned his horse’s head towards the knight; but the dwarf overtook
    him, and struck him as he had done the maiden, so that the blood
    coloured the scarf that Geraint wore.  Then Geraint put his hand upon
    the hilt of his sword, but he took counsel with himself, and
    considered that it would be no vengeance for him to slay the dwarf,
    and to be attacked unarmed by the armed knight, so he returned to
    where Gwenhwyvar was.

       “And while they listen’d for the distant hunt,
    And chiefly for the baying of Cavall,
    King Arthur’s hound of deepest mouth, there rode
    Full slowly by a knight, lady, and dwarf;
    Whereof the dwarf lagg’d latest, and the knight
    Had vizor up, and show’d a youthful face,
    Imperious, and of haughtiest lineaments.
    And Guinevere, not mindful of his face
    In the King’s hall, desired his name, and sent
    Her maiden to demand it of the dwarf;
    Who being vicious, old and irritable,
    And doubling all his master’s vice of pride,
    Made answer sharply that she should not know.
    ‘Then will I ask it of himself,’ she said.
    ‘Nay, by my faith, thou shalt not,’ cried the dwarf;
    ‘Thou art not worthy ev’n to speak of him’;
    And when she put her horse toward the knight,
    Struck at her with his whip, and she return’d
    Indignant to the Queen; whereat Geraint
    Exclaiming, ‘Surely I will learn the name,’
    Made sharply to the dwarf, and ask’d it of him,
    Who answer’d as before; and when the Prince
    Had put his horse in motion toward the knight,
    Struck at him with his whip, and cut his cheek.
    The Prince’s blood spirted upon the scarf,
    Dyeing it; and his quick, instinctive hand
    Caught at the hilt, as to abolish him:
    But he, from his exceeding manfulness
    And pure nobility of temperament,
    Wroth to be wroth at such a worm, refrain’d
    From ev’n a word.”

The self-restraint of Geraint, who does not slay the dwarf,

       “From his exceeding manfulness
    And pure nobility of temperament,”

may appear “too polite,” and too much in accord with the still
undiscovered idea of “leading sweet lives.”  However, the uninvented idea
does occur in the Welsh original: “Then Geraint put his hand upon the
hilt of his sword, but he took counsel with himself, and considered that
it would be no vengeance for him to slay the dwarf,” while he also
reflects that he would be “attacked unarmed by the armed knight.”
Perhaps Tennyson may be blamed for omitting this obvious motive for
self-restraint.  Geraint therefore follows the knight in hope of finding
arms, and arrives at the town all busy with preparations for the
tournament of the sparrow-hawk.  This was a challenge sparrow-hawk: the
knight had won it twice, and if he won it thrice it would be his to keep.
The rest, in the tale, is exactly followed in the Idyll.  Geraint is
entertained by the ruined Yniol.  The youth bears the “costrel” full of
“good purchased mead” (the ruined Earl not brewing for himself), and Enid
carries the manchet bread in her veil, “old, and beginning to be worn
out.”  All Tennyson’s own is the beautiful passage—

       “And while he waited in the castle court,
    The voice of Enid, Yniol’s daughter, rang
    Clear thro’ the open casement of the hall,
    Singing; and as the sweet voice of a bird,
    Heard by the lander in a lonely isle,
    Moves him to think what kind of bird it is
    That sings so delicately clear, and make
    Conjecture of the plumage and the form;
    So the sweet voice of Enid moved Geraint;
    And made him like a man abroad at morn
    When first the liquid note beloved of men
    Comes flying over many a windy wave
    To Britain, and in April suddenly
    Breaks from a coppice gemm’d with green and red,
    And he suspends his converse with a friend,
    Or it may be the labour of his hands,
    To think or say, ‘There is the nightingale’;
    So fared it with Geraint, who thought and said,
    ‘Here, by God’s grace, is the one voice for me.’”

Yniol frankly admits in the tale that he was in the wrong in the quarrel
with his nephew.  The poet, however, gives him the right, as is natural.
The combat is exactly followed in the Idyll, as is Geraint’s insistence
in carrying his bride to Court in her faded silks.  Geraint, however,
leaves Court with Enid, not because of the scandal about Lancelot, but to
do his duty in his own country.  He becomes indolent and uxorious, and
Enid deplores his weakness, and awakes his suspicions, thus:—

    And one morning in the summer time they were upon their couch, and
    Geraint lay upon the edge of it.  And Enid was without sleep in the
    apartment which had windows of glass.  And the sun shone upon the
    couch.  And the clothes had slipped from off his arms and his breast,
    and he was asleep.  Then she gazed upon the marvellous beauty of his
    appearance, and she said, “Alas, and am I the cause that these arms
    and this breast have lost their glory and the warlike fame which they
    once so richly enjoyed!”  And as she said this, the tears dropped
    from her eyes, and they fell upon his breast.  And the tears she
    shed, and the words she had spoken, awoke him; and another thing
    contributed to awaken him, and that was the idea that it was not in
    thinking of him that she spoke thus, but that it was because she
    loved some other man more than him, and that she wished for other
    society, and thereupon Geraint was troubled in his mind, and he
    called his squire; and when he came to him, “Go quickly,” said he,
    “and prepare my horse and my arms, and make them ready.  And do thou
    arise,” said he to Enid, “and apparel thyself; and cause thy horse to
    be accoutred, and clothe thee in the worst riding-dress that thou
    hast in thy possession.  And evil betide me,” said he, “if thou
    returnest here until thou knowest whether I have lost my strength so
    completely as thou didst say.  And if it be so, it will then be easy
    for thee to seek the society thou didst wish for of him of whom thou
    wast thinking.”  So she arose, and clothed herself in her meanest
    garments.  “I know nothing, Lord,” said she, “of thy meaning.”
    “Neither wilt thou know at this time,” said he.

       “At last, it chanced that on a summer morn
    (They sleeping each by either) the new sun
    Beat thro’ the blindless casement of the room,
    And heated the strong warrior in his dreams;
    Who, moving, cast the coverlet aside,
    And bared the knotted column of his throat,
    The massive square of his heroic breast,
    And arms on which the standing muscle sloped,
    As slopes a wild brook o’er a little stone,
    Running too vehemently to break upon it.
    And Enid woke and sat beside the couch,
    Admiring him, and thought within herself,
    Was ever man so grandly made as he?
    Then, like a shadow, past the people’s talk
    And accusation of uxoriousness
    Across her mind, and bowing over him,
    Low to her own heart piteously she said:

       ‘O noble breast and all-puissant arms,
    Am I the cause, I the poor cause that men
    Reproach you, saying all your force is gone?
    I _am_ the cause, because I dare not speak
    And tell him what I think and what they say.
    And yet I hate that he should linger here;
    I cannot love my lord and not his name.
    Far liefer had I gird his harness on him,
    And ride with him to battle and stand by,
    And watch his mightful hand striking great blows
    At caitiffs and at wrongers of the world.
    Far better were I laid in the dark earth,
    Not hearing any more his noble voice,
    Not to be folded more in these dear arms,
    And darken’d from the high light in his eyes,
    Than that my lord thro’ me should suffer shame.
    Am I so bold, and could I so stand by,
    And see my dear lord wounded in the strife,
    Or maybe pierced to death before mine eyes,
    And yet not dare to tell him what I think,
    And how men slur him, saying all his force
    Is melted into mere effeminacy?
    O me, I fear that I am no true wife.’

       Half inwardly, half audibly she spoke,
    And the strong passion in her made her weep
    True tears upon his broad and naked breast,
    And these awoke him, and by great mischance
    He heard but fragments of her later words,
    And that she fear’d she was not a true wife.
    And then he thought, ‘In spite of all my care,
    For all my pains, poor man, for all my pains,
    She is not faithful to me, and I see her
    Weeping for some gay knight in Arthur’s hall.’
    Then tho’ he loved and reverenced her too much
    To dream she could be guilty of foul act,
    Right thro’ his manful breast darted the pang
    That makes a man, in the sweet face of her
    Whom he loves most, lonely and miserable.
    At this he hurl’d his huge limbs out of bed,
    And shook his drowsy squire awake and cried,
    ‘My charger and her palfrey’; then to her,
    ‘I will ride forth into the wilderness;
    For tho’ it seems my spurs are yet to win,
    I have not fall’n so low as some would wish.
    And thou, put on thy worst and meanest dress
    And ride with me.’  And Enid ask’d, amazed,
    ‘If Enid errs, let Enid learn her fault.’
    But he, ‘I charge thee, ask not, but obey.’
    Then she bethought her of a faded silk,
    A faded mantle and a faded veil,
    And moving toward a cedarn cabinet,
    Wherein she kept them folded reverently
    With sprigs of summer laid between the folds,
    She took them, and array’d herself therein,
    Remembering when first he came on her
    Drest in that dress, and how he loved her in it,
    And all her foolish fears about the dress,
    And all his journey to her, as himself
    Had told her, and their coming to the court.”


    “Arms on which the standing muscle sloped,
    As slopes a wild brook o’er a little stone,
    Running too vehemently to break upon it,”

is suggested perhaps by Theocritus—“The muscles on his brawny arms stood
out like rounded rocks that the winter torrent has rolled and worn
smooth, in the great swirling stream” (Idyll xxii.)

The second part of the poem follows the original less closely.  Thus
Limours, in the tale, is not an old suitor of Enid; Edyrn does not appear
to the rescue; certain cruel games, veiled in a magic mist, occur in the
tale, and are omitted by the poet; “Gwyffert petit, so called by the
Franks, whom the Cymry call the Little King,” in the tale, is not a
character in the Idyll, and, generally, the gross Celtic exaggerations of
Geraint’s feats are toned down by Tennyson.  In other respects, as when
Geraint eats the mowers’ dinner, the tale supplies the materials.  But it
does not dwell tenderly on the reconciliation.  The tale is more or less
in the vein of “patient Grizel,” and he who told it is more concerned
with the fighting than with _amoris redintegratio_, and the sufferings of
Enid.  The Idyll is enriched with many beautiful pictures from nature,
such as this:—

    “But at the flash and motion of the man
    They vanish’d panic-stricken, like a shoal
    Of darting fish, that on a summer morn
    Adown the crystal dykes at Camelot
    Come slipping o’er their shadows on the sand,
    But if a man who stands upon the brink
    But lift a shining hand against the sun,
    There is not left the twinkle of a fin
    Betwixt the cressy islets white in flower;
    So, scared but at the motion of the man,
    Fled all the boon companions of the Earl,
    And left him lying in the public way.”

In _Balin and Balan_ Tennyson displays great constructive power, and
remarkable skill in moulding the most recalcitrant materials.  Balin or
Balyn, according to Mr Rhys, is the Belinus of Geoffrey of Monmouth,
“whose name represents the Celtic divinity described in Latin as Apollo
Belenus or Belinus.” {129a}  In Geoffrey, Belinus, euphemerised, or
reduced from god to hero, has a brother, Brennius, the Celtic Brân, King
of Britain from Caithness to the Humber.  Belinus drives Brân into exile.
“Thus it is seen that Belinus or Balyn was, mythologically speaking, the
natural enemy” (as Apollo Belinus, the radiant god) “of the dark divinity
Brân or Balan.”

If this view be correct, the two brothers answer to the good and bad
principles of myths like that of the Huron Iouskeha the Sun, and
Anatensic the Moon, or rather Taouiscara and Iouskeha, the hostile
brothers, Black and White. {129b}  These mythical brethren are, in
Malory, two knights of Northumberland, Balin the wild and Balan.  Their
adventures are mixed up with a hostile Lady of the Lake, whom Balin slays
in Arthur’s presence, with a sword which none but Balin can draw from
sheath; and with an evil black-faced knight Garlon, invisible at will,
whom Balin slays in the castle of the knight’s brother, King Pellam.
Pursued from room to room by Pellam, Balin finds himself in a chamber
full of relics of Joseph of Arimathea.  There he seizes a spear, the very
spear with which the Roman soldier pierced the side of the Crucified, and
wounds Pellam.  The castle falls in ruins “through that dolorous stroke.”
Pellam becomes the maimed king, who can only be healed by the Holy Grail.
Apparently Celtic myths of obscure antiquity have been adapted in France,
and interwoven with fables about Joseph of Arimathea and Christian
mysteries.  It is not possible here to go into the complicated learning
of the subject.  In Malory, Balin, after dealing the dolorous stroke,
borrows a strange shield from a knight, and, thus accoutred, meets his
brother Balan, who does not recognise him.  They fight, both die and are
buried in one tomb, and Galahad later achieves the adventure of winning
Balin’s sword.  “Thus endeth the tale of Balyn and of Balan, two brethren
born in Northumberland, good knights,” says Malory, simply, and
unconscious of the strange mythological medley under the coat armour of

The materials, then, seemed confused and obdurate, but Tennyson works
them into the course of the fatal love of Lancelot and Guinevere, and
into the spiritual texture of the Idylls.  Balin has been expelled from
Court for the wildness that gives him his name, _Balin le Sauvage_.  He
had buffeted a squire in hall.  He and Balan await all challengers beside
a well.  Arthur encounters and dismounts them.  Balin devotes himself to
self-conquest.  Then comes tidings that Pellam, of old leagued with Lot
against Arthur, has taken to religion, collects relics, claims descent
from Joseph of Arimathea, and owns the sacred spear that pierced the side
of Christ.  But Garlon is with him, the knight invisible, who appears to
come from an Irish source, or at least has a parallel in Irish legend.
This Garlon has an unknightly way of killing men by viewless blows from
the rear.  Balan goes to encounter Garlon.  Balin remains, learning
courtesy, modelling himself on Lancelot, and gaining leave to bear
Guinevere’s Crown Matrimonial for his cognisance,—which, of course, Balan
does not know,—

    “As golden earnest of a better life.”

But Balin sees reason to think that Lancelot and Guinevere love even too

       “Then chanced, one morning, that Sir Balin sat
    Close-bower’d in that garden nigh the hall.
    A walk of roses ran from door to door;
    A walk of lilies crost it to the bower:
    And down that range of roses the great Queen
    Came with slow steps, the morning on her face;
    And all in shadow from the counter door
    Sir Lancelot as to meet her, then at once,
    As if he saw not, glanced aside, and paced
    The long white walk of lilies toward the bower.
    Follow’d the Queen; Sir Balin heard her ‘Prince,
    Art thou so little loyal to thy Queen,
    As pass without good morrow to thy Queen?’
    To whom Sir Lancelot with his eyes on earth,
    ‘Fain would I still be loyal to the Queen.’
    ‘Yea so,’ she said, ‘but so to pass me by—
    So loyal scarce is loyal to thyself,
    Whom all men rate the king of courtesy.
    Let be: ye stand, fair lord, as in a dream.’

       Then Lancelot with his hand among the flowers,
    ‘Yea—for a dream.  Last night methought I saw
    That maiden Saint who stands with lily in hand
    In yonder shrine.  All round her prest the dark,
    And all the light upon her silver face
    Flow’d from the spiritual lily that she held.
    Lo! these her emblems drew mine eyes—away:
    For see, how perfect-pure!  As light a flush
    As hardly tints the blossom of the quince
    Would mar their charm of stainless maidenhood.’

       ‘Sweeter to me,’ she said, ‘this garden rose
    Deep-hued and many-folded sweeter still
    The wild-wood hyacinth and the bloom of May.
    Prince, we have ridd’n before among the flowers
    In those fair days—not all as cool as these,
    Tho’ season-earlier.  Art thou sad? or sick?
    Our noble King will send thee his own leech—
    Sick? or for any matter anger’d at me?’

       Then Lancelot lifted his large eyes; they dwelt
    Deep-tranced on hers, and could not fall: her hue
    Changed at his gaze: so turning side by side
    They past, and Balin started from his bower.

       ‘Queen? subject? but I see not what I see.
    Damsel and lover? hear not what I hear.
    My father hath begotten me in his wrath.
    I suffer from the things before me, know,
    Learn nothing; am not worthy to be knight;
    A churl, a clown!’ and in him gloom on gloom
    Deepen’d: he sharply caught his lance and shield,
    Nor stay’d to crave permission of the King,
    But, mad for strange adventure, dash’d away.”

Balin is “disillusioned,” his faith in the Ideal is shaken if not
shattered.  He rides at adventure.  Arriving at the half-ruined castle of
Pellam, that dubious devotee, he hears Garlon insult Guinevere, but
restrains himself.  Next day, again insulted for bearing “the crown
scandalous” on his shield, he strikes Garlon down, is pursued, seizes the
sacred spear, and escapes.  Vivien meets him in the woods, drops scandal
in his ears, and so maddens him that he defaces his shield with the crown
of Guinevere.  Her song, and her words,

          “This fire of Heaven,
    This old sun-worship, boy, will rise again,
    And beat the cross to earth, and break the King
    And all his Table,”

might be forced into an allegory of the revived pride of life, at the
Renaissance and after.  The maddened yells of Balin strike the ear of
Balan, who thinks he has met the foul knight Garlon, that

    “Tramples on the goodly shield to show
    His loathing of our Order and the Queen.”

They fight, fatally wound, and finally recognise each other: Balan trying
to restore Balin’s faith in Guinevere, who is merely slandered by Garlon
and Vivien.  Balin acknowledges that his wildness has been their common
bane, and they die, “either locked in either’s arms.”

There is nothing in Malory, nor in any other source, so far as I am
aware, which suggested to Tennyson the _clou_ of the situation—the use of
Guinevere’s crown as a cognisance by Balin.  This device enables the poet
to weave the rather confused and unintelligible adventures of Balin and
Balan into the scheme, and to make it a stage in the progress of his
fable.  That Balin was reckless and wild Malory bears witness, but his
endeavours to conquer himself and reach the ideal set by Lancelot are
Tennyson’s addition, with all the tragedy of Balin’s disenchantment and
despair.  The strange fantastic house of Pellam, full of the most sacred

    “In which he scarce could spy the Christ for Saints,”

yet sheltering the human fiend Garlon, is supplied by Malory, whose
predecessors probably blended more than one myth of the old Cymry into
the romance, washed over with Christian colouring.  As Malory tells this
part of the tale it is perhaps more strange and effective than in the
Idyll.  The introduction of Vivien into this adventure is wholly due to
Tennyson: her appearance here leads up to her triumph in the poem which
follows, _Merlin and Vivien_.

The nature and origin of Merlin are something of a mystery.  Hints and
rumours of Merlin, as of Arthur, stream from hill and grave as far north
as Tweedside.  If he was a historical person, myths of magic might
crystallise round him, as round Virgil in Italy.  The process would be
the easier in a country where the practices of Druidry still lingered,
and revived after the retreat of the Romans.  The mediæval romancers
invented a legend that Merlin was a virgin-born child of Satan.  In
Tennyson he may be guessed to represent the fabled esoteric lore of old
religions, with their vague pantheisms, and such magic as the _tapas_ of
Brahmanic legends.  He is wise with a riddling evasive wisdom: the
builder of Camelot, the prophet, a shadow of Druidry clinging to the
Christian king.  His wisdom cannot avail him: if he beholds “his own
mischance with a glassy countenance,” he cannot avoid his shapen fate.
He becomes assotted of Vivien, and goes open-eyed to his doom.

The enchantress, Vivien, is one of that dubious company of Ladies of the
Lake, now friendly, now treacherous.  Probably these ladies are the
fairies of popular Celtic tradition, taken up into the more elaborate
poetry of Cymric literature and mediæval romance.  Mr Rhys traces Vivien,
or Nimue, or Nyneue, back, through a series of palæographic changes and
errors, to Rhiannon, wife of Pwyll, a kind of lady of the lake he thinks,
but the identification is not very satisfactory.  Vivien is certainly
“one of the damsels of the lake” in Malory, and the damsels of the lake
seem to be lake fairies, with all their beguilements and strange unstable
loves.  “And always Merlin lay about the lady to have her maidenhood, and
she was ever passing weary of him, and fain would have been delivered of
him, for she was afraid of him because he was a devil’s son. . . .  So by
her subtle working she made Merlin to go under that stone to let her wit
of the marvels there, but she wrought so there for him that he came never
out for all the craft he could do.  And so she departed and left Merlin.”
The sympathy of Malory is not with the enchanter.  In the Idylls, as
finally published, Vivien is born on a battlefield of death, with a
nature perverted, and an instinctive hatred of the good.  Wherefore she
leaves the Court of King Mark to make mischief in Camelot.  She is, in
fact, the ideal minx, a character not elsewhere treated by Tennyson:—

       “She hated all the knights, and heard in thought
    Their lavish comment when her name was named.
    For once, when Arthur walking all alone,
    Vext at a rumour issued from herself
    Of some corruption crept among his knights,
    Had met her, Vivien, being greeted fair,
    Would fain have wrought upon his cloudy mood
    With reverent eyes mock-loyal, shaken voice,
    And flutter’d adoration, and at last
    With dark sweet hints of some who prized him more
    Than who should prize him most; at which the King
    Had gazed upon her blankly and gone by:
    But one had watch’d, and had not held his peace:
    It made the laughter of an afternoon
    That Vivien should attempt the blameless King.
    And after that, she set herself to gain
    Him, the most famous man of all those times,
    Merlin, who knew the range of all their arts,
    Had built the King his havens, ships, and halls,
    Was also Bard, and knew the starry heavens;
    The people call’d him Wizard; whom at first
    She play’d about with slight and sprightly talk,
    And vivid smiles, and faintly-venom’d points
    Of slander, glancing here and grazing there;
    And yielding to his kindlier moods, the Seer
    Would watch her at her petulance, and play,
    Ev’n when they seem’d unloveable, and laugh
    As those that watch a kitten; thus he grew
    Tolerant of what he half disdain’d, and she,
    Perceiving that she was but half disdain’d,
    Began to break her sports with graver fits,
    Turn red or pale, would often when they met
    Sigh fully, or all-silent gaze upon him
    With such a fixt devotion, that the old man,
    Tho’ doubtful, felt the flattery, and at times
    Would flatter his own wish in age for love,
    And half believe her true: for thus at times
    He waver’d; but that other clung to him,
    Fixt in her will, and so the seasons went.”

Vivien is modern enough—if any type of character is modern: at all events
there is no such Blanche Amory of a girl in the old legends and romances.
In these Merlin fatigues the lady by his love; she learns his arts, and
gets rid of him as she can.  His forebodings in the Idyll contain a
magnificent image:—

       “There lay she all her length and kiss’d his feet,
    As if in deepest reverence and in love.
    A twist of gold was round her hair; a robe
    Of samite without price, that more exprest
    Than hid her, clung about her lissome limbs,
    In colour like the satin-shining palm
    On sallows in the windy gleams of March:
    And while she kiss’d them, crying, ‘Trample me,
    Dear feet, that I have follow’d thro’ the world,
    And I will pay you worship; tread me down
    And I will kiss you for it’; he was mute:
    So dark a forethought roll’d about his brain,
    As on a dull day in an Ocean cave
    The blind wave feeling round his long sea-hall
    In silence.”

We think of the blinded Cyclops groping round his cave, like “the blind
wave feeling round his long sea-hall.”

The richness, the many shining contrasts and immortal lines in _Vivien_,
seem almost too noble for a subject not easily redeemed, and the picture
of the ideal Court lying in full corruption.  Next to _Elaine_, Jowett
wrote that he “admired _Vivien_ the most (the naughty one), which seems
to me a work of wonderful power and skill.  It is most elegant and
fanciful.  I am not surprised at your Delilah beguiling the wise man; she
is quite equal to it.”  The dramatic versatility of Tennyson’s genius,
his power of creating the most various characters, is nowhere better
displayed than in the contrast between the _Vivien_ and the _Elaine_.
Vivien is a type, her adventure is of a nature, which he has not
elsewhere handled.  Thackeray, who admired the Idylls so
enthusiastically, might have recognised in Vivien a character not unlike
some of his own, as dark as Becky Sharp, more terrible in her selfishness
than that Beatrix Esmond who is still a paragon, and, in her creator’s
despite, a queen of hearts.  In Elaine, on the other hand, Tennyson has
drawn a girl so innocently passionate, and told a tale of love that never
found his earthly close, so delicately beautiful, that we may perhaps
place this Idyll the highest of his poems on love, and reckon it the gem
of the Idylls, the central diamond in the diamond crown.  Reading
_Elaine_ once more, after an interval of years, one is captivated by its
grace, its pathos, its nobility.  The poet had touched on some
unidentified form of the story, long before, in _The Lady of Shalott_.
That poem had the mystery of romance, but, in human interest, could not
compete with _Elaine_, if indeed any poem of Tennyson’s can be ranked
with this matchless Idyll.

The mere invention, and, as we may say, _charpentage_, are of the first
order.  The materials in Malory, though beautiful, are simple, and left a
field for the poet’s invention. {139}

Arthur, with the Scots and Northern knights, means to encounter all
comers at a Whitsuntide tourney.  Guinevere is ill, and cannot go to the
jousts, while Lancelot makes excuse that he is not healed of a wound.
“Wherefore the King was heavy and passing wroth, and so he departed
towards Winchester.”  The Queen then blamed Lancelot: people will say
they deceive Arthur.  “Madame,” said Sir Lancelot, “I allow your wit; it
is of late come that ye were wise.”  In the Idyll Guinevere speaks as if
their early loves had been as conspicuous as, according to George
Buchanan, were those of Queen Mary and Bothwell.  Lancelot will go to the
tourney, and, despite Guinevere’s warning, will take part against Arthur
and his own fierce Northern kinsmen.  He rides to Astolat—“that is,
Gylford”—where Arthur sees him.  He borrows the blank shield of “Sir
Torre,” and the company of his brother Sir Lavaine.  Elaine “cast such a
love unto Sir Lancelot that she would never withdraw her love, wherefore
she died.”  At her prayer, and for better disguise (as he had never worn
a lady’s favour), Lancelot carried her scarlet pearl-embroidered sleeve
in his helmet, and left his shield in Elaine’s keeping.  The tourney
passes as in the poem, Gawain recognising Lancelot, but puzzled by the
favour he wears.  The wounded Lancelot “thought to do what he might while
he might endure.”  When he is offered the prize he is so sore hurt that
he “takes no force of no honour.”  He rides into a wood, where Lavaine
draws forth the spear.  Lavaine brings Lancelot to the hermit, once a
knight.  “I have seen the day,” says the hermit, “I would have loved him
the worse, because he was against my lord, King Arthur, for some time.  I
was one of the fellowship of the Round Table, but I thank God now I am
otherwise disposed.”  Gawain, seeking the wounded knight, comes to
Astolat, where Elaine declares “he is the man in the world that I first
loved, and truly he is the last that ever I shall love.”  Gawain, on
seeing the shield, tells Elaine that the wounded knight is Lancelot, and
she goes to seek him and Lavaine.  Gawain does not pay court to Elaine,
nor does Arthur rebuke him, as in the poem.  When Guinevere heard that
Lancelot bore another lady’s favour, “she was nigh out of her mind for
wrath,” and expressed her anger to Sir Bors, for Gawain had spoken of the
maid of Astolat.  Bors tells this to Lancelot, who is tended by Elaine.
“‘But I well see,’ said Sir Bors, ‘by her diligence about you that she
loveth you entirely.’  ‘That me repenteth,’ said Sir Lancelot.  Said Sir
Bors, ‘Sir, she is not the first that hath lost her pain upon you, and
that is the more pity.’”  When Lancelot recovers, and returns to Astolat,
she declares her love with the frankness of ladies in mediæval romance.
“Have mercy upon me and suffer me not to die for thy love.”  Lancelot
replies with the courtesy and the offers of service which became him.
“Of all this,” said the maiden, “I will none; for but if ye will wed me,
or be my paramour at the least, wit you well, Sir Lancelot, my good days
are done.”

This was a difficult pass for the poet, living in other days of other
manners.  His art appears in the turn which he gives to Elaine’s

       “But when Sir Lancelot’s deadly hurt was whole,
    To Astolat returning rode the three.
    There morn by morn, arraying her sweet self
    In that wherein she deem’d she look’d her best,
    She came before Sir Lancelot, for she thought
    ‘If I be loved, these are my festal robes,
    If not, the victim’s flowers before he fall.’
    And Lancelot ever prest upon the maid
    That she should ask some goodly gift of him
    For her own self or hers; ‘and do not shun
    To speak the wish most near to your true heart;
    Such service have ye done me, that I make
    My will of yours, and Prince and Lord am I
    In mine own land, and what I will I can.’
    Then like a ghost she lifted up her face,
    But like a ghost without the power to speak.
    And Lancelot saw that she withheld her wish,
    And bode among them yet a little space
    Till he should learn it; and one morn it chanced
    He found her in among the garden yews,
    And said, ‘Delay no longer, speak your wish,
    Seeing I go to-day’: then out she brake:
    ‘Going? and we shall never see you more.
    And I must die for want of one bold word.’
    ‘Speak: that I live to hear,’ he said, ‘is yours.’
    Then suddenly and passionately she spoke:
    ‘I have gone mad.  I love you: let me die.’
    ‘Ah, sister,’ answer’d Lancelot, ‘what is this?’
    And innocently extending her white arms,
    ‘Your love,’ she said, ‘your love—to be your wife.’
    And Lancelot answer’d, ‘Had I chosen to wed,
    I had been wedded earlier, sweet Elaine:
    But now there never will be wife of mine.’
    ‘No, no’ she cried, ‘I care not to be wife,
    But to be with you still, to see your face,
    To serve you, and to follow you thro’ the world.’
    And Lancelot answer’d, ‘Nay, the world, the world,
    All ear and eye, with such a stupid heart
    To interpret ear and eye, and such a tongue
    To blare its own interpretation—nay,
    Full ill then should I quit your brother’s love,
    And your good father’s kindness.’  And she said,
    ‘Not to be with you, not to see your face—
    Alas for me then, my good days are done.’”

So she dies, and is borne down Thames to London, the fairest corpse, “and
she lay as though she had smiled.”  Her letter is read.  “Ye might have
showed her,” said the Queen, “some courtesy and gentleness that might
have preserved her life;” and so the two are reconciled.

Such, in brief, is the tender old tale of true love, with the shining
courtesy of Lavaine and the father of the maid, who speak no word of
anger against Lancelot.  “For since first I saw my lord, Sir Lancelot,”
says Lavaine, “I could never depart from him, nor nought I will, if I may
follow him: she doth as I do.”  To the simple and moving story Tennyson
adds, by way of ornament, the diamonds, the prize of the tourney, and the
manner of their finding:—

       “For Arthur, long before they crown’d him King,
    Roving the trackless realms of Lyonnesse,
    Had found a glen, gray boulder and black tarn.
    A horror lived about the tarn, and clave
    Like its own mists to all the mountain side:
    For here two brothers, one a king, had met
    And fought together; but their names were lost;
    And each had slain his brother at a blow;
    And down they fell and made the glen abhorr’d:
    And there they lay till all their bones were bleach’d,
    And lichen’d into colour with the crags:
    And he, that once was king, had on a crown
    Of diamonds, one in front, and four aside.
    And Arthur came, and labouring up the pass,
    All in a misty moonshine, unawares
    Had trodden that crown’d skeleton, and the skull
    Brake from the nape, and from the skull the crown
    Roll’d into light, and turning on its rims
    Fled like a glittering rivulet to the tarn:
    And down the shingly scaur he plunged, and caught,
    And set it on his head, and in his heart
    Heard murmurs, ‘Lo, thou likewise shalt be King.’”

The diamonds reappear in the scene of Guinevere’s jealousy:—

       “All in an oriel on the summer side,
    Vine-clad, of Arthur’s palace toward the stream,
    They met, and Lancelot kneeling utter’d, ‘Queen,
    Lady, my liege, in whom I have my joy,
    Take, what I had not won except for you,
    These jewels, and make me happy, making them
    An armlet for the roundest arm on earth,
    Or necklace for a neck to which the swan’s
    Is tawnier than her cygnet’s: these are words:
    Your beauty is your beauty, and I sin
    In speaking, yet O grant my worship of it
    Words, as we grant grief tears.  Such sin in words,
    Perchance, we both can pardon: but, my Queen,
    I hear of rumours flying thro’ your court.
    Our bond, as not the bond of man and wife,
    Should have in it an absoluter trust
    To make up that defect: let rumours be:
    When did not rumours fly? these, as I trust
    That you trust me in your own nobleness,
    I may not well believe that you believe.’

       While thus he spoke, half turn’d away, the Queen
    Brake from the vast oriel-embowering vine
    Leaf after leaf, and tore, and cast them off,
    Till all the place whereon she stood was green;
    Then, when he ceased, in one cold passive hand
    Received at once and laid aside the gems
    There on a table near her, and replied:

       ‘It may be, I am quicker of belief
    Than you believe me, Lancelot of the Lake.
    Our bond is not the bond of man and wife.
    This good is in it, whatsoe’er of ill,
    It can be broken easier.  I for you
    This many a year have done despite and wrong
    To one whom ever in my heart of hearts
    I did acknowledge nobler.  What are these?
    Diamonds for me! they had been thrice their worth
    Being your gift, had you not lost your own.
    To loyal hearts the value of all gifts
    Must vary as the giver’s.  Not for me!
    For her! for your new fancy.  Only this
    Grant me, I pray you: have your joys apart.
    I doubt not that however changed, you keep
    So much of what is graceful: and myself
    Would shun to break those bounds of courtesy
    In which as Arthur’s Queen I move and rule:
    So cannot speak my mind.  An end to this!
    A strange one! yet I take it with Amen.
    So pray you, add my diamonds to her pearls;
    Deck her with these; tell her, she shines me down:
    An armlet for an arm to which the Queen’s
    Is haggard, or a necklace for a neck
    O as much fairer—as a faith once fair
    Was richer than these diamonds—hers not mine—
    Nay, by the mother of our Lord himself,
    Or hers or mine, mine now to work my will—
    She shall not have them.’

          Saying which she seized,
    And, thro’ the casement standing wide for heat,
    Flung them, and down they flash’d, and smote the stream.
    Then from the smitten surface flash’d, as it were,
    Diamonds to meet them, and they past away.
    Then while Sir Lancelot leant, in half disdain
    At love, life, all things, on the window ledge,
    Close underneath his eyes, and right across
    Where these had fallen, slowly past the barge
    Whereon the lily maid of Astolat
    Lay smiling, like a star in blackest night.”

This affair of the diamonds is the chief addition to the old tale, in
which we already see the curse of lawless love, fallen upon the jealous
Queen and the long-enduring Lancelot.  “This is not the first time,” said
Sir Lancelot, “that ye have been displeased with me causeless, but,
madame, ever I must suffer you, but what sorrow I endure I take no force”
(that is, “I disregard”).

The romance, and the poet, in his own despite, cannot but make Lancelot
the man we love, not Arthur or another.  Human nature perversely sides
with Guinevere against the Blameless King:—

       “She broke into a little scornful laugh:
    ‘Arthur, my lord, Arthur, the faultless King,
    That passionate perfection, my good lord—
    But who can gaze upon the Sun in heaven?
    He never spake word of reproach to me,
    He never had a glimpse of mine untruth,
    He cares not for me: only here to-day
    There gleam’d a vague suspicion in his eyes:
    Some meddling rogue has tamper’d with him—else
    Rapt in this fancy of his Table Round,
    And swearing men to vows impossible,
    To make them like himself: but, friend, to me
    He is all fault who hath no fault at all:
    For who loves me must have a touch of earth;
    The low sun makes the colour: I am yours,
    Not Arthur’s, as ye know, save by the bond.”

It is not the beautiful Queen who wins us, our hearts are with “the
innocence of love” in Elaine.  But Lancelot has the charm that captivated
Lavaine; and Tennyson’s Arthur remains

    “The moral child without the craft to rule,
    Else had he not lost me.”

Indeed the romance of Malory makes Arthur deserve “the pretty popular
name such manhood earns” by his conduct as regards Guinevere when she is
accused by her enemies in the later chapters.  Yet Malory does not
finally condone the sin which baffles Lancelot’s quest of the Holy Grail.

Tennyson at first was in doubt as to writing on the Grail, for certain
respects of reverence.  When he did approach the theme it was in a method
of extreme condensation.  The romances on the Grail outrun the length
even of mediæval poetry and prose.  They are exceedingly confused, as was
natural, if that hypothesis which regards the story as a Christianised
form of obscure Celtic myth be correct.  Sir Percivale’s sister, in the
Idyll, has the first vision of the Grail:—

    “Sweet brother, I have seen the Holy Grail:
    For, waked at dead of night, I heard a sound
    As of a silver horn from o’er the hills
    Blown, and I thought, ‘It is not Arthur’s use
    To hunt by moonlight’; and the slender sound
    As from a distance beyond distance grew
    Coming upon me—O never harp nor horn,
    Nor aught we blow with breath, or touch with hand,
    Was like that music as it came; and then
    Stream’d thro’ my cell a cold and silver beam,
    And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail,
    Rose-red with beatings in it, as if alive,
    Till all the white walls of my cell were dyed
    With rosy colours leaping on the wall;
    And then the music faded, and the Grail
    Past, and the beam decay’d, and from the walls
    The rosy quiverings died into the night.
    So now the Holy Thing is here again
    Among us, brother, fast thou too and pray,
    And tell thy brother knights to fast and pray,
    That so perchance the vision may be seen
    By thee and those, and all the world be heal’d.”

Galahad, son of Lancelot and the first Elaine (who became Lancelot’s
mistress by art magic), then vows himself to the Quest, and, after the
vision in hall at Camelot, the knights, except Arthur, follow his
example, to Arthur’s grief.  “Ye follow wandering fires!”  Probably, or
perhaps, the poet indicates dislike of hasty spiritual enthusiasms, of
“seeking for a sign,” and of the mysticism which betokens want of faith.
The Middle Ages, more than many readers know, were ages of doubt.  Men
desired the witness of the senses to the truth of what the Church taught,
they wished to see that naked child of the romance “smite himself into”
the wafer of the Sacrament.  The author of the _Imitatio Christi_
discourages such vain and too curious inquiries as helped to rend the
Church, and divided Christendom into hostile camps.  The Quest of the
actual Grail was a knightly form of theological research into the
unsearchable; undertaken, often in a secular spirit of adventure, by
sinful men.  The poet’s heart is rather with human things:—

       “‘O brother,’ ask’d Ambrosius,—‘for in sooth
    These ancient books—and they would win thee—teem,
    Only I find not there this Holy Grail,
    With miracles and marvels like to these,
    Not all unlike; which oftentime I read,
    Who read but on my breviary with ease,
    Till my head swims; and then go forth and pass
    Down to the little thorpe that lies so close,
    And almost plaster’d like a martin’s nest
    To these old walls—and mingle with our folk;
    And knowing every honest face of theirs
    As well as ever shepherd knew his sheep,
    And every homely secret in their hearts,
    Delight myself with gossip and old wives,
    And ills and aches, and teethings, lyings-in,
    And mirthful sayings, children of the place,
    That have no meaning half a league away:
    Or lulling random squabbles when they rise,
    Chafferings and chatterings at the market-cross,
    Rejoice, small man, in this small world of mine,
    Yea, even in their hens and in their eggs.”’

This appears to be Tennyson’s original reading of the Quest of the Grail.
His own mysticism, which did not strive, or cry, or seek after marvels,
though marvels might come unsought, is expressed in Arthur’s words:—

       “‘“And spake I not too truly, O my knights?
    Was I too dark a prophet when I said
    To those who went upon the Holy Quest,
    That most of them would follow wandering fires,
    Lost in the quagmire?—lost to me and gone,
    And left me gazing at a barren board,
    And a lean Order—scarce return’d a tithe—
    And out of those to whom the vision came
    My greatest hardly will believe he saw;
    Another hath beheld it afar off,
    And leaving human wrongs to right themselves,
    Cares but to pass into the silent life.
    And one hath had the vision face to face,
    And now his chair desires him here in vain,
    However they may crown him otherwhere.

       ‘“And some among you held, that if the King
    Had seen the sight he would have sworn the vow:
    Not easily, seeing that the King must guard
    That which he rules, and is but as the hind
    To whom a space of land is given to plow
    Who may not wander from the allotted field
    Before his work be done; but, being done,
    Let visions of the night or of the day
    Come, as they will; and many a time they come,
    Until this earth he walks on seems not earth,
    This light that strikes his eyeball is not light,
    This air that smites his forehead is not air
    But vision—yea, his very hand and foot—
    In moments when he feels he cannot die,
    And knows himself no vision to himself,
    Nor the high God a vision, nor that One
    Who rose again: ye have seen what ye have seen.”

       ‘So spake the King: I knew not all he meant.’”

The closing lines declare, as far as the poet could declare them, these
subjective experiences of his which, in a manner rarely parallelled,
coloured and formed his thought on the highest things.  He introduces
them even into this poem on a topic which, because of its sacred
associations, he for long did not venture to touch.

In _Pelleas and Ettarre_—which deals with the sorrows of one of the young
knights who fill up the gaps left at the Round Table by the mischances of
the Quest—it would be difficult to trace a Celtic original.  For Malory,
not Celtic legend, supplied Tennyson with the germinal idea of a poem
which, in the romance, has no bearing on the final catastrophe.  Pelleas,
a King of the Isles, loves the beautiful Ettarre, “a great lady,” and for
her wins at a tourney the prize of the golden circlet.  But she hates and
despises him, and Sir Gawain is a spectator when, as in the poem, the
felon knights of Ettarre bind and insult their conqueror, Pelleas.
Gawain promises to win the love of Ettarre for Pelleas, and, as in the
poem, borrows his arms and horse, and pretends to have slain him.  But in
place of turning Ettarre’s heart towards Pelleas, Gawain becomes her
lover, and Pelleas, detecting them asleep, lays his naked sword on their
necks.  He then rides home to die; but Nimue (Vivien), the Lady of the
Lake, restores him to health and sanity.  His fever gone, he scorns
Ettarre, who, by Nimue’s enchantment, now loves him as much as she had
hated him.  Pelleas weds Nimue, and Ettarre dies of a broken heart.
Tennyson, of course, could not make Nimue (his Vivien) do anything
benevolent.  He therefore closes his poem by a repetition of the effect
in the case of Balin.  Pelleas is driven desperate by the treachery of
Gawain, the reported infidelity of Guinevere, and the general corruption
of the ideal.  A shadow falls on Lancelot and Guinevere, and Modred sees
that his hour is drawing nigh.  In spite of beautiful passages this is
not one of the finest of the Idylls, save for the study of the fierce,
hateful, and beautiful _grande dame_, Ettarre.  The narrative does little
to advance the general plot.  In the original of Malory it has no
connection with the Lancelot cycle, except as far as it reveals the
treachery of Gawain, the gay and fair-spoken “light of love,” brother of
the traitor Modred.  A simpler treatment of the theme may be read in Mr
Swinburne’s beautiful poem, _The Tale of Balen_.

It is in _The Last Tournament_ that Modred finds the beginning of his
opportunity.  The brief life of the Ideal has burned itself out, as the
year, in its vernal beauty when Arthur came, is burning out in autumn.
The poem is purposely autumnal, with the autumn, not of mellow
fruitfulness, but of the “flying gold of the ruined woodlands” and the
dank odours of decay.  In that miserable season is held the Tourney of
the Dead Innocence, with the blood-red prize of rubies.  With a wise
touch Tennyson has represented the Court as fallen not into vice only and
crime, but into positive vulgarity and bad taste.  The Tournament is a
carnival of the “smart” and the third-rate.  Courtesy is dead, even
Tristram is brutal, and in Iseult hatred of her husband is as powerful as
love of her lover.  The satire strikes at England, where the world has
never been corrupt with a good grace.  It is a passage of arms neither
gentle nor joyous that Lancelot presides over:—

       “The sudden trumpet sounded as in a dream
    To ears but half-awaked, then one low roll
    Of Autumn thunder, and the jousts began:
    And ever the wind blew, and yellowing leaf
    And gloom and gleam, and shower and shorn plume
    Went down it.  Sighing weariedly, as one
    Who sits and gazes on a faded fire,
    When all the goodlier guests are past away,
    Sat their great umpire, looking o’er the lists.
    He saw the laws that ruled the tournament
    Broken, but spake not; once, a knight cast down
    Before his throne of arbitration cursed
    The dead babe and the follies of the King;
    And once the laces of a helmet crack’d,
    And show’d him, like a vermin in its hole,
    Modred, a narrow face: anon he heard
    The voice that billow’d round the barriers roar
    An ocean-sounding welcome to one knight,
    But newly-enter’d, taller than the rest,
    And armour’d all in forest green, whereon
    There tript a hundred tiny silver deer,
    And wearing but a holly-spray for crest,
    With ever-scattering berries, and on shield
    A spear, a harp, a bugle—Tristram—late
    From overseas in Brittany return’d,
    And marriage with a princess of that realm,
    Isolt the White—Sir Tristram of the Woods—
    Whom Lancelot knew, had held sometime with pain
    His own against him, and now yearn’d to shake
    The burthen off his heart in one full shock
    With Tristram ev’n to death: his strong hands gript
    And dinted the gilt dragons right and left,
    Until he groan’d for wrath—so many of those,
    That ware their ladies’ colours on the casque,
    Drew from before Sir Tristram to the bounds,
    And there with gibes and flickering mockeries
    Stood, while he mutter’d, ‘Craven crests!  O shame!
    What faith have these in whom they sware to love?
    The glory of our Round Table is no more.’

       So Tristram won, and Lancelot gave, the gems,
    Not speaking other word than ‘Hast thou won?
    Art thou the purest, brother?  See, the hand
    Wherewith thou takest this, is red!’ to whom
    Tristram, half plagued by Lancelot’s languorous mood,
    Made answer, ‘Ay, but wherefore toss me this
    Like a dry bone cast to some hungry hound?
    Let be thy fair Queen’s fantasy.  Strength of heart
    And might of limb, but mainly use and skill,
    Are winners in this pastime of our King.
    My hand—belike the lance hath dript upon it—
    No blood of mine, I trow; but O chief knight,
    Right arm of Arthur in the battlefield,
    Great brother, thou nor I have made the world;
    Be happy in thy fair Queen as I in mine.’

       And Tristram round the gallery made his horse
    Caracole; then bow’d his homage, bluntly saying,
    ‘Fair damsels, each to him who worships each
    Sole Queen of Beauty and of love, behold
    This day my Queen of Beauty is not here.’
    And most of these were mute, some anger’d, one
    Murmuring, ‘All courtesy is dead,’ and one,
    ‘The glory of our Round Table is no more.’

       Then fell thick rain, plume droopt and mantle clung,
    And pettish cries awoke, and the wan day
    Went glooming down in wet and weariness:
    But under her black brows a swarthy one
    Laugh’d shrilly, crying, ‘Praise the patient saints,
    Our one white day of Innocence hath past,
    Tho’ somewhat draggled at the skirt.  So be it.
    The snowdrop only, flowering thro’ the year,
    Would make the world as blank as Winter-tide.
    Come—let us gladden their sad eyes, our Queen’s
    And Lancelot’s, at this night’s solemnity
    With all the kindlier colours of the field.’”

Arthur’s last victory over a robber knight is ingloriously squalid:—

       “He ended: Arthur knew the voice; the face
    Wellnigh was helmet-hidden, and the name
    Went wandering somewhere darkling in his mind.
    And Arthur deign’d not use of word or sword,
    But let the drunkard, as he stretch’d from horse
    To strike him, overbalancing his bulk,
    Down from the causeway heavily to the swamp
    Fall, as the crest of some slow-arching wave,
    Heard in dead night along that table-shore,
    Drops flat, and after the great waters break
    Whitening for half a league, and thin themselves,
    Far over sands marbled with moon and cloud,
    From less and less to nothing; thus he fell
    Head-heavy; then the knights, who watch’d him, roar’d
    And shouted and leapt down upon the fall’n;
    There trampled out his face from being known,
    And sank his head in mire, and slimed themselves:
    Nor heard the King for their own cries, but sprang
    Thro’ open doors, and swording right and left
    Men, women, on their sodden faces, hurl’d
    The tables over and the wines, and slew
    Till all the rafters rang with woman-yells,
    And all the pavement stream’d with massacre:
    Then, echoing yell with yell, they fired the tower,
    Which half that autumn night, like the live North,
    Red-pulsing up thro’ Alioth and Alcor,
    Made all above it, and a hundred meres
    About it, as the water Moab saw
    Come round by the East, and out beyond them flush’d
    The long low dune, and lazy-plunging sea.”

_Guinevere_ is one of the greatest of the Idylls.  Malory makes Lancelot
more sympathetic; his fight, unarmed, in Guinevere’s chamber, against the
felon knights, is one of his most spirited scenes.  Tennyson omits this,
and omits all the unpardonable behaviour of Arthur as narrated in Malory.
Critics have usually condemned the last parting of Guinevere and Arthur,
because the King doth preach too much to an unhappy woman who has no
reply.  The position of Arthur is not easily redeemable: it is difficult
to conceive that a noble nature could be, or should be, blind so long.
He does rehabilitate his Queen in her own self-respect, perhaps, by
assuring her that he loves her still:—

    “Let no man dream but that I love thee still.”

Had he said that one line and no more, we might have loved him better.
In the Idylls we have not Malory’s last meeting of Lancelot and
Guinevere, one of the scenes in which the wandering composite romance
ends as nobly as the _Iliad_.

_The Passing of Arthur_, except for a new introductory passage of great
beauty and appropriateness, is the _Morte d’Arthur_, first published in

    “So all day long the noise of battle roll’d
    Among the mountains by the winter sea.”

The year has run its course, spring, summer, gloomy autumn, and dies in
the mist of Arthur’s last wintry battle in the west—

    “And the new sun rose, bringing the new year.”

The splendid and sombre procession has passed, leaving us to muse as to
how far the poet has fulfilled his own ideal.  There could be no new
epic: he gave a chain of heroic Idylls.  An epic there could not be, for
the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ have each a unity of theme, a narrative
compressed into a few days in the former, in the latter into forty days
of time.  The tragedy of Arthur’s reign could not so be condensed; and
Tennyson chose the only feasible plan.  He has left a work, not
absolutely perfect, indeed, but such as he conceived, after many
tentative essays, and such as he desired to achieve.  His fame may not
rest chiefly on the Idylls, but they form one of the fairest jewels in
the crown that shines with unnumbered gems, each with its own glory.


THE success of the first volume of the Idylls recompensed the poet for
the slings and arrows that gave _Maud_ a hostile welcome.  His next
publication was the beautiful _Tithonus_, a fit pendant to the _Ulysses_,
and composed about the same date (1833–35).  “A quarter of a century
ago,” Tennyson dates it, writing in 1860 to the Duke of Argyll.  He had
found it when “ferreting among my old books,” he said, in search of
something for Thackeray, who was establishing the _Cornhill Magazine_.
What must the wealth of the poet have been, who, possessing _Tithonus_ in
his portfolio, did not take the trouble to insert it in the volumes of
1842!  Nobody knows how many poems of Tennyson’s never even saw pen and
ink, being composed unwritten, and forgotten.  At this time we find him
recommending Mr Browning’s _Men and Women_ to the Duke, who, like many
Tennysonians, does not seem to have been a ready convert to his great
contemporary.  The Duke and Duchess urged the Laureate to attempt the
topic of the Holy Grail, but he was not in the mood.  Indeed the vision
of the Grail in the early _Sir Galahad_ is doubtless happier than the
allegorical handling of a theme so obscure, remote, and difficult, in the
Idylls.  He wrote his _Boadicea_, a piece magnificent in itself, but of
difficult popular access, owing to the metrical experiment.

In the autumn of 1860 he revisited Cornwall with F. T. Palgrave, Mr Val
Prinsep, and Mr Holman Hunt.  They walked in the rain, saw Tintagel and
the Scilly Isles, and were fêted by an enthusiastic captain of a little
river steamer, who was more interested in “Mr Tinman and Mr Pancake” than
the Celtic boatman of Ardtornish.  The winter was passed at Farringford,
and the _Northern Farmer_ was written there, a Lincolnshire reminiscence,
in the February of 1861.  In autumn the Pyrenees were visited by Tennyson
in company with Arthur Clough and Mr Dakyns of Clifton College.  At
Cauteretz in August, and among memories of the old tour with Arthur
Hallam, was written _All along the Valley_.  The ways, however, in
Auvergne were “foul,” and the diet “unhappy.”  The dedication of the
Idylls was written on the death of the Prince Consort in December, and in
January 1862 the Ode for the opening of an exhibition.  The poet was busy
with his “Fisherman,” _Enoch Arden_.  The volume was published in 1864,
and Lord Tennyson says it has been, next to _In Memoriam_, the most
popular of his father’s works.  One would have expected the one volume
containing the poems up to 1842 to hold that place.  The new book,
however, mainly dealt with English, contemporary, and domestic
themes—“the poetry of the affections.”  An old woman, a district visitor
reported, regarded _Enoch Arden_ as “more beautiful” than the other
tracts which were read to her.  It is indeed a tender and touching tale,
based on a folk-story which Tennyson found current in Brittany as well as
in England.  Nor is the unseen and unknown landscape of the tropic isle
less happily created by the poet’s imagination than the familiar English
cliffs and hazel copses:—

       “The mountain wooded to the peak, the lawns
    And winding glades high up like ways to Heaven,
    The slender coco’s drooping crown of plumes,
    The lightning flash of insect and of bird,
    The lustre of the long convolvuluses
    That coil’d around the stately stems, and ran
    Ev’n to the limit of the land, the glows
    And glories of the broad belt of the world,
    All these he saw; but what he fain had seen
    He could not see, the kindly human face,
    Nor ever hear a kindly voice, but heard
    The myriad shriek of wheeling ocean-fowl,
    The league-long roller thundering on the reef,
    The moving whisper of huge trees that branch’d
    And blossom’d in the zenith, or the sweep
    Of some precipitous rivulet to the wave,
    As down the shore he ranged, or all day long
    Sat often in the seaward-gazing gorge,
    A shipwreck’d sailor, waiting for a sail:
    No sail from day to day, but every day
    The sunrise broken into scarlet shafts
    Among the palms and ferns and precipices;
    The blaze upon the waters to the east;
    The blaze upon his island overhead;
    The blaze upon the waters to the west;
    Then the great stars that globed themselves in Heaven,
    The hollower-bellowing ocean, and again
    The scarlet shafts of sunrise—but no sail.”

_Aylmer’s Field_ somewhat recalls the burden of _Maud_, the curse of
purse-proud wealth, but is too gloomy to be a fair specimen of Tennyson’s
art.  In _Sea Dreams_ (first published in 1860) the awful vision of
crumbling faiths is somewhat out of harmony with its environment:—

       “But round the North, a light,
    A belt, it seem’d, of luminous vapour, lay,
    And ever in it a low musical note
    Swell’d up and died; and, as it swell’d, a ridge
    Of breaker issued from the belt, and still
    Grew with the growing note, and when the note
    Had reach’d a thunderous fulness, on those cliffs
    Broke, mixt with awful light (the same as that
    Living within the belt) whereby she saw
    That all those lines of cliffs were cliffs no more,
    But huge cathedral fronts of every age,
    Grave, florid, stern, as far as eye could see,
    One after one: and then the great ridge drew,
    Lessening to the lessening music, back,
    And past into the belt and swell’d again
    Slowly to music: ever when it broke
    The statues, king or saint or founder fell;
    Then from the gaps and chasms of ruin left
    Came men and women in dark clusters round,
    Some crying, ‘Set them up! they shall not fall!’
    And others, ‘Let them lie, for they have fall’n.’
    And still they strove and wrangled: and she grieved
    In her strange dream, she knew not why, to find
    Their wildest wailings never out of tune
    With that sweet note; and ever as their shrieks
    Ran highest up the gamut, that great wave
    Returning, while none mark’d it, on the crowd
    Broke, mixt with awful light, and show’d their eyes
    Glaring, and passionate looks, and swept away
    The men of flesh and blood, and men of stone,
    To the waste deeps together.

          ‘Then I fixt
    My wistful eyes on two fair images,
    Both crown’d with stars and high among the stars,—
    The Virgin Mother standing with her child
    High up on one of those dark minster-fronts—
    Till she began to totter, and the child
    Clung to the mother, and sent out a cry
    Which mixt with little Margaret’s, and I woke,
    And my dream awed me:—well—but what are dreams?”

The passage is rather fitted for a despairing mood of Arthur, in the
Idylls, than for the wife of the city clerk ruined by a pious rogue.

The _Lucretius_, later published, is beyond praise as a masterly study of
the great Roman sceptic, whose heart is at eternal odds with his
Epicurean creed.  Nascent madness, or fever of the brain drugged by the
blundering love philtre, is not more cunningly treated in the mad scenes
of _Maud_.  No prose commentary on the _De Rerum Natura_, however long
and learned, conveys so clearly as this concise study in verse the sense
of magnificent mingled ruin in the mind and poem of the Roman.

The “Experiments in Quantity” were, perhaps, suggested by Mr Matthew
Arnold’s Lectures on the Translating of Homer.  Mr Arnold believed in a
translation into English hexameters.  His negative criticism of other
translators and translations was amusing and instructive: he had an easy
game to play with the Yankee-doodle metre of F. W. Newman, the ponderous
blank verse of Cowper, the tripping and clipping couplets of Pope, the
Elizabethan fantasies of Chapman.  But Mr Arnold’s hexameters were
neither musical nor rapid: they only exhibited a new form of failure.  As
the Prince of Abyssinia said to his tutor, “Enough; you have convinced me
that no man can be a poet,” so Mr Arnold went some way to prove that no
man can translate Homer.

Tennyson had the lowest opinion of hexameters as an English metre for
serious purposes.

    “These lame hexameters the strong-wing’d music of Homer!”

Lord Tennyson says, “German hexameters he disliked even more than
English.”  Indeed there is not much room for preference.  Tennyson’s
Alcaics (_Milton_) were intended to follow the Greek rather than the
Horatian model, and resulted, at all events, in a poem worthy of the
“mighty-mouth’d inventor of harmonies.”  The specimen of the _Iliad_ in
blank verse, beautiful as it is, does not, somehow, reproduce the music
of Homer.  It is entirely Tennysonian, as in

    “Roll’d the rich vapour far into the heaven.”

The reader, in that one line, recognises the voice and trick of the
English poet, and is far away from the Chian:—

    “As when in heaven the stars about the moon
    Look beautiful, when all the winds are laid,
    And every height comes out, and jutting peak
    And valley, and the immeasurable heavens
    Break open to their highest, and all the stars
    Shine, and the Shepherd gladdens in his heart:
    So many a fire between the ships and stream
    Of Xanthus blazed before the towers of Troy,
    A thousand on the plain; and close by each
    Sat fifty in the blaze of burning fire;
    And eating hoary grain and pulse the steeds,
    Fixt by their cars, waited the golden dawn.”

This is excellent, is poetry, escapes the conceits of Pope (who never
“wrote with his eye on the object”), but is pure Tennyson.  We have not
yet, probably we never shall have, an adequate rendering of the _Iliad_
into verse, and prose translations do not pretend to be adequate.  When
parents and dominies have abolished the study of Greek, something, it
seems, will have been lost to the world,—something which even Tennyson
could not restore in English.  He thought blank verse the proper
equivalent; but it is no equivalent.  One even prefers his own prose:—

    Nor did Paris linger in his lofty halls, but when he had girt on his
    gorgeous armour, all of varied bronze, then he rushed thro’ the city,
    glorying in his airy feet.  And as when a stall-kept horse, that is
    barley-fed at the manger, breaketh his tether, and dasheth thro’ the
    plain, spurning it, being wont to bathe himself in the fair-running
    river, rioting, and reareth his head, and his mane flieth back on
    either shoulder, and he glorieth in his beauty, and his knees bear
    him at the gallop to the haunts and meadows of the mares; so ran the
    son of Priam, Paris, from the height of Pergamus, all in arms,
    glittering like the sun, laughing for light-heartedness, and his
    swift feet bare him.

In February 1865 Tennyson lost the mother whose portrait he drew in
_Isabel_,—“a thing enskied and sainted.”

In the autumn of 1865 the Tennysons went on a Continental tour, and
visited Waterloo, Weimar, and Dresden; in September they entertained Emma
I., Queen of the Sandwich Islands.  The months passed quietly at home or
in town.  The poet had written his _Lucretius_, and, to please Sir George
Grove, wrote _The Song of the Wrens_, for music.  Tennyson had not that
positive aversion to music which marked Dr Johnson, Victor Hugo,
Théophile Gautier, and some other poets.  Nay, he liked Beethoven, which
places him higher in the musical scale than Scott, who did not rise above
a Border lilt or a Jacobite ditty.  The Wren songs, entitled _The
Window_, were privately printed by Sir Ivor Guest in 1867, were set to
music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, and published by Strahan in December 1870.
“A puppet,” Tennyson called the song-book, “whose only merit is, perhaps,
that it can dance to Mr Sullivan’s instrument.  I am sorry that my puppet
should have to dance at all in the dark shadow of these days” (the siege
of Paris), “but the music is now completed, and I am bound by my
promise.”  The verses are described as “partly in the old style,” but the
true old style of the Elizabethan and cavalier days is lost.

In the summer of 1867 the Tennysons moved to a farmhouse near Haslemere,
at that time not a centre of literary Londoners.  “Sandy soil and
heather-scented air” allured them, and the result was the purchase of
land, and the building of Aldworth, Mr Knowles being the architect.  In
autumn Tennyson visited Lyme Regis, and, like all other travellers
thither, made a pilgrimage to the Cobb, sacred to Louisa Musgrove.  The
poet now began the study of Hebrew, having a mind to translate the Book
of Job, a vision unfulfilled.  In 1868 he thought of publishing his
boyish piece, _The Lover’s Tale_, but delayed.  An anonymously edited
piracy of this and other poems was perpetrated in 1875, limited, at least
nominally, to fifty copies.

In July Longfellow visited Tennyson.  “The Longfellows and he talked much
of spiritualism, for he was greatly interested in that subject, but he
suspended his judgment, and thought that, if in such manifestations there
is anything, ‘Pucks, not the spirits of dead men, reveal themselves.’”
This was Southey’s suggestion, as regards the celebrated disturbances in
the house of the Wesleys.  “Wit might have much to say, wisdom, little,”
said Sam Wesley.  Probably the talk about David Dunglas Home, the
“medium” then in vogue, led to the discussion of “spiritualism.”  We do
not hear that Tennyson ever had the curiosity to see Home, whom Mr
Browning so firmly detested.

In September _The Holy Grail_ was begun: it was finished “in about a
week.  It came like a breath of inspiration.”  The subject had for many
years been turned about in the poet’s mind, which, of course, was busy in
these years of apparent inactivity.  At this time (August 1868) Tennyson
left his old publishers, the Moxons, for Mr Strahan, who endured till
1872.  Then he was succeeded by Messrs H. S. King & Co., who gave place
(1879) to Messrs Kegan Paul & Co., while in 1884 Messrs Macmillan became,
and continue to be, the publishers.  A few pieces, except _Lucretius_
(_Macmillan’s Magazine_, May 1868) unimportant, appeared in serials.

Very early in 1869 _The Coming of Arthur_ was composed, while Tennyson
was reading Browning’s _The Ring and the Book_.  He and his great
contemporary were on terms of affectionate friendship, though Tennyson,
perhaps, appreciated less of Browning than Browning of Tennyson.
Meanwhile “Old Fitz” kept up a fire of unsympathetic growls at Browning
and all his works.  “I have been trying in vain to read it” (_The Ring
and the Book_), “and yet the _Athenæum_ tells me it is wonderfully fine.”
FitzGerald’s ply had been taken long ago; he wanted verbal music in
poetry (no exorbitant desire), while, in Browning, _carmina desunt_.
Perhaps, too, a personal feeling, as if Browning was Tennyson’s rival,
affected the judgment of the author of _Omar Kháyyám_.  We may almost
call him “the author.”

_The Holy Grail_, with the smaller poems, such as _Lucretius_, was
published at the end of 1869.  FitzGerald appears to have preferred _The
Northern Farmer_, “the substantial rough-spun nature I knew,” to all the
visionary knights in the airy Quest.  To compare “—” (obviously Browning)
with Tennyson, was “to compare an old Jew’s curiosity shop with the
Phidian Marbles.”  Tennyson’s poems “being clear to the bottom as well as
beautiful, do not seem to cockney eyes so deep as muddy waters.”

In November 1870 _The Last Tournament_ was begun; it was finished in May
1871.  Conceivably the vulgar scandals of the last days of the French
Imperial _régime_ may have influenced Tennyson’s picture of the
corruption of Arthur’s Court; but the Empire did not begin, like the
Round Table, with aspirations after the Ideal.  In the autumn of the year
Tennyson entertained, and was entertained by, Mr Huxley.  In their ideas
about ultimate things two men could not vary more widely, but each
delighted in the other’s society.  In the spring of 1872 Tennyson visited
Paris and the ruins of the Louvre.  He read Victor Hugo, and Alfred de
Musset, whose comedies he admired.  The little that we hear of his
opinion of the other great poet runs to this effect, “Victor Hugo is an
unequal genius, sometimes sublime; he reminds one that there is but one
step between the sublime and the ridiculous,” but the example by which
Tennyson illustrated this was derived from one of the poet’s novels.  In
these we meet not only the sublime and the ridiculous, but passages which
leave us in some perplexity as to their true category.  One would have
expected Hugo’s lyrics to be Tennyson’s favourites, but only _Gastibelza_
is mentioned in that character.  At this time Tennyson was vexed by

    “Art with poisonous honey stolen from France,”

a phrase which cannot apply to Hugo.  Meanwhile _Gareth_ was being
written, and the knight’s song for _The Coming of Arthur_.  _Gareth and
Lynette_, with minor pieces, appeared in 1872.  _Balin and Balan_ was
composed later, to lead up to _Vivien_, to which, perhaps, _Balin and
Balan_ was introduction sufficient had it been the earlier written.  But
the Idylls have already been discussed as arranged in sequence.  The
completion of the Idylls, with the patriotic epilogue, was followed by
the offer of a baronetcy.  Tennyson preferred that he and his wife
“should remain plain Mr and Mrs,” though “I hope that I have too much of
the old-world loyalty not to wear my lady’s favours against all comers,
should you think that it would be more agreeable to her Majesty that I
should do so.”

The Idylls ended, Tennyson in 1874 began to contemplate a drama, choosing
the topic, perhaps neither popular nor in an Aristotelian sense tragic,
of Mary Tudor.  This play was published, and put on the stage by Sir
Henry Irving in 1875.  _Harold_ followed in 1876, _The Cup_ in 1881 (at
the Lyceum), _The Promise of May_ (at the Globe) in 1882, _Becket_ in
1884, with _The Foresters_ in 1892.  It seems best to consider all the
dramatic period of Tennyson’s work, a period reached so strangely late in
his career, in the sequence of the Plays.  The task is one from which I
shrink, as conscious of entire ignorance of the stage and of lack of
enthusiasm for the drama.  Great dramatic authors have, almost
invariably, had long practical knowledge of the scenes and of what is
behind them.  Shakespeare and his contemporaries, Molière and his
contemporaries, had lived their lives on the boards and in the _foyer_,
actors themselves, or in daily touch with actors and actresses.  In the
present day successful playwrights appear to live much in the world of
the players.  They have practical knowledge of the conventions and
conditions which the stage imposes.  Neither Browning nor Mr Swinburne
(to take great names) has had, it seems, much of this practical and daily
experience; their dramas have been acted but rarely, if at all, and many
examples prove that neither poetical genius nor the genius for prose
fiction can enable men to produce plays which hold their own on the
boards.  This may be the fault of public taste, or partly of public
taste, partly of defect in practical knowledge on the side of the
authors.  Of the stage, by way of practice, Tennyson had known next to
nothing, yet his dramas were written to be acted, and acted some of them
were.  “For himself, he was aware,” says his biographer, “that he wanted
intimate knowledge of the mechanical details necessary for the modern
stage, although in early and middle life he had been a constant playgoer,
and would keenly follow the action of a play, criticising the
characterisation, incidents, scenic effects, situations, language, and
dramatic points.”  He was quite prepared to be “edited” for acting
purposes by the players.  Miss Mary Anderson says that “he was ready to
sacrifice even his _most_ beautiful lines for the sake of a real dramatic

This proved unusual common-sense in a poet.  Modern times and manners are
notoriously unfavourable to the serious drama.  In the age of the Greek
tragedians, as in the days of “Eliza and our James,” reading was not very
common, and life was much more passed in public than among ourselves,
when people go to the play for light recreation, or to be shocked.  So
various was the genius of Tennyson, that had he devoted himself early to
the stage, and had he been backed by a manager with the enterprise and
intelligence of Sir Henry Irving, it is impossible to say how much he
might have done to restore the serious drama.  But we cannot regret that
he was occupied in his prime with other things, nor can we expect to find
his noblest and most enduring work in the dramatic experiments of his
latest years.  It is notable that, in his opinion, “the conditions of the
dramatic art are much more complex than they were.”  For example, we have
“the star system,” which tends to allot what is, or was, technically
styled “the fat,” to one or two popular players.  Now, a poet like
Tennyson will inevitably distribute large quantities of what is most
excellent to many characters, and the consequent difficulties may be
appreciated by students of our fallen nature.  The poet added that to be
a first-rate historical playwright means much more work than formerly,
seeing that “exact history” has taken the part of the “chance chronicle.”

This is a misfortune.  The dramas of the Attic stage, with one or two
exceptions, are based on myth and legend, not on history, and even in the
_Persæ_, grounded on contemporary events, Æschylus introduced the ghost
of Darius, not vouched for by “exact history.”  Let us conceive
Shakespeare writing _Macbeth_ in an age of “exact history.”  Hardly any
of the play would be left.  Fleance and Banquo must go.  Duncan becomes a
young man, and far from “gracious.”  Macbeth appears as the defender of
the legitimist prince, Lulach, against Duncan, a usurper.  Lady Macbeth
is a pattern to her sex, and her lord is a clement and sagacious ruler.
The witches are ruled out of the piece.  Difficulties arise about the
English aid to Malcolm.  History, in fact, declines to be dramatic.
Liberties must be taken.  In his plays of the Mary Stuart cycle, Mr
Swinburne telescopes the affair of Darnley into that of Chastelard, which
was much earlier.  He makes Mary Beaton (in love with Chastelard) a kind
of avenging fate, who will never leave the Queen till her head falls at
Fotheringay; though, in fact, after a flirtation with Randolph, Mary
Beaton married Ogilvy of Boyne (really in love with Lady Bothwell), and
not one of the four Maries was at Fotheringay.  An artist ought to be
allowed to follow legend, of its essence dramatic, or to manipulate
history as he pleases.  Our modern scrupulosity is pedantic.  But
Tennyson read a long list of books for his _Queen Mary_, though it does
not appear that he made original researches in MSS.  These labours
occupied 1874 and 1875.  Yet it would be foolish to criticise his _Queen
Mary_ as if we were criticising “exact history.”  “The play’s the thing.”

The poet thought that “Bloody Mary” “had been harshly judged by the
verdict of popular tradition.”  So have most characters to whom popular
dislike affixes the popular epithet—“Bloody Claverse,” “Bloody
Mackenzie,” “Bloody Balfour.”  Mary had the courage of the Tudors.  She
“edified all around her by her cheerfulness, her piety, and her
resignation to the will of Providence,” in her last days (Lingard).
Camden calls her “a queen never praised enough for the purity of her
morals, her charity to the poor” (she practised as a district visitor),
“and her liberality to the nobles and the clergy.”  She was “pious,
merciful, pure, and ever to be praised, if we overlook her erroneous
opinions in religion,” says Godwin.  She had been grievously wronged from
her youth upwards.  In Elizabeth she had a sister and a rival, a constant
intriguer against her, and a kinswoman far from amiable.  Despite “the
kindness and attention of Philip” (Lingard), affairs of State demanded
his absence from England.  The disappointment as to her expected child
was cruel.  She knew that she had become unpopular, and she could not
look for the success of her Church, to which she was sincerely attached.
M. Auguste Filon thought that _Queen Mary_ might secure dramatic rank for
Tennyson, “if a great actress arose who conceived a passion for the part
of Mary.”  But that was not to be expected.  Mary was middle-aged, plain,
and in aspect now terrible, now rueful.  No great actress will throw
herself with passion into such an ungrateful part.  “Throughout all
history,” Tennyson said, “there was nothing more mournful than the final
tragedy of this woman.”  _Mournful_ it is, but not tragic.  There is
nothing grand at the close, as when Mary Stuart conquers death and evil
fame, redeeming herself by her courage and her calm, and extending over
unborn generations that witchery which her enemies dreaded more than an
army with banners.

Moreover, popular tradition can never forgive the fires of Smithfield.
It was Mary Tudor’s misfortune that she had the power to execute, on a
great scale, that faculty of persecution to the death for which her
Presbyterian and other Protestant opponents pined in vain.  Mr Froude
says of her, “For the first and last time the true Ultramontane spirit
was dominant in England, the genuine conviction that, as the orthodox
prophets and sovereigns of Israel slew the worshippers of Baal, so were
Catholic rulers called upon, as their first duty, to extirpate heretics
as the enemies of God and man.”  That was precisely the spirit of Knox
and other Presbyterian denouncers of death against “Idolaters”
(Catholics).  But the Scottish preachers were always thwarted: Mary and
her advisers had their way, as, earlier, Latimer had preached against
sufferers at the stake.  To the stake, which he feared so greatly,
Cranmer had sent persons not of his own fleeting shade of theological
opinion.  These men had burned Anabaptists, but all that is lightly
forgotten by Protestant opinion.  Under Mary (whoever may have been
primarily responsible) Cranmer and Latimer were treated as they had
treated others.  Moreover, some two hundred poor men and women had dared
the fiery death.  The persecution was on a scale never forgiven or
forgotten, since Mary began _cerdonibus esse timenda_.  Mary was not
essentially inclement.  Despite Renard, the agent of the Emperor, she
spared that lord of fluff and feather, Courtenay, and she spared
Elizabeth.  Lady Jane she could not save, the girl who was a queen by
grace of God and of her own royal nature.  But Mary will never be
pardoned by England.  “Few men or women have lived less capable of doing
knowingly a wrong thing,” says Mr Froude, a great admirer of Tennyson’s
play.  Yet, taking Mr Froude’s own view, Mary’s abject and superannuated
passion for Philip; her ecstasies during her supposed pregnancy; “the
forlorn hours when she would sit on the ground with her knees drawn to
her face,” with all her “symptoms of hysterical derangement, leave little
room, as we think of her, for other feelings than pity.”  Unfortunately,
feelings of pity for a person so distraught, so sourly treated by
fortune, do not suffice for tragedy.  When we contemplate Antigone or
Œdipus, it is not with a sentiment of pity struggling against abhorrence.

For these reasons the play does not seem to have a good dramatic subject.
The unity is given by Mary herself and her fortunes, and these are
scarcely dramatic.  History prevents the introduction of Philip till the
second scene of the third act.  His entrance is _manqué_; he merely
accompanies Cardinal Pole, who takes command of the scene, and Philip
does not get in a word till after a long conversation between the Queen
and the Cardinal.  Previously Philip had only crossed the stage in a
procession, yet when he does appear he is bereft of prominence.  The
interest as regards him is indicated, in Act I. scene v., by Mary’s
kissing his miniature.  Her blighted love for him is one main motive of
the tragedy, but his own part appears too subordinate in the play as
published.  The interest is scattered among the vast crowd of characters;
and Mr R. H. Hutton remarked at the time that he “remains something of a
cold, cruel, and sensual shadow.”  We are more interested in Wyatt,
Cranmer, Gardiner, and others; or at least their parts are more
interesting.  Yet in no case does the interest of any character, except
of Mary and Elizabeth, remain continuous throughout the play.  Tennyson
himself thought that “the real difficulty of the drama is to give
sufficient relief to its intense sadness. . . . Nothing less than the
holy calm of the meek and penitent Cranmer can be adequate artistic
relief.”  But not much relief can be drawn from a man about to be burned
alive, and history does not tempt us to keen sympathy with the recanting
archbishop, at least if we agree with Macaulay rather than with Froude.

I venture to think that historical tradition, as usual, offered a better
motive than exact history.  Following tradition, we see in Mary a cloud
of hateful gloom, from which England escapes into the glorious dawn of
“the Gospel light,” and of Elizabeth, who might be made a triumphantly
sympathetic character.  That is the natural and popular course which the
drama might take.  But Tennyson’s history is almost critical and
scientific.  Points of difficult and debated evidence (as to Elizabeth’s
part in Wyatt’s rebellion) are discussed.  There is no contest of day and
darkness, of Truth and Error.  The characters are in that perplexed
condition about creeds which was their actual state after the political
and social and religious chaos produced by Henry VIII.  Gardiner is a
Catholic, but not an Ultramontane; Lord William Howard is a Catholic, but
not a fanatic; we find a truculent Anabaptist, or Socialist, and a
citizen whose pride is his moderation.  The native uncritical tendency of
the drama is to throw up hats and halloo for Elizabeth and an open Bible.
In place of this, Cecil delivers a well-considered analysis of the
character of Elizabeth:—

       “_Eliz._  God guide me lest I lose the way.

                                                        [_Exit Elizabeth_.

       _Cecil_.  Many points weather’d, many perilous ones,
    At last a harbour opens; but therein
    Sunk rocks—they need fine steering—much it is
    To be nor mad, nor bigot—have a mind—
    Nor let Priests’ talk, or dream of worlds to be,
    Miscolour things about her—sudden touches
    For him, or him—sunk rocks; no passionate faith—
    But—if let be—balance and compromise;
    Brave, wary, sane to the heart of her—a Tudor
    School’d by the shadow of death—a Boleyn, too,
    Glancing across the Tudor—not so well.”

This is excellent as historical criticism, in the favourable sense; but
the drama, by its nature, demands something not critical but triumphant
and one-sided.  The character of Elizabeth is one of the best in the
play, as her soliloquy (Act III. scene v.) is one of the finest of the
speeches.  We see her courage, her coquetry, her dissimulation, her
arrogance.  But while this is the true Elizabeth, it is not the idealised
Elizabeth whom English loyalty created, lived for, and died for.  Mr
Froude wrote, “You have given us the greatest of all your works,” an
opinion which the world can never accept.  “You have reclaimed one more
section of English History from the wilderness, and given it a form in
which it will be fixed for ever.  No one since Shakespeare has done
that.”  But Mr Froude had done it, and Tennyson’s reading of “the
section” is mainly that of Mr Froude.  Mr Gladstone found that Cranmer
and Gardiner “are still in a considerable degree mysteries to me.”  A
mystery Cranmer must remain.  Perhaps the “crowds” and “Voices” are not
the least excellent of the characters, Tennyson’s humour finding an
opportunity in them, and in Joan and Tib.  His idyllic charm speaks in
the words of Lady Clarence to the fevered Queen; and there is dramatic
genius in her reply:—

       “_Mary_.  What is the strange thing happiness?  Sit down here:
    Tell me thine happiest hour.

       _Lady Clarence_.  I will, if that
    May make your Grace forget yourself a little.
    There runs a shallow brook across our field
    For twenty miles, where the black crow flies five,
    And doth so bound and babble all the way
    As if itself were happy.  It was May-time,
    And I was walking with the man I loved.
    I loved him, but I thought I was not loved.
    And both were silent, letting the wild brook
    Speak for us—till he stoop’d and gather’d one
    From out a bed of thick forget-me-nots,
    Look’d hard and sweet at me, and gave it me.
    I took it, tho’ I did not know I took it,
    And put it in my bosom, and all at once
    I felt his arms about me, and his lips—

       _Mary_.  O God!  I have been too slack, too slack;
    There are Hot Gospellers even among our guards—
    Nobles we dared not touch.  We have but burnt
    The heretic priest, workmen, and women and children.
    Wet, famine, ague, fever, storm, wreck, wrath,—
    We have so play’d the coward; but by God’s grace,
    We’ll follow Philip’s leading, and set up
    The Holy Office here—garner the wheat,
    And burn the tares with unquenchable fire!”

The conclusion, in the acting edition, printed in the Biography, appears
to be an improvement on that in the text as originally published.
Unhappy as the drama essentially is, the welcome which Mr Browning gave
both to the published work and to the acted play—“a complete success”:
“conception, execution, the whole and the parts, I see nowhere the shadow
of a fault”—offers “relief” in actual human nature.  “He is the
greatest-brained poet in England,” Tennyson said, on a later occasion.
“Violets fade, he has given me a crown of gold.”

Before writing _Harold_ (1876) the poet “studied many recent plays,” and
re-read Æschylus and Sophocles.  For history he went to the Bayeux
tapestry, the _Roman de Rou_, Lord Lytton, and Freeman.  Students of a
recent controversy will observe that, following Freeman, he retains the
famous palisade, so grievously battered by the axe-strokes of Mr Horace
Round.  _Harold_ is a piece more compressed, and much more in accordance
with the traditions of the drama, than _Queen Mary_.  The topic is tragic
indeed: the sorrow being that of a great man, a great king, the bulwark
of a people that fell with his fall.  Moreover, as the topic is treated,
the play is rich in the irony usually associated with the name of
Sophocles.  Victory comes before a fall.  Harold, like Antigone, is torn
between two duties—his oath and the claims of his country.  His ruin
comes from what Aristotle would call his _ἁμαρτία_, his fault in swearing
the oath to William.  The hero himself; recking little, after a
superstitious moment, of the concealed relics over which he swore, deems
his offence to lie in swearing a vow which he never meant to keep.  The
persuasions which urge him to this course are admirably presented:
England, Edith, his brother’s freedom, were at stake.  Casuistry, or even
law, would have absolved him easily; an oath taken under duresse is of no
avail.  But Harold’s “honour rooted in dishonour stood,” and he cannot so
readily absolve himself.  Bruce and the bishops who stood by Bruce had no
such scruples: they perjured themselves often, on the most sacred relics,
especially the bishops.  But Harold rises above the mediæval and magical
conception of the oath, and goes to his doom conscious of a stain on his
honour, of which only a deeper stain, that of falseness to his country,
could make him clean.  This is a truly tragic stroke of destiny.  The
hero’s character is admirably noble, patient, and simple.  The Confessor
also is as true in art as to history, and his vision of the fall and rise
of England is a noble passage.  In Aldwyth we have something of Vivien,
with a grain of conscience, and the part of Edith Swan’s-neck has a
restrained and classic pathos in contrast with the melancholy of
Wulfnoth.  The piece, as the poet said, is a “tragedy of doom,” of
deepening and darkening omens, as in the _Odyssey_ and _Njal’s Saga_.
The battle scene, with the choruses of the monks, makes a noble close.

FitzGerald remained loyal, but it was to “a fairy Prince who came from
other skies than these rainy ones,” and “the wretched critics,” as G. H.
Lewes called them, seem to have been unfriendly.  In fact (besides the
innate wretchedness of all critics), they grudged the time and labour
given to the drama, in an undramatic age.  _Harold_ had not what
FitzGerald called “the old champagne flavour” of the vintage of 1842.

_Becket_ was begun in 1876, printed in 1879, and published in 1884.
Before that date, in 1880, Tennyson produced one of the volumes of poetry
which was more welcome than a play to most of his admirers.  The
intervening years passed in the Isle of Wight, at Aldworth, in town, and
in summer tours, were of no marked biographical interest.  The poet was
close on three score and ten—he reached that limit in 1879.  The days
darkened around him, as darken they must: in the spring of 1879 he lost
his favourite brother, himself a poet of original genius, Charles
Tennyson Turner.  In May of the same year he published _The Lover’s
Tale_, which has been treated here among his earliest works.  His hours,
and (to some extent) his meals, were regulated by Sir Andrew Clark.  He
planted trees, walked, read, loitered in his garden, and kept up his old
friendships, while he made that of the great Gordon.  Compliments passed
between him and Victor Hugo, who had entertained Lionel Tennyson in
Paris, and wrote: “Je lis avec émotion vos vers superbes; c’est un reflet
de gloire que vous m’envoyez.”  Mr Matthew Arnold’s compliment was very
like Mr Arnold’s humour: “Your father has been our most popular poet for
over forty years, and I am of opinion that he fully deserves his
reputation”: such was “Mat’s sublime waggery.”  Tennyson heaped coals of
fire on the other poet, bidding him, as he liked to be bidden, to write
more poetry, not “prose things.”  Tennyson lived much in the society of
Browning and George Eliot, and made the acquaintance of Renan.  In
December 1879 Mr and Mrs Kendal produced _The Falcon_, which ran for
sixty-seven nights; it is “an exquisite little poem in action,” as Fanny
Kemble said.  During a Continental tour Tennyson visited Catullus’s
Sirmio: “here he made his _Frater Ave atque Vale_,” and the poet composed
his beautiful salutation to the

    “Tenderest of Roman poets nineteen hundred years ago.”

In 1880 _Ballads and other Poems_ proved that, like Titian, the great
poet was not to be defeated by the years.  _The First Quarrel_ was in his
most popular English style.  _Rizpah_ deserved and received the splendid
panegyric of Mr Swinburne.  _The Revenge_ is probably the finest of the
patriotic pieces, and keeps green the memory of an exploit the most
marvellous in the annals of English seamen.  _The Village Wife_ is a
pendant worthy of _The Northern Farmer_.  The poem _In the Children’s
Hospital_ caused some irritation at the moment, but there was only one
opinion as to the _Defence of Lucknow_ and the beautiful re-telling of
the Celtic _Voyage of Maeldune_.  The fragment of Homeric translation was
equally fortunate in choice of subject and in rendering.

In the end of 1880 the poet finished _The Cup_, which had been worked on
occasionally since he completed _The Falcon_ in 1880.  The piece was read
by the author to Sir Henry Irving and his company, and it was found that
the manuscript copy needed few alterations to fit it for the stage.  The
scenery and the acting of the protagonists are not easily to be
forgotten.  The play ran for a hundred and thirty nights.  Sir Henry
Irving had thought that _Becket_ (then unpublished) would prove too
expensive, and could only be a _succès d’estime_.  Tennyson had found out
that “the worst of writing for the stage is, you must keep some actor
always in your mind.”  To this necessity authors like Molière and
Shakespeare were, of course, resigned and familiar; they knew exactly how
to deal with all their means.  But this part of the business of
play-writing must always be a cross to the poet who is not at one with
the world of the stage.

In _The Cup_ Miss Ellen Terry made the strongest impression, her part
being noble and sympathetic, while Sir Henry Irving had the ungrateful
part of the villain.  To be sure, he was a villain of much complexity;
and Tennyson thought that his subtle blend of Roman refinement and
intellectuality, and barbarian, self-satisfied sensuality, was not “hit
off.”  Synorix is, in fact, half-Greek, half-Celt, with a Roman
education, and the “blend” is rather too remote for successful
representation.  The traditional villain, from Iago downwards, is not apt
to utter such poetry as this:—

    “O Thou, that dost inspire the germ with life,
    The child, a thread within the house of birth,
    And give him limbs, then air, and send him forth
    The glory of his father—Thou whose breath
    Is balmy wind to robe our bills with grass,
    And kindle all our vales with myrtle-blossom,
    And roll the golden oceans of our grain,
    And sway the long grape-bunches of our vines,
    And fill all hearts with fatness and the lust
    Of plenty—make me happy in my marriage!”

The year 1881 brought the death of another of the old Cambridge friends,
James Spedding, the biographer of Bacon; and Carlyle also died, a true
friend, if rather intermittent in his appreciation of poetry.  The real
Carlyle did appreciate it, but the Carlyle of attitude was too much of
the iron Covenanter to express what he felt.  The poem _Despair_
irritated the earnest and serious readers of “know-nothing books.”  The
poem expressed, dramatically, a mood like another, a human mood not so
very uncommon.  A man ruined in this world’s happiness curses the faith
of his youth, and the unfaith of his reading and reflection, and tries to
drown himself.  This is one conclusion of the practical syllogism, and it
is a free country.  However, there were freethinkers who did not think
that Tennyson’s kind of thinking ought to be free.  Other earnest persons
objected to “First drink a health,” in the re-fashioned song of _Hands
all Round_.  They might have remembered a royal health drunk in water an
hour before the drinkers swept Mackay down the Pass of Killiecrankie.
The poet did not specify the fluid in which the toast was to be carried,
and the cup might be that which “cheers but not inebriates.”  “The common
cup,” as the remonstrants had to be informed, “has in all ages been the
sacred symbol of unity.”

_The Promise of May_ was produced in November 1882, and the poet was once
more so unfortunate as to vex the susceptibilities of advanced thinkers.
The play is not a masterpiece, and yet neither the gallery gods nor the
Marquis of Queensberry need have felt their withers wrung.  The hero, or
villain, Edgar, is a perfectly impossible person, and represents no kind
of political, social, or economical thinker.  A man would give all other
bliss and all his worldly wealth for this, to waste his whole strength in
one kick upon this perfect prig.  He employs the arguments of evolution
and so forth to justify the seduction of a little girl of fifteen, and
later, by way of making amends, proposes to commit incest by marrying her
sister.  There have been evolutionists, to be sure, who believed in
promiscuity, like Mr Edgar, as preferable to monogamy.  But this only
proves that an evolutionist may fail to understand evolution.  There be
also such folk as Stevenson calls “squirradicals”—squires who say that
“the land is the people’s.”  Probably no advocate of promiscuity, and no
squirradical, was present at the performances of _The Promise of May_.
But people of advanced minds had got it into their heads that their
doctrines were to be attacked, so they went and made a hubbub in the
sacred cause of freedom of thought and speech.  The truth is, that
controversial topics, political topics, ought not to be brought into
plays, much less into sermons.  Tennyson meant Edgar for “nothing
thorough, nothing sincere.”  He is that venomous thing, the
prig-scoundrel: he does not suit the stage, and his place, if anywhere,
is in the novel.  Advocates of marriage with a deceased wife’s sister
might have applauded Edgar for wishing to marry the sister of a mistress
assumed to be deceased, but no other party in the State wanted anything
except the punching of Edgar’s head by Farmer Dobson.

In 1883 died Edward FitzGerald, the most kind, loyal, and, as he said,
crotchety of old and dear Cambridge friends.  He did not live to see the
delightful poem which Tennyson had written for him.  In almost his latest
letter he had remarked, superfluously, that when he called the task of
translating _The Agamemnon_ “work for a poet,” he “was not thinking of Mr

In the autumn of 1883 Tennyson was taken, with Mr Gladstone, by Sir
Donald Currie, for a cruise round the west coast of Scotland, to the
Orkneys, and to Copenhagen.  The people of Kirkwall conferred on the poet
and the statesman the freedom of the burgh, and Mr Gladstone, in an
interesting speech, compared the relative chances of posthumous fame of
the poet and the politician.  Pericles is not less remembered than
Sophocles, though Shakespeare is more in men’s minds than Cecil.  Much
depends, as far as the statesmen are considered, on contemporary
historians.  It is Thucydides who immortalises Pericles.  But it is
improbable that the things which Mr Gladstone did, and attempted, will be
forgotten more rapidly than the conduct and characters of, say, Burleigh
or Lethington.

In 1884, after this voyage, with its royal functions and celebrations at
Copenhagen, a peerage was offered to the poet.  He “did not want to alter
his plain Mr,” and he must have known that, whether he accepted or
refused, the chorus of blame would be louder than that of applause.
Scott had desired “such grinning honour as Sir Walter hath”; the title
went well with the old name, and pleased his love of old times.  Tennyson
had been blamed “by literary men” for thrice evading a baronetcy, and he
did not think that a peerage would make smooth the lives of his
descendants.  But he concluded, “Why should I be selfish and not suffer
an honour (as Gladstone says) to be done to literature in my name?”
Politically, he thought that the Upper House, while it lasts, partly
supplied the place of the American “referendum.”  He voted in July 1884
for the extension of the franchise, and in November stated his views to
Mr Gladstone in verse.  In prose he wrote to Mr Gladstone, “I have a
strong conviction that the more simple the dealings of men with men, as
well as of man with man, are—the better,” a sentiment which, perhaps, did
not always prevail with his friend.  The poet’s reflections on the horror
of Gordon’s death are not recorded.  He introduced the idea of the Gordon
Home for Boys, and later supported it by a letter, “Have we forgotten
Gordon?” to the _Daily Telegraph_.  They who cannot forget Gordon must
always be grateful to Tennyson for providing this opportunity of
honouring the greatest of an illustrious clan, and of helping, in their
degree, a scheme which was dear to the heroic leader.

The poet, very naturally, was most averse to personal appearance in
public matters.  Mankind is so fashioned that the advice of a poet is
always regarded as unpractical, and is even apt to injure the cause which
he advocates.  Happily there cannot be two opinions about the right way
of honouring Gordon.  Tennyson’s poem, _The Fleet_, was also in harmony
with the general sentiment.

In the last month of 1884 _Becket_ was published.  The theme of Fair
Rosamund had appealed to the poet in youth, and he had written part of a
lyric which he judiciously left unpublished.  It is given in his
Biography.  In 1877 he had visited Canterbury, and had traced the steps
of Becket to his place of slaughter in the Cathedral.  The poem was
printed in 1879, but not published till seven years later.  In 1879 Sir
Henry Irving had thought the play too costly to be produced with more
than a _succès d’estime_; but in 1891 he put it on the stage, where it
proved the most successful of modern poetic dramas.  As published it is,
obviously, far too long for public performance.  It is not easy to
understand why dramatic poets always make their works so much too long.
The drama seems, by its very nature, to have a limit almost as distinct
as the limit of the sonnet.  It is easy to calculate how long a play for
the stage ought to be, and we might think that a poet would find the
natural limit serviceable to his art, for it inculcates selection,
conciseness, and concentration.  But despite these advantages of the
natural form of the drama, modern poets, at least, constantly overflow
their banks.  The author _ruit profusus_, and the manager has to reduce
the piece to feasible proportions, such as it ought to have assumed from
the first.

_Becket_ has been highly praised by Sir Henry Irving himself, for its
“moments of passion and pathos, . . . which, when they exist, atone to an
audience for the endurance of long acts.”  But why should the audience
have such long acts to endure?  The reader, one fears, is apt to use his
privilege of skipping.  The long speeches of Walter Map and the immense
period of Margery tempt the student to exercise his agility.  A
“chronicle play” has the privilege of wandering, but _Becket_ wanders too
far and too long.  The political details of the quarrel between Church
and State, with its domestic and international complexities, are apt to
fatigue the attention.  Inevitable and insoluble as the situation was,
neither protagonist is entirely sympathetic, whether in the play or in
history.  The struggle in Becket between his love of the king and his
duty to the Church (or what he takes to be his duty) is nobly presented,
and is truly dramatic, while there is grotesque and terrible relief in
the banquet of the Beggars.  In the scene of the assassination the poet
“never stoops his wing,” and there are passages of tender pathos between
Henry and Rosamund, while Becket’s keen memories of his early days, just
before his death, are moving.

       “_Becket_.  I once was out with Henry in the days
    When Henry loved me, and we came upon
    A wild-fowl sitting on her nest, so still
    I reach’d my hand and touch’d; she did not stir;
    The snow had frozen round her, and she sat
    Stone-dead upon a heap of ice-cold eggs.
    Look! how this love, this mother, runs thro’ all
    The world God made—even the beast—the bird!

       _John of Salisbury_.  Ay, still a lover of the beast and bird?
    But these arm’d men—will you not hide yourself?
    Perchance the fierce De Brocs from Saltwood Castle,
    To assail our Holy Mother lest she brood
    Too long o’er this hard egg, the world, and send
    Her whole heart’s heat into it, till it break
    Into young angels.  Pray you, hide yourself.

       _Becket_.  There was a little fair-hair’d Norman maid
    Lived in my mother’s house: if Rosamund is
    The world’s rose, as her name imports her—she
    Was the world’s lily.

       _John of Salisbury_.  Ay, and what of her?

       _Becket_.  She died of leprosy.”

But the part of Rosamund, her innocent ignorance especially, is not very
readily intelligible, not quite persuasive, and there is almost a touch
of the burlesque in her unexpected appearance as a monk.  To weave that
old and famous story of love into the terribly complex political intrigue
was a task almost too great.  The character of Eleanor is perhaps more
successfully drawn in the Prologue than in the scene where she offers the
choice of the dagger or the bowl, and is interrupted, in a startlingly
unexpected manner, by the Archbishop himself.  The opportunities for
scenic effects are magnificent throughout, and must have contributed
greatly to the success on the stage.  Still one cannot but regard the
published _Becket_ as rather the marble from which the statue may be hewn
than as the statue itself.  There are fine scenes, powerful and masterly
drawing of character in Henry, Eleanor, and Becket, but there is a want
of concentration, due, perhaps, to the long period of time covered by the
action.  So, at least, it seems to a reader who has admitted his sense of
incompetency in the dramatic region.  The acuteness of the poet’s power
of historical intuition was attested by Mr J. R. Green and Mr Bryce.
“One cannot imagine,” said Mr Bryce, “a more vivid, a more perfectly
faithful picture than it gives both of Henry and Thomas.”  Tennyson’s
portraits of these two “go beyond and perfect history.”  The poet’s
sympathy ought, perhaps, to have been, if not with the false and
ruffianly Henry, at least with Henry’s side of the question.  For
Tennyson had made Harold leave

       “To England
    My legacy of war against the Pope
    From child to child, from Pope to Pope, from age to age,
    Till the sea wash her level with her shores,
    Or till the Pope be Christ’s.”


THE end of 1884 saw the publication of _Tiresias and other Poems_,
dedicated to “My good friend, Robert Browning,” and opening with the
beautiful verses to one who never was Mr Browning’s friend, Edward
FitzGerald.  The volume is rich in the best examples of Tennyson’s later
work.  _Tiresias_, the monologue of the aged seer, blinded by excess of
light when he beheld Athene unveiled, and under the curse of Cassandra,
is worthy of the author who, in youth, wrote _Œnone_ and _Ulysses_.
Possibly the verses reflect Tennyson’s own sense of public indifference
to the voice of the poet and the seer.  But they are of much earlier date
than the year of publication:—

       “For when the crowd would roar
    For blood, for war, whose issue was their doom,
    To cast wise words among the multitude
    Was flinging fruit to lions; nor, in hours
    Of civil outbreak, when I knew the twain
    Would each waste each, and bring on both the yoke
    Of stronger states, was mine the voice to curb
    The madness of our cities and their kings.
       Who ever turn’d upon his heel to hear
    My warning that the tyranny of one
    Was prelude to the tyranny of all?
    My counsel that the tyranny of all
    Led backward to the tyranny of one?
       This power hath work’d no good to aught that lives.”

The conclusion was a favourite with the author, and his blank verse never
reached a higher strain:—

          “But for me,
    I would that I were gather’d to my rest,
    And mingled with the famous kings of old,
    On whom about their ocean-islets flash
    The faces of the Gods—the wise man’s word,
    Here trampled by the populace underfoot,
    There crown’d with worship—and these eyes will find
    The men I knew, and watch the chariot whirl
    About the goal again, and hunters race
    The shadowy lion, and the warrior-kings,
    In height and prowess more than human, strive
    Again for glory, while the golden lyre
    Is ever sounding in heroic ears
    Heroic hymns, and every way the vales
    Wind, clouded with the grateful incense-fume
    Of those who mix all odour to the Gods
    On one far height in one far-shining fire.”

Then follows the pathetic piece on FitzGerald’s death, and the prayer,
not unfulfilled—

             “That, when I from hence
       Shall fade with him into the unknown,
    My close of earth’s experience
       May prove as peaceful as his own.”

_The Ancient Sage_, with its lyric interludes, is one of Tennyson’s
meditations on the mystery of the world and of existence.  Like the poet
himself, the Sage finds a gleam of light and hope in his own subjective
experiences of some unspeakable condition, already recorded in _In
Memoriam_.  The topic was one on which he seems to have spoken to his
friends with freedom:—

    “And more, my son! for more than once when I
    Sat all alone, revolving in myself
    The word that is the symbol of myself,
    The mortal limit of the Self was loosed,
    And past into the Nameless, as a cloud
    Melts into Heaven.  I touch’d my limbs, the limbs
    Were strange not mine—and yet no shade of doubt,
    But utter clearness, and thro’ loss of Self
    The gain of such large life as match’d with ours
    Were Sun to spark—unshadowable in words,
    Themselves but shadows of a shadow-world.”

The poet’s habit of

          “Revolving in myself
    The word that is the symbol of myself”—

that is, of dwelling on the sound of his own name, was familiar to the
Arabs.  M. Lefébure has drawn my attention to a passage in the works of a
mediæval Arab philosopher, Ibn Khaldoun: {196} “To arrive at the highest
degree of inspiration of which he is capable, the diviner should have
recourse to the use of certain phrases marked by a peculiar cadence and
parallelism.  Thus he emancipates his mind from the influence of the
senses, and is enabled to attain an imperfect contact with the spiritual
world.”  Ibn Khaldoun regards the “contact” as extremely “imperfect.”  He
describes similar efforts made by concentrating the gaze on a mirror, a
bowl of water, or the like.  Tennyson was doubtless unaware that he had
stumbled accidentally on a method of “ancient sages.”  Psychologists will
explain his experience by the word “dissociation.”  It is not everybody,
however, who can thus dissociate himself.  The temperament of genius has
often been subject to such influence, as M. Lefébure has shown in the
modern instances of George Sand and Alfred de Musset: we might add
Shelley, Goethe, and even Scott.

The poet’s versatility was displayed in the appearance with these records
of “weird seizures”, of the Irish dialect piece _To-morrow_, the popular
_Spinster’s Sweet-Arts_, and the _Locksley Hall Sixty Years After_.  The
old fire of the versification is unabated, but the hero has relapsed on
the gloom of the hero of _Maud_.  He represents himself, of course, not
Tennyson, or only one of the moods of Tennyson, which were sometimes
black enough.  A very different mood chants the _Charge of the Heavy
Brigade_, and speaks of

    “Green Sussex fading into blue
       With one gray glimpse of sea.”

The lines _To Virgil_ were written at the request of the Mantuans, by the
most Virgilian of all the successors of the

    “Wielder of the stateliest measure
       ever moulded by the lips of man.”

Never was Tennyson more Virgilian than in this unmatched panegyric, the
sum and flower of criticism of that

    “Golden branch amid the shadows,
       kings and realms that pass to rise no more.”

Hardly less admirable is the tribute to Catullus, and the old poet is
young again in the bird-song of _Early Spring_.  The lines on _Poets and
their Bibliographies_, with _The Dead Prophet_, express Tennyson’s
lifelong abhorrence of the critics and biographers, whose joy is in the
futile and the unimportant, in personal gossip and the sweepings of the
studio, the salvage of the wastepaper basket.  The _Prefatory Poem to my
Brother’s Sonnets_ is not only touching in itself, but proves that the
poet can “turn to favour and to prettiness” such an affliction as the
ruinous summer of 1879.

The year 1880 brought deeper distress in the death of the poet’s son
Lionel, whose illness, begun in India, ended fatally in the Red Sea.  The
interest of the following years was mainly domestic.  The poet’s health,
hitherto robust, was somewhat impaired in 1888, but his vivid interest in
affairs and in letters was unabated.  He consoled himself with Virgil,
Keats, Wordsworth, Gibbon, Euripides, and Mr Leaf’s speculations on the
composite nature of the _Iliad_, in which Coleridge, perhaps alone among
poets, believed.  “You know,” said Tennyson to Mr Leaf; “I never liked
that theory of yours about the many poets.”  It would be at least as easy
to prove that there were many authors of _Ivanhoe_, or perhaps it would
be a good deal more easy.  However, he admitted that three lines which
occur both in the Eighth and the Sixteenth Books of the _Iliad_ are more
appropriate in the later book.  Similar examples might be found in his
own poems.  He still wrote, in the intervals of a malady which brought
him “as near death as a man could be without dying.”  He was an example
of the great physical strength which, on the whole, seems usually to
accompany great mental power.  The strength may be dissipated by passion,
or by undue labour, as in cases easily recalled to memory, but neither
cause had impaired the vigour of Tennyson.  Like Goethe, he lived out all
his life; and his eightieth birthday was cheered both by public and
private expressions of reverence and affection.

Of Tennyson’s last three years on earth we may think, in his own words,
that his

       “Life’s latest eve endured
    Nor settled into hueless grey.”

Nature was as dear to him and as inspiring as of old; men and affairs and
letters were not slurred by his intact and energetic mind.  His _Demeter
and other Poems_, with the dedication to Lord Dufferin, appeared in the
December of the year.  The dedication was the lament for the dead son and
the salutation to the Viceroy of India, a piece of resigned and manly
regret.  The _Demeter and Persephone_ is a modern and tender study of the
theme of the most beautiful Homeric Hymn.  The ancient poet had no such
thought of the restored Persephone as that which impels Tennyson to
describe her

    “Faint as a climate-changing bird that flies
    All night across the darkness, and at dawn
    Falls on the threshold of her native land.”

The spring, the restored Persephone, comes more vigorous and joyous to
the shores of the Ægean than to ours.  All Tennyson’s own is Demeter’s
awe of those “imperial disimpassioned eyes” of her daughter, come from
the bed and the throne of Hades, the Lord of many guests.  The hymn,
happy in its ending, has no thought of the grey heads of the Fates, and
their answer to the goddess concerning “fate beyond the Fates,” and the
breaking of the bonds of Hades.  The ballad of _Owd Roä_ is one of the
most spirited of the essays in dialect to which Tennyson had of late
years inclined.  _Vastness_ merely expresses, in terms of poetry,
Tennyson’s conviction that, without immortality, life is a series of
worthless contrasts.  An opposite opinion may be entertained, but a man
has a right to express his own, which, coming from so great a mind, is
not undeserving of attention; or, at least, is hardly deserving of
reproof.  The poet’s idea is also stated thus in _The Ring_, in terms
which perhaps do not fall below the poetical; or, at least, do not drop
into “the utterly unpoetical”:—

    “The Ghost in Man, the Ghost that once was Man,
    But cannot wholly free itself from Man,
    Are calling to each other thro’ a dawn
    Stranger than earth has ever seen; the veil
    Is rending, and the Voices of the day
    Are heard across the Voices of the dark.
    No sudden heaven, nor sudden hell, for man,
    But thro’ the Will of One who knows and rules—
    And utter knowledge is but utter love—
    Æonian Evolution, swift or slow,
    Thro’ all the Spheres—an ever opening height,
    An ever lessening earth.”

_The Ring_ is, in fact, a ghost story based on a legend told by Mr Lowell
about a house near where he had once lived; one of those houses vexed by

    “A footstep, a low throbbing in the walls,
    A noise of falling weights that never fell,
    Weird whispers, bells that rang without a hand,
    Door-handles turn’d when none was at the door,
    And bolted doors that open’d of themselves.”

These phenomena were doubtless caused by rats and water-pipes, but they
do not destroy the pity and the passion of the tale.  The lines to Mary
Boyle are all of the normal world, and worthy of a poet’s youth and of
the spring.  _Merlin and the Gleam_ is the spiritual allegory of the
poet’s own career:—

    “Arthur had vanish’d
    I knew not whither,
    The king who loved me,
    And cannot die.”

So at last

       “All but in Heaven
    Hovers The Gleam,”

whither the wayfarer was soon to follow.  There is a marvellous hope and
pathos in the melancholy of these all but the latest songs, reminiscent
of youth and love, and even of the dim haunting memories and dreams of
infancy.  No other English poet has thus rounded all his life with music.
Tennyson was in his eighty-first year, when there “came in a moment” the
crown of his work, the immortal lyric, _Crossing the Bar_.  It is hardly
less majestic and musical in the perfect Greek rendering by his
brother-in-law, Mr Lushington.  For once at least a poem has been “poured
from the golden to the silver cup” without the spilling of a drop.  The
new book’s appearance was coincident with the death of Mr Browning, “so
loving and appreciative,” as Lady Tennyson wrote; a friend, not a rival,
however the partisans of either poet might strive to stir emulation
between two men of such lofty and such various genius.


IN the year 1889 the poet’s health had permitted him to take long walks
on the sea-shore and along the cliffs, one of which, by reason of its
whiteness, he had named “Taliessin,” “the splendid brow.”  His mind ran
on a poem founded on an Egyptian legend (of which the source is not
mentioned), telling how “despair and death came upon him who was mad
enough to try to probe the secret of the universe.”  He also thought of a
drama on Tristram, who, in the Idylls, is treated with brevity, and not
with the sympathy of the old writer who cries, “God bless Tristram the
knight: he fought for England!”  But early in 1890 Tennyson suffered from
a severe attack of influenza.  In May Mr Watts painted his portrait, and

    “Divinely through all hindrance found the man.”

Tennyson was a great admirer of Miss Austen’s novels: “The realism and
life-likeness of Miss Austen’s _Dramatis Personæ_ come nearest to those
of Shakespeare.  Shakespeare, however, is a sun to which Jane Austen,
though a bright and true little world, is but an asteroid.”  He was
therefore pleased to find apple-blossoms co-existing with ripe
strawberries on June 28, as Miss Austen has been blamed, by minute
philosophers, for introducing this combination in the garden party in
_Emma_.  The poet, like most of the good and great, read novels eagerly,
and excited himself over the confirmation of an adult male in a story by
Miss Yonge.  Of Scott, “the most chivalrous literary figure of the
century, and the author with the widest range since Shakespeare,” he
preferred _Old Mortality_, and it is a good choice.  He hated “morbid and
introspective tales, with their oceans of sham philosophy.”  At this
time, with catholic taste, he read Mr Stevenson and Mr Meredith, Miss
Braddon and Mr Henry James, Ouida and Mr Thomas Hardy; Mr Hall Caine and
Mr Anstey; Mrs Oliphant and Miss Edna Lyall.  Not everybody can peruse
all of these very diverse authors with pleasure.  He began his poem on
the Roman gladiatorial combats; indeed his years, fourscore and one, left
his intellectual eagerness as unimpaired as that of Goethe.  “A crooked
share,” he said to the Princess Louise, “may make a straight furrow.”
“One afternoon he had a long waltz with M— in the ballroom.”  Speaking of

    “All the charm of all the Muses
       Often flowering in a lonely word”

in Virgil, he adduced, rather strangely, the _cunctantem ramum_, said of
the Golden Bough, in the Sixth Æneid.  The choice is odd, because the
Sibyl has just told Æneas that, if he be destined to pluck the branch of
gold, _ipse volens facilisque sequetur_, “it will come off of its own
accord,” like the sacred _ti_ branches of the Fijians, which bend down to
be plucked for the Fire rite.  Yet, when the predestined Æneas tries to
pluck the bough of gold, it yields _reluctantly_ (_cunctantem_), contrary
to what the Sibyl has foretold.  Mr Conington, therefore, thought the
phrase a slip on the part of Virgil.  “People accused Virgil of
plagiarising,” he said, “but if a man made it his own there was no harm
in that (look at the great poets, Shakespeare included).”  Tennyson, like
Virgil, made much that was ancient his own; his verses are often, and
purposefully, a mosaic of classical reminiscences.  But he was vexed by
the hunters after remote and unconscious resemblances, and far-fetched
analogies between his lines and those of others.  He complained that, if
he said that the sun went down, a parallel was at once cited from Homer,
or anybody else, and he used a very powerful phrase to condemn critics
who detected such repetitions.  “The moanings of the homeless
sea,”—“moanings” from Horace, “homeless” from Shelley.  “As if no one
else had ever heard the sea moan except Horace!”  Tennyson’s mixture of
memory and forgetfulness was not so strange as that of Scott, and when he
adapted from the Greek, Latin, or Italian, it was of set purpose, just as
it was with Virgil.  The beautiful lines comparing a girl’s eyes to
bottom agates that seem to

       “Wave and float
    In crystal currents of clear running seas,”

he invented while bathing in Wales.  It was his habit, to note down in
verse such similes from nature, and to use them when he found occasion.
But the higher criticism, analysing the simile, detected elements from
Shakespeare and from Beaumont and Fletcher.

In June 1891 the poet went on a tour in Devonshire, and began his
_Akbar_, and probably wrote _June Bracken and Heather_; or perhaps it was
composed when “we often sat on the top of Blackdown to watch the sunset.”
He wrote to Mr Kipling—

    “The oldest to the youngest singer
       That England bore”

(to alter Mr Swinburne’s lines to Landor), praising his _Flag of
England_.  Mr Kipling replied as “the private to the general.”

Early in 1892 _The Foresters_ was successfully produced at New York by
Miss Ada Rehan, the music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, and the scenery from
woodland designs by Whymper.  Robin Hood (as we learn from Mark Twain) is
a favourite hero with the youth of America.  Mr Tom Sawyer himself took,
in Mark Twain’s tale, the part of the bold outlaw.

_The Death of Œnone_ was published in 1892, with the dedication to the
Master of Balliol—

       “Read a Grecian tale retold
    Which, cast in later Grecian mould,
          Quintus Calaber
    Somewhat lazily handled of old.”

Quintus Calaber, more usually called Quintus Smyrnæus, is a writer of
perhaps the fourth century of our era.  About him nothing, or next to
nothing, is known.  He told, in so late an age, the conclusion of the
Tale of Troy, and (in the writer’s opinion) has been unduly neglected and
disdained.  His manner, I venture to think, is more Homeric than that of
the more famous and doubtless greater Alexandrian poet of the Argonautic
cycle, Apollonius Rhodius, his senior by five centuries.  His materials
were probably the ancient and lost poems of the Epic Cycle, and the story
of the death of Œnone may be from the _Little Iliad_ of Lesches.
Possibly parts of his work may be textually derived from the Cyclics, but
the topic is very obscure.  In Quintus, Paris, after encountering evil
omens on his way, makes a long speech, imploring the pardon of the
deserted Œnone.  She replies, not with the Tennysonian brevity; she sends
him back to the helpless arms of her rival, Helen.  Paris dies on the
hills; never did Helen see him returning.  The wood-nymphs bewail Paris,
and a herdsman brings the bitter news to Helen, who chants her lament.
But remorse falls on Œnone.  She does not go

          “Slowly down
    By the long torrent’s ever-deepened roar,”

but rushes “swift as the wind to seek and spring upon the pyre of her
lord.”  Fate and Aphrodite drive her headlong, and in heaven Selene,
remembering Endymion, bewails the lot of her sister in sorrow.  Œnone
reaches the funeral flame, and without a word or a cry leaps into her
husband’s arms, the wild Nymphs wondering.  The lovers are mingled in one
heap of ashes, and these are bestowed in one vessel of gold and buried in
a howe.  This is the story which the poet rehandled in his old age,
completing the work of his happy youth when he walked with Hallam in the
Pyrenean hills, that were to him as Ida.  The romance of Œnone and her
death condone, as even Homer was apt to condone, the sins of beautiful
Paris, whom the nymphs lament, despite the evil that he has wrought.  The
silence of the veiled Œnone, as she springs into her lover’s last
embrace, is perhaps more affecting and more natural than Tennyson’s

       “She lifted up a voice
    Of shrill command, ‘Who burns upon the pyre?’”

The _St Telemachus_ has the old splendour and vigour of verse, and,
though written so late in life, is worthy of the poet’s prime:—

       “Eve after eve that haggard anchorite
    Would haunt the desolated fane, and there
    Gaze at the ruin, often mutter low
    ‘Vicisti Galilæe’; louder again,
    Spurning a shatter’d fragment of the God,
    ‘Vicisti Galilæe!’ but—when now
    Bathed in that lurid crimson—ask’d ‘Is earth
    On fire to the West? or is the Demon-god
    Wroth at his fall?’ and heard an answer ‘Wake
    Thou deedless dreamer, lazying out a life
    Of self-suppression, not of selfless love.’
    And once a flight of shadowy fighters crost
    The disk, and once, he thought, a shape with wings
    Came sweeping by him, and pointed to the West,
    And at his ear he heard a whisper ‘Rome,’
    And in his heart he cried ‘The call of God!’
    And call’d arose, and, slowly plunging down
    Thro’ that disastrous glory, set his face
    By waste and field and town of alien tongue,
    Following a hundred sunsets, and the sphere
    Of westward-wheeling stars; and every dawn
    Struck from him his own shadow on to Rome.
       Foot-sore, way-worn, at length he touch’d his goal,
    The Christian city.”

_Akbar’s Dream_ may be taken, more or less, to represent the poet’s own
theology of a race seeking after God, if perchance they may find Him, and
the closing Hymn was a favourite with Tennyson.  He said, “It is a
magnificent metre”:—



    Once again thou flamest heavenward, once again we see thee rise.
    Every morning is thy birthday gladdening human hearts and eyes.
       Every morning here we greet it, bowing lowly down before thee,
    Thee the Godlike, thee the changeless in thine ever-changing skies.


    Shadow-maker, shadow-slayer, arrowing light from clime to clime,
    Hear thy myriad laureates hail thee monarch in their woodland rhyme.
       Warble bird, and open flower, and, men, below the dome of azure
    Kneel adoring Him the Timeless in the flame that measures Time!”

In this final volume the poet cast his handful of incense on the altar of
Scott, versifying the tale of _Il Bizarro_, which the dying Sir Walter
records in his Journal in Italy.  _The Churchwarden and the Curate_ is
not inferior to the earlier peasant poems in its expression of
shrewdness, humour, and superstition.  A verse of _Poets and Critics_ may
be taken as the poet’s last word on the old futile quarrel:—

    “This thing, that thing is the rage,
    Helter-skelter runs the age;
    Minds on this round earth of ours
    Vary like the leaves and flowers,
       Fashion’d after certain laws;
    Sing thou low or loud or sweet,
    All at all points thou canst not meet,
       Some will pass and some will pause.

    What is true at last will tell:
    Few at first will place thee well;
    Some too low would have thee shine,
    Some too high—no fault of thine—
       Hold thine own, and work thy will!
    Year will graze the heel of year,
    But seldom comes the poet here,
       And the Critic’s rarer still.”

Still the lines hold good—

    “Some too low would have thee shine,
    Some too high—no fault of thine.”

The end was now at hand.  A sense of weakness was felt by the poet on
September 3, 1892: on the 28th his family sent for Sir Andrew Clark; but
the patient gradually faded out of life, and expired on Thursday, October
6, at 1.35 A.M.  To the very last he had Shakespeare by him, and his
windows were open to the sun; on the last night they were flooded by the
moonlight.  The description of the final scenes must be read in the
Biography by the poet’s son.  “His patience and quiet strength had power
upon those who were nearest and dearest to him; we felt thankful for the
love and the utter peace of it all.”  “The life after death,” Tennyson
had said just before his fatal illness, “is the cardinal point of
Christianity.  I believe that God reveals Himself in every individual
soul; and my idea of Heaven is the perpetual ministry of one soul to
another.”  He had lived the life of heaven upon earth, being in all his
work a minister of things honourable, lovely, consoling, and ennobling to
the souls of others, with a ministry which cannot die.  His body sleeps
next to that of his friend and fellow-poet, Robert Browning, in front of
Chaucer’s monument in the Abbey.


“O, THAT Press will get hold of me now,” Tennyson said when he knew that
his last hour was at hand.  He had a horror of personal tattle, as even
his early poems declare—

    “For now the Poet cannot die,
       Nor leave his music as of old,
       But round him ere he scarce be cold
    Begins the scandal and the cry.”

But no “carrion-vulture” has waited

    “To tear his heart before the crowd.”

About Tennyson, doubtless, there is much anecdotage: most of the
anecdotes turn on his shyness, his really exaggerated hatred of personal
notoriety, and the odd and brusque things which he would say when alarmed
by effusive strangers.  It has not seemed worth while to repeat more than
one or two of these legends, nor have I sought outside the Biography by
his son for more than the biographer chose to tell.  The readers who are
least interested in poetry are most interested in tattle about the poet.
It is the privilege of genius to retain the freshness and simplicity,
with some of the foibles, of the child.  When Tennyson read his poems
aloud he was apt to be moved by them, and to express frankly his
approbation where he thought it deserved.  Only very rudimentary
psychologists recognised conceit in this freedom; and only the same set
of persons mistook shyness for arrogance.  Effusiveness of praise or
curiosity in a stranger is apt to produce bluntness of reply in a Briton.
“Don’t talk d—d nonsense, sir,” said the Duke of Wellington to the
gushing person who piloted him, in his old age, across Piccadilly.  Of
Tennyson Mr Palgrave says, “I have known him silenced, almost frozen,
before the eager unintentional eyes of a girl of fifteen.  And under the
stress of this nervous impulse compelled to contradict his inner self
(especially when under the terror of leonisation . . . ), he was
doubtless at times betrayed into an abrupt phrase, a cold unsympathetic
exterior; a moment’s ‘defect of the rose.’”  Had he not been sensitive in
all things, he would have been less of a poet.  The chief criticism
directed against his mode of life is that he _was_ sensitive and
reserved, but he could and did make himself pleasant in the society of
_les pauvres d’esprit_.  Curiosity alarmed him, and drove him into his
shell: strangers who met him in that mood carried away false impressions,
which developed into myths.  As the Master of Balliol has recorded,
despite his shyness “he was extremely hospitable, often inviting not only
his friends, but the friends of his friends, and giving them a hearty
welcome.  For underneath a sensitive exterior he was thoroughly genial if
he was understood.”  In these points he was unlike his great
contemporary, Browning; for instance, Tennyson never (I think) was the
Master’s guest at Balliol, mingling, like Browning, with the
undergraduates, to whom the Master’s hospitality was freely extended.
Yet, where he was familiar, Tennyson was a gay companion, not shunning
jest or even paradox.  “As Dr Johnson says, every man may be judged of by
his laughter”: but no Boswell has chronicled the laughters of Tennyson.
“He never, or hardly ever, made puns or witticisms” (though one pun, at
least, endures in tradition), “but always lived in an attitude of
humour.”  Mr Jowett writes (and no description of the poet is better than

    If I were to describe his outward appearance, I should say that he
    was certainly unlike any one else whom I ever saw.  A glance at some
    of Watts’ portraits of him will give, better than any description
    which can be expressed in words, a conception of his noble mien and
    look.  He was a magnificent man, who stood before you in his native
    refinement and strength.  The unconventionality of his manners was in
    keeping with the originality of his figure.  He would sometimes say
    nothing, or a word or two only, to the stranger who approached him,
    out of shyness.  He would sometimes come into the drawing-room
    reading a book.  At other times, especially to ladies, he was
    singularly gracious and benevolent.  He would talk about the
    accidents of his own life with an extraordinary freedom, as at the
    moment they appeared to present themselves to his mind, the days of
    his boyhood that were passed at Somersby, and the old school of
    manners which he came across in his own neighbourhood: the days of
    the “apostles” at Cambridge: the years which he spent in London; the
    evenings enjoyed at the Cock Tavern, and elsewhere, when he saw
    another side of life, not without a kindly and humorous sense of the
    ridiculous in his fellow-creatures.  His repertory of stories was
    perfectly inexhaustible; they were often about slight matters that
    would scarcely bear repetition, but were told with such lifelike
    reality, that they convulsed his hearers with laughter.  Like most
    story-tellers, he often repeated his favourites; but, like children,
    his audience liked hearing them again and again, and he enjoyed
    telling them.  It might be said of him that he told more stories than
    any one, but was by no means the regular story-teller.  In the
    commonest conversation he showed himself a man of genius.

To this description may be added another by Mr F. T. Palgrave:—

    Every one will have seen men, distinguished in some line of work,
    whose conversation (to take the old figure) either “smelt too
    strongly of the lamp,” or lay quite apart from their art or craft.
    What, through all these years, struck me about Tennyson, was that
    whilst he never deviated into poetical language as such, whether in
    rhetoric or highly coloured phrase, yet throughout the substance of
    his talk the same mode of thought, the same imaginative grasp of
    nature, the same fineness and gentleness in his view of character,
    the same forbearance and toleration, the _aurea mediocritas_ despised
    by fools and fanatics, which are stamped on his poetry, were
    constantly perceptible: whilst in the easy and as it were unsought
    choiceness, the conscientious and truth-loving precision of his
    words, the same personal identity revealed itself.  What a strange
    charm lay here, how deeply illuminating the whole character, as in
    prolonged intercourse it gradually revealed itself!  Artist and man,
    Tennyson was invariably true to himself, or rather, in Wordsworth’s
    phrase, he “moved altogether”; his nature and his poetry being
    harmonious aspects of the same soul; as botanists tell us that flower
    and fruit are but transformations of root and stem and leafage.  We
    read how, in mediæval days, conduits were made to flow with claret.
    But this was on great occasions only.  Tennyson’s fountain always ran

    Once more: In Mme. Récamier’s _salon_, I have read, at the time when
    conversation was yet a fine art in Paris, guests famous for _esprit_
    would sit in the twilight round the stove, whilst each in turn let
    fly some sparkling anecdote or bon-mot, which rose and shone and died
    out into silence, till the next of the elect pyrotechnists was ready.
    Good things of this kind, as I have said, were plentiful in
    Tennyson’s repertory.  But what, to pass from the materials to the
    method of his conversation, eminently marked it was the continuity of
    the electric current.  He spoke, and was silent, and spoke again: but
    the circuit was unbroken; there was no effort in taking up the
    thread, no sense of disjunction.  Often I thought, had he never
    written a line of the poems so dear to us, his conversation alone
    would have made him the most interesting companion known to me.  From
    this great and gracious student of humanity, what less, indeed, could
    be expected?  And if, as a converser, I were to compare him with
    Socrates, as figured for us in the dialogues of his great disciple, I
    think that I should have the assent of that eminently valued friend
    of Tennyson’s, whose long labour of love has conferred English
    citizenship upon Plato.

We have called him shy and sensitive in daily intercourse with strangers,
and as to criticism, he freely confessed that a midge of dispraise could
sting, while applause gave him little pleasure.  Yet no poet altered his
verses so much in obedience to censure unjustly or irritatingly stated,
yet in essence just.  He readily rejected some of his “Juvenilia” on Mr
Palgrave’s suggestion.  The same friend tells how well he took a rather
fierce attack on an unpublished piece, when Mr Palgrave “owned that he
could not find one good line in it.”  Very few poets, or even versifiers
(fiercer they than poets are), would have continued to show their virgin
numbers to a friend so candid, as Tennyson did.  Perhaps most of the
_genus irritabile_ will grant that spoken criticism, if unfavourable,
somehow annoys and stirs opposition in an author; probably because it
confirms his own suspicions about his work.  Such criticism is almost
invariably just.  But Campbell, when Rogers offered a correction,
“bounced out of the room, with a ‘Hang it!  I should like to see the man
who would dare to correct me.’”

Mr Jowett justly recognised in the life of Tennyson two circumstances
which made him other than, but for these, he would have been.  He had
intended to do with the Arthurian subject what he never did, “in some way
or other to have represented in it the great religions of the world. . . .
It is a proof of Tennyson’s genius that he should have thus early
grasped the great historical aspect of religion.”  His intention was
foiled, his early dream was broken, by the death of Arthur Hallam, and by
the coldness and contempt with which, at the same period, his early poems
were received.

Mr Jowett (who had a firm belief in the “great work”) regretted the
change of plan as to the Arthurian topic, regretted it the more from his
own interest in the History of Religion.  But we need not share the
regrets.  The early plan for the Arthur (which Mr Jowett never saw) has
been published, and certainly the scheme could not have been executed on
these lines. {218}  Moreover, as the Master observed, the work would have
been premature in Tennyson’s youth, and, indeed, it would still be
premature.  The comparative science of religious evolution is even now
very tentative, and does not yield materials of sufficient stability for
an epic, even if such an epic could be forced into the mould of the
Arthur legends, a feat perhaps impossible, and certainly undesirable.  A
truly fantastic allegory must have been the result, and it is fortunate
that the poet abandoned the idea in favour of more human themes.
Moreover, he recognised very early that his was not a Muse _de longue
haleine_; that he must be “short.”  We may therefore feel certain that
his early sorrow and discouragement were salutary to him as a poet, and
as a man.  He became more sympathetic, more tender, and was obliged to
put forth that stoical self-control, and strenuous courage and endurance,
through which alone his poetic career was rendered possible.  “He had the
susceptibility of a child or a woman,” says his friend; “he had also” (it
was a strange combination) “the strength of a giant or of a god.”
Without these qualities he must have broken down between 1833 and 1842
into a hypochondriac, or a morose, if majestic, failure.  Poor, obscure,
and unhappy, he overcame the world, and passed from darkness into light.
The “poetic temperament” in another not gifted with his endurance and
persistent strength would have achieved ruin.

Most of us remember Taine’s parallel between Tennyson and Alfred de
Musset.  The French critic has no high approval of Tennyson’s
“respectability” and long peaceful life, as compared with the wrecked
life and genius of Musset, _l’enfant perdu_ of love, wine, and song.
This is a theory like another, and is perhaps attractive to the young.
The poet must have strong passions, or how can he sing of them: he must
be tossed and whirled in the stress of things, like Shelley’s autumn

    “Ghosts from an enchanter fleeing.”

Looking at Burns, Byron, Musset, or even at Shelley’s earlier years,
youth sees in them the true poets, “sacred things,” but also “light,” as
Plato says, inspired to break their wings against the nature of
existence, and the _flammantia mænia mundi_.  But this is almost a boyish
idea, this idea that the true poet is the slave of the passions, and that
the poet who dominates them has none, and is but a staid domestic animal,
an ass browsing the common, as somebody has written about Wordsworth.
Certainly Tennyson’s was no “passionless perfection.”  He, like others,
was tempted to beat with ineffectual wings against the inscrutable nature
of life.  He, too, had his dark hour, and was as subject to temptation as
they who yielded to the stress and died, or became unhappy waifs, “young
men with a splendid past.”  He must have known, no less than Musset, the
attractions of many a _paradis artificiel_, with its bright visions, its
houris, its offers of oblivion of pain.  “He had the look of one who had
suffered greatly,” Mr Palgrave writes in his record of their first
meeting in 1842.  But he, like Goethe, Scott, and Victor Hugo, had
strength as well as passion and emotion; he came unscorched through the
fire that has burned away the wings of so many other great poets.  This
was no less fortunate for the world than for himself.  Of his prolonged
dark hour we know little in detail, but we have seen that from the first
he resisted the Tempter; _Ulysses_ is his _Retro Sathanas_!

About “the mechanism of genius” in Tennyson Mr Palgrave has told us a
little; more appears incidentally in his biography.  “It was his way that
when we had entered on some scene of special beauty or grandeur, after
enjoying it together, he should always withdraw wholly from sight, and
study the view, as it were, in a little artificial solitude.”

Tennyson’s poems, Mr Palgrave says, often arose in a kind of _point de
repère_ (like those forms and landscapes which seem to spring from a
floating point of light, beheld with closed eyes just before we sleep).
“More than once he said that his poems sprang often from a ‘nucleus,’
some one word, maybe, or brief melodious phrase, which had floated
through the brain, as it were, unbidden.  And perhaps at once while
walking they were presently wrought into a little song.  But if he did
not write it down at once the lyric fled from him irrecoverably.”  He
believed himself thus to have lost poems as good as his best.  It seems
probable that this is a common genesis of verses, good or bad, among all
who write.  Like Dickens, and like most men of genius probably, he saw
all the scenes of his poems “in his mind’s eye.”  Many authors do this,
without the power of making their readers share the vision; but probably
few can impart the vision who do not themselves “visualise” with
distinctness.  We have seen, in the cases of _The Holy Grail_ and other
pieces, that Tennyson, after long meditating a subject, often wrote very
rapidly, and with little need of correction.  He was born with “style”;
it was a gift of his genius rather than the result of conscious
elaboration.  Yet he did use “the file,” of which much is now written,
especially for the purpose of polishing away the sibilants, so common in
our language.  In the nine years of silence which followed the little
book of 1833 his poems matured, and henceforth it is probable that he
altered his verses little, if we except the modifications in _The
Princess_.  Many slight verbal touches were made, or old readings were
restored, but important changes, in the way of omission or addition,
became rare.

Of nature Tennyson was scrupulously observant till his very latest days,
eagerly noting, not only “effects,” as a painter does, but their causes,
botanical or geological.  Had man been scientific from the beginning he
would probably have evolved no poetry at all; material things would not
have been endowed by him with life and passion; he would have told
himself no stories of the origins of stars and flowers, clouds and fire,
winds and rainbows.  Modern poets have resented, like Keats and
Wordsworth, the destruction of the old prehistoric dreams by the
geologist and by other scientific characters.  But it was part of
Tennyson’s poetic originality to see the beautiful things of nature at
once with the vision of early poetic men, and of moderns accustomed to
the microscope, telescope, spectrum analysis, and so forth.  Thus
Tennyson received a double delight from the sensible universe, and it is
a double delight that he communicates to his readers.  His intellect was
thus always active, even in apparent repose.  His eyes rested not from
observing, or his mind from recording and comparing, the beautiful
familiar phenomena of earth and sky.  In the matter of the study of books
we have seen how deeply versed he was in certain of the Greek, Roman, and
Italian classics.  Mr Jowett writes: “He was what might be called a good
scholar in the university or public-school sense of the term, . . . yet I
seem to remember that he had his favourite classics, such as Homer, and
Pindar, and Theocritus. . . . He was also a lover of Greek fragments.
But I am not sure whether, in later life, he ever sat down to read
consecutively the greatest works of Æschylus and Sophocles, although he
used occasionally to dip into them.”  The Greek dramatists, in fact, seem
to have affected Tennyson’s work but slightly, while he constantly
reminds us of Virgil, Homer, Theocritus, and even Persius and Horace.
Mediæval French, whether in poetry or prose, and the poetry of the
“Pleiad” seems to have occupied little of his attention.  Into the
oriental literatures he dipped—pretty deeply for his _Akbar_; and even
his _Locksley Hall_ owed something to Sir William Jones’s version of “the
old Arabian _Moallakat_.”  The debt appears to be infinitesimal.  He
seems to have been less closely familiar with Elizabethan poetry than
might have been expected: a number of his _obiter dicta_ on all kinds of
literary points are recorded in the _Life_ by Mr Palgrave.  “Sir Walter
Scott’s short tale, _My Aunt Margaret’s Mirror_ (how little known!), he
once spoke of as the finest of all ghost or magical stories.”  Lord
Tennyson adds, “_The Tapestried Chamber_ also he greatly admired.”  Both
are lost from modern view among the short pieces of the last volumes of
the _Waverley_ novels.  Of the poet’s interest in and attitude towards
the more obscure pyschological and psychical problems—to popular science
foolishness—enough has been said, but the remarks of Professor Tyndall
have not been cited:—

    My special purpose in introducing this poem, however, was to call
    your attention to a passage further on which greatly interested me.
    The poem is, throughout, a discussion between a believer in
    immortality and one who is unable to believe.  The method pursued is
    this.  The Sage reads a portion of the scroll, which he has taken
    from the hands of his follower, and then brings his own arguments to
    bear upon that portion, with a view to neutralising the scepticism of
    the younger man.  Let me here remark that I read the whole series of
    poems published under the title “Tiresias,” full of admiration for
    their freshness and vigour.  Seven years after I had first read them
    your father died, and you, his son, asked me to contribute a chapter
    to the book which you contemplate publishing.  I knew that I had some
    small store of references to my interview with your father carefully
    written in ancient journals.  On the receipt of your request, I
    looked up the account of my first visit to Farringford, and there, to
    my profound astonishment, I found described that experience of your
    father’s which, in the mouth of the Ancient Sage, was made the ground
    of an important argument against materialism and in favour of
    personal immortality eight-and-twenty years afterwards.  In no other
    poem during all these years is, to my knowledge, this experience once
    alluded to.  I had completely forgotten it, but here it was recorded
    in black and white.  If you turn to your father’s account of the
    wonderful state of consciousness superinduced by thinking of his own
    name, and compare it with the argument of the Ancient Sage, you will
    see that they refer to one and the same phenomenon.

                                * * * * *

       And more, my son! for more than once when I
    Sat all alone, revolving in myself
    The word that is the symbol of myself,
    The mortal limit of the Self was loosed,
    And past into the Nameless, as a cloud
    Melts into heaven.  I touch’d my limbs, the limbs
    Were strange, not mine—and yet no shade of doubt,
    But utter clearness, and thro’ loss of Self
    The gain of such large life as match’d with ours
    Were Sun to spark—unshadowable in words,
    Themselves but shadows of a shadow-world.

Any words about Tennyson as a politician are apt to excite the sleepless
prejudice which haunts the political field.  He probably, if forced to
“put a name to it,” would have called himself a Liberal.  But he was not
a social agitator.  He never set a rick on fire.  “He held aloof, in a
somewhat detached position, from the great social seethings of his age”
(Mr Frederic Harrison).  But in youth he helped to extinguish some
flaming ricks.  He spoke of the “many-headed beast” (the reading public)
in terms borrowed from Plato.  He had no higher esteem for mobs than
Shakespeare or John Knox professed, while his theory of tyrants (in the
case of Napoleon III. about 1852) was that of Liberals like Mr Swinburne
and Victor Hugo.  Though to modern enlightenment Tennyson may seem as
great a Tory as Dr Johnson, yet he had spoken his word in 1852 for the
freedom of France, and for securing England against the supposed designs
of a usurper (now fallen).  He really believed, obsolete as the faith may
be, in guarding our own, both on land and sea.  Perhaps no Continental or
American critic has ever yet dispraised a poetical fellow-countryman
merely for urging the duties of national union and national defence.  A
critic, however, writes thus of Tennyson: “When our poet descends into
the arena of party polemics, in such things as _Riflemen_, _Form_!
_Hands all Round_, . . .  _The Fleet_, and other topical pieces dear to
the Jingo soul, it is not poetry but journalism.”  I doubt whether the
desirableness of the existence of a volunteer force and of a fleet really
is within the arena of _party_ polemics.  If any party thinks that we
ought to have no volunteers, and that it is our duty to starve the fleet,
what is that party’s name?  Who cries, “Down with the Fleet!  Down with
National Defence!  Hooray for the Disintegration of the Empire!”?

Tennyson was not a party man, but he certainly would have opposed any
such party.  If to defend our homes and this England be “Jingoism,”
Tennyson, like Shakespeare, was a Jingo.  But, alas! I do not know the
name of the party which opposes Tennyson, and which wishes the invader to
trample down England—any invader will do for so philanthropic a purpose.
Except when resisting this unnamed party, the poet seldom or never
entered “the arena of party polemics.”  Tennyson could not have
exclaimed, like Squire Western, “Hurrah for old England!  Twenty thousand
honest Frenchmen have landed in Kent!”  He undeniably did write verses
(whether poetry or journalism) tending to make readers take an
unfavourable view of honest invaders.  If to do that is to be a “Jingo,”
and if such conduct hurts the feelings of any great English party, then
Tennyson was a Jingo and a partisan, and was, so far, a rhymester, like
Mr Kipling.  Indeed we know that Tennyson applauded Mr Kipling’s _The
English Flag_.  So the worst is out, as we in England count the worst.
In America and on the continent of Europe, however, a poet may be proud
of his country’s flag without incurring rebuke from his countrymen.
Tennyson did not reckon himself a party man; he believed more in
political evolution than in political revolution, with cataclysms.  He
was neither an Anarchist nor a Home Ruler, nor a politician so generous
as to wish England to be laid defenceless at the feet of her foes.

If these sentiments deserve censure, in Tennyson, at least, they claim
our tolerance.  He was not born in a generation late enough to be truly
Liberal.  Old prejudices about “this England,” old words from _Henry V._
and _King John_, haunted his memory and darkened his vision of the true
proportions of things.  We draw in prejudice with our mother’s milk.  The
mother of Tennyson had not been an Agnostic or a Comtist; his father had
not been a staunch true-blue anti-Englander.  Thus he inherited a certain
bias in favour of faith and fatherland, a bias from which he could never
emancipate himself.  But _tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner_.  Had
Tennyson’s birth been later, we might find in him a more complete
realisation of our poetic ideal—might have detected less to blame or to

With that apology we must leave the fame of Tennyson as a politician to
the clement consideration of an enlightened posterity.  I do not defend
his narrow insularities, his Jingoism, or the appreciable percentage of
faith which blushing analysis may detect in his honest doubt: these
things I may regret or condemn, but we ought not to let them obscure our
view of the Poet.  He was led away by bad examples.  Of all Jingoes
Shakespeare is the most unashamed, and next to him are Drayton, Scott,
and Wordsworth, with his

    “Oh, for one hour of that Dundee!”

In the years which followed the untoward affair of Waterloo young
Tennyson fell much under the influence of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and
the other offenders, and these are extenuating circumstances.  By a
curious practical paradox, where the realms of poetry and politics meet,
the Tory critics seem milder of mood and more Liberal than the Liberal
critics.  Thus Mr William Morris was certainly a very advanced political
theorist; and in theology Mr Swinburne has written things not easily
reconcilable with orthodoxy.  Yet we find Divine-Right Tories, who in
literature are fervent admirers of these two poets, and leave their
heterodoxies out of account.  But many Liberal critics appear unable
quite to forgive Tennyson because he did not wish to starve the fleet,
and because he held certain very ancient, if obsolete, beliefs.  Perhaps
a general amnesty ought to be passed, as far as poets are concerned, and
their politics and creeds should be left to silence, where “beyond these
voices there is peace.”

One remark, I hope, can excite no prejudice.  The greatest of the Gordons
was a soldier, and lived in religion.  But the point at which Tennyson’s
memory is blended with that of Gordon is the point of sympathy with the
neglected poor.  It is to his wise advice, and to affection for Gordon,
that we owe the Gordon training school for poor boys,—a good school, and
good boys come out of that academy.

The question as to Tennyson’s precise rank in the glorious roll of the
Poets of England can never be determined by us, if in any case or at any
time such determinations can be made.  We do not, or should not, ask
whether Virgil or Lucretius, whether Æschylus or Sophocles, is the
greater poet.  The consent of mankind seems to place Homer and
Shakespeare and Dante high above all.  For the rest no prize-list can be
settled.  If influence among aliens is the test, Byron probably takes,
among our poets, the next rank after Shakespeare.  But probably there is
no possible test.  In certain respects Shelley, in many respects Milton,
in some Coleridge, in some Burns, in the opinion of a number of persons
Browning, are greater poets than Tennyson.  But for exquisite variety and
varied exquisiteness Tennyson is not readily to be surpassed.  At one
moment he pleases the uncritical mass of readers, in another mood he wins
the verdict of the _raffiné_.  It is a success which scarce any English
poet but Shakespeare has excelled.  His faults have rarely, if ever, been
those of flat-footed, “thick-ankled” dulness; of rhetoric, of
common-place; rather have his defects been the excess of his qualities.
A kind of John Bullishness may also be noted, especially in derogatory
references to France, which, true or untrue, are out of taste and
keeping.  But these errors could be removed by the excision of
half-a-dozen lines.  His later work (as the _Voyage of Maeldune_) shows a
just appreciation of ancient Celtic literature.  A great critic, F. T.
Palgrave, has expressed perhaps the soundest appreciation of Tennyson:—

    It is for “the days that remain” to bear witness to his real place in
    the great hierarchy, amongst whom Dante boldly yet justly ranked
    himself.  But if we look at Tennyson’s work in a twofold
    aspect,—_Here_, on the exquisite art in which, throughout, his verse
    is clothed, the lucid beauty of the form, the melody almost audible
    as music, the mysterious skill by which the words used constantly
    strike as the _inevitable_ words (and hence, unforgettable), the
    subtle allusive touches, by which a secondary image is suggested to
    enrich the leading thought, as the harmonic “partials” give richness
    to the note struck upon the string; _There_, when we think of the
    vast fertility in subject and treatment, united with happy selection
    of motive, the wide range of character, the dramatic force of
    impersonation, the pathos in every variety, the mastery over the
    comic and the tragic alike, above all, perhaps, those phrases of
    luminous insight which spring direct from imaginative observation of
    Humanity, true for all time, coming from the heart to the heart,—his
    work will probably be found to lie somewhere between that of Virgil
    and Shakespeare: having its portion, if I may venture on the phrase,
    in the inspiration of both.

A professed enthusiast for Tennyson can add nothing to, and take nothing
from, these words of one who, though his friend, was too truly a critic
to entertain the admiration that goes beyond idolatry.


{1}  Macmillan & Co.

{7}  To the present writer, as to others, _The Lover’s Tale_ appeared to
be imitative of Shelley, but if Tennyson had never read Shelley, _cadit

{16}  F. W. H. Myers, _Science and a Future Life_, p. 133.

{39}  The writer knew this edition before he knew Tennyson’s poems.

{50}  The author of the spiteful letters was an unpublished anonymous

{58}  The Lennox MSS.

{62}  Spencer and Gillen, _Natives of Central Australia_, pp. 388, 389.

{65}  _Tennyson_, _Ruskin_, _and Mill_, pp. 11, 12.

{66}  _Life_, p. 37, 1899.

{72}  Poem omitted from _In Memoriam_.  _Life_, p. 257, 1899.

{74}  Mr Harrison, _Tennyson_, _Ruskin_, _and Mill_, p. 5.

{112}  The English reader may consult Mr Rhys’s _The Arthurian Legend_,
Oxford, 1891, and Mr Nutt’s _Studies of the Legend of the Holy Grail_,
which will direct him to other authorities and sources.

{113}  I have summarised, with omissions, Miss Jessie L. Watson’s sketch
in _King Arthur and his Knights_.  Nutt, 1899.  The learning of the
subject is enormous; Dr Sommer’s _Le Mort d’Arthur_, the second volume
may be consulted.  Nutt, 1899.

{129a}  Βέλενος and Βήληνος.  He is referred to in inscriptions, _e.g._
Berlin, _Corpus_, iii. 4774, V. 732, 733, 1829, 2143–46; xii. 405.  See
also Ausonius (Leipsic, 1886, pp. 52, 59), cited by Rhys, _The Arthurian
Legend_ p. 159, note 4.

{129b}  Brebeuf; _Relations des Jésuites_, 1636, pp. 100–102.

{139}  Malory, xviii.  8 _et seq._

{196}  Notices et Extraits des MSS. de la Bibliothèque Impériale, I. xix.
pp. 643–645.

{218}  See the _Life_, 1899, p. 521.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Alfred Tennyson" ***

Copyright 2023 LibraryBlog. All rights reserved.