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Introduction

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, instances in which a phrase is unconsciously
reproduced by automatic 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.

Andrew Lang

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