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Chapter 2

--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-leaved 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 Provencal 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 OEnone, 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 OEnone'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 OEnone. 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 mediaeval 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 repere 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 OEnone 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.

Andrew Lang

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