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Chapter 8


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 feted 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

"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

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, Theophile 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 Athenaeum 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 Khayyam. 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 regime 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, Moliere 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 effect."

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 Persae, grounded on contemporary events, AEschylus 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 OEdipus, 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
manque; 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

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

Before writing Harold (1876) the poet "studied many recent plays,"
and re-read AEschylus 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 [Greek text which cannot be
reproduced], 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 mediaeval
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 emotion 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

"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 succes 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 Moliere 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 Browning."

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

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 succes 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."

Andrew Lang

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