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A TALK ABOUT THE PRINCESS.
CARL BENSON'S LIBRARY.
Present: CARL AND FRED PETERS.
Peters. And so Carl, while I have been not the ground that most of his admirers in the thickest of the stirring times abroad, would take. They would make him (so far and seen one monarchy topple after an as they would allow him to have any masother, you have been quietly reading at ter) a follower of Wordsworth. But the home. And that gray-covered book is passionate element is certainly very predompoetry of course.*
inant in him at times, sufficiently so to have Benson. It is Tennyson's Princess. annoyed some over-proper people here. PETERS. Oh, Tennyson! Yes, I re
Yes, I re- And I do consider this fusion or eclecticism, member you always had a great admira- or whatever you choose to call it, as one tion for him—not but what he is justly en mark of a great poet, because it gives a titled to a good standing among the sec truer representation of man than is affordondary poets.
ed by either of the schools which it comBenson. Perhaps you would be sur- bines. The slave of passion, on however prised to hear Tennyson spoken of as a grand a scale he may be depicted, is a low greater poet than Byron.
development of our nature. The meditaPETERS. Ay, that should I.
tive philosopher is a high, but an incomplete Benson. And yet such is at present the development. You would not choose as opinion of a very large number of the best your type of government an unbridled deeducated men in England.
mocracy or an immovable conservatism, Peters. Indeed! I knew that of late but one in which the two parties had room years Wordsworth had become the fashion- and scope to struggle. So in the man, able poet of his literary countrymen, but you wish to see the play of his feelings and did not suspect that they had now set up the supervision of his judgment, his better a new idol in his place.
reason prevailing in the end amid the conBenson. The process is natural enough. flict of his passions, but only “saving him Men grow sated with passion and excite
as by fire.
And where in modern poetry ment; they rush for relief to quiet medi- will you find a greater example of this than tation. The popular taste passes from in Locksley Hall? poetry which defies theory and morality to
PETERS. What is the reason then that poetry which is all theory and morality. some people complain of Tennyson's wriÎn time the proper medium between and ting namby-pamby, and emasculating pounion of the two begins to be seen and etry? appreciated. The literary world has its Besson. Simply because some people oscillations of this sort as well as the po are dummies. I can understand a charge litical.
of this kind as applied to Mrs. Hemans, or Peters. This then you are disposed to Keats, or Wordsworth, (not meaning that consider Tennyson's great merit, that he is I should agree with the man who makes a uniter and harmonizer of the two oppo- the charge, but I can see why he makes it ;) site schools, the Byronic and the Words- but as applied to Tennyson it seems to me worthian?
neither more nor less than absurd. There Benson. I am, though well aware it is is pathos and sentiment in him : there are
passages which may make those cry who * Fred talks Yorkshire, but writes as pure English are cryingly disposed. In the name of as any of us, so that it is only doing him justice to Apollo and the nine Muses, is that to be set translate his remarks into the ordinary dialect
C.B. down to his discredit ? Read Locksley Hall,
I say again, and read Morte d'Arthur, and trial of an author's powers of versificathen tell me that the man who wrote them tion than any rhyming metre. Read has emasculated poetry. Bulwer and Mrs. Enone or Morte d’Arthur, and you will Norton, whichever it was of them that see what I mean. perpetrated the New Timon, might write PETERS. But after all, allowing what their heads off before they could achieve you claim, is not this a small matter to two poems that will live alongside of build a poetic reputation on? You may those. Ought a man never to feel pensive? have mere nonsense verses, like the “Song Is it a crime to be sometimes moved by by a Person of Quality,” perfect in the way the pathetic ? I well remember that I of rhythm and metre : indeed it is a very used to lie on' a green bank of summer common device of small poets to make mornings and read Theocritus till I was full sound supply the place of sense. of pity for Daphnis and the unfortunate Benson. It is also a very common deman who “had a cruel companion;" but vice of people who are not poets at all to I never found that it unfitted me for taking profess themselves such geniuses that they a horse across country or digging up can despise the ordinary laws of versificahard words out of a big lexicon at the pro- tion. An every-day trick that, and a sad per time.
nuisance are these little great men who set PETERS. Yes, I remember Romano and up to write poetry without being able to you lying on that very bank you are think- write verse. Is the most correct and eleing of, between the Trinity bridge and the gant prose translation of a passage from Trinity library, and him making his con Homer or Dante poetry? The question fession thus: “I acknowledge the influence seems almost absurd; but why isn't it of the scene.
At this moment any one poetry? There are all the ideas of the might do me.'
original. It is the vehicle of them that Benson. There was a man of the world makes the essential difference. And any who was not ashamed to be sentimental, tangible and practicable definition of poeand why should a poet be?
try must somehow include metrical expresPETERS. Thus far you have praised sion; if you admit one independent of this Tennyson's taste and judgment rather than element, you may be driven to allow that his genius and originality, it seems to me. the Vicar of Wakefield is a poem, to which What peculiar and individual merits do felicitous conclusion I once pushed a transyou find in his poetry ?
cendentalist who was arguing the point Besson. In the first place, wonderful with me. harmony of verse; in the second
PETERS. But metrical excellence is, to a PETERS. Wait a moment, and let us dis- certain extent at least, a matter of study pose of the first place before going further. and practice. It really surprises me to hear you make Benson. What then ? such a point of Tennyson's harmony, for PETERS. Why, you know, poetahe is frequently blamed on this very head. Benson. Nascitur to be sure. Which There are some violent, old-fashioned elis means that unless a man has a genius for ions, to which he is over-prone
poetry he can never be made a poet. And Benson. Such as “the” for “in thee.” | the very same thing is true of the painter
PETERS. Exactly ; and though not pro or the mathematician. A man requires fessing to have read his poems critically, I education for everything, even for the prowould engage to point you out a number per development of his physical powers. of lines in them which contain weak or su Peters. Of course you except political perfluous syllables..
wisdom and statesmanship, which in a Benson. It must be confessed that oc- democracy come to every man by nature, casional blemishes of the sort may be de- like Dogberry's reading and writing. tected in him, yet it is scarce possible to
Benson. Of course. But no man can read one of his poems carefully through afford to despise the rudiments of art, I without being struck with his exquisite don't care what his natural genius is. sense of melody. Try it especially with What would you say to a young painter his blank verse :-blank verse, as every who should refuse to study anatomy and judge of verse knows, is a much greater perspective ?
Peters. Then you think it as necessary PETERS. Yes, I recollect; and how she for a poet in posse to study metre, as for gazes down from her isle-altar, and turns a painter in posse to study anatomy ? to scorn with lips divine the falsehood of Benson. Rem ncu.
extremes. There is nothing violently or Peters. You were going to mention offensively national in that. another excellence of Tennyson.
Benson. He began with a great deal Benson. Yes, his felicity of epithet. You more spice. In one of his earlier volumes may go through his two volumes without there is a sort of war-song conceived in a finding a single otiose adjective. Now it spirit of magnificent national conceit. is the happy employment of adjectives starts with this satisfactory assumption :that especially makes descriptive writing, whether in prose or poetry, picturesque ;
“There is no land like England and therefore in Idylls-ειδύλλια-poems
Where'er the light of day be;
There are no men like Englishmen, which are little pictures, or each a series of
So true of heart as they be." pictures, Tennyson has no equal since his master in that branch of poetry, Theocritus. And there is a pious and benevolent re
Peters. You seem to have studied your refrain or chorus, after this fashion : man well, and therein you would have the
“For the French, the pope may shrive them, advantage of me in a discussion. But let
For devil a whit we heed them ; me ask you one question. Do you honestly As for the Fench, God speed them think, to say nothing of this country, that Unto their heart's desire, Tennyson will ever have the same conti And the merry devil drive them nental reputation that Byron has ?
Through the water and the fire." Benson. I do not for a very good reason. After all, I like a man to stand up for Tennyson is decidedly a more national poet his country. We don't do it half enough. than Byron. Indeed, there is nothing na
Peters. Whom do you mean by we? tional in the latter. There is nothing in Benson. You and I, Whigs and Locos, him that a Frenchman or an American and everybody. But to return to our cannot appreciate as well as an English-Tennyson. There is another reason for his man; nay, there are many things which a being “caviare to the general,” even in Frenchman can appreciate better than an his own country. His mind is classically Englishman, because they are more in ac
moulded, and his poems full of classical cordance with his feelings and sympathies. allusions. The influence of Homer and Whereas
Theocritus especially is constntly traceable Peters. You must make an exception in his writings; and his felicitous imitations in favor of Byron's satires on contempo- and suggestive passages constitute one of rary English poets.
his greatest charms to the liberally eduBenson. To be sure; but they are cer cated. Sometimes he is harsh, if not unintainly not the poems on which his conti- telligible to the uninitiated, as when he says nental reputation in any way depends. that Sir Bedivere stood with Excalibur, Tennyson, on the other hand, is eminently
“ This an English poet. He ļikes to take his sub way and that dividing the swift mind jects from English country life, or English
In act to throw;" popular stories; and some of his shorter which reads very stiff till
recollect the poems are simply and distinctly patriotic, Homeric embodying the liberal conservatism of an
δαιρόμενος κατά θυμών enlightened English patriotism.
διχθάδι'. . Peters. I remember one beginning
PETERS. I would go further yet, and say “ Love thou thy land with love far brought From out the storied Past."
that a man, to appreciate Tennyson fully,
must be artistically educated and be familBenson. There is a finer one than that: iar with Claudes, and Raphaels, and Titians.
That was what struck me some time ago, “ Of old sat Freedom on the heights, The thunders breaking at her feet;
on reading his Palace of Art, (at the recAbove her shook the starry lights.
ommendation of an admirer, who considerShe heard the torrents meet.”
ed it his chef d'euvre,) and your last re
mark, together with what you said just is a fete to the tenantry. Walter shows before about his picturesqueness, reminded his guest the house :me of it. I certainly am inclined to think with you, that Tennyson, like Shelley, will Greek, set with busts; from vases in the hall always be “caviare to the general," and Flowers of all heavens, and lovelier than their therefore—but we won't quarrel. I
names, have one more question to ask you. Don't Grew side by side ; and on the pavement lay you think that Tennyson owes some of his Huge Ammonites, and the first bones of time';
Carved stones of the Abbey-ruin in the park, present reputation to clever friends? Isn't And on the tables every clime and age he the pet of his university? Is there not Jumbled together: Cests and Calumets, a certain club of Cambridge men that you Claymore and snow-shoe, toys in lava, fans once told me of ?
Of sandal, amber, ancient rosaries, Benson. They are not all Cantabs
Laborious orient ivory sphere in sphere, some Oxonians like Arnold's pupil and The cursed Malayan crease, and battle-club biographer Stanley, and some non-univer
From the isles of palm; and higher on the
walls, sity men like Carlyle. They comprise lions Betwixt the monstrous horns of elk and deer, of all sorts, greater and less; humorists, His own forefathers' arins and armor hung." with Thackeray of Punch at their head; artists; literary men of fashion; theolo All which is very fine ; but the literary gians, (did you ever read Maurice's King- visitor is sure to make for the books, and dom of Christ ?) and plenty of reviewers. dive into A poet who has generally one of his club in the Edinburgh and occasionally another a hoard of tales that dealt with knights, in the Quarterly, stands a chance of having Half legend, half historic, counts and kings full justice done him. At the same time That laid about them at their wills, and died;" it is only fair to remember, Fred, that laudatory criticism is at times essential to
till Walter pulls him out, book and all, to justice, especially after unjust and one
see the grounds and the ruins and the sided treatment, like the first notice the ladies. The happy multitude are scattered Quarterly took of Tennyson. Nor can the about their path. Tennysonians be charged with anything more than this. You cannot justly impute And stumped the wicket; babies roll'd about
“ A herd of boys with clamor bowl'd to them any mere puffery, or extravagant Like tumbled fruit in grass ; and men and because unqualified panegyric. Take Ster
maids ling's review, (lately republished in a volume of his works ;) there is no horror Anarimadow country dance and flew thro' light of fault-finding in it. When he doesn't like
And overhead a poem he says so. How different from The broad ambrosial aisles of lofty lime the mutual criticisms of a society of mu
Made noise with bees and breeze from end tual admirationists!
to end." PETERS. You are brim-full of your author, I see, and ready to lecture on him. So they come to the ruins, where Sister Suppose you give me some account of his Lilia has amused herself by dressing up an new poem there, (sotto roce, especially as old ancestor's statue in new and fashionathere will be more chance of getting some
ble woman's attire, and the young men thing to drink after it.
begin to "talk shop," that is, in the present Besson. That will I. It is a queer case, to talk college, which brings up the thing certainly, this poem. “A medley" old question of female rights and female he calls it, and so it is—a medley of grave capacities. At last the guest is called on and gay, where, like his own holiday rus for a story that shall be moral and amustics, he in one place pursues sport and phi- ing both. losophy hand in hand, in another, pure PETERS. Unreasonable requisition ! sport. The poet goes to see a jolly baronet, Benson. Nevertheless, with Cantab aswhose son, Walter, is one of his college surance, he sets about “making a shot” at friends. It is a fair summer day, and there it; but, says he
“One that really suited time and place, tearing up letter and present, and threatenWere such a medley we should have him back ing an appeal to the ultima ratio. Who told the Winter's Tale to do it for us :
PETERS. The Prince resolves to go himA Gothic ruin, and a Grecian house,
self incognito, I suppose. A talk of college and of ladies' rights, A feudal knigh* in silken masquerade,
Benson. Precisely so, as you shall hear. And there with shrieks and strange experi
“ Then ere the silver sickle of that month ments,
Became her golden shield, I stole from court For which the good Sir Ralph had burnt them With Cyril and with Florian”.
all, The nineteenth century gambols on the grass. (These were his two friends, and the No matter : we will say whatever comes : latter has a sister in the Princess's court,) Here are we seven ; if each man take his turn We make a sevenfold story.”
“With Cyril and with Florian, unperceived. Down from the bastion walls we dropt by night
And flying reached the frontier; then we crost PETERS. Ah, each man a canto: that
To a livelier land, and so by town and thorpe, would afford room for some pleasant di
And tilth, and blowing bosks of wilderness, versities of style and thought.
We gain’d the mother city thick with towers ;" BENSON. Unfortunately, or fortunately, there is nothing of the kind. The seven
(How like a journey in Fairy land it is, cantos, or parts, or fyttes, or whatever with all those quaint Elizabethan words !) you may choose to call them, are all in one
“ And in the imperial palace found the king: continuous vein. Lilia wanted to be a
His name was Gama; crack'd and small his Princess and have a college of her own : he voice, therefore must be a Prince at least, and A little dry old man, without a star,
Not like a king.” accordingly a Prince he is,
This little old king, who was as oily as blue-eyed and fair in face,
one of your third-rate, shake-your-håndWith lengths of yellow ringlet like a girl; For on my cradle shone the northern star.
with-two-fingers diplomats, explained that My mother was as mild as any saint
his daughter had been put up to founding
a university for maidens by two widows, PETERS. That “any” is prosaic. (one of them Florian's sister;) whereat the
Prince, chafing him on fire to find his bride, Benson.“ And nearly canonized by all she knew, So gracious was her tact and tenderness; “ Set out once more with those two gallant But my good father thought a king a king:
boys, He held his sceptre like a pedant's wand Then pushing onward under sun and stars To lash offence, and with long arms and hands Many a long league back to the north,”Reach'd out, and pick'd offenders from the mass For judgment."
(for the summer palace where this female
university was founded lay on the northern This northern Prince had in his boyhood frontier,) came to an inn near the place, and been betrothed to a southern Princess in after a consultation with mine host, hit on her girlhood—a regular affair of business, the plan of turning ladies for the occasion. as royal betrothals are. PETERS. Only royal ones, Carl ?
“ We sent mine host to purchase female gear; Benson. Don't interrupt me, Fred, for
Which brought and clapt upon us, we tweezered
out I am like one of your fast trotters, very What slender blossom lived on lip or cheek. hard to start again after breaking. So of manhood; gave mine host a costly bribe when he was coming to man's estate, his To guerdon silence, mounted our good steeds, father sent after the lady to fetch her, as
And boldly ventured on the liberties." per agreement; but instead of the Princess PETERS. “ And so they renished them to ride
On three good renished steeds.” “ A present, a great labor of the loom,"
But the thing is an absurdity already.
Do you suppose three men among a little and a letter from her father to the effect town of women, could escape detection that she has “a will and maiden fancies,” three minutes ? Do you know three of and in short won't be married at any price. your acquaintance, that you would trust You may fancy the old warrior monarch | in such a position ?