Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

INTRODUCTION.

ALFRED TENNYSON was born on the 6th of August, 1809, at Somersby, a little village of Lincolnshire, England. His father, who was rector of the village, is said to have been a man of great physical strength and considerable accomplishment in music and the languages. "Tennyson's mother," writes Mrs. Ritchie, the poet's friend," was a sweet, gentle, and most imaginative woman." Of the children, several were gifted with the imaginative temperament. Two sons older than Alfred became known as poets.

The boys were educated for the most part at home. They were sturdy lads, leading an open-air life, wandering over the famous Lincolnshire wolds, sometimes far enough to look out upon the North Sea, and telling one another tales of marvelous adventure. "Their village,” says Howitt, "is in a pretty pastoral district of soft, sloping hills and large ash trees. . . . There are also two brooks in the valley, which flow into one at the bottom of the glebe field, and by these the young poet used to wander and meditate."

There is a legend that in their early boyish days the older brother Charles one time gave Alfred a slate, and bade him write verses about the flowers in the garden." The tablet was soon covered. "Yes, you can write," said the elder, as he handed

5

it back.

"Poems by Two Brothers," Charles and Alfred, appeared in 1826. Haec nos novimus esse nihil" "' 1

motto of the book.

[ocr errors]

was the

In 1828 Alfred entered Cambridge, at a most fortunate moment, it afterward seemed; for Thackeray was there, and James Spedding, Kinglake, Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton), Richard C. Trench, and others of coming renown. Moreover, in Cambridge was Arthur Hallam, son of Hallam the historian, who was to form a friendship with Tennyson of which all the world should hear; for, years after, to commemorate his friend, who died in the very promise of early manhood, Tennyson wrote "In Memoriam."

Tennyson left Cambridge without taking his degree, and brought out, in 1830, “Poems, chiefly Lyrical." "They demonstrate the possession of powers," wrote John Stuart Mill, in the "Westminster Review," upon their appearance. "Their originality will prevent their being generally appreciated for a time."

It was in this decade that the great reform movement of this century began to stir the English nation. Reforms in politics, in religion, and in general social conditions were everywhere talked of. The humanitarianism of the movement seized Tennyson and affected his poetic spirit. To the influence of this agitation are doubtless traceable the tender sympathy and interest which add grace to some of his poems. He became, as he said of another, no Sabbath drawler of old saws," but a poet who reflected the spirit of his time, albeit conservatively, and was of his time even in his endeavor after scientific phrase and analysis.

Three years after the first appeared another volume, and from that time forward others, as "The Princess" (1847), "In Memoriam” (1850), “Maud” (1855), “Idyls of the King" (1859–85),

1 "We know these things to be nothing."

"Enoch Arden" (1864), “Queen Mary" and "Harold” (1877), "The Promise of May" (1882), "The Falcon" and "Becket" (1884).

In 1850, upon the death of Wordsworth, Tennyson was made poet laureate. In 1884 it was announced by an official gazette of Great Britain that he had been made Baron of Aldworth and Farringford. On the 6th of October, 1892, he died.

Tennyson lived in seclusion and much apart from the world, conscious all his life that what Milton said of himself he might also say: "My genius is such that no delay, no rest, no care or thought almost of anything, holds me aside until I reach the end and round off, as it were, some period of my studies." "What God has resolved concerning me I know not, but this I know at least, -he has instilled into me a vehement love of the beautiful."

Tennyson was an Englishman who wrote for Englishmen, and, most happily for him, of the calm skies and tracts of shady pasture," terrace-lawns" and "homes of ancient peace." "He had,” says one of his critics, “little faculty of piercing through the husk of the conventional to the living thoughts and passions of man which throb beneath." But he was, as he wrote, “devoured with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn, the love of love." He had the great gift also of the spirit of honor and duty and reverence, and of these he was never weary of singing.

In diction Tennyson is always musical and pellucid. By the very clear and musical quality of his verse, and the perfection of its phrasing, line and stanza fasten themselves in mind and become a part of the treasures of memory.

His poetry is rich in ornament. Indeed, its elaboration now and then detracts from its strength and vigor and human appeal. But in this patient working out is evident the dominant artistic

Not

spirit of the poet, and the desire of beauty that would let nothing go before the world without the very last polishing touch. infrequently the finished roll of vowel sound or the music of recurring liquids faintly suggests what the poetry itself describes.1

"A lovelier story than 'The Princess' has not often been recited," says E. C. Stedman. "After the idyllic introduction, the body of the poem is composed in semi-heroic verse. Other works of our poet are greater, but none is so fascinating as this romantic tale, - English throughout, yet combining the England of Cœur de Lion with that of Victoria in one bewitching picture. Some of the author's most delicately musical lines-‘jewels five words long '—are herein contained, and the ending of each canto is an effective piece of art."

among the fogs and smokes

Tennyson wrote "The Princess” “ of Lincoln's Inn," Mrs. Ritchie bears witness. Medley." In the Prologue 2 he says it is

"To suit with time and place,

A Gothic ruin and a Grecian house,
A talk of college and of ladies' rights,
A feudal knight in silken masquerade."

He called it “A

The poem was doubtless written to help to the establishment of better relations between men and women, and the true idea of marriage as Tennyson conceived it. He had written in "Locksley Hall,"

"Woman is the lesser man, and all thy passions, match'd with mine,

Are as moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine;"

1 See Prologue, line 20; Canto VII. lines 206, 207.

2 See also Conclusion, lines 9-28.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »