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By Paget Toynbee 
By E. C. S. Gibson 
By A. C. Benson 
By I. A. Taylor 
By E. F. H. Capey 
By C. S. Terry 
By T. F. Henderson 
By A. S. McDowall 
By A. M. Stoddart 
By W. Alison Phillips 
By Walter Sichel 
By H. G. Atkins 


(about i860) 

From a photo:; yapli by RfJIatider 

Alfred Tennyson 




METHUEN & CO. 7 / 



Ntw and Cheaper Issue 


First Published . . . February igo4 
New and Cheaper Issue jgoj 


THE object of this little book is threefold ; I 
have tried (1) to give a simple narrative of 
the life of Tennyson, with a sketch of his tempera- 
ment, character, ideals and beliefs ; (2) I have tried 
from his own words and writings to indicate what 1 
believe to have been his view of the poetical life and 
character ; (3) I have attempted to touch the chief 
characteristics of his art from the technical point of 
view, here again as far as possible using his own 
recorded words. 

My aim has been not to deal largely in quota- 
tion, but to take for granted a knowledge of the 
works, and if possible to send a reader back to them. 

I am, of course, deeply indebted to the present 
Lord Tennyson's great Memoir, which, for all its 
tender simplicity of form, is a perfect mine of in- 
terest and pleasure ; and I here acknowledge very 
gratefully the kind permission which Lord Tennyson 
readily gave me to make use of his book,^ and even 

^ I may liere also record ray obligation to ray sister, Miss 
Marpiret Benson, lo Mr. . dmuud Gosse, and to Mr. F. E. B. 
Duti' for valuable assistance, crit.cism and advice. 


to reproduce certain of the illustrations. I have 
read and re-read the poems ; I have studied several 
critical volumes ; I have talked with friends of the 
Poet ; with himself to my eternal regret I never 
exchanged a word. Virgilium vidi taidum ! 

It will thus be seen that I claim neither novelty 
of view nor elaborate apparatus of learning ; but 
my work is based on admiration and reverent love, 
and the desire to share with others an inheritance of 
pure and deep delight. 

A. C. B. 


Alfred Tennyson (about 1860)(/rom a Photograph byRejiander) 


Alfred Tennyson (1835) (frcnn a Sketch by J. Spedding) 

to face p. 19 

Alfred Tennyson (1844) (from the Painting by Samuel 
Laurence) to face p. 26 

Alfred Tennyson (circa 1850) (by Richard Doyle, from the 
Sketch in the British Museum) ... to face p. 31 

Farringford, Tennyson's home from 1853 . . to face p. 39 

Aldworth, near Haslemere (built 1868) . . to face p. 48 

Lady Tennyson (from the Pictv/re by O. F. Watts, R.A.) 

to face p. 53 

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (after the Portrait by Mr. G. F. 
Watts, R.A., 1891, presented by the Painter to Trinity 
College, Oambridge ; from a Photograph by F. Hollyer) 

to face p. 74 


ATO biography of the first Lord Tennyson can be 
named in the same day with that published, in 
1 897, in two volumes, by his son, the second Lord, hi the 
course of the present work my indebtedness to this rich 
store of mateiial is patent. Until the publication of 
this official Life, the most importatit studies in the bio- 
graphy of Tennyson were the charming Records, by 
Mrs. Thackeray Ritchie, and the painstaking atid 
critical Life by Mr. Arthur Waugh, each published in 
1892. The volumes by Hallam, Lord Tennyson, ren- 
dered both of these earlier compilations in the main 
obsolete, yet each contains material not found in the larger 
Memoir. In 1898 the Master of the Temple {T)r. 
Alfred Ainger) produced a valuable summary of Tenny- 
son's career in the Dictionary of National Biography. 
Other monographs of more or less value call for no 
special reference here, but it should be added that, si?ice 
the following pages were written, a volume, mainly 
critical, dealing ivith Tennyson, has been published by 
Mr. Andrew Lang (I9OI) ; and a monograph, biogra- 
phical and critical, in the English Men of Letters 
series, by Sir Alfred Lyall (1902). 


The great importance of comparing the early texts 
of Tennyson rvith one another was earliest perceived by 
the late Mr. J. Dykes Campbell, who, in 1862, printed 
the early text of the poems later rewiitten, in a small 
which was issued anonymously and almost surreptitiously, 
in reference to Tennyson's known sensitiveness on the 
S2ibject. The peculiarities of these texts rvere further 
dwelt upon by the late Mr. Richard Heme Shepherd in 
his Tennysoniana of 1866 (enlarged in 1879 ^nd again 
in 1896). They have been made the subject of still 
fuller examination by Mr. J. Churton Collins in his 
Early Poems of Alfred Tennyson, 1900, to which 
reference has been made in the following pages. 



ALFRED TENNYSON was born in 1809, a year 
that, as Homer says, was " ayaO]^ Kovp6Tpo<^o<i " 
" a goodly nurse of heroes." ^ He came of a stock of 
Lincolnshire landed gentry. He was descended 
through his grandmother from John, Earl Rivers, 
and on his father's side from a vigorous and puri- 
tanical race of yeomen. His grandfather, George 
Tennyson of Bayons Manor, was an M.P. and a large 
land-owner, but the Poet's fatlier, though he was the 
eldest son, had been disinherited in favour of his 
younger brother,who assumed the name of d'Eyncourt. 
Alfred was the fourth of twelve children, eight sons 
and four daughters. Two of his brothers, Frederick 
and Charles, — the latter of whom inherited the name 
of Turner with a small estate, — attained to eminence 
as poets. Ten of the family reached a patriarchal 
age, which testifies to the extraordinary physical 
vigour of the race. " The Tennysons never die," 

1 In 1809 were born Mendelssohn, Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, 
Oliver Wendell Holmes, FitzGerald and Gladstone. 


said one of them, at a moment when death seemed 
the one thing to be desired. 

The Poet's father was a man of strong character 
and imperious temper, with a deep vein of morbid 
m elan choly, an inheritance from which his children 
did not entirely escape ; his dark moods often over- 
shadowed the family circle with severity and in- 
justice, and caused Alfred, as a boy, hours of 
bewildered depression. Charles Tennyson Turner, 
writing in 1831 of his father's death, said that his 
father, " a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief," 
had been " on earth daily racked by bitter fancies 
and tossed about by strong troubles." " My father," 
he once said, "almost mocked at our attempts 
(to write poetry), although he used himself to 
write verses ; " but he also records how he and his 
brother Alfred used to read their verses to his 
mother as they went slowly through green lanes, 
she in her chair, drawn by a great mastiff, her boys 
beside her. "Oh," he said, "all that there is of 
good and kind in any of us came from her tender 
heart ! " 

Though the family seems to have been Danish in 
origin, there was evidently a strong strain of dark 
southern blood in them, perhaps derived from a 
Huguenot ancestress. " Macaulay was afraid of 
you," said Carlyle, with a loud guffaw, to Tennyson, 
when the latter had described a highly unsatisfactory 
interview with the historian, " you are such a black 


man." Alfred was often taken for a foreigner in 
later life, and the portrait of Charles exhibits some- 
thing of a Semitic cast of feature, and is like a wise 
and kindly Rabbi. " I am black-blooded," the 
Poet used to say, "like all the Tennysons." He 
no doubt used this expression with a primary 
allusion to his superficial appearance, but with an 
ultimate reference to the hereditary melancholy 
which characterised the family. 

There is a charming legend, which, it is said, D. 
G. Rossetti used to relate with infinite gusto, of a 
guest being invited to dine at a certain house in 
London and arriving early ; he was shown into an 
apparently deserted drawing-room, and while he 
was occupying the moments in the uneasy and self- 
regarding pastimes characteristic of such a situation, 
a gigantic dark man rose with a heavy sigh from the 
rug in front of the fire where he had been reclining 
in full evening dress, saying, " I must introduce 
myself: I am Septimus, the most morbid of the 
Tennysons." Grotesque as the story is, it is a humor- 
ous illustration of what was a far from humorous 
inheritance for the family. 

Alfi'ed was born on the 6th of August, 1 809, at 
his father's rectory of Somersby in Lincolnshire. 
According to the fashion of the times Dr. Tenny- 
son held three other preferments, but resided at 
Somersby, in a quaint rambling house, with later 
Gothic additions, the most conspicuous being a large 


dining-room with stained glass in the windows, that 
cast, as Charles said, " butterfly souls " on the walls. 

Somersby lies on the edge of a wold, in a county 
of low, large, grey hillsides, great pastures, and quiet 
villages noted for their high-towered churches. 
Not far away was Mablethorpe, with its wide sea- 
marshes and low sand-dunes, where the long 
breakers fall with a heavy clap and spread in a 
curdling blanket of seething foam over the level 
sands. The scene of his birth was commemorated 
by the Poet in the Ode to Memory and in the Song 
A Spirit haunts ; and through the whole of his works 
are to be found similes and nature-pictures drawn 
from the surroundings of his childhood with a luxuri- 
ant precision of detail that only the undimmed faculty 
of childish observation could supply. About Tenny- 
son there clung to the end of his life a noble and 
undefinable flavour of the soil that recalls the " rus- 
ticitas " of Virgil, an impatience of towns, an ab- 
sorbing passion for the open air, an independence 
of weather, a love of the seclusion of wild and 
woodland places. Moreover, the ceremonious dress 
and the conventional usages of society oppressed 
and bewildered him ; and in his stately gruffness of 
address, his uncouth movements, and his rich Doric 
pronunciation, the country product was unmistak- 
ably to be seen. 

The "legend," so to speak, of the early days is 
rich in characteristic touches. We hear how the 


boy, on hearing of Byron's death, "a day when the 
whole world seemed to be darkened for me," carved 
the words, " Byron is dead," on a sandstone rock 
by the secluded spring of Holywell ; how he sat at 
his window to watch the golden globes of the apples 
lying in the orchard grass ; how he called a young 
owl to his window, and tamed it. How of Louth 
School, where he went at the age of seven, and 
which he hated bitterly, he retained no pleasurable 
thought but the memory of the words aonus desilientis 
aquae and the sight of an old wall covered with wild 
weeds ; how certain phrases haunted his childish 
brain with echoes of strange beauty ; how, walking 
with his brother in the woods, he said, " I mean to 
be famous." 

What especially appealed to his sensitive spirit 
was the presence of water in all its forms ; the full 
stream lost in a tangle of rich water-plants, or fret- 
ting over the gravel ; the welling up of silent 
springs ; the face of woodland pools with their 
black depths ; the sound and movement of the sea ; 
and further, from his earliest days, astronomical 
ideas possessed a peculiar fascination for him. His 
Cambridge note-books were scrawled over with 
astronomical diagrams. He fed on the thought of \ 
the infinite spaces sown with star-dust, even recom- > 
mending the thought to a brother as a cure for 

As he wrote in a stanza which he afterwards 


rejected for the Palace of Art as a "workshop 
chip," he was haunted by the thought of 

Regions of lucid matter taking forms, 

Brushes of fire, haz\' gleams, 
Clusters and beds of worlds, and bee-like swarms 

Of suns, and starry streams. 

He accused himself in an early letter to a re- 
lation of being volatile and fickle. But others said 
of him that though abstracted and moody he 
was always kind and good-tempered — " he never 

His education was desultory ; he was taught at 
first by his father ; at school he learnt enough of 
the classics to make it possible for him to read 
them easily and with intense appreciation ; but he 
was a scholar more in the liberal than in the 
teclmical sense. 

From the first he knew the sweet magic of wo rds ; 
he took delight inmelodious collocations, and musical 
phrases hummed in the childish brain ; one of his 
earliest attempts at ^vriting was to cover a slate with 
a poem in the style of Thomson^ which was shown 
to his elder brother. "Yes, you can Avrite," was 
the answer, as the slate was gravely handed back. 
Between the age of fifteen and seventeen he Avrote 
in conjunction with his brother Charles a little 
volume which was published by a bookseller, Jackson 
of Louth, under the title of Poems hy two Brothers. 
A few of their eldest brother Frederick's pieces were 


included. They received the Hberal sum of £20, 
but had to take half in books from Mr. Jackson's 
shop. Some other poems of a slightly earlier date 
exist, published in the Memoir. One of these, called 
The Coach of Death, shows an extraordinary power 
of heaping up grotes£u^_detail. As Jowett said, 
when he was shown these poems, " It is wonderful 
how the whelp can have known such things." On 
the afternoon of publication the tAvo boys hired a 
carriage, and driving over to Mablethorpe "shared 
their triumph with the winds and waves." 

In 1828 Alfred matriculated with his brother 
Charles at Trinity College, Cambridge. The elder 
brother Frederick was already in residence and had 
won some reputation as a scholar. 

The two brothers at first occupied rooms at 12 
Rose Crescent, and afterwards in King's Parade, 
nearly opposite St. Catherine's College, at No. 57 
Corpus Buildings. Tennyson did not take at all 
kindly to Cambridge at first sight. " The country," 
he wrote to his aunt, "is so disgustingly level, the 
revelry of the place so monotonous, the studies 
of the University so uninteresting, so much matter 
of fact. None but dry-headed, calculating, angular 
little gentlemen can take much delight in them." 

Tennyson produced a great impression at Cam- 
bridge from the first by his magnificent presence, 
his splendid face, the nobly poised head, with dark 
wavy hair, and the strong finely modelled hands. 


"That man must be a poet/' said Thompson, after- 
wards Master of Trinity, on seeing Tennyson come 
into Hall as an undergraduate. The circle with 
whom he became intimate was a remarkable one. 
There was the mild and sapient Spedding, the most 
unselfish and loving of men, who was to devote his 
career to the Life of Bacon, "re-editing works which 
did not want any such re-edition and vindicating a 
character which could not be cleared," as FitzGerald 
too incisively wrote. There was Monckton Mihies, 
afterwards Lord Houghton, an accomplished patron 
of literature ; Trench, the poet, afterwards Arch- 
bishop of Dublin ; Alford, afterwards Dean of Can- 
terbury and the writer of noble hymns ; Blakesley, 
a dry and caustic scholar, afterwards Dean of 
Lincoln ; Merivale, the historian, afterwards Dean 
of Ely ; and Arthur Hallam, son of the historian, 
by universal testimony the most brilliant genius of 
that brilliant group, the "master-bowman" of de- 
bate. " He was as near perfection as mortal man 
could be," wrote Tennyson of him. Edward Fitz- 
Gerald did not know Tennyson at Cambridge, 
which is to be regretted, because FitzGerald had a 
genius for remembering and noting salient character- 
istics ; and his later memoranda of Tennyson are the 
most interesting and vivid of all the biographical 
records of him. 

At Cambridge Tennyson read in a desultory way 
classics, history and science. He was noted among 


his friends for a certain Johnsonian gravity and com- 
mon sense, a rich vein of humour, geniaUty combined 
with shyness ; but he was oppressed at times with 
"moods of misery unutterable." He was an early 
member of a secret debating society called the 
Apostles, which discussed social, political and liter- 
ary topics. The tendency of thought among the 
rising young men of the time was a hopeful and 
idealistic Radicalism, a hatred of ignorance and 
stagnation, a sympathy for the downtrodden and 
miserable, a dislike of parties and sects ; and a firm 
belief that the world had only to be educated and 
enlightened to burst into an era of progress and 
amelioration. The mistake, as Blakesley pointed 
out in a letter to Tennyson in 1830, made by the 
young Radicals of Cambridge, was that they thought, 
with Shelley, that Society could be reformed by the 
suppression of institutions that led to tyranny and 
selfishness ; and only learnt later that, as Words- 
worth taught, no real reformation could be arrived 
at except by a guiding and transforming principle 
developed from within. The society exercised a 
deep influence on its members by what Carlyle in 
the Life of Sterling called its "ingenuous collision." ^ 
Tennyson had a habit of musing intently at the 
meetings, uttering oracular and judicial sayings at 
intervals. He professed himself too shy to read 

^ For a description of one of these meetings, v. In Memoriam, 


papers ; and there is no doubt that his nervous 
organisation was even then painfully sensitive. 

In 1829 he won the Chancellor's English Medal 
by a blank verse poem on Timbuctoo. It was not 
even written for the prize, but was an old poem on 
the Battle of Armageddon, with alterations and addi- 
tions. It is a strange rhapsodical piece, with splendid 
imaginative power and full of pictorial splendour and 
sonorous lines ; a short passage may be quoted : — 

I saw 
The smallest grain that dappled the dark earth. 
The indistinctest atom in deep air, 
The moon's white cities, and the opal width 
Of her small glowing lakes, her silver heights 
Unvisited with dew of vagrant cloud. 
And the unsounded, undescended depth 
Of her black hollows. 

It is much to the credit of the examiners that they 
gave the prize to so original a poem, so removed 
from ordinary academical standards and with such 
scanty reference to the subject set. It was, more- 
over, composed in blank verse, and not in the heroic 
couplets up to that time considered de rigiieur in this 
competition. There is a legend that the poem was 
not really recommended for the prize, but that the 
examiners' comments were misunderstood ; this, 
however, rests on inadequate authority. Tennyson 
was too shy to deliver his poem in the Senate House, 
but entrusted the task to his friend Merivale. 

Tennyson, like Dryden, did not in after life regard 
Cambridge with any particular affection or gratitude. 


Such advantages as he had gained there he owed, 
he believed, to stimulating companionship, not to 
the direct academical influences of the place. In a 
fine denunciatory sonnet, entitled Lines uii Cam- 
bridge of 1830, he says that all the rich and ancient 
beauties of Cambridge shall not avail her when "the 
Daybeam " shall arise over England : — 

because your manner sorts 
Not with tliis age wherefrom ye stand apart, 
Because the lips of little children preach 
Against yon, you tliat do profess to teach 
And teach us nothing, feeding not the heart. 

In 1830 Tennyson undertook with Hallam a 
remarkable and romantic task. A revolution had 
lately broken out in the Pyrenees under Torrijos, a 
high-minded revolutionist, against the Inquisition, 
and the tyi-anny of King Ferdinand II. Hallam 
and Tennyson went off to Spain, and held a secret 
meeting on the Spanish border with the heads of 
the conspiracy. A good many refugees had fled to 
England, and were to be seen in London "stately 
tragic figures, in proud threadbare cloaks," as Carlyle 
called them. A cousin of Sterling's, Boyd by name, 
joined the band and perished in 1831, when the 
chief conspirators were arrested, by military execu- 
tion, at Malaga. The object of Tennyson's expedi- 
tion is mysterious. Probably the two friends 
expressed sympathy, learnt the designs of the 
rebellion, and returned to England to endeavour 
to excite public interest in the movement. 


IN 1831 Tennyson left Cambridge, his father 
being ill and his presence at home being desired 
by his mother. A month later Dr. Tennyson died 
suddenly in his chair. This made a considerable 
difference in the fortunes of the family. Mrs. 
Tennyson was moderately well off ; but the children 
were numerous and expensive. An arrangement, 
however, was made by which they leased the Rectory 
at Somersby from the new incumbent, and this ar- 
rangement remained in force till 1837. A great 
happiness resulted from Arthur Hallam's engage- 
ment to .EiUttily Tennyson, and Hallam's visits to 
Somersby were eagerly expected ; he cheered them 
all with his bright unselfish spix'it and " his gentle 
chivalrous manner." 

Tennyson himself settled doAvn to a quiet family 
life ; reading and writing much in solitude, and 
emerging from his seclusion to join the cheerful 
family group. He was devoted to his mother, 
treated her with delicate and dutiful attention, 
spending hours in reading to her in the voice "like 


the sound of a pinewood," as Carlyle said. But he 
must have been an anxiety to his practical friends. 
He had published his first volume in IS.SO, and a 
second in the winter of 1832 (it is dated 1833) and 
now lived quietly his own life, without any attempt 
to enter a profession, dreaming his dreams, invested 
with the "inner central dignity" which was so 
characteristic of him, without obvious care for the 
future. " I drag on somewhat heavily thro' the ruts 
of life " (he wrote to his aunt in 1833), "sometimes 
moping to myself like an owl in an ivy-bush . . . 
and sometimes smoking a pipe with a neighbouring 
parson and cursing O'Connell for as double-dyed a 
rascal as ever was dipped in the Styx of political 
villainy." Sometimes he visited London and the 
"long unlovely street" where Hallam was reading 
law. Sometimes he travelled with the latter, in 
England or on the continent, according to the condi- 
tion of his finances. Meanwhile he worked on, as 
Spedding said, "like a crocodile, sideways and 

His health at this time had begun to cause him 
anxiety; in 1831 he was haunted by the thought 
that he would lose his sight : " It would be a sad 
thing," he wrote, "to barter the universal light 
even for the power of ' Tiresias and Phineus, pro- 
phets old.' " His appearance gave no hint of his 
state. His eyes, as FitzGerald says, were dark, 
powerful, serene. But the malady, whatever it 


was, gave way before a simple diet. It is evident 
that much of his suffering was nervous and hypo- 
chondriacal, and that his mode of life was probably 
responsible. He was fond of strong homely foods, 
was probably careless of digestion and regular exer- 
cise, though always a great walker ; he was also a 
continuous smoker of strong tobacco. Probably his 
hours of solitude, the absence of stir and practical 
activities and the monotonous tenor of his life had 
to be paid for by hours of gloom. Signs, too, of 
definite nervous disturbance are not lacking. He 
suffered, it is known, from a curious mental obses- 
sion, of the nature of catalepsy or incipient trance, 
of which he himself gave in later years an accurate 
account. He called it, speaking to Tyndall, " a state 
of transcendent wonder, associated with absolute 
clearness of mind." It seems to have been a 
hypnotic state, more Oriental than Western in type, 
induced by the repetition of some word, often his own 
name, in which he seemed to lose his hold of external 
things, and to float upon the tides of mystical con- 
templation, — "out of the body," as St. Paul says. 

He might have sunk into settled invalidism, but 
was preserved, partly by the influences of friendship, 
partly by a settled scheme of work which he laid 
down for himself, — reading ancient and modem 
languages, history, philosophy and science, — partly 
by his intense preoccupation in social movements, 
or in the deeper politics which concern the welfare 


of nations. He brooded much over the unsettled 
condition of the country, the misery of the poorer 
classes, the possible downfall of the Church and the 
confiscation of her property. A few letters of this 
period are preserved, rather elaborate and pompous 
in style, with a certain lofty humour penetrating 
them ; his first volume had been reviewed in 
Blackwood in a patronising, boisterous article by 
Christopher North, which evoked from Tennyson 
the well-known lines on Crusty Christopher ^ ; the 
tone of this poem is hardly consistent with that of 
a published letter, pose and apologetic, addressed 
privately to Wilson, deprecating further cudgelling. 
Perhaps it was with this and similar letters in his 
mind that he wrote : — 

Ye know that History is half-dream — ay even 
The man's life in the letters of the man. 
There lies the letter — but it is not he 
As he retires into himself and is : 
Sender and sent-to go to make up this, 
Their offspring of this union. 

But by far the most interesting correspondence of 
the time, which would have given a true and inti- 
mate picture of his mind — the letters to Arthur 
Hallam — were destroyed after his friend's death by 
Hallam's father, the historian. The friendship be- 
tween the two began at Cambridge. Tennyson 
had formed the highest hopes for Hallam's future. 
These kindred minds were deeply interested in the 

1 Published in the 1832 volume, and afterwards suppressed. 


ardent problem of opening life. Together they had 
sounded the deeps of the spirit ; the sensitive and 
overshadowed mind of Tennyson found in his friend 
a perfect and delicate sympathy, and an antidote to 
his natural gloom in the radiant gaiety and intense 
zest with which Hallam approached the mysteries 
of thought. 

The dreadful blow fell in September, 1833. 
Arthur Hallam, staying at a hotel in Vienna with 
his father, to all appearances in perfect health, lay 
down on a sofa in the afternoon, and died in a few 
minutes from the rupture of some blood-vessel on 
the brain. A medical examination showed that he 
could not have lived long. He had inherited a 
fragile constitution, and the ceaseless strain of 
thought habitual to him told heavily upon him. It 
is strange that the disappointing portrait of him at 
Eton, taken a few years before, and representing a 
plump, rubicund, undistinguished young man, with an 
air of homely sense and virtue, gives no hint of del icacy 
and still less of genius. Moreover, what is still more 
strange, the existing literary remains of Arthur 
Hallam afford no explanation of what the individual 
peculiarity may have been which so dazzled his con- 
temporaries. These writings can hardly be called 
more than promising. 

The event plunged Tennyson into the deepest 
gloom ; it was like losing part of himself He 
became to himself, as Horace says, Xcc rams aeque 


tiec supcrstes integer. He began, after the first shock 
of grief was over, to write the immortal elegy, In 
Memoriam, using a metre which had been used by 
Ben Jonson and Lord Herbert of Cherbury, but of 
which he believed himself to be the inventor, a simple 
ti'ansposition of the common eight-syllabled quatrain. 
He wrote without definite design, he says, and the 
arrangement and combination of the elegies was an 

The years flowed slowly on. In 1835 Tennyson 
paid a visit to the Speddings at Mirehouse near 
Bassenthwaite, the house of his friend's father. 
The elder Mr. Spedding was a country gentleman 
of a shrewd practical turn, a considerable mistrust 
of poets and a remarkable faculty of minding his 
own business. FitzGerald was there and made 
very salient and interesting notes of the occasion. 
Mr. Spedding the elder was, he says in a letter to 
Mrs. Kemble written more than forty years later, 
"a wise man who mounted his Cob after Breakfast 
and was at his Farm till Dinner at two — then away 
again till Tea, after which he sat reading by a shaded 
lamp : saying very little, but always courteous, and 
quite content with any company his Son might bring 
to his house so long as they let him go his own way : 
which indeed he would have gone whether they let 
him or no. But he had seen enough of Poets not 
to like them or their Trade : Shelley, for a time 
living among the Lakes : Coleridge at Southey's 


(whom perhaps he had a respect for — Southey I 
mean), and Wordsworth, whom I do not think he 

It was here that Tennyson read to FitzGerald 
late at night, in the silent house, fragments of 
poems which were to form the volumes of 1 842, 
out of a little red book. Spedding also was per- 
mitted to read them aloud ; but Tennyson said he 
read too much as if there were bees about his 
mouth. Old Mr. Spedding used to object to his son 
spending so much time in this friendly criticism. 
"Well, Mr. FitzGerald," he used to say, "and what 
is it .'' Mr. Tennyson reads, and Jim criticises ? Is 
that it .'' " It was after this visit that FitzGerald 
wrote the memorable letter to his friend John 
Allen (23rd Maj-, 1835) :— 

" I will say no more of Tennyson than that the 
more I have seen of him, the more cause I have to 
think him great. His little humours and grumpi- 
nesses were so droll, that I was always laughing : 
and was often put in mind (strange to say) of my 
little unknown friend, Undine. I must, however, say, 
further, that I felt what Charles Lamb describes, a 
sense of depression at times from the overshadowing 
of a so much more lofty intellect than my own : this 
(though it may seem vain to say so) I never ex- 
perienced before, though I have often been with 
much greater intellects : but I could not be mistaken 
in the universality of his mind. . . ." 






Besides these characteristic notes there exist some 
highly interesting pictorial sketches of the Bard ; one 
is a back view, and shows his luxuriant locks ; the 
other, by Spedding, without technical excellence, but 
of a convincing quality of fidelity, shows him seated 
in an oak chair, wrapped in a cloak, with a book held 
close to his face ; his feet are encased in slippers, and 
one is thrust in front of the fire. The mouth is slightly 
open, and there is a vague perplexity in the brow. 

Spedding complained that at this time Tennyson 
showed an " almost personal dislike of the present, 
whatever it may be," and that he would not go to 
Rydal though Wordsworth seemed inclined to wel- 
come him there. It was probably on this occasion 
that the well-known contest took place between 
FitzGerald and Tennyson as to who could produce 
the ideally worst Wordsworthian line. The result 
was A Mr. Wilkinson, a clcrgt/maii, an achievement 
to which both in later years laid claim. 

In 1836 Tennyson's brother Charles married Miss 
Louisa Sellwood ; her elder sister, Emily, whom 
Tennyson had seen before, acted as bridesmaid, and 
it fell to Tennyson's lot to escort her to church. 
Then it seems entered into his mind the hope 
(which after a weary waiting was to be so singularly 
blest) that he might win her for his wife. At this 
time it became necessary to leave Somersby. The 
family moved first to High Beech, in Epping Forest, 
then a few years later to Tunbridge Wells ; after 


this to Boxley, near Maidstone, and finally to Chel- 

Belonging to this period is a characteristic corre- 
spondence with Monckton Milnes, which shows 
Tennyson at his best and liveliest. Milnes had 
extracted a promise from Tennyson to write in a 
Miscellany edited by the second Marquis of North- 
ampton in aid of the family of a struggling literary 
man who had died without making provision for 
them. On his claiming the fulfilment of the promise, 
Tennyson declined, on the ground that he had sup- 
posed the request to be an "elegant fiction." Per- 
haps it rankled in his mind that he had lately been 
described, as FitzGerald told him, in a French re- 
view, as a young enthusiast of the graceful school of 
Tom Moore. 

Tennyson went on to say that " to write for people 
with prefixes to their names is to milk he-goats ; 
there is neither honour nor profit." He confesses 
that he has lately written a similar piece for a titled 
lady, but because she was beautiful. " But whether 
the Marquis be beautiful or not, I don't much mind ; 
if he be, let him give God thanks and make no boast." 

Milnes was very angry, and replied, it must be 
inferred, in an indignant and caustic tone. Where- 
upon Tennyson, in a letter of good-humoured 
bewilderment, gave way, and eventually sent to the 
Marquis the lyric that 't/vere possible which became 
the germ of Maud. 


At this time Tennyson's position and prospects 
must have given considerable anxiety to his friends. 
He read, he smoked, he lounged, he worked at 
poetry, but he gave no signs of intending to publish, 
and seemed unlikely ever to make an independent 
position for himself. Wordsworth said, on reading 
The Two Voices, " He ought to have done greater 
things by this time." G. S. Venables wrote to press 
on him the advantages of living at Cambridge, evi- 
dently fearing that intellectual stagnation would 
ensue from his secluded life. " Do not continue 
to be so careless of fame and of influence." It is 
difficult not to gild the early and struggling years 
of great men with some of the dignity that seems so 
inseparable from their later life, and it is hard to 
imagine how unsatisfactory the position must have 
seemed to his friends. It really appeared as though 
a man of great genius and surpassing powers might 
drift into a hypochondriac and indolent life. But 
with majestic independence or dignified inertia 
Tennyson held on his way. He was often in London 
in these years, and though he did not go into general 
society, he saw much of his old friends ; he was not 
a frequenter of clubs ; but he liked rambling about, 
talking — we learn that he was famous for his powers 
of mimicry — dining in such seclusion as was attainable 
at quiet taverns, and accepting with good grace 
the visits of friends at his humble lodgings in the 
Strand. His tastes were simple enough. A perfect 


dinner was a beefsteak, a potato, a cut of cheese, a 
pint of port followed by a pipe ; " all fine-natured 
men," he said, when bantered on his homely tastes 
in food, "know what is good to eat." He was in- 
terested, in a deep-minded abstruse way, in social 
movements and politics. He saw Carlyle, Rogers, 
Thackeray, Dickens, Landor, Leigh Hunt and 
Thomas Campbell, and came to be generally re- 
garded as a man of high possibilities. Carlyle con- 
ceived a great admiration for him, though he spoke 
of him as a " life -guardsman spoilt by making 
poetry." Writing to Emerson, Carlyle described 
him as "a man solitary and sad, as cei-tain men are, 
dwelling in an element of gloom, carrying a bit of 
Chaos about him, in short, which he is manufactur- 
ing into Cosmos ... he preferred clubbing with 
his mother and some sisters, to live unpromoted 
and Avrite Poems. . . . One of the finest-looking 
men in the world — a great shock of rough dusky 
dark hair ; bright, laughing, hazel eyes ; massive 
aquiline face, most massive yet most delicate ; of 
sallow brown complexion, almost Indian looking ; 
clothes cynically loose, fi"ee-and-easy, smokes infinite 
tobacco. His voice is musical, metallic, fit for loud 
laughter and piercing wail, and all that may lie 
between ; speech and speculation free and plente- 
ous ; I do not meet in these late decades such 
company over a pipe ! We shall see what he will 
grow to." 


Again, to his brother John, Carlyle sent another 
word-portrait : " A fine, large-featured, dim-eyed, 
bronze-coloured, shaggy-headed man is Alfred ; 
dusky, smoky, free-and-easy ; who swims outwardly 
and inwardly, with great composure, in an articulate 
element as of tranquil chaos and tobacco- smoke ; 
great now and then when he does emerge ; a most 
restful, brotherly, solid-hearted man." 

Carlyle thought and wrote scornfully as yet of 
Tennyson's poetry, and described him once as seated 
on a dunghill surrounded by dead dogs, which was 
his delicate way of alluding to the classical subjects 
at which Tennyson worked. When Tennyson 
charged him with this criticism Carlyle admitted 
with a grim smile that it was not a very lucid 

The decade ending with Tennyson's marriage 
in 1850, when he was forty, was a fruitful period, 
rich in work, in experience, and in hope. In 1842 
he published the two volumes which contained a 
selection of early poems, with a number of idylls 
and eclogues, simple pictures of English life. 
Tennyson felt with Wordsworth that upon the 
sacredness of home life depended the greatness 
and stability of a people. It was in this volume 
that he came home to the heart of the nation ; 
he passed from the exercise of pure imagination 
into the region of humanity, of domestic and 
national emotion. Whether this was an advantage 


from the purely poetic point of view may be de- 
bated ; but it is not possible to doubt that it widened 
and deepened his influence, and enabled him to 
appeal with remarkable force to a comprehensive 
circle. Even Carlyle, who thought lightly of all 
English poetry, said that in this book he " felt the 
pulse of a real man's heart ... a right valiant, 
true, fighting, victorious heart." Such poems as 
The Gardener s Daughter, The Lord of Burleigh, 
Locksleif Hall, and the conclusion of The May Queen, 
touched the imagination and the emotion of a class 
of readers which Uli/sses, St. Agues' Eve and Sir 
Galahad would have left cold. 

The new poems were mostly ^vTitten in a foolscap 
parchment-bound account-book of blank paper, 
which went by the name of the " Butcher's Book." 
FitzGerald says, "The poems were written in A.T.'s 
very fine hand (he once said, not thinking of him- 
self, that great men generally wrote ' terse ' hands) 
towards one side of the large page ; the unoccupied 
edges and corners being often stript do'vvn for pipe 
lights, taking care to save the MS., as A. T. once 
seriously observed. These pages . . . were one by 
one torn out for the printer, and, when returned 
with the proofs, were put in the fire." 

Still, the destruction of these MSS. is a matter 
of comparatively little moment, as the poems were 
in most cases practically completed in his mind 
before being written down, the corrections after- 


wards being very few ; had he written rough drafts 
and corrected them repeatedly in writing, then to 
study the process of thought would have been 
deeply interesting. 

It is interesting to note the effect that the 
volume of 1842 had upon Charles Dickens; he 
wrote from Broadstairs in that year : " I have 
been reading Tennyson all this morning on the 
sea-shore. Among other trifling effects, the waters 
have dried up as they did of old, and shown me all 
the mermen and mermaids at the bottom of the 
ocean ; together with millions of queer creatures, 
half fish and half fungus, looking down into all 
manner of coral caves and seaweed conservatories ; 
and staring in with their great dull eyes at every 
open nook and loophole." In this criticism is 
finely exemplified the effect of pure suggestion 
upon an imaginative mind. 

It is difficult to give any connected record of the 
incidents of these years ; to begin with, they were 
extremely uneventful ; but there seems, too, to have 
been an almost entire cessation of correspondence 
between Tennyson and his friends. His mother 
and sisters had settled at Tmibridge Wells, and the 
Poet made his home with them ; they then moved, 
as I have said, to Boxley, near Maidstone; he was 
often at Park House, in the neighbourhood, where 
Edmund Lushington lived, who married Tennyson's 
sister Cecilia. He went to London occasionally, and 


indulged, when his funds permitted, in vague 
rambhng tours. In 184,5 he was at Eastbourne, 
hard at work on The Princess. The opening scene 
in the latter was drawn from a Mechanics' Institute 
fete held at Park House in 1 842. In Memoriam 
had just been finished. 

One disagreeable incident at this period pi'oved 
fertile in misfortune for Tennyson; when the family 
were living at Beech Hill they had made the ac- 
quaintance of a certain Dr. Allen, an unpractical 
enthusiastic man, of an inventive tui*n, who had 
conceived the idea of wood-cai'ving by machinery. 
His enthusiasm was infectious, and Tennyson sold 
some land which he possessed at Grasby in Lincoln- 
shire, and invested the proceeds, together with all 
the other money he possessed, in the concern ; he 
moreover persuaded his brothers and sisters to 
follow his example to a certain extent. The project 
collapsed, and the whole of Tennyson's independent 
income was gone ; he had been hoping that he might 
soon, if things prospered, venture to marry, and 
now this seemed for ever impossible. The remorse 
at having lost the money of his brothers and 
sisters did not improve matters, and he was attacked 
with such severe hypochondria that for a time it 
was thought he could never recover. " I have 
drunk," he wrote, " one of those most bitter draughts 
out of the cup of life, which go near to make men 
hate the world they move in." Again he wrote : 



Fyoin llic paiiiliiii; hy Sainiic/ I.aurence 


" What with ruin in the distance and hypochondria 
in the foreground, God help all ! " 

The family now moved to Cheltenham, to a house 
in St. James's Square ; and Tennyson himself was 
obliged to undergo a course of hydropathy under 
which he slowly regained his health. 

In ] 845 he was offered and accepted a pension 
of £200 a year from the Civil List. The intention 
was communicated to him in a dignified letter from 
Sir Robert Peel. It seems that the idea originated 
with Carlyle, who insisted that Lord Houghton 
should appeal for it ; Lord Houghton appears to 
have deprecated doing so, asking, " What will my 
constituents say ? " 

" Richard Milnes," said Carlyle, "on the Day of 
Judgment, when the Lord asks you why you didn't 
get that pension for Alfred Tennyson, it will not do 
to lay the blame on your constituents ; it is ijou that 
will be damned." 

Lord Houghton then went to Peel, who said that 
there was a question whether Sheridan Knowles 
should not rather receive a pension. Lord Houghton 
decided the matter by inducing Peel to read 

Tennyson himself felt some qualms at accepting 
it, as was only natural ; but in the wreck of his 
fortunes it no doubt helped to lift the burden. 
Peel, moreover, had told him that he need not be 
hampered by it in the public expression of any 


opinion he might choose to take up. " So/' wrote 
Tennyson to his old friend and relative Rawnsley, 
"if 1 take a pique against the Queen or the Court 
or Peel himself, I may, if I will, bully them with as 
much freedom, tho' not perhaps quite so gracefully 
as if I were still unpensioned. Something in that 
word ' pension ' sticks in my gizzard ; it is only the 
name, and perhaps would ' smell sweeter ' by some 

In 1846 he made a tour in Switzerland. "I was 
satisfied," he wrote, " with the size of crags, but 
mountains, great mountains disappointed me." 

In the same year the fourth edition of the poems 
came out, and Bulwer Lytton made a savage attack 
upon him because of the pension, being under the 
impression apparently that Tennyson belonged to a 
wealthy family. Tennyson retorted in a poem of 
concentrated bitterness, called The Neiv Timoii 
and the Poets, in which Lytton is described as 

The padded man that wears the stays. 

This poem reveals in a high degree Tennyson's 
power of personal invective, which as a rule he kept 
severely in check. "Wretched work," he said long 
afterwards, " Odium literaniim ! I never sent my 
lines to Punch — John Forster did. They were too 
bitter. I do not tliink that I should ever have 
published them." 

In 1847 The Princexs appeared. Tennyson 


never thought very highly of this graceful, light- 
hearted romance. The poem underwent consider- 
able alterations, the six lyrical interludes being 
introduced in 1850, and in 1851 the "weird 
seizures" of the prince. These lyrics, such as Ax 
Through the Land and Stvecl mid Low, with the 
occasional poems introduced into the narrative, 
Tears, idle tears and the exquisite idyll Come down 
Maid from yonder mountain height, belong to his 
very best work. He used to indicate certain 
passages in The Princess as among his best blank 
verse, notably the lines from the last canto : — 

Look up, and let thy nature strike on mine ; 

but it is fair criticism to maintain that the simile 
which comes into this passage — 

In that fine air I tremble, all the past 
Melts mist-like into this bright hour, and this 
Is morn to more, and all the rich to-come 
Reels, as tlic golden Autur/m woodland reels 
Athwart the smoke of burning lueeds — • 

is too literary a simile, and is like a trench dug across 
the path of the simple and direct emotion which 
the speech reveals. 

FitzGerald, like Carlyle, gave up all hopes of 
Tennyson after The Princess. He said that " none 
of the songs had the old champagne flavour," 
a criticism which somewhat vitiated the worth of 
the judgment. Moreover, it was noticed that 


nothing either by Thackeray or Tennyson met 
with FitzGerald's approbation unless he had 
seen it first in MS. 

From 1846 to 1850 Tennyson Hved mainly with 
his mother at Cheltenham, occupying a small dis- 
ordered room at the top of the house, where papers 
lay in confusion on tables, chairs and floor, where 
he smoked innumerable pipes, and discoursed to an 
occasional friend who penetrated to his retreat on 
the deepest problems of life, mingling his talk with 
abundance of high-flavoured humour. He made a 
few friends at Cheltenham — Dobson, the Principal 
of the College, and Frederick Robertson, the "much- 
beloved" priest, of whom Tennyson said that the 
first time they met he himself could talk, from 
sheer nervousness, of nothing but beer, because he 
felt that Robertson admired his poems and wished 
"to pluck the heart from his mystery." 

He was a great walker and took long rambles in 
the beautiful and secluded woodland country that 
lay about the little town. One interesting conver- 
sation is recorded. He was on a visit to London, 
and was found sitting with Thackeray, with a stack 
of shag tobacco, and a Homer, and the poems of 
Miss Barrett (Mrs. Browning) on the table. They 
praised her work, and Tennyson went on to speak of 
Catullus whom he called " the tenderest of Roman 
poets," quoting the delicious picture of the baby 
smiling at his father from his mother's breast, from 

CIKCA 1850 

/>> Ru/utrd Doyle 
l-rom the sketch in the liritiih Museum 


the Epithalamium. Thackeray said, " I do not rate 
Catullus highly — I could do better myself." The 
next day Thackeray wrote a recantation penitently 
apologising for the " silly and conceited speech " he 
had made, saying, "At the time I thought I was 
making a perfectly simple and satisfactory observa- 
tion." Tennyson's comment on this was, " No one 
but a noble-hearted man could have written such a 

Tennyson, when in London, used to take long 
walks at night with Carlyle, who would rave against 
the "jackasseries" of Government and the "acrid 
putrescence " of the suburbs. He used also to attend 
Rogers's breakfast parties, and had a sincere friend- 
ship for the self-conscious, tender-hearted old man, 
with his trick of bitter speech. " Peace be to him," 
Tennyson said long after, "often bitter but very 
kindly at heart. We have often talked of death 
together till I have seen the tears roll down his 
cheeks." Mrs. Carlyle gives a delightful picture of 
Tennyson at an evening party, where some private 
theatricals were performed, arranged by Dickens 
and Forster. " Passing through a long dim passage," 
she writes, " I came on a tall man leant to the wall, 
with his head touching the ceiling like a caryatid, 
to all appeai-ance asleep, or resolutely trying it under 
the most unfavourable circumstances. 'Alfred 
Tennyson ! ' I exclaimed, in joyful surprise. ' Well ! ' 
said he, taking the hand I held out to him, and 


forgetting to let it go again. ' I did not know you 
were in town/ said I. ' I should like to know who 
you are/ said he, ' I know that I know you, but I 
cannot tell your name/ — and I had actually to 
name myself to him. Then he woke up in good 

In 1848 he travelled in Cornwall. His journal is 
full of exquisite notes of scenery, conveyed in crisp 
jewelled phrases. It was here that he formed 
the resolution to take up the Arthurian legends 

In May, 1850, In Memoriam was printed and 
given to a few friends ; and shortly afterwards 
published anonymously. It seems impossible now 
that the authorship could have been doubted ; but 
one review spoke of it as " much shallow art spent 
on the tenderness shown to an Amaryllis of the 
Chancery Bar," and another critic pronounced that 
these touching lines evidently came " from the full 
heart of the widow of a military man." 

But the volume was warmly welcomed by 
teachers such as Maurice and Robertson, who were 
still trying to harmonise the exact utterances of 
revelation with progressive science ; scientific men 
such as Tyndall, whose natural bias Avas strongly 
religious and emotional, were still more delighted 
Ato welcome one who showed that the spirit of 
science was alien neither to poetry nor religious 
emotion. Bishop Westcott felt on reading the 


poem that "the hope of man lay in the historic 
realisation of the gospel," and was deeply moved by 
the author's "splendid faith, in the face of the 
frankest acknowledgment of every difficulty, in the 
growing purpose of the sum of life, and in the noble 
destiny of the individual man." 


THE year 1850 was indubitably the most 
memorable in Tennyson's life — the annus 
mirabilis. He reached the summit ; and his life 
after that date was a peaceful, prosperous progress 
down the easy vale of days. He had come to the 
conclusion that his books seemed likely to produce, 
together with the pension and certain small property, 
a sufficient income for marriage. On the 1 3th of 
June, 1850, he married Emily Sarah Sellwood, sister 
of Mrs. Charles Tennyson-Turner, at Shiplake, near 
Henley. The bridegroom was forty, the bride a 
few years younger. It was the happiest and most 
fortunate act of a life that had hitherto been troubled 
and vexed ; " the peace of God came into my life 
before the altar when I married her," he said. 

Mrs. Tennyson was a woman of extraordinary 
loyalty and unfailing sweetness, with a delicate 
critical taste, cheerful, wise, courageous and sym- 
pathetic. She was an ideal companion for a great 
lonely nature in constant need of tender love and 
unobtrusive sympathy. It is the kind of marriage 


that seems to make the institution deserve the name 
of a Sacrament. The rest of her life was entirely 
given to her husband. She sustained, encouraged 
and sheltered him ; though for many years she was 
an invalid and seldom left her sofa, yet the 
holy influence never diminished. It is worth quot- 
ing that a few weeks after the marriage Tennyson, 
sitting one evening smoking with Venables and 
Aubrey de Vere, said, between puifs of his pipe, as 
though pursuing a lonely train of thought, " I have 
known many women who were excellent, one in one 
way and one in another way, but this woman is the 
noblest I have ever known." 

In the same year he was offered the Laureateship, 
vacant by the death of Wordsworth. The only other 
poet whose claims were seriously discussed was 

Tennyson wrote to Mr. H. D. Rawnsley, " I was 
advised by my friends not to decline it. ... I 
have no passion for courts, but a great love of 

After a short stay at Waminglid in Sussex, the 
Tennysons took up their abode in Twickenham, in 
a house called Chapel House, in Montpelier Row. 
It had a fine interior with some stately carving. 
Here the first years of a happy wedded life were 
spent. They travelled a good deal ; but there are 
occasional glimpses of a beautiful home life, Tenny- 
son reading aloud to his numerous callers in the 


little quiet garden. A child was bom dead in 1851, 
but in 1852 Hallam, the present Lord Tennyson, 
was born. "Now I will tell you," he wrote to 
Forster, "of the birth of a little son this day. I have 
seen beautiful things in my life, but I have never 
seen anything more beautiful than the mother's face 
as she lay by the young child an hour or two after, 
or heard anything sweeter than the little lamblike 
bleat of the young one ... he gave out a little 
note of satisfaction every now and then as he lay by 
his mother, which was the most pathetic sound in its 
helplessness I ever listened to." F. D. Maurice was 
asked to be sponsor and accepted the honour with 
tremulous responsibility. When Henry Hallam 
heard that the child was called Hallam he said with 
gruff amusement, "They would not name him Alfred 
lest he should turn out a fool, and so they named 
him Hallam." 

In November, 1852, the Duke of Wellington 
died. The Ode was published on the morning 
of the funeral ; but not quite in its present form. 
It was received, Tennyson said, with "all but 
universal depreciation ... by the Press," though 
it is hard to see how its great qualities of simplicity 
and majesty came to be overlooked. Sometimes, it 
is true, the simplicity j ust overreaches itself: 

Thine island loves thee well, thoii famous man, 
The greatest sailor since our world began — 

is a hyperbole which is almost commonplace. 


And now began the steady proffer of honours and 
dignities which in England still testify, as a rule, to 
a certain degree of eminence. In 1853 he was 
offered the Rectorship of the University of Edin- 
burgh. He replied gratefully, but saying that " he 
could neither undertake to come to Edinboro', nor 
to deliver an inaugural address at the time speci- 
fied." In 1855 came the ofl'er of the Oxford 
D.C.L., suggested by the present Archbishop of 
Canterbury. Tennyson accepted it and was re- 
ceived with immense enthusiasm, the shout of " In 
Memoriam " from the undergraduates taking pre- 
cedence of the cries for "Alma" and " Inkerman," 
with which Sir John Burgoyne and Sir de Lacy 
Evans were greeted. 

In 1853 he had visited Bonchurch with the idea 
of taking a house there : he heard of Farringford, 
visited it, approved of it, occupied and eventually 
bought it. It appears from a letter that he was 
then making about £500 a year by his books, but 
that his private means were otherwise scanty. It 
was a home for over forty years. 

They had found Twickenham too accessible to 
droppers-in, obnoxia hospitibus. Yet the life on 
which Tennyson was about to embark had its 
dangers even for a man of his temperament. His 
love of solitary brooding, his morbidity, his self- 
absorption, were all likely to be increased rather 
than diminished by the new circumstances. A 


man without strongly defined agricultural tastes 
or definite duties of a local or civic kind, is in 
danger, in the country, of sinking into melancholy, 
or if this is successfully resisted, and tranquillity 
attained, of losing intellectual stimulus and mental 
liveliness, of spinning round and round like a stick 
caught in an eddy, away from the stream of things. 
But it must be remembered that Tennyson's life 
had hitherto been chiefly lived in backwaters, that 
his nervous constitution was more adapted to bear 
the strain of solitude, owing to his capacity for 
absorption in a train of thought, for prolonged 
brooding over great ideas, than to tolerate a life 
frittered by ceaseless social invasions. He had, 
moreover, his wife and children ; he had his work, 
which was continuous, if not daily ; he was a diligent 
and loving observer of nature — and, what must not 
be forgotten — he had his fame, which enabled him 
practically to command the society of any one he 
desired at short notice : moreover Mrs. Tennyson 
not only relieved him entirely of domestic burdens, 
but kept them as completely hidden as though 
they existed not — a triumph of grace of which 
even the most devoted housewives are hardly 
capable ; she sheltered him, too, from worries 
of an external kind, until her forces began to fail, 
when her son slipped into her place with a noble 
dutifulness as worthy of record as that of .Eneas 


The country life began at once with a deliberate 
resoluteness. The happy couple looked after their 
farm, visited the poor and sick of the village, swept 
up leaves, mowed grass, gravelled walks, Tennyson 
himself collected flowers, watched the ways of birds 
through spy-glasses, and took long walks with 
friends or the local geologist. All this was very 
wise and philosophical ; perhaps he knew that 
these are just the simple pursuits which a man, 
if he once has the courage to embark upon them, 
finds opening out in all sorts of imexpected channels, 
and growing rather than diminishing in interest 
every year. He made companions, too, of his 
boys, and endeavoured to bring them up in simple 
and affectionate ways. It is interesting to note 
how careful Tennyson was to train the imaginative 
powers of his children. His son records how the 
younger boy Lionel was brought down from his bed 
one night, Avrapt m a blanket, to see a comet ; the 
child suddenly awaking and finding himself under 
the cool starry night, asked, "Am I dead?" 

Into this quiet domestic life Tennyson sank, like 
a diving bird into a pool, with hardly a ripple. 
When Forster complained that his friends neither 
saw him nor heard from him, he replied that 
he never wrote letters except in answer, adding, 
" I beseech you and all my friends' most charitable 
interpretation of whatever I do or may be said to 


In 1854 he was working hard at Maud, morn- 
ing and evening; his "sacred pipes/' as he called 
them, were indulged in for half an hour after break- 
fast and half an hour after dinner, when no one was 
allowed to be with him, because he said that his 
best thoughts came to him then. His best working 
days he used to say were " in the early spring, when 
Nature begins to awaken from her winter sleep." 
He worked sitting in a hard high-backed wooden 
chair in his little room at the top of the house. As 
he sate or as he wrote he would murmur aloud his 
lines or fragments of lines : as some musicians com- 
pose with an instrument, while others never refer to 
one ; so some poets write and correct by eye, others 
by ear. Tennyson found that the spoken word 
helped him greatly, and that the constant reading 
aloud of his poems assisted him more than anything 
else to detect faults — a fact which illustrates the 
high value he set upon vowel sounds. 

In the same year Millais came to stay with them. 
Temiyson made an interesting criticism, and as true 
as it is interesting, in conversation with the great 
painter, whose early splendid fault — if it can be 
called a fault — was a disproportionate insistence on 
the detail of a picture, a want of subordination of 

"If you have," said Tennyson, "human beings 
before a wall, the wall ought to be picturesquely 
painted, and in harmony with the idea pervading 


the picture, but must not be made obtrusive by the 
bricks being too minutely drawn, since it is the 
human beings that ought to have the real interest 
for us in a dramatic subject-picture." It is interest- 
ing that what Tennyson saw and expressed so clearly 
with reference to another art, he did not enough 
apply to his own : a poem like The Princess suffers 
from the very fault that he here so clearly indicates. 

In 1855 came an incident which seems to have 
interested and encouraged Tennyson deeply, and 
to have made him feel that the poet after all 
could quicken the pulse of the working and 
fighting world. He was told that the English 
soldiers at the Crimea were many of them greatly 
excited about The Charge of the Light Brigade, and 
that they would like to have it in their hands. 
Tennyson had a thousand copies printed in slips and 
sent out ; in this he restored the original version, 
retaining the phrase "someone had blundered," 
which was the germ of the poem, but which in ac- 
cordance with criticism he had altered. 

In 1855 his acquaintance with Robert Browning 
ripened into a true and loyal friendship. Mrs, 
Browning, writing to Mrs. Tennyson on the subject, 
said, on one occasion when Tennyson had been 
dining with them, that she had overheard in the 
next room, through the smoke, " some sentences " 
(of Tennyson's) " which in this materialistic low- 
talking world, it was comfort and triumph to hear 


from the lips of such a man." She went on to try 
and console Mrs. Tennyson for the harsh criticisms 
that were appearing on Maud, which was published 
in 1855. But the publication had one tangible 
result ; with the proceeds of the poem Tennyson 
bought Farringford. 

He now settled down to work at the Idylls j the 
subject had been in his mind for twenty years, and 
in 1842 the Morte d' Arthur fragment had appeared. 
He began with Merlin and Vivien, which he finished 
in two months, and went on with Geraint and Enid. 

It is interesting to note how the little touches of 
everyday life were worked into the poem ; he used 
at the time to dig a good deal for exercise ; one day 
as he dug, a robin hopped round him, inspecting 
his work in the hope of some rich grub being 
thrown out ; 

As careful robins eye the delver's toil 

was the result. 

When the furniture from Twickenham was being 
moved into Farringford and the house was in entire 
confusion, the Prince Consort called, and made firm 
friends with the Poet. Tennyson had met him 
before only in a dream. The night before the 
Laureateship was offered him he dreamed that the 
Prince Consort had met him and kissed him. " Very 
kind but very German," had been Tennyson's 


There followed easy, prosperous years, with un- 
remitting, unhurried work, a quiet country life, di- 
versified by visits from congenial friends, and plenty 
of leisurely travel both in England and abroad to 
stir the lazy pulses ; on these tours Tennyson's 
observation was much on the alert — many similes 
were briefly sketched in a few salient words for 
future use ; his observation seemed to have centred 
almost entirely on nature and natural objects ; 
there is little trace of any notes of humanity or 
human talk. He was still fretful at intervals over 
unintelligent critics whom he called "mosquitoes." 
In 1858 he delayed the publication of the newly 
written Idylls, and Jowett, who had a sincere 
mission for giving trenchant advice to his intimate 
friends if he saw them giving way to weaknesses, 
wrote a highly characteristic letter to remonstrate 
with him. 

"Anyone," he wrote, "who cares about you is 
deeply annoyed that you are deterred by them 
('mosquitoes') from writing or publishing. The 

feeling grows and brings in after years the still 
more painful and deeper feeling that they have 

prevented you from putting out half your powers. 

Nothing is so likely to lead to misrepresentation. 

Persons don't understand that sensitiveness is often 

combined with real manliness as well as great 

intellectual gifts, and they regard it as a sign 

of fear and weakness." 


This is shrewd advice and faithfully given. 

It was about this date that Mr, G. F. Watts's 
great picture of the Poet was painted, now in the 
possession of Lady Henry Somerset. It is the 
noblest and most ideal representation of the man. 
Out of the cloud of luxuriant hair towers the stately 
forehead, the eyes dim with a certain trouble of 
thought, but yet with an inward serenity ; the thin 
moustache and beard half hide, half accentuate the 
full strong lips. It is the face of a dreamer of 
immortal dreams. 

In December, 1861, the Prince Consort died, and 
Tennyson wrote the Dedication to the Idi/lls, probably 
the simplest and most sincere complimentary poem 
ever penned. This led to his first interview with 
Queen Victoria. Tennyson said, " There was a kind 
of stately innocence about her." " I was conscious," 
he said, "of having spoken with considerable emotion 
to the Queen, but I have a very imperfect recollec- 
tion of what I did say. Nor indeed . . . do I very 
well recollect what Her Majesty said to me ; but I 
loved the voice that spoke, for being very blind I 
am much led by the voice, and blind as I am and as 
I told her I was, I yet could dimly perceive so 
great an expression of sweetness in her countenance 
as made me wroth with those imperfect cartes de 
visit e. . . ." 

From this interview dated a sincere friendship 
between the Queen and her Laureate. In 1863 


the Queen asked him what she could do for him, 
no doubt with the idea of conferring some dignity 
upon him, Tennyson's reply was, "Nothing, Madam, 
but shake my two boys by the hand. It may keep 
them loyal in the troublous times to come." 

At this time he was much taken up with his 
experiments in classical metres ; Boddicea was the 
one of which he was most proud ; but he realised 
the extreme difficulty of finding suitable words in 
sufficient numbers to finish the lines with. 

Indeed the metre of Boddicea has only a very 
superficial resemblance to the metre of the Attis 
of Catullus 1 which he imitated. Tennyson's metre is 
in reality only a trochaic, with dactylic substitutions 
in certain feet ; but this matters little, and the 
poem is a magnificent cataract of rhythmical sound. 

A good instance of Tennyson's superficial rough- 
ness is given in a reminiscence of this period. Mr. 
Thomas Wilson was staying at Farringford and saw 
much of the Tennysons. He was suffering from fits 
of deep melancholy ; on one of these occasions he 
made some complaint to Tennyson hinting at a desire 
for death. Tennyson replied, with genial grufFness, 
"Just go grimly on !" — and on another occasion, "If 
you wish to kill yourself, don't do it here ; go to 
Yarmouth and do it decently." Mr. AUingham, 
who was there at the same time, said that he talked 

' A nonsense line in the metre of Catullus would run : — 

For about | the space | of six | years it appeared | inimitable. 


to Tennyson about Browning. " I can't understand 
how he should care for my poetry," said Tennyson. 
" His new poem has fifteen thousand hnes. There's 
copiousness for you ! Good-night ! " 

As years went on hfe became, so to speak, less 
and less eventful. One of the chief interests of Far- 
ringford was the endless succession of distinguished 
guests that came there. Tennyson's hours of work 
were strictly respected, but it seems as though when 
there were friends in the house he had little leisure 
for solitary work. He still took a short time after 
breakfast and a short time after dinner by himself; 
but he walked with his guests in the morning, sate 
to talk with them in the afternoon and evening. 
His abundant geniality and sociability when he was 
in the presence of those who understood him was 
in curious contrast to his almost abnormal shyness, 
his hatred for what he called "the humbug of 
Society." He often made friends, particularly with 
people of simplicity of character, with extraordinary 
rapidity ; and his true hospitality was shown in his 
accustomed farewell, "Come whenever you can." 

For instance, in 1864 Garibaldi came to see him, 
and planted a tree at Farringford ; the two great men 
repeated Italian poetry together. "Are you a poet?" 
Tennyson said to liim. "Yes," said the warrior. 
They talked together ; Tennyson said, " I doubt 
whether he understood me perfectly, and his mean- 
ing was often obscure to me," Tennyson advised 


him not to talk politics in England. After he was 
gone Tennyson praised the majestic simplicity of 
his manners and said that in worldly matters he 
seemed to have the "divine stupidity of a hero." 

The same year he made an expedition to Brittany, 
with the intention of visiting places traditionally 
connected with the Arthurian legend. Tennyson 
of course located his Camelot in " a land of old up- 
heaven from the abyss." This was imagined to lie 
to the west of Land's End, and the Scilly Isles to be 
the tops of its submerged mountains. 

In 1864 the Enoch Arden volume was published, 
probably the most popular of all Tennyson's works. 
Sixty thousand copies were sold in a very short 
time. The poem of Enoch Arden itself was written 
in a fortnight in a little summer-house at Farring- 
ford. In 1865 he visited Waterloo, and Weimar. He 
went to Goethe's houses, and found the sight of 
Goethe's old boots and bottles interesting and 
pathetic. In October, 1865, he was at work at the 
new poem of Lucretius. 

In the following year he sent his boy to Marl- 
borough, where his old friend Bradley was head- 
master. An interesting account of his visit is 
preserved. He told many stories and read aloud 
obediently. After dinner one night he was asked 
by Mrs. Bradley to read The Grandmother ; he 
refused, saying, " I can't read The Grandinother 
properly except after breakfast when I am weak 


and tremulous ; fortified by dinner and a glass of 
port I am too vigorous." He then read The Xorthem 
Farmer and at the conclusion turned to a Belgian 
governess who was present and asked her how 
much she understood. " Pas un mot, Monsieur ! " 
He went on reading, laughing, as he read, until the 
tears came, and carefully explaining the points to 
the governess. This gives a pleasing picture of his 
simple kindliness. 

He subscribed at this time to the testimonial to 
Governor Eyre, whose excessive severity in Jamaica 
had caused great indignation. This act of Tenny- 
son's was severely commented upon. His own view 
was that Governor Eyre had nipped in the bud an 
outbreak that might have equalled the Indian 
Mutiny in horror. 

In 1867 it was thought that Mrs. Tennyson re- 
quired some bracing change from the soft air of 
Farringford ; and Tennyson himself began to suffer 
from the curiosity and impertinence of summer 
pilgrims to Farringford. Accordingly he bought a 
secluded tract of ground near Haslemere, on the 
headland called Blackdo\vn, which stood high and 
commanded a magnificent view of the southern 
plains : he named it Aldworth, from a village with 
which his family had been connected ; and Mr. 
Knowles, now editor of the Nineteenth Century, 
then practising as an architect, built a house 
there from the Poet's rough design. The house 

i -i i- 


is stately, and the details are beautiful — but it lacks 

He was invited in December, 1867, by W. H. 
Thompson, Master of Trinity, to stay with him at 
Cambridge, and replied in a delightfully character- 
istic note : — 

" A smoking-room ! If I put pipe to mouth there, 
should I not see gray Elohim ascending out of the. 
earth, him whom we capped among the walks in 
golden youth, and hear a voice, 'Why hast thou 
disquieted me to bring me up ? ' I happened to 
say to Clark that, from old far-away undergraduate 
recollections of the unapproachable and august se- 
clusion of Trinity Lodge, Cambridge, I should feel 
more blown out with glory by spending a night 
under your roof, than by having lived Sultan-like 
for a week in Buckingham Palace. Now, you see, 
I was not proposing a visit to you, but speaking as 
after wine and over a pipe, and falling into a trance 
with my eyes open." 

In the following year, 1868, he was working at 
Hebrew ; the foundation-stone of Aid worth was laid 
on the 23rd of April, Shakespeare's birthday. In 
the following month Lucretius was published in 
Macmillans Magazine, which drew a characteristic 
note from Jowett to Mrs. Tennyson : — 

" I thought Lucretius a most noble poem, and 
that is the universal impression. I cannot see any 
reason why Alfred should not write better and better 


as long as he lives, and as Mr. Browning says that 
he hopes and intends to do. I know that a poet is 
an inspired person, who is not to be judged by 
ordinary rules, nor do I mean to interfere with him. 
But I can never see why some of the dreams of his 
youth should not still be realised "—the last sentence 
probably refers to the contemplated completion ot 
the Idylls. 

In September of the same year he began The 
Holy Grail and finished it in about a week, " like a 
breath of inspiration." He sent a proof to Mr. 
Palgrave, who wrote that he had ventured to show 
it to Max Miiller. Tennyson replied : — 

" You distress me when you tell me that, without 
leave given by me, you showed my poem to Max 
Miiller : not that I care about Max M tiller's seeing 
it, but I do care for your not considering it a sacred 
deposit. Pray do so in futui'e ; otherwise I shall 
see some boy in some Magazine making a lame 
imitation of it, which a clever boy could do in 
twenty minutes — and though his work would be 
worth nothing, it would take away the bloom and 
freshness from mine. . . . 

" Please attend to my request about The Grail and 
The Lover's Tale, and show them to no one, or if you 
can't depend upon yourself, forward them to me." 

In 1869 his old College of Trinity, Cambridge, 
elected him an "Honorary Fellow," a distinction 
he greatly valued. 


In 1872 he was working at Gareth and Lynette ; 
he wrote to Mr. Knowles that he " found it more 
difficult to deal with than anything except perhaps 
Aybner's Field." With the publication of that 
idyll he thought the cycle complete ; but later on, 
feeling that some introduction to Merlin and 
Vivien was necessary, he wrote Bali?i and Balan. 


IN 1 873 Mr. Gladstone offered the Poet a baronetcy 
from the Queen. Tennyson replied that he 
and Mrs. Tennyson did not desire it for themselves, 
but would wish it to be assumed by his son at any 
age it might be thought right to fix upon. He 
added that he expected that this was outside all 
precedent, and said that he hoped there was not 
the least chance of the Queen's construing it into 
a slight of the proffered honour. '•' I hope/' he 
added, "that I have too much of the old-world 
loyalty left in me 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." Mr. Gladstone replied that it would be an 
innovation to confer an honour on a son in a father's 
lifetime ; and Tennyson thereupon declined the 
honour altogether with obvious relief. 

His friendship with Mr. Gladstone grew and 

deepened. In 1874, at the time of the Dissolution, 

Tennyson wrote : " Care not, you have done great 

work, and if even now you rested, your name would 



From the picture by G. f. Walts, R.A. 
}ly />eiiHissia/t of Lord Tennyson 


be read in one of the fairest pages of English 
history." He went on to add that in some points 
of policy they had differed ; as years went on they 
differed still more widely. When Mr. Gladstone took 
up the cause of Irish Home Rule, Tennyson wrote, 
in reply to a question on the subject, " I love Mr. 
Gladstone, but I hate his present policy." 

In 1874 Mrs. Tennyson became seriously ill, and 
was for the rest of her life, over twenty years, prac- 
tically confined to her sofa. She was, according to 
Jowett, " one of the most beautiful, the purest, the 
most innocent, the most disinterested persons whom 
I have ever known." He went on to say that 
"it is no wonder that people speak of her with 
bated breath, as a person whom no one would ever 
think of criticising, whom every one would recog- 
nise, in goodness and saintliness, as the most tinlike 
any one whom they have ever met." 

Jowett went on to say that she was probably 
her husband's best critic ; certainly the one whose 
authority he would most willingly have recognised. 
He spoke of her saintliness, which had nothing 
puritanical about it, her humour, her considerate- 
ness, her courage. She preserved not only life but 
youth under invalid conditions ; and combined with 
great cp.pacity for domestic management an extra- 
ordinary interest in religious, political and social 
movements, with an unflinching faith, and an eye 
firmly directed to what was beautiful and great. 


Many friends of the family seem to have deliber- 
ately held that Mrs. Tennyson was as great as her 
husband ; Jowett adds that had such a criticism 
been repeated to her, she would merely have 
wondered that any one could seriously have supposed 
that there was any comparison possible. It must 
be reckoned among the many and great felicities of 
Termyson's life, the felicities which seem to have 
been so deliberately bestowed upon him, that the 
presence and influence of such a wife was given him 
till his latest day. Probably even he himself, in- 
tensely and continuously grateful as he was to her, 
hardly realised how much she did for him in the 
way of open sympathy and still more of deft and 
uncomplaining management of somewhat difficult 
and intricate household conditions. 

Dear, near and true, no truer Time himself 
Can prove you, tho' he make you evermore 
Dearer and nearer. 

In 1 874 Mr. Disraeli offered Tennyson a baronetcy 
from the Queen, for the second time, in a character- 
istically pompous letter, beginning, " A Government 
should recognise intellect. It elevates and sustains 
the spirit of a nation." He went on to say that 
the Queen had shown her sympathy with science, 
but that it was more difficult to recognise the 
claims of literature because "the test of merit 
cannot be so precise." 

Tennyson replied as he had done to Gladstone, 


refusing the honour for himself, and asking that it 
might be conferred on his son after death. Mr. 
Disraeli replied that this was contrary to precedent, 
and Tennyson again acquiesced. 

As a rule he was very unwilling to join any 
society or club that might make claims on his 
time or require his attendance. I imagine that a 
definite engagement always hung heavy on the 
spirits of the Poet. But he made an exception in 
favour of a remarkable society, called the Meta- 
physical Society, the inception of which was due to 
Mr. Knowles. 

The intention of the society was to discuss the 
question of Christian Evidences with entire frank- 
ness, and to associate with pronounced Anglicans 
men of every other shade of religious thought, such 
as Roman Catholics, Unitarians, Nonconformists 
and even Agnostics. The lists of the society in- 
cluded almost all the advanced thinkers of the day, 
politicians, scientists, philosophers and literary men. 
It lasted for over ten years, and Tennyson even 
consented, once at least, to preside. The result of 
the discussions was never made public, but Lord 
Tennyson says that his father was more profoundly 
convinced than ever by them of " the irrationality 
of pure materialism," and thought that the theo- 
logians of the present day were much more en- 
lightened than their predecessors. 

The society came to an end in 1880, Huxley 


asserting that it died of "too much love." Tennyson 
himself said humorously that it perished because 
after ten years of strenuous effort no one had suc- 
ceeded in even defining the term " Metaphysics." 
It seems that practically Tennyson took no part in 
the discussions. 

Tennyson's mind was now actively turning to 
the drama, and this will perhaps be the best 
place to discuss briefly the literary merits of the 
plays. He published Queen Mary in 1875, which 
formed with Harold and Becket what he called 
his historical trilogy. 

The plays had a political or rather a national 
motif. They were intended to portray "the 
making of England." In Queen Mary he aimed 
at representing the establishment of religious 
liberty for the individual, in Becket the struggle 
between the Crown and the Church, in Harold 
the conflict of the three rival races, Danes, Saxons 
and Normans for supremacy, and the " forecast of 
the greatness of our composite race." It is to be 
noted how large a part the religious element plays 
in all the three. In The Forester.s he tried to sketch 
the state of the people during the period of the 
Magna Carta, when the triumph of political liberty 
over Absolutism began. 

He had always taken a profound interest in the 
drama, and it is interesting to note how the sub- 
jects were carefully chosen to fill gaps in the 


sequence of Shakespeare's historical or chronicle 
plays. The drama was very mucli in his thoughts ; 
he believed in it as a great humanising and eleva- 
ting influence ; he thought that when education 
should have raised the literary standard of the 
people, the stage would be of enormous influence. 
He even went so far as to hope that educational 
and municipal bodies would take to producing 
plays so as to form part of an Englishman's edu- 
cation, in the same way that the drama formed 
a part of the ordinary life of the Greeks at the 
period of their highest greatness. 

He had a strong belief, moreover, in his own 
dramatic power ; he liked the analysis of human 
motive and character. He was an enthusiastic 
critic of the drama, and entered with interest into 
the minutest details of scenic effect. His aim was 
to produce plays of high poetic excellence, and to 
put them into the hands of competent managers 
and actors for stage production. He was en- 
couraged to persevere in the task by such authori- 
ties as Spedding, George Eliot and G. H. Lewes, 
and was on the whole satisfied with the results. It 
must be remembered that he was sixty-five when 
he began this venture. 

The result, however, from the point of view of 
literature is, except perhaps in the case of Harold, 
even lamentable. It was as though a musician 
who had i-eached almost perfection on the violin, 


took up at threescore the practice of the organ. 
He was at an age when his mind was fully stored 
with poetical substance ; the melody of his instru- 
ment was entirely under his control, his brain was 
furnished with exquisite observation, and fertile 
with simple emotions. Moreover, owing to his 
great vitality, he had not yet outlived his power 
of sympathy with youth, and he still retained 
an abundance of that wondering joy in nature 
and life with which things or thoughts of beauty 
come home to the apprehension of the child, 
and which is of the essence of all lyrical 

All this was sacrificed. He undertook instead 
the practice of an art with which he was not 
familiar, the painting in brief and characteristic 
touches complex characters in a crowded canvas. 
It is melancholy that no friend was found to tell 
him that dramatic situations were precisely those in 
which he had invariably failed, though it might have 
proved a congenial task for Jowett. In monologue, 
without the disturbing play of other influences, he 
had done wonders ; his mind was of the brooding 
kind that could throw itself intensely and profoundly 
into a single character. Again and again he had 
shown this, not only in his serious poems, but in 
the humorous rustical figures whose very heart he 
had laid open. He could even in a stately Hellenic 
fashion contrive a slow duologue between two per- 


sons whose characters he had fully penetrated. 
Yet even here he had produced an effect of stiffness 
and solemnity. But his mind was quite without 
the vivacity and the minuteness which can throw 
itself with instinctive rapidity into the swift give- 
and-take of dramatic situation ; he was no desultor, 
as the Romans said. 

The consequence is that the plays, though the 
execution is faultless, somehow lack interest ; the 
wood is laid in order, but the fire does not kindle. 
It is very difficult to say why they do not arouse 
emotion, but the tragedy and the pathos have no 
transporting power. They leave the heart cold. 
In Shakespeare, with a far simpler outfit, a sudden 
spring seems to be touched, and we are in a new 
world. But it is possible to read Tennyson's plays 
wondering why no emotion is awakened. The 
reader feels all the time that it is like Tennyson's 
description of Maud's face — 

Faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null, 
Dead perfection, no more. 

It is remarkable that such letters as are given 
in the Life praising his plays are as a rule from 

J. A. Froude wrote : — 

" 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. . . . You have given 
us the greatest of all your works." 

About Becket Mr. Bryce wrote : — 

"There is not, it seems to me, anything in 
modern poetry which helps us to realise as your 
drama does, the sort of power the Church exerted 
on her ministers." 

Robert Browning, it is true, was still more 
laudatory, writing about Queen Marif : — 

" Conception, execution, the whole and the parts, 
I see nowhere the shade of a fault, thank you once 
again ! " 

But the view taken of Queen Mary was not 
wholly favourable. Coventry Patmore wrote to 
a friend : — 

" I will let you have Tennyson's play shortly. 
It is better than I expected — for it is not weak. 
But it is quite uninteresting. Every character is 
repulsive, and the sentimental themes, Mary's love 
for Philip and disappointment at not bringing him 
an heir, wholly unattractive. The moral is no 
better, simply the ' No Popery ' cry — the straw at 
which Lord John Russell's, Gladstone's and so 
many other drowning reputations have clutched in 
vain. I fancy it will not serve the Laureate's 
purpose any better than it has served Mr. Glad- 
stone's. Surely there is no passion which, when 
indulged, becomes so strong and vile as the love of 


And again, after attending a performance, he 
wrote : — 

"I never saw any play nearly so dismal or in- 
effective as Queen Man/. Though it has only been 
out a week or two, the theatre was three parts 
empty, and what audience there was seemed to be 
of the most snuffy kind. So deadly stupid were 
they, that when Mary said, ' We are Queen of 
England, Sir, not Roman Emperor,' they did not 
catch the grossly obvious applicability of the 
sentence to what is now going on, until I began to 
clap and beat the floor with my stick ; then it 
dawned upon a few ; and at last about half the 
poor people caught the idea and clapped too ; and 
a gentleman behind me said to his ladies, 'That's 
because of the Royal Titles Bill.' I thought of 
Dr. Vaughan's experience — after going about the 
whole world — that the English ranked in stupidity 
next to the negroes." 

Everything was done that could be done by en- 
thusiastic and capable stage management. The 
plays, especially Becket, enjoyed a moderate success, 
a convincing proof of how deep and widespread 
was the affection and admiration with which Tenny- 
son was regarded by the public. " Fame is love 
disguised ! " 


IN 1878 the Poet's second son, Lionel, was married 
to the daughter of Frederick Locker- Lampson, 
and for several years about this time Tennyson took 
a house in London from February to Easter "to rub 
our country rust off," and to be near his son. Here 
he saw on easy terms many of the great men of the 
time ; and as showing how active his interest in 
practical politics was, a reminiscence of a visit to 
the veteran Earl Russell at Pembroke Lodge is 
valuable. They shook hands over the necessity of 
continuity in foreign policy. 

Many visits were paid by Tennyson, when he was 
in London, to Carlyle. The last words recorded as 
having passed between them are touching. Tenny- 
son had said that he would like to get away from 
all the turmoil of civilisation and go to a tropical 

"Oh ay," said Carlyle, who was sitting in his 
dressing-gown, " so would I, to India or somewhere. 
But the scraggiest bit of heath in Scotland is more 
to me than all the forests of Brazil. I am just 



twinkling away, and I wish I had had my Dimittis 
long ago." 

In 1879 Tennyson's brother, Charles Tennyson- 
Turner, died. There had always been a great 
affection between the two, and Alfred often spent 
part of the summer at his brother's Lincolnshire 
vicarage ; that Mrs. Tennyson-Turner and Mrs. A. 
Tennyson were sisters drew the bond still closer. 

The Laureate had a great admiration for his 
brother's sonnets, to a volume of which, published 
in 1880, he contributed some prefatory verses; it 
is interesting to note that almost the only form of 
poetical writing that Alfred Tennyson did not to 
any great extent attempt was the sonnet ; and the 
sonnets he wrote are written in a half-hearted way 
and do not rank among his best work. There is 
little doubt that the recognition of his brother's 
superior skill in sonnet- writing deterred him from 
that form of composition ; just as Charles himself 
confessed that Alfred's lyric skill made him feel for 
some years that it was hopeless to attempt to write 
poetry, from no petty jealousy, but from the dis- 
couragement which in sensitive minds attends on 
the contemplation of superior skill. 

The bereavement made Alfred Tennyson very 
unwell, and he was afflicted by the hallucination 
of hearing perpetual ghostly voices. Sir Andrew 
Clark, who had become his doctor, ordered change, 
and Venice laid the ghosts. 


It was on this tour that Tennyson made his Frater 
Ave, a poem in which the theme is not developed, 
which has no particular thought struck out, and 
contains but one felicitous descriptive epithet, of 
the twin-fruited kind that he loved — but which 
remains one of the most perfect and purest pieces 
of vowel music in the language, like a low sweet 
organ-prelude, a snatch of magical sound. 

In 1880, in his seventy-first year, he published a 
volume of Poems and Ballads, which contains little 
of permanent value except The Revenge. This 
volume illustrates in a striking manner the decay 
of his poetical faculty. In the earlier poems it is 
noticeable how sweet, simple and even common- 
place were the themes that aroused his emotion ; 
tender idyllic subjects of love and life were his 
favourite inspirations, and even where the motive is 
tragical all violent action is instinctively avoided, 
and the scene is given through the haze of pro- 
spect or retrospect. He worked in the spirit of the 
Horatian maxim — Ne coram populo pueros Medea 
trucidet — or else pictorially and luxuriantly, with 
abundant dwelling upon the details of the picture, 
as in The Lady of Shalotl. As he got older he 
seemed to require more definite, strong, dramatic 
situations, of horror or tragedy, or poignant emo- 
tion, to stir the slower current of his blood. Such 
a poem as Rizpah, though it may be admired as 
powerful, depends quite as much upon the forceful- 


ness of the matter as upon the beauty of manner. 
The Children's Hospital is another of the same class 
— touchmg in its intention, but yielding to unworthy 
prejudice, and not exhibiting the magical quality. 
The Cup and The Falcon were also completed, 
melancholy monuments. 

All this time we have pleasant touches of the 
serene home-life. William Allingham, who was stay- 
ing with him, told him that Dr. Martineau at the 
age of seventy-five had just climbed a mountain 
4,000 feet high. Tennyson's answer is character- 
istic of the simple vanity which so often appeared 
in his talk, " When I was sixty-seven I climbed a 
mountain 7,000 feet high : the guide said he never 
saw a man of my age si leger." 

In 1881 he sate to Millais for the portrait, which 
the artist said was the finest he ever painted, be- 
longing to Mr. Knowles. In November, 1882, the 
unlucky play, The Promise of May, was produced. 
It was supposed to be an attack on Free Thought 
and Socialism, and attracted considerable attention 
from the fact that the late Marquis of Queensberry 
rose in his place in the middle of one of the perfor- 
mances and protested in the name of Free-thinkers 
against " Mr. Tennyson's abominable caricature." 
It seems to the ordinary reader a piece of senti- 
mental melodrama, but Tennyson wrote of the play 
that he had striven to bring the true drama of 
character and life back again. " I gave them one 


leaf out of the great book of truth and nature." 
The idealist may humbly hope that similar leaves 
are comparatively rare. 

In these days he often stayed at the Deanery, 
Westminster, with his old friends the Bradleys, 
where he felt entirely at home. One day he 
wandered about the Abbey and climbed up into a 
chantry during service, which sounded sweetly 
along the aisles. Tennyson said to his son, " It 
is beautiful — but what empty and awful mockery if 
there were no God." 

In 1883 he had a long interview with the Queen 
and talked quietly of death and immortality. The 
close of the interview may be given in the Queen's 
own simple words : — 

" When I took leave of him, I thanked him for his 
kindness, and said I needed it, for I had gone 
through much, and he said, ' You are so alone on 
that terrible height ; it is temble. I've only a 
year or two to live, but I shall be happy to do any- 
thing for you I can — send for me whenever you 
like.' I thanked him warmly." 

"He was very kind," was the Queen's touching 
impression of his attitude towards her. 

In September, 1883, he went a cruise with Sir 
Donald Carrie on the Pembroke Castle. Mr. Glad- 
stone was of the party. At Kirkwall Tennyson 
and Mr. Gladstone received the freedom of the 
burgh, and Mr. Gladstone returned thanks for both 


in a speech of graceful humility. The conversation 
between the two seems to have been interesting 
and to have brought out the fact that Gladstone 
talked as a rhetorician, with complicated analogies 
and with exquisitely complete parentheses, while 
Tennyson was incisive, brief and pointed. At 
Copenhagen a distinguished party came on board 
to luncheon. The Kings of Denmark and Greece 
with their Queens, and the Czar and Czarina. 
Tennyson read a couple of poems by request, and 
when the Czarina complimented him, he took her 
for a Maid of Honour, patted her on the shoulder, 
and said, "Thank you, my dear ! " 

It was on the Pernbroke Castle that Mr. Glad- 
stone offered Tennyson a peerage. His view was 
that a baronetcy, which in Sir Walter Scott's days 
represented the respectful homage of a Govennnent 
for literature, was inadequate ; he went on to say 
that he believed greatly in Tennyson's political 

It is amusing that Mr. Gladstone should have 
said gravely to Hallam Tennyson that he had one 
fear — that the Poet might insist on wearing his 
wide-awake in the House of Lords. 

Tennyson himself was not very much in favour 
of accepting the peerage, but he undoubtedly had 
a great and increasing interest in national politics, 
and was not averse to taking a hand in them in a 
dignified way ; he was also anxious that his son 


should eventually have a chance of playing a part 
in the political world — and he was^ moreover, quite 
sensible of the fact that it meant a high recognition 
of the practical power of literature. " Why should I 
be selfish," he wrote to a friend, "and not suffer an 
honour . . . to be done to literature in my name ? " 
He therefore reluctantly consented. " By Glad- 
stone's advice," he said, " I have consented to take 
the peerage, but for my own part I shall regret 
my simple name all my life." 

He took his seat in March, 1884, and sate on the 
cross-benches. He gave a vote for the Extension 
of the Franchise in July, 1884, but his attendances 
were very few, though it is evident from the records 
that the incident stirred his active interest in politics 
very greatly. He wrote several dignified and sen- 
sible letters on points mostly connected with the 
Franchise ; and he was interested in the question 
of Disestablishment, and measures affecting agri- 

In 1885 was published Tiresias and other poems : 
it contained an idyll Balm and Balan, which was 
written soon after Gareth and Lynette, a painful and 
tragic story, and not of marked technical excellence. 

The Ancient Sage, a very personal and auto- 
biographical poem, is perhaps the most interesting 
of the poems — but mainly from a biographical point 
of view. Here also were included the musical 
lines. To Virgil, which are on the old level. 


In 1886 a great grief fell on him; his son 
Lionel, a young man of high promise, great mi- 
selfishness and vigour of character, with both 
literary and administrative ability, died, while 
returning from India, from fever, and was buried 
at sea. Tennyson was in his seventy-seventh year 
and felt the blow more acutely than is common 
with the old. 

"The thought of Lionel's death tears me to 
pieces," he said, " he was so full of promise and 
so young." Tennyson was working at the sequel 
to Locksley Hall, and though the poem will be 
considered separately, it may be said that the 
reflex of his melancholy mood is only too plainly 
visible throughout. 

The disabilities of age came gently upon him ; 
he was often obliged to drive instead of walking, 
but his observation, in spite of failing eyesight, 
his sense of beauty and his interest in homely 
things continued wonderfully strong. 

It is painful to see to what an extent, in 
these later years, he was overshadowed by pessi- 
mism. The faith in development, in the huge 
design of God which is so nobly defined in In 
Metnonam, seems to have to a great extent de- 
serted him. The signs of the tiines alarmed and 
disquieted him. He felt as if the nation were on 
the brink of a great catastrophe. " You must not 
be surprised at anything that comes to pass in the 


next fifty years," he said, "all ages are ages of 
transition, but this is an awful moment of transi- 
tion. It seems to me as if there were much less 
of the old reverence and chivalrous feeling in the 
world than there used to be." 

Again he said solemnly, "When I see Society 
vicious and the poor starving in great cities, I feel 
that it is a mighty wave of evil passing over the 

This last is an essentially unreal utterance — it is 
the " fear of that which is high" — the shadow of age, 
when the grasshopper becomes a burden. Tennyson 
had no means of knowing whether Society was 
vicious or not ; less indeed than when he was 
young, because he lived so entirely remote from 
it ; and as to the starving of the poor in great 
cities, there can be little doubt that the condition 
of the poor had altered only for the better since 
the Poet's youth. These broodings are mainly the 
depressed reveries of age, which cannot throw off 
melancholy reflection. Tennyson lacked the endur- 
ing optimism so characteristic of Robert Browning. 
Still, in spite of his pessimistic fear of widespread 
corruption and impending revolution, there was 
much that was tender, reverent and hopeful in his 
talk. "The better heart of me beats stronger at 
seventy- four than ever it did at eighteen," he once 

There was xnuch wisdom too in many of his 


sociological talks : speaking of the sense of unity 
in Society he used to acknowledge that it had 
greatly increased since his own youth. 

" The whole of Society," he said, " is at present 
too like a jelly ; when it is touched it shakes from 
base to summit. As yet the unity is of weakness 
rather than of strength. . . . Our aim therefore 
ought to be not to merge the individual in the ! 
community, but to strengthen the social life of the 
community, and foster the individuality." 

In 1888 he had a serious illness — rheumatic gout 
brought on by walking in rain and getting drenched. 
For a time he was very ill, and bore his illness with 
great patience and even cheerfulness, making an 
epigram when he was at his worst about the pain 
killing the devil born in him eighty years before. 
To his doctors he talked politics and said many 
practical and sensible things, such as, " Every 
agitator should be made to prove his means of s/ 
livelihood." For a time his life was despaired of; 
when he was lying thus, Jowett wrote Lady Tenny- 
son a fine letter, evidently intended to be read to 
the Poet : — 

"... Give my love to him and tell him that I 
hope he is at rest, knowing that we are all in the 
hands of God. I would have him think sometimes 
that no one has done more for mankind in our own 
time, having found expression for their noblest 
thoughts and having never written a line that he 


would wish to blot ; and that this benefit which he 
has conferred on the English language and people 
will be an everlasting possession to them, as great 
as any poet has ever given to any nation, and 
that those who have been his friends will always 
think of him with love and admiration, and speak 
to others of the honour of having kno^vn him. He 
who has such record of life should have the comfort 
of it in the late years of it : there may be some 
things which he blames, and some which he laments, 
but as a whole he has led a true and noble life, 
and he need not trouble himself about small matters. 
He may be thankful for the great gift which he has 
received, and that he can return an account of it. 
It seems to me that he may naturally dwell on such 
thoughts at this time, although also, like a Christian, 
feeling that he is an unpi'ofitable servant, and that 
he trusts only in the mercy of God." 

This letter is written in a high and noble vein, 
like the consolations of an ancient philosopher 
touched by a larger hope, — although the self-satis- 
faction which it recommends is perhaps more natural 
for others to read into the thoughts of a great man 
than for the great man to indulge in himself. 

In April Sir Andrew Clark came to see him, in 
spite of the fact that he had been summoned to see 
the Shah. Sir Andrew had replied that he could 
not obey his Majesty as he had promised to visit 
his friend the old Poet. The Shah received this 


refusal very graciously and sent Sir Andrew a Persian 

Sir Andrew said that though Tennyson had been 
as near death as a man could be without dying, he 
was perfectly healthy and sound, adding that " he 
could not see where the door would open for his 
exit from life." 

After his recovery he went for a cruise in the 
Simbeam, lent him by Lord Brassey ; he was in high 
spirits and told many stories. Aubrey de Vere was 
mentioned, and Tennyson said that Aubrey de Veres 
idea of eternal punishment would be to listen to 
Huxley and Tyndall disputing eternally on the non- 
existence of God. 

On his eightieth birthday many letters of admira- 
tion and love came to him. After reading one he 
said, " I don't know what I have done to make 
people feel like that towards me, except that I 
have always kept my faith in Immortality." 

In December, 1889, appeared Demeter and 
other poems ; these were wonderful productions for 
a man of his age, though not particularly memorable 
in themselves. 

In October, 1889, he had written Crossing the Bar 
on a day when he went from Aldworth to Far- 
ringford ; he made it in his mind, and wrote it out 
after dinner. It is traditionally related that the poem 
was read aloud to an old servant, a nurse, who had 
asked him " to write a hymn ". On hearing it read, 


she burst into tears and said, " It isn't a hymn, it's a 
psalm ! " — a simple tribute. A few days before his 
death he told his son that it was always to come at 
the end of all editions of his poems. It is a lyric 
which is on a level with his best work — such lines as 

But such a tide as moving seems asleep, 
Too full for sound and foam — 

are of the eternal stamp. 

He had felt Robert Bro^vning's death in December, 
1889, deeply, but with something of the quiet re- 
signation of age. At this time he amused himself 
by cai'ving and painting in water-colours. He still 
went walks and entertained callers, reading many 
novels, and still working ; of Clarissa Harlowe, 
which he read at this time, he said, " I like those 
great still books : " the whole record of his last 
days is full of quiet interesting talk, not great, 
but showing a lofty and active mind. 

At eighty-two he was still extraordinarily vigorous 
in body : he would defy his friends to rise twenty 
times in quick succession from a low chair without 
touching it with their hands as he could do — he 
even danced with a child. 

Again in 1891 he went a cruise in a yacht and 
visited Exmouth. He had with him a number of 
books dealing with the East and Oriental modes of 
thought which he studied for Akhar's Dream. 

When he was pressed to write on any particular 


From the f'ortmit by Mr. G. F. Halts, R.A. 'iSgi) 
presented by the painter to Trinity College, Cambrielge 


subject he used to say, " I cannot : I must write on 
what I am thinking about, and I have not much 
time." It is strange how sensitive he still was 
about little points. He received a complimentary 
poem from Mr. William Watson, which he acknow- 
ledged, adding : — 

"If by 'wintry hair' you allude to a tree whose 
leaves are half gone, you are right, but if you mean 
white, you are wrong, for I never had a grey hair 
on my head." 

In 1892 he again went for a cruise, and visited 
Jersey, where his eldest brother was living ; the 
two old poets said their last good-bye. 

Good-night, true brother, here, good-morrow there. 

On the 29th of June, at Farringford, he received 
the Communion in his study, from the Rector of 
Freshwater, and the following day left the Isle of 
Wight never to return. He went to Aldworth, 
and on to London, where he visited the Academy 
and the Natural History Museum. In September 
he was feeling ill, and when the Master of Balliol 
came to stay with him he begged that he would 
not consult him or argue with him on points of 
philosophy and religion. Jowett answered memor- 
ably, " Your poetry has an element of philosophy 
more to be considered than any regular philosophy 
in England." Still he was deeply interested in 
politics and talked with animation and interest. 


On the 29th of September he was evidently very 
ill, and Sir Andrew Clark was telegraphed for ; he 
drove out the same day and said to his son as they 
passed an accustomed haunt, " I shall never walk 
there again." 

The end drew on with stately tranquillity. On 
Sunday, 3rd October, he was sinking ; but on 
Monday, very early, he sent for a Shakespeare and 
some passages were read to him. The same night, 
with the tender consideration which he always 
showed, he said to his son, " I make a slave of 

On Tuesday he wandered a good deal, talked of 
a journey he was to take, asked if he had not been 
walking with Gladstone and showing him trees. 
" Where is my Shakespeare ? " he said. " I must 
have my Shakespeare," and again, " I want to see 
the sky and the light." 

On the Wednesday the fatal tendency to syncope 
set in, and he lay still, occasionally saying a word 
or two, and at every sound opening his eyes, look- 
ing round the room,*and closing them again. Late 
in the day he gathered himself together, and said 
one word to the doctor who was attending him : 
"Death?" The doctor bowed his head — and he 
said, "That is well." His last words were a bless- 
ing to his wife and son. The full moon flooded the 
room with light, and the watchers waited silently, 
with awe and love, for the end. He passed away 


quietly, with one hand clasping his Shakespeare 
and with the other holding his daughter-in-law's 
hands — and so he drifted out on the Unknown. 

The following day the old clergyman of Lurga- 
shall came to see the peaceful form ; the lines of 
thought were smoothed out of the face by the quiet 
touch of death The old man raised his hands and 
said, " Lord Tennyson, God has taken you who made 
you a prince of men — farewell." 

He was buried in Westminster Abbey on the 1 2th 
of October, the pall being borne by twelve of the 
most eminent men in England, many of them his own 
intimate friends. He lies next to Robert Browning, 
and in front of the Father of English song. 

Lady Tennyson survived him until I896, having 
entered her 84th year. 


THERE is no need of complex analysis in 
attempting to draw the character of the 
great Poet. One of his friends said of him that he 
was the most transparent human being it is possible 
to conceive. In ordinary cases it may be roughly said 
that the child is father of the man, but of Tennyson 
it may be truly affirmed that the child was the man ; 
he was, in fact, the " iynpcrishahle child;" his simpli- 
city, his modesty, were childish virtues, matured but 
always childlike ; his very faults, his self-absorption, 
his sensitiveness, his shyness were the faults of 
childhood. A lady has told me how she once went 
to call on the Tennysons, whom she hardly knew, 
and sate for a quarter of an hour with Mrs. Tenny- 
son, during which time Tennyson came three times 
into the room, as though oblivious of her presence, 
to grumble over a can of water which he had put 
out for himself having been poured away by one of 
the servants. As a rule, advancing years, if they 
teach a man nothing else, teach hira to dissemble ; 
but Tennyson was always himself. He was, said 


a friend, the only man he knew who habitually 
thought aloud ; he never appears to have suffered 
from the temptation, the force of which is in- 
definitely increased by the conditions of modern 
society, by the rapid circulation of fashion, by the 
searching glare of public opinion — the temptation to 
conform oneself, superficially at all events, to the 
ordinary type. The circumstances of Tennyson's 
life made it easy for him to follow the bent of his 
own individuality, and it may be doubted whether 
his aloofness from ordinary aims and his freedom 
from the sordid cares which beset humanity were 
altogether wholesome influences : it must be re- 
membered, however, that though unworldly he was 
not unpractical. He was a remarkably good man 
of business, and exacted his due with stern common- 
sense ; so that it may be said that the practical 
faculties were more in abeyance than absent. 

Coventry Patmore gives an interesting description 
of him : — 

"Tennyson is like a great child, very simple 
and very much self-absorbed. I never heard him 
make a remark of his own which was worth repeat- 
ing, yet I always left him with a mind and heart 
enlarged. In any other man his incessant dwelling 
upon trifles concerning himself, generally small 
injuries — real or imaginaiy — would be very tire- 
some. He had a singular incapacity for receiving 
at first hand, and upon its own merits, any new 


idea. He pooh-poohed my views on architecture 
when I first put them before him ; but some time 
afterwards Emerson praised them to him very 
strongly, and the next time I saw Tennyson he 
praised them strongly too, but without any allusion 
to his former speech of them." 

Two characteristics which appear at first sight 
inconsistent certainly existed side by side in 
Tennyson ; the first a superficial vanity and self- 
absorption combined with a true and deep modesty 
of nature. 

He combined, I believe, the modesty of a child 
with the vanity of a child. He was proud of his 
accomplishments, never of himself. He had no 
objection to praising his own poetry. " Not bad 
that, Fitz ?" he used to say to Fitz Gerald after 
reading or quoting some favourite line of his o^vn. 
The truth was that this vanity was more superficial 
than real. He was so simple-minded that it did 
not occur to him not to praise his own work if he 
approved of it, where a more calculating man 
would have hesitated to say what he was feeling. 
And he undoubtedly took a modest view of his 
own powers. " I am a modest man," he said to 
Thackeray, " and always more or less doubtful of 
my efforts in any line;" — and his deference to 
criticism proves this. 

On the other hand, he resented deeply and 
bitterly any depreciation of his work. Even 


his most intimate friends did not dare to hint 
disapproval of his works ; the deepest affection 
would not have stood the strain of such a demand. 

But he was truly and innately modest about his 
own character ; deeply conscious of imperfection and 
weakness and sin, for all his honours, he might have 
said sincerely, to the end of his life, " I am small 
and of no reputation," for this was what he felt in 
the sight of God. 

As he wrote once to a friend who asked him to 
be godfather to a child, " I only hope that he will 
take a better model than his namesake to shape his 
life by." 

I do not imagine that Tennyson's intellectual 
force was pre-eminently great or that his know- 
ledge was very profound ; of technical philosophy, 
for instance, he said, " I have but a gleam of Kant, 
and have hardly turned a page of Hegel." The 
high results that he achieved were largely due to 
the fact that his interests were limited, and that he 
was able to devote himself, without any sense of 
monotony or tedium, entirely to his creative work. 
Most capable natures require a certain change of 
intellectual work ; the impulse for such natures to 
labour in new fields is strong, and is increased by 
the difficulty that men of active intellectual power 
often feel in keeping closely to one particular species 
of composition. But this seems not to have been 
the case with Tennyson. From first to last he 



never faltered ; he realised early in life that his 
work was to be poetry, and though he passed 
thi'ough moods of dark discouragement, almost 
eclipse, yet he never suspended his ideal, and, 
moreover, he subordinated all his other work to his 
poetical work. 

He possessed the poetical temperament almost 
to perfection. He had, first, the wholesome in- 
sight of genius. Carlyle said of him that " Alfred 
had always a grip at the right side of any question." 
He had no strong metaphysical grasp, and the sub- 
tleties that are so apt to trip the feet of the eager 
minute intellect on the threshold were practically 
non-existent for him. He saw right to the heart of 
a matter, and with a common-sense that was in itself 
of the nature of genius, he was able to detect the 
typical human view of greater problems, to antici- 
pate the precise angle at which the ray of a great 
thought strikes the average human mind. The re- 
sult was that he had a unique power of saying 
things that seemed to sum up and consecrate the 
deeper experiences of man. An attempt will be 
made later to estimate his religious position ; but 
it will be enough here to say that it was from the 
first a simple one and grew simpler every year. He 
had a supreme power of seeing the point, and of dis- 
entangling., what is accidental and superficial from 
what is permanent and essential. In his treatment 
of nature this is particularly observable. 


Professor Sidgwick pointed out that Words- 
worth's view of nature is in one respect a 
superficial one ; that he interpreted the external 
aspects of nature, the way in which tree, flower, 
river and plain strike on the eye, the way in which 
the bird's song, the ripple of the stream, or the 
querulous wind, appeal to the ear, and through the 
avenue of sense touch the heart ; but, though 
acutely alive to sensorial impressions, Tennyson 
went deeper, and approached Nature through her 
scientific aspects as well. He discerned, beneath 
the smiling surface of plain and hill, the unplumbed 
depths of the molten tides. Where Wordsworth 
saw the bountiful lavishness of Nature in the leafy 
forest gemmed with life, the meadow starred with 
daifodils, Tennyson found material for dark and 
troubled thought in the desperate waste of Nature, 
her heedless profusion, the capacity of humanity to 
multiply itself, — "the torrent of babies," as he said 
with grim humour. Where Wordsworth saw the 
stars as parts of the human environment, the lamps 
of night, the sentinels of dewy peace, Tennyson's 
thought climbed dizzily into the vast ti*acts of space, 
among the " brushes of fire, beelike swarms " of 
worlds. Science and especially astronomy were sub- 
jects of perennial attraction to Tennyson ; to Words- 
worth they were a profanation, a materialising of 
ethereal thoughts. The latter drew strong fortifica- 
tions round the province of poetry and feared the 


invasion of science as he might have feared the 
attack of a ruthless foe. Tennyson boldly crossed the 
frontier and annexed for ever the province of 
science to the domains of poetry. 

Hence came the extraordinary influence of Tenny- 
son over the more active intellects of his era. New 
thoughts of bewildering intensity, new prospects of 
intense significance were opening on every side. The 
danger to be feared was the seclusion of poetry in 
a world of unreal emotion and elementary sensation. 
But Tennyson by his courageous attitude proved that 
there is no danger to poetry in the awakening of 
wider vision, in the more accurate definition of the 
scientific law. Science, he showed, could touch the 
chords of deeper mysteries, and, far from defining 
the mind of God and confining it within narrower 
limits, it brought the reverent spirit no nearer to 
the solution of the eternal riddle, but only made 
the data richer and more complex. 

The Greeks represented Iris, the rainbow mes- 
senger of the gods, as the daughter of wonder ; 
and to Tennyson the patient investigation of the 
principles and conditions of life, instead of diminish- 
ing the divine wonder, deepened and intensified it. 

It was the same with his treatment of humanity. 
Termyson, unlike most poets, felt a deep and absorb- 
ing interest in the details of practical politics. 
The defence of his country, the extension of the 
franchise, were not to him mere hard distasteful 


facts, things likely to disturb the balance of the 
poetical faculty, but problems on which he thought 
deeply and spoke eagerly. For instance, he said 
once fiercely that he could almost wish England to 
be invaded by France that he might have the pleasure 
of tearing an invader limb from limb. 

It seems clear that his acceptance of his peerage 
was in part at all events dictated by a deep-seated 
desire to have a hand in practical politics ; and thus 
though in the poems in which he touched directly 
on politics — a fault into which in later life he some- 
times fell — he mistakes the quality of poetical 
substance, yet in the earlier utterances on freedom, 
and in those poems where he indicates political 
principles, there is nothing fantastic or unpractical 
in his grip ; he does not vaguely flounder in a region 
where he felt bound to have views, but speaks out 
of the fulness of the heart on matters which were 
not to him questions of academical opinion but of 
deep and vital enthusiasm. 

But all this might have been ineffective if it had 
not been for his magical power of language. His 
technical mastery of his art will be discussed else- 
where, but from the point of view of a conversational- 
ist Tennyson had an extraordinary faculty of finding 
the mot propre, of summing up a situation in the 
tersest and most expressive fashion. His friends 
thought him one of the most impressive of talkers, 
and there is hardly a story about him, where the 


ipsissima verba are given, whether it is a humorous 
comment, or a dignified reflection, or a picturesque 
statement, which does not possess a pecuUar and 
weighty quahty, a homely appropriateness, an un- 
expected juxtaposition which could only be attained 
by one who had a forcible vocabulary at his com- 
mand, and, what is more, within his reach. 

For instance, he said to his friend Locker- Lampson, 
as they sate together, miserably cramped in the top 
gallery of a small blazing and glaring Parisian 
theatre : " Locker, this is like being stuck on a 
spike over hell." Another story may be given in 
the words of his old friend FitzGerald : " We were 
stopping before a shop in Regent Street where were 
two figures of Dante and Goethe. I (I suppose) said, 
' What is there in old Dante's Face that is missing in 
Goethe's .'' ' And Tennyson (whose profile then had 
certainly a remai'kable likeness to Dante's) said, 
'The Divine.' " 

Again, when in The Lotos-Eaters he wrote, de- 
scribing the infinite variety of streams in the island, 
of the stream that leaps from a precipice so high 
that it is entirely disintegrated in its fall and 
reaches the ground like fine rain, — 

A land of streams ! some, like a downward smoke, 
Slow-dropping veils of thinnest lawn. . . . 

some critic found fault with him for going to the 
stage for his descriptions, saying that a revolving 
wreath of loose lawn was the device used in theatres 


to produce the illusion of a waterfall. Tennyson 
of course had not the least idea that this was so. 
But the anecdote shows that he had an extraordinary 
power of catching a resemblance and fixing an 
impression by the one appropriate word. 

There is an amusing story, related by the 
Rev. H. Fletcher of Grasmere, who accompanied 
Matthew Arnold and Tennyson on a walk in the 
Lake country. They came out on a high brow ; at 
their feet far below lay a great expanse of yellow 
mountain pasture, in which a flock of brown- 
fleeced sheep were feeding. Matthew Arnold 
made several interesting but far-fetched comparisons 
of an elaborate kind. "No," said Tennyson, "it 
looks like nothing but a great blanket, full of fleas." 

To illustrate his forcible directness of speech we 
may quote an incident recorded in the Life. 
Some girl in his presence spoke of a marriage, lately 
arranged between two acquaintances of her own, as 
a " penniless " marriage. Tennyson glared, rum- 
maged in his pocket, produced a penny and slapped 
it down before her saying, " There, I give you that ! 
for that is the god you worship." 

Again, to J. R. Green, after a stimulating con- 
versation, the Poet said solemnly, " You're a jolly, 
vivid man — and I'm glad to have known you ; 
you're as vivid as lightning." 

Again he was reading Li/cidas aloud to some 
friends in 1870. When he had done, a girl present said 


that she had never read Paradise Lost. " Shame- 
less daughter of your age," said the Bard. 

The above stories, though the thoughts are not 
exactly conspicuous for brilliance, show a marked 
power of expressing vivid thought in a salient 

His impressiveness of speech was no doubt as- 
sisted by the undoubted majesty and stateliness 
of the Poet's personal appearance. It was not only 
the lofty stature, the domed head, in which he 
resembled Pericles and Walter Scott, the dark com- 
plexion, the eloquent eye, the noble lines drawn by 
age and experience in the face, but there was a 
certain pontifical solemnity, a regal deliberation, 
a rough-hewn dignity, in no sense assumed, which 
lent weight and majesty to all he said and 
did. He possessed the natural kingliness that 
Aristotle attributed to the magnanimous man. In 
whatever rank of life Tennyson had been born, 
however grotesque a calling he had pursued, he 
would have had this unconscious weight in all that 
he did or said. It is hard to give instances of this 
particular quality, because by overawing those who 
passed under its influence it is apt to be subtly felt, 
and to compel a deference willingly given, rather 
than to create situations where it is specially evoked. 
The dignified man has seldom need to defend himself 
against indignity. 

One who knew him well tells me that in later 


years it was impossible to deny that, in spite of his 
obvious desire to be courteous to strangers, he was 
yet undeniably formidable to a preternatural degree. 
It was not only the prestige of his fame, because 
there have been abundance of great men whom in 
private life it has been impossible to fear. But a 
sort of awful majesty enveloped Tennyson. His 
enormous size, the stateliness of his walk, his slow 
sonorous voice, his noble head with its mass of 
hair, and the strange peering look, slowly brought 
to bear upon his interlocutor, all heightened the 
feeling of personal awe. He was in manner sim- 
plicity itself; but in his case this simplicity did not 
make him more accessible ; it only gave the feeling 
that he would express exactly what he felt whether 
it was approval or disapproval, encouragement or 
censure ^ ; his greatness made it impossible to meet 
him on the equal terms which he no doubt expected 
and assumed to exist ; and he was consequently ex- 
tremely disconcerting to people of shy or highly 
strung temperament. 

Even Jowett, the subtle fencer with words, the 
refrigerator of timid conversationalists, was by no 
means at his ease with Tennyson ; or rather he 
was very much on his good behaviour, like a school- 
boy with a master who is mainly good-tempered 

1 Mrs. Oliphant relates that Tennyson, in his own house, after 
listening in silence to an interchange of amiable compliments be- 
tween herself and Mrs. Tennyson, said abruptly, " What liars 
you women are ! " 


but of uncertain mood ; he was tentative, amiable, 
nervous under the genial but highly flavoui-ed banter 
with which the Bard plied him ; he was complimen- 
tary, anxious to avert a social crisis — and if this was 
the case with an old and valued friend, what must it 
have been with younger and more sensitive admirers. 
The Poet possessed in a remarkable degree the 
power of attachment in friendship not less than in 
love. But he rather demanded affection than gave 
it ; and it is plain that his absorption in his work 
and his active interest in the details of life saved 
him from much suffering. It is strange that the 
Avriter of one of the greatest and completest of 
elegies should not, in respect to his relations with 
human beings, give the impression of being a "man 
of sorrows and acquainted with grief." His affec- 
tions were essentially of a tranquil kind. His 
friends found him invariably the same, but it may 
be doubted whether in their absence he thought 
very much about them. The story of his rupture 
with Coventry Patmore will illustrate this. When 
Coventry Patmore's first wife died, the two poets 
being close friends — indeed Coventry Patmore 
divided his friends into two classes, of which one was 
" Tennyson " and the other was " the rest " — Temiy- 
son neither went to see him, nor wrote him a single 
line of sympathy on the sad event. Mrs. Tennyson, 
indeed, thinking that Mrs. Patmore's illness must 
have entailed heavy expense on Patmore, and that 


he was a poor man, arranged an application to the 
Premier for some bounty or pension to assist him at 
a crisis so sad. This Temiyson signed, and it is the 
only indication of interest that he manifested. 
Coventry Patmore wrote and asked him to come and 
see him ; of which letter Tennyson took no notice, 
saying many years after that it had never reached him. 

For nearly twenty years there was a complete 
rupture of relations which had been extraordinarily 
intimate. Tennyson seems occasionally to have 
expressed a mild wonder that Patmore had given 
him up, but it did not extend so far as to induce 
him to write a letter asking if anything was amiss. 
Patmore is perhaps to blame for not having unravelled 
the matter further, but he certainly had reason for 
thinking that Tennyson's conduct was unfeeling. 

In any case the two attached friends, the poet of 
Friendship and the poet of Domestic Love, fell into 
an entire silence which lasted for twenty years, for 
a misunderstanding which a letter from either might 
have dispelled. 

Such a story, though it is not inconsistent with 
an affectionate temperament, gives no hint of the 
intense personal devotion, the hungering eager- 
ness for sight and speech which are generally 
characteristic of affectionate natures. One sees the 
child here as all through. A child can be truly 
loving, irresistibly impelled to create and enjoy an 
atmosphere of affection about itself — but without 


very deep attachment, and needing to live sur- 
rounded by looks and words of love rather than to 
be slow in maturing love and affection, and inconsol- 
able without the presence of particular objects of 
the desire of the heart. 

The natural melancholy of Tennyson's tempera- 
ment must here be noted. He was probably, like 
most melancholy men, happier more often than he 
knew ; he thawed, mostly in the evening, under the 
influences of conversation, wine and tobacco, into an 
irresistibly genial and sociable mood ; but it was of 
the nature of distraction ; and left to himself the 
spirit fell back with singular helplessness down the 
rugged ascent into the dark pool. There hung a 
cloud over him from day to day, say those who knew 
him best. He often sighed, he often complained of 
his own unhappiness. But it must often have been, 
as Gray said, of his own depression, a good easy sort 
of a state, and well suited for the exercise of poetical 
meditation : a conscious burden, no doubt, but not 
necessarily an uncongenial atmosphere for poetry 
to rise and flower in. 

Another characteristic trait of Tennyson was his 
extraordinary sensitiveness. He used to say that 
his skin was typical of his mental temperament, 
that a fleabite would spread an inch over the sur- 
face. His sensitiveness to criticism was abnormal. 
He used to admit that he was indifferent to praise 
and that he could not bear blame. An adverse 


criticism was to him a personal matter. He was 
apt to attribute it to definite malignity, or to in- 
tolerable ignorance. A friend tells me that he 
went from the house of a dignitary of the Church 
to stay with Tennyson ; and he repeated some criti- 
cism that had been made by his host on Queen 
Maiy, which he had pronounced to be a stately 
poem but unsuitable to the stage. Tennyson swept 
aside the praise and settled upon the criticism with 
extraordinary persistence. Again and again he re- 
verted to it with a somewhat painful iteration. 
The following day when the guest departed Tenny- 
son came to say good-bye, and with great solemnity 
said, "Tell your friend — the Canon" (with ironical 
emphasis) "that he doesn't know what the drama 
is ! " Again a friend of his tells me that when she 
was staying at Farringford, some one brought there 
a school magazine in which there was a disparaging 
allusion to the Poet. She says that it was most 
painful to see how for days the words burned in his 
mind like a poisoned wound ; no matter what subject 
was started, no matter how much interested he 
himself became in pursuing a train of thought, he 
always came back to the same grievance. No 
amount of influence with other minds it seemed 
could atone for what " these young gentlemen" 
had said. Such stories could be multiplied in- 
definitely. But he was true to his principles in 
the matter, treating others as he desired to be 


treated, and though a master of personal invective, 
as is shown by the hnes on Bulwer Lytton, he 
resolutely suppressed it in his writings, except in 
an impersonal way. The picture of the pious 
company promoter in Sea Dreams is sketched by 
the hand of a powerful satirist. He hated spiteful- 
ness above all things. He was told that the 
celebrated lines in Maud, about the coal mine, had 
given offence to worthy owners ; he replied with the 
utmost indignation, " Sooner than wound any one 
in such a spiteful fashion, I would consent never 
to write again ; yea, to have my hand cut off at 
the wrist." 

Undoubtedly the sheltered atmosphere in which 
he lived tended to increase these characteristics. 
Guarded from the world by an intensely loyal and 
loving wife, and by a son whose filial devotion was 
more of a passion than a sentiment, he missed the 
equality of criticism which might, as with a subtle 
file, have worn down the angles of personality. 
There was something, too, as I have said, majestic 
and unapproachable about his personal dignity 
which was apt to compel admiring deference. 
Thus, like royal personages, he passed the later 
years of his life in a somewhat unreal atmosphere 
of subtle subservience. But it must be added that 
there were few people who could have borne the 
adulation which was so freely lavished on him 
without far greater enervation of character. His 


house became a place of pilgrimage, and his natural 
simplicity led him to talk easily of himself, his 
tastes and prejudices. No doubt the one thing 
desired by all pilgrims is that the object of their 
devotion should tell them something about himself ; 
and one of the reasons which makes pilgrimages to 
see a great man so disappointing is that the hero 
so rarely talks on the one subject that brings his 
visitors to the place. But this was not Tennyson's 
way. He was generally ready to read his poems 
and to talk about them. Probably there is no poet 
about whom so many authentic traditions exist as 
to lines which he praised as "the best he ever 
wrote." Carried away by the impulse of the 
moment, and sincerely approving of some line which 
was under discussion, the Bard, with an almost 
Oriental instinct of hospitality, fell easily into a vein 
which he knew would delight his hearers. 

Tennyson was, in a way, extraordinarily shy ; 
an eager questioner, a timorous child, a nervous 
visitor would freeze him into gloomy silence ; 
on the other hand with people of tranquil 
and self-possessed manner, who talked easily and 
naturally, and who showed decorous deference 
without inconvenient curiosity, he was expansive, 
humorous and natural. He alternated between 
what appeared to be excessive rudeness, when he 
was in fact only thinking aloud — as when he asked 
a child who was introduced to him why his hand 


felt like a toad ^ — and the most tender and consider- 
ate courtesy ; it all depended upon his mood ; some- 
times he was a model of noble deference to old 
people, whether venerable or not. Yet O. W. 
Holmes, then aged nearly eighty, after a visit to 
Tennyson, gently complained to a friend, " He did 
not realise, I think, that I am an old man, and accus- 
tomed to being treated kindly." 

Speaking once of the secret of oratory he said, 
" I am never the least shy before great men. Each 
of them has a personality for which he or she is 
responsible ; but before a crowd which consists of 
many personalities, of which I know nothing, I am 
infinitely shy. The great orator cares nothing about 
all this. I think of the good man, and the bad man, 
and the mad man, that may be among them, and 
can say nothing. He takes them all as one man. 
He sways them as one man." 

Another characteristic demands a word. Tenny- 
son had in conversation a virile freshness which 
led him to speak in the plainest terms on 
subjects which are seldom discussed in detail in 
ordinary society. The same vigorous humanity 
which made him say that any port Avhich was 

^ No doubt he had a line of Herrick's in his mind from Another 
Grace for a Child : — 

Here a little child I stand 

Heaving up my either hand 

Cold as paddocks though they be, etc. 



"sweet and black and strong enough" was good 
enough for him, made his talk on occasions 
Rabelaisian from its plainness. This fact is worth 
mentioning because in his poems he is like Virgil, 
delicate almost to the verge of prudery ; though such 
a poem as Lucretius showed plainly enough that this 
delicacy was the result of deliberate theory and not 
of natural temperament. There can be no better 
proof that this outspoken tendency was real frank- 
ness, and untainted by the least shadow of pruri- 
ence, than the fact that there is no poet ancient or 
modern who could be put with such supreme and 
entire confidence in the hands of the most maidenly 
of readers ; and that the instinct for purity was so 
strong as to be held almost to emasculate his work. 
When Tennyson wrote of " the poisonous honey 
brought from France " a well-known writer whose 
moral outlook is less austere retorted by speaking 
of the "Laureate's domestic treacle." 

Tennyson rated humour very high ; in a letter to 
his futui'e wife he said solemnly that she would 
find it in most great writers — even in the Gospel of 
Christ. Among his own writings the dialect poems 
show how strong and genuine a vein of humour he 
himself possessed. He was fond of amusing anec- 
dotes and told them well ; but he had as well a 
strong vein of original and native picturesque- 
ness of a humorous kind in conversation. What 
could be more delightful than his comment on a novel 



of Miss Yonge'Sj which he read with profound 
absorption, suffering nothing to distract him ? At 
last he closed the book and laid it down, saying 
with an air of inexpressible relief, " I see land ! 
Harry is going to be confirmed." 

He had an immense admiration for Miss Austen 
as a writer. He once made a pilgrimage to Lyme 
Regis, to study the scene of Persuasion ; one 
of the company, a person of well-regulated mind, 
made some allusion to the Duke of Monmouth. 
" Don't talk to me of Monmouth," said Tennyson 
sternly, "but show me the exact spot where Louisa 
Musgrove fell ! " 

But the most humorous effects of his conversation 
were produced by a certain mystic solemnity of 
phrase or grim exaggeration, greatly enhanced by 
his stateliness of enunciation. 

Travelling in Switzerland he was much annoyed 
by a terrible smell which prevailed at a spot from 
which there was a view of a famous waterfall. He 
said pathetically that he was painfully sensitive to 
such impressions, and that the atrocious smell and 
the magnificent prospect would be for ever insepar- 
ably connected in his mind — adding sententiously, 
" This is an age of lies, and it is also an age of stinks." 

At the sight of the tail of a great glacier loaded 
with dirty debris, he said, " That glacier is a filthy 
thing ; it looks as if a thousand London seasons 
had passed over it." 


When the Metaphysical Society was founded in 
I869, the Poet said, apropos of a somewhat acrid dis- 
cussion which had taken place, " Modern Society 
ought at all events to have taught men to separate 
light from heat," words which were adopted as the 
motto of the society. 

On one occasion, says the legend, Tennyson was 
walking with a friend, and, stumbling in getting 
over a stile, fell to the ground ; — it seems that 
though muscularly strong he was always clumsy 
— his friend, knowing his dislike both of being 
helped and also of having such incidents witnessed, 
walked on a few paces, and turning round saw that 
Tennyson had made no effort to rise, but was lying 
with his face extended over a little muddy pool by 
the hedgerow, overgrown with duck-weed. Think- 
ing that the Poet had dropped something in his 
fall, and was looking for it, he returned. Tennyson 
raised himself slowly on his hands and knees, and 
turned a face, dim with rapt and serious contem- 
plation, upon him, saying in a deep tone, "T , 

what an imagination God Almighty has ! " This 
exclamation was drawn from him by the sight of 
the little pool, with its myriad and dainty forms of 
infusorial life and beauty, all fresh from the mind 
of God. 

In 1887 he went to see his eldest brother 
Frederick, who was greatly occupied with the phe- 
nomena of Spiritualism, and who tried to persuade 


the Laureate to go seriously into the question. The 
Poet heard him patiently, and then said with great 
emphasis, " I am convinced that God and the 
ghosts of men would choose something other than 
mere table-legs through which to speak to the 
heart of man." 

On another occasion he said with humorous sad- 
ness that the sense of religion in England was of 
a very precarious order. "The general English 
view of God is as of an immeasurable clergy- 

He was very fond of the story of the Duke of 
Wellington, who was piloted over a crowded 
crossing by an enthusiastic stranger. The Duke 
put his hand into his pocket as if about to reward 
his benefactor, when the stranger said hysterically 
that the only reward he desired was to be allowed 
to shake the hand of the great conqueror. To 

which the Duke replied, "Don't be a d d 

fool ! " Commenting on this Tennyson said that 
the answer was almost as great in its way as 
the battle of Waterloo — adding, "A Frenchman 
would have answered, ' Mais, oui ! on m'appelle le 
grand ! ' " 

He was always very indignant over the desire to 
invade the privacy of great men. He said once to 
Mr. Palgrave that if he had in his hands an auto- 
biography of Horace, the only copy in existence, he 
would burn it ; Sir Henry Taylor, in his Autohio- 


graphy, quotes a delightful undated letter, written 
by Mrs. Cameron about the year I860, which con- 
tains a forcible diatribe of Tennyson's on the 
subject : — 

"He was very violent with the girls on the 
subject of the rage for autographs. He said he 
believed every crime and every vice in the world 
were connected with the passion for autographs 
and anecdotes and records ; that the desiring 
anecdotes and acquaintance with the lives of great 
men was treating them like pigs, to be ripped 
open for the public ; that he knew he himself 
should be ripped open like a pig ; that he thanked 
God Almighty with his whole heart and soul that 
he knew nothing, and that the world knew nothing 
of Shakespeare but his writings ; and that he thanked 
God Almighty that he knew nothing of Jane Austen, 
and that there were no letters preserved either of 
Shakespeare's or Jane Austen's, that they had not 
been ripped open like pigs. Then he said that the 
post for two days had brought him no letters, and 
that he thought there was a sort of syncope in the 
world as to him and his fame." 

The unconscious transition in the last remark 
to the egotistic vein is as characteristic as the 
violence of the earlier words. 

I have sometimes wondered whether the simile 
at the beginning of Sea Dreams was dictated by a 
subtle sense of humour or no. After describing 



the slender savings of the city clerk, so precariously 
invested, he adds : — 

As tlie little thrift 
Trembles in perilous places o'er the deep. 

Neither was he averse to practical humour. An 
American visitor describes how he first saw Tenny- 
son driving in a small pony- carriage with one of 
his grandchildren ; they had exchanged hats ; and 
the child sate with his head enveloped in the huge 
black wide-awake that was so characteristic of the 
Poet, while Tennyson wore perched at the top of 
his great head with its flowing curls a small straw 
sailor's hat. He made no attempt to change or 
lay aside this head-dress, and conducted the inter- 
view without embarrassment or loss of gravity. 

Again, in 1879, the Laureate met the present 
Queen at Mrs. Greville's in Chester Square. The 
Princess asked Tennyson to read her the Welcome 
to Alexandra. Tennyson did so, and when he had 
finished, the fact of the reading his own compli- 
mentary poem aloud to the Princess struck him as 
so ludicrous, that he dropped the book and fell into 
uncontrollable laughter, which was cordially re- 
echoed by the Princess herself. 

Such, then, was the man — simple, wise, laborious, 
impressive, trenchant, outspoken, yet sensitive 
withal, self-absorbed and moody ; with the heart 
of a child, the vision of a poet, and the faith of a 


mystic, in a mighty, rugged, vigorous frame, full 
of strong animal and human impulse ; living a 
life that tended to develop both the good and the 
evil of his (temperament ; for the seclusion and ease 
that makes divine dreams possible is also a soil in 
which the frailties, passions and vanities of human 
nature burgeon and flower, " Prophecy," said 
George Eliot, " is of all the mistakes we commit the 
most gratuitous ; " prophecy in the pluperfect sub- 
junctive — what might have been — is more gratui- 
tous still. But FitzGerald, who knew and grasped 
the strength and weakness of Tennyson's character, 
was strongly of opinion that Tennyson's life had 
not had an entirely wholesome effect upon him — 
and no one had better opportunities of realising 
the dangers of the sheltered life than FitzGerald. 
The latter, writing in 1876 (24th October) to Mrs. 
Kemble, and speaking of the captain of his sailing- 
boat, a majestic and tranquil personage, whom he 
much admired and respected, he said, " I thought 
that both Tennyson and Thackeray were inferior 
to him in respect of Thinking of Themselves. 
When Tennyson was telling me of how the Quarterly 
abused him (humorously too), and desirous of 
knowing why one did not care for his later works, 
etc., I thought that if he had lived an active Life, 
as Scott and Shakespeare ; or even ridden, shot, 
drunk, and played the Devil, as Byron, he would 
have done much more, and talked about it much 


less. 'You know/ said Scott to Lockhart, 'that 
I don't care a curse about what I write/ and one 
sees he did not. I don't believe it was far other- 
wise with Shakespeare. Even old Wordsworth, 
wrapped up in his Mountain mists, and proud as 
he was, was above all this vain Disquietude : 
proud, not vain, was he : and that a Great Man 
(as Dante) has some right to be — but not to care 
what the Coteries say." 

This is a charming and subtle piece of criticism 
— but probably only contains a half-truth. It is 
too much in the line of Carlyle's dictum that Tenny- 
son was a life-guardsman spoiled by writing poetry. 
But there are plenty of life -guardsmen, and we 
cannot sacrifice a poet. A price must be paid for 
everything ; and though we may not think Tenny- 
son's attitude entirely manly or philosophical, we 
may be thankful for the life, which at the cost of 
some superficial pettiness, was at all events deliber- 
ately pursued, with a high sense of vocation, and 
the fruit of which was so abundant and so gracious. 


TENNYSON'S creed was a simple one, and 
grew simpler as he grew older. The two 
cardinal points of his faith were his beli ef in God, 
and his belief in the immortality of m an, j On these 
great thoughts the life of his soul was nourished, — 
the Fatherhood of God, and the Life of the World 
to come. 

He said once, in memorable words, to Mr. 
Knowles, " There's a something that watches over 
us ; and our individuality endures : that's my faith, 
and that's all my faith." 

He seems to have been brought up in a simple. 
Christian, almost Calvinistic creed, and there is little 
evidence at any period of agonising doubt, any 
uprooting of the vital principles of religion. If 
there was any such fuller testimony it is buried in 
sacred silence ; perhaps the conflict was fought out 
in his own heart. Possibly the letters to Arthur 
Hallam, which were destroyed after the death of 
the latter, would have contained some details of the 
inner struggle, if such struggle there were ; but 


more probably there was only a gradual transition 
of thought. His own feeling about the preservation 
and making public of such records was so strong 
that we must acquiesce in the destruction of these 
valuable letters ; though we may be allowed to 
regret it in no inquisitive spirit, but because it 
might have helped those whose belief was less 
firmly based to study reverently the processes by 
which so strong and vital a faith was arrived at. 

There is extant an unfinished prayer, which he 
composed as a boy, which leaves no doubt that he 
accepted Christian dogmas in the most mechanical 
and literal way ; but when he went to Cambridge 
the question was brought before him in a more 
personal manner. 

The most interesting autobiographical document 
among the earlier poems is the Supposed Confessions, 
so the somewhat cumbrous title runs, of a Second-rate 
Sensitive Mind not in Unity with Itsef. This poem, 
which belongs to the 1830 volume, was not re- 
printed till 1872, when it appeared in the Juvenilia 
with seventeen lines omitted. 

We note, in the first place, that this is the most 
definitely Christian poem which Tennyson ever 
wrote ; it speaks of the Birth and Passion of Christ 
in terms which imply if not a belief, at least a 
desirous hope in the doctrines of the Incarnation 
and the Atonement. Probably Tennyson would 
have resented the too close application of the poem 


to his own case ; indeed there is a passage in the 
poem in which the soliloquist speaks of his dead 
mother which looks like a deliberate attempt to 
give an environment not his own to the poem. But 
on the other hand it has an intimite which makes it 
impossible to regard it in any light but the autobio- 
gx'aphical ; such a poem cannot be simply dramatic, 
and indeed in Tennyson's case the dramatic impulse 
had hardly even begun to flower at the time when 
it was written. His suppression of the poem, too, 
appears to indicate that he felt it, with his extreme 
love of privacy, to be too urgent a self-revelation, 
that he had allowed himself "to tear his heart 
before the crowd." 

The difficulty which meets the reader of the 
poem at the outset is this : what is the precise 
catastrophe that is indicated ? In words which 
seem to deplore a loss of faith the speaker appears 
to reiterate and affirm the conviction that faith is 
the one thing left him in a hopeless world. Per- 
haps it may be held to be a revelation of the process 
by which a mechanical faith becomes vital ; the 
supposed speaker seems to say that his faith is 
deserting him, and that he cannot revivify it ; he 
appears to be in the condition of one who has held 
an unquestioning creed, which has never been put 
to the supreme test, has never encountered a crisis 
such as might lead the believer to find that 
such a faith was not enough to meet, with ample 


reserves, the darkest experience of life. Then there 
falls one of the "moods of misery unutterable," 
which sometimes beset an imaginative nature of 
hitherto tranquil experiences on the threshold of 
real life ; such a nature, living vividly, if not happily, 
in the present, and still more in the future, realises 
how rapidly both present and future become merged 
in the past, how incredibly short life is when com- 
pared with the infinite dreams in which the hopeful 
mind has indulged ; the thought of death and the 
dark after-world rises in unimagined horror ; the 
world seems one gloomy necropolis — " Mixta senura 
et juvenum densentur funera ; null urn Saeva caput 
Proserpina fugit," as the old poet said. 

Then the faith which has been tranquil, mechani- 
cal, customary, rings hollow ; it cannot bear the 
strain ; and the poem is a cry for a faith which may 
gleam and sparkle like a sunlit sea beyond the dark 
tracts of death. 

Oh, teach me yet 
Somewhat before the heavy clod 
Weighs on me, and the busy fret 
Of that sharp-headed worm begins 
In the gross blackness underneath. 

The mood struggles, as it were, to the very threshold 
of faith and finds the door shut ; tlien the impulse 
suddenly flags, the dreary cloud descends again 
upon the soul. 

Not only is the motive of the poem not charac- 

FAITH 109 

teristic of the writer, but the very scheme of rhyme 
and tone of language are un-Tennysonian ; long 
sentences of dubious structure shape themselves 
independent of the crisp form of the metre. The 
images, the expressions are sometimes characteristic, 
but one cannot help wondering whether, if the 
poem had been sedulously withheld from publica- 
tion, and had long after appeared anonymously, the 
most perspicuous critic would have traced the 
authorship unhesitatingly. One can imagine indeed 
a critic of the advanced theological German school 
declaring emphatically against the genuineness of 
the poem on both internal and external grounds. 

Still it contains passages or rather expressions of 
rare and singular beauty ; and as a window into the 
writer's soul it is of inexpressible interest. 

I think it is clear that after this date his mind 
broke gradually away to a certain extent from 
precise dogmatic Christian doctrine ; or rather that, 
as his faith in essentials grew more vital, he rested 
less in dogmatic religion than in the deepest and 
simplest truths. I imagine that he looked upon a 
dogmatic symbol as he might have looked upon a 
piece of parliamentary drafting, as containing a 
truth or a principle but involved in subtle legal 
definition, and not in itself inspiring or fruitful for 
the ordinary mind. 

That he regarded the Person and teaching of 
Christ with the deepest reverence is clear enough. 


He wrote in 1 839 to his future wife, that he was 
staying with "an old friend" at Mablethorpe. 
" He and his wife," he writes, " are two perfectly 
honest Methodists. When I came, I asked her 
after news, and she replied, ' Why, Mr. Tennyson, 
there is only one piece of news that I know, that 
Christ died for all men.' And I said to her : ' That 
is old news and good news and new news ; ' where- 
with the good woman seemed satisfied. I was half 
yesterday reading anecdotes of Methodist ministers, 
and liking to read them too . . . and of the teaching 
of Christ, that purest light of God." 

Long after he spoke of Christ as " that union of 
man and woman, sweetness and strength." But 
he was not a habitual attendant upon the worship 
of the Church, and it is significant to note that in 
his closing years (1892), when he received the 
Communion in his study at Freshwater, he solemnly 
quoted his own words, put into Cranmer's mouth, 
before he partook : — 

It is but a commuuion, not a mass : 
No sacrifice, but a life-giving feast ; 

impressing upon the clergyman that he could not 
partake of it at all, unless it were administered in 
that sense. 

Once indeed a visitor ventured to ask him, as 
they were walking in the garden, what he thought 
of our Saviour. He said nothing at first, then he 


stopped by a beautiful flower, and said, " What the 
sun is to that flower, Jesus Christ is to my soul. He 
is the Sun of my soul." 

Tennyson said that Christianity, with its Divine 
morality, but without the central figure of Christ, 
the Son of Man, would become cold ; and that it 
is fatal for religion to lose its warmth ; that The 
Son of Man was the most tremendous title possible ; 
that the forms of Christian religion would alter, but 
that the Spirit of Christ would grow from more to 
more " in the roll of the ages ; " that his line, 

Ring ill the Christ that is to be, 

"points to the time when Christianity without 
bigotry will triumph, when the controversies of 
creeds shall have vanished." 

" I am always amazed," he said, " when I read 
the New Testament at the splendour of Christ's 
purity and holiness, and at His infinite pity." 

The above sayings are enough to show the pro- 
found reverence with which Tennyson regarded 
Chi'ist, as the perfect exemplar of humanity. But 
the deep mystery of the union of the human and 
Divine was evidently a thought which he did not 
attempt to fathom, and we may perhaps say that 
his mind turned more naturally to the possibility of 
the believer's direct union with God than to the 
more definite Christian conception of the union 
through Christ. It is of course inevitable that 


certain aspects of faith should come home with 
greater force to some minds than to others, and I 
think it is clear that this particular aspect of the 
question was not one on which his mind dwelt 
serenely and habitually. 

We will turn then to the definite side of his faith, 
and try to indicate the lines on which it moved. 
He seems in those silent years, of which so little 
record is left, to have made up his mind that a life 
without faith, without religion, was impossible. 
As he wrote to his future wife, " What matters it 
how much man knows and does if he keep not a 
reverential looking upward ? He is only the subtlest 
beast in the field." 

At the same time he seems to have grown to 
feel that for him, at all events, the secret did not 
lie in the subtleties of religious definition. " The 
Almighty will not ask you," he once said, "what 
particular form of creed you have held, but ' Have 
you been true to yourself, and given in my Name " a 
cup of cold water to one of these little ones ? " '" 

Yet he sometimes seemed to hanker after a more 
definite faith ; speaking of his friend and neighbour, 
W. G. Ward, he said once, " If I had Ward's blind 
faith, I should always be happy." He saw, more- 
over, the necessity of a working system in matters 
of religion, and the danger of vagueness. "An 
organised religion," he once said, "is the needful 
guardian of morality." 


Dr. Martineau said that Tennyson's poetry had 
"a dissolving influence upon over-definite dogmatic 
creeds:" but that he had created, or immeasur- 
ably intensified, the susceptibility to religious 

He studied, particularly after his marriage, the 
Bible very closely, and also made himself acquainted 
with the chief systems of philosophy. His con- 
clusion was a certain terror of minute scientific 
analysis in matters of religion. " Nothing worth 
proving can be proven, ' he said. At the same time 
he had the greatest horror of the sacrifice of religion 
to reason. "I hate unfaith," he said, "I cannot 
endure that men should sacrifice everything at the 
cold altar of what with their imperfect knowledge 
they choose to call truth and reason." The whole 
drift of In Memuriam is that humanity will not and 
cannot acquiesce in a godless world ; and the two 
principles by which Tennyson tried to guide his 
life were the Fatherhood of God, implying the 
possibility of the direct union of the soul with God 
— and the hope of iminortality. 

" My most passionate desire," he said, " is to have 
a clearer and fuller vision of God," adding revei*- 
ently, " I can sympathise with God in my poor 
little way." Freewill, he thought, was the intimate 
connection between the human and Divine. 

"We see," he once said, "the shadow of God in 
the world — a distorted shadow. Faith must be our 


guide ; " again^ "The flesh is the vision^ the spiritual 
the only real and true." 

Speaking of the character of Arthur in the 
Idi/Us, he said, " For Arthur and for every one 
who believes in the Word, however interpreted, the 
question arises, * How can I in my little life, in my 
small measure, and in my limited sphere reflect 
this highest Ideal ? ' " 

"God reveals himself," he said, "in every indi- 
vidual soul, and my idea of heaven is the perpetual 
ministry of one soul to another." 

It was this intense belief in the Divine principle 
in the world that made Jowett say of him that " he 
had a strong desire to vindicate the ways of God 
to man." 

In his belief in the possibility of the union 
between the human spirit and God, he wrote and 
thought as a mystic. He believed in prayer, but 
he recognised that the increasing difficulty in the 
way of the scientific defining of prayer was the 
extended knowledge of the laws that prevail in the 
natural world. In his own life the need of prayer 
became greater and more urgent, but the forms 
of prayer became less definite. As Wordsworth 
wrote : — 

Thought was not, in emotion it espii-ed ; 

No thanks he breathed, he proffered no request. 

"Prayer," Tennyson said, "is the opening a 
sluice between the ocean and the little channel.' 


No less strong was his perfect faith in personal 
immortality. Praising Goethe as one of the wisest 
of men, he quoted with approbation Goethe's 
words : " I hope I shall never be so weak-minded 
as to let my belief in a future life be torn from 

"I can hardly understand/" he once said, "how \ 
any great, imaginative man, who has deeply lived, I 
suffered, thought and wrought can doubt of the 
Soul's continuous progress in the after life.'' " The 
instinct for another life is a presumption of its 
truth," he once said. 

The letters that he wrote to those suffering under 
bereavements have the same fervent belief in im- 
mortality expressed. To a friend who had lost a 
son he wrote : — 

" My own belief is that the son whom you so 
loved is not really what we call dead, but more 
actually living than when alive here." 

To Lord Houghton, on the death of his wife, he 
wrote, " I think I can see, as far as any one can 
see in this twilight, that the nobler nature does not 
pass from its individuality when it passes out of 
this one life." 

But this faith was not a vague and dreamlike 
emotion, but sternly practical. He used to speak 
of the war of sense and soul, the spreading poison 
of sin, the transmuting power of repentance, 
"Motive," he said, ''consecrates life." 


Speaking of a boy going up to the university he 
said with great emphasis : — 

"A young man ought not to be a bundle of 
sensations ; he ought to have selfless and adven- 
turous heroism, not to shirk responsibilities, to cast 
aside maudlin and introspective morbidities, to use 
his powers cheerfully in obedience to the dictates 
of moral consciousness." "Can he," he added, 
"battle against bad instincts, can he brave public 
opinion in the cause of truth ? " 

Again he said of himself, " I see the nothingness 
of life, I know its emptiness — but I believe in Love 
and Virtue and Duty." 

He felt, as he grew older, the despondency caused 
by decreased energy, that despondency which be- 
trayed itself in the pessimism of some of his later 
poems, but he said, " In my age I have a 
stronger faith in God and human good even than 
in youth." 

This faith was accompanied by a strong sense of 
the battle waged within himself with lower in- 
stincts. In one of Hallam's early letters to him 
occurs the passage, " You say pathetically, ' Alas 
for me, I have more of the beautiful than the good.' " 
Hallam goes on to say that " the fact that he should 
recognise this and sorrow over it was in itself an 
indication of the eventual triumph of the Divine." 
And this triumph was won. It has been held by 
those who teach that Art must be followed entirely 


and solely for its own sake, that Tennyson's art 
was vitiated by the moral purpose it reveals. The 
question is not one to be discussed here ; but it 
may be said that Tennyson considered this view to 
be almost blasphemous, and sacrificing the deeper 
truth of life to the more superficial. 

" Art for art — and Man's sake,' ' he said, had 
always been his principle. 

The humility which lay beneath a certain super- 
ficial vanity is touchingly illustrated by his pathetic 
words when his son Hallam, then at school, was 
seriously ill : — 

" God will take him," he said, " pure and good, 
straight from his mother's lessons. Surely it would 
be better for him than to grow up such a one as 
I am." 

This, then, was his faith ; not the faith that cannot 
be content without parcelling out its information 
into scientific sections, but a deep sense of mystery 
and humility, a firm belief in the great purposes of 
God for man. "There is no answer," he said, "to 
these questions except in a quiet hope of universal 
good." He held, too, the conviction that the one 
thing needful in the world was a deeply rooted 
vital faith, on which all the aspirations and pro- 
gress of humanity must be based, " We cannot 
give up," he said, "the mighty hopes that make us 

It seems to be claimed, or perhaps hoped, by the 


ardent upholders of Tennyson that he is destined 
to survive as a religious philosopher and that he 
has defined the attitude of Faith to Science, estab- 
lished some invincible position in religion. The 
hope is destined to disappointment : Tennyson's 
philosophy was probably always considered ele- 
mentary by the advanced school. Of course, in one 
sense, his influence is permanent, as all influence 
that is strongly felt at any period of the intellectual 
or moral life of a nation is permanent ; because it 
contained the seed of future development and is 
in itself an integral link in the chain ; but the 
data are different now, and the disposition of the 
struggle is changed. Further, Tennyson established 
nothing ; the most he did was to express with pro- 
found emotion, and in language of admirable beauty, 
the fact that, as Henry Sidgwick said, there is, or 
seems to be, an inalienable modicum of faith which 
humanity is bound to retain, and will not be per- 
suaded to reject. But we must face the fact that 
even if that faith is universally retained, it may be 
that it will embrace a different scheme, and cling 
to points which Tennyson considered unessential, 
while it abandons what he held to be indubitable. 
It may be, we say — for the coui"se of philosophical 
discovery is impossible to predict. 

But even if Tennyson's axioms should be rejected, 
it still may be that his profound sincerity, his 
poignant emotion in the presence of the deepest 


mysteries, and above all the lucid solemnity, the 
stately dignity of his language, will continue to 
make his work a permanent monument of the 
human spirit ; as permanent, that is, as any trophy 
of the human mind can dare to claim to be. 


IT is interesting to attempt to trace the literary 
influences and to discuss the writers on which 
the genius of Tennyson was nurtured. As a child he 
seems to have read Byron, Thomson, Pope — whom 
he called " a consummate artist in the lower sense of 
the term" — and Walter Scott. It is noticeable 
that many of the early poems are mere Byronic 
exercises. He improvised hundreds of hues in the 
style of Pope, and he ^vl•ote an early epic in the 
style of Walter Scott. He was attracted by 
Thomson's descriptions of nature and wrote with 
facility in imitation of him. At the age of twelve 
he wrote a long critical letter to an aunt on the 
subject of Samson (spelt Sampson) Agonistes, 
mainly composed of quotations, in which he pro- 
nounces Milton a pedant. It is not recorded what 
his favourite poetical reading was before he went 
to the university, but he must have read Milton 
carefully, and the influence of Keats is distinctly 
traceable in the Cambridge prize poem on Tim- 
buctoo ; there are, too, curious traces of the study 


of Shelley in The Lover's Tale of 1833, after which 
date the direct influence of other poetry on his 
style seems to have ceased ; he himself stated that 
in later years nothing that he wrote was consciously 

But from that time to the end of his life a large 
number of very acute and sympathetic critical dicta 
on literary matters are recorded. Mr. Lecky in 
the interesting reminiscences which he wrote of the 
poet says that he was an admirable critic, and that 
he was especially qualified for critical discriminations 
by his great delicacy of ear and his retentive verbal 
memory. Mr. Gladstone called him "a candid, 
strict and fastidious judge " of literature, and there 
is little doubt that if he had devoted himself to 
critical work he would have left eminently sound, 
sure-footed and discriminating judgments. 

The best proof, however, of his knowledge and 
taste is The Golden Treasury of 1861, edited by F. 
T. Palgrave, who, it is well known, was very 
largely indebted to the catholic erudition and fine 
feeling of Tennyson. 

It will be interesting to indicate his chief prefer- 
ences in poetry and to examine his criticisms. They 
were mostly delivered in conversation, but it is to 
be noted that his judgment does not seem to have 
varied according to his mood, but that he had a con- 
stant and formed opinion which was little modified. 

He approached literatux'e in the spirit of pure 


appreciation. He never professed to be a learned 
student or to have made an exhaustive study of the 
poetry which he admired. He wrote in 1885 to 
Dr. Grosart, " I am very unlearned, not only in 
Spenser but in most of our old poets, and I delight 
(not being a Bibliophile) rather in the ' consummate 
flower ' of a writer, than in the whole of him, root 
and all, bad and good together. ..." 

For Shakespeare he had the profoundest admira- 
tion, as for a writer almost superhuman, classing 
him with ^Eschylus, Dante and Goethe, as "the 
great Sage poets, great thinkers and great artists." 
He once quoted as a young man a saying of the 
historian Hallam that Shakespeare was the "greatest 
man." FitzGerald demurred to this, and said that 
he thought such dicta rather peremptory for a 
philosopher. "Well," said Tennyson, "the man 
one would wish perhaps to show as a sample of 
mankind to those in another planet." A little 
later, "in his weaker moments," he would say 
that Shakespeare was greater in his sonnets than 
in his plays — "but he soon returned to the thought 
which is indeed the thought of all the world." 
Again he said with solemn deliberateness that 
"Hamlet was the greatest creation in literature," 
and that there was one intellectual process in the 
world of which he could not even entertain an 
apprehension — the process by which the plays of 
Shakespeare were produced. 


Speaking of individual plays he said that "no 
one had drawn the true passion of love like 
Shakespeare ; " for inimitably natural talk between 
husband and wife he would quote the scene between 
Hotspur and Lady Percy (King Henry IF., Part I.), 
and would exclaim, " How deliciously playful is 

' In faith, I'll break thy little finger, Harry, 
An if thoix wilt not tell me all things true.' " 

He would say, "There are three repartees in 
Shakespeare which always bring the tears to my 
eyes from their simplicity. 

"One is in King Lear, when Lear says to Cordelia, 
' So young and so untender,' and Cordelia lovingly 
answers, 'So young, my lord, and true.' And in 
The Winter s Tale, when Florizel takes Perdita's 
hand to lead her to the dance, and says, ' So turtles 
pair that never mean to part,' and the little 
Perdita answers, giving her hand' to Florizel, * I'll 
swear for 'em.' And in Cymbeline, when Imogen 
in tender rebuke says to her husband, 

' "Why did you throw your wedded lady from you V 
Think that you are upon a rock ; and now 
Throw me again. ' 

and Posthumus does not ask forgiveness, but 
answers, kissing her, 

' Hang there like fruit, my soul 
Till the tree die.'" 


"King Lear," he used to say, "cannot possibly 
be acted, it is too titanic. . . . This play shows a 
state of society where men's passions are savage 
and uncurbed. No play like this anywhere — not 
even the Agamemnon — is so terrifically human." 

Again he said, " Actors do not comprehend that 
Shakespeare's greatest villains, lago among them, 
have always a touch of conscience. You see the 
conscience working — therein lies one of Shake- 
speare's pre-eminences." 

" Macbeth," again he said, with fine perception, 
" is not as is too often I'epresented, a noisy swash- 
buckler : he is a full-furnished, ambitious man." 

Commenting on Shakespeare's literary style he 
said that the great yEschylean lines in Shakespeare 
were often overlooked, instancing 

The burning crest 
Of the old, feeble, and day-wearied sun. 

Shakespeare was to him the great interpreter of 
life in the light of poetry. It is touching to re- 
member that it was the last book he read, on his 
deathbed. Three days before he died he sent 
early in the morning for his Shakespeare ; his son 
brought him in Steevens' edition, Leai-, Cymbeline, 
and Troilus and Cressida, three of his favourite 
plays ; he read a few lines, and asked that more 
should be read to him. On the next day, when he 
was wandering a good deal, and talking about a 


long journey he seemed about to take, he broke off 
to say, " Where is my Shakespeare ? I must have 
my Shakespeare." On the last day he begged for 
the book again and lay with his hand resting on 
it, open, trying to read it ; almost his last recorded 
words were, " I have opened it." It was thought 
that this referred to the book, which he had 
opened at the lines, already quoted, 

' ' Hang there like fruit, my soul 
Till the tree die." 

The book was buried with him, and lies next his 

Milton he called " Supreme in the material 
sublime," and said that he was greater than Virgil. 
Lycidas, he said, was a test of poetic instinct. 
He used to praise Milton's similes, especially 

As when far off at sea a fleet descried 
Hangs in the clouds, by equinoctial winds 
Close sailing from Bengala — (Bk. ii. 634) 

saying, " What simile was ever so vast as this ? " 
As an instance of a liquid line he would quote 

And in the ascending scale 
Of Heaven, the stars that usher evening rose, 

adding, " This last line is lovely because it is full of 
vowels, which are all different. It is even a more 
beautiful line than those where the repetition of 
the same vowels or the same consonants sometimes 
are so melodious." 


It is clear that he had studied closely Milton's 
metrical effects, the pauses, which he greatly ad- 
mired, and the bold substitution of trochees for 
iambuses, instancing especially the line. 

Burnt after them to the bottomless pit. 

But it may be questioned whether in the word 
bottomless the accent did not, in Milton's time, fall 
more on the second syllable ; it seems as though it 
were a modern tendency in English to throw the 
accent back, in such words as contemplate, which 
was certainly in former times contemplate — indeed 
Tennyson himself used the word with that accent. 
In such hnes as 

Ruining along the illimitable inane 

Tennyson was, if not consciously imitating Milton, 
at least adopting Milton's metrical instinct. 

For Wordsworth he had the deepest reverence, 
and for his work profound admiration, though he 
was by no means blind to his critical defects. 

The two poets met several times, and it is in- 
teresting to note that on one occasion Tennyson 
complained that he could not fire Wordsworth's 
imagination even by a description of a tropical 
island all ablaze with scarlet flowers. It was this 
absence of fire which made Tennyson say once that 
he thought Wordsworth " thick-ankled," an admir- 
ably humorous and penetrating criticism. He used 
to complain of his want of artistic skill, and say that 


great as he was, he was too one-sided to be dramatic. 
In the poem, Tintern Abbey, which he greatly 
admired, he said that Wordsworth showed a want 
of Uterary instinct. 

On the other hand he called him the greatest 
English poet since Milton, and said that his very 
best was the best in its way that had been sent out 
by the moderns. He said once that the line. 

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, < 

was ''almost the grandest in the English language, 
giving the sense of the abiding in the transient." 

But what touched him most in Wordsworth was 
the high sense of consecration to the poetic vocation, 
and the depth of tenderness and mystery, uniting 
in the deep consciousness of the Divine. " You 
must love Wordsworth," he once exclaimed, "ere 
he will seem worthy of your love." And here it 
will be well to quote the majestic compliment paid 
by Wordsworth to Tennyson on the subject of one 
of his poems. " Mr. Tennyson," said the old poet, 
" I have been endeavouring all my life to write 
a pastoral like your Dora and have not yet 

Byron, he used to confess, had been the strongest 
poetical influence of his early years. He was 
dominated by him, he said, till he was seventeen, 
and then he put him aside altogether. His " merits 
are on the surface," he said. " He was not an 


artist or a thinker or a creator in the highest sense ; 
but a strong personality and endlessly clever." 

Yet at the same time he fully realised the debt 
that literature owed to Byron in kindling the poeti- 
cal spirit of the generation. " Byron and Shelley/' 
he -wrote to Spedding, " however mistaken they may 
be, did yet give the world another heart and new 
pulses — and so are we kept going." 

For Shelley, however, his admiration was less 
profound ; and it is probable that the chilly and 
visionary philosophy of Shelley made a deep sym- 
pathy between the two minds difficult. " There is 
a great wind of words," he once said, " in a good 
deal of Shelley, but as a writer of blank verse he 
was perhaps the most skilful of the moderns." He 
admired Epipsijchidion ; but he thought that there 
was a certain abandon in many of the poems which 
argued a want of poetical restraint. " Shelley's Life 
of Life,^' he once said, "is a flight where the poet 
seems to go up and burst." 

It may be inferred that Keats attracted Tennyson 
in early years from the influence traceable in 7'i;«- 
buctoo ; and it is evident that the two had much 
in common. There is the same gorgeous profusion 
of ornament, the same lavish and almost riotous 
imagination, the same power of amassing luxurious 
detail. In Tennyson's early work it is clear that 
he was tempted at times to sacrifice the scheme of 
his poem to its accessories ; and until he reached 

KEATS 129 

the age of thirty he did not fully realise the primary 
importance of structure, the necessity of subordin- 
ating ornament to design. 

But it was not only the luxuriance of detail which 
attracted Tennyson in Keats ; rather it was the 
reverse ; he realised fully the weakness of Keats, 
the uncontrolled turbulence of inspiration from 
which he was beginning to free himself in his later 
work. " Keats," he said, " with his high spiritual 
vision, would have been, if he had lived, the greatest 
of us all (though his blank verse was poor), and 
there is something magic and of the innermost soul 
of poetry in almost everything which he wrote." 
Tennyson said once to Mr. Aubrey de Vere, "Com- 
pare the heavy handling of my workmanship with 
the exquisite lightness of touch of Keats." 

For Burns he had a great admiration ; he ranked 
him higher than Shelley and said that he held him 
to be "an immortal poet if ever there was one." 

Mr. Aubrey de Vere tells a delightful story in 
this connection. He had been talking to Tenny- 
son about Burns, and the latter said, with great 
emotion, " Read the exquisite songs of Burns — in •' 
shape, each of them has the perfection of the berry ; 
in light the radiance of the dewdrop ; you forget 
for their sake those stupid things, his serious pieces." 
Mr. de Vere met Wordsworth the same day, and 
mentioned Burns ; Wordsworth broke out into 
vehement praises of Burns, as the great genius who 


had brought Poetry back to Nature. He ended, 
" Of course I refer to his serious efforts, such as the 
Cottar s Saturday Night — those foolish Httle amatory 
songs of his one has to forget." Mr. de Vere told 
the two criticisms to Sir Henry Taylor the same 
evening, and he replied, " Burns ' exquisite songs 
and Burns ' serious efforts are to me alike tedious 
and disagreeable reading." 

Certain of Tennyson's scattered dicta on poetry 
are memorable ; of Ben Jonson he said, after 
praising some of his lyrics, " To me he appears to 
move in a wide sea of glue." Browning, who was 
a close personal friend, was, as a poet, always a 
problem to him. Tennyson said of him that he 
had " a mighty intellect ; he has plenty of music in 
him, but he cannot get it out." He could not 
understand the apparent neglect of form going 
hand in hand with such prodigality of language and 
such facility of execution. He admired Matthew 
Arnold as a poet, and after reading Literature and 
Dogma, somewhat unkindly sent a message to him, 
"Tell him to give us no more of these prose things." 

Mr. Swinburne he called "a reed through which 
all things blow into music." He praised the 
"liquid" character of Gray's -writing, and admired 
Collins and Campbell, though he objected to the 
juxtaposition of sibilants in the former, and said 
that he wrote " hissing " lines. 

He knew something of Hebrew, and liked to 


read the Psalms in the original. He said once of 
the Song of Solomon that in reality it was a most 
lovely, tender and delicate idyll, utterly different 
from the " coarsely painted, misrepresented, unun- 
derstandable story given in the Bible translation." 

He read a good deal of the Classics, principally 
^schylus, Euripides and Homer ; he was fond of 
the tragic fragments. Of Pindar he once said that 
he was "a sort of Australian poet — long tracts of 
gravel with immensely large nuggets embedded." 

Of Latin writers he read Virgil, Lucretius, Catul- 
lus and Horace, He was fond of pointing out the 
music of Virgil's lines, quoting 

Dixit, et avertens rosea cervice refulsit, 
Ambrosiaeque comse divinum vertice odorem 
Spiravere, pedes vestis defluxit ad imos, 
Et vera incessu patuit dea. Ille ubi matrem 
Adgnovit, tali fugientem est voce secutus. 

as giving a good specimen of his ear for pauses. In 
the poem written for the nineteenth centenary of 
Virgil's death, he praises his phrasing and his diction. 

All the chosen coin of fancy flashing out from many a golden 


All the charm of all the Muses often flowering in a lonely word. 

But what seems most to have dwelt in his mind 
was the pathos of the poet : — 

Thou majestic in thy sadness at the doubtful doom of human 


Horace he says that he did not admire till he 
was thirty ; and though he respected the perfection 
of finish that Horace exhibits, it may be doubted 
whether the elegant worldliness of the poet, his wor- 
ship of expediency and the unromantic Present can 
ever have moved Tennyson very deeply ; he even 
found the neatness of his metrical handling too pre- 
cise ; Horace's Sapphic stanza, he used to say, " is 
like a pig with its tail tightly curled." 

For Catullus he had a deep and genuine love, 
though the grossness of some of the poems was 
inexplicable to him. "Catullus," he once said, 
"says that a poet's lines may be impure provided 
his life is pure. I don't agree with him ; his verses 
fly much further than he does." 

He read Dante, as I have said, and placed him 
among the immortals ; he used to say that the 
origin of his own Ulysses was not the Odyssey, 
but a tradition preserved by Dante. 

Though he rated Goethe very highly as an artist, 
he thought him an even better critic ; and had a great 
opinion of his luminous wisdom ; he used to say 
admiringly of Goethe that he was an excellent 
critic though he always tried to say the best he could 
about an author, adding, " Good critics are rarer than 
good authoi's." He had a particular admiration for 
the sound of German, its great sonorous words ; but 
he confessed it to be untranslatable, and held that 
its music could not be rendered in English. 


French he read, but not very sympathetically. 
The sense of national enmity was probably strong 
in Tennyson ; and the vein of exaggeration so 
natural to French heroic poetry grated on him. 
He did not like the Alexandrine metre ; but he 
admired French lyrists, such as Beranger and 
Sully-Prudhomme. He thought some of Alfred de 
Musset perfect. " I consider him a greater artist 
than Victor Hugo, but on smaller lines. Victor 
Hugo," he continued, " is an unequal genius, some- 
times sublime ; he reminds one that there is only 
one step between the sublime and the ridiculous. 
' Napoleon genait Dieu ' — was there ever such an 



The above dicta are by no means exhaustive — 
and it must be remembered that they were thrown 
out in easy conversation, not presented as serious 
criticism — but they tend to show that Tennyson 
ranged far afield in his reading, and read with a keen 
discriminating taste. Occasionally he made a serious 
critical mistake ; he said once that he believed that 
Rogers' smaller poems might last ; and after read- 
ing Fesius drew a remarkable comparison between 
himself and Mr. Bailey, saying that while he was 
himself a wren beating about a hedgerow, the author 
of Festus was like an eagle soaring to the sun. 
But even the best critics are liable to temporary 
derangement; and it may be said, as a whole, that 
Tennyson's judgments are both fair and forcible. 


and show a notable capacity for appreciating high 
literature ; moreover, in dealing with Tennyson, 
one instinctively feels that he never spoke from a 
sense of duty, or from a desire to pose, or from 
anything but a sincere and genuine feeling — which 
gives these rugged opinions a value which the more 
polished statements of a less incorruptible critic 
may be held to lack. 


IT is possible to get a very clear notion of Tenny- 
son's methods in writing for two reasons : he 
was very regular in his habits of composition, and 
he was not in the least reticent about his art. He 
believed that he had developed slowly and said 
once that Poela nascitur, tiofi Jit was an erroneous 
statement. It should run Poeta nascitur, et Jit. 
He added that he supposed he was nearer thirty 
than twenty before he was anything of an artist ; 
at the same time he remarked, complacently 
looking at his own Juvenilia, " It seems that I wrote 
them all in perfect metre." This claim, however, it 
will be remembered was directly contrary to the 
opinion of so excellent a judge as S. T. Coleridge. 
He said once that he found the choice of subjects 
always difficult, and that the difficulty increased as 
he grew older. At the same time the germ of 
many of his poems lay dormant in his mind for 
many years ; when once embarked upon a poem he 
wrote with great facility and speed. " I can 
always write," he said, '' when I can see my sub- 


ject jWhole," and again, that when he once had 
the subject and the framework of a poem the 
actual writing cost him but httle trouble. Thus 
Guinevere was finished in a fortnight, Etioch Arden 
in the same time; the line, "At Flores in the 
Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay," was on his desk 
for years and the ballad was finished in a day or 
two. He used to say that he was never so well in 
health as when engaged in the actual writing of a 
poem. Tobacco was a necessity to him when thus 
at work, and he was at his best, he said, while 
smoking his first morning pipe after breakfast. At 
the same time he could not force himself to work. 
He believed like Coventry Patmore in the value of 
infinite leisure for a poet, and though his poetry 
was seldom out of his mind, and though he always 
had some work in hand, yet there were long 
periods of brooding when he did no actual writing. 
"I caiuiot say," he once wrote to Lushington, "that 
I have been what you professors call ' working ' at 
it, that indeed is not my way. I have my pipe and 
the muse descends in the fume." 

He had the habit of always trying to express any 
sight that struck him in a few trenchant words ; many 
of these impressions were never registered, and were 
consequently lost, but the result was that he had an 
extraordinary readiness in writing and an immense 
wealth of simile and poetical illustration at his 
command. It may, indeed, almost without exag- 


geration, be said that the wonder ,is not that he 
wrote so much, but that he did not write more ; 
poetry was to him at once the serious business and 
the highest pleasure of life ; he had, however, an 
intense dislike to the manual labour of wi'iting, and 
it is probable that if this had not been the case he 
would have written even more profusely. Some 
of his great poems were written without any 
particular scheme. Thus In Memoriam is not in 
the least a coherent and articulate whole. A 
large number of the poems were written quite 
independently, and it was not until he began to 
review them and consider them in mass that the 
idea of a great connected whole entered his mind. 
He had written in 1 833 a prose sketch of the 
Arthurian legend long before he began to work on 
the Idylls, a scheme which is interesting because it 
shows how far more mystical his original conception 
of the poems was than his later execution. It seems 
as though when he had once embarked upon the 
Idylls his interest in the characters and the human- 
ity of the poems carried him away ; and though 
there is no doubt a semi-mystical allegory running 
through the whole, yet the drama and the delinea- 
tion of character had an increasing attraction for 
him. He had a great dislike to being tied down 
to an exact and definite conception of his subject. 
"Poetry," he said once, "is like shot-silk with many 
glancing colours. Every reader must find his own 


interpretation according to his ability, and accord- 
ing to his sympathy with the poet." 

He gave immense thought and care to the form 
of poetry ; most of his lyrics, he used to say, owed 
their origin to single lines, which took definite 
shape in his mind, and in accordance with which 
the whole poem was evolved. Thus The Charge of 
the Light Brigade took its origin and derived its 
metrical scheme from the line, "some one had blun- 
dered," though in deference to criticism he omitted 
the line from certain versions, ultimately replacing 
it. Very early in life he said, " If I am to make any 
mark at all it must be by shortness," which seems 
to mean that his ambition was then to be a purely 
lyrical poet ; though the conception was afterwards 
greatly modified. 

There is a very interesting reminiscence by Mr. 
Aubrey de Vere which relates to Tennyson's con- 
ception of form. " One night," says Mr. de Vere, 
"after he had been reading aloud several of his poems, 
all of them short, he passed one of them to me and 
said, ' What is the matter with that poem ? ' I 
read it and answered, ' I see nothing to complain of.' 
He laid his fingers on two stanzas of it, the third 
and fifth, and said, ' Read it again.' After doing 
so I said, ' It has now more completeness and 
totality about it ; but the two stanzas you cover are 
among its best.' ' No matter,' he said, ' they make 
the poem too long-backed; and they must go at 


any sacrifice.' ' Every short poem/ he remarked, 
'should have a definite shape Hke a curve, some- 
times a single, sometimes a double one, assumed by 
a severed tress or the rind of an apple when fiung on 
the Jluor.' " 

This is among the most interesting of Tennyson's 
critical dicta. It reminds one of the story of Gray 
who remorselessly cut out some of the most beauti- 
ful stanzas of the Elegy because he said that they 
made too long a parenthesis. But it is characteristic 
of the highest kind of artist. The inferior craftsman 
is so enamoured of single lines and stanzas, that he 
is capable of adding even unnecessary stanzas to a 
poem, in order to dovetail in the image that he ad- 
mires, without reference to the form of the poem. 
Rossetti once said that the thing which made all the 
diflFerence between a good and a bad poem was the 
" fundamental brain- work " involved in the former ; 
and ornament must be sternly sacrificed to construc- 
tion if the workmanship is to be perfect. Tennyson 
himself said that a small vessel on fine lines is 
better than a log raft. 

How high a value he placed on style may be 
inferred from the fact that he once said to Mr. 
Gosse, " It matters very little what we say ; it is 
how we say it — though the fools don't know it." 
He realised that the number of new thoughts that 
a writer can originate must be small — if indeed it 
is the province of a poet to originate thought at all 


— and the vital presentment, the crystalline con- 
centrations of ordinary experience is what he must 
aim at. 

With regard to metre he always said that blank 
verse was by far the most diffcult form to ^vrite in. 
He said once that the ten-syllabled line could 
contain as few as three and as many as eight beats, 
and that it was essential to vary the number of 
beats to avoid monotony. He also held very strong 
theories about the interchange of vowel sounds ; 
and believed that though for a definite effect the 
same vowel sound might be repeated in close 
juxtaposition, yet that the finest line contained 
the largest possible variety of vowel sounds, suc- 
ceeding each other in a melodious sequence. The 
onomatopoeic refrain, " hn-lan-lone," which was 
invented as expressive of the sound of bells, is an 
instance of this. 

He held no less decided views about the juxta- 
position of consonants : he had a particular aversion 
to the recurrence of sibilants, making what he 
called a "hissing" line. He used to say that he 
never put two s — s together in his life.^ The 
getting rid of sibilants in a line he called in a 
picturesque phrase, " kicking the geese out of the 

He used to say with amusement that he was 

^ Though it la true that he once wrote in an album a poem 
which contains the line, "Swift stars acud over sounding seas." 

METRE 141 

often accused of excessive alliteration, and that it 
was believed he used it deliberately. The case, as 
he once said, was the exact opposite. His tendency 
was to alliterate still more profusely than he did, 
and he was often forced to remove an excess of 
alliterated work. 

He always held, as he says in his poem To 
Virgil, that the hexameter was the "stateliest" 
metre ever invented ; but he did not think it fit for 
English ; he once said that it was only fit for comic 
subjects — and he believed that Englishmen confused 
accent with quantity. He indicated that quantity 
had so little existence in English that for practical 
purposes it was superseded by accent, and that 
except for delicate effects, accent must be attended 
to ; he always maintained that his experiments in 
classical metres had cost him more trouble than 
any of the poetry he had written. 

It was strange that with his scorn of critics he 
yet altered so much. Probably no great poet ever 
rewrote so much in deference to criticism. Very 
different was the attitude of his great contemporary, 
Robert Browning, who when asked as to what omis- 
sions were to be made in a new edition of his poems 
answered briskly, " Leave out anything } certainly 
not ! — quod scripsi, scripsi. " It is an instructive study 
to take Mr. Churton Collins' volume and compare 
carefully the various readings given in the footnotes. 
If one reads the early reviews of Tennyson's works 


one is struck with the unfamiliarity of many of the 
quotations ; the reason is that it seldom happened that 
he did not alter almost ever3rthing to which critical 
objection was taken. One is further inclined to say 
unhesitatingly that he always altered for the better ; 
but this belief depends largely upon the precise form 
in which one becomes acquainted with the poems. A 
modern student of Tennyson has delicious associa- 
tions with so many lines, that the mere idea of 
substituting some of the earlier readings seems like a 
profanation ; but possibly those who made the ac- 
quaintance of the poems in their earlier guise might 
think differently. Great poetry sinks so soon into 
the heart that the alteration of a word, even if the 
alteration is better from a literary point of view, is 
of the nature of a violent and blood-stained opera- 
tion ; it is impossible to judge poetry from the 
standpoint of severe literary judgment ; much must 
be allowed for emotion ; and one cannot make a 
greater mistake in reading and criticising poetry 
than not to allow for the natural influence of emotion 
and association. 

There was a certain definite mood, if an)rthing so 
intangible can be definite, which played a marked 
part in the early poetical life of Tennyson. This 
he called, "the Passion of the Past," and it is 
described with loving minuteness in a late poem. 
The Ancient Sage, which was confessedly autobio- 
graphical : — 


To-day ? but what of yesterday ? for oft 

On me, when boy, there came what then I called, 

"Who knew no books and no philosophies. 

In my boy-phrase "the Passion of the Past." 

The first grey streak of earliest summer-dawn, 

The last long stripe of waning crimson gloom, 

As if the late and early were but one — 

A height, a broken grange, a grove, a flower 

Had murmurs "Lost and gone and lost and gone !" 

A breath, a whisper— some divine farewell — 

Desolate sweetness — far and far away — 

What had he loved, what had he lost, the boy ? 

I know not and I speak of what has been. 

He once said in a letter to his future wife that the 
far future had always been his world, and, as has 
been mentioned before, his friend Spedding said of 
him that he had an almost personal dislike of the 
present whatever it might be. But the ynood, which 
is the same as Virgil's "lacrimae rerum," is not 
merely the hunger of the sensitive spirit, which 
finds life day by day overshadowed by some cloud 
of subtle melancholy, and the imagined tranquillity 
of existence fretted by the sorry and petty sting of 
mundane cares. ^ It is rather the insistent pathos of 
the world, the inevitable doom that waits for all 
things, the pressure of mortality, the calling of 
humanity out of the silent past, the cries of all 
things dehita morti, the delicious sadness which the 
very transitoriness of mortal things evokes. J This 
is the same mood as that described by William 
Johnson, so pre-eminently the poet of youth : — 


But oh, the very reason why 
I love them, is because they die. 

It was in this mood that two of the most soul- 
haunting lyrics of Tennyson's were written/ Break, 
break, break, which was the work of an early 
morning in a Lincolnshire lane ; and Tears, idle 
Tears, written at Tintern Abbey, and introduced 
into The Piincess ; of this Tennyson said that it 
was the expression not of real woe, but of the 
l^iungering melancholy of youth. 

When the soul has had to bear the real sorrows 
of the world, and has trodden in the dark dry places, 
in which the suffering spirit walks, these experiences 
are apt to become, as it were, too tragic, too intense 
for expression, A grief seen very close is apt to 
freeze the sense of beauty at the very spring ; and 
•^it is probably only in youth, before the heart has 
been seared by the dreary agonies of life, that such 
thoughts can be linked to sweetness at all. One 
who has suffered very deeply can minister, it may 
be, the consolation of faith and fortitude. The 
bereaved may dare to hope and look forward ; but 
few hearts that have known the weight of sorrow 
can find a sense of luxurious melancholy in the 
thought of the "days that are no more." 

As life went forward with Tennyson, and the 
thought of life, its possibilities and its failures, 
became more urgent, this rapture, the 6e16v ti Tra.6o<i 
of which Plato spoke, became less and less possible. 


Before the Franco-Prussian war he had written 
some little lyrics — Window Songs — which were set 
to music by Sullivan and published while the two 
great nations were engaged. Only the promise 
that he had made, and the knowledge of the loss 
and disappointment that would be caused by his 
refusal, induced Tennyson tojallow the songs to be 
circulated. " I am sorry," he wrote, "that my four- 
year-old puppet should have to dance at all in the 
dark shadow of these days." 

After the publication of Maud, in 1855, there 
seems a curious ebbing of the spring of inspiration. 
From that time dates a certain resolute search for 
poetical material, a certain husbanding of re- 
sources ; frequent inquiries among his friends for 
incidents and subjects — answered in the most 
conscientious and philosophical spirit by Jowett — 
while the old plenitude of fancy, the bubbling-over 
of the fountain of beauty was more rare. Edward 
FitzGerald maintained that after the 1842 volumes 
there was a perceptible decline in the work of the 
Poet ; indeed, though he veiled the thought in 
courteous periphrasis, it is clear that he thought 
Tennyson, either by reason of some warping of 
judgment, or by the desire to win popular favour, 
began to misuse his genius and trifle with it. ^ 

It is not necessary to go as far as Edward Fitz- 
Gerald in these matters, but there is a great deal 
of truth in what he said. Tennyson was indeed 



•^radically affected, not in a petty way, by his 
increased fame. The tremendous publicity of all 
he gave to the world overshadowed him. He 
became more shy of writing anything which could 
/ run counter to public taste or expectation, and, 
moreover, he felt impelled, by a certain conscien- 
tious sense of responsibility, based upon his theory 
of poetry, to keep in touch with popular move- 
ments, and to direct popular sentiment. In this 
way he undoubtedly increased the circle of his 
readers, and his influence upon thought was im- 
mensely augmented. But one misses the wild 
freshness of the earlier inspiration. It is impos- 
sible not to feel that the Poet is treading more 
warily, and though the result was undoubtedly an 
accumulation of poetical prestige, yet the clarity 
of his genius was somehow impaired. Leigh Hunt 
had written of one of the early volumes that he was 
fearful of what Tennyson would come to by reason 
of certain misgivings in his poetry and a want of 
the active poetic faith. This criticism was scarcely 
justified when it was made ; but it is hard to say 
that it was not justified later on. 

It is interesting here to note the view taken of 
Tennyson by the great French critic, Taine. He 
begins by saying that Enghsh men of sentiment 
had begun to weary of the BjTonic school. " Men 
wanted to rest after so many efforts and so much 
excess." Tennyson, he says, stepped upon the stage 


at precisely the right moment. " His poetry was 
like lovely summer evenings : the outlines of the 
landscape are the same then as in the daytime ; but 
the splendour of the dazzling vault is dulled." 

He says that in the early poems there was too 
much voluptuousness, too great refinement : " He 
strayed through nature and history, with no pre- 
occupation, without fierce passion, bent on feeling 
and enjoying ; culling from every place, from the 
flower-stand of the drawing-room and from the rustic 
hedgerow, the rare or wild flowers whose scent or 
beauty could charm or amuse him. Men entered into 
his pleasures ; smelt the graceful bouquets which he 
knew so well how to put together ; preferred those 
which he took from the country." 

Twice or thrice, Taine thought, in Locksley Hall 
and Maud, Tennyson broke out into the passionate 
utterance which his tranquil and prosperous life 
tended to keep in the background. But he adds 
that, discouraged by criticism and by the be- 
wilderment which such poems caused to those who 
loved him for his rich serenity, he "left the storm- 
clouds and returned to the azure sky. He was 
right ! " 

Taine thought little of In Memoriarn. He 
found a want of abandon in the elegy — a correct 
ness, a restraint about the grief depicted, which 
seemed to him essentially unreal. 

He draws an elaborate picture of the easy. 



luxurious, sensible life of England ; he describes 
the landscape : "If there is a slope, streams have 
been devised, with little islets in the valley, thick- 
set with tufts of roses ; ducks of select breed swim in 
the pools, where the water-lilies display their satin 
stars. Fat oxen lie in the grass, sheep as white as if 
freshly washed, all kinds of happy and model animals, 
fit to delight the eye of an amateur and a master." 
He ends by saying, " Such is this elegant and 
common-sense society, refined in comfort, regular in 
conduct, whose dilettante tastes and moral principles 
confine it within a sort of flowery border, and prevent 
it from having its attention diverted." Tennyson's 
poetry, he says, " seems made expressly for those 
wealthy, cultivated, free business men, heirs of the 
/ ancient nobility, new leaders of a new England. It 
is part of their luxury, as of their morality ; it is 
an eloquent confirmation of their principles, and a 
precious article of their drawing-room furniture." 
He concludes by an elaborate comparison of Tenny- • 
json and Alfred de Musset ; Tennyson the favourite 
poet of minds in which everything is rational and 
comfortable, where everything is taken for granted ; 
De Musset the poet for a restless nation, certain of 
nothing, all alive to intellectual stimulus and new 
ideas — the poet of revolt. 

This is an interesting judgment, because Taine 
has all through a scrupulous desire to do Tennyson 
justice ; but the contempt which he felt at the 

TAINE 149 

bottom of his heart for a poet whose views he con- 
sidered frankly bourgeois shows its head again and 
again, in a certain patrician insolence of tone, a 
consciousness that he is on the right side of the 
water after all. 


THE true and devout Tennysonian will approach 
the earlier poems with a sacred reverence 
and a secret delight which the later works fail to 
command. As FitzGerald said in a beautiful letter, 
"Alfred, I see how pure, noble and holy your work 
is," and again he wrote : " When I look into 
Alfred's poems I am astonished at the size of the 
words and thoughts. Words so apt, full of strength, 
music and dignity." 

It is perfectly true that the fame of Tennyson 
largely depends on the later works. In Memoriam, 
Maud, the Idylls. But these form as it were 
the pedestal on which the statue stands. The true 
Tennyson is the Tennyson of the early l3rrics. I 
do not say that he did not at a later date produce 
poems which are worthy to stand with the earlier 
work. But I would unhesitatingly affirm that the 
two 1842 volumes are the consummate flower and 
crown of Tennyson's genius. It is not unfair to say 
that he attained a fame by work which was not his 
best, which he fully deserved for his best work. 


We find Coventry Patmore writing : " Among 
Tennyson's works the second of the two little 
volumes published in 1 842 contains, to my thinking, 
the greater part of all that is essential in his 
writings. It bears to them the same relation that 
Keats's little volume issued in 1820 does to all 
else he wrote. In Memoriam and Maud are poor 
poems, though they contain much exquisite poetry. 
Probably no modern work has done so much to 
undermine popular religion as In Memoriam. 
Tennyson's best work, though in its way a miracle 
of grace and finish, is never of quite the highest 
kind. It is not finished yVo/n within. Compare the 
finish of Kiibla Khan with that of The Palace of 
Art." This is a hard saying, but very subtle, and 
probably true, if we allow ourselves to adopt , Pat- 
more's rigid standpoint. 

These first poems are to the rest of his writings 
what the first pale delicate foliage of spring is to 
the strong metallic leaf of summer. It may be 
affirmed that poets as a rule do their best work 
before their thirty-fifth year. About that age a 
man of even the highest genius becomes to a certain 
extent a materialist. The advantages of domestic 
comfort, of a stable income, of a definite place in 
the world become obvious. Matrimony, in the 
majority of cases, forces upon the mind the neces- 
sity for making a certain provision for wife and 
children ; moreover the physical constitution loses 


its spring ; chronic complaints begin to peep and 
beckon ; the reserves of nervous force grow low ; 
the painful brevity of human life becomes more 
obvious. The limitless possibilities of youth be- 
come conditioned by the actual. Moreover the 
social interest of life increases. Relationships, 
friendships, associations assert their claims. The 
rush and movement of the world, so aloof, so 
daunting in youth, begins to reveal its fascination. 
Idealism grows weak, or rather is apt to fail in the 
presence of the pressure of laws and averages and 
material conditions. 

In youth this is not so ; the world is like an 
opening rose ; like a sea where each wave in the slow 
procession of experience falls and breaks with a shock 
of delicate surprises. The pure and ardent spirit 
begins to be aware that what seemed the truisms 
and abstractions of literature are real breathing 
and burning facts, and half persuades itself that no 
one can have felt them so poignantly, so exquisitely 

Tennyson by his constitution and habits of life 
was able to keep this ardent feeling alive longer 
than most men — and being moreover a conscientious 
and absorbed worker he was able to give effect to 
recollected emotion longer than many poets. But, 
for all that, the earlier poems remain the true, 
authentic and living expression of his genius, 
written as the fancy bade him, and without any 


consciousness of position or influence, or any sense 
of duty towards the world which waited for his 

Moreover, though money was never a conscious 
factor in Tennyson's scheme of life, yet the dignified 
leisure, the easy hospitality which he loved cannot 
be attained without money, indeed without a 
large income. He himself, too, had felt the old 
impulse of the full heart flag ; the power of feeding 
hour by hour in the contemplation of nature die 
away. " I am not so able as in old years to commune 
alone with Nature," he wrote to his future wife 
before their marriage. 

It is not intended here to give any close or 
detailed criticism of the earlier work. The poems 
of which I now speak are those included in the 
volumes of 1830, 1832i and 1842. 

The 1842 publication consisted of two volumes; 
the former was mainly occupied by selections from 
the 1830 and the 1832 volume, largely, as a rule, 
recast and altered, the second volume of 1842 was 
composed of original poems. 

The recasting of the earliest poems is in itself 
a matter of the deepest interest. Mr. Churton 
Collins has done invaluable work in his book. The 
Early poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson. He gives 
all the poems of the three publications, subjoin- 
ing in each case the earlier forms ; and any one who 

^ This volume was published in 1832, and post-dated 1833. 


wishes to penetrate the technical secrets of Tenny- 
son's art, so far as they can be penetrated, should 
give this book the closest study. Mr. Collins gives 
few and apposite comments and elucidations, and 
keeps the reader intent upon the study of the 
actual words of the author. The volume opens the 
door, so to speak, into the poet's workshop, and not 
only shows what his later critical taste rejected, 
but illustrates his endless patience in correction. 

In the 1830 volume appear most of the dreamy 
portraits of imaginary women in which the matter 
is nothing, the form ever^-thing. Of these the ex- 
quisite Clarlhcl, a mere word-melody, is the most 
haunting. There are several songs, conceived in 
the Shakespearian manner, with an attempt to treat 
a descriptive subject whimsically and with melodi- 
ous originality. Such is The Owl. But the best 
of these is the autumn Song, which came to him 
in the garden at Somersby : — 

A Spirit haunts the year's last hours, 

which is of indescribable beauty, personifying the 
spirit of the chill evening and the dying leaf. 

To himself he talks ; 
For at eventide, listening earnestly, 
At his work %-ou maj- hear him sob and sigh 

In the walks. 

Here, too, is the Supposed Corifessions, an inter- 
esting autobiographical fragment, suppressed, after 


its first appearance, until 1871, when it was published 
in the Juvenilia, which is considered elsewhere. 

Here, too, are the two poems The Poet and The 
Poet's Mind, which will be examined separately ; 
some sonnets which were never reprinted. The 
Ballad of Oriana and the splendid Ode to M.emory, 
which is probably the most typical of the early 
volume. It is written in an irregular odic metre, 
some of it reminiscent of the stately march of the 
Lycidas, but also containing some exquisitely original 
descriptive passages, such as 

the waterfall 
Which ever sounds and shines \/' 

A pillar of white light upon the wall 
Of purple cliffs, aloof descried. 

And again : — 

Long alleys falling down to twilight grots, 
Or opening upon level plots 
Of crowned lilies, standing near 
Purple-spiked lavender. 

The scheme is loose, and the mood follows its 
wayward course : but the handling is masterly. 

The general beat is iambic, with a few dactylic 
lines interspersed. I know few metrical openings 
so fine as that in the fourth stanza, when, the first 
strophe having come to an end, with a reversion to 
the original subject, the new strophe begins with 
the splendid line : — 

Gome forth, I ctiarge thee, arise. 


The 1832 volume contains some far more mature 
work. Here are The Lady of Shalott, which was 
almost entirely recast in 1842, Mariana in the South, 
The Miller s Daughter, (Enone (practically rewritten 
in 1842), The Palace of Art, The May Queen, The 
Lotos-Eaters (much altered later), and A Dream oj 
Fair Women — the very names have a potent magic 
as one writes them down. 

Finally in 1842 appeared the Morte d' Arthur, 
Love and Duty, Locksley Hall, Break, break, break, 
perhaps one of the purest and least elaborate 
flashes of his genius ; and many other poems of 

On the whole the 1832 volume is the most signi- 
ficant; the 1830 volume was one of immense 
promise, but had it stood alone, it could hardly have 
done more than creep into anthologies. The 1832 
volume must have given Tennyson a place among 
English poets. The 1842 volume put him at the 
head of all living English poets, except Wordsworth, 
and profoundly affected the course of English 

What strikes any reader of these volumes is first 
the extraordinary variety of the fare provided. 
They do not show a point of view, they are no tenuis 
vena, a secluded garden-plot sedulously cultivated — 
but they are bold experiments in almost every kind 
of lyrical poetry. 

There are poems of pure fancy dealing with thosQ 


elvish and aerial creatures that the old and childish 
dreams of man have originated and retained, spirits 
of flood and fell, fairies and mermen. There are 
English genre poems, such as The Miller's Daughter 
and The May Queen, capable of touching the 
simplest imaginations. Some have indeed con- 
tenmed these poems as worthy only of being 
included in books of popular recitations ; but to my 
mind few things show more clearly the simplicity of 
Tennyson's genius. No pr^cieux writer, with a care for 
his reputation, could have dared to write them ; and 
after all the deepest of all vulgarities is the studied 
avoidance of what may be thought to be vulgar. 

Then there are autobiographical poems, ballads, 
sonnets, love -studies, satirical or philosophical 
pieces, like The Vision of Sin, which FitzGerald 
said touched on the limit of disgust without ever 
falling in, and, what are perhaps more distinctly 
Tennysonian than any other poems — a class which he 
may be held practically to have invented — are the 
pictorial poems such as The Lady of Shalott and 
more particularly the Dream of Fair Women, and 
The Palace of Art, which are really little galleries 
of pictures. All of them, as FitzGerald wrote, com- 
menting on the trend of popular taste in the direc- 
tion of greater elaborateness, "being clear to the 
bottom as well as beautiful do not seem to cockney 
eyes as deep as muddy water." 

If one must indicate a fault in these poems it is 



perhaps an excessive exuberance of detail, a pro- 
fusion of richness which he learnt afterwards to 
avoid ; but this is a dulce vitium after all. Tenny- 
son said that he became an artist very slowly — and 
we are extraordinarily happy in possessing, so to 
speak, the very workshop before our eyes. The 
poems which he rewrote had failed, if they can be 
said to have failed, by a sort of delicious simpleness 
like the talk of a child. He was never afraid in 
these early days of simpleness — indeed the deliberate 
inclusion of such poems as the Darling Room, and 
the retention of the Skipping Rope — poems of almost 
rich fatuity — show that he had a consistent view 
which was not affected by opinion. Of course there 
are cases in the poems when he falls into what may 
be called the " Early Victorian " vein— but these 
are mostly genre passages which when they have 
had time to grow quaint will be regarded affection- 
ately as both minutely and deliciously character- 
istic of the social atmosphere of the time. Such 
stanzas are 

She left the novel half uncut 

Upon the rosewood shelf ; 
She left the new piano shut : 

She could not please herself. 

(The Talking Oak.) 

I print in an appendix the two most interesting 
of the rewritten poems. The Lady of Shalott and 
The Palace of A rt, that the process may be studied 


at leisure ^ : it will be seen that the alterations 
invariably gain strength and weight without sacri- 
ficing simplicity ; but there is nothing which to me 
gives a stronger impression of Tennyson's critical 
power than the various unpublished poems which 
his son has printed in the biography throughout the 
Memoir. The tact of the poet which withheld them 
from being incorporated with the great works was 
perfect ; and may I add that the tact which dares 
to reproduce them now in the biography, where 
we are dealing with the making of a poet and not 
his finished work, is hardly less admirable. 

Another characteristic which deserves a word in 
these earlier poems is the metrical richness which 
they display. 

Tennyson was fond of a certain kind of informal 
metre, a mixture of dactyls, trochees, anapaests and 
iambics, which he gradually deserted ; his poems 
became more strict and regular as his artistic sense 
grew. But I believe that these irregular structures 
may have a great future before them. Mr. Swin- 
burne seems to have practically exhausted the 
dactylic possibilities of English metres, and to 
have carried the length of lines to a degree that no 
one with a less absolute gift of melody could have 

1 By the kindness of Mr. Churton Collins I am permitted to 
print these poems from his edition of The Early Poems of Alfred 
Lord Tennyson, Methuen & Co., 1900, pp. 43 to 49 and pp. 86 
to 100. 


dared to do. But no one has yet developed the 
irregular scansions to which Tennyson devoted so 
many early experiments. There is no mere sloppi- 
ness of execution here, crowding syllables into a 
beat, so that it requires a kind of preliminary 
practice before they can be read ; but it is a 
perfectly deliberate irregularity. I give a few 
lines, mere word-music, from The Sea-Fairies, as it 
was published in 1830 : — 

WTiither away, whither away, whither away ? Fly no more ! 
"Whither away wi' the singing sail ? whither away wi' the oar ? 
Whither away from the high green field and the happy blossom- 
ing shore? 
Weary mariners, hither away, 

One and all, one and all, 
Weary mariners, come and play ; 
We will sing to you all the day ; 
Furl the sail and the foam will fall 
From the prow ! one and all 
Furl the sail ! drop the oar ! 
Leap ashore ! 
Know danger and trouble and toil no more. 
Whither away wi' the sail and the oar ? 
Drop the oar, 
Leap ashore, 
Fly no more ! 
Whither away wi' the sail? whither away wi' the oar? 

This passage from the literary point of view has 
obvious faults with which I am not concerned, such 
as a certain feebleness of iteration. But I think 
that from a purely metrical point of view it is an 
astonishing performance. I would note the rapid 


choriambic beat slowing down, the exquisite pauses 
like a ticking wheel coming slowly to rest, quicken- 
ing its pace, and dropping into rest again. 

Indeed I have fancied that many of these experi- 
ments of Tennyson were suggested to him, not by 
musical time, but by the more irregular and natural 
beat of homely things, the ticking of clocks, 
the thud of oars in rowlocks, the clang and 
clink of hammers, the rolling of wheels, the 
purring of cats, the thin song of kettles, the 
drowsy hiccoughs of cisterns. All the world is 
full of rhythmical noises ; and the dreaming ear of 
Tennyson seems to have been peculiarly sensitive 
to such things. 



IT is impossible within the limits of this little 
book to give an exhaustive or detailed criticism 
of all Tennyson's works. I can but touch a few 
salient points and indicate a few characteristic 

There is one pair of poems which it is obvious 
and natural to contrast, because the latter was 
written as a sequel to the former, Locksley Hall 
and Locksley Hall Sixty Years after. 

The hero of the first Locksley Hall is a boy 
of twenty, an idealist who is sore and bruised by 
the envious contact of the world. His cousin 
whom he had loved as a child has been torn from 
him and " mated with a clown," whose only merit is 
that of superior wealth. The lover tells the un- 
happy story, and foresees the miserable slavery of 
the union ; he thinks that the sorrow has killed 
the old visions within him, but as the poem 
advances he finds that the old enthusiasms still 
have power over him, and that he can still take a 
brave part in the march of the world. 


The poem is full of saeva indignatio. The poverty 
that in Tennyson's own case kept him from marriage 
and the happy hearth lies heavily on him ; he rages 
against the "social wants that sin against the strength 
of youth," and cries : — 

Every gate is thronged with suitors, all the markets overflow. 
I have but an angry fancy ; what is that which I should do '! 

But over the whole poem broods an indescribable 
light — the light of romance, mystery, call it what 
you will ; even Locksley Hall itself, with its wind- 
swept gables overlooking the sand and the sea, has 
that air of mystery and emotion that transfigures 
the world. 

The poem has faults ; the language in places is 
thin ; the very metre halts. There is one line 
which is absolutely unmetrical. Moreover there 
are faults of taste ; the theory of love that makes 
the maiden pine in silent observance till rewarded 
by the gift of a man's heart ; the apparent arrogance 
of such phrases as " having known me — to decline on 
a range of lower feelings " — these are obvious 
blemishes. But all is condoned — nay, the very 
faults themselves become delectable — in the splen- 
did sweep and passion of the poem, the purity of 
the delineation of maternity, the gorgeous visions 
of the future, the haunting melancholy of the 
incidental touches. 

It comes home to the reader of the poem that 


beauty of expression was in the writer's mind 
throughout ; even in the passion of intimate feel- 
ing there is room to turn aside to little touches of 
exquisite beauty that thrill the spirit with music ; 
and at the end, where the future opens before the 
eye, there is little that is materialistic, little that is 
borrowed from the coarse current of practical life, 
while the emotion is not so far remote from life 
as not to be able to communicate something of its 
glow to material things. Not to multiply instances 
I would note particularly the splendid simile, which 
Tennyson took from a book of travels, which describes 
the slow thickening of revolutionary tendencies 
round an indolent and unconscious oligarchy : — 

Slowly cornea a hungry peojjle, as a lion, creeping nigher, 
Glares at one that nods and winks behind a slowly d3ang fire. 

This is the truly poetical method of handUng 
politics, and is by no means the only instance in 
the poem. Few indeed of Tennyson's poems have 
enriched life with such a treasury of stately phrase 
and exquisite music. 

We turn to the second Locksley Hall, and some- 
how the glamour is gone ; in The Miller's Daughter, 
long before, he had written words that were now 
to come sadly true : — 

So, if I waste words now, in truth 
You must blame Love. His early rage 

Had force to make me rhyme in youth, 
And makes me talk too much in age. 


It is not that the old man has lost the passion of 
his youth, for he is infinitely more passionate ; 
but where the young hero prophesied, the old man 
rants, where the younger comforted his despair by 
glowing hope and faith, the old man accentuates it by 
peevish railings and melodramatic fury. " I never 
scream," he had written to Spedding in 1834, "I 
leave that to your vivid men." The case is sadly 
altered now. Everything is poisonous, galling, 
roaring, raving. The whole world is plunged into 
vile and shameless sensuality, filthy selfishness, 
hopeless anarchy. The chariot has run away and 
the Master of created things sits in helpless apathy. 

Even the domestic background is changed ; the 
grandson has had a disappointment in love ; but 
his Judith is a worldling born of worldlings ; and 
the old man has nothing but the iciest contempt 
for what has moved his grandson's heart. 

The poem in places falls into pits of mere prose ; 
words and thoughts entirely alien to the spirit of 
poetry come whirling out. What could be more 
pitiful than such lines as these .'' 

Set the maiden fancies wallowing in the troughs of Zolaism, 

Poor old Heraldry, poor old History, poor old Poetry passing 

The whole poem, except for a few matchless lines 
that flash for an instant the old light upon the 


tumultuous flood of rhetoric, is depressing, disquiet- 
ing, even revolting. One cannot but be amazed at 
the extraordinary vigour, the furious energy of the 
old man, with his riotous disbelief in progress, his 
wild and dreary impeachment of everything and 
everybody ; the workmanship of the poem is of 
singular excellence as well. The late Lord Lytton 
said that he admired the poem more as a work of 
courage than as a work of art. Indeed the Poet 
seems to have not only not lost in vigour, but to 
have positively multiplied it — but what before was 
tragic, dignified and pathetic courage, has now been 
transmuted into insane, tempestuous, acrid violence. 
One would have hoped to find a larger faith, a wider 
sympathy, a more tranquil and clearer wisdom ; but 
all that age seems to have conferred is a deeper 
cynicism and an increased vocabulary of vituperation. 

It must be borne in mind that Tennyson was 
working in a depressed mood, under the shadow of 
a great bereavement ; but it might have been hoped 
that this would have made him lay loving hands on 
the sorrows of the world, not chastise and belabour 
it. The great sorrow of his life, the death of 
Arthur Hallam, had never betrayed him into loss 
of dignity. 

We rise from the perusal of the second Locksley 
Hall with astonishment at the intellectual vigour 
and emotional violence of the old man, but with 
neither veneration nor tenderness. The prophecies 


the generous hopes of youth, absolutely untainted 
by anything that can lower or enervate. So many 
able analyses have been made of this complex work 
that it is only necessary to indicate its scope. It is 
the story of an overwhelming loss, when a soul is 
confronted by the fact that a kindred spirit, to whose 
touch all the chords of the survivor's being had vi- 
brated, is suddenly swept, without a shadow of 
warning, a hint of doom, into the unseen ; and the 
bereaved stretches feeble hands into the darkness, 
and finds no answer there ; such a loss freezes the 
heart at the very source ; very gradually the cloud 
lifts ; the healing influence of time asserts itself ; 
and the grieving spirit rises out of the shadow into 
a firm belief in immortality and into an absolute 
trust in the great purpose of God. 

The poem was not precisely planned. It had no 
conscious scheme ; it is rather a garden of a sorrow- 
ing spirit, set with rue and rosemary, and other 
fragrant herbs of remembrance and regret, than 
a single tree, branching into sombre shade from 
a single stem. The mistake has often been made 
of considering it to be a poem with a definite 
inception and a precise form. Tennyson himself 
said otherwise ; it was not till many of the poems had 
been written, a plusieurs reprises, that it occurred 
to him that it would form a connected whole. 
Then he bridged a few gaps, put in certain con- 
necting links, and welded it together. But even 


so the poem has no definite progression ; it ebbs 
and flows ; it sometimes pursues a single thought 
minutely, apart from the general scope of the 
poem, sometimes takes up a previous thought and 
enlarges it. 

His own view of the poem seems to have varied 
with his mood ; if the passion of the poem was 
accused of being imaginary, artificially stimulated, 
impossibly deep, he would say, " I have written 
what I have felt and known, and I never will write 
anything else." But if on the other hand it was 
attempted to attach what he considered too literal 
a sense to any of the stanzas, to identify scenes or 
persons too closely, he would say, " The mistake 
that people make is that they think the poet's 
poems are a kind of catalogue raisonn^ of his very 
own self and of all the facts of his life." The two 
attitudes are not inconsistent. 

The metre had been used before by Ben Jonson, 
Lord Herbert of Cherbury and others ; but it was 
new to Tennyson, and he was long under the im- 
pression that he had invented it. The form of the 
stanza is peculiarly adapted for reflective and 
aphoristic verse. It is the common long metre, 
with the second pair of rhymes inverted, so as to 
make each stanza complete, like a tree beside a 
still water, with its reflection at its foot. 

Tennyson gave the stanza so individual a stamp 
that it is one of the easiest metres to imitate, with 


its emphatic fourth line rounding the stanza off. 
Indeed so entirely did he set his mark upon the 
metre that it is almost a forbidden one for poets, 
because of the almost hopeless impossibility of 
writing it except in the Tennysonian manner. 

The thought is generally lucid ; but the language 
is in places highly obscure, from the compression 

If the entire poem is read swiftly, as it deserves 
to be, at a sitting, besides being studied minutely, 
the fact which strikes the reader, which may other- 
wise escape him, is the large number of absolutely 
unemphatic poems ^ — poems which though of perfect 
workmanship and unexceptionable sweetness, seem 
to add nothing to the progress of the thought, and 
indeed leave no definite impression upon the mind. I 
venture to believe that these poems are in most cases 
the connecting links which were afterwards inserted. 

Moreover there are a considerable number of 
poems 2 which contain, generally at the end, the 
purest grain of gold ; these poems appear to have 
been constructed to lead up to this climax, and the 
effect of the concentrated close is perhaps height- 
ened by the lucid simplicity of the lines which the 
thought closes as with a clinching hammer-stroke ; 
occasionally ^ the climax is reached before the end, 
and the finale is unemphatic ; but this is rare. 

^ See xviii., xlvi., Ixii., xcii. 

^ See xxiv., xxxv., Ixxv., cxvii. ^See iv., Ixxxiii. 


Tennyson had what we may call the Emersonian 
faculty of producing a familiar thought and by 
exquisite and curious phraseology bringing it home 
to a reader's mind with a glow of perceptive and 
original satisfaction. Indeed it may be said that 
the more familiar the thought is, the more it is part 
of the common and vague stock of the reflective 
mind, the more complete is the triumph. A great 
poet has no call to be fantastic, or to search for 
thoughts that are out of the ordinary reach. It is 
for him to take a typical thought and crystallise 
it — or, better still, to seize upon some half-formed 
tendency of thought, such as is apt to haunt, with a 
cyclic, almost epidemic contagion the minds of 
men in a particular generation, and place it in a 
definite light, and in a form when it becomes a 
current token instead of a mere lingering, bright- 
ening vision. Such a couplet as 

'Tis better to have loved and lost 
Than never to have loved at all — ■ 

is a supreme instance of this power. Such a 
thought is not new ; but instead of being a vague 
force it becomes, so to speak, a definite weapon, 
with penetrative power that will hang, till super- 
seded, in the armoury of thought. 

Much has been said about the Christian teaching 
of In Mcmoriam. Tennyson himself used to say 
when he was questioned about his Christian belief 


Hottentots, Malays." The Princess herself is 
learned in nineteenth-century astronomy and geol- 
ogy ; she is acquainted with the nebular hypothesis, 
rides on a mutual- improvement picnic, "to take the 
dip of certain strata to the North." She abhors 
vivisection ; and her girl-graduates 

• chatter stony names 

r„: Of shale and hornblende, rag and trap and tuff, 

i j,g Amygdaloid and trachyte. 

^^ '"'his, however, matters little ; Tennyson's aim was 

ilace the theory of women's education in a 
coun •' 

ntic setting. The impression could not have 

conveyed if the studies of these damsels had 

^^^ confined to such science as existed in the days 

'^'^^^alry ; and on the other hand the romance of 

^^ ^ *^iii could hardly have been sustained had the 

rougi jhjggjj fought with Maxim guns and Martini 

The a 

^ ^^\ son's theory of female education was a 


one, as his theories were. His maxim was 

imraCgj^j^^j, sex alone is half itself." His view is 

A ft 

marriage is better for the man and best for the 

lan ; in the case of the latter, culture is only 

aable in so far as it fits her for marital relations. 

e did not face the fact that under modern con- 

tions there must be an increasing number of 

nwedded women ; he would have said bluntly 

at they must try to get married without sacrificing 

iOaidenly delicacy, or at any rate fit themselves for 


possible matrimony. The poem contains no gospel 
for the virgo dcbita virginitati — nor indeed for 
male celibates either ; the Prince declares that the 
loveless life for men is 

A drowning life, besotted in sweet self, 

and that a man who loves not, either 

Pines in sad experience worse than death, 

Or keeps his wing'd affections dipt with crime. 

The result is that the poem is lacking in dramatic 
interest ; there is no character on whom the interest 
centres. The Prince himself is a haunted amiable 
boy, whose knightly attributes do not carry convic- 
tion ; and when he had secured Ida's love he 
lectures her in a strain that hardly even passion 
fortified by contrition could have tolerated : — 

"Blame not th3'self too much," I said, 


dearer thou for faults 
Lived over. 

The Prince in his bed-pulpit, initiating her into his 
superior nobility of spirit, makes no attempt to 
overlook or to throw into the shadow the faults of 
her ideal. And when poor Ida says, " You cannot 
love me," he declares with solemn condescension 
that not only is it possible, but that even he from 
his serene height of perfection can anticipate distinct 
benefits to himself from their union. 


The other characters, except Cyril and Gama, are 
but puppet-shapes ; yet, though there is a want of 
dramatic unity, there are many dramatic scenes and 
episodes ; such is the Lady Psyche recovering her 
lost child ; such is the speech of Ida, where with a 
sublimity of scorn she thanks the Prince for the 
havoc he has made : — 

' ' You have done well and like a gentleman, 
And like a prince : you have our thanks for all : 
And you look well too in your woman's dress : " 

the bitter self-restraint of the mood is well main- 
tained, until at last the passion bursts all bounds 
and breaks out into majestic rage. 

Moreover the whole poem from beginning to end 
is a mine of beautiful images, exquisite pictures, 
delicate thoughts and admirable lines. The technical 
workmanship is beyond praise, and yet the speeches 
as a rule are complicated and obscure. This is 
characteristic of Temiyson throughout ; the lucid 
simplicity of his descriptive and lyrical passages with 
their admirable elaboration of detail gives place in 
his dialogue to an over-elaboration of language, and to 
a complexity of thought which makes the sense diffi- 
cult to follow, and forfeits dramatic interest. It is 
strange that the charge of obscurity so frequently 
laimched against Robert Browning has never been 
hinted against Tennyson ; and yet I declare that the 
speeches, both in The Prhicess and the Idylls, are 
some of the most obscure reading that it is possible 


to discover in modern poetry — a strong desire for 
compression, for ornateness, for coagulating a clause 
into an epithet, for epigrammatic and proverbial 
touches making the language like a labyrinth of 
sonorous walls, even when the thought to be ex- 
pressed is neither abstruse nor complicated. 

If indeed there hauiit 
About the moulder'd lodges of the Past 
So sweet a voice and vague, fatal to men, 
Well needs it we should cram our ears with wool 
And so pace by : but thine are fancies hatch'd 
In silken-folded idleness ; nor is it 
Wiser to weep a true occasion lost, 
But trim our sails, and let old bygones be, 
iWhile down the streams that float us each and all 
f To the issue, goes, like glittering bergs of ice, 
\ Throne after throne, and molten on the waste 
* Becomes a cloud : for all things serve their time 
Toward that great year of equal mights and rights, 

<Nor would I fight with iron laws, in the end 
Found golden : let the past be past ; let be 
Their cancell'd Babels : though the rough kex break 
The starr'd mosaic, and the beard-blown goat 
Hang on the shaft, and the wild fig-tree split 
Their monstrous idols, care not while we hear 
A trumpet in the distance pealing news 
Of better, and Hope, a poising eagle, burns 
Above the unrisen morrow. 

The descriptive passages, on the other hand, in 
the poem are among Tennyson's best work ; we 
cannot fail to admire the art by which in a few 
gorgeous lines he brings the stately palace before us 
with its towers and corridors, its fountain-sprinkled 


lawns, its bowery thickets. No poet can raise so 
magic a vision of stately splendour, or suggest such 
wealth of detail by an apposite instance as Tennyson. 
The great glimmering palace, when at the end the 
wounded warriors are being nursed back to life, 
rises before us in its solemn silence, its cool and 
echoing majesty. Outside, the moonlight sleeps 
on the turf, thickens the twilight of the arched 
walks and dim groves, where the milk-white 
peacock droops like a ghost, while the fountain 
drips and rustles in its marble pool. Slowly the 
night deepens and pales towards the dawn. The 
morning comes freshly and serenely in 

Till notice of a change in the dark world 
Was lispt about the acacias, and a bird. 
That early woke to feed her little ones, 
Sent from a dewy breast a cry for light. 

It is in such pictures as these that Tennyson shows 
his art ; it is like the wave of a wand, and a magic 
drawn from the depths of the forest, out of the 
secret valleys of the mountain, is spread over the 
senses like a cloud, and we are not what we were. 
Tennyson's conception of woman is a very de- 
finite one : she is emphatically the weaker vessel ; 
he creates no exalted type of womanhood ; he is 
deeply sensitive of her beauty and purity, and the 
reverence due to her ; but it is to him an essential 
thing in the perfect woman that, once wed, she 
should be absolutely loyal and devoted, entirely 


forgiving and unquestioning. Thus Geraint's treat- 
ment of Enid is abominable ; what can be thought 
of the conduct of one who can break from pas- 
sionate love into something very like brutality, 
without a single question asked, a single explana- 
tion attempted ? Enid, indeed, hardly preserves her 
dignity. Again there is too much evidence that 
the Temiysonian lover watches his mistress and 
notes the signs of the devotion with which he 
inspires her, finally rewarding her in a princely 
manner with the gift of his love. There is little 
trace of the passionate and anxious wooing of the 
lover, the consciousness of the stainless purity 
which he can hardly hope or dare to call his own. 
There is the love, for instance, of Elaine for 
Lancelot ; there is the lover of Locksley Hall, who 
writes of his Amy : — 

And her eye on all my motions with a mute observance hung. 

There is the Lord of Burleigh who says in a royal 
manner : — 

" Maiden, thou hast loved me well." 

There is Edward Gray who reflects not with com- 
placency indeed, but with no sense of unworthiness 

Ellen Adair was dying for me. 

When Tennyson does make a stately figure like the 
Princess, who tries to be independent of the lords of 

MAUD 187 

creation, she is not to be gently wooed from her 
isolation, but sharply brought to her senses. 

Even in Maud, where he comes most closely 
to the desperate humility of the lover, there is a good 
deal of bitter contempt for the view of Maud's brother 
that a morbid and poverty-stricken squire is not to 
be regarded as a particularly eligible suitor for one 
so richly dowered. 

It must be confessed that Tennyson's view was, if 
not primitive, at least old-fashioned. He had no 
real belief in the equality of the sexes. Coventry 
Patmore is a far more advanced exponent of the 
faith of the devout lover ; and though he too had 
a strong idea of wifely subjection in marriage, yet 
in the wooing time the mistress is a far more 
remote and ethereal creature, tremblingly desired 
and timidly demanded, a goddess to be tempted if 
possible from her chaste solitudes to be the guiding 
star of world-stained man. 

Maud was received with much hostile criticism, 
and Tennyson used to complain that unintelligent 
readers persisted in considering it to be autobio- 
graphical, whereas he himself called it "a little 

It is technically one of the most perfect of 
Tennyson's great poems. He had his instrument 
entirely under his command, and there is no poem 
which makes a reader feel more strongly that he 
produced exactly the effects he intended to produce. 


He rides in the chariot and is not di'agged behind 

On the other hand it illustrates I think the 
beginning of the decadence of Tennyson's art, the 
dying away of the divinest impulses of pure beauty, 
the period at which the purely poetical impulse 
began to flag, and required to be roused by a 
violent situation, a tragic interest. The poem is 
full of stern anger, a Carlylean impulse to find 
fault, to deal heavy blows, to pierce and shatter. 

We are introduced to a morbid young man, tread- 
ing perilously near the confines of madness, with a 
ruined inheritance, which spurs the speaker to 
venomous diatribes on the subject of rotten com- 
mercial morality. For a time this is suspended in 
the exquisite surprise of the growing passion, which 
reaches its climax in the unsurpassable lyric. Come 
into the garden, Maud, where the pulse of the 
lover thrills and throbs through all created things, 
the hurrying streamlet, and the passionate expecta- 
tion of the garden, through the fragrant dusk. 
Then comes the catastrophe ; and the political 
indignation gathers head again in the great war- 
lyrics at the end, which expand the thought of the 
social corruption indicated in the preliminary lyrics. 

In spite of the nobility of much of the satire, in 
spite of the fact that all human intei*ests and passion 
are the property of the poet, we may be allowed to 
wonder regretfully whether the bard is in his place 

MAUD 189 

pacing up and down the platform, and indulging in 
strident tirades against the general moral slothfulness 
of the world. Such exhortations do not issue very 
appropriately from the secluded haunts of the muse. 
FitzGerald said of Carlyle that he sate pretty 
comfortably in his study at Chelsea, scolding all the 
world for not being heroic, and not very precise in 
telling them how to be. It is the old story over 
again of the clergyman lecturing the dutiful persons 
who attended his ministrations on the heinous 
crime of absenting themselves. One wonders 
whether such diatribes ever reach the right ears ; 
whether any "broad-rimmed hawker of holy things," 
or " smooth-faced snub-nosed rogue " ever felt a 
touch of honest shame at being thus held up to the 
contempt of literary people. One is irresistibly 
reminded of the gentleman in Mr. Mallock's New 
Republic who confessed that he did not care two 
straws about Liberty, but that his mind was often 
set all aglow by a good ode about her. 

One feels with some pain that the dreamful 
youths, the enthusiastic maidens, who are the poet's 
most sympathetic audience, probably only derived a 
sharper sensation from the splendid rush of these 
vituperative and militant rhymes. There is a fable 
of some forgotten Poet Laureate being set to 
translate the war-songs of Tyrtaeus to stir the martial 
hearts of English soldiers ; the story goes that the 
ardent strains were read aloud in a barrack-room by 


a major-general who only desisted when he found 
the majority of his audience were wrapped in sleep. 
We feel that perhaps the poet is better employed 
when he directly serves and touches the hearts that 
are alive to a craving for the beautiful ; when he 
interprets the gentle secrets of the kindly earth and 
the generous heart, to minds thrilling with the vague 
sense of wonder and delight. To see beauty in 
simple events and homely things is the real work of 
the poet. It was otherwise perhaps when a nation was 
all intellectually alive like the Athenians, and when 
eager impulse was on the look-out for impassioned 
rhetoric. But now and here, though we may be 
grateful to Tennyson for his 

Sonorous metal, blowing martial sounds, 

our gratitude is bound to be rather of the literary 
order than the ethical. In fact the poet must 
convince and caress, not denounce and storm. 

The germ of Maud is the poem that stands fourth 
in the second part. This magnificent lyric, of 
irregular metre and informal scheme, 
Oh that 'twere possible, 

was sent as has been related at the request of Lord 
Houghton in the year 1837 as a contribution to a sort 
of literary benefit — a little volume of miscellanies 
sold to assist a distressed literary man. 

The poem is well worth study from the metrical 
point of view. Its scheme is a double beat, occasion- 

MAUD 191 

ally increased. It is a good instance of a poem 
loosely constructed in a simple species of time, 
without great exactness. 

A friend of Tennyson's suggested that it wanted 
expansion and elucidation ; and the lovely fragment 
was expanded into the beautiful if intemperate 
rhapsodical monodrama. 

Maud was a poem of which Tennyson himself 
was particularly fond. There was none which he 
read aloud more frequently, or rather chanted, in 
the great deep musical voice. It is full of original 
metres, and Tennyson never displayed on such a 
scale his extraordinary power of handling both long 
and short rhythms. The long metres are magnifi- 
cently full and sonorous, and never drag. But the 
skill is even more delicately displayed in the short 
metres with frequently recurring lines, where the 
danger is of becoming choppy, so to speak, and 
jerky, but which are models of delicate grace. 

The general run of the poem is dactylic, but 
irregular dactylic : that is to say the trochee is 
frequently substituted for the dactyl. 

I would quote as perhaps the most perfect and 
characteristic example the poem which stands third 
in the first part : — 

Cold and clear-cut face, why come you so cruelly meek, 
Breaking a slumber in which all spleenful folly was drown'd, 
Pale with the golden beam of an eyelash dead on the cheek, 
Passionless, pale, cold face, star-sweet on a gloom profound ; 


Woman-like, taking revenge too deep for a transient wrong 
Done but in thought to your beauty, and ever as pale aa before 
Growing and fading and growing upon me without a sound, 
Luminous, gemlike, ghostlike, deathlike, half the night long 
Growing and fading and growing, till I could bear it no more, 
But arose, and all by myself in my own dark garden ground, 
Listening now to the tide in its broad-flung shipwrecking roar, 
Now to the scream of a madden'd beach dragg'd down by the 

Walk'd in a wintry wind by a ghastly glimmer, and found 
The shining daffodil dead, and Orion low in his grave. 

It will be observed that the metre is one of beats 
and not of strict metrical feet. But quite apart from 
the melody of the lines I would instance the 
perfect structure of the poem, its inimitable " curve," 
as Tennyson would have said. And, as imitative 
verse, the penultimate lines describing the harsh 
chatter of the shingle, as the wave ebbs back, are 
surely unequalled. Nor less admirable is the quiet 
close, the rounding of the vignette by the sight of 
the dead flower and the sinking star. 

I may perhaps say a few words about one particu- 
lar idyll which seems to me to be highly characteristic 
of Tennyson. This is The Brook, which appeared first 
in the 1855 volume. The soliloquist is a man re- 
visiting the scenes of his youth, but in a mellow and 
gentle frame of mind, with no sharp sense of loss. 
He speaks of a friend, a poet, whom he lost long 
ago, and quotes a few opening stanzas of a lyric, 
which gives its name to the idyll, and is afterwards 
inwoven in little snatches with the narrative. 


The idyll itself is full of delicious lines, such as 
the comparison of an old, lean, talkative farmer to 

High-elbow'd grigs that leap in summer grass. 

The story is simple enough, a trickle of gentle re- 
miniscence. But the lyric itself is of rare beauty, 
with its prattling refrain. 

It may be interesting to observe that in one highly 
characteristic and picturesque couplet. 

With many a silvery waterbreak 
Above the golden gravel, 

the word which we should at once lay a finger on as 
Tennysonian, " waterbreak," is one that he took from ^y 

But the whole poem is one that brings tranquillity 
into the mind, like a pastoral landscape seen from 
the windows of a train, all lit with golden summer 
light ; while the lyric itself is in the very spirit of an 
English streamlet, that sings its light-hearted song 
all day among quiet fields. 

The dialect poems too demand one word. Tenny- 
son was always interested and delighted with char- 
acteristic stories of country persons, true sons of the 
soil. These genre pieces illustrate in a remarkable 
degree the richness and authenticity of Tennyson's 
humour. Poems of rustic life written by people of 
another class have as a rule a fatal unreality about 
them : but Tennyson partly from heredity, partly 


from experience, and partly from art, is always con- 
vincingly and pungently real. The dialect itself 
proves how strong was the art of mimicry for which 
he was famed in earlier years. 

FitzGerald wrote a delightful note about the 
Northern Fm-mer : " The old brute," he says, 
"invested by you with the solemn humour of 
Humanity, like Shakespeare's Shallow, becomes a 
more pathetic phenomenon than the knights who 
revisit the world in your other verse." 


THE Idylls of the King were regarded in Tenny- 
son's lifetime as his great work, and probably 
will for some time be so regarded by his less literary 
readers. They are epical poems, but belong to the 
class of the self-conscious epic, and are far more 
Virgilian than Homeric. Homer gives us the heroes 
of that early age as they were. There is no attempt 
to avoid simplicity of detail ; indeed in the Odi/ssey 
there is a distinct insistence on the minuter details 
of domestic life. But both Virgil and Tennyson 
made the background of their poems pictorial and 
romantic. As a matter of fact whatever events — if 
there is any rationalistic basis at all for the Mneid 
— took place in the story of Mneas, must have taken 
place with a sordid, savage background. But the 
scene is all laid among luxurious features, a settled 
and elaborate civilisation, in sunswept forest glades, 
or on mysterious headlands. The voluptuous detail 
of the Roman empire is freely lavished on the dwell- 
ings 'of barbarous kings and chieftains. ^neas 
himself bears about with him a treasure of in- 



comparable richness, vessels of gold and silver, 
pictured tapestries, rich embroideries. Dido inhabits 
a patrician house of the Augustan period. 

Tennyson applied the same treatment to his 
Arthurian legend ; the scene is laid not in barbaric 
strongholds, rough fortresses, rude upland huts, but 
in dim cities, castles rich with carving. His knights 
ride in flashing armour or in sanguine stuffs, through 
enchanted forests and delicious glades, with here 
and there a cell or a monastery, with happy vil- 
lages clustered at its base. The knights themselves 
are models of high courtesy and distinguished con- 
sideration, and speak in a way that betokens a 
liberal education. 

The original scheme of the poems in Tennyson's 
mind seems to have been a mystical one, but in 
later life he was accustomed to manifest some 
impatience at any attempt to give precise alle- 
gorical interpretations to the poems. 

He used to say impatiently, " I hate to be tied 
down to say, ' This means that,' because the thought 
within the image is much more than any one inter- 

When the mystical interpretation of the Idylls 
was pressed, he said, " They have taken my hobby 
and ridden it too hard, and have explained some 
things too allegorically, although there is an alle- 
gorical, or perhaps rather parabolic drift in the 


He explained that the whole scheme of the 
Idylls was " the dream of man coming into 
practical life, and ruined by one sin. Birth is a 
mystery and death is a mystery, and in the midst 
lies the table-land of life, and its struggles and 
performances. It is not the history of one man or. 
of one generation, but of a whole cycle of gener- i 

Speaking generally, then, it may be said that the 
motif of the whole is to display the thought of a 
noble ideal formed, and to a certain extent carried 
out, but thwarted again and again by selfishness 
and sin, and closing in apparent failure, but yet 
sowing the seed of truth and purity through 
the land. Arthur's object is to establish law and ' 
order, civilisation in the highest sense, a high 
standard of unselfish and noble life. The attempt 
fails : his knights were meant to set a noble 
example of manliness, devotion and purity ; but 
the court teems with scandal, and finally the evil 
and seditious elements are triumphant. 

The dominant note of the Idylls is of failure to 
jealise great aims, and it will be noticed how many of 
the Idylls turn on base and painful tragedies. Pelleas 
and Ettarre depicts the sacrificing of a generous ideal 
to a selfish and sensual woman. In Merlin and 
Vivien age and wisdom fall a victim to a heartless 
wanton. Balin and Balan is an unrelieved tragedy. 
In The Last Tuurnament is the tale of the lawless 


love of Tristram and its punishment. In Lancelot 
a7id Elaine, which is another version of The Lady of 
Shalotl, is the hopeless waste of a maiden love. In 
Guinevere is the doom of the faithless wife and the 
faithless friend. On the other hand the two idylls 
of Geraint and Enid give a beautiful and discon- 
nected episode that bears little on the central story. 
Gareth and Lyneite is a pretty romantic tale of 
chivalry. The Holy Grail, without doubt the most 
poetical, is the most mystical expression of the root- 
idea of the Idylls. The Coming of Arthur is pre- 
fatory, and the Passing, written first, where the 
noblest epical writing is to be found, gives the close 
of the great dream, with a hint of future triumph. 

Thus it will be seen that there is no connected 
scheme in the poem. It is not an epic, it is a col- 
lection of episodes. 

To make a general criticism of the Idylls it may 
be said at once that the narrative element is through- 
out better than the dramatic. The style is exquisitely 
clear, the lines are melodious, the ornament is 
profuse, yet not overloaded, the similes are not 
patches of splendour, but genuinely enlightening and 
illustrative touches. 

The speeches it may be said are Virgilian — that 
is to say they are rhetorical ; and here again 
we note them to be in many cases so elaborate 
as to be extremely obscure : occasionally, as in 
Guiiievere, they are both moving and dignified; 


but often they are apt to hinder the action, andk 
alienate the attention rather than to concentrate ! 
and inspire it. I have often made the experiment 
of reading the Idylls aloud to boys of average intel- 
ligence, and while I find that the narrative passages 
enchain their attention, I have often found it neces- 
sary to omit whole sections of the speeches, simply 
because the meaning is so far from obvious at first 
hearing, and because they require so much com- 
ment and elucidation. Let a reader for instance 
turn to such a speech as Geraint makes to Enid's 
mother when he begs that Enid may wear her old 
dress : — 

" O my new mother, be not wroth or grieved." 
Beautiful as it is, and full of tender and pathetic 
lines, he will see that the rhetoric clouds the lim- 
pidity of the thought. Take such a passage as the 
following : — 

and I thought 
That could I someway prove such force in her 
Link'd with such love for me, that at a word 
(No reason given her) she could cast aside 
A splendour dear to women, new to her, 
And therefore dearer ; or if not so new, 
Yet therefore tenfold dearer by the power 
Of intermitted usage ; then I felt 
That I could rest, a rock in ebbs and flows, 
Fixt on her faith. 

It is clear enough after a little thought what the \ 
passage means ; but it has not the simplicity of the 


true epic. Doubtless Tennyson shrank before the / 
baldness of realistic speech. 

Again, when Limours renews his suit to Enid, 
the speech abounds in such lines as : — 

Owe you me nothing for a life half -lost ? 
Yea, yea, the whole dear debt of all you are. 
My malice is no deeper than a moat, 
No stronger than a wall : there is the keep ; 
He shall not cross us more. 

Again Arthur's speech to his knights in The Holy 
Grail, when he returns and finds them aghast with 
the vision, is full of superficial obscurity, as in the 
lines : — 

But ye, that follow but the leader's bell, 

Taliessin is our fullest throat of song, 

And one hath sung and all the dumb will sing. 

But no praise can be too high for the rich and sober 
grandeur of the narrative, the haunting magic that 
transplants the mind in an instant into the ancient 
world of dreams. The exquisite comparisons, such 
as that where Geraint turns on the rabble rout of 
knights : — 

But at the flash and motion of the man 
They vanish'd panic-stricken, like a shoal 
Of darting fish, that on a summer morn 
Adown the crystal dykes at Camelot 
Come slipping o'er their shadows on the sand, 
But if a man who stands upon the brink 
But lift a shining hand against the sun, 
There is not left the twinkle of a fin 
Betwixt the cressy islets white in flower. 


Or such a touch as 

And while he twangled, little Dagonet stood 

Quiet as any water-sodden log 

Stay'd in the wandering warble of a brook. 

Or the novice in Guinevere describing how her 
father saw the fairies : — 

Himself beheld three spirits mad with joy 
Come dashing down on a tall wayside flower, 
That shook beneath them, as the thistle shakes 
When three gray linnets wrangle for the seed. 

Or such descriptive passages as are thickly sown / 
throughout the Idylls, hke the following from The \ 
Passing of Arthur : — 

But the other swiftly strode from ridge to ridge, 
Clothed with his breath, and looking, as he walk'd, 
Larger than human on the frozen hills. 
He heard the deep behind him, and a cry 
Before. His own thought drove him like a goad. 
Dry clash'd his harness in the icy caves 
And barren chasms, and all to left and right 
The bare black cliff clang'd round him as he based 
His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang 
Sharp-smitten with the dint of armed heels — 
And on a sudden, lo ! the level lake, 
And the long glories of the winter moon. 

This is the kind of writing that is pure magic, that 
sends a holy spectral shiver through the blood. 
And we may well read the Idylls over and over 
for such delights, as we may contentedly traverse 
weary leagues for the sight of some ancient tower 
or crystal fountain-head. All poetry cannot thrill 


and move us equally, and even those who find 
Arthur a solemn pedant, Lancelot a morbid slave 
of passion, and Galahad an icy phantom, may 
still put themselves within the reach of these wells 
of healing. For such passages cannot be studied in 
anthologies and selections ; they must be found 
flashing and gleaming in the bed-rock in which 
they lie. 


" "pOETRY," Tennyson once wrote, "should be 
X the flower and fruit of a man's life, in 
whatever stage of it, to be a worthy offering to the 
world." These simple words contain the key to 
Tennyson's theory of the poetical life and charac- 
ter. Many accomplished poets have allowed poetry 
to be the flower and ornament of life, but have 
kept their serious hours, the sulidus dies, for some- 
thing more tangible and definite. Some singers, 
of whom Shelley is the prince, have sung wildly, 
impulsively, like an ^Eolian hai*p out of which the 
winds draw music, because their heart told them 
to sing, as the full-fed thrush sings on the high 
bare bough at evening. Tennyson had this impulse 
to sing ; thought came to him in musical words ; 
but he had a great deal more than this ; he was, 
like Wordsworth, a deliberate, busy, strenuous poet ; 
he gave up his life to poetry as another man may 
give it up to politics or commerce. 

There were moods of depression, no doubt, such 
as come to all devoted men, when he asked himself 


what was the end of it all ; what, when all was 
said and done, did he leave behind him ? what did 
it all amount to ? He must have been aware that 
the large mass of humanity regards poetry as a 
graceful accomplishment, as an amusement for a 
vacant hour, classing it with music, with the stage, 
with fiction, as the agreeable accompaniments of 
leisure, — "after the banquet the minstrel." 

It was in such moods as these that he felt, as is 
recorded, an envy of hard practical workers, who 
left a tangible result. It was with such a thought 
as this in his mind that he told Dean Bradley, then 
Headmaster of Marlborough, that he envied him 
his life of hard, regular, useful, important work. 

But there were other and higher moods in which 
no such misgivings troubled him, and when he felt 
that after all each man's work must be done in a 
corner ; that a man must find out what part of the 
great sum of human work he can do best, and set to 
work quietly and soberly and diligently to do it ; it 
was in this determination that Tennyson set about his 
poetry. Like the man in the Gospel story, the tree 
had to be dug about and nourished in a hard-handed, 
practical way ; poetry was to be the fruit ; the 
mellow, cool, nourishing produce of life and thought. 

He looked earnestly forward, as he wrote in an 
early unpublished sonnet, to 

A long day's dawn, when Poesy shall bind 
Falsehood beneath the altar of great Truth. 


The poet was after all the seer of truth ; he was 
to enjoy leisure, to seclude himself from the world, 
to keep his eye clear to see the works of God, and 
to discern God behind them working silently, and 
walking in the garden in the cool of the day. The 
poet was to be the inspirer of earnest effort, he was 
to add to the humble toil of daily life the thrill, the 
glory that touches and consecrates all honest labour 
doggedly done, that beats the laborious ploughshare 
into the sword of the Spirit. 

Through the silent early years a great ideal 
shaped itself in Tennyson's mind. He consecrated 
himself to the poetical life with strenuous aspira- 
tion, in no facile or indolent spirit, with no low 
appetite for personal success, but with a holy and 
severe dedication of all his powers to the one great 

There are two poems, written with all the ex- 
uberant passion of youthful genius, which indicate 
the boundless possibilities that lie within the scope 
of poetry. The Poet is a manifesto, so to speak, 
of active poetical faith, and indicates in noble 
hyperbole the claims that the poet can make upon 
the outer world. The second — The Poet's Mind — 
shows how these results are to be achieved, the deep 
consecration, the passionate purity of life which 
the poet needs. Moreover in one of the latest 
volumes is included the poem — Merlin and The 
Gleam — which gives the retrospect, and shows the 


old seer looking back upon life from the threshold 
of the darkness, and describing the guiding light 
which he has followed throughout. 

It must be noted that in The Poet there is not 
a trace of the theory of what has been recently 
called the " self-efFectuation " of art. It is held, 
and strongly held by many, that art is an end in 
itself; that to express beauty, or beautifully to 
express what is not in itself beautiful, so long as it 
be truly felt, is sufficient ; that art, to use a 
parable, should be content to flower, it may be in 
the sight of men, it may be in lonely and unre- 
garded places ; but that the flowering is enough. 
This theory is consistent with a very high ideal of 
art — indeed it is claimed that the purity of 
motive implied in whole-hearted devotion to art 
without collateral aim is the highest ideal possible 
to the artist. But it was not Tennyson's view. In 
his mind the only ideal of art was the direct 
service of humanity — art with him is strictly 
subordinated to its effect on character, and the 
artist is only justified if by the expression and inter- 
pretation of beauty he raises or attempts to raise 
mankind into a higher range of feelings, a noble 
ardour for things lovely and excellent, a deeper 
devotion to truth, and a more reverent contem- 
plation of the mysteries of God. He said once that 
he had formed as he grew older the sorrowful 
conviction that the English were beginning to 


forget what was in Voltaire's words the glory of 
English poetry — " No nation has treated hi poetry 
moral ideas with more energy and depth than the 
English nation." The poet, in Tennyson's view, is 
the seer of pure visions : — 

He saw through life and death, thro' good and ill. 

He shoots abroad, like some feathery-seeded 
plant, the arrows of his melodious thought, 

The winged shafts of truth, 
and the flowers of his dreams are Freedom and 

The second poem. The Poet's Mind, gives a picture 
of the soul from which these seeds are sown. It 
must be clear and bright ; it must be like a secluded 
garden, where a bright bird sings, and where a 
fountain leaps 

With a low melodious thunder. 

The fountain must be fed with holiest truth of 
Heaven : — 

It is ever drawn 
From the brain of the purple mountain ^ 

That stands in the distance yonder. 

And the mountain draws it from Heaven above. 

No " dark-browed sophist " must come near the 
sacred grove ; not only would he not guess at the 
secret of the place, but he would blight the flowers, 
and check the springing of the silvery stream. 


In The Gleam, Merlin, the old prophet, near his 
end, looks back upon his earthly life. He tells 
how he was called to his work by an older and wise 
Magician : — 

And sweet the Magic 
When over the valley, 
In early summers, 
Over the mountain, 
On human faces, 
And all around me, 
Moving to melody. 
Floated The Gleam. 

Then follows a time of discouragement, but the faith 
of the seer grows stronger and purer ; through the 
wilderness and the stony mountain-tracks he comes 
out upon the plain and the hamlet, following the 
light that guides him. Then he comes to Camelot, 
and there "rested the Gleam." 

By this Tennyson seems to signify that the 
Idylls contained the ideal essence of his teach- 
ing : for after this the Gleam passes on to the valley 
of the shadow, and the words are spoken in sight 
of the sea upon which he is so soon to embark. 

We will now try to trace through hints given us in 
the Memoir, through scattered dicta, how this ideal 
was arrived at and how it was pursued. To a certain 
extent it may be said that a man's life is apt to 
follow the line of least resistance, and that it is apt 
to be the resultant of certain forces. Tennyson's 
temperament was hardly fitted for definite practical 


work. His love of nature and seclusion, his shyness, 
the uncertain health of the earlier years all tended 
to unfit him for any active practical occupation. 
Indeed it is hard to suggest what line of life he 
could have followed with success. After his father's 
death, too, it seemed as though it were a duty to 
remain, for a time at all events, at home, and to 
take as far as possible his father's place in the 
bereaved household. Moreover it was not abso- 
lutely necessary for him to earn a living. Although 
the absence of any adequate income obliged him to 
defer all thoughts of marriage for many years, it 
was still possible for him to live a life which was 
neither unsociable nor undignified. No doubt this 
kind of life tended to develop in him a certain child- 
like vanity and self-absorption ; but it is impossible 
to have the light without the shadow, and probably 
there was hardly any life which could have given 
such opportunities for self-development to a nature 
such as his. A certain amount of society was possible, 
but it had to be sparingly indulged in and carefully 
planned. On the other hand his life gave him 
opportunities for quiet profound meditation. " I 
require quiet, and myself to myself more than any 
man when I write " — so he described his case in a 
letter to his future wife. Moreover he needed 
much silent communing with Nature : he was ob- 
servant, not, I believe, with the rapid restless 
glance that seems, like a photographic plate, sensi- 


tive to the smallest details of a scene ; but he 
observed rather in a slow, tranquil and ruminative 
manner, and had a remarkable faculty for seizing 
upon the salient feature of a scene. He was, it 
must be remembered, exceedingly near-sighted, 
and what he observed was mostly detail on which, 
with a strong effort, he had concentrated and 
focussed his attention. Wordsworth used to say 
that it was his own way to study impartially all 
the details of a scene which struck his fancy ; and 
that days after, when the vision had, so to speak, 
run clear, the characteristic details emerged in 
their true perfection in his mind ; all else was 
forgotten and blurred. This was not Tennyson's 
way ; he endeavoured, with the artist's instinct, to 
record at once in the most trenchant words his 
impressions of a scene ; many of these lines and 
phrases were lost, floating away, as he once said, 
up the chimney on the fumes of his pipe. But 
some were preserved. In this way he not only 
stored his mind with poetical images, but these 
images had a precision which few poets attained. 

But this was not all. It is clear that Tennyson 
possessed from the first the most exuberant faculty 
of imagination, and that not only was this faculty 
extraordinarily rich, but it was astonishingly precise. 
He said once that he could have drawn, had he the 
artistic gift, every scene in his poem with the 
minutest detail ; and this faculty must have received 


some shocks from the illustrations of his poems and 
notably from the work of D. G. Rossetti, whose con- 
ceptions of the poems which he illustrated have 
the most determined tendency to embellish and 
even contradict the language of the poet. But 
Rossetti would have been the last person in the 
world to admit of any interference in his design. It 
is impossible, again, in the illustration which another 
eminent pre-Raphaelite made for The Lady ofShalott, 
not to wonder how Tennyson bore the interpretation 
of the "web " at which the lady was for ever weaving. 
In the poem it is obviously a tapestry, in which she 
weaves the sights, which reach her through the magic 
mirror. But in the illustration she is engaged in 
spinning on the floor a gigantic octagonal object 
like a spider's web, held down by large metal pins. 
For the purpose of embroidery, the lady could not 
by any mechanical device have reached the centre 
of this astonishing construction. 

An interesting instance of the physical domin- 
ance of this imaginative faculty in Tennyson's case 
is given by himself in the experiences which re- 
sulted from a course of vegetarianism. He tried 
it, he said, for a short period, but broke down and 
turned with deep satisfaction to a mutton-chop — 
" I never felt such joy in my blood," he said. 
" When I went to sleep I dreamt that I saw the 
vines of the South with large Eshcol branches, 
trailing over the glaciers of the North." 


This imaginative faculty was recognised from the 
first. Arthur Hallam in the early days wrote to him : 
" [Imagination is] with you universal and all-power- 
ful, absorbing your whole existence, communicating 
to you that energy which is so glorious." But this 
faculty of pure imagination was not so strong as his 
power of entering into the sweet life of nature, and 
realising the sudden transient emotion that does not 
reside in the scene itself but in the heart of the ob- 
server. In the sensitive spirit there are chords so to 
speak that are sometimes tense, sometimes loose and 
languid ; in the eager mood, the sight of some natural 
object, a tree, a hillside, a venerable house, a rock, a 
wave, will set these strings suddenly vibrating with a 
seci'et and inexplicable music. This is the mystery 
of the poetical nature ; but of the thousands who 
feel such a thrill — and there are thousands — not 
more than one or two can give the mystic passion 
words. No language can give expression to the 
nature of this mysterious power ; it fills the soul 
with music, it sets it afloat on a spiritual sea, which, 
though remote from life seems in such moments to 
lie, with Its sapphire firths and blue distances, 
among the arid craggy islands of daily existence. 
It is the voice of some higher power, the calling of 
the soul of the world ; in such moments all is made 
clear, all harmonised and forgiven ; the fact is in- 
communicable, but no one who has ever felt it can 
doubt of its reality, can question that it belongs to 


some deeper mood, some higher plane of the spirit. 
Many who in childhood and youth have felt the 
beckoning of this mood, lose it in later life in con- 
tact with grosser realities ; it cannot be counted 
upon, it cannot be compelled ; it may desert the 
soul for years ; and yet a voice, a sunset, a printed 
page, a bar of music may bring it back. 

These "authentic thrills " were what Tennyson set 
himself resolutely to invite and cultivate. He 
speaks of his " dim mystic sympathies with tree and 
hill reaching far back into childhood." There was 
a kind of religious sentiment in his mind about such 
moments ; Mr. Palgrave tells us that it was under- 
stood that when he was travelling with Tennyson, 
if any scene of more than usual beauty met their 
eyes, he was to withdraw for a few minutes and 
allow the Poet to contemplate it in silence and soli- 
tude. This was no pose, but a simple and natural 
necessity of temperament ; " I hear," said Tenny- 
son once, " that there are larger waves at Bude than 
at any other place. I must go thither and be alone 
with God." 

After all, the question of whether or no a poet 
fulfils the promise of his youth is not one which 
admits of a decisive answer. It all depends upon 
the view taken by the particular critic, the partic- 
ular reader, of the function and aim of the poet. 
If you think of the poet as a teacher of morals, then 
the more he drifts out of the irresponsible witchery 


of song and steers into the stirring enunciation of 
rhetorical principles the more you will admire him. 
If your bent is towards realism, you will delight to 
find him a subtle analyst of character, a deft dis- 
sector of the human spirit, making its very de- 
formities fascinating through the magic power of art. 
If you think of him as the teller of tales, you will 
deem him greater when he touches into life or 
eternal pathos some chivalrous or homely range of 
incident. But if you think of him as a priest of 
beauty, as a weaver of exquisite word-music stir- 
ring the sleeping soul into ripples of delicious sen- 
sation, then you will grudge your poet to the 
insistent cries of the world. You will desire for 
him enough of sympathy to encourage him to keep 
his lyre strung, and not so much of fame as to make 
him yield to the claims of those who would enlist 
his music in some urgent cause, which, however 
noble it may be in itself, is not the cause of that 
holy beauty of which the poet is the priest and 

My own belief is that FitzGerald was mainly right, 
and that Tennyson's real gift was the lyric gift. 
I believe that while he continued careless of name 
and fame he served his own ideal best ; I believe 
that in his early lyrical poems, in In Mernoriam 
and in Maud, his best work will be found ; that 
in The Princess, the Idylls, the dramas, and the later 
poems, he was drawn aside from his real path by the 


pressure of public expectation, by social influences, 
by the noble desire to modify and direct thought. 
I do not underestimate the services he was enabled 
in these popular writings to do for his generation, 
but it can hardly be maintained that he was then 
practising his best gift. Not that Tennyson was 
consciously corrupted by fame or influence. It is 
clear that he always made the quality of his work 
his end, rather than any possible reward. But I 
suspect that he was overshadowed by a fictitious 
conscience ; he was human, though a very large 
and simple character ; and the atmosphere in which 
he lived was unreal and enervating. If he had not 
been a man of overpowering genius and childlike 
simplicity the effect upon him would have been 
disastrous. He would have become pontifical, self- 
conscious, elaborate. As it was his position only 
acted upon him with an uneasy pressure to write 
and think in ways that were not entirely consonant 
with the best of his genius, 

I would think of Tennyson, then, not as the man 
of rank and name and fame, the associate of eminent 
persons, the embarrassed fugitive from peering 
curiosity, but as the lonely dreamer, lingering in 
still and secret places, listening to the music of 
woods, the plunge of stream and waves, the sighing 
of winds, with the airy music beating in his brain. 
This first ; and then as heavily conscious of the 
deep and mysterious destiny of man, the bewildering 


mazes of identity, the bitter admixture of sorrow 
and pain with the very draught of life. He stands 
on the edge of the abyss ; he looks with faltering 
eyes into the dark, and the thin voice of death, 
the sobbing of despair, the cries of unsoothed pain 
tell him that the dark is not lifeless, that there is 
something beyond and above and around all, and 
that the same eternal, awful Power which laughs 
in the sunlight, which touches the flower with the 
distilled flush of the heavenly ray, is as present 
in darkness as in light, and bears upon his un- 
wearied shoulder the infinite multitude of stars and 
suns, and enfolds all things within himself. 

On the one hand beauty, the beauty that 
triumphs over the petty, busy handiwork of man, 
and on the other mystery, the mystery from which 
man comes and into which he goes. 

*4f* I am enabled to print the two poems that follow, The 
Palace of Art and The Lady of Shalott, with aU variations in 
the text, by the kind permission of Mr. Churton Collins. 


[The Palace of Art and The Lady of Shalott with the 
various readings ; from The Early Poems of Alfred 
Lord Tennyson, text of 1857, edited by John 
Churton Collins.] 


I BUILT my soul a lordly pleasure-house. 

Wherein at ease for aye to dwell. 
I said, " O Soul, make merry and carouse, 

Dear soul, for all is well." 
A huge crag-platform, smooth as burnish'd brass, 

I chose. The ranged ramparts bright 
From level meadow-bases of deep grass ^ 

Suddenly scaled the light. 
Thereon I built it firm. Of ledge or shelf 

The rock rose clear, or winding stair. 
My soul would live alone unto herself 

In her high palace there. 
And '^ while the world ^ runs round and round," I said, 

"Reign thou apart, a quiet king. 
Still as, while Saturn whirls, his stedfast^ shade 

Sleeps on his luminous ring." ^ 
To which my soul made answer readily : 

" Trust me, in bliss I shall abide 
In this great mansion, that is built for me. 
So royal-rich and wide." 

^ 1833. I chose, whose ranged ramparts bright 

From great broad meadow bases of deep grass. 
2 1833. ' ' While the great world. " 
3 1833 and 1842. Steadfast. 

* After this stanza in 1833 this, deleted in 1842 : — 
"And richly feast within thy palace hall. 

Like to the dainty bird that sups. 
Lodged in the lustrous crown-imperial. 
Draining the honey cujjs." 



Four courts I made, East, West and South and North, 

In each a squared lawn, wherefrom 
The golden gorge of dragons spouted forth 
A flood of fountain-foam.^ 

And round the cool green courts there ran a row 

Of cloisters, branch'd like mighty woods. 
Echoing all night to that sonorous flow 
Of spouted fountain-floods.^ 

And round the roofs a gilded gallery 

Tliat lent broad verge to distant lauds. 
Far as the wild swan wings, to where the sky 
Dipt down to sea and sands. ^ 

From those four jets four currents in one swell 

Across the mountain stream'd below 
In misty folds, that floating as they fell 
Lit up a torrent-bow.^ 

And high on every peak a statue seem'd 

To hang on tiptoe, tossing up 
A cloud of incense of all odour steam'd 
From out a golden cup.^ 

So that she thought, " And who shall gaze upon 

My palace with unblinded eyes. 
While this great bow will waver in the sun. 
And that sweet incense rise ? " ^ 

For that sweet incense rose and never fail'd. 

And, while day sank or mounted higher, 
The light aerial gallery, golden-rail'd. 
Burnt like a fringe of fire.^ 

Likewise the deep-set windows, stain'd and traced. 

Would seem slow-flaming crimson fires 
From shadow'd grots of arches interlaced. 
And tipt with frost-like spires.^ 

^ In 1833 these eight stanzas were inserted after the stanza be- 
ginning, "I take possession of men's minds and deeds ;" in 1842 
they were transferred, greatly altered, to their present position. 
For the alterations on them see infra, pages 224, 225. 


Full of long-sounding corridors it was. 

That over-vaulted grateful gloom/ 
Thro' which the livelong day my soul did pass, 
Well-pleased, from room to room. 

Full of great rooms and small the palace stood. 

All various, each a perfect whole 
From living Nature, fit for every mood ^ 
And change of my still soul. 

For some were hung with arras green and blue. 

Showing a gaudy summer-morn. 
Where with pufF'd cheek the belted hunter blew 
His wreathed bugle-horn.^ 

One seem'd all dark and red — a tract of sand. 

And some one pacing there alone, ^ 

Who paced for ever in a glimmering land, 
Lit with a low large moon.^ 

One show'd an iron coast and angry waves. 
You seem'd to hear them climb and fall 
And roar rock-thwarted under bellowing caves. 
Beneath the windy wall.* 

11833. Gloom, 
Roofed with thick plates of green and orange glass 
Ending in stately rooms. 
^ 1833. All various, all beautiful. 

Looking all ways, fitted to every mood. 
^Here in 1833 was inserted the stanza, "One showed an 
English home," afterwards transferred to its present position 
as stanza 22. 

* 1833. Some were all dark and red, a glimmering land 

Lit with a low round moon. 
Among brown rocks a man upon the sand 
Went weeping all alone. 

* This stanza was added in 1842. 


And one, a full-fed river winding slow 

By herds upon an endless plain, 
The ragged rims of thunder brooding low, 
With shadow-streaks of rain.' 

And one, the reapers at their sultry toil. 

In front they bound the sheaves. Behind 
Were realms of upland, prodigal in oil. 
And hoary to the wind.' 

And one, a foreground black with stones and slags, 

Beyond, a line of heights, and higher 
All barr'd with long white cloud the scornful crags, 
And highest, snow and fire.^ 

And one, an English home — gray twilight pour'd 

On dewy pastures, dewy trees. 
Softer than sleep — all things in order stored, 
A hauut of ancient Peace. ^ 

Nor these alone, but every landscape fair. 

As fit for every mood of mind, 
Or gay, or grave, or sweet, or stern, was there. 
Not less than truth design' d.^ 

Or the maid-mother by a crucifix, 
In tracts of pasture sunny-warm, 

' These two stanzas were added in 1842. 

2 Thus in 1833:— 

One seemed a foreground black with stones and slags, 

Below sun-smitten icy spires 
Rose striped with long white cloud the scornful crags, 
Deep trenched with thunder fires. 

3 Not inserted here in 1833, but the following in its place : — 

Some showed far-off thick woods mounted with towers, 

Nearer, a flood of mild sunshine 
Poxu'ed on long walks and lawns and beds and bowers 
TreUised with bunchy vine. 
* Inserted in 1842. 


Beneath branch-work of costly sardonyx 
Sat smiling, babe in arm.^ 

Or in a clear-wall'd city on the sea. 
Near gilded organ-pipes, her hair 
Wound with white roses, slept St. Cecily ; 
An angel look'd at her. 

1 Thus in 1833, followed by the note :— 
Or the maid-mother by a crucifix, 
In yellow pastures sunny-warm, 
Beneath branch-work of costly sardonyx, 
Sat smiling, babe in arm.* 

* When I first conceived the plan of the Palace of Art, I in- 
tended to have introduced both sculptures and paintings into it ; 
but it is the most difficult of all things to devise a statue in verse. 
Judge whether I have succeeded in the statues of Elijah and 

One was the Tishbite whom the raven fed. 

As when he stood on Carmel steeps, 
With one arm stretched out bare, and mocked and said, 
"Come cry aloud — he sleeps." 

Tall, eager, lean and strong, his cloak wind-borne 

Behind, his forehead heavenly bright 
From the clear marble pouring glorious scorn, 
Lit as with inner light. 

One was Olympias : the floating snake 

Rolled round her ancles, round her waist 
Knotted, and folded once about her neck, 
Her perfect lips to taste. 

Round by the shoidder moved : she seeming blythe 

Declined her head : on every side 
The dragon's curves melted and mingled with 

The woman's youthful pride 
Of rounded limbs. 

Or Venus in a snowy shell alone. 

Deep-shadowed in the glassy brine. 
Moonlike glowed double on the blue, and shone 
A naked shape divine. 


Or thronging all one porch of Paradise, 

A group of Houris bow'd to see 
The dying Islamite, with hands and eyes 
ITiat said. We wait for thee.^ 

Or mythic Uther's deeply-wounded son 
In some fair space of sloping greens 
Lay, dozing in the vale of Avalon, 
And watch'd by weeping queens.^ 

Or hollowing one hand against his ear. 

To list a foot-fall, ere he saw 
The wood-nymph, stay'd the Ausonian king to hear 
Of wisdom and of law.^ 

Or over hills with peaky tops engrail' d, 

And many a tract of palm and rice, 
The throne of Indian Cama * slowly sail'd 
A summer fann'd with spice. 

1 Inserted in 1842. 

2 Thus in 1833 :— 

Or that deep-wounded child of Pendragon 

Mid misty woods on sloping greens 
Dozed in the vallej' of Avilion, 
Tended by crowned queens. 
The present reading that of 1842. The reference is, of course 
to King Arthur, the supposed son of Uther Pendragon. 
In 1833 the following stanza, excised in 1842, followed : — 
Or blue-eyed Krierahilt from a craggy hold. 

Athwart the light-green rows of vine, 
Poured blazing hoards of Nibelungen gold, 
Down to the gulfy Rhine. 
' Inserted in 1842 thus : — 

Or hollowing one hand against his ear. 

To listen for a footfall, ere he saw 
The wood-nymph, stay'd the Tuscan king to hear 
Of wisdom and of law. 
List a footfall, 1843. Ausonian for Tuscan, 1850. 
* Camadev, the Hindu God of Love. 


Or sweet Europa's mantle blew unclasp'd, 
From oiF her shoulder backward borne : 
From one hand droop'd a crocus : one hand grasp'd 
The mild bull's golden horn.^ 

Or else flush'd Ganymede, his rosy thigh 

Half-buried in the Eagle's down, 
Sole as a flying star shot thro' the sky 
Above ^ the pillar'd town. 

Nor ^ these alone : but every •* legend fair 

Which the supreme Caucasian mind 
Carved out of Nature for itself, was there. 
Not less than life, design'd.^ 

1 In 1833 thus:— 

Europa's scarf blew in an arch, unclasped, 
From her bare shoulder backward borne. 
"Oflf" inserted in 1842. 
Here in 1833 follows a stanza, excised in 1842 : — 

He thro' the streaming crystal swam, and rolled 

Ambrosial breaths that seemed to float 
In light-wreathed curls. She from the ripple cold 
Updrew her sandalled foot. 
21833. Over. n833. Not. n833. Many a. 

^ 1833. Broidered in screen and blind. 

In the edition of 1833 appear the following stanzas, excised 
in 1842 :— 

So that my soul beholding in her pride 

All these, from room to room did pass ; 
And all things that she saw, she multiplied, 
A many-faced glass. 

And, being both the sower and the seed, 

Remaining in herself became 
All that she saw. Madonna, Ganymede, 
Or the Asiatic dame — 

Still changing, as a lighthouse in the night 

Changeth athwart the gleaming main, 
From red to yellow, yellow to pale white, 
Then back to red again. 


Then in the towers I placed great bells that swung. 

Moved of themselves, with silver sound ; 
And with choice paintings of wise men I hung 
The royal dais round. 

"From change to change four times within the womb 

The brain is moulded," she began, 
"So thro' all phases of all thought I come 
Into the perfect man.* 

' ' All nature widens upward : evermore 

The simpler essence lower lies. 
More complex is more perfect, owning more 
Discourse, more widely wise.* 

" I take possession of men's minds and deeds. 

I live in all things great and small. 
I dwell apart, holding no forms of creeds, 
But contemplating all."t 

Four ample courts there were. East, West, South, North, 

In each a squared lawn where from 

A golden-gorged dragon spouted forth 

The fountain's diamond foam. 

All round the cool green courts there ran a row 

Of cloisters, branched like mighty woods. 
Echoing all night to that sonorous flow 
Of spouted fountain floods. 

From those four jets four currents in one swell 

Over the black rock streamed below 
In steamy folds, that, floating as they fell. 
Lit up a torrent-bow. 

And round the roofs ran gilded galleries 
That gave large view to distant lands. 
Tall towns and mounds, and close beneath the skies 
Long lines of amber sands. 

Huge incense-urns along the balustrade, 

Hollowed of solid amethyst, 
Each with a different odour fuming, made 
The air a silver mist. 

* These two excised stanzas, with minute alterations, were 
incorporated with the poem a few stanzas further down in 1842. 
See pages 228, 229. 

t See page 229. 


For there was Milton like a seraph strong. 
Beside him Shakespeare bland and mild ; 
And there the world-worn Dante grasp'd his song, 
And somewhat grimly smiled.^ 

Far-o£E 'twas wonderful to look upon 

Those sumptuous towers between the gleam 
Of that great foam-bow trembling in the sun, 
And the argent incense-stream ; 

And round the terraces and round the walls, 

While day sank lower or rose higher, 
To see those rails, with all their knobs and balls. 
Burn like a fringe of fire. 

Likewise the deepset windows, stained and traced. 

Burned, like slow-flaming crimson fires. 
From shadowed grots of arches interlaced. 
And topped with frostlike spires. 

^ 1833. There deep-haired Milton like an angel tall 
Stood limned, Shakspeare bland and mild. 
Grim Dante pressed his lips, and from the wall 
The bald blind Homer smiled. 

Recast in its present form in 1842. After this stanza in 1833 
appear the following stanzas, excised in 1842 : — 

And underneath fresh carved in cedar wood. 

Somewhat alike in form and face. 
The Genii of every climate stood, 
All brothers of one race : 

Angels who sway the seasons by their art, 
And mould all shapes in earth and sea ; 
And with great effort build the human heart 
From earliest infancy. 

And in the sun-pierced Oriels' coloured flame 

Immortal Michsel Angelo 
Looked down, bold Luther, large-browed Verulam, 
The King of those who know. 

Cervantes, the bright face of Calderon, 

Robed David touching holy strings. 
The Halicarnassean, and alone, 
Alfred the flower of kings. 

Isaiah with fierce Ezekiel, 

Swarth Moses by the Coptic sea, 
Plato, Petrarca, Livy, and Raphael, 
And eastern Confutzee. 



And there the Ionian father of the rest ; 

A million wrinkles carved his skin ; 
A hundred winters snow'd upon his breast. 
From cheek and throat and chin.^ 

Above, the fair hall-ceiling stately set 

Many an arch high up did lift, 
And angels rising and descending met 
With interchange of gift. ^ 

Below was all mosaic choicely plann'd 

With cycles of the human tale 
Of this wide world, the times of every land 
So wrought, they will not fail.^ 

The people here, a beast of burden slow, 

Toil'd onward, prick'd with goads and stings ; 
Here play'd, a tiger, rolling to and fro 
The heads and crowns of kings ; ^ 

Here rose, an athlete, strong to break or bind 

All force in bonds that might endure. 
And here once more like some sick man declined. 
And trusted any cure.^ 

But over these sj[ie trod : and those great bells 

Began to chime. She took her throne : 
She sat betwixt the shining Oriels, 
To sing her songs alone. ^ 

And thro' the topmost Oriels' colour'd flame 

Two godlike faces gazed below ; 
Plato the wise, and large-brow' d Verulam, 
The first of those who know. ^ 

^ All these stanzas were added in 1842. In 1833 appear the 
following stanzas, excised in 1842 : — 

As some rich tropic mountain that infolds 

All change, from flats of scattered palms 
Sloping thro' five great zones of climate, holds 

His head in snows and calms — 
Full of her own delight and nothing else, 

My vainglorious, gorgeous soul 
Sat throned between the shining oriels, 
In pomp beyond control ; 


And all those names, that in their motion were 
Full-welling fountain-heads of change, 

With piles of flavorous fruits in basket-twine 

Of gold, unheap^d, crushing down 
Musk-scented blooms — all taste — grape, gourd or pine — 
In bunch, or single grown — 

Our growths, and such as brooding Indian heats 

Make out of crimson blossoms deep, 
Ambrosial pulps and juices, sweets from sweets 
Sun-changed, when sea-winds sleep. 

With graceful chalices of curious wine, 
Wonders of art — and costly jars, 
* And bossed salvers. Ere young night divine 
Crowned dying day with stars, 

Making sweet close of his delicious toils, 
She lit white streams of dazzling gas. 
And soft and fragrant flames of precious oils 
In moons of purple glass 

Ranged on the fretted woodwork to the ground. 

Thus her intense untold delight. 
In deep or vivid colour, smell and sound. 
Was flattered day and night.* 

*If the poem were not already too long, I should have in- 
serted in the text the following stanzas, expressive of the joy 
wherewith the soul contemplated the results of astronomical 
experiment. In the centre of the four quadrangles rose an 
immense tower. 

Hither, when all the deep imsoimded skies 

Shuddered with silent stars she clomb, 
And as with optic glasses her keen eyes 
Pierced thro' the mystic dome, 

Regions of lucid matter taking forms. 

Brushes of fire, hazy gleams. 
Clusters and beds of worlds, and bee-like swarms 
Of suns, and starry streams. 

She saw the snowy poles of moonless Mars, 

That marvellous round of milky light 
Below Orion, and those double stars 
Whereof the one more bright 

Is circled by the other, etc. 


Betwixt the slender shafts were blazon' d fair 
In diverse raiment strange : ^ 

Thro' which the lights, rose, amber, emerald, blue, 

Flush'd in her temples and her eyes. 
And from her lips, as morn from Memnon, drew 
Rivers of melodies. 

No nightingale delighteth to prolong 

Her low preamble all alone. 
More than my soul to hear her echo'd song 
Throb thro' the ribbed stone ; 

Singing and murmuring in her feastful mirth. 

Joying to feel herself alive. 
Lord over Nature, Lord of ^ the visible earth. 
Lord of the senses five ; 

Communing with herself ; " All these are mine. 

And let the world have peace or wars, 
'Tis one to me." She — when young night divine 
Crown'd dying day with stars. 

Making sweet close of his delicious toils — 

Lit light in wreaths and auadems. 
And pure quintessences of precious oils 
In hollow'd moons of gems. 

To mimic heaven ; and clapt her hands and cried, 

" I marvel if my still delight 
In this great house so royal-rich, and wide. 
Be flatter' d to the height.' 

1 Thus in 1833:— 

And many more, that in their lifetime were 

Full-welling foimtain heads of change, 
Between the stone shafts glimmered, blazoned fair 
In divers raiment strange. 
21833. O'. 

' Here added in 1842 and remaining till 1851 when they were 
excised are two stanzas : — 

"From shape to shape at first within the womb 

The brain is modell'd," she began, 
"And thro' all phases of all thought I come 
Into the perfect man. 


*' O all things fair to sate my various eyes ! 

shapes and hues that please me well ! 

silent faces of the Great and Wise, 

My Gods, with whom I dwell ! ^ 

" O God-like isolation which art mine, 

1 can but count thee perfect gain, 

What time I watch the darkening droves of swine 
That range on yonder plain.^ 

" In filthy sloughs they roll a prurient skin, 
They graze and wallow, breed and sleep ; 
And oft some brainless devil enters in. 
And drives them to the deep." ^ 

Then of the moral instinct would she prate. 

And of the rising from the dead. 
As hers by right of full-accomplish'd Fate ; 
And at the last she said : 

" I take possession of man's mind and deed. 
I care not what the sects may brawl, 

1 sit as God holding no form of creed. 

But contemplating all." ^ 

" All nature widens upward. Evermore 

The simpler essence lower lies : 
More complex is more perfect, owning more 
Discourse, more widely wise. " 

^ These stanzas were added in 1851. 

'^ Added here in 1842 [though originally written in 1833 and 
placed earlier in the poem. See page 224], with the following 
variants which remained till 1851, when the present text was 
substituted : — 

"I take possession of men's minds and deeds. 

I live in all things great and small. 
I sit * apart holding no forms of creeds. 
But contemplating all." 

* 1833. DweU. 


Full oft ^ the riddle of the painful earth 

Flash'd thro' her as she sat alone, 
Yet not the less held she her solemn mirth. 
And intellectual throne. 

And so she throve and prosper'd : so three years 

She prosper'd : on the fourth she fell ^ 
Like Herod, when the shout was in his ears. 
Struck thro' with pangs of hell. 

Lest she should fail and perish utterly, 

God, before whom ever lie bare 
The abysmal deeps of Personality, 
Plagued her with sore despair. 

When she would think, where'er she turn'd her sight. 

The airy hand confusion wrought, 
Wrote " Mene, mene," and divided quite 
The kingdom of her thought. 

Deep dread and loathing of her solitude 

Fell on her, from which mood was born 
Scorn of herself ; again, from out that mood 
Laughter at her self-scorn.^ 

'•' What ! is not this my place of strength," she said, 

" My spacious mansion built for me, 
^VTiereof the strong foundation-stones were laid 
Since my first memory } " 

^ 1833. Sometimes. 

^ And intellectual throne 

Of full-sphered contemplation. So three'years 
She throve, but on the fourth she fell. 
And so the text remained till 1850, when the present reading 
was substituted. 
'In 1833 the following stanza, excised in 1842 : — 
"Who hath drawn dry the fountains of delight, 

That from my deep heart everywhere 
Moved in my blood and dwelt, as power and might 
Abode in Sampson's hair?" 


But in dark corners of her palace stood 

Uncertain shapes ; and unawares 
On white-eyed phantasms weeping tears of blood. 
And horrible nightmares, 

And hollow shades enclosing hearts of flame. 

And, with dim fretted foreheads all, 
On corpses three-months-old at noon she came, 
That stood against the wall. 

A spot of dull stagnation, without light 

Or power of movement, seem'd my soul, 
'Mid onward-sloping ^ motions infinite 
Making for one sure goal. 

A still salt pool, lock'd in with bars of sand ; 

Left on the shore ; that hears all night 
The plunging seas draw backward from the land 
Their moon-led waters white. 

A star that with the choral starry dance 

Join'd not, but stood, and standing saw 
The hollow orb of moving Circumstance 
Roll'd round by one fix'd law. 

Back on herself her serpent pride had curl'd. 
''No voice," she shriek'd in that lone hall, 
" No voice breaks thro' the stillness of this world : 
One deep, deep silence all ! " 

She, mouldering with the dull earth's mouldering sod, 

Inwrapt tenfold in slothful shame. 
Lay there exiled from eternal God, 
Lost to her place and name ; 

And death and life she hated equally, 

And nothing saw, for her despair. 
But dreadful time, dreadful eternity. 
No comfort anywhere ; 

1 1833. Downward-sloping. 


Remaining utterly confused with fears. 

And ever worse with growing time. 
And ever unrelieved by dismal tears, 
And all alone in crime : 

Shut up as in a crumbling tomb, girt round 

With blackness as a solid wall, 
Far off she seem'd to hear the dully sound 
Of human footsteps fall. 

As in strange lands a traveller walking slow, 

In doubt and great perplexity, 
A little before moon-rise hears the low 
Moan of an unknown sea ; 

And knows not if it be thunder or a sound 
Of rocks ^ thrown down, or one deep cry 
Of great wild beasts ; then thinketh, " I have found 
A new land, but I die." 

She howl'd aloud, " I am on fire within. 

There comes no murmur of reply. 
WTiat is it that will take away my sin. 
And save me lest I die } " 

So when four years were wholly finished. 

She threw her royal robes away. 
" Make me a cottage in the vale," she said, 
''^VTiere I may mourn and pray.^ 

''Yet pull not down my palace towers, that are 

So lightly, beautifully built : 
Perchance I may return with others there 
When I have purged my guilt." 

1 1833. Or the sound 

Of stoaes. 
So till 1851, when "a sound of rocks" was substituted. 

2 1833. " Dying the death I die ? " 
Present reading substituted in 1842. 


First published in 1833 
Part I 

On either side the river lie 
Long fields of barley and of rye, 
That clothe the wold and meet the sky ; 
And thro' the field the road runs by 

To many-tower' d Camelot ; 
And up and down the people go. 
Gazing where the lilies blow 
Round an island there below. 

The island of Shalott. ^ 

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,^ 
Little breezes dusk and shiver 
Thro' the wave that runs for ever 
By the island in the river 

Flowing down to Camelot. 
Four gray walls, and four gray towers, 
Overlook a space of flowers. 
And the silent isle imbowers 

The Lady of Shalott. 

By the margin, willow- veil' d 
Slide the heavy barges trail'd 
By slow horses ; and unhail'd 
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd 

Skimming down to Camelot : 

^ 1833. To many towered Camelot 

The yellow leaved water lily, 
The green sheathed daffodilly, 
Tremble in the water chilly, 
Round about Shalott. 

21833. shiver. 

The sunbeam-showers break and quiver 
In the stream that runneth ever 
By the island, etc. 



But who hath seen her wave her hand ? 
Or at the casement seen her stand ? 
Or is she known in all the land, 

TheLady of Shalott?^ 

Only reapers, reaping early 
In among the bearded barley. 
Hear a song that echoes cheerly 
From the river winding clearly, 

Down to tower'd Camelot : 
And by the moon the reaper weary. 
Piling sheaves in uplands airy. 
Listening, whispers " 'Tis the fairy 

Lady of Shalott".^ 

Part II 

Theke she weaves by night and day 
A magic web with colours gay. 
She has heard a whisper say, 
A curse is on her if she stay ^ 

' 1833. Underneath the bearded barley, 

The reaper, reaping late and early. 
Hears her ever chanting cheerly, 
Like an angel, singing clearly. 

O'er the stream of Camelot. 
Piling the sheaves in furrows airy, 
Beneath the moon, the reaper weary 
Listening whispers, " 'tis the fairy 

Lady of Shalott." 
2 1833. The little isle is all inrailed 

With a rose-fence, and overtrailed 
With roses : by the marge unhailed 
The shallop flitteth silkensailed, 

Skimming down to Camelot. 
A pearl garland winds her head : 
She leaneth on a velvet bed, 
Full royally apparelled. 

The Lady of Shalott. 
^ 1833. No time hath she to sport and play : 
A charmed web she weaves alway. 
A curse is on her, if she stay 
Her weaving, either night or day 


To look down to Camelot. 
She knows not what the curse may he, 
And so ^ she weaveth steadily, 
And little other care hath she, 

The Lady of Shalott. 

And moving thro' a mirror clear 
That hangs before her all the year, 
Shadows of the world appear. 
There she sees the highway near 

Winding down to Camelot : 
There the river eddy whirls. 
And there the surly village-churls,^ 
And the red cloaks of market girls. 

Pass onward from Shalott. 

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad. 
An abbot on an ambling pad, 
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad. 
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad. 

Goes by to tower' d Camelot ;, 
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue 
The knights come riding two and two : 
She hath no loyal knight and true, 

The Lady of Shalott. 

But in her web she still delights 
To weave the mirror's magic sights. 
For often thro' the silent nights 
A funeral, with plumes and lights. 

And music, went to Camelot : ^ 

11833. Therefore 

Therefore no other . 

The Lady of Shalott. 
2 1833. She lives with little joy or fear 

Over the water running near, 

The sheep bell tinkles in her ear, 

Before her hangs a mirror clear, 
Reflecting towered Camelot. 

And, as the mazy web she whirls. 

She sees the surly village-churls. 
' 1833. Came from Camelot. 


Or when the moon was overhead, 
Came two young lovers lately wed ; 
" I am half-sick of shadows," said 
The Lady of Shalott. 

Part III 

A BOW-SHOT from her bower-eaves, 
He rode between the barley sheaves. 
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves. 
And flamed upon the brazen greaves 

Of bold Sir Lancelot. 
A redcross knight for ever kneel' d 
To a lady in his shield. 
That sparkled on the yellow field. 

Beside remote Shalott. 

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free, j\ 

Like to some branch of stars we see '' 

Hung in the golden Galaxy. ^ 
The bridle bells rang merrily 

As he rode down to ^ Camelot : 
And from his blazon' d baldric slung 
A mighty silver bugle hung. 
And as he rode his armour rung. 

Beside remote Shalott. 

All in the blue unclouded weather 
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather. 
The helmet and the helmet-feather 
Bum'd like one burning flame together. 

As he rode down to Camelot.^ 
As often thro' the purple night, 
Below the starry clusters bright. 
Some bearded meteor, trailing light. 
Moves over still Shalott.^ 

U833. Hung in the golden galaxy. nSSS. From. 

31833. From Camelot. n833. Green Shalott. 


His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd ; 
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode ; 
From underneath his helmet flow'd 
His coal-black curls as on he rode, 

As he rode down to Camelot-^ 
From the bank and from the river 
He flashed into the crystal mirror, 
"Tirra lirra," by the river ^ 

Sang Sir Lancelot. 

She left the web, she left the loom ; 
She made three paces thro' the room. 
She saw the water-lily ' bloom. 
She saw the helmet and the plume. 

She look'd down to Camelot. 
Out flew the web and floated wide ; 
The mirror crack' d from side to side ; 
" The curse is come upon me," cried 

The Lady of Shalott. 

Part IV 

In the stormy east-wind straining. 
The pale yellow woods were waning. 
The broad stream in his banks complaining. 
Heavily the low sky raining 

Over tower'd Camelot ; 
Down she came and found a boat 
Beneath a willow left afloat. 
And round about the prow she wrote 

The Lady of Shalott* 

And now the river's dim expanse — 
Like some bold seer in a trance, 

1 1833. From Camelot. 2 1833. < ■ Tirra lirra, tirra lirra. " 

31833. Water flower. 

* 1833. Outside the isle a shallow boat 
Beneath a willow lay afloat, 
Below the carven stern she wrote, 
The Lady of Shalott. 


Seeing all his own mischance — 
With a glassy countenance 

Did she look to Camelot. 
And at the closing of the day 
She loosed the chain, and down she lay ; 
The broad stream bore her far away, 

The Lady of Shalott. 

Lying, robed in snowy white 
That loosely flew to left and right — '■ 
The leaves upon her falling light — 
Thro' the noises of the night 

She floated down to Camelot ; 
And as the boat-head wound along 
The willowy hills and fields among. 
They heard her singing her last song. 

The Lady of Shalott.^ 

* 1833. A cloud-white crown of pearl she dight, 
All raimented in snowy white 
That loosely flew (her zone in sight, 
Clasped with one blinding diamond bright), 

Her wide eyes fixed on Camelot, 
Though the squally eastwind keenly 
Blew, with folded arms serenely 
By the water stood the queenly 

Lady of Shalott. 

With a steady, stony glance — 
Like some bold seer in a trance, 
Beholding all his own mischance, 
Mute, with a glassy countenance — 

She looked down to Camelot. 
It was the closing of the day, 
She loosed the chain, and down she lay, 
The broad stream bore her far away, 

The Lady of Shalott. 

As when to sailors while they roam, 
By creeks and outfalls far from home, 
Rising and dropping with the foam. 
From dying swans wild warblings come, 
Blown shoreward ; so to Camelot 



Heard a carol, mournful, holy. 
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly. 
Till her blood was frozen slowly, 
And her eyes were darken'd wholly,^ 

Turn'd to tower'd Camelot ; 
For ere she reach'd upon the tide 
The first house by the water-side. 
Singing in her song she died, 

The Lady of Shalott. 

Under tower and balcony, 

By garden-wall and gallery, 

A gleaming shape she floated by. 

Dead-pale ^ between the houses high, 

Silent into Camelot. 
Out upon the wharfs they came. 
Knight and burgher, lord and dame. 
And round the prow they read her name. 

The Lady of Shalott.^ 

Who is this ? and what is here ? 
And in the lighted palace near 
Died the sound of royal cheer ; 
And they cross'd themselves for fear. 

All the knights at Camelot : 

Still as the boat-head wound along 
The willowy hills and fields among. 
They heard her chanting her death song, 
The Lady of Shalott. 

^ 1833. A long drawn carol, mournful, holy. 
She chanted loudly, chanted lowly, 
Till her eyes were darkened wholly, 
And her smooth face sharpened slowly, 
2 " A corse " (1853) is a variant for the " Dead-pale " of 1857. 
^ 1833. A pale, pale corpse she floated by. 
Dead cold, between the houses high, 

Dead into towered Camelot. 
Knight and burgher, lord and dame, 
To the planked wharfage came : 
Below the stern they read her name, 
"The Lady of Shalott." 



But Lancelot ^ mused a little space ; 
He said, " She has a lovely face ; 
God in his mercy lend her grace, 

TheLady of Shalott".2 

^ 1833. Spells it "Launcelot" all through. 

2 1833. 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. 
" The web icas v:ovcn curiously, 
The charm is broken utterly, 
Draw near and fear not — this is I, 
The Lady of Shalott. " 



Aldworth, Tennyson's bouse near 

Haslemere, 48. 
Alexandra, (^ueen, Tennyson's 

interview with, io2. 
Alfcrd, Dean, 8. 
Allen, Dr., 26. 
AUingham, William, 15, 65. 
" Apostles," the, a society, 9. 
Arnold, Matthew, 130. 
Astronomy, Tennyson's love of, 5, 

Austen, Jane, 98. 

Blakesley, Dean, 8. 

Boxley, home of Tennyson family, 

Boyd, Mr., 11. 
Bradley, Dean, 47, 66. 
Brassey, Lord, 73. 
Browning, Robert, 41, 60; death 

of, 74 ; Tennyson's criticism of 

writings, 130. 
Browning, Mrs., 30. 
Bryce, James, 60. 
Burns, Robert, 129. 
Byron, Lord, poetical influence 

over Tennyson, 127. 

Dante, 132. 

De Musset, Alfred, 148. 

Denmark, King and Queen of, 

Tennyson's meeting with, 67. 
De Vere, Aubrey, 35, 138. 
D'Eyncourt, i. 
Dickens, 22, 25. 

Disraeli [Lord Beaconsfield], 54. 
Dobson, Principal, 30. 
Drama, the, "Tennyson's views 

concerning, 56-61. 

Eastbourne, 26. 

Education of women, 181. 

I Bog, famous men born in, i note, 

Enoch A rden, 47. 

Eyre, Governor, 48. 

Farringford, Tennyson's home, 

37. 42- 
Fitz Gerald, Edward, 1 note, 8, 17; 

criticisms on Tennyson's work 

and character, 18, 103, 145, 150, 

157. 194- 
Fletcher, Rev. H., 87. 
Prater Ave, 64, 
Froude, J. A., 59. 

Cambridge, Tennyson's life at, 
7-11; elected Hon. Fellow, 50; 
lines on Cambridge of 1830, 
quoted, 11. 

Campbell, Thomas, 22. 

Carlyle, 2, 22, 27, 31, 62. 

Chancellor's medal won by Tenny- 
son, 10. 

Cheltenham, home of Tennyson 
family, 20, 30. 

Clark, Sir Andrew, 63, 72. 

Collins, Churton, 153. 

Cornwall, Tennyson's visit to, 

Currie, Sir Donald, 66. 

Czar and Czarina, 67. 



Garibaldi, visit to Tennyson, 46. 
Gladstone, W. E., i note, 52, 66, 

67, 68. 
Gleam, The, 203. 
Goethe, 132. 
Grasby, land owned by Tennyson, 

Greece, King and Queen of, 67. 
Green, J. R., 87. 

Hallam, Arthur, at Cambridge, 8 ; 
expedition to Spain with Tenny- 
son, 11; engagement to Emily 
Tennyson, 12; Tennyson's 
friendship for, 15 ; death of, 16. 



Haslemere, 4^^ 

High Beech, pPie of Tennyson 

family, 19. 
Holmes, O. W., i note; visit to 

Tennyson, 96. 
Houghton, Lord, 8, 20, 27. 
Hunt, Leigh, 221. 

Idylls, 42, 44, 50, 51, 137, 195-202, 

In Memoriam, 17, 26, 32, 137, 150, 

151, 168-79. 

Jackson, Mr., 6. 

Jonson, Ben, 130. 

Jowett, Professor, 7,43,49,53,71,75. 

Keats, 128. 

Knowles, Mr., architect of Aid- 
worth, 48, 55. 

Lady of Shalott, 158, 211, 233-40. 

Lampsbn, Miss Locker, marriage 
with Lionel Tennyson, 62. 

Landor, 22. 

Laureateship conferred on Tenny- 
son, 35. 

Leigh Hunt, 22. 

Locksley Hall, 69, 162-67. 

Louth School, 5. 

Lucretius, 49, 

Lushington, Edmund, 25. 

Lytton, Bulwer, 28. 

Mablethorpe, 4. 

Marlborough College, 47. 

Martineau, Dr., 65. 

Maud, 42, 187-92. 

Maurice, F. D., 32, 36. 

Merivale, Dean, 8, 10. 

Metaphysical Society, 55. 

Millais, Sir John, 40; portrait of 
Tennyson, 65. 

Milnes, Monckton. (See Hough- 
ton, Lord.) 

Milton, 125. 

Miiller, Max, 50. 

New Timon and The Poets, 28. 
North, Christopher, 15. 
Northampton, Marquis of, 20. 

Oxford D.C.L. conferred 
Tennyson, 37. 

Palace 0/ Art, 158, 217-32. 

Palgrave, F. T., 50, 121. 

Patmore, Coventry, 90; criticism 
on Tennyson's work and char- 
acter, 60, 6r, 79, 173. 

Peel, Sir Robert, 27. 

Peerage for Tennyson, 67, 68. 

Pension granted to Tennyson 

Poems. (See Writings under 

Poems by Two Brothers, 6. 

Poet, The, 205-07. 

Poet's Mind, The, 207. 

Politics, Tennyson's interest in, 

Prince Consort, visit to Tenny- 
son, 42 ; death of, 44. 

Princess, The, 28, 180-86. 

Promise of May, 65. 

Queen Mary, 56, 5o, 61. 
Queensberry, Marquis of, 65. 

Rawnsley, Mr., 28, 35. 

Religion, Tennyson's views on, 

105-19, 172-79. 
Rivers, John, Earl, i. 
Robertson, Frederick, 30, 32. 
Rogers, Samuel, 22, 31. 
Rossetti, D. G., 211. 
Russell, Earl, 62. 

Sea Fairies, 160. 

Sellwood, Emily Sarah. (See 

Tennyson, Lady.) 
Sellwood, Louisa, marriage with 

Charles Tennyson, 19. 
Shah, the, 72. 
Shakespeare, 122-25. 
Shelley, 12S. 
Somersby, Tennyson's birthplace 

3. 4. 19- 
Spain, Tennyson's sympathy with 

Revolution in, 11. 
Spedding, James, 8, 17. 
Spiritualism, Tennyson's opinion 

on, 99. 
Sunbeam, the, cruise in, 73. 
Switzerland, tour in, 28. 



Taine, criticism of Tennyson's 
work, 146-49. 

Tennyson — 

Alfred, Lord, birth and family, 
I, 3; appearance, 2, 7, 13, ig, 
22, 44, 88 ; portraits by Watts 
and Millais, 44, 65 ; Cambridge 
life, 7-11; Chancellor's medal 
won, 10 ; studies and interests, 
14 ; marriage and domestic 
life, 23, 34, 35, 37, 43 ; pension 
granted, 27; laureateship con- 
ferred, 35; Oxford D.C.L., 37; 
Cambridge Hon. Fellow, 50; 
offers of baronetcy and peerage, 
52, 54, 67, 68 ; health, 13, 26, 
71 ; death and burial, 76, 77. 
Character and characteristics, 4, 
5, 6, 9, 14, 18, 22, 30, 31, 43, 
69 ; general criticism of, 78-104. 
Waitings — critic, qualifications 
as, i2i; literary influences, 120- 
34, 214 ; methods and style, 24, 
40, 135-49: metre, 140, 159-61, 
170, 190, 191, 192. Plays, 56-61, 
65. Poems — Boadicea, 45 ; 
Brook, The, 192 ; Cambridge, 
Lines on, 11 ; Charge of the 
Light Brigade, 41 ; Coach of 
Death, 7 ; Crossing the Bar, 73 ; 
Crusty Christopher, 15 ; Deineter 
and other Poems, 73. Early 
poems compared with later ones, 
150-61 ; Enoch A rden, 47 ; Frater 
A ve, 64 ; Gleam, The, 208 ; 
Idylls, 42, 44, 50, 51, 137, 195-202, 
208; In Memoriam, 17, 26, 32, 
i37i 15O1 15I1 168-79; Lady of 
Shalott, 159, 211, 233-40; Locks- 
ley Hall, 69, 162-67 ; Lucretius, 
49 ; Maud, 42, 187-92 ; \New 
Timonand the Poets, 28; Palace 
of Art, 158, 217-32; Poems by 
Two Brothers, 6 ; Poet, The, 
205-07; Princess, The, 28, 180- 
86 ; Sea Fairies, 160 ; Timbuctoo, 
10 ; Tiresias and other Poems, 
68 ; Ulysses, 167 ; volumes of, 
published in 1830, 13, 153-55, 
156, 160; in 1832, 13, 156; in 
1842, 23-25, 156; in 1880, 64; 
Wellington, Ode on, 36. Poetical 
ideal, 203-16. 

Cecilia Tennyson, 25. 
Charles Tennyson, takes name 
of Turner, i ; poems by, 6 ; 

at Cambridge, 7 ; marriage, 
19 ; death of, 63. 
Emily Tennyson, engagement 

to Arthur Hallam, 12. 
Frederick Tennyson, i, 6, 7, 

George Tennyson, Rev. Dr., 

I, 2. 
Mrs. G. Tennyson, 2, 12. 
Hallam, Lord Tennyson, 36. 
Lady Tennyson, 19, 34, 53. 
Lionel Tennyson, marriage, 
62 ; death of, 69. 
Thackeray, incident concerning, 

Thomson, W. H., 8, 49. 
Timbuctoo, poem, :o. 
Tiresias and other Poems, 68. 
Trench, Archbishop, 8. 
Trinity College. (See Cam- 
Tunbridge Wells, 19, 25. 
Turner. (See Tennyson, Charles.) 
Twickenham, Tennyson s home, 

Tyndall, Prof., 32. 

Ulysses, 167. 

Venables, G. S., 21. 

Victoria, Queen, Tennyson's inter- 
views with, etc., 44, 52, 54, 66. 

Voltaire, opinion of English 
poetry, 207. 

Ward, W. G., 112. 

Watson, William, 75. 

Watts, G. F., portrait of Tenny- 
son, 44. 

Wellington, Duke of, ode on, 36 
anecdote concerning, 100. 

Westcott, Bishop, 32. 

Wilson, "Thomas, 45. 

Woman, Tennyson's conception 
of, 185-87; education of, 181. 

Wordsworth, view of nature com- 
pared with Tennyson's, 83 ; 
Tennyson's criticism of writ- 
ings, 126 ; death of, 35. 

Yonge, Miss, 97. 


PR Benson, Arthur Christopher 

5581 Alfred Tennyson 





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