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From The Quarterly Review.
MODERN ENGLISH POETS.*

many things not calculated to rouse enthusiasm, but on the contrary dull and repulsive, which yet it is necessary should be seen, weighed, and remembered. And to these Shelley would turn his attention. He was for ever like the Pythian prophetess; he stood on his tripod and delivered oracles, which to a cool-minded observer seemed madness, but which penetrated deeply into those who had the seed of a like enthusiasm

in themselves.

IN coming from the poets of the beginning of this century to those of the last thirty or forty years, it cannot but strike every one how much the atmosphere of hope and of enthusiasm has cooled down. The years which were measured by the life of Shelley were years in which Europe was agitated by the most fiery energies; nor was it merely the crash of unexampled wars, the tumult of rising or falling kingdoms, The author who connects the age of which that stirred the minds of men. A new we have been speaking, with the age of spirit was in the world: the equality of men Tennyson and Browning, is one who is no was, for the first time, not indeed taught verse-writer, and who has even poured conor believed, but practically urged by pow-tempt on poetry, but yet is not the less ers that in their first outburst destroyed all, surely a poet himself - Mr. Carlyle. We or nearly all, that presumed to bar their way. There could be no indifference to such a spectacle. Some recoiled from it in horror; but those who dared to hope at all, hoped with a vehemence proportionate to the greatness of the events. It might be disputed whether the birth with which the age was in labour would be for good or for evil; it could not be disputed that it was marvellous, beyond precedent; and hence those who had faith, in spite of adverse appearances, that it was good, thought it marvellously and unprecedently good. And in this category were at their first starting (though some afterwards changed) all the great poets of the age. These, then, had no need to seek for a subject on which to - write; rather were they likely to fail from the very multitude of their imaginations, from the intensity of their zeal, from inability to exercise that degree of soberness which is requisite, in order to discern truth from falsehood. And this, in fact, is precisely the point in which Shelley, who most of all bore the impress of his age, is the weakest. He could not be unpoetic; he was even too poetic, for in the world there are

the

may be accused of extravagance in the following opinion, and yet we are not conscious of being mere partizans of Mr. Carlyle; and if need were, we should find many complaints to bring against him. But yet it appears to us that no historic event has ever been embraced so completely in all its amplitude, and in all its circumstances and bearings, by any single writer, as French Revolution has been by Mr. Carlyle. Not merely, nor even chiefly, in his history of the revolution; but in his miscellaneous essays, where he shows how in Germany and France the new ideas sprang first in the brain of philosophers, and took form, and were disseminated; and how they came into conflict with the effete and languid spirit of those who were nominally rulers, and statesmen, and spiritual teachers; and where he makes every reader feel how natural and human was every part in every scene of that great drama, which began with Voltaire, which culminated in Robespierre, and which ended in Napoleon. In Mr. Carlyle, the fire of the previous generation, which had witnessed these events, has not yet died out; it burns less wildly, but more steadily, and, being mixed with a solid sense of reality, the result is a degree and extent of insight, to which we know scarcetions, indeed, are precisely the kind of subly a parallel among historians. RevoluLon-ject most suited to Mr. Carlyle's genius: that he would do equal justice to an orderly, peaceable age and country, following preceIdent, is not so probable.

* 1. Poems. The Princess. Maud and other Poems. In Memoriam. Idylls of the King. Enoch Arden, &c. By Alfred Tennyson. London, 1868.

2. Poetical Works. The Ring and the Book. By

Robert Browning. London, 1868-1869.

3. Poems. By Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

don, 1866.

4. Poems. By Arthur Hugh Clough. London,

1863.

5. Poems. New Poems. By Matthew Arnold. London, 1857, 1867.

Thus far, then, the ardent and tender

pected that Mr. Browning, who is a very keen observer of human nature, would have found something to rouse his poetic vigour in the broad life of nations. Yet there is

spirits who looked out into the world had found, in the course of external events, full and ample material to satisfy their need of ardent hopes and sympathies. But great is the change when we come to the next gen-only one short poem - the Lost Leader'— eration, which had no personal knowledge of in which he has expressed any real inspiring, the events of the beginning of the century. feeling on this topic; for his Cavalier After the battle of Waterloo, Europe in its Songs,' and 'Strafford' are much more repweariness ceased from the search after wide resentations of individual peculiarities than abstract principles; causes which take hold displays of far-reaching passions; and the of eager impulsive minds, became compara- same remark may be made of his poems tively rare; a prosaic air belonged alike to that relate to Italy, though the concluding the Reform Bill of 1832 and the Revolution lines of his last poem show the germ of a of July. Many most memorable political wider feeling. Of Mrs. Browning it must events took place between 1815 and 1848; be admitted, that her most touching and but with the exception of the Grecian War vigorous poetry relates to the aspirations of Independence, they all belonged rather of Italy, which she loved so well, and which to the useful than to the brilliant and pic- has shown itself not ungrateful to her memturesque class. The effects of the French ory by the inscription set over the door Revolution remained, it is true, in the in- of the house in which she lived at Florence. creased action of the peoples, in the more But Mrs. Browning, though so far as she cautious demeanour of monarchs, and in the goes an exception to the non-political chargeneral sense of a common cause subsisting acter of recent poets, is not sufficiently between the nations of Europe. But a dis- strong to disprove the rule to any material enchantment had taken place; no one could degree; and neither the late Arthur Hugh any longer expect that these effects, how- Clough nor Mr. Matthew Arnold ever show ever beneficial, were such as would forth- any more than an everyday interest in the with make earth a paradise. Consequently, striking events of the world around them. poets turned away from politics, as from a It would certainly be unjust to argue field in which they could not hope to find from the fact just noticed, that the poets of any inspiring theme for their verse. This whom we have been speaking have emchange took place very suddenly. Tenny- braced no large sphere of thought and feelson is the first in whom it may be observed; ing at all. But it is none the less true, the whole of his works do not, we believe, that no equally strong and constraining excontain a single notice of continental public ternal influence has replaced in them the matters, except two or three allusions to force which political enthusiasm exercised France, not conceived in the most generous upon the earlier poets. In most cases, their spirit. Three of his patriotic poems, how-subject has not been forced upon them, ever, are characterized by a certain quiet stateliness; the one beginning

Of old sat Freedom on the heights;'

that which begins

Love thou thy land with love far-brought; and that which contains the well-known stanza :

they have had to go and seek it. We do not say that it is an error in a poet to seek a fit subject whereon to write, much the reverse; but it is best of all, if the fit subject comes to him without his seeking it. And though it could not be asserted of Coleridge, or Wordsworth, or Shelley, that political thought was that for which they were most fitted, or by which their best poems are animated, yet it was undoubtedly the great A land of just and old renown, political convulsions which they had seen Where Freedom slowly broadens down that stirred up the depths of their minds, From precedent to precedent.' and gave them a readiness and a swiftness And there is a remarkable though rough alike in taking in and giving out imaginavigour in the Ode on the Charge of the tions to which the natural bent of their disLight Brigade.' It might have been ex-position more specially inclined. In short,

A land of settled government,

we think that Byron and Wordsworth and scend the limits of individual feeling. Whentheir contemporaries had a real poetic ad-ever their minds are in a mood for dealing vantage over the later generation, in this, that their life was cast in times when the events of every day were wonderful and startling, and when even if a poet did write directly about those events, he gathered from them instinctively an impetus and fire not to be attained in ages of a more commonplace description.

with things more comprehensive than their own personal observation or emotion, it is in this direction that they tend. And it also marks them as students; for, without study, it is impossible for any man to write much, either in prose or verse, on these subjects. If we ask how this tendency has come, there are not wanting manifest causes of it. When the leading actors in the world are not sufficiently great to attract a poet, he must apply himself to the leading thinkers and to

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to write on anything great. Possibly, too, the reaction from the school of which Comte is the most recognized exponent — the school which affirms the absolute futility of religion and philosophy alike may have disposed inquiring minds to examine with more than ordinary care the meaning of philosophy and religion. It is certainly a very natural result, when men, who are previously disposed to take interest in a topic, hear that the discussion of it is forbidden them (whether by kings or parliaments or philosophers does not make much difference), that they should be even more zealous in pursuing it than before. But, however this may be, there can be no doubt about the fact as respects the poets of whom we are treating.

Let us cease, however, to consider what Mr. Tennyson and Mr. Browning are not, and what they have not given us, and come to the more gracious task of considering the universal topics of thought if he wishes what positively they are, and what they have done. Now there is a very decided family likeness between all the five poets whom we have taken as our main subject. Differing among themselves in many points, it is plain that their spirit has bent in one direction, and been penetrated by a common thought. To speak of a school of poets has often an unsuitable sound, or else it implies a certain disparagement; thus, for instance, we should speak more readily of the school of Racine than of the school of Shakespeare, because we hold the former to be less individual in style and conception. But in no disparaging sense we may term the poets of whom we are now speaking, a school. They are students; they have gathered together their knowledge deliberately and with pains, and gathered it to a very But to come to the separate consideration considerable degree, even from books. None of these poets. That general type, which of them are like Horace and Burns, who by appears in all of them, is of course in each pure observation gained the command over individual instance modified and combined a large field of human nature. Topics which with other qualities. To take, first, Mr. demand learning and abstract thought oc- Tennyson:- We are constrained to begin cupy a large portion of their verse. In by saying that, as his works have hitherto Tennyson, even scientific allusions are very entirely failed to meet with a really discrimcommon, as for instanceinative criticism, a sober estimate of them is at once difficult to make, and may seem to some disappointing. Partly because for a long time he was the only considerable English poet; partly because men have come to look upon poetry (what now-a-days it too often is) as merely an ornament and a pleasure, and not a task that ennobles and But that which at once marks most espec- invigorates both writer and reader, and ially the student-like nature of these poets is spreads itself in sympathy through all the the wide extent to which philosophical and works and occupations of men; he has not religious meditations enter into their poe- merely been overpraised, but qualities have try. It is an essential element in their been ascribed to him the very reverse of his greatness, for it is by this that they tran- real merits. He has been thought to have

'Before the little ducts began

To feed thy bones with lime, and ran
Their course, till thou wert also man.'

And again

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'Break, thou deep vase of chilling tears, That grief hath shaken into frost.'

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somewhere, meek unconscious dove,
That sittest ranging golden hair;
And glad to find thyself so fair,
Poor child, that waitest for thy love!
For now her father's chimney glows
In expectation of a guest;

And thinking" this will please him best,"
She takes a riband or a rose;

For he will see them on to-night

And with the thought her colour burns;
And, having left the glass, she turns
Once more to set a ringlet right;

And, even when she turn'd, the curse
Had fallen, and her future Lord
Was drown'd in passing thro' the ford,
Or kill'd in falling from his horse.
what to her shall be the end?

And what to her remains of good?
To her, perpetual maidenhood,
And unto me no second friend.'

a profound original intellect, whereas heMaud,' have a more brilliant inspiration; has merely a receptive intellect; he has been but none else reveals so large a portion of thought to have dramatic imagination, himself, his life, thoughts, and emotions. whereas few poets are more self-contained And such a passage as the following, than and self-respective. We must do him the which there are few more beautiful in Mr. justice of saying that his really excellent Tennyson's works, will illustrate and justify works have only rarely been overrated; it the account we have given of his characis his least meritorious productions that ter: have hit the taste of the unintelligent mul-O titude, and have raised him to this undue pinnacle. This, perhaps, is not unfrequently the case: but, at any rate, we trust that we shall show that of the real beauty and pathos of Mr. Tennyson we have no unfitting appreciation. That which in him is, above all, the attractive power, the spell (for all poets have a spell) by which he makes men listen to him, is the depth and fervour of his personal affection. This it is which lends reality, sincerity, and strength, to his other excellences to his musical ear, to his delicate observation of external beauty, to his endeavours after philosophical truth; otherwise these would be mere outside shows and deceptive mimicries of beauty. It has not always been so, with all poets; in Wordsworth, for instance, the love of Na-O ture combined with a broad and tranquil interest in humanity overpowered the individual sentiment for men; but such a temper is widely different from that of Mr. Tennyson. There is not a page of Mr. This is a miniature, but a very perfect Tennyson that touches us, which is not felt miniature. And indeed, looking through to owe its charm to the love which he bears In Memoriam,' the number of beautiful towards the persons whom he has known. images and pictures, compressed into a sinAnd in this love are great purity and great gle line or at most into a few stanzas, is simplicity. How simple Mr. Tennyson's marvellous. As scarcely any English poet nature really is (in spite of the elaboration has a nature of more pure and gentle feelwhich he has bestowed on his style), has ing than Mr. Tennyson, so scarcely any has not always been noticed. His simplicity is a mind more keenly alive to sensuous imlike that of a woman; unaffected, devoid of pressions. He sees beauty where others worldly wisdom and little tinctured by any have seen only ugliness; he hears music practical sagacity, devoid too (with very where a common ear would pass unheedrare exceptions) of genuine wildness of pasingly by. And what he has seen and heard, sion. And as his simplicity is that of a wo- he renders to others in words somewhat man, so is his constancy. He has no fickle elaborate perhaps, and occasionally a little disposition, nor one apt to take offence. In either of these respects, compare his lyrics to those of Horace, or Burns, or Byron, or Heine. These poets had the vices and virtues of men; passion, inconstancy, knowledge of the world, wit, manysidedness, a considerable zest in the pursuit of pleasure. Of these six qualities, the last five hardly belong to Mr. Tennyson in any degree whatever; while of passion he has far less than of tenderness, the feminine counterpart of passion.

Of all Mr. Tennyson's poems, In Memoriam' is by much the most characteristic, and the one which displays his nature most fully. Others, and especially parts of

difficult to be understood from their brevity, but when once taken in, not readily forgotten. The grandest aspects of Nature, and the thoughts and analogies suggested by these, are not so kindred to his mind, nor are they expressed by him so vividly, as they were by the poets of the beginning of the century. But of the innumerable details in the landscape that meet us every day, of the sights and sounds of the country or the quiet seaside, he is a consummate master. Nor does he ever touch them coldly or ambitiously; he suffuses them all over with the pathos of his own heart, and makes them glow with an equable fire. We might quote from In Memoriam' al

most as many passages as there are pages; them new meaning by virtue of their mu

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And brushing ankledeep in flowers,

We heard beneath the woodbine veil
The milk that bubbled in the pail,
And buzzings of the honied hours.'
Again: -

But Summer on the steaming floods,

And Spring that swells the narrow brooks,
And Autumn with a noise of rooks,
That gather in the waning woods,

'And every pulse of wind and wave

Recalls, in change of light or gloom,
My old affection of the tomb,
And my prime passion in the grave.'

Or, to quote from the Princess,' where can three more melodiously descriptive lines be found than the following?

Myriads of rivulets hurrying thro' the lawn,
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.'

We spoke just now of brevity as one of Mr. Tennyson's most striking characteristics; and, indeed, this is true, not merely of his descriptions, but of his entire method of writing. No one can express a truth of feeling in fewer words, and therefore with greater weight and emphasis, than he. It is needless to quote; such lines as

"Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all.'

will occur to every one. But what Mr. Tennyson has not, is a quality not inconsistent with brevity of expression, but yet so different as rarely to be found united with it, namely, amplitude and comprehension of thought and style. Few men, we say, have united these two; few men have expanded their minds so as to discern in the world splendours that had never before been revealed, and yet have contracted their utterance so as to make others feel the power of rigid truth, that leads itself not one atom to extravagance of speech. But yet there have been men who have done this, and Mr. Tennyson is not one of them. He has the sobriety of language which is so impressive; but he has not the largeness of grasp. All his works consist of a series of isolated lyrics or pictures, exquisite, but still isolated; there is no long sweep, no single grand conception working itself out in details, but dominant over the details; the elements are imbued with a common tone, but they are never stirred up by profound and amalgamating thought; they do not move in obedience to a design that sways and moulds them, and gives

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tual relation. For what is it that we read the Princess'? For the stanzas Tears, idle tears; for those others, Home she brought her warrior dead,' and a few similar to these. The story is a trifle, and without that wit which gives brilliancy and meaning to trifles. It is a story that has been suggested, manifestly, by important questions; nor is it devoid, at least in one passage, of evidence that Mr. Tennyson has entertained these questions with a clear if not far-seeing eye, and with a tender heart.

For woman is not undeveloped man,
But diverse; could we make her as the man,
Sweet Love were slain : his dearest bond is this,
Not like to like, but like in difference.
Yet in the long years liker must they grow;
The man be more of woman, she of man.'

But the whole poem does nothing at all to support such a passage as this, which might equally well have stood by itself. Whereas, not to speak of Shakespeare, take even such a poem as the Ancient Mariner,' or an episode like that of Haidée in Don Juan,' and every part will be found to support and to be necessary to the rest.

The Idylls of the King' is Mr. Tennyson's most ambitious work; and except the Princess,' it is the one which most conclusively proves his inability to embrace a subjeet of any large compass. It is the effort of a nature essentially lyric to compose something dramatic; and the weakness of the poet in this line is shown by the fact that the whole volume is confined to the region of the sentimental. The old collection of Arthurian legends, the Morte d'Arthur,' on which Mr. Tennyson's book is founded, had no great breadth of imagination, though very charming from its simplicity and natural pathos. But at least the original romancer, besides his pathos, had a genuine delight in fighting; the strength, and courage, and victories of his knights appealed to his heart, and were described from his heart. Now Mr. Tennyson, living in a peaceful age, does not care much for fighting; he tells how Geraint struck off the head of Earl Doorm at a blow, and how Lancelot smote down all in the tournament, but his heart is manifestly not in the telling; there is a formality about his style when he comes to these parts of his poem. There is all the difference in the world between the description of the tournament in Elaine' and the description of the tournament in Ivanhoe.' And hence Mr. Tennyson is more contracted even than the old romancer; more contracted, we mean, in his apprehension

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