Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

is not surprising if his mature taste rejected afterward many of his extravagances. But whether for Hallam's and other kindred Cambridge influences, or strictly for his own sake, these poems are very well worth reprinting. They can make us one with his early contemporaries, and revive the contemporary illusion that only lasts in poetry while the novelty of its music and its ideal habit are still unaffected by use.

Take, as an instance of his early verse, the stanza that originally began “Mariana in the South," one of the lyrics of 1833

"Behind the barren hill upsprung

With pointed rocks against the light,
The crag sharp-shadowed overhung

Each glaring creek and inlet bright.
Far, far, one light blue ridge was seen,

Looming like baseless fairyland ;

Eastward a slip of burning sand,
Dark-rimmed with sea, and bare of green
Down in the dry salt-marshes stood

That house dark latticed. Not a breath

Swayed the sick vineyard underneath,
Or moved the dusty southernwood.

"Madonna,' with melodious moan

Sang Mariana, night and morn,
Madonna, lo! I am all alone,

Love-forgotten and love-forlorn." This is not so effective as the present opening; but it is much too good to be ignored. It sets up enough of novel detail-the “barren hill," "the crag sharp-shadowed," "the light blue ridge”-to vary the picture, and charge the total impression with the element of unexpectedness. Something might be said, on the same grounds, for reviving a small group of the boyish poems from the volume of 1827, which act as a new window into his House of Fame. Aided by the initials appended in the facsimile of 1893, one can fairly decide what the younger brother Alfred's share in the collection was. Best of his poems was that describing “a long, low, rushy dell,” some of whose lines are faintly predictive of other and much better things to

1

[ocr errors]

come

" And far-far off the heights were seen to shine

In clear relief against the sapphire sky,
And many a blue stream wander'd thro' the shade
Of those dark groves that clomb the mountains high,
And glistening 'neath each lone-entangled glade,
At length with brawling accent loudly fell

Within the limpid brook that wound along the dell.” Shelley, as well as Gray and Collins, surely helped the boy of fifteen or sixteen who wrote this poem ? Scott, Byron, and

)

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Campbell as surely helped him in other verses. But it is noticeable that whatever Celtic reminders there are in this poetical exercise-book are coloured by classic and eighteenthcentury, and not by romantic, colours.

One of the longer poems in this class,- ,-a druidic poem one might call it since it is addressed to Mona, although it is written in a most undruidic form,-is certainly full of eighteenth-century echoes and of the generic imagery that the eighteenth bestowed in vain on the nineteenth. Ossian-Macpherson's Ossian, the perfect measure of the same century's interest in old Celtic literature, is quoted in the footnotes, and there is another telltale Ossianic poem, signed “A. T.," in the latter half of the bcok, with a quotation—“It is the great army of the dead returning on the northern blast," from the “Song of the Five Bards.” The poem, hardly remarkable even as a schoolboy's essay, has nothing more memorable than this variation of the main theme

“Heard you that sound ? It was the hum

Of the innumerable host,
As down the northern sky they come,

Lamenting o'er their glories lost.”
The advance from this poem to Tennyson's magic region of
1830, leads us happily not to Macpherson but the old Border
Ballads. He used to declaim some of his favourite ballads-
“Clerk Saunders” and “Fair Helen” among them—in the rooms
of his friends at Cambridge; and his own “Oriana," their natural
offspring, was recited to the same circle. Yet another ballad,
very Coleridgean in parts—the “Coach of Death "-was much
bruited in this way too ; and in its lyric equipage and that of
other poems of that time are the indications that the Tennyson
of the “ Lady of Shalott” and “Mariana" was emerging, and
that Arthurian romance, and the Celtic and Gallic mingled
strains of it, had had their effect. Another long stage, and the
“Idylls of the King," which may be described as a masterly
attempt to write Celtic romance in a classic fashion, remind
us that Tennyson, too, was in his early youth affected by
the eighteenth century, and that his first approach to the
Celtic wonder-world was through the Mona of Tacitus and
Gray. But this is to outrun his novitiate, and its stimulating
and fortunate associations during those Cambridge terms, when
he first learnt to drink “ black port” and debate the moral ideal
with his fellow-apostles.

Such glimpses of him at Cambridge in his sanguine days, as are to be had from his fellow-undergraduates, point to a world

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

of d

[ocr errors]

in which a certain element of young extravagance was not wanting. They were given to wax generous and eloquent over him and his poetry. We hear of his magnificent presence, splendid face, nobly poised head, and “dark wavy hair”; of his very hands-strong, finely modelled, long-fingered, with broad finger tips.

Thompson, the well-known don who became Master of Trinity, said, on watching him enter hall as an undergraduate, “That man must be a poet." And the whole disposition of the zealous group which gathered about him there was for poetry. Four or five other less potential and less ambitious poets belonged to it-Monckton-Milnes, Trench, Alford, Arthur Hallam, and Merivale among ther. The very accent of these years, the intrepid “thirties” of the century to which he gave so distinctive a voice, is in his volumes of 1830 and 1833; and in those of 1842, which incorporated large slices from the earlier volumes.

Several of their poems, that were afterwards dropped out of the schedule because they were imperfect in expression, are of no very individual tune or style ; some are artless to a degree. But of all, it may be said, that they help to fulfil the picture of the keen experimenter and the inconclusive artist who was yet to enlarge and complete his art. It may only be an epithet here, or a line there; but together they reveal the craftsman. One innocentest song of a grasshopper, which suggests now Shelley, now Keats or another, is a lyric study well worth perpetuating. At the close of this fanciful field-lyric, he turns with minute imagination and a gay courtesy to the creature

“Pushing the thick roots aside

Of the singing, flowerèd grasses,

That brush thee with their silken tresses." And he ends with rhymes of “emerald glooms" and "golden blooms," which recall the love of splendid lights and burnished colours shown in his poetry late and early.

Another sonnet, which appeared in the Englishman's Magazine for 1832, and was not reprinted in any succeeding volume, clearly betrays the Keats influence in its opening

"There are three things that fill my heart with sighs

And steep my soul in laughter (when I view
Fair maiden forms moving like melodies),

Dimples, roselips, and eyes of any hue.
There are three things beneath the blessed skies

For which I live-black eyes, and brown and blue ;
I hold them all most dear; but oh! black eyes,

I live and die, and only die for you."

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

There is nothing more interesting than to look into the workshop of a master-craftsman, unless, it is to recall him in the days when he was still learning his craft; and the artistic development to be traced in passing from the 1830 book to that of 1833 is very remarkable. Before the earlier book is left behind, Coleridge's words about it need to be recalled, and then qualified by Hallam’s enthusiasm. Both have been quoted before, but they will bear re-quoting

“ The misfortune wrote Coleridge, “that he has begun to vrite verses without very well understanding what metre is;

what I would, with many wishes of success, prescribe to Tennyson-indeed without it he can never be a poet in art—is Ito write for the next two or three years in none but one or two well-known and strictly-defined metres ; such as the heroic couplet, the octave stanza, or the octosyllabic measure of the

Allegro' and 'Penseroso.' He would probably thus get imbued with a sensation, if not a sense of metre, without knowing lit, just as Eton boys get to write such good Latin verses by conning Ovid and Tibullus. As it is, I can scarcely scan his verses."

Arthur Hallam's tribute was printed in the same Englishman's Magazine, to which Tennyson, as we have seen, contributed too. He gives in his article a list of the Five Excellences of Tennyson's early lyric poems, and fourth of these the “variety of his lyrical measures, and exquisite modulation of harmonious words and cadences to the swell and fall of the feelings expressed." From a poem like “The Dying Swan," with its expansive change from an ordered first to a very fluent and almost dithyrambic last verse, we may see, what it is always useful to see long afterwards, how Tennyson struck his contemporaries, and delighted beyond criticism the younger men, and failed to convince the older ones.

Tennyson was, perhaps, of all the English poets, the one who took criticism most to heart. It was not only that he listened to that of others. As he went on, he practised greater and greater care in his revision, correction, and recorrection of his poems, before finally letting them go out to the world. For a demonstration in full of his later methods, turn to the account given of the building of the“ Idylls of th King”in “ Literary Anecdotes of the XIXth Century,” by the most patient and ingenious of bibliophiles, Mr. Thomas J. Wise. As we learn from his investisations, that confirm certain passages in Tennyson's life, the poet i ? Mr. Wise has now in course of preparation an elaborate bibliography of (11 Tennyson's works, which he is printing privately.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

began in mid-career the practice of setting up in many cases trial. books, first private imprints, of the volumes he wished to publish. Thus, in 1869, there was a trial-book of the proposed re-issue of the mysteriously pirated and sub-published “ Lover's Tale”; and long before this, as Lord Tennyson tells us in his memoir of his father, the poet had in 1842 had eight of the poems—the blank-verse poems—of the “Morte D'Arthur volume, set up for his private use.

But the most noteworthy of all these press rehearsals was that associated with the issue in 1859 of the first “Idylls of the King,” which were first entitled “The True and the False : Four Idylls of the King," and so published by Moxon. As in that year there was issued a novel entitled “False and True," it is by no means improbable that its publication induced Tennyson to drop his first title.

This has carried us far past the days when Arthur Hallam's death first gave to Tennyson the desire to perpetuate the name of Arthur, and inspired that pattern-piece for all the idylls to come, which is still their highest mark in art—the “Morte D'Arthur.” Its conclusion especially is charged with a personal emotion, or so one imagines it to be-remembering that it was in fact first shaped and named in the years immediately after Arthur Hallam's death, when Tennyson had gone to London.

Arthur Hallam's essay on his friend's early poems in the Englishman has been already quoted. But the most salient passage in the essay was that in which Hallam attempted to decide the relation of the modern poet to his time, as if to declare the latent qualities of this new poet. To the intellectual picture of Tennyson's and Hallam's Cambridge, and to the vivid portraits of him painted by his fellow-undergraduates there, we ought to add next, therefore, a picture of the London which was his in that second period which was to prove and test his force as a poet of men, moving among men, As Hallam's stimulus, friendship, and extravagant praise had been constant factors in the first period, his death was the sad determining factor of the second. With that event, it has been said, Tennyson's youth and his first lyric effervescence seemed to go from him.

London became then the hard master, and the only possible consoler, that he could have found in the mood which led him at length to the writing of “In Memoriam.” In London he maddi new friendships, or took up old ones. Among them, we must count Fitzgerald, who read in his stars, not only his great beginning, but a still greater event to come ; and recognized

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »