POETRY AS INTERPRETING THE DIVINE ORDER
Few poets have given so early promise of greatness as did Alfred Tennyson. At five years of age in his father's garden, when caught and swept along by a gale, he exclaimed: "I hear a voice that's speaking in the wind!" His first verses were inscribed upon a slate at home, while his elders were at church. "Yes, you can write!" said his brother Charles, after he had read them. The grandfather was not so hopeful. He gave Alfred a half-sovereign for a few lines upon his grandmother's death, with the words: "That is the first money you have earned by your poetry and, my word for it, it will be your last." He little thought that the manuscript of the "Poems by Two Brothers," including Alfred's first productions, would be one day sold for two thousand one hundred and fifty dollars, and that a single copy of the published work would bring one hundred and twenty dollars.
At Somersby, in Lincolnshire, where the poet was born and where he gained the most of his preparatory training for the university, he spent his youth in the still air of delightful studies. The father was variously learned, with gifts for painting, architecture, and music, as well as for poetry and the classic languages. A sweet and gentle mother bound the household together by ties of reverence and love, so that faith in womankind beat henceforth with the poet's blood. There were twelve children in the rectory family, and of the seven sons the two older than himself were poets also. The village numbered scarcely a hundred souls. It was far removed from the noise of politics or trade. But there were books in plenty, and there was endless storytelling at the table and around the hearth. The news of the battle of Waterloo never penetrated to that remote corner of the earth; but there were mimic battles fought on the lawn, with rods stuck in the ground for kings, with knights on either side to defend them, and with an inexhaustible artillery of stones for their overthrow.
The "Ode to Memory" is still printed among the juvenile works of the author, but it has touches that are worthy of his prime. It tells of the strong impressions that were made upon him by his English home, that haunt of ancient peace:
Come from the woods that belt the gray hillside,
The seven elms, the poplars four,
That stand beside my father's door.
And chiefly from the brook that loves
To purl o' er matted cress and ribbed sand,
Or dimple in the dark of rushy coves.
Drawing into his narrow earthen urn,
In every elbow and turn,
The filtered tribute of the rough woodland.
O! hither lead thy feet!
Pour round mine ears the livelong bleat
Of the thick-fleeced sheep from wattled folds,
Upon the ridged wolds,
When the first matin-song hath wakened loud
Over the dark dewy earth forlorn,
What time the amber morn
Forth gushes from beneath a low-hung cloud.
Here are a keen observation of nature, a sparkling freshness of phrase, and a pure affection for the scenes of childhood. None of these, however, are sure proofs of coming greatness. There are other lines of greater significance in this same " Ode to Memory":
In sweet dreams softer than unbroken rest
Thou leddest by the hand thy infant Hope.
The eddying of her garments caught from thee
The light of thy great presence; and the cope
Of the half-attained futurity,
Though deep, not fathomless,
Was cloven with the million stars that tremble
O'er the deep mind of dauntless infancy.
Small thought was there of life's distress;
For sure she deemed no mist of earth could dull
Those spirit-thrilling eyes so keen and beautiful.
Sure she was nigher to heaven's spheres,
Listening the lordly music flowing from
The illimitable years.
These last words are repeated and preserved from "Timbuctoo," the first poem of the author published under his own name. They are in the grand style, and they disclose the central thought of the poet's life and work. He has in mind something larger than the fabled music of the spheres, namely, the ordered march of the ages and of all their histories. He found within him an impulse to measured speech. But this would have been child's play if he had not felt it to correspond with rhythmical realities in the universe. There is an order which pervades all time as well as all space. It is the function of the poet to discover that order, and to interpret it to men. Tennyson began his work with a right theory of art. His position in literature and his influence upon his generation cannot be understood without recognizing this.
What is merely intimated in the "Ode to Memory" is clearly expressed elsewhere. Not often has a great singer in his first lays so fully spread out the programme of his career as has our author in another early poem, "The Poet." Rarely has the after-harvest given so abundant witness to the quality of the seed. And never, I believe, has any literary sower committed this seed more daringly or more tremblingly to the earth:
The poet in a golden clime was born,
With golden stars above;
Dower'd with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn,
The love of love.
He saw through life and death, through good and ill
He saw through his own soul.
The marvel of the everlasting Will,
An open scroll,
Before him lay : with echoing feet he threaded
The secretest walks of fame:
The viewless arrows of his thoughts were headed
And winged with flame.
So, many minds did gird their orbs with beams,
Though one did fling the fire;
Heaven flow'd upon the soul in many dreams
Of high desire.
Thus truth was multiplied on truth, the world
Like one great garden show'd,
THE TRUE TOET IS A PROPHET ALSO 455
And, through the wreaths of floating dark upcurl'd,
Rare sunrise flow'd.
Her words did gather thunder as they ran,
And as the lightning to the thunder
Which follows it, riving the spirit of man,
Making earth wonder,
So was their meaning to her words. No sword
Of wrath her right arm whirl'd,
But one poor poet's scroll, and with his word
She shook the world.
So much of sound philosophy is condensed into these lines, and so much of Tennyson's own theory of art, that I venture, even at the risk of repeating what I have said in other essays, to point out some of the features of his poetic creed. All truth is material for the poet, whether it be truth of nature or of the human soul, of history or of the divine purpose that unifies history. One ordered realm of truth is open to the poet's gaze, and he is truth's interpreter. He deals with truth, however, not in its abstract forms, but in its power to move and sway the soul—with truth therefore in its aspect as beauty, and as fit to charm and stir, to inspirit and energize. Not mere fact, but tendency, not the individual, but the type, not the sequences of life, but the order and beauty which lie behind them, it is the poet's mission to discover and to declare—and all for the good of human kind and for the unveiling of the divine love and wisdom.
The true poet then has a moral aim. He is a prophet of the Highest. He does not minister to pleasure, ight and fugitive, but to man's lasting good. He does not depict the actual, so much as the ideal. He is not a photographer of all that is, so much as he is a delineator of that which ought to be. His art does not exist for art's sake, but for humanity's sake and for God's sake. He peers into the great purpose of good at the heart of the universe, in order that he may promote that purpose. And as it is his greater powers of love that enable him to see the universal order, so love enables him to pity the disorder which man has wrought, and to lend his own inspiring words to set that disorder right. In short, the poet is the man of deeper feeling, and therefore of larger insight, who sees the inner truth and order of the world, through all its superficial falsity and disorder, with a view to expressing that truth and order in forms of beauty and for purposes of goodness.
In his later poems Tennyson has more fully set forth his conception of his mission. Without faith in an eternal order, he calls the world,
This round of green, this orb of flame,
Fantastic beauty ; such as lurks
In some wild Poet, when he works
Without a conscience or an aim.
Knowledge severed from love and faith, he says, is "a child, and vain." Goethe had declared that "the great poet must be free from all moral prepossessions." Tennyson, on the contrary, regards wisdom, or knowledge tempered by love, as essential to poetic inspiration. The faith which constitutes the heart and core of his writings is expressed in the closing lines of "In Memoriam." There he confesses a personal and loving God, who is the source of the world's order THE TRUE POET IS A PROPHET ALSO 457
and the guarantee that it will wisely reach its appointed end:
That God, which ever lives and loves,
One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves.
I do not mean that this view of the universe, or of his relation to it as interpreter, was so definite and conscious at the beginning of his career as it was at the close. His faith was no "idle ore,"
But iron dug from central gloom,
And heated hot with burning fears,
And dipt in baths of hissing tears,
And batter'd with the shocks of doom,
To shape and use.
My purpose, indeed, is to trace the development of this faith. It will be found, if I mistake not, that its history and the history of the poet are one and the same thing. For the very reason that Tennyson's belief in a divine order is more than a native tendency of mind, is rather an achievement, made by struggle with many opposing influences until at last it became a settled consciousness of the soul, for this reason he constitutes not only the best representative of his age, but also its most powerful poetic influence.
He fought his doubts and gathered strength,
He would not make his judgment blind,
He faced the spectres of the mind
And laid them : thus he came at length
To find a stronger faith his own;
And Power was with him in the night,
Which makes the darkness and the light,
And dwells not in the light alone,
But in the darkness and the cloud.
Although Waterloo was unheard of, the news of Lord Byron's death reached the rectory of Somersby. It stirred the hearts of those imaginative children as no political event ever could. To young Alfred, it seemed as if the world were over and done for. Now that this great literary light was extinguished, there was nothing left of any worth. He walked out alone and carved deep into the sandstone, and with the feeling that the inscription marked the tombstone of the universe, the words, "Byron is dead!" It is an illustration of the fascination which that wayward and passionate spirit exerted upon all English-speaking youth. Byron was the artistic counterpart of the French Revolution, with its fierce license, its revolt against established forms, its wild determination to be free. The influence of Byron is quite perceptible in Tennyson's juvenile verse. There are imitations of "The Maid of Athens," and of "The Destruction of Sennacherib."
But Byron and his school burnt over the ground, so that poetry of this sort could not grow again. They ran passion to death. The world tired of the Satanic in literature. There came a natural reaction, and Wordsworth was its representative. It was a return to nature, idyllic, calm, sincere. It appealed to the thoughtful. But dramatic fervor was lacking. Tennyson's "Dora" and "The Miller's Daughter" are in Wordsworth's manner. Our poet had in him too much of life and fire, to follow long in the ways of Wordsworth's tame sim
plicity. Poetry has been described as "great thoughts clothed in splendor." Tennyson has retained much of Byron's dramatic energy, though he lacks something of his rush and spontaneity. He combines with this dramatic energy much of the idyllic sweetness of Wordsworth, while he is master of a condensation and of a selective skill which neither Byron nor Wordsworth ever possessed. Of prosaic passages he is almost wholly guiltless. He is at the same time the greatest example of pure beauty in English poetical literature.
Let us, with William Watson, distinguish between beauty and style. In women, style does not imply pure beauty. Milton is unapproached in pure poetic endowment, and presents to us the highest summit of style. But he is no doubt less perfectly beautiful than Tennyson. There is a perpetual refinement and elegance in our later poet which the earlier seldom equals. We can almost believe the current story that Tennyson has made it his rule to keep his productions seven years under the file before printing them. In this respect he resembles Virgil; indeed, he is our English Virgil, not merely for the minute care and the uniform merit of his verse, but for his embodiment in it of the principle of artistic, civil, social, and religious order. Tennyson is the poet of organized society, as truly as was Virgil the poet of the Roman Empire.
He has been said to belong to "the art-school of poets." There is much truth in the phrase. His artistic impulses antedated the substance of his message. The instrument was shaped before the music was written. It seems a providential preparation for subsequent work. Tennyson's first productive period was distinguished by mastery of form rather than of thought. There was a dainty grace, somewhat out of proportion to the meaning. Sense was subordinated to sound. We must regard "Airy, fairy Lilian," and "Where Claribel Low Lieth," rather as metrical experiments, than as significant ventures into the realm of true poetry. Tennyson served an apprenticeship like that of Robert Louis Stevenson. He first familiarized himself with the machinery of style—only afterward did he learn to use it.
In "Poems, Chiefly Lyrical," his earliest publication, the most promising were " The Poet " and " The Ode to Memory," already mentioned. "Mariana,'' "The Seafairies," and "Recollections of the Arabian Nights," all had a charm of melody and a pictorial beauty. But they were over-fanciful. There is a sense of effort in the frequency of the compound words, in the revival of terms antiquated or obsolete, and in the irregularity of the metre. The new music of the verse did not blind the critics to its defects. "Blackwood's Magazine " found the author "self-willed and perverse in his infantile vanity," and "hampered by a puerile partiality for particular forms of expression." Christopher North called his book "dismal drivel," and, alluding to the little poem "The Owl," said that Mr. Tennyson himself was "the greatest owl." The " Hang-draw-and Quarterly" that criticised Tennyson, however, had previously cut up quite as savagely the " Endymion " of John Keats.
It may be interesting to pursue still further this history of criticism. It will show through what a fiery gauntlet every new claimant to poetic honors must pass. The first book, printed in 1830, was followed by another in 1833, with the title: "The Lady of Shalott, and other FIRST PERIOD OF DAINTY GRACE 461
Poems." Among these other poems was "Oenone." It provoked the anger of Carlyle, as a mere echo of the classics instead of original work dealing with the life of the present, and he said of Tennyson: "There he sits, upon a dungheap, surrounded with innumerable dead dogs." Yet Carlyle came to regard Tennyson with pride and admiration. When he read "The Revenge," he cried, "Eh, he's got the grip o' it!" He asked Richard Monckton Milnes why he had not secured a pension for Alfred Tennyson. Milnes replied that his constituents knew nothing of poetry and would think the pension a matter of personal favoritism. Carlyle responded: "Richard Milnes! in the day of judgment, when you are asked why you did not get that pension, you may lay the blame on your constituents, but it is you that will be damned!"
The pension of two hundred pounds was granted in 1845, and in 1850 Tennyson was made poet-laureate. It is said that Sir Robert Peel, when the poet was mentioned in connection with the laureateship, had never read a line of his writings. He took up "Ulysses," however, and that one poem convinced him. Even after the honor had been conferred, the poet had to fight for his reputation. Bulwer called him "School-Miss Alfred "; spoke of him as " out-babying Wordsworth "; and in "The New Timon, a Romance of London," described him as " quartered on the public purse, in the prime of life, without either wife or family." Last of all, and least of all, Alfred Austin, so late as 1869, contributed an article to " Temple Bar" on "The Poetry of the Period," in which he declared that " Mr. Tennyson has no sound pretensions to be called a great poet."
Tennyson always chafed under criticism. He replied to Christopher North:
When I learnt from whom it came
I forgave you all the blame,
I could not forgive the praise,
He retorted upon Bulwer by calling him a "bandbox," and by pointing out that the true Timon did not wear his hair in curl-papers. I do not know that he ever thought it worth his while to notice the disparagement of Alfred Austin. It must be confessed that there was a vein of self-consciousness in our poet, and a sort of stately vanity, which a little detracted from the highest greatness.
Recent stories illustrate these characteristics. When entertaining or entertained, he expected to read from his own poems. "Come and let me read you ' Maud,' " said he to Mr. Fields, "you will never forget it!" At an English country house where he appeared unexpectedly, though he was asked to read, not a single copy of his works could be found—all had been taken to another place. The host was embarrassed; but the occasion was made laughably memorable when Mr. Tennyson, in a petulant and contemptuous voice, said: "Bring me Shakespeare!" When traveling on the Rhine, he read a poem of his own in the half-intelligible Dodonic chant so natural to him, and when he closed the book he broke the spell with the question : "Could Browning do that?" Nothing seemed to inspire him more than to hold the hand of some lady while he read, and he once, in an
imperial party, unconsciously grasped the hand of the Empress Augusta and held it through the entire reading, only to discover his mistake and to make most profuse apologies at the end, apologies which were as graciously received as they were humbly offered.
The poet has been described as " a great-boned, looselimbed, gigantesque man, with domed head, soft dark hair, gentle eyes; white, smooth, fine-lined brow covered with delicate skin through which the blue veins shone." Force and fineness were united in him. Bayard Taylor speaks of him as "tall and broad-shouldered as a son of Anak, with hair, beard, and eyes of Southern darkness." Edward Fitzgerald calls him "a man at all points of grand proportion and feature, of great strength, straight and with broad breast, as if from the army." Carlyle writes to Emerson:
Tennyson came in to us on Sunday evening. A truly interesting son of earth and son of heaven. One of the finest-looking men in the world. His voice is musical, metallic, fit for loud laughter and piercing wail and all that may be between ; speech and speculation free and plenteous. I do not meet in these decades with such company over a pipe. A true human soul, or some authentic approximation thereto, to whom your soul can say, Brother; a man solitary and sad, as certain men are ; dwelling in an atmosphere of gloom—carrying a bit of chaos about him, in short, which he is manufacturing into cosmos.
The sign of chaos was perhaps his unkempt hair, which led the undergraduates of Oxford, when Tennyson received his degree of D. c. L., to salute him with the cry, "Did your mother call you too early this morning, Alfred dear?" He smoked nine hours a day, never the same pipe twice; and when some one spoke of one of his lines as evidently spontaneous, he merely replied: "I smoked more than twenty pipes over that line."
I have said that he was extraordinarily sensitive to criticism. His sensitiveness stood him in good stead, for it led him to criticise himself. "The Lover's Tale," printed in 1833, was withdrawn from circulation because of imperfections pointed out in his other poems. He seems to have discovered that form with him had dominated substance. Some have found in [' The Lady of Shalott" the poet's own confession that he had lived too long in the world of mere fancy, and that before he gave more to the public he needed a larger experience of life. As,
"I am half-sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott,
so Tennyson, if he did not "leave the web" and "leave the loom," left off for ten whole years all publication and marketing of his wares. He determined that his next work should be as good as he could make it. For one who had already printed such poems as "The Palace of Art," "The Lotos Eaters," and "A Dream of Fair Women," this was rigid self-restraint, a self-restraint all the more admirable because the poet's external circumstances were narrow and there was constant temptation to print for mere pecuniary reward.
Virtue was in this case not only its own reward, but it was the unconscious servant of a divine Providence. For it was the death of Arthur Henry Hallam, Tennyson's dearest friend, in 1833, that first shook from him the fantastic and unreal element that hindered his SECOND PERIOD OF SUBTLE THOUGHT 465
growth. Like Samson, Hallam slew more by his death than by his life. A young man of wonderful powers, he still spoke, though dead, through his friend. That friend was led to profound meditation upon the realities of existence. The world, life, and death, things present and things to come, assumed new significance. The development of heart and soul which came to John Milton through experience of outward conflict, came to Alfred Tennyson through experience of inward sorrow, in the quick sense of personal loss he seemed to lose that faith in the order of the world which had unconsciously been the source of his strength. The recovery of this faith was the result of a new apprehension of the divine love that pervades the universe. When he had seized upon that organific principle, it remade the poet as it remade the man.
The period of dainty grace came thus to be followed by the period of subtle thought. Tennyson always shunned publicity. The digito monstrari vexed him, as much as it troubled Virgil. Unlike Browning, he preferred to look upon the struggles of life from the outside. This gives to his poetry a certain academic air. Yet he grapples with all the problems of his time, though the strength he shows is not that of the Hercules, but that of the Apollo; not that of the club, but that of the winged arrow. All his poetical work is an application to human affairs of the principle of divine order. This key for him opens all locks. In 1842 he published "The Princess." It set forth divine order in the relation of the sexes. "Locksley Hall" applied the same principle to social life; "The Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington " applied it to national
affairs; and " In Memoriam," in 1850, applied it to the great question of man's relations to God and immortality.
Reserving for a later place in our discussion the theological implications of Tennyson's poetry, let us for a moment consider the manifestations of this principle of order during the second period of his productive activity. "The Princess" is a protest against the doctrine that "marriage is but an old tradition." It is a half-humorous, half-satirical reassertion of the true relation of man and woman. Byron and Shelley had propounded the theory that love is mainly a matter of physical passion. They had adopted Goethe's view that passion is its own justification, and that it may override all obstacles of law or conscience. But the results of this theory are disastrous to woman, even more than to man. She becomes man's victim and slave, while he becomes by his superior strength her tyrant and oppressor.
Marriage itself is often contracted on man's part in the spirit of the tyrant, and when woman discovers this there is a disposition to rebel against the ordinance itself. She undervalues love, even if she does not become skeptical as to its existence. She perceives that man owes his power in large degree to his superior knowledge, and she fancies that knowledge will enfranchise her. She isolates herself, that she may learn. In all this, she forgets that she is not man, but woman; that man and woman were meant to work together, not in separation from each other; that the highest knowledge is impossible without love; that she therefore needs, not less love, but more.
This divine order in the relation of the sexes TennyILLUSTRATED IN THE PRINCESS 467
son sets forth in a mock-heroic medley, where the outward form is drawn from the middle ages, but the motive and spirit of the poem from the life of to-day. In Shakespeare's "Love's Labour's Lost," the king and three of his lords withdraw from the world for purposes of study; they bind themselves to see no woman for three years. Dr. Johnson, in his "Rasselas," makes his princess found a college of learned women, over which she presides. Tennyson combines the features of both these schemes. His princess too establishes a university, in a certain summer palace of her father's. It is for maidens only, and they are to see no men. Knowledge, she held,
Was all in all; they had been, she thought,
As children; they must lose the child, assume
The woman ; . . .
Maintaining that, with equal husbandry,
The woman were an equal to the man.
We cannot stay to describe the gradual breaking down of all this noble but unnatural enterprise. Ida, the Princess, cannot suppress her pity for the Prince who loves her. And pity brings love in its train. She learns that
The woman's cause is man's: they rise or sink
Together, dwarfed or godlike, bond or free:
Let her make herself her own
To give or keep, to live and learn and be
All that harms not distinctive womanhood.
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;
He gain in sweetness and in moral height,
Nor lose the wrestling thews that throw the world;
She mental breadth, nor fail in child ward care.
Nor lose the childlike in the larger mind;
Till at the last she set herself to man,
Like perfect music unto noble words;
And so these twain, upon the skirts of Time,
Sit side by side, full-summed in all their powers,
Dispensing harvest, sowing the To-be,
Self-reverent each, and reverencing each,
Distinct in individualities,
But like each other even as those who love.
Then comes the statelier Eden back to men,
Then reign the world's great bridals, chaste and calm,
Then springs the crowning race of human kind.
May these things be!
It has been said that Tennyson, after all, merges the individuality of the Princess in that of the Prince; that there is too little of self-realization in her case; that her mission is conceived of too exclusively as that of accomplishing the Prince's manhood. We must grant that the poet's ideal woman is of the domestic type. In "Locksley Hall," he says indeed that
Woman's pleasure, woman's pain— Nature made them blinder motions bounded in a shallower brain:
Woman is the lesser man, and all thy passions, matched with mine, Are as moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine.
But this may be only an instance where the poet projects himself into a character, and the pessimism of "Locksley Hall Sixty Years After" may be, in like manner, only the dramatic picture of the fruitage of
early misanthropy. For fifty years ago, "The Princess" was an almost startling advocacy of the dignity and rights of woman, as it has been ever since a repertory of argument and defense of her just claims.
In the poetry of pure affection, in distinction from that of passion, Tennyson is a master. No one more movingly than he has described the self-forgetful devotion with which the happy bride joins her lot to that of her husband:
And on her lover's arm she leant,
And round her waist she felt it fold,
And far across the hills they went
In that new world which is the old:
And o' er the hills and far away
Beyond their utmost purple rim,
Beyond the night, across the day.
Through all the world she followed him.
And King Arthur expresses the true end of a noble marriage when he says:
Were I joined with her,
Then might we live together as one life,
And reigning with one will in everything
Have power on this dark land to lighten it,
And power on this dead world to make it live.
Our poet has done immeasurable service to humanity by his maintenance of the sanctity of marriage, on the one hand, and of the equality in diversity which is its essential nature, on the other. There are no more winning pictures of its grave and loving union than in "Isabel":
The stately flower of female fortitude
Of perfect wifehood and pure lowlihead;
. . . Through all her placid life
The queen of marriage, a most perfect wife.
He would give to woman the highest possibilities of education, but would withdraw her from public place and work, thus
Turning to scorn, with lips divine,
The falsehood of extremes.
Her true place is that of wife, and her first duty is motherhood. The poet's whole doctrine, indeed, may be summed up in the Scripture words: "Whom God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." And the "Dedication " to his own wife shows that he knew not only in theory, but in practice, the blessedness of an equal marriage:
Dear, near and true—no truer Time himself
Can prove you, though he make you evermore
Dearer and nearer, as the rapid of life
Shoots to the fall.
The same reverence for the divine order appears in Tennyson's treatment of man's social relations. In "Locksley Hall," which has been explained by some as a record of the poet's own disappointment in love, we have a fervid denunciation of the ambitions and the conventions which prevent pure natural affection from having its way:
Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength of youth! Cursed be the social lies that warp us from the living truth!
ILLUSTRATED IN "LOCKSLEY HALL" 471
Cursed be the sickly forms that err from honest Nature's rule! Cursed be the gold that gilds the straitened forehead of the fool!
He is never so scathing as when he describes the man who sells his daughter to a mercenary marriage. And yet no one can have more regard than Tennyson for custom and law, for birth and blood, when these represent justice and nobility. It is organized society which he respects, and of which he is the interpreter. He cares little for the individual as a mere individual. This is one of the chief distinctions between him and Robert Browning. Browning is the poet of the individual soul; he has no sense of corporate interests; society and government matter little to him, or not at all. Tennyson looks beyond the single man: man is of value only as he is part of an ordered whole far greater than himself.
He who has an eye for men in the aggregate is often blind to individual misery and wrong. The order of society seems to him cheaply purchased by personal sacrifice. Tennyson's love for order made him more and more a conservative, while Gladstone's sympathy with individual rights and liberties made him more and more a radical. In his youth the poet could sing of
Men my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:
That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do.
But he looked at his brothers from afar. He took no part in efforts for their legal emancipation. For him the only remedy for the evils of competition was more competition. He praised and defended Governor Eyre, of Jamaica, when his cruelty was denounced. He took no part in the Italian struggle for national unity. He was silent when the slave-power of America sought to establish itself even to the ruin of the republic.
These mistakes were misinterpretations of the principle of order. They can be forgiven, because they were exaggerations of a virtue. In a similar manner we must treat the narrow nationalism of Tennyson. He is so loyally English that international sympathy is practically excluded. His early hope that the world might live
Till the war-drum throbbed no longer, and the battleflags were furled
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world;
Where the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe, And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law,
seems exchanged sixty years after for a darker prospect •
Warless? When her tens are thousands, and her thousands millions, then—
All her harvest all too narrow—who can fancy warless men?
Warless? War will die out late then. Will it ever, late or soon? Can it, till this outworn earth be dead as yon dead world the moon?
In the meantime he regards war as necessary. In "Maud," fighting for one's country seems to atone for private misconduct. And his highest ambition for England's colonies is expressed in the words:
Sons, be welded each and all,
Into one imperial whole,
One with Britain, heart and soul,
One life, one flag, one fleet, one Throne I
Britons, hold your own!
THE DIVINE ORDER AS TO MAN AND GOD 473
Tennyson is no republican. He is afraid of the people, except as they are governed by the wise and faithful few. The "red fool-fury of the Seine" and "the blind hysterics of the Celt" arouse in him a passion of objurgation which is almost equally hysterical. But he has unfailing pride and confidence in sturdy Hnglish common sense. He trusts the wisdom of the past. He chooses for his abode
A land of settled government,
A land of old and just renown,
Where freedom slowly broadens down
From precedent to precedent
And it is because he sees in England the type of a divine order, the powers that are ordained of God, that he can throw into his patriotic and martial songs such exuberant loyalty and devotion. The British empire will be stronger forever for such poems as "The Defense of Lucknow," "The Charge of the Light Brigade," and the "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington."
The greatest work of Tennyson's second period, however, is unquestionably "In Memoriam." Here the poet grapples with the deepest themes, the mysteries of sorrow, suffering, and death. He expresses, with a tenderness and a yearning unknown before in literature, the dull sense of loss, the agonizing regrets, the wild rebellion, the tormenting doubts which prey upon one whom death has just despoiled of the object of his love. But the poem is no mere elegy, like the " Lycidas" of Milton or the "Adonais" of Shelley; it is the effort of the loving soul to give rational account to itself of the great facts of sin, pain, and grief, and to reconcile them with the belief in God. "In Memoriam " is not a theological discussion, and the poet does not reach his conclusions by pure argument. But he does assert most luminously the intuitions of the soul—the conviction that there is divine order in the universe, and that this order is the result of love:
If these brief lays of sorrow born
Were taken to be such as closed
Grave doubts and questions here proposed,
Then these were such as men might scorn.
Her care is not to part and prove;
She takes, when harsher moods remit,
What slender shade of doubt may flit,
And makes it vassal unto love.
In the way that he intends, Tennyson attains his purpose. He longs "to prove no lapse of moons can canker love." He does prove this to the heart, though he cannot prove it to the mere intellect. The various doubts that rise with regard to the separate existence of the soul after death, its continued consciousness, and its affection for those who are left behind, are all dissipated by reflections upon the nature and essential immortality of love. Earthly love is but the transcript and efflux of the heavenly. Our loves in higher love endure—a love that embraces us and all. As the poet meditates, he finds his own sorrow only a little part of a great world's sorrow, and his own love only a little part of a great divine love which would meet that sorrow and would turn it into joy. So from individual grief he is led to a consciousness of his oneness with all the race, and of his oneness with God himself.
I regard " In Memoriam " as the greatest poem of our century, both for substance and for form. It is the most representative poem of the age. If Goethe's "Faust" reflects the materialism and skepticism of the nineteenth century, Tennyson's "In Memoriam" expresses its faith triumphant over doubt. It is regarded by superficial readers as mournful and prosaic. M. Taine thinks it the pretentious monody of a young man with new black gloves and spotless cambric pocket-handkerchief. The Frenchman cannot understand either the sorrow or the joy. Frederick W. Robertson saw deeper into the poem, when he said: "It is simply one of the most victorious songs that poet ever chanted."
It is difficult to express in words the value of a poem that demonstrates to the universal heart the divinity and immortality of love. Amid so many claimants for supremacy—money, power, pleasure, fame—a pure affection is in danger of being thrust aside. But love is of God, and can never die. "Your heart," says the Psalmist, "shall live forever." Love can never lose its own; those whom God loves can never cease to be; and those who are one with the God of love can never lose the objects of their affection. Love must grow with our growth, both here and hereafter:
. Regret is dead, but love is more
Than in the summers that have flown,
For I myself with these have grown
To something greater than before.
"If we still love those we lqse," says Thackeray, "can we altogether lose those we love?"
"In Memoriam" is, in the truest sense, a religious poem: it aims to soothe and spiritualize grief by taking hold of the unseen and eternal. In this respect it forms a striking contrast to the "Sonnets" of Shakespeare. The " Sonnets" describe such love to a friend, that Tennyson, in allusion to it, can say:
I loved thee, Spirit, and love; nor can
The soul of Shakespeare love thee more.
But the love of the "Sonnets" is shadowed with sin and
shame; that of "In Memoriam" is a pure and lofty
affection, which ennobles him who cherishes it. Shakes-
peare's love never lifts him above the earth. Tenny-
son's, from being a power within, becomes a Lord and
King without, and at last identifies itself with that
Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove.
"In Memoriam" is Tennyson's "Paradise Regained," and "The Idylls of the King" is his "Paradise Lost." The order in which the works were produced differed from that of John Milton. But there was advantage in it. Only after Tennyson had proved to his own soul that, through all and in all and above all sin and sorrow and death, a divine and immortal order reigned, could he hopefully undertake the story of the world's downfall and shame. And this is his intent in the "Idylls." He aims to show how man has broken the divine order, to his own undoing. He has written an epic, not of '^t" fate, but of free-will; not an allegory, but a parable, of THIRD PERIOD OF BROAD HUMANITY 477
human sin and ruin by the abuse of freedom. He himself has called it "the dream of man coming into practical life, and ruined by one sin."
The "Idylls" is the characteristic work of Tennyson's third period. As the first was the period of dainty grace, and the second the period of subtle thought, the third was the period of broad humanity. No one can pass from "In Memoriam" to "The Idylls of the King," without feeling that a new note of vigorous simplicity has been struck; the former touches us like a marche fimtbre, but the latter shows the fruits of sorrow in a more universal sympathy. Since I have called "The Idylls" Tennyson's "Paradise Lost," it will be interesting to compare the work of our poet with that of John Milton. Milton in early life thought seriously of taking the story of King Arthur for the subject of an epic. In Tennyson's story, as in Milton's, it is the fault of a woman, and she the best beloved, that brings destruction to her husband. Milton's epic is in parts more dramatic, original, and sublime than Tennyson's, but the latter is the superior in sustained beauty. Milton is in long passages stiff and prosaic, while our poet is always graceful, and never dull.
King Arthur and his Round Table furnish us with a curious illustration of the nature of the myth, and of its power to survive and grow and improve through many transformations. It is highly probable that some enlightened chief of the Britons, after the Roman power had been broken, sought to defend his island from Norse invasion, and to perpetuate a Christian civilization. But those were barbarous times; his helpers were few ;. opposing forces both within and without were too mighty to be subdued; internal treachery and external assault brought his fair scheme to ruin, and himself to death. Yet his name remained. Around it gathered popular conceptions of gentleness and purity and honor. The story of Arthur and his knights was told in many ways. Each generation manufactured its own drapery. The age of chivalry clothed it with all the paraphernalia of the tournament and the banquet hall.
The legend of the Holy Grail became mixed with it. There had been a heathen story of an enchanted castle whose inmates preserved a perpetual youth by feeding from a vessel dedicated to one of the Celtic gods. The turning of the pagan temple at Glastonbury into a church perhaps gave a Christian interpretation to the legend. The holy vessel became the symbol of the mass. The Grail was the cup in which was preserved the blood of Christ, of which if one drink he shall never die. Joseph of Arimathea had brought to Britain the very cup used at the Last Supper. To see the red blood throbbing within the cup was granted only as the reward of long service to Christ and the church.
Sir Thomas Malory collected these stories and wove them into one whole. Tennyson has availed himself of the work of Malory. But, in the very spirit of the legends themselves, he has not scrupled to omit, to interpret, to add, whenever he could thus adapt the material more perfectly to his purpose. He has made King Arthur an impeccable saint, although the original legend makes his heroic sacrifices to be expiatory in their nature—the effort to atone for earlier sin. Swinburne laughs at our poet's regard for the proprieties, and calls Arthur "a prig." But Tennyson has done
well to make the King a model of virtue, and his poem a Christian, rather than a Greek, tragedy. The sad success of evil in frustrating the hopes of the good appeals more strongly to the heart of this age than any of Mr. Swinburne's pagan exhibitions of the natural development of vice.
The hero of the "Idylls" is no mere allegorical phantom, like those of Spenser's " Fairie Queene." Dr. Van Dyke has rightly pointed this out to us. The hero is a living, breathing human being instead. And yet he is at the same time the parabolic representation of the soul of man, coming out of the unknown eternity that is past, to live its life, fight its fight, undergo its probation, and then departing, as it had come, into the unknown eternity that is before it. It is here, in this narrow earthly existence, to stand for the true and the right, to shed abroad the light of a noble example, to wage war upon the sensual and the selfish, and to put them down. It begins with lofty hopes. Youth and love think all things possible. As King Arthur is the symbol of man in his freedom, so his knights are symbols of man's powers—courage and intellect, purity and justice, truth and loyalty. For a time all goes well. There seems good prospect that the soul will set up a kingdom of righteousness, a restored Eden, upon earth.
What are the hindrances? First, man's sensual appetites. The story of Lancelot and Guinevere is the story of passion dethroning faith, of secret sin wasting all the powers of the soul within and bringing to naught all the noblest possibilities of achievement without. One evil example corrupts the court, until only three or four of Arthur's helpers are left untainted. And the second hindrance is that wild asceticism which is the opposite extreme to license, and which in the end only makes license more licentious. The knights resolve to go in quest of the Holy Grail. Percivale tells the story:
Then on a summer night it came to pass,
While the great banquet lay along the hall,
That Galahad would sit down in Merlin's chair.
And all at once, as there we sat, we heard
A cracking and a riving of the roofs,
And rending, and a blast, and overhead
Thunder, and in the thunder was a cry.
And in the blast there smote along the hall
A beam of light seven times more clear than day:
And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail
All over cover'd with a luminous cloud.
And none might see who bare it, and it past
But every knight beheld his fellow's face
As in a glory, and all the knights arose,
And staring at each other like dumb men
Stood, till I found a voice and sware- a vow.
I sware a vow before them all, that I,
Because I had not seen the Grail, would ride
A twelvemonth and a day in quest of it,
Until I found and saw it, as the nun
My sister saw it; and Galahad sware the vow,
And good Sir Bors, our Lancelot's cousin sware,
And Lancelot sware, and many among the knights,
And Gawain sware, and louder than the rest
King Arthur has been absent on some chivalrous essay to rid his realm of injustice. He does not take the vow. When he returns, he can only mourn the rash decision of his knights. He has lost their help, and they, as he well knows, enter upon a vain search, with MAN IS RUINED BY ONE SIN
nothing certain but disappointment and demoralization. He can only say:
Go, for your vows are sacred, being made:
Yet—for ye know the cries of all my realm
Pass through this hall—how often, O my knights,
Your places being vacant by my side,
This chance of noble deeds will come and go
Unchallenged, while ye follow wandering fires
Lost in the quagmire!
And it is even as he predicts. The Round Table is broken up. The return of the knights is the signal for a corruption that leaves almost no one pure. The sin of Lancelot and Guinevere is made public. The guilty wife flees to the convent at Amesbury, while Arthur ends his life in battle upon the misty western shore, and on the dusky barge tended by the three queens, Faith, Hope, and Love,
From the great deep to the great deep he goes.
So the poet has given us a picture of a lost cause. Disaster and defeat have overtaken the truth. Evil seems to have triumphed. This victory of evil would be fatal to the success of the "Idylls" as an epic, if there were not a background of good. I have tried to show that though we have here Tennyson's " Paradise Lost," we have in "In Memoriam " Tennyson's " Paradise Regained." The pathos of the "Idylls" is not the pathos of pessimism. To this disorder which man has wrought a nobler divine order shall succeed. The evil shall somehow be made to minister to good, and all human faithfulness, though it may seem to fail of its
purpose here, shall be seen at last to have triumphed even in the article of death.
O yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill.
To pangs of nature, sins of will.
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;
That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroyed,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete.
It has been my purpose to discuss, and even to mention, the separate poems of Tennyson only as this might prepare the way for the consideration of his theology. But, before I leave the third period of his work, the period of broad humanity, I must briefly notice the dramas. Of these "The Cup," "The Falcon," "The Promise of May," and "The Foresters," may be passed by, as of no particular significance, except to demonstrate the poet's lack of supreme dramatic genius. They are slight and fanciful studies of character, which might better have been put into the form of monologue than into that of drama. Our poet is more descriptive than creative. He finds it difficult to invent situations, to diversify action, to represent passion as expressing itself in life, to make the scene supply motive and explain speech. While Shakespeare never lets our attention flag, Tennyson gives us long harangues and comparatively little movement.
Yet "Harold," "Becket," and "Queen Mary," are great historical dramas, in spite of the fact that they are better adapted for private reading than for acting HIS THEOLOGY INFLUENCED BY AGNOSTICISM 483
upon the stage. They constitute a trilogy, the common subject of which is "The Making of England." "Harold" depicts the conflict between Saxon and Norman; "Becket" the struggle between church and crown; "Queen Mary "the fight between Protestantism and Rome. They are invaluable pictures of three great crises in English history. Freeman declared that the poet's insight and imagination had made comprehensible to him certain intricacies of those old times, as his own studies had never done. George Eliot said that "Tennyson's plays run Shakespeare's close." And Hutton, our greatest English critic, ranks "Queen Mary," in dramatic force and general power, higher even than Shakespeare's "King Henry the Eighth."
In passing to the consideration of Tennyson's theological opinions, let me sum up what precedes. The discussion thus far has shown us, not only that our poet believes in God and in a divine order in the universe, but that these beliefs are fundamental to his whole system of thought. His view of the dignity of poetry is based upon them. They enter into his conception of the relation of man to woman, of man to his fellow-man, of man to government, and of man to God. A more omnipresent theistic spirit it would be difficult to find in the works of any poet. For this reason I regret all the more that in Tennyson's utterances about God, he has so largely fallen in with methods of expression derived from the agnostic school of modern thinkers.
Let us remember the days in which his poetry had its origin. From 1830 to i860 the philosophy of Sir William Hamilton was the current one in England. Mansel showed its implications in his "Limits of Religious Thought," and Herbert Spencer took advantage of it to proclaim that the Ultimate Reality is inscrutable. In spite of the Scripture declarations that "he that loveth God knoweth God," "the pure in heart . . . shall see God," "this is life eternal, that they should know thee, the only true God," many Christian thinkers seemed ready to return to heathen ignorance, and to build an altar " To An Unknown God." Instead of taking Jesus at his word, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father," and so attributing to God the characteristics of Jesus, they made Jesus' revelation a proof that God is essentially incognizable to finite intelligences.
I find much of this agnosticism in Tennyson. In the introduction to "In Memoriam" we read:
We have but faith : we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see;
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness : let it grow.
Here is a denial that matters of religion are objects of knowledge: since science is knowledge, such matters cannot be objects of science, and there is no science of theology. The poet adopts the vicious principle that knowledge is only of sensuous phenomena and their relations: supersensible things must be apprehended by faith, and faith is not knowledge at all. Henry Drummond challenged this whole method of representation when he said that faith in the New Testament is opposed, not to reason, but to sight. Faith is a higher sort of knowledge. It is an act of reason, of reason in FAITH IS SUNDERED FROM KNOWLEDGE 485
the sense of the mind's whole power of knowing, of reason therefore as conditioned upon a right state of the affections. Fajth then is the higher knowledge possessed by the loving heart and the upright will.
Yet in his use of the words knowledge and faith Tennyson is not consistent. When it comes to apprehension of the inward world, even though this is supersensible, he calls it knowledge. And at times the soul knows God as it knows itself:
Let visions of the night or of the day
Come, as they will; and many a time they come,
Until this earth he walks on seems not earth.
This light that strikes his eyeball is not light.
This air that smites his forehead is not air
But vision—yea, his very hand and foot—
In moments when he feels he cannot die,
And knows himself no vision to himself,
Nor the high God a vision, nor that One
Who rose again.
But his wrong conception of faith, as somehow sundered from knowledge, leads the poet to divest God to a large extent of cognizable attributes, and to clothe him with a mist of words in which all definiteness is lost. To Christian hearts that say "Our Father, who art in heaven," it seems chilling as well as tantalizing to hear the prayer at the close of "De Profundis ":
Hallowed be Thy name—Halleluiah 1
Hallowed be Thy name—Halleluiah!
We feel we are nothing—for all is Thou and in Thee;
We feel we are something—that also has come from Thee:
We know we are nothing—but Thou wilt help us to be.
Hallowed be Thy name—Halleluiah!
I call the reader to witness, however, that this is no pantheistic prayer. Pantheism denies the separate existence and personality of God. This prayer calls God a Personality, and implies the continued and distinct existence and personality of man also. It is an expression, though in our judgment not a highly poetical or impressive expression, of the doctrine of Paul that in God "we live and move and have our being." There is unquestionably in Tennyson the belief that man is an emanation from God. "The great deep" from which King Arthur comes and to which he goes is not simply the deep of eternity, it is also the deep of the divine existence. So, in "De Profundis," written at the birth of his son, the poet writes:
Out of the deep, my child, out of the deep,
From that true world within the world we see,
Whereof our world is but the bounding shore—
Out of the deep, Spirit, out of the deep,
With this ninth moon, that sends the hidden sun
Down yon dark sea, thou comest, darling boy.
For in the world which is not ours They said
"Let us make man," and that which should be man,
From that one light no man can look upon,
Drew to this shore lit by the suns and moons
And all the shadows.
The thought of this derivation of 'the soul from God and of its essential oneness with its divine original, is found in Tennyson's earliest poems, it crops out in the works of his middle life, and it persists in those printed just before his death. One may say indeed that this THE SOUL IS AN EMANATION FROM GOD 487
view of the dignity of human nature is inseparable from his conception of a universal divine order: there is order, because there is one substance at the basis of all beings and all things. "The Two Voices" suggests that life may exist after the soul is sundered from the body, because we have faint reminiscences of a state prior to the soul's existence in a body.
Yet how should I for certain hold,
Because my memory is so cold,
That I first was in human mold?
Much more, if first I floated free,
As naked essence, must I be
Incompetent of memory:
For memory dealing but with time,
And he with matter, could she climb
Beyond her own material prime?
Moreover something is or seems,
That touches me with mystic gleams,
Like glimpses of forgotten dreams—
Of something felt, like something here;
Of something done, I know not where;
Such as no language may declare.
The beginning of a human life is described in the Epilogue to "In Memoriam":
A soul shall draw from out the vast
And strike his being into bounds,
And moved through life of lower phase,
Result in man, be born and think.
And act and love.
Our life in time and space is necessary to our separate personality:
So rounds he to a separate mind
From whence clear memory may begin,
As through the frame that binds him in
His isolation grows defined.
This use may lie in blood and breath,
Which else were fruitless of their due,
Had man to learn himself anew
Beyond the second birth of Death.
The physical universe exists for the sake of developing this personality. In "The Higher Pantheism" we read:
Earth, these solid stars, this weight of body and limb,
Are they not sign and symbol of thy division from Him?
Dark is the world to thee: thyself art the reason why;
For is He not all but thou, that hast power to feel "I am I"?
Man's life is from God and in God, yet he feels his own distinctness and responsibility. "The Ancient Sage" recognizes both the oneness with God and the difference from God:
But that one ripple on the boundless deep
Feels that the deep is boundless, and itself
Forever changing form, but ever more
One with the boundless motion of the deep.
And lest we should say that the wave is but the form and manifestation of the ocean, and can have no real separateness or freedom, Tennyson tells us in "De Profundis" that God wrought
YET TENNYSON* IS NO PANTHEIST
Not matter, nor the finite-infinite,
But this main-miracle, that thou art thou,
With power on thine own act and on the world.
And in his address "To the Duke of Argyll" he speaks of the will as
A power to make
This ever-changing world of circumstance,
In changing, chime with never-changing Law.
"The Higher Pantheism" then is no pantheism at all, for it asserts that both God and man are distinct personalities, and that God is not tconfined to the universe but is transcendent above it. There are yet further proofs that Tennyson is no pantheist, first, in his doctrine of prayer; secondly, in his doctrine of conscience; and thirdly, in his doctrine of the soul's separate existence after death. The last words of King Arthur give us the doctrine of prayer:
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
In other words, the poet believes in intercourse and communion between man and God, such as can occur only between separate persons, and such as excludes all pantheistic confounding of one personality with the other.
Speak to Him, thou, for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet— Closer is he than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet
The commands and the reproaches of conscience are a witness against pantheism. If man has no separate personality, but is a waif upon an infinite stream, what sense in talking to him of right or wrong? Whatever is, is right; pleasure and duty are one. But we find Tennyson asserting the claims of conscience over against pleasure:
Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control,
These three alone lead life to sovereign power.
Yet not for power (power of herself
Would come uncalled for) but to live by law,
Acting the law we live by without fear;
And, because right is right, to follow right
Were wisdom in the scorn of consequence.
Arthur's knights bind themselves "to reverence their conscience as their king." As the demand of conscience indicates a personal Lawgiver, so the pangs of conscience indicate a personal Judge, and to Lancelot in his sin the Holy Grail has
a stormy glare, a heat As from a seven times heated furnace,
which blasts and burns and blinds him, with such fierceness that he swoons away.
Nor is man absorbed in God even after this earthly life is ended. "In Memoriam" gives us Tennyson's doctrine of the soul's separate existence after death:
That each, who seems a separate whole,
Should move his rounds and, fusing all
The skirts of self again, should fall
Remerging in the general Soul,
Is faith as vague as all unsweet:
Eternal form shall still divide
The eternal soul from all beside;
And I shall know him when we meet:
And we shall sit at endless feast,
Enjoying each the other's good:
What vaster dream can hit the mood
Of Love on earth?
And Mr. Knowles, in "The Nineteenth Century" (January, 1893), writes of Tennyson: "He formulated once and quite deliberately his own religious creed in the words: 'There is a Something that watches over us; and our individuality endures; that's my faith, and that's all my faith !'"
But in his poems the spirit of the seer possesses him, and he asserts a larger and more definite creed:
I trust I have not wasted breath:
I think we are not wholly brain,
Magnetic mockeries ; not in vain,
Like Paul with beasts, I fought with Death;
Not only cunning casts in clay:
Let Science prove we are, and then
What matters Science unto men,
At least to me? I would not stay.
Let him, the wiser man who springs
Hereafter, up from childhood shape
His action like the greater ape;
But I was bom to better things.
Let it live then—ay, till when?
Earth passes, all is lost
In what they prophesy, our wise men.
Sun-flame or sunless frost,
And deed and song alike are swept
Away, and all in vain
As far as man can see, except
The man himself remain;
And though, in this lean age forlorn,
Too many a voice may cry
That man can have no after-morn.
Not yet of these am I.
The man remains, and whatsoe'er
He wrought of good or brave
Will mold him through the cycle-year
That dawns behind the grave.
Gone forever! Ever? no—for since our dying race began,
Ever, ever, and forever, was the leading light of man.
And yet, in spite of these testimonies to immortality, there are expressions in Tennyson which might seem to teach that the souls of the departed are so merged in God that all bounds and limitations are lost. Let us interpret these expressions by the clearer passages which we have already examined. The poet means only that his dead friend is now one with God, and that this oneness with God brings with it a lifting of the soul above the hindrances of space and time. That dead friend had himself said: "The tendency of love is toward a union so intimate as virtually to amount to identification." Arthur is now inseparable from the divine. All his powers are expanded beyond our earthly measures. All things are his, because God is his and the infinite fullness of God's love.
We do not call Milton a pantheist because he addresses Lycidas as "the Genius of the shore." Shelley
A PERSONAL EXISTENCE BEFORE BIRTH 493
is not a pantheist merely because Adonais is "made one with Nature" and "his voice is in all her music." No more is Tennyson a pantheist when he writes:
Thy voice is on the rolling air;
I hear thee where the waters run;
Thou standest in the rising sun,
And in the setting thou art fair.
What art thou then? I cannot guess;
But though I seem in star and flower
To feel thee some diffusive power,
I do not therefore love thee less:
My love involves the love before;
My love is vaster passion now;
Though mixed with God and Nature thou,
I seem to love thee more and more.
Far off thou art, but ever nigh;
I have thee still, and I rejoice;
I prosper, circled with thy voice;
I shall not lose thee though I die.
He evidently holds that, though it doth not yet appear what we shall be, and though an inconceivable greatness is before us, we are not to lose our separate being, or to lose the personal loves that have made that being so largely what it is. Man's personality will endure after this life is over.
But another interesting question arises: Did the soul have separate personality before it entered this world of time and space? I cannot believe that Tennyson means to imply this, for the reason that the soul's consciousness of its personality and the exercise of its freedom are made to depend upon its finite surroundings. He can speak of "the abysmal depths of personality," because our being is inseparable from God's being, even as it is originally derived from him. But that this soul existed, as soul, before its birth into this present life, the poet nowhere asserts.
There are frequent intimations, indeed, that we remember what was before our birth. I have quoted verses from "The Two Voices," which can be interpreted in no other way. "The Ancient Sage" is the attempt of the poet to give us the wisdom of his later years:
To-day? but what of yesterday? for oft
On me, when boy, there came what then I call'd . . .
In my boy-phrase "The Passion of the Past,"
The first gray streak of earliest summer dawn, . . .
Desolate sweetness—far and far away.
One of the loveliest of his songs is made up of these "deep musings and tender broodings over the past, and not the past of human life alone, for many of them are echoes of some antenatal dream ":
Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depths of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.
Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign'd
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more!
A PERSONAL EXISTENCE BEFORE BIRTH 495
And one of his latest songs takes up the same mysterious strain:
What sight so lured him through the fields he knew
As where earth's green stole into heaven'sown hue,
What sound was dearest in his native dells?
The mellow lin-lan-lone of evening bells
What vague world-whisper, mystic pain or joy,
Through those three words would haunt him when a boy
A whisper from his dawn of life? A breath
From some fair dawn beyond the doors of death
Far, far, how far? from o' er the gates of Birth,
The faint horizons, all the bounds of earth,
What charm in words, a charm no words could give?
O dying words, can Music make you live?
An occasional critic holds indeed that the belief in man's conscious and responsible existence before he came into this present world is found in the "Epilogue" to the " Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava":
But since our mortal shadow, I11,
To waste this earth began—
Perchance from some abuse of Will
In worlds before the man
Involving ours—he needs must fight,
To make true peace his own,
He needs must combat might with might,
Or Might would rule alone.
But I think it plain that the poet here has in mind not an antenatal sin of man, but an antehuman sin of Satan. The "abuse of will" is "in worlds before the man," and is regarded as only indirectly "involving ours." We are left then to the conclusion that Tennyson's reminiscences are, like Wordsworth's, survivals of a knowledge possessed in a previous state of existence, not by the separate soul, but by the divine Being from k whom it has subsequently sprung.
But in one very important respect Tennyson's doctrine is unlike Wordsworth's and is inferior to it. I refer to his conception of nature. Stopford Brooke, in his noble and almost exhaustive treatment of Tennyson and his poetry, has nowhere shown greater penetration than where he calls attention to the marked difference between his view of the physical universe, including the human body, and the view of Wordsworth. The difference is simply this: To Wordsworth nature is alive, and alive with God. "The splendor in the grass, the glory in the flower," are but the outward sign, the intelligible speech, of an immanent Deity. Nature can therefore be regarded with affection, and the soul can commune with her. She responds to the heart of man, counsels him, inspires him. The lonely forest and the sounding shore teach him great lessons of wisdom, for in nature's quiet or in her majesty he hears the voice of God.
To Tennyson, on the other hand, nature is rather a phantasmagoria cunningly arranged to witness of an absent God. There is no life in nature, and specially no divine life. The only life in the universe, outside of God, is found in the soul of man. Nature is but a THE POET'S CONCEPTION OF NATURE 497
series of pictures or symbols, intended to instruct and to educate, but never revealing a present Divinity. I am inclined to connect this view of nature with Tennyson's general tendency to agnosticism. In this respect I think both Wordsworth and Browning far more vigorous and pronounced believers than Tennyson. And Y this agnosticism is accompanied by an idealism more subjective than Browning's, an idealism that at times seems to doubt the real existence of any world but that of feeling and of thought.
The world is not so much the immediate product of a present God as it is the shadow of a God who is far away:
Only That which made us, meant us to be mightier by and by, Set the sphere of all the boundless Heavens within the human eye,
Sent the shadow of Himself, the boundless, through the human soul;
Boundless inward, in the atom, boundless outward, in the whole.
In fact, this picture or shadow of the Infinite One does not answer to the Reality except in part. Nature, owing to our imperfect vision, is a distorted image of Him who is reflected in it:
My God, I would not live
Save that I think this gross, hard-seeming world
Is our misshaping vision of the Powers
Behind the world, that make our griefs our gains.
Our mortal veil
And shatter'd phantom of that infinite One,
Who made thee unconceivably Thyself
Out of His whole World-self and all in all.
I cannot understand the least flower that blows; but such is the order of the universe, that knowledge of that one flower, if I only did possess it, would be knowledge of all:
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
Tennyson made it no secret to his friends that from boyhood, sometimes when he was all alone and sometimes when he was in the presence of others, he had been subject to a sort of waking trance. Four times in "The Princess " he describes such a one:
And truly waking dreams were, more or less,
An old and strange affection of the house,
Myself too had weird seizures, heaven knows what:
On a sudden, in the midst of men and day,
And while I walk'd and talk'd as heretofore,
I seem'd to move among a world of ghosts
And feel myself the shadow of a dream.
The Princess with her monstrous woman-guard,
The jest and earnest working side by side.
The cataract and the tumult of the Kings,
Were shadows; and the long fantastic night
With all its doings had and had not been,
And all things were and were not
"In Memoriam " tells of another:
So word by word, and line by line,
The dead man touched me from the past,
And all at once it seemed at last
The living soul was flashed on mine.
And mine in his was wound, and whirl'd
About empyreal heights of thought,
And came on that which is, and caught
The deep pulsations of the world,
yEonian music measuring out
The steps of Time—the shocks of Chance—
The blows of Death.
And similarly in "The Ancient Sage" we read:
For more than once when I
Sat all alone, revolving in myself
The word that is the symbol of myself,
The mortal limit of the Self was loosed,
And passed into the Nameless, as a cloud
Melts into Heaven. I touched my limbs, the limbs
Were strange, not mine—and yet no shade of doubt,
But utter clearness, and through loss of Self
The gain of such large life as match'd with ours
Were Sun to spark—unshadowable in words,
Themselves but shadows of a shadow-world.
A shadow-world, especially when that world of shadows only imperfectly answers to the Reality, affords no object of communion. It is only the dim symbol of Him who dwells behind the darkness and the' shadow— it is never the manifestation of a present God. Yet I must make a single exception, one which has doubtless occurred to the reader, namely, the remarkable poem entitled "-The Higher Pantheism." Here, for a moment, the poet is endowed with Wordsworth's deeper insight, and actually sees God in nature:
The sun, the moon, the stars, the seas, the hills, and the plains, Are not these, O Soul, the Vision of Him that reigns?
But the vision does not tarry. Tennyson has hardly expressed the sublime thought when doubt again seizes him. The vision is a misleading vision, true only to us and only while the vision lasts:
Is not the Vision He? Though He be not that which he seems? Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?
Here is the old Kantian relativity. All knowledge is relative to the knowing agent. Tennyson is not content with knowing the Reality in the phenomena; he is trying to know the Reality apart from the phenomena, trying to know without fulfilling the conditions of knowledge, in short, trying to know without knowing. Agnosticism regards God as concealed by his own manifestation—it should hold instead that in knowing the phenomena we know the Reality itself. Our poet is infected with this agnostic philosophy; and, though he has a moment of insight when the truth dawns upon him, the clouds shut in again; though he listens for a little to the wise, the unwise must have their say also:
God is law, say the wise; O soul, and let us rejoice,
For if He thunder by law the thunder is yet his voice.
Law is God, say some: no God at all, says the fool;
For all we have power to see is a straight staff bent in a pool.
And so the conclusion is a mixture of faith and of unbelief:
And the ear of man cannot hear, and the eye of man cannot see; But if we could see and hear, this Vision—were it not He?
Would that the poet had grasped the principle that the laws of our knowing are not merely arbitrary and THE WORLD IS A SHADOW-WORLD SQI
regulative, but correspond to the nature of things! But he did not grasp this principle, and Nature remained to him a sort of dream, in which God manifested himself indeed, but only distantly and irregularly. Tennyson therefore does not care to be alone with Nature. Only when some fellow-man is by, has he interest in physical beauty or in physical grandeur. The external universe is only the setting for humanity, the background for the human figure. But, with man to interpret, the world has a meaning. Our poet's greatest art, indeed, consists in finding a fitting environment for every emotion of the soul. He can create, not dramatic scenes, but material landscapes, to reflect, symbolize, and intensify every phase of thought and emotion.
I venture to give one out of many possible illustrations of Tennyson's use of nature, not as a living, but as a symbolic thing. He makes nature express otherwise unutterable yearnings in his little poem:
Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utte*
The thoughts that arise in me.
The dull recurrence of the wave-beats answers to heartbeats even more monotonous and sad. And now the poet heightens the impression of grief by contrast:
O well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play 1
O well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay 1
And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!
So the glad accomplishment of the voyage of the ship increases our sympathy with one whose earthly hopes have vanished. And the last stanza intimates that, while the wave-beats are mechanical and unconscious, the heart-beats are living and unescapable:
Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.
A divine order, and finite intelligences watched over by an infinite Intelligence who uses nature for their instruction and discipline—this is Tennyson's faith. His idealism, combined with his belief in freedom, delivers him from the materialistic error of supposing that the universe is sufficient unto itself. He recognizes the world as under the dominion of law. In his later years he was increasingly impressed with the evidence that evolution is the method of creation. But he never loses sight of the fact that there is a law within the law, namely, the will of God. He sees that evolu tion is only a method, and not an agent; that behind the method is a divine Intelligence which designed it; that the Agent who works according to this method is God.
Tennyson made many needless concessions to agnosticism, but he never ceased to fight against materialism. In his acknowledgment of law, he did not surrender his faith in freedom. He believed that God, while
binding nature fast in fate, Left free the human will.
AN EVOLUTIONIST, BUT NOT A MATERIALIST 503
God's order is the order, not of constant miracle, but of gradual development. But God is free, as well as man; and this enabled him to trust that
God was love indeed,
And love creation's final law—
Though Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrieked against his creed.
This enabled him also to cherish hope for the world, even though many questions about the existence of evil remained unsolved:
Is there evil but on earth? Or pain in every peopled sphere?
Well be grateful for the sounding watchword "Evolution" here.
Evolution ever climbing after some ideal good,
And Reversion ever dragging Evolution in the mud.
Tennyson had evidently grasped the thought that the abuse of human freedom has substituted reversion for evolution, and that sin must be taken account of, if we would explain the history of man or reconcile it with the principle of divine order. The materialism that denies freedom, and the necessitarianism that excludes sin, are combated in the drama called "The Promise of May." At the first representation of this little play in London, the Marquis of Queensberry rose from his seat in the theatre and protested against the character of "Edgar" as "an abominable caricature" of the agnostic position. It is nevertheless a faithful picture of the logical tendency and natural consequences of agnosticism:
A soul with no religion . . .
Was without rudder, anchor, compass—might be
Blown every way with every gust, and wreck
On any rock.
If man be only
A willy-nilly current of sensations—
Reaction needs must follow revel—yet—
Why feel remorse, he, knowing that he must have
Moved in the iron grooves of Destiny?
Remorse then is a part of Destiny,
Nature a liar, making us feel guilty
Of her own faults.
The last gleam of an after-life but leaves him
A beast of prey in the dark.
The two aspects of this abuse of freedom, the sin of sense on the one hand and the sin of pride on the other, have been depicted by Tennyson with wonderful power, the former in "The Vision of Sin," and the latter in "The Palace of Art." Not that he confines his treatment of the subject to these poems. As I have already pointed out, "The Idylls of the King" is one long exposition of the nature and the consequences of transgression. The song of Vivien in "Balin and Balan" gives us the insidious and lying aspect of temptation:
The fire of heaven is lord of all things good,
And starve not thou this fire within thy blood,
But follow Vivien through the fiery flood!
The fire of heaven is not the flame of hell!
"Thou shalt not surely die," said the first seducer; "ye shall be as gods, knowing both good and evil." So Vivien extorts the charm from Merlin:
Then, in one moment, she put forth the charm
Of woven paces and of waving hands,
And in the hollow oak he lay as dead,
And lost to life and use and name and fame.
"The Vision of Sin" presents temptation to sensual sin in its coarser aspect:
I had a vision when the night was late:
A youth came riding toward a palace-gate.
He rode a horse with wings, that would have flown,
But that his heavy rider kept him down.
And from the palace came a child of sin,
And took him by the curls and led him in.
Then come song and revel, ecstasies of pleasure, the giddy whirl of the dance, an orgy of intoxication. But there is a solemn sequel. Divine retribution slowly gathers:
And then I looked up toward a mountain tra ".t,
That girt the region with high cliff and lawn:
I saw that every morning, far withdrawn
Beyond the darkness and the cataract,
God made himself an awful rose of dawn,
Unheeded: and detaching, fold by fold,
From those still heights, and, slowly drawing near,
A vapor heavy, hueless, formless, cold,
Came floating on for many a month and year
At length the vapor touches the palace-gate and encompasses its inmates. Penalty overtakes th; sinner. The youth with curls, fairly flying in the exubx v»nce of his vitality and passion, becomes at last
A gray and gap-tooth'd man as lean as deal
Who slowly rode across a wither'd heath
And lighted at a ruin'd inn.
Sense has increased the stimulant until at last no pleasure is left. The recklessness of youth is now a bitter cynicism. There is no goodness or purity. Death is approaching, but it is made matter for ribald jest. Conscience occasionally threatens, but it can be deadened with drink:
I am old, but let me drink;
Bring me spices, bring me wine;
I remember, when I think,
That my youth was half divine.
Youthful hopes, by scores, to all,
When the locks are crisp and curi'd;
Unto me my maudlin gall
And my mockeries of the world.
Fill the cup, and fill the can;
Mingle madness, mingle scorn 1
Dregs of life, and lees of man:
Yet we will not die forlorn!
The voice grew faint: there came a further change:
Once more uprose the mystic mountain range.
Then some one spake: "Behold, it was a crime
Of sense avenged by sense that wore with time."
Another said: "The crime of sense became
The crime of malice, and is equal blame."
Penalty is the reaction of natural law, and the sin of sense is punished in kind. Man reaps what he sows, yet the operation of natural law is at the same time the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.
As "The Vision of Sin" shows us sensual sin "avenged by sense that wore with time," so "The Palace of Art" is a picture of the inherent misery SIN AS PRIDE AND SELFISHNESS S°7
of selfishness. There the soul that has built for itself a lordly pleasure-house, looks down with contempt upon the poor:
O Godlike isolation which art mine!
I 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.
This palace of pride is adorned with beauty, but the pleasures sought within are not pleasures of the senses. Science, literature, and art are the soul's ministers. Everything is here to give enjoyment, except humility and love.
Full oft the riddle of the painful earth
Flash'd through 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 through with pangs of hell.
Despair, dread, loathing of her solitude, fell on her. Art, sundered from love, had turned the palace into a veritable prison. "Inwrapt tenfold in slothful shame,'1 she
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.
She howl'd aloud, "I am on fire within.
There comes no murmur of reply.
What 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,
"Where 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"
The remorse of a soul awakened by conscience, and "plagued by God with sore despair," has never been more vividly described. The conviction that sin must be taken away, that guilt must be purged, that the sinner must depend upon help from without, that one must come and "save it, lest it die"—all this is the voice of human nature itself, under the teachings of Scripture and of the Holy Spirit. And Tennyson recognizes the universal need of this deliverance, for in "Becket" he says:
We are sinners all,
The best of all not all prepared to die.
In "The Promise of May" this sin is described as hereditary:
O this mortal house
Which we are born into, is haunted by
The ghosts of the dead passions of dead men;
CHRIST RECOGNIZED AS DIVINE REDEEMER 509
And these take flesh again with our own flesh,
And bring us to confusion.
He was only
A poor philosopher who called the mind
Of children a blank page, a tabula rasa.
There, there, is written in invisible inks,
"Lust, Prodigality, Covetousness, Craft,
Cowardice, Murder"—and the heat and fire
Of life will bring them out, and black enough
So the child grow to manhood.
Evil heredity, however, has not extinguished human freedom. We have still a will that can act down upon our natures and can modify them. We are responsible for the evil, and we can alter our destiny:
Follow Light, and do the Right—for man can half control his doom—
Till you find the deathless Angel seated in the vacant tomb.
For man is man, and master of his fate.
With all these abstract possibilities of good, it still remains true that man is weak, and that for his complete renovation he is dependent upon a higher power. In "Locksley Hall Sixty Years After," the poet says of earth in general what is equally true of the individual man:
Ere she gain her heavenly best, a God must mingle with the game.
Does Tennyson recognize Christ as the divine Redeemer? I am glad to find abundant evidence of this. Doubtful as he is about nature as a direct revelation of God, he has no doubt as to the divinity of Christ, or as to Christ's proclamation of God's mind and will to men. "In Memoriam" teaches this not only in its noble initial invocation,
Strong Son of God, immortal Love!
but in the subsequent attribution to him of creative power, of supreme authority, and of infinite wisdom. Christ is the Maker, the Lord, and the Light, of men. It is the larger Christ, the eternal Revealer of God, to whom the poet makes the sublime ascription:
Thou seemest human and divine,
The highest, holiest manhood thou:
Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our wills are ours, to make them thine.
Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.
And yet this Light of the world, this eternal power and truth and love, became incarnate, so that all men might recognize and adore a present God:
For wisdom dealt with mortal powers.
Where truth in closest words shall fail,
When truth embodied in a tale
Shall enter in at lowly doors.
And so the word had breath, and wrought
With human hands the creed of creeds
In loveliness of perfect deeds,
More strong than all poetic thought
In "The Holy Grail," the hermit tells Percivale that the model of all earthly excellence is to be found in the humility of Christ,
CHRIST RECOGNIZED AS DIVINE REDEEMER 51 I
when the Lord of all things Made himself naked of glory for his mortal change.
The Model of humanity does not stand at a distance commanding us to be like him,—he enters into us and remodels us. Not imitation of him, so much as appropriation of him, is needed. Immortal Love becomes our Lord and King, by diffusing through our being his own loving spirit. Christ is "the Life indeed." He raised Lazarus from the dead; he receives the souls of the departed; he is an object of prayer to-day. And in allusion to Paul's words, "That rock was Christ," and "Christ liveth in me," the poet prays that God in Christ may pervade and purify us:
O living will that shalt endure
When all that seems shalt suffer shock,
Rise in the spiritual rock,
Flow through our deeds and make them pure,
That we may lift from out the dust
A voice as unto him that hears,
A cry above the conquer'd years,
To one that with us works, and trust.
With faith that comes of self-control,
The truths that never can be proved,
Until we close with all we loved,
And all we flow from, soul in soul.
Because Tennyson's belief in God is combined with an agnostic philosophy, Stopford Brooke can say that our poet is more Christian than theist. Though he professes to know little about God, he knows much about Christ. When I hear him praying to Christ, I am not greatly troubled by his seeming identification of Christ with all the good:
Nay, there may be those about us whom we neither see nor name.
Felt within us as ourselves, the Powers of Good, the Powers of 1I1, Strowing balm, or shedding poison in the fountains of the WilL
Follow you the Star that lights a desert pathway, yours or mine. Forward, till you see the highest Human Nature is divine.
It is rather the identification of the good with Christ, their Inspirer and their life. Tennyson has shown us his heart, and he has confessed to us his faith, in the " May Queen," where the dying girl says of the clergyman:
He taught me all the mercy, for he showed me all the sin.
Now, though my lamp was lighted late, there's One will let me in,
Nor would 1 now be well, mother, again if that could be,
For my desire is but to pass to Him that died for me.
The same trust in Christ as a Saviour is shown in his pathetic poem entitled "In the Children's Hospital." There the little child who has prayed to Jesus to help her in prospect of a surgical operation, and has put her arms outside the bed so that he may distinguish her from the other patients, has her prayer answered. The hard-hearted skeptical surgeon