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ART. III. –1. The Princess : a Medley. Poems by ALFRED
Fifth Edition. London: 1848.
Mrs. SHELLEY. 3 vols. London: 1847. 3. Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats. Edited
by R. MONCKTON MILNES. 2 vols. London: 1848. IN N our recent notices of Mr. Taylor's Eve of the Conquest'
and of the King Arthur' of Sir E. B. Lytton, we ventured to deal with these remarkable productions as representatives of those forms of the poetical character to which they seemed severally to belong. On the present occasion we propose, though somewhat late, to take the opportunity which Mr. Tennyson's · Princess' affords us, of continuing our sketch of modern poetry and poets.
If a man were to scrutinise the external features of our time, for the purpose of characterising it compendiously, he would be tempted, we suspect, to give up the task before long, and to pronounce the age a Medley. It would be hard to specify the character of our Philosophy, including as it does fragments of all systems, sometimes at open war, and sometimes eclectically combined. Not less various is the texture of Society among us, in which time-honoured traditions are blended with innovations which a few months make antiquated. The Political condition of our day is a war of great principles. As heterogeneous in its character is Art
Here we have an imitation of the antique, there a revival of the middle ages; while sculpture itself is sometimes compelled to relax its severity, and copy the rude attire of our northern yeomen. By what term could we describe the architecture of the day? In our rising cities we find a Gothic church close to a Byzantine fane or an Italian basilica ; and in their immediate neighbourhood a town-hall like a Greek temple, a mansion like a Roman palace, and a club-house after the fashion of Louis XIV. The age in which we live
may have a character of its own; but that character is not written in its face.
In this respect Mr. Tennyson's poem The Princess, not without design if we may judge by the title, resembles the age. • A Medley' he calls it; and a medley, so far as its materials are concerned, it assuredly is. We find in it classical allusions, a tournament of the middle ages, and the scientific and political associations of modern times. It is only on a repeated perusal that a certain unity of purpose which methodises its variegated exterior discloses itself. It professes but to weave together a chaplet of gay devices, such as might amuse the idleness of
a young party on a summer's day: and the reader will perhaps be disposed to regret this—if his experience be not sufficient to warn him that grand undertakings are apt to turn out tedious performances, and that often where least is promised most is accomplished.
The Prologue of the poem explains its drift, and is indeed one of its most graphic and graceful portions. A rural festival is celebrated in the grounds of Sir Walter Vivian, a “good old
country gentleman, fond of sports and of the poor. His son, with several young college friends, is passing the vacation at his house; and some ladies from the neighbouring country-seats are of the party. The morning is spent in looking over those curiosities of art and antiquity with which an old country-house may be supposed to abound: the guests inspect the rusty armour of times gone by, and dive into old family records, including a chronicle which celebrates a knight without fear and without reproach, Sir Ralph, who fought at Ascalon, and a certain lady who had herself borne helmet and sword, and driven the foe from her walls. Leaving the house they then mingle with the crowd; after witnessing whose revels for a time, they make their retreat at last within the walls of a Gothic ruin, where they sit down to tell college tales, criticise Masters, Proctors, and Tutors, and compare old things with new. A broken statue of the good knight Ralph which Lilia, the daughter of Sir Walter, has, in a childish caprice, mantled with a scarf of crimson silk, recalls the family legend; and where, asks Walter, is a true heroine now to be found ? His young sister affirms that the land is still rich in such, but that their heroic qualities are undeveloped in consequence of their being deprived of a befitting education. Catching at this idea, half in ridicule and half in sympathy, the young men agree to recount a tale of which the heroine is to be a Princess who devotes herself to the exaltation of her sex, bringing up the maidens of her land in all manly knowledge and training. The narrators who are seven in number engage to take up the story in succession. The character of the tale is thus announced (p. 12.):
* But one that really suited time and place
The nineteenth century gambols on the grass.'
Nay more — arm all parties alike with the whole knowledge of the day, and we still believe that our native energy will bring us through. We may possibly be left to depend on our home productions-or we may be called on to compete with the productions of the world. In the one case, we shall be able to maintain our whole population more easily and with cheaper corn; in the other, we shall be more likely to triumph in the fight, even over countries more favoured by nature than ourselves.
There is, perhaps, a stronger argument still for our encouragement of the application of science. It is this. If we allow other nations to add the advantage of higher knowledge to their more favoured natural circumstances, the decline of our agricultural prosperity must then become almost certain. Above all other countries, the United States of America and our own colonies-- born of the same blood, and inspired with the greater ardour of young nations -- are most to be feared by our home farmers. They are rapidly advancing in knowledge, and are eagerly seeking it from every quarter; and if, while they enjoy so many other advantages, they can raise themselves even to an equality in agricultural skill and resource with ourselves, - what will be the result to Great Britain it is not difficult to conjecture.
The eighth section of Count Strzelecki's Physical Descripstion of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land' is a striking exposition of what is doing in those two countries for the improvement of their agriculture; and of the skill and energy which we may expect to see developed in our other colonies. As regards the United States, we may add another observation. The desire of their several governments to promote the applications of science to agriculture has been shown by the numerous surveys they have lately caused to be made, and by the reports, - similar to that of Dr. Jackson, the title of which we have placed at the head of this article, — which have been printed and circulated at the public expense. The anxiety of individuals also to obtain further information, and their estimation of its money value, may be judged of from the recent visit of Mr. Colman to this country. This gentleman was, in a certain sense, commissioned by his countrymen to inspect and report upon British agriculture; inasmuch as, before he embarked for England, he had already received upwards of 3,000 subscribers for his intended work. His published volumes on British Agriculture are full of kindly and benevolent feeling. From being written for the most part while in England, and published piecemeal, they are somewhat sketchy and unmethodical, and, in this respect, suffer by comparison with the smaller and more condensed work of Von Weckherlin *, Director of the Agricultural School at Hohenheim, in Wurtemberg; yet they contain an outline of what was attracting most attention among us during the period of his visit, and can scarcely fail to be productive of good.
In respect to this visit of inquiry, also, we may remark that the welcome reception and ready communications on all subjects which Mr. Colman every where experienced among us — as is shown by his published letters, - are not only gratifying to ourselves, as they must have been to himself; but will prove, we trust, to our kindred on the other side of the Atlantic that we are still influenced by the old adage, that · blood is thicker than * water.' Let such of them as doubt this come among us with open hearts, and try. To return from this brief digression, we would say that here,
, as in America and elsewhere, to avail ourselves of all the resources which science has already placed within our easy reach, is not enough. We should also secure its more extended and more zealous services for the future. In this way only are the difficulties, from which so much is apprehended, to be overcome. If with little encouragement, science has already, in so many ways promoted the interests of agriculture, what, as hopeful men, may we not expect from it when it is really stimulated to exert itself to the uttermost in our behalf?
In conclusion, while we speak thus of the uses of science and the services it may be made to render us, we do not hold them up as infallible nostrums for all possible evils. We are not to entertain unfounded expectations from it, as if sudden and great discoveries were to be made on the occurrence of every new emergency. All scientific progress is slow; but it is also sure; and its benefits are lasting. Nor do we recommend the diffusion and enlargement of such knowledge as the only things to be done, or as precluding any other means of improving the prospects of the agriculturist. But they are methods which ought to be tried, and which must and will be tried sooner or later. We had better try them early, in the hope by their means of maintaining our existing position. It will be harder work to employ them hereafter, in the attempt to regain a position which we may then have lost.
* Ueber Englische Landwirthschaft, und deren Anwendung auf I.andwirthschaftliche Verhältnisse insbesondere Deutschlands. Stuttgard : 1845.
With this intimation the tale corresponds. The poem begins as an English Decameron of the nineteenth century; but it swells as it proceeds into a wider continuity of interests, and deepens in pathos. A vein of kindly irony runs through no small portion of it; but, by insensible gradations, the serious and the tender first, then the pathetic and the profound, supervene upon the gamesome. Any but the most delicate execution in this respect would have produced a very coarse, not to say grotesque, effect. The humorous and the serious are, however, seldom here found antithetically opposed to cach other; but blend rather, like the different shades of some fine material shifted in the light. In this respect the poem is in harmony with nature; who so intertwines the grave with the gay, in her passages of sadness or promise, that the colour of the web is dark or bright according to the humour of him who handles it. There is room both for Democritus and Heraclitus in the world; and their dispute is one in which neither can have the last word.
The narrative is but a slender thread; perhaps too slender compared with the gems of precious poetry with which it is strung. A certain Prince, of whom we know no more than that he was blue-eyed and fair in face,' and that on his cradle 6 shone the Northern Star,' had been betrothed and proxywedded while a child, to a Princess in the south not more than eight years old. The boy wears next his heart her picture, and one dark tress of southern hair; and around these relics, as boyhood changes into youth,
• Sweet thoughts would swarm as bees about their queen.' Ida, the Princess, has had her ideal also; but to her young lover she has been faithless before she has had the opportunity of being faithful. She admits, indeed, that
• We had our dreams — perhaps he mingled with them ;' but she has been the spoilt child of a doting father, and she has had her way in all things. The motherless girl had fallen moreover under the influence of two widows, Lady Psyche and Lady Blanche: and they have taught her, how
Knaves are men
And play the slave to gain the tyranny.' (P. 71.) Among her own companions the Princess has scen also an instance of ill-requited truth. These circumstances have strengthened an early aspiration into a fixed resolve. It is thus