Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

fruits, but still later he said, “Some of it is better than I thought it was!"

At Cambridge.- In 1828 the two brothers entered Trinity College, Cambridge. Here the greatest influence in his life was the friendship with Arthur Hallam, of whom we shall learn more under the discussion of In Memoriam. Tennyson's undergraduate friends were deeply impressed by his personality; they believed he was destined to do great things. In 1829, his poem Timbuctoo won the Chancellor's gold medal. The poem, however, is not much above the level of the usual college prize poem. In 1830 appeared Poems, Chiefly Lyrical; some of these are among his most musical productions. Hallam reviewed the book in the Englishman's Magazine, calling attention to “a strange earnestness in his worship of beauty.” But Blackwood's characterized some of the poems as “dismal drivel,” and the Quarterly Review treated the book with contempt. Tennyson felt this criticism deeply, for in spite of all his brusqueness his soul was keenly sensitive to criticism. Late in life he wrote to the Duke of Argyll of "the pen punctures of these parasitic animalcules of the press.”

Poems of 1842. — In the early spring of 1831 Tennyson left Cambridge, owing to the serious illness of his father, and during the next ten years lived at various places with his mother and sisters. These are the years of his deepest trials, of his melan

. choly and despair. His father had died, Hallam was lost, his own health was poor, and he was deeply in love and too poor to marry. He also was convinced that the public did not care for his style of poetry. But although he published no book, he studied diligently and wrote much. The poetic instinct was too strong to suffer him to be inert. Then in 1842 came the Poems which turned the tide of popular approval in his favor. The two volumes which then appeared contain some of the finest poetry of the nineteenth century, for therein were Ulysses, Dora, and Locksley Hall. Tennyson's friends, and many of them were the brightest men in England, were enthusiastic. Even Wordsworth acknowledged the excellence of the poems, saying of Dora:

[ocr errors]

“Mr. Tennyson, I have been endeavoring all my life to write a pastoral like your Dora, and have not succeeded." In America, Hawthorne, Emerson, Lowell, and Poe became his admirers.

An Important Year. - In the year 1850 three important events occurred in the life of Tennyson - in May a few copies of In Memoriam were printed for friends, and later an edition appeared for general circulation without the name of the author; in June he married Emily Sellwood, whom he had loved for ten years, but whom he felt he should not ask to share his poverty; on November 19 he was appointed Poet Laureate. His marriage was a singularly happy one. In after years he said, “The peace of God came into my life before the altar when I wedded her.” His wife had a sympathetic nature, a quiet sense of humor, and a good mind. “I am proud of her intellect,” wrote her husband. His son thinks the Laureateship was due chiefly to Prince Albert's admiration for In Memoriam. Another version is that Sir Robert Peel, the prime minister, was so strongly impressed when Ulysses was read to him that he was led to acquiesce in the request of R. M. Milnes that Tennyson be appointed. In reference to the honor Tennyson at this time writes: “I have no passion for courts, but a great love for privacy. It is, I believe, scarce £100 a year, and my friend, R. M. Milnes, tells me that the price of the patent and court dress will eat up all the first year's income.”

Prosperous Years. - Henceforth Tennyson's years are years of plenty, years of honorable renown and growing fame. In 1855 Maud was finished. This is an imaginative and passionate poem with dramatic power, although without dramatic form. The poem itself, although furnishing the means which enabled Tennyson to buy Farringford, that beautiful and secluded spot on the Isle of Wight, was not popular with the general public. With Tennyson, however, the poem remained a favorite; when asked to read aloud from his own poems he usually chose Maud. Then in 1859 appeared the four Idylls of the King, concerning which a fuller account follows. Enoch Arden was published in 1864, of which sixty thousand copies were speedily sold. Tennyson's son thinks that the volume containing Enoch Arden, next to In Memoriam, was the most popular of his father's works.

During his later years Tennyson wrote a number of dramas. In 1875 Queen Mary was published and a year later was produced at the Lyceum Theater ; in 1876 came Harold; then The Falcon was produced in 1879 and enjoyed a run of sixty-seven nights; in 1881 The Cup was produced at the Lyceum Theater; in 1882 The Promise of May was produced at the Globe Theater; Becket appeared in 1884; then in 1892 The Foresters ended the list. On the whole it cannot be said that Tennyson's dramatic poems were eminently successful; at least they have added nothing to his reputation. This may be due partly to a lack of dramatic ability in one who excelled as a lyric poet; or it may be the fault of a public which cares but little for the poetic drama.

Last Years. - In 1884 a peerage was offered Tennyson, an honor which was reluctantly accepted. He "did not want to alter his plain Mr.” He had previously been blamed by literary men for thrice refusing titled honors; he now accepted, saying to his son, “By Gladstone's advice I have consented to take the peerage, but for my own part I shall regret my simple name all

[ocr errors]

my life.

Tennyson is a good example of the combination of vigorous mind with sturdy body. Early in life, as was the case with Carlyle, Tennyson thought he had an incurable disease which would prematurely end his days. But his bodily strength in his old age was remarkable, as was the elasticity and freshness of his mind. To the end he breathed the indomitable spirit of his Ulysses:

“ Tho' much is taken, much abides: and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are:
One equal temper of heroic hearts
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

At Aldworth in Surrey, the foundation stone of which Tennyson himself laid in 1868, the poet spent his autumn and winter

months; here he was visited by the great of all the earth, who came to see the most illustrious English poet.

“ Year after year (writes Aubrey de Vere] he trod its two stately terraces with men the most noted of their time, statesmen, warriors, men of letters, science, and art, some of royal race, some famous in far lands, but none more welcome to him than the friends of his youth. . . . The days which I passed there yearly with him and his were the happiest days of each year. ... And the sea-murmurs of Freshwater will blend with the sighing of the woods around Aldworth, for me, as for many more worthy, a music, if mournful, yet full of consolation.”

Tennyson died October 6, 1892. His departure was like the passing of his own Arthur, or like the death of a prophet of old. While still conscious he had asked for his Shakspere, and his son brought him a copy containing his favorite plays, King Lear, Cymbeline, and Troilus and Cressida. In the calm hours of the moonlight night, surrounded by his loving family, he passed " from out our bourne of time and place" into the Great Beyond, as his son repeated the prayer he felt his father would have asked for

“God accept him!
Christ receive him!”

The Princess. – Of the longer works of Tennyson the three most widely known are The Princess, In Memoriam, and the Idylls of the King. Each of these deals in a poetic way with a great idea; The Princess with the “eternal feminine; In Memoriam with the problem of immortality; and in the Idylls we have a portrayal of the old struggle between the Soul and the Sense. The first edition of The Princess appeared in 1847; during the next few years new editions appeared with alterations and additions, notably the insertion of the intercalary poems.

The Princess has the sub-title, "A Medley." This may be because seven different persons are supposed to be telling the tale, or it may be because there is a mixture of modern ideas with medieval customs, or because of the blending “of a delicate satire with solemn exhortation." “You have seen," wrote Tennyson to

Dawson, “that if women ever were to play such freaks, the burlesque and the tragic might go hand in hand.”

The story is a romantic tale with a young princess as a heroine, a prince as a hero, and a university founded, instructed, and controlled by women. No man is to enter, upon pain of death. This prohibition is a challenge to a prince, to whom the princess had been betrothed in childhood, and his two mischievous comrades, Cyril and Florian, who, dressing like women, invade the sacred precincts of the university. They are found out and ignominiously ejected. The father of the prince declares war upon the father of the princess to compel the fulfilment of the early marriage contract. The war is decided by a tournament in which the luckless prince and his followers are defeated; the university becomes a temporary hospital in which the princess becomes the tender nurse of the injured prince; reads to him from "a volume of the poets of her land;" falls in love with him, and they marry.

The Princess Ida and the prince are the leading characters of the story. The princess herself is a young woman with laudable ambition to help her own sex; she is not an intellectual "blue-stocking,” but an altogether attractive personality

“The Princess; liker to the inhabitant
Of some clear planet close upon the Sun,
Than our man's earth; such eyes were in her head,
And so much grace and power.

[ocr errors]

The prince is not a good hero; it is said that Shakspere has no heroes, only heroines; so, too, Tennyson's heroines are more convincing than his heroes. This prince is subject to "weird seizures,” and is weak in personality. It has been said that it was not quite fair for Tennyson to construct a university doomed to failure, and to compel the princess to marry a man manifestly her inferior.

Women and Education. — Tennyson is reported to have said that the two great social questions impending in England were "the housing and education of the poor man before making him

« AnteriorContinuar »