« AnteriorContinuar »
"A man had given all other bliss,
Upon her perfect lips." The first purpose of a narrative poet should be to tell his story well, artistically, beautifully, entertainingly. Tennyson was primarily a poet, not a preacher, and yet morality and art are so interwoven that no great poet can produce so serious a work as the Idylls without introducing a moral element. In an epilogue to the poems Tennyson asks the Queen to
accept this old imperfect tale New-old, and shadowing Sense at war with Soul." This, then, is the moral purpose of the Idylls, to show the eternal struggle between the Sense and the Soul, between the flesh and the spirit, between the Real with its limitations and the Ideal strives to transcend the limitations of “this muddy vesture of decay.” It is the same struggle as that indicated by the great Apostle who confessed that when he would do good evil was present with him.
Principal Characters. In his delineation of character Tenny- . son has made the same mistake made by Milton in his Paradise Lost. Satan is the most entertaining and admirable character in Milton's great epic. So, too, Lancelot rather than King Arthur is the hero of the Idylls. King Arthur is not human enough. In his combats he wins too easily. In Balin and Balan we read,
"And Arthur lightly smote the brethren down,
And lightly so return'd, and no man knew.” This is not the art of a story teller who wishes us to thrill with the uncertainties of our hero's fate. In Guinevere, when King Arthur finds his penitent Queen at Almsbury his grand manner approaches dangerously near to pedantry and Pharisaism; our sympathy is with the woman grovelling at his feet, rather than with the wronged husband, who in his egotism says,
“Lo, I forgive thee, as Eternal God
This assumption of perfection helps us to appreciate Guinevere's plaint, after her lord has left her in her misery:
“I thought I could not breathe in that fine air,
That pure severity of perfect light -
In Maud Tennyson has a fine line which is sometimes quoted as a characterization of his King Arthur,
"Faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null." To call Tennyson's Arthur “ splendidly null” may be too severe a criticism, but had some of the "warmth and color" of Lancelot been transferred to the blameless king, we might have had a more lifelike portrait. A "touch of earth” would have humanized Arthur, and we would have had a man instead of a cold, statuelike, immortal being, a creature
too bright and good For human nature's daily food."
Alfred Lord Tennyson, a Memoir. By his Son.
The Mind of Tennyson. SNEATH.
Tennyson as a Student and Poet of Nature. LOCKYER.
Alfred Tennyson. CHESTERTON. Bookman, vol. 16, p. 349.
vol. 14, p. 168.
92, p. 223. Tennyson and the Science of the 19th Century. Pop. Sci., vol. 75,
The Bible in Tennyson. VAN DYKE. Cent., vol. 16, p. 515.
nineteenth century are Tennyson and Browning; each distinct in individuality, and each of that largeness of nature that enabled him to admire the greatness of the other. The poetry of Tennyson is characterized by a clearness of expression and a melodious smoothness of form that denote the artist's devotion to style; and the thought material of his early poetry is deeply tinged with the melancholy of one to whom life had become a painful mystery. On the other hand, Browning seems to the general public to pay scant attention to clearness or smoothness, and his poetry from the beginning has a hearty cheerfulness that repels those delicate natures that luxuriate in morbid emotionalism. Tennyson was by far the more popular of the two, although no Tennysonian has become the intense admirer and follower of his idol as has the true Browningite.
Birth and Parentage.- Robert Browning was born in Camberwell, a suburb of London, on May 7, 1812. His father was a man of delicate sensibility and charm, but of a robustness which fought sturdily in defence of the wronged and helpless. He was disinherited because of his anti-slavery sympathies. Although he made his living by the prosaic work of a trusted clerk in the Bank of England, he was passionately interested in art and literature. The wife was the daughter of William Wiedermann, a German merchant who had settled and married at Dundee. "She was a divine woman," is the poet's brief eulogy, while Carlyle called her “the type of a Scottish gentlewoman,” which for him meant that she was a woman of refinement and dignity. Early Education. — Browning never had much school educa
tion, although he attended an elementary school up to his fourteenth year, and later attended University College of London.
“If we test the matter by the test of actual schools and universities," writes one of his biographers, “ Browning will appear to be one of the least educated men in English literary history. But if we test it by the amount actually learned, we shall think that he was perhaps the most educated man that ever lived." Browning's father was full of an erudition of a varied sort; taking little interest in contemporary politics, he lived in the past of Greek epics and medieval chronicles. In one of his poems Browning describes how, when a child, his father arranged the chairs in the drawing-room and called them the cities of Troy. The boy himself, we may be sure, always entered into the game quest of knowledge with an avidity equal to the father's joy in imparting it. "He clamored for occupation from the moment he could speak." His chief childhood interest was in live pets. He gradually assembled a menagerie of owls and monkeys, magpies and hedgehogs, an eagle and snakes. He was uniformly kind to his pet animals, and through life we find him a champion of the brute creation.
The best part of his bookish education he picked up in his father's miscellaneous library where he browsed at will, absorbing all he touched. His first poetic impulses were inspired by the romantic and fiery outpourings of Ossian, which he read only in extracts. “The first composition I ever was guilty of," he wrote to Elizabeth Barrett in 1846, was something in imitation of Ossian." And at another time he said that Ossian
was the first book I ever bought in my life.” Then the boy was captivated by the grandiose and at times grand poetry, of the fierce Byron. His enthusiasm for Byron diminished as the years went by, but he never lost all of his admiration of the poet so different from himself in many ways and yet so similar in the abounding vitality of his genius.
Then came the influence of Shelley and Keats. When a boy of fourteen he made a casual discovery of “Mr. Shelley's Atheistical poem.” His parents were sympathetic and broad enough to encourage the son in his liking for the poetry of both Shelley and Keats. The spiritual content of Shelley, the romantic charm