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The success of the first volume of the Idylls recompensed the poet for the slings and arrows that gave Maud a hostile welcome. His next publication was the beautiful Tithonus, a fit pendant to the Ulysses, and composed about the same date (1833-35). "A quarter of a century ago," Tennyson dates it, writing in 1860 to the Duke of Argyll. He had found it when "ferreting among my old books," he said, in search of something for Thackeray, who was establishing the Cornhill Magazine. What must the wealth of the poet have been, who, possessing Tithonus in his portfolio, did not take the trouble to insert it in the volumes of 1842! Nobody knows how many poems of Tennyson's never even saw pen and ink, being composed unwritten, and forgotten. At this time we find him recommending Mr Browning's Men and Women to the Duke, who, like many Tennysonians, does not seem to have been a ready convert to his great contemporary. The Duke and Duchess urged the Laureate to attempt the topic of the Holy Grail, but he was not in the mood. Indeed the vision of the Grail in the early Sir Galahad is doubtless happier than the allegorical handling of a theme so obscure, remote, and difficult, in the Idylls. He wrote his Boadicea, a piece magnificent in itself, but of difficult popular access, owing to the metrical experiment.
In the autumn of 1860 he revisited Cornwall with F. T. Palgrave, Mr Val Prinsep, and Mr Holman Hunt. They walked in the rain, saw Tintagel and the Scilly Isles, and were feted by an enthusiastic captain of a little river steamer, who was more interested in "Mr Tinman and Mr Pancake" than the Celtic boatman of Ardtornish. The winter was passed at Farringford, and the Northern Farmer was written there, a Lincolnshire reminiscence, in the February of 1861. In autumn the Pyrenees were visited by Tennyson in company with Arthur Clough and Mr Dakyns of Clifton College. At Cauteretz in August, and among memories of the old tour with Arthur Hallam, was written All along the Valley. The ways, however, in Auvergne were "foul," and the diet "unhappy." The dedication of the Idylls was written on the death of the Prince Consort in December, and in January 1862 the Ode for the opening of an exhibition. The poet was busy with his "Fisherman," Enoch Arden. The volume was published in 1864, and Lord Tennyson says it has been, next to In Memoriam, the most popular of his father's works. One would have expected the one volume containing the poems up to 1842 to hold that place. The new book, however, mainly dealt with English, contemporary, and domestic themes--"the poetry of the affections." An old woman, a district visitor reported, regarded Enoch Arden as "more beautiful" than the other tracts which were read to her. It is indeed a tender and touching tale, based on a folk-story which Tennyson found current in Brittany as well as in England. Nor is the unseen and unknown landscape of the tropic isle less happily created by the poet's imagination than the familiar English cliffs and hazel copses:-
"The mountain wooded to the peak, the lawns
Aylmer's Field somewhat recalls the burden of Maud, the curse of purse-proud wealth, but is too gloomy to be a fair specimen of Tennyson's art. In Sea Dreams (first published in 1860) the awful vision of crumbling faiths is somewhat out of harmony with its environment:-
"But round the North, a light,
'Then I fixt
The passage is rather fitted for a despairing mood of Arthur, in the Idylls, than for the wife of the city clerk ruined by a pious rogue.
The Lucretius, later published, is beyond praise as a masterly study of the great Roman sceptic, whose heart is at eternal odds with his Epicurean creed. Nascent madness, or fever of the brain drugged by the blundering love philtre, is not more cunningly treated in the mad scenes of Maud. No prose commentary on the De Rerum Natura, however long and learned, conveys so clearly as this concise study in verse the sense of magnificent mingled ruin in the mind and poem of the Roman.
The "Experiments in Quantity" were, perhaps, suggested by Mr Matthew Arnold's Lectures on the Translating of Homer. Mr Arnold believed in a translation into English hexameters. His negative criticism of other translators and translations was amusing and instructive: he had an easy game to play with the Yankee-doodle metre of F. W. Newman, the ponderous blank verse of Cowper, the tripping and clipping couplets of Pope, the Elizabethan fantasies of Chapman. But Mr Arnold's hexameters were neither musical nor rapid: they only exhibited a new form of failure. As the Prince of Abyssinia said to his tutor, "Enough; you have convinced me that no man can be a poet," so Mr Arnold went some way to prove that no man can translate Homer.
Tennyson had the lowest opinion of hexameters as an English metre for serious purposes.
"These lame hexameters the strong-wing'd music of Homer!"
Lord Tennyson says, "German hexameters he disliked even more than English." Indeed there is not much room for preference. Tennyson's Alcaics (Milton) were intended to follow the Greek rather than the Horatian model, and resulted, at all events, in a poem worthy of the "mighty-mouth'd inventor of harmonies." The specimen of the Iliad in blank verse, beautiful as it is, does not, somehow, reproduce the music of Homer. It is entirely Tennysonian, as in
"Roll'd the rich vapour far into the heaven."
The reader, in that one line, recognises the voice and trick of the English poet, and is far away from the Chian:-
"As when in heaven the stars about the moon
This is excellent, is poetry, escapes the conceits of Pope (who never "wrote with his eye on the object"), but is pure Tennyson. We have not yet, probably we never shall have, an adequate rendering of the Iliad into verse, and prose translations do not pretend to be adequate. When parents and dominies have abolished the study of Greek, something, it seems, will have been lost to the world,-- something which even Tennyson could not restore in English. He thought blank verse the proper equivalent; but it is no equivalent. One even prefers his own prose:-
Nor did Paris linger in his lofty halls, but when he had girt on his gorgeous armour, all of varied bronze, then he rushed thro' the city, glorying in his airy feet. And as when a stall-kept horse, that is barley-fed at the manger, breaketh his tether, and dasheth thro' the plain, spurning it, being wont to bathe himself in the fair-running river, rioting, and reareth his head, and his mane flieth back on either shoulder, and he glorieth in his beauty, and his knees bear him at the gallop to the haunts and meadows of the mares; so ran the son of Priam, Paris, from the height of Pergamus, all in arms, glittering like the sun, laughing for light-heartedness, and his swift feet bare him.
In February 1865 Tennyson lost the mother whose portrait he drew in Isabel,--"a thing enskied and sainted."
In the autumn of 1865 the Tennysons went on a Continental tour, and visited Waterloo, Weimar, and Dresden; in September they entertained Emma I., Queen of the Sandwich Islands. The months passed quietly at home or in town. The poet had written his Lucretius, and, to please Sir George Grove, wrote The Song of the Wrens, for music. Tennyson had not that positive aversion to music which marked Dr Johnson, Victor Hugo, Theophile Gautier, and some other poets. Nay, he liked Beethoven, which places him higher in the musical scale than Scott, who did not rise above a Border lilt or a Jacobite ditty. The Wren songs, entitled The Window, were privately printed by Sir Ivor Guest in 1867, were set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, and published by Strahan in December 1870. "A puppet," Tennyson called the song-book, "whose only merit is, perhaps, that it can dance to Mr Sullivan's instrument. I am sorry that my puppet should have to dance at all in the dark shadow of these days" (the siege of Paris), "but the music is now completed, and I am bound by my promise." The verses are described as "partly in the old style," but the true old style of the Elizabethan and cavalier days is lost.
In the summer of 1867 the Tennysons moved to a farmhouse near Haslemere, at that time not a centre of literary Londoners. "Sandy soil and heather-scented air" allured them, and the result was the purchase of land, and the building of Aldworth, Mr Knowles being the architect. In autumn Tennyson visited Lyme Regis, and, like all other travellers thither, made a pilgrimage to the Cobb, sacred to Louisa Musgrove. The poet now began the study of Hebrew, having a mind to translate the Book of Job, a vision unfulfilled. In 1868 he thought of publishing his boyish piece, The Lover's Tale, but delayed. An anonymously edited piracy of this and other poems was perpetrated in 1875, limited, at least nominally, to fifty copies.
In July Longfellow visited Tennyson. "The Longfellows and he talked much of spiritualism, for he was greatly interested in that subject, but he suspended his judgment, and thought that, if in such manifestations there is anything, 'Pucks, not the spirits of dead men, reveal themselves.'" This was Southey's suggestion, as regards the celebrated disturbances in the house of the Wesleys. "Wit might have much to say, wisdom, little," said Sam Wesley. Probably the talk about David Dunglas Home, the "medium" then in vogue, led to the discussion of "spiritualism." We do not hear that Tennyson ever had the curiosity to see Home, whom Mr Browning so firmly detested.
In September The Holy Grail was begun: it was finished "in about a week. It came like a breath of inspiration." The subject had for many years been turned about in the poet's mind, which, of course, was busy in these years of apparent inactivity. At this time (August 1868) Tennyson left his old publishers, the Moxons, for Mr Strahan, who endured till 1872. Then he was succeeded by Messrs H. S. King & Co., who gave place (1879) to Messrs Kegan Paul & Co., while in 1884 Messrs Macmillan became, and continue to be, the publishers. A few pieces, except Lucretius (Macmillan's Magazine, May 1868) unimportant, appeared in serials.
Very early in 1869 The Coming of Arthur was composed, while Tennyson was reading Browning's The Ring and the Book. He and his great contemporary were on terms of affectionate friendship, though Tennyson, perhaps, appreciated less of Browning than Browning of Tennyson. Meanwhile "Old Fitz" kept up a fire of unsympathetic growls at Browning and all his works. "I have been trying in vain to read it" (The Ring and the Book), "and yet the Athenaeum tells me it is wonderfully fine." FitzGerald's ply had been taken long ago; he wanted verbal music in poetry (no exorbitant desire), while, in Browning, carmina desunt. Perhaps, too, a personal feeling, as if Browning was Tennyson's rival, affected the judgment of the author of Omar Khayyam. We may almost call him "the author."
The Holy Grail, with the smaller poems, such as Lucretius, was published at the end of 1869. FitzGerald appears to have preferred The Northern Farmer, "the substantial rough-spun nature I knew," to all the visionary knights in the airy Quest. To compare "--" (obviously Browning) with Tennyson, was "to compare an old Jew's curiosity shop with the Phidian Marbles." Tennyson's poems "being clear to the bottom as well as beautiful, do not seem to cockney eyes so deep as muddy waters."
In November 1870 The Last Tournament was begun; it was finished in May 1871. Conceivably the vulgar scandals of the last days of the French Imperial regime may have influenced Tennyson's picture of the corruption of Arthur's Court; but the Empire did not begin, like the Round Table, with aspirations after the Ideal. In the autumn of the year Tennyson entertained, and was entertained by, Mr Huxley. In their ideas about ultimate things two men could not vary more widely, but each delighted in the other's society. In the spring of 1872 Tennyson visited Paris and the ruins of the Louvre. He read Victor Hugo, and Alfred de Musset, whose comedies he admired. The little that we hear of his opinion of the other great poet runs to this effect, "Victor Hugo is an unequal genius, sometimes sublime; he reminds one that there is but one step between the sublime and the ridiculous," but the example by which Tennyson illustrated this was derived from one of the poet's novels. In these we meet not only the sublime and the ridiculous, but passages which leave us in some perplexity as to their true category. One would have expected Hugo's lyrics to be Tennyson's favourites, but only Gastibelza is mentioned in that character. At this time Tennyson was vexed by
"Art with poisonous honey stolen from France,"
a phrase which cannot apply to Hugo. Meanwhile Gareth was being written, and the knight's song for The Coming of Arthur. Gareth and Lynette, with minor pieces, appeared in 1872. Balin and Balan was composed later, to lead up to Vivien, to which, perhaps, Balin and Balan was introduction sufficient had it been the earlier written. But the Idylls have already been discussed as arranged in sequence. The completion of the Idylls, with the patriotic epilogue, was followed by the offer of a baronetcy. Tennyson preferred that he and his wife "should remain plain Mr and Mrs," though "I hope that I have too much of the old-world loyalty not to wear my lady's favours against all comers, should you think that it would be more agreeable to her Majesty that I should do so."
The Idylls ended, Tennyson in 1874 began to contemplate a drama, choosing the topic, perhaps neither popular nor in an Aristotelian sense tragic, of Mary Tudor. This play was published, and put on the stage by Sir Henry Irving in 1875. Harold followed in 1876, The Cup in 1881 (at the Lyceum), The Promise of May (at the Globe) in 1882, Becket in 1884, with The Foresters in 1892. It seems best to consider all the dramatic period of Tennyson's work, a period reached so strangely late in his career, in the sequence of the Plays. The task is one from which I shrink, as conscious of entire ignorance of the stage and of lack of enthusiasm for the drama. Great dramatic authors have, almost invariably, had long practical knowledge of the scenes and of what is behind them. Shakespeare and his contemporaries, Moliere and his contemporaries, had lived their lives on the boards and in the foyer, actors themselves, or in daily touch with actors and actresses. In the present day successful playwrights appear to live much in the world of the players. They have practical knowledge of the conventions and conditions which the stage imposes. Neither Browning nor Mr Swinburne (to take great names) has had, it seems, much of this practical and daily experience; their dramas have been acted but rarely, if at all, and many examples prove that neither poetical genius nor the genius for prose fiction can enable men to produce plays which hold their own on the boards. This may be the fault of public taste, or partly of public taste, partly of defect in practical knowledge on the side of the authors. Of the stage, by way of practice, Tennyson had known next to nothing, yet his dramas were written to be acted, and acted some of them were. "For himself, he was aware," says his biographer, "that he wanted intimate knowledge of the mechanical details necessary for the modern stage, although in early and middle life he had been a constant playgoer, and would keenly follow the action of a play, criticising the characterisation, incidents, scenic effects, situations, language, and dramatic points." He was quite prepared to be "edited" for acting purposes by the players. Miss Mary Anderson says that "he was ready to sacrifice even his MOST beautiful lines for the sake of a real dramatic effect."
This proved unusual common-sense in a poet. Modern times and manners are notoriously unfavourable to the serious drama. In the age of the Greek tragedians, as in the days of "Eliza and our James," reading was not very common, and life was much more passed in public than among ourselves, when people go to the play for light recreation, or to be shocked. So various was the genius of Tennyson, that had he devoted himself early to the stage, and had he been backed by a manager with the enterprise and intelligence of Sir Henry Irving, it is impossible to say how much he might have done to restore the serious drama. But we cannot regret that he was occupied in his prime with other things, nor can we expect to find his noblest and most enduring work in the dramatic experiments of his latest years. It is notable that, in his opinion, "the conditions of the dramatic art are much more complex than they were." For example, we have "the star system," which tends to allot what is, or was, technically styled "the fat," to one or two popular players. Now, a poet like Tennyson will inevitably distribute large quantities of what is most excellent to many characters, and the consequent difficulties may be appreciated by students of our fallen nature. The poet added that to be a first-rate historical playwright means much more work than formerly, seeing that "exact history" has taken the part of the "chance chronicle."
This is a misfortune. The dramas of the Attic stage, with one or two exceptions, are based on myth and legend, not on history, and even in the Persae, grounded on contemporary events, AEschylus introduced the ghost of Darius, not vouched for by "exact history." Let us conceive Shakespeare writing Macbeth in an age of "exact history." Hardly any of the play would be left. Fleance and Banquo must go. Duncan becomes a young man, and far from "gracious." Macbeth appears as the defender of the legitimist prince, Lulach, against Duncan, a usurper. Lady Macbeth is a pattern to her sex, and her lord is a clement and sagacious ruler. The witches are ruled out of the piece. Difficulties arise about the English aid to Malcolm. History, in fact, declines to be dramatic. Liberties must be taken. In his plays of the Mary Stuart cycle, Mr Swinburne telescopes the affair of Darnley into that of Chastelard, which was much earlier. He makes Mary Beaton (in love with Chastelard) a kind of avenging fate, who will never leave the Queen till her head falls at Fotheringay; though, in fact, after a flirtation with Randolph, Mary Beaton married Ogilvy of Boyne (really in love with Lady Bothwell), and not one of the four Maries was at Fotheringay. An artist ought to be allowed to follow legend, of its essence dramatic, or to manipulate history as he pleases. Our modern scrupulosity is pedantic. But Tennyson read a long list of books for his Queen Mary, though it does not appear that he made original researches in MSS. These labours occupied 1874 and 1875. Yet it would be foolish to criticise his Queen Mary as if we were criticising "exact history." "The play's the thing."
The poet thought that "Bloody Mary" "had been harshly judged by the verdict of popular tradition." So have most characters to whom popular dislike affixes the popular epithet--"Bloody Claverse," "Bloody Mackenzie," "Bloody Balfour." Mary had the courage of the Tudors. She "edified all around her by her cheerfulness, her piety, and her resignation to the will of Providence," in her last days (Lingard). Camden calls her "a queen never praised enough for the purity of her morals, her charity to the poor" (she practised as a district visitor), "and her liberality to the nobles and the clergy." She was "pious, merciful, pure, and ever to be praised, if we overlook her erroneous opinions in religion," says Godwin. She had been grievously wronged from her youth upwards. In Elizabeth she had a sister and a rival, a constant intriguer against her, and a kinswoman far from amiable. Despite "the kindness and attention of Philip" (Lingard), affairs of State demanded his absence from England. The disappointment as to her expected child was cruel. She knew that she had become unpopular, and she could not look for the success of her Church, to which she was sincerely attached. M. Auguste Filon thought that Queen Mary might secure dramatic rank for Tennyson, "if a great actress arose who conceived a passion for the part of Mary." But that was not to be expected. Mary was middle- aged, plain, and in aspect now terrible, now rueful. No great actress will throw herself with passion into such an ungrateful part. "Throughout all history," Tennyson said, "there was nothing more mournful than the final tragedy of this woman." MOURNFUL it is, but not tragic. There is nothing grand at the close, as when Mary Stuart conquers death and evil fame, redeeming herself by her courage and her calm, and extending over unborn generations that witchery which her enemies dreaded more than an army with banners.
Moreover, popular tradition can never forgive the fires of Smithfield. It was Mary Tudor's misfortune that she had the power to execute, on a great scale, that faculty of persecution to the death for which her Presbyterian and other Protestant opponents pined in vain. Mr Froude says of her, "For the first and last time the true Ultramontane spirit was dominant in England, the genuine conviction that, as the orthodox prophets and sovereigns of Israel slew the worshippers of Baal, so were Catholic rulers called upon, as their first duty, to extirpate heretics as the enemies of God and man." That was precisely the spirit of Knox and other Presbyterian denouncers of death against "Idolaters" (Catholics). But the Scottish preachers were always thwarted: Mary and her advisers had their way, as, earlier, Latimer had preached against sufferers at the stake. To the stake, which he feared so greatly, Cranmer had sent persons not of his own fleeting shade of theological opinion. These men had burned Anabaptists, but all that is lightly forgotten by Protestant opinion. Under Mary (whoever may have been primarily responsible) Cranmer and Latimer were treated as they had treated others. Moreover, some two hundred poor men and women had dared the fiery death. The persecution was on a scale never forgiven or forgotten, since Mary began cerdonibus esse timenda. Mary was not essentially inclement. Despite Renard, the agent of the Emperor, she spared that lord of fluff and feather, Courtenay, and she spared Elizabeth. Lady Jane she could not save, the girl who was a queen by grace of God and of her own royal nature. But Mary will never be pardoned by England. "Few men or women have lived less capable of doing knowingly a wrong thing," says Mr Froude, a great admirer of Tennyson's play. Yet, taking Mr Froude's own view, Mary's abject and superannuated passion for Philip; her ecstasies during her supposed pregnancy; "the forlorn hours when she would sit on the ground with her knees drawn to her face," with all her "symptoms of hysterical derangement, leave little room, as we think of her, for other feelings than pity." Unfortunately, feelings of pity for a person so distraught, so sourly treated by fortune, do not suffice for tragedy. When we contemplate Antigone or OEdipus, it is not with a sentiment of pity struggling against abhorrence.
For these reasons the play does not seem to have a good dramatic subject. The unity is given by Mary herself and her fortunes, and these are scarcely dramatic. History prevents the introduction of Philip till the second scene of the third act. His entrance is manque; he merely accompanies Cardinal Pole, who takes command of the scene, and Philip does not get in a word till after a long conversation between the Queen and the Cardinal. Previously Philip had only crossed the stage in a procession, yet when he does appear he is bereft of prominence. The interest as regards him is indicated, in Act I. scene v., by Mary's kissing his miniature. Her blighted love for him is one main motive of the tragedy, but his own part appears too subordinate in the play as published. The interest is scattered among the vast crowd of characters; and Mr R. H. Hutton remarked at the time that he "remains something of a cold, cruel, and sensual shadow." We are more interested in Wyatt, Cranmer, Gardiner, and others; or at least their parts are more interesting. Yet in no case does the interest of any character, except of Mary and Elizabeth, remain continuous throughout the play. Tennyson himself thought that "the real difficulty of the drama is to give sufficient relief to its intense sadness. . . . Nothing less than the holy calm of the meek and penitent Cranmer can be adequate artistic relief." But not much relief can be drawn from a man about to be burned alive, and history does not tempt us to keen sympathy with the recanting archbishop, at least if we agree with Macaulay rather than with Froude.
I venture to think that historical tradition, as usual, offered a better motive than exact history. Following tradition, we see in Mary a cloud of hateful gloom, from which England escapes into the glorious dawn of "the Gospel light," and of Elizabeth, who might be made a triumphantly sympathetic character. That is the natural and popular course which the drama might take. But Tennyson's history is almost critical and scientific. Points of difficult and debated evidence (as to Elizabeth's part in Wyatt's rebellion) are discussed. There is no contest of day and darkness, of Truth and Error. The characters are in that perplexed condition about creeds which was their actual state after the political and social and religious chaos produced by Henry VIII. Gardiner is a Catholic, but not an Ultramontane; Lord William Howard is a Catholic, but not a fanatic; we find a truculent Anabaptist, or Socialist, and a citizen whose pride is his moderation. The native uncritical tendency of the drama is to throw up hats and halloo for Elizabeth and an open Bible. In place of this, Cecil delivers a well-considered analysis of the character of Elizabeth
"Eliz. God guide me lest I lose the way.
This is excellent as historical criticism, in the favourable sense; but the drama, by its nature, demands something not critical but triumphant and one-sided. The character of Elizabeth is one of the best in the play, as her soliloquy (Act III. scene v.) is one of the finest of the speeches. We see her courage, her coquetry, her dissimulation, her arrogance. But while this is the true Elizabeth, it is not the idealised Elizabeth whom English loyalty created, lived for, and died for. Mr Froude wrote, "You have given us the greatest of all your works," an opinion which the world can never accept. "You have reclaimed one more section of English History from the wilderness, and given it a form in which it will be fixed for ever. No one since Shakespeare has done that." But Mr Froude had done it, and Tennyson's reading of "the section" is mainly that of Mr Froude. Mr Gladstone found that Cranmer and Gardiner "are still in a considerable degree mysteries to me." A mystery Cranmer must remain. Perhaps the "crowds" and "Voices" are not the least excellent of the characters, Tennyson's humour finding an opportunity in them, and in Joan and Tib. His idyllic charm speaks in the words of Lady Clarence to the fevered Queen; and there is dramatic genius in her reply:-
"Mary. What is the strange thing happiness? Sit down here:
The conclusion, in the acting edition, printed in the Biography, appears to be an improvement on that in the text as originally published. Unhappy as the drama essentially is, the welcome which Mr Browning gave both to the published work and to the acted play--"a complete success": "conception, execution, the whole and the parts, I see nowhere the shadow of a fault"--offers "relief" in actual human nature. "He is the greatest-brained poet in England," Tennyson said, on a later occasion. "Violets fade, he has given me a crown of gold."
Before writing Harold (1876) the poet "studied many recent plays," and re-read AEschylus and Sophocles. For history he went to the Bayeux tapestry, the Roman de Rou, Lord Lytton, and Freeman. Students of a recent controversy will observe that, following Freeman, he retains the famous palisade, so grievously battered by the axe-strokes of Mr Horace Round. Harold is a piece more compressed, and much more in accordance with the traditions of the drama, than Queen Mary. The topic is tragic indeed: the sorrow being that of a great man, a great king, the bulwark of a people that fell with his fall. Moreover, as the topic is treated, the play is rich in the irony usually associated with the name of Sophocles. Victory comes before a fall. Harold, like Antigone, is torn between two duties--his oath and the claims of his country. His ruin comes from what Aristotle would call his [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], his fault in swearing the oath to William. The hero himself; recking little, after a superstitious moment, of the concealed relics over which he swore, deems his offence to lie in swearing a vow which he never meant to keep. The persuasions which urge him to this course are admirably presented: England, Edith, his brother's freedom, were at stake. Casuistry, or even law, would have absolved him easily; an oath taken under duresse is of no avail. But Harold's "honour rooted in dishonour stood," and he cannot so readily absolve himself. Bruce and the bishops who stood by Bruce had no such scruples: they perjured themselves often, on the most sacred relics, especially the bishops. But Harold rises above the mediaeval and magical conception of the oath, and goes to his doom conscious of a stain on his honour, of which only a deeper stain, that of falseness to his country, could make him clean. This is a truly tragic stroke of destiny. The hero's character is admirably noble, patient, and simple. The Confessor also is as true in art as to history, and his vision of the fall and rise of England is a noble passage. In Aldwyth we have something of Vivien, with a grain of conscience, and the part of Edith Swan's-neck has a restrained and classic pathos in contrast with the melancholy of Wulfnoth. The piece, as the poet said, is a "tragedy of doom," of deepening and darkening omens, as in the Odyssey and Njal's Saga. The battle scene, with the choruses of the monks, makes a noble close.
FitzGerald remained loyal, but it was to "a fairy Prince who came from other skies than these rainy ones," and "the wretched critics," as G. H. Lewes called them, seem to have been unfriendly. In fact (besides the innate wretchedness of all critics), they grudged the time and labour given to the drama, in an undramatic age. Harold had not what FitzGerald called "the old champagne flavour" of the vintage of 1842.
Becket was begun in 1876, printed in 1879, and published in 1884. Before that date, in 1880, Tennyson produced one of the volumes of poetry which was more welcome than a play to most of his admirers. The intervening years passed in the Isle of Wight, at Aldworth, in town, and in summer tours, were of no marked biographical interest. The poet was close on three score and ten--he reached that limit in 1879. The days darkened around him, as darken they must: in the spring of 1879 he lost his favourite brother, himself a poet of original genius, Charles Tennyson Turner. In May of the same year he published The Lover's Tale, which has been treated here among his earliest works. His hours, and (to some extent) his meals, were regulated by Sir Andrew Clark. He planted trees, walked, read, loitered in his garden, and kept up his old friendships, while he made that of the great Gordon. Compliments passed between him and Victor Hugo, who had entertained Lionel Tennyson in Paris, and wrote: "Je lis avec emotion vos vers superbes; c'est un reflet de gloire que vous m'envoyez." Mr Matthew Arnold's compliment was very like Mr Arnold's humour: "Your father has been our most popular poet for over forty years, and I am of opinion that he fully deserves his reputation": such was "Mat's sublime waggery." Tennyson heaped coals of fire on the other poet, bidding him, as he liked to be bidden, to write more poetry, not "prose things." Tennyson lived much in the society of Browning and George Eliot, and made the acquaintance of Renan. In December 1879 Mr and Mrs Kendal produced The Falcon, which ran for sixty-seven nights; it is "an exquisite little poem in action," as Fanny Kemble said. During a Continental tour Tennyson visited Catullus's Sirmio: "here he made his Frater Ave atque Vale," and the poet composed his beautiful salutation to the
"Tenderest of Roman poets nineteen hundred years ago."
In 1880 Ballads and other Poems proved that, like Titian, the great poet was not to be defeated by the years. The First Quarrel was in his most popular English style. Rizpah deserved and received the splendid panegyric of Mr Swinburne. The Revenge is probably the finest of the patriotic pieces, and keeps green the memory of an exploit the most marvellous in the annals of English seamen. The Village Wife is a pendant worthy of The Northern Farmer. The poem In the Children's Hospital caused some irritation at the moment, but there was only one opinion as to the Defence of Lucknow and the beautiful re-telling of the Celtic Voyage of Maeldune. The fragment of Homeric translation was equally fortunate in choice of subject and in rendering.
In the end of 1880 the poet finished The Cup, which had been worked on occasionally since he completed The Falcon in 1880. The piece was read by the author to Sir Henry Irving and his company, and it was found that the manuscript copy needed few alterations to fit it for the stage. The scenery and the acting of the protagonists are not easily to be forgotten. The play ran for a hundred and thirty nights. Sir Henry Irving had thought that Becket (then unpublished) would prove too expensive, and could only be a succes d'estime. Tennyson had found out that "the worst of writing for the stage is, you must keep some actor always in your mind." To this necessity authors like Moliere and Shakespeare were, of course, resigned and familiar; they knew exactly how to deal with all their means. But this part of the business of play-writing must always be a cross to the poet who is not at one with the world of the stage.
In The Cup Miss Ellen Terry made the strongest impression, her part being noble and sympathetic, while Sir Henry Irving had the ungrateful part of the villain. To be sure, he was a villain of much complexity; and Tennyson thought that his subtle blend of Roman refinement and intellectuality, and barbarian, self-satisfied sensuality, was not "hit off." Synorix is, in fact, half-Greek, half-Celt, with a Roman education, and the "blend" is rather too remote for successful representation. The traditional villain, from Iago downwards, is not apt to utter such poetry as this:-
"O Thou, that dost inspire the germ with life,
The year 1881 brought the death of another of the old Cambridge friends, James Spedding, the biographer of Bacon; and Carlyle also died, a true friend, if rather intermittent in his appreciation of poetry. The real Carlyle did appreciate it, but the Carlyle of attitude was too much of the iron Covenanter to express what he felt. The poem Despair irritated the earnest and serious readers of "know- nothing books." The poem expressed, dramatically, a mood like another, a human mood not so very uncommon. A man ruined in this world's happiness curses the faith of his youth, and the unfaith of his reading and reflection, and tries to drown himself. This is one conclusion of the practical syllogism, and it is a free country. However, there were freethinkers who did not think that Tennyson's kind of thinking ought to be free. Other earnest persons objected to "First drink a health," in the re-fashioned song of Hands all Round. They might have remembered a royal health drunk in water an hour before the drinkers swept Mackay down the Pass of Killiecrankie. The poet did not specify the fluid in which the toast was to be carried, and the cup might be that which "cheers but not inebriates." "The common cup," as the remonstrants had to be informed, "has in all ages been the sacred symbol of unity."
The Promise of May was produced in November 1882, and the poet was once more so unfortunate as to vex the susceptibilities of advanced thinkers. The play is not a masterpiece, and yet neither the gallery gods nor the Marquis of Queensberry need have felt their withers wrung. The hero, or villain, Edgar, is a perfectly impossible person, and represents no kind of political, social, or economical thinker. A man would give all other bliss and all his worldly wealth for this, to waste his whole strength in one kick upon this perfect prig. He employs the arguments of evolution and so forth to justify the seduction of a little girl of fifteen, and later, by way of making amends, proposes to commit incest by marrying her sister. There have been evolutionists, to be sure, who believed in promiscuity, like Mr Edgar, as preferable to monogamy. But this only proves that an evolutionist may fail to understand evolution. There be also such folk as Stevenson calls "squirradicals"--squires who say that "the land is the people's." Probably no advocate of promiscuity, and no squirradical, was present at the performances of The Promise of May. But people of advanced minds had got it into their heads that their doctrines were to be attacked, so they went and made a hubbub in the sacred cause of freedom of thought and speech. The truth is, that controversial topics, political topics, ought not to be brought into plays, much less into sermons. Tennyson meant Edgar for "nothing thorough, nothing sincere." He is that venomous thing, the prig-scoundrel: he does not suit the stage, and his place, if anywhere, is in the novel. Advocates of marriage with a deceased wife's sister might have applauded Edgar for wishing to marry the sister of a mistress assumed to be deceased, but no other party in the State wanted anything except the punching of Edgar's head by Farmer Dobson.
In 1883 died Edward FitzGerald, the most kind, loyal, and, as he said, crotchety of old and dear Cambridge friends. He did not live to see the delightful poem which Tennyson had written for him. In almost his latest letter he had remarked, superfluously, that when he called the task of translating The Agamemnon "work for a poet," he "was not thinking of Mr Browning."
In the autumn of 1883 Tennyson was taken, with Mr Gladstone, by Sir Donald Currie, for a cruise round the west coast of Scotland, to the Orkneys, and to Copenhagen. The people of Kirkwall conferred on the poet and the statesman the freedom of the burgh, and Mr Gladstone, in an interesting speech, compared the relative chances of posthumous fame of the poet and the politician. Pericles is not less remembered than Sophocles, though Shakespeare is more in men's minds than Cecil. Much depends, as far as the statesmen are considered, on contemporary historians. It is Thucydides who immortalises Pericles. But it is improbable that the things which Mr Gladstone did, and attempted, will be forgotten more rapidly than the conduct and characters of, say, Burleigh or Lethington.
In 1884, after this voyage, with its royal functions and celebrations at Copenhagen, a peerage was offered to the poet. He "did not want to alter his plain Mr," and he must have known that, whether he accepted or refused, the chorus of blame would be louder than that of applause. Scott had desired "such grinning honour as Sir Walter hath"; the title went well with the old name, and pleased his love of old times. Tennyson had been blamed "by literary men" for thrice evading a baronetcy, and he did not think that a peerage would make smooth the lives of his descendants. But he concluded, "Why should I be selfish and not suffer an honour (as Gladstone says) to be done to literature in my name?" Politically, he thought that the Upper House, while it lasts, partly supplied the place of the American "referendum." He voted in July 1884 for the extension of the franchise, and in November stated his views to Mr Gladstone in verse. In prose he wrote to Mr Gladstone, "I have a strong conviction that the more simple the dealings of men with men, as well as of man with man, are--the better," a sentiment which, perhaps, did not always prevail with his friend. The poet's reflections on the horror of Gordon's death are not recorded. He introduced the idea of the Gordon Home for Boys, and later supported it by a letter, "Have we forgotten Gordon?" to the Daily Telegraph. They who cannot forget Gordon must always be grateful to Tennyson for providing this opportunity of honouring the greatest of an illustrious clan, and of helping, in their degree, a scheme which was dear to the heroic leader.
The poet, very naturally, was most averse to personal appearance in public matters. Mankind is so fashioned that the advice of a poet is always regarded as unpractical, and is even apt to injure the cause which he advocates. Happily there cannot be two opinions about the right way of honouring Gordon. Tennyson's poem, The Fleet, was also in harmony with the general sentiment.
In the last month of 1884 Becket was published. The theme of Fair Rosamund had appealed to the poet in youth, and he had written part of a lyric which he judiciously left unpublished. It is given in his Biography. In 1877 he had visited Canterbury, and had traced the steps of Becket to his place of slaughter in the Cathedral. The poem was printed in 1879, but not published till seven years later. In 1879 Sir Henry Irving had thought the play too costly to be produced with more than a succes d'estime; but in 1891 he put it on the stage, where it proved the most successful of modern poetic dramas. As published it is, obviously, far too long for public performance. It is not easy to understand why dramatic poets always make their works so much too long. The drama seems, by its very nature, to have a limit almost as distinct as the limit of the sonnet. It is easy to calculate how long a play for the stage ought to be, and we might think that a poet would find the natural limit serviceable to his art, for it inculcates selection, conciseness, and concentration. But despite these advantages of the natural form of the drama, modern poets, at least, constantly overflow their banks. The author ruit profusus, and the manager has to reduce the piece to feasible proportions, such as it ought to have assumed from the first.
Becket has been highly praised by Sir Henry Irving himself, for its "moments of passion and pathos, . . . which, when they exist, atone to an audience for the endurance of long acts." But why should the audience have such long acts to endure? The reader, one fears, is apt to use his privilege of skipping. The long speeches of Walter Map and the immense period of Margery tempt the student to exercise his agility. A "chronicle play" has the privilege of wandering, but Becket wanders too far and too long. The political details of the quarrel between Church and State, with its domestic and international complexities, are apt to fatigue the attention. Inevitable and insoluble as the situation was, neither protagonist is entirely sympathetic, whether in the play or in history. The struggle in Becket between his love of the king and his duty to the Church (or what he takes to be his duty) is nobly presented, and is truly dramatic, while there is grotesque and terrible relief in the banquet of the Beggars. In the scene of the assassination the poet "never stoops his wing," and there are passages of tender pathos between Henry and Rosamund, while Becket's keen memories of his early days, just before his death, are moving.
"Becket. I once was out with Henry in the days
But the part of Rosamund, her innocent ignorance especially, is not very readily intelligible, not quite persuasive, and there is almost a touch of the burlesque in her unexpected appearance as a monk. To weave that old and famous story of love into the terribly complex political intrigue was a task almost too great. The character of Eleanor is perhaps more successfully drawn in the Prologue than in the scene where she offers the choice of the dagger or the bowl, and is interrupted, in a startlingly unexpected manner, by the Archbishop himself. The opportunities for scenic effects are magnificent throughout, and must have contributed greatly to the success on the stage. Still one cannot but regard the published Becket as rather the marble from which the statue may be hewn than as the statue itself. There are fine scenes, powerful and masterly drawing of character in Henry, Eleanor, and Becket, but there is a want of concentration, due, perhaps, to the long period of time covered by the action. So, at least, it seems to a reader who has admitted his sense of incompetency in the dramatic region. The acuteness of the poet's power of historical intuition was attested by Mr J. R. Green and Mr Bryce. "One cannot imagine," said Mr Bryce, "a more vivid, a more perfectly faithful picture than it gives both of Henry and Thomas." Tennyson's portraits of these two "go beyond and perfect history." The poet's sympathy ought, perhaps, to have been, if not with the false and ruffianly Henry, at least with Henry's side of the question. For Tennyson had made Harold leave
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