« ElőzőTovább »
continued the clergyman, “though I may have lost my congregation, I have saved a soul by your poem.”
Before leaving this Crimean period, I must tell you of a pretty little song in which our brave allies, the French, are heartily toasted, called “The Battle of Alma River.” Tennyson wrote the first verse, and Mrs. Tennyson both finished the song, and set it to music :
Frenchman, a hand in thine
Which lead the noblest life. The terrible Indian Mutiny which followed so close upon the fall of Sebastopol that the same regiments that had fought there were immediately ordered off to Calcutta, in 1857, stirred Tennyson's soul to the depths, and its deeds of heroism elicited from his pen that powerful piece, “The Defence of Lucknow.” The keynotes of this thrilling description of the awful three months siege in the undermined Residency, and its relief by Outram and Havelock, consist of the last words addressed to his soldiers by the dying General, Sir Henry Lawrence, “ Let every man die at his post," and in the proud refrain " And ever upon the topmost roof our banner of England flew.” Thirty years afterwards, Lord Napier of Magdala, who had been in Outram and Havelock’s relieving force, visited the poet at Aldworth, and assured him that the poem was so accurate in every detail that he should have believed that the author had been present at the siege. Tennyson made a profound remark at this visit of Lord Napier. “ It was a terrible time for England, but from this mutiny our race grew in strength.”
In his ballads of “The Fleet,” and “The Revenge,” Tennyson has done good service both to the Navy, and to our sailors. In 1885, aroused by Mr. W. T. Stead's articles in the Pall Mall Gazette, entitled, “ The truth about the Navy," the Laureate addressed a stirring remonstrance to the lords of the Admiralty, charging them with neglect of Britain's chief defence. I give you one verse :
Which Nelson left so great,
Her fleet is in your hands
And in her fleet her fate. Cardinal Manning said that “this song ought to be set to music, and sung perpetually as a national song in every town of the Empire.” This piece certainly enhanced the effect of the Pall Mall articles, for the revival of our Navy dates from the following year, 1886.
“The Revenge" is a free paraphrase, in flowing metre, of a most striking event in Elizabethan history, narrated by Bacon, Raleigh, and Froude. Sir Richard Grenville, in command of a small ship manned by only a hundred able men, there being ninety sick and disabled down below, was caught by the Spanish fleet of fifty-three large galleons and caravels at Flores in the Azores. The fight raged for fifteen hours, when the captain, mortally wounded, and having only a few men left alive, “ordered the master gunner to split and sink the ship, that no glory of victory might remain to the Spaniards.” But the gunner was restrained from this desperate act by the survivors of the crew, who then were captured by the
Spanish. As Sir Richard is dying he cries out, almost in the exact words of the ancient chronicle :
I have fought for Queen and Faith, like a valiant man and true;
Tennyson had always a profound admiration for the masters of the sea in that age when England's naval power began: and he has done well to resuscitate this act of almost unique daring, which Froude states, “struck a deeper terror into the hearts of the Spanish, and dealt a more deadly blow upon their fame ... than [the defeat of] the Armada itself.” You will enjoy this ballad still more when you hear Dr. Stanford's very dramatic choral musical setting.
Tennyson's volunteer song “Riflemen, Form," printed in the Times in May, 1859, at a time when more than one continental Power seemed prepared to take the offensive against England, rang like a trumpet-call through the land and gave that impetus to the Rifle Volunteer movement, which it has never since lost. By a mere coincidence, a War Office order permitting the formation of Rifle Corps was issued three days after the appearance of the poem. Set to spirited music by Balfe, it became a popular favourite everywhere.
Tennyson’s patriotism was of the discerning kind that was not blind to our national faults. He observed “We recklessly offend foreign powers, being the most beastly self-satisfied nation in the world.” “The fault of the Englishman is that he thinks that he and his ways are always right everywhere.” Well-timed indeed is this caution Tennyson gives,—“We ought not to show our arsenals and dockyards to the world, as we do. Want of
confidence is hateful among members of a family; but want of confidence is necessary among nations."
In a letter to the Queen, in 1889, apropos of a visit from her grandson, the Emperor of Germany, the Laureate makes the shrewd remark, “England and and Germany are nations too closely allied by the subtle sympathy of kindred not to be either true brothers or deadly foes. As brothers, what might they not do for the world ?”
Tennyson never since Crimean days regarded Russia as a bogie, as our Indian military authorities do. Eloquently he denounced its tyranny to Poland in a Milton-like sonnet of his early days. Yet, by the irony of events, the same poet who, in 1832, wrote of the Czar as “the iron-hearted Muscovite," and of Russia as “ that overgrown barbarian in the east,” forty years afterwards officially, as Laureate, presented a graceful ode of welcome to the grand-daughter of that very Czar who fought us in the Crimea, and died of chagrin at his defeat. How dexterously does the poet soften the situation in his ode to the Princess Marie Alexandrovna, who came over in 1875 to be our Royal Alfred's bride :
The son of him with whom we strove for power,
Alexandrovna. Nine more years passed, and Tennyson met the Czar, Alexander III, “ the Liberator," at Copenhagen, where he read some of his poems to the most Royal audience that ever poet faced.
The year before his death, the Laureate wrote to the Secretary of the Russo-Jewish Committee, who invoked his aid in checking the persecution of the Jews, “I have read what is reported of the Russian persecutions ... if that be true I can only say that Russia has disgraced her church and her nationality. I once met the Czar. He seemed a kind and good-natured man. I can scarcely believe that he is fully aware of the barbarities perpetrated with his sanction.”
Tennyson visited France several times, and though the French and he had not much in common, he admired the rapid recuperation of the country after the disaster of the Franco-German war, and was glad whenever England and France were in agreement. A sagacious forecast of the present (the Third) Republic of France is worth quoting, because the prophecy has been fulfilled, “I cannot feel so sure," said he, in 1875, “ that the Republic denounced by M. Rouher will not surprise many [people] by its duration. They can have perpetual change of their men in power now." Time has amply justified this prediction, for the Third Republic has lived a dozen years longer than the First or Great Republic, while the Cabinets formed and dissolved have been as numerous and short-lived as the Presidents of a South American State.
Tennyson's patriotism extended to the choice of subjects for his plays. Though strongly tempted to write a drama upon William Prince of Orange, after reading Motley's fascinating “Dutch Republic,” he reflected that our own history was so great, and that he knew and liked English subjects so well, that he determined to set about writing “ Queen Mary.” In his four English dramas, he has admirably portrayed the making of England's liberties. In “Harold” we have the great conflict between Danes, Saxons, and Normans for supremacy; the awakening of the clergy from their slumber, and the forecast of the greatness of our composite race. In that pretty pastoral play, "The Foresters,” the state of the common people