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is sketched in a transition period, when the Barons sided with the Plebs and forced Magna Charter from the King. In “Beckett" the contest is between the Crown and the Church for predominance. And, in “ Queen Mary,” we have presented the final downfall of Romanism in England, and the dawning of a new age of spiritual freedom for the individual Englishman.
When we seek to know what were Tennyson's own political principles we find him believing in measures not in partisans, nor in party-views. All his life he refused to label himself as either a liberal or conservative. What a wise answer he gave his friend Fitzgerald when asked if he was a conservative—“I believe in progress and I conserve the hopes of man.” Tennyson could never understand the righteousness of government by party. He wished for the early days of the Roman Republic,
When none was for a party,
But all were for the State;
And the poor man loved the great. But he was nothing of a Socialist, he believed in raising the individual and educating him to use the franchise wisely, and he had none of the present-day crazes for Communism, Land Increment Tax, the Nationalisation of Railways, Industries, Docks, and so forth. Up to the last Reform Bill (1867) he joined in all the social and political movements initiated by the Liberal party. Yet he was invited, in 1880, to stand for election as Lord Rector of Glasgow University by the Conservative party of the students, and declined, on the ground that he was not a party candidate. Nothing can be wiser than the earnest advice he quotes from Bacon, and gives to Statesmen “who know when to take occasion by the hand,” on the subject of Reform :—“Follow the example of Time itself, which indeed innovateth greatly, but quietly, and by degrees scarce to be perceived.” Much rancour of party-spirit, and much waste of time and energy would be saved to our legislators if they would follow the advice of these three verses :
Watch what main currents draw the years ;
Cut Prejudice against the grain
But gentle words are always gain;
Of pension, neither count on praise
It grows to guerdon after days,
Nor mastered by some modern term,
Not swift nor slow to change, but firm;
If Tennyson had chosen the field of politics like his ancestor the elder Pitt, Earl of Chatham, he would have made a grand Premier.
By his powerful intellect, high principle, disinterestedness, and strong personal magnetism, he would have rallied round him the best men of all parties, and led them whither he would. I think that he would have combined the clever opportunism of D’Israeli with the sympathetic liberalism of Gladstone, and the humour, frankness, and strong common-sense of Lord Palmerston, blending all these qualities with his own intense and far-sighted patriotism.
But his shyness and nervous sensitiveness shut him out from all public spheres of usefulness. He was a born poet, and his single earthly ambition was first to deserve and then to receive the poet's crown.
And now let us ask how Tennyson regarded the masses.
He was so democratic on one point that it took all the eloquence of his dear friend Gladstone, all the persuasion of his son, and the unrecorded influence of his Sovereign (from whom he had thrice refused a baronetcy), to get him to accept a peerage; and even then he said he should regret all his life his abandoning the plain “ Mr.”
In his youth, as I have described, he feared the coming democracy, calling himself “a voice before the storm.” In middle age, once when the Queen, in 1863, asked her Laureate what she could do for him, he replied “nothing, Madam, but to shake my two boys by the hand. It may keep them loyal in the troublous times to come.” But in his old age he has a firmer trust in the people. In 1887, just after he had published the second “Locksley Hall” (a mixture of optimism and pessimism), Tennyson utters these interesting thoughts :—“I do not the least mind if England eventually becomes a democracy. But violent, selfish, unreasoning democracy would bring bureaucracy, and the iron rule of a Cromwell. Let the demagogues remember that liberty forgetful of others is license, and nothing better than treason. ... As Goethe says, “the worst thing in the world is ignorance in motion. This world would grow into the wickedest of worlds, should all this babble and gabble ever succeed in impressing on the people that the obligation of contract is mere tyranny, and that law is nothing but coercion. At present we are ... freer than America. I have trust in the reason of the English people who have an inborn respect for law. . . . I believe in
Our crowned republic's crowning common-sense.”
Believing that much of the poverty and discontent of the proletariat could be removed by the settlement of the labourer on the land, Tennyson took up shares in a company formed, in 1885, for the purpose by Auberon Herbert and Albert Grey, now Earl Grey. A year or two later & company of labourers was taken out by Arnold White to South Africa, and called “the Tennyson Colony." I might here mention that the Laureate's name is commemorated in physical geography in two other widely separated portions of Her Majesty's dominions--Cape Tennyson in the Arctic regions, in Lat. 79°, and Lake Tennyson in the middle island of New Zealand, so named by my friend Sir Frederick Weld. Everyone knows that the Laureate was the founder of the Boys' Homes, established as a National Memorial to General Gordon, whose saintly, heroic, pure, simple character is so well summed up in the first line of Tennyson's epitaph
Warrior of God, man's friend, and tyrant's foe.
When the Home Rule agitation came on in Parliament, Tennyson preferred patriotism to friendship and assured his many friends of the Liberal Party that he was “heart and soul an Unionist.” In this he justified Carlyle's bold assertion that “ Alfred from the beginning always took a grip of the right side of a question.” In pronouncing an opinion upon any new proposal, Tennyson looked to its ultimate consequences as well as to its immediate effects, and he saw that the granting of colonial self-government to Ireland would destroy the unity of the United Kingdom. With philosophical acumen he also points the racial divergencies. “The Keltic race does not easily amalgamate with other races, as those of Scandinavian origin do-as for instance Saxon and Norman, which have fused perfectly. The Teuton has no poetry in his nature like the Kelt, and this makes the Kelt much more dangerous in politics, for he yields more to his imagination than to his common-sense. . . . Suppose that we allowed Ireland to separate from us : owing to its factions she would soon fall a prey to some foreign power. She has absolute freedom now, and a more than full share in the government of one of the mightiest empires in the world.” But nothing in politics ever could separate in heart the two grand old men, Gladstone and Tennyson.
In the year 1883 (before the shadow of Home Rule had come between them), Gladstone assured Hallam Tennyson that his father's political poems were among the wisest of political utterances. I am sure that in his heart of hearts, Mr. Gladstone could not but admire that line of his friend's which was blazoned on the banners of all the great Unionist meetings throughout Great Britain, in 1892:
One life, one flag, one fleet, one throne.
When the complete life of our aged Liberal Statesman comes to be written, not the least interesting of its pages will be the correspondence and conversations of these two attached and congenial friends.*
Passing on now to another subject, the Colonies and the Empire, I may state that Tennyson was the first British poet to form that grand conception of our national destiny that is now known as Imperialism. The two joyous Jubilee years, 1887 and 1897, have done more to knit the hearts of her people to their Queen-Empress, and to consolidate the various interests of our vast empire, than any events in the whole history of Great Britain. It is Tennyson who, in one striking verse, describes our Empire-building, and bids us to be courageous :
* On May 19th, 1898, this great Christian statesman entered into his rest, in his 89th year, and was buried in Westminster Abbey amid the mourning of the civilized world.