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6th, 1897. These two handsome volumes, which doubtless are familiar to all present by this time, form a noble monument, erected by wifely and filial love, to the memory of our greatest Laureate, the most devoted of husbands, and the best of fathers. Not only does this Life exhibit Tennyson as the poet, conceiving, sifting, elaborating, and re-polishing his exquisite verses : it also shows us Tennyson as the man, loveable and beloved in every human relationship; Tennyson the patriot, with prophetic eye gauging his country's future; and Tennyson the Christian philosopher, passing through clouds of doubt and suffering into the serene faith of his latter days.
In the poet's character and domestic life this book reveals many gracious qualities hitherto unknown, or barely conjectured, while his eccentricities of manner are satisfactorily explained. Without the slightest violation of good taste, the reader is admitted into the sanctities of the poet's home, of his intimate friendships, and of his inner thought. We understand, now, the causes of his fits of gloom and morbid love of solitude; of his illnesses; of his real sympathy (with which few credited him) for the toiling masses, arising from his essential kindness of heart and recollection of his long years of poverty and self-denial. We read in these pages of his financial ruin by a friend in 1842; of his wise and loving management of his father's orphaned family; of his waiting twenty years for his bride, Emily Sellwood; of his artistic talent; of his generosity, after he had risen, to poor authors ; of his keen sense of humour; of his genial talk and pithy anecdotes; of his sagacious views of political and social questions; of his humorous criticisms; and of the affectionate regard showed to him for thirty years by his Sovereign. By a judicious selection from over forty thousand letters, the biographer has enabled us to see the influence of Tennyson upon the leading men of his timeextending over two generations—and upon contemporary poets, of whom only Philip Bailey, Aubrey de Vere, and A. C. Swinburne now remain.
The great blank in this Life of Lord Tennyson is the absence of all letters from the poet to his dearest friend, Arthur Hallam. These were all destroyed by Arthur's father, Henry Hallam, the historian, whose hatred of biographies was almost as intense as Tennyson's. There is sufficient unpublished poetry in this work to fill one of the small green volumes of the past, and much of it is of high value. Hallam, Lord Tennyson, carried out his father's instructions to consult with the six literary friends he designated, to choose what was to be published. Thus he gratified one of his father's last wishes, “for God's sake, let those who love us edit us after death." This biography will rank with the greatest biographies of England's worthies, and the whole world of readers ought to feel grateful to the present Lord Tennyson, not only for the very successful execution of a difficult task, but because it is to his loving persistence that we owe the boon of any authentic life of our great Laureate at all.
Let us view Tennyson first, then, as a typical Englishman. Now, as we are a very mixed race, and heredity is a great factor in personality, the genealogy of the poet is of distinct interest. The “ Tenisons" were originally Danes who settled north of the Humber. Their descendants in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries married into Norman families—D'Eyncourt, for example-and in the eighteenth century, Saxon connections came in, as the names Chapman and Clayton indicate. Alfred Tennyson may have derived his dark southern complexion, eyes, and hair from a Huguenot ancestor. Thus, it is possible that he inherited the Norseman's love for the sea, the Norman’s pride of ancestry, and the Saxon common-sense, stability, and love of home, while his indomitable will and his magnificent creative genius were all his own.
In his unpublished verses To the Queen, 1851, he wrote
The noblest men, methinks, are bred
And Tennyson could feel a peculiarly personal interest in his joyous Welcome to the bride of the Prince of Wales
Saxon, and Norman, and Dane are we
The ten portraits taken at various periods in his life which illustrate the biography, give us a definite idea of Tennyson's face and head, but not of his dark olive complexion, and Spanish, Provençal, or Gipsy-like appearance. At the age of eighteen he is described as, “six feet high, broad-chested, strong.limbed, his face Shakspearian, with deep eyelids; his forehead ample, crowned with dark wavy hair; his head finely poised; his hand the admiration of sculptors—long fingers with square tips, soft as a child's but of great size. What struck one most. about him was the union of strength with refinement."
His athletic stature and strength; his reserve to strangers; his intense dislike to make a speech; his gruffness, and his way of frankly blurting out what was in his mind-these are common defects of an Englishman. But the shyness carried to such a morbid extent as it was with Tennyson was personal, not racial.
When on his famous cruise in the Pembroke Castle, the poet gave his son a curious and very original explanation of his shyness before a crowd. He said, “I am never the least shy before great men. Each of them has a
personality for which he is responsible, but before a crowd, which consists of many personalities, of whom I know nothing, I am infinitely shy. I think of the good man, and the bad man, and the mad man that may be among them, and can say nothing.” Then, referring to his companion, Mr. Gladstone, he added, “The great orator thinks nothing about all this, he takes them all as one man. He sways them as one man.”
An English, or, perhaps, a Scandinavian trait in our great poet was his intense love of personal freedom. Con. ventionality was to him bondage. He demanded freedom of speech and of movement, of dress and of manners; liberty to be alone when he wished, to wander about at all times, and to smoke everywhere. It is amusing to read how Mr. Gladstone was disturbed in mind when he was offering the peerage to Tennyson in 1883, lest the poet should insist on wearing his bandit-like sombrero in the august chamber of Peers !
In one habit or taste, Tennyson was “un-English." He had no love for what is called "sport." He neither shot, hunted, nor fished. He had a woman's tenderness for all the lower creation, both animal and vegetable. But in his intense love for the country, Tennyson was a typical Englishman of rural birth and training. He was English, too, in his hatred of shams, of exaggerations, and of artificialities. When continental travel had rubbed off some prejudices natural to the stay-at-home Englishman, Tennyson gained a juster appreciation of the foreigner. Yet, like the average Englishman, he thanks Heaven for “the silver streak” which separates us from our traditional enemy, France.
God bless the narrow sea which keeps her off,
Like the typical Anglo-Saxon of strong will, Tennyson was slow in forming an opinion on subjects of importance, but very tenacious of it, once it was formed. And thus also was it with his friendships, which were for life. The love of liberty in Tennyson included civil, political, and national liberty. The kind of freedom he preferred for his country is that “sober freedom ” won by constitutional means, and kept by sobriety of judgment, respect for the law, and mutual compromise which England now enjoys in a fuller measure than any other nation. He dreaded an outbreak of the revolutionary spirit of France, of what he stigmatises as
The red fool-fury of the Seine. During the troublous years that preceded the Reform Bill of 1832, when the rick-burners were at work, and when King William IV dared not even enter the City of London to dine with the Lord Mayor (in 1830) for fear of personal violence, he deprecated repressing the Chartists and Reformers by arrest and imprisonment, but urged with all his energy the improvement of the dwellings of the poor, free education, increased activity of christian philanthropy, partial free trade, and less party spirit in the press. He was certainly a Liberal in those days, yet he declared himself at this time,
Wed to no faction in the State. All his life he denounced political rancour, and deprecated even the existence of antagonistic parties, as in his poem of 1831, entitled The Statesman :
Ill fares a people, passion-wrought,
In two great halves, when each one leaves
The middle road of sober thought !