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"Being so very wilful you must go."
So she goes. But in her going,
"Her father's latest word hummed in her ear, 'Being so very wilful you must go,' And changed itself and echoed in her heart, 'Being so very wilful you must die.'"
And then, her task over, and Lancelot not being to be won,
"As a little helpless innocent bird, 'That has but one plain passage of few notes, Will sing the simple passage o'er and o'er For all an April morning, till the ear Wearies to hear it. so the simple maid Went half the night repeating 'Must I die ?'"
But before she had seen Lancelot, Elaine had dreamed
"That someone put this diamond in her hand,
a dream which presages the whole course of the story. The presentiments in "Guinevere" are more normal, inasmuch as the presentiment of evil is one of the natural consequences of the consciousness of sin. The Queen shuddering at Lancelot's attack on Modred, as half-foreseeing that the subtle beast would track her guilt; or seeing in the darkness grim faces, and vague spiritual fears; or dreaming awful dreams of standing in a vast plain before the setting sun, from which a ghastly something would rush towards her; or, in her dread, commanding Lancelot to go, but granting him one last interview whereby her presentiments of evil were all fulfilled—this is a natural picture of guilt. The subject was one in which Mr. Tennyson's power had its proper scope; and the choice of the subject shows his consciousness of that power. In "Vivien" the fatality of the action is helped on by the slow old age of Merlin the wise, whom the enchantress catches in her toils. He knows well, and ever learns better, the evil, untrusty nature of Vivien, and is more and more persuaded and resolved not to tell her his secret. But these resolutions are only the waves on the surface. His fluttering old heart is flattered and cajoled by the pretended affection of the young girl; and this current is ever waxing in him. The wind of reason may blow against it, and may raise ever angrier waves on its surface; they may seem to course upwards; but the stream still flows downwards to its destined precipice. Like another Samson, he intrusts New Series.—Vol. XIV., No. i.
his secret to a Delilah who has deceived him, and whom he has found out; and on the first opportunity his Delilah makes an end of him. In "Enid," the stolid, oxlike, beef-witted jealousy of Geraint carries out the same tone of coloring. Nothing could make his conduct tolerable except the notion that, like Ajax when he slew the sheep, he was horn-mad. His deeds are only reasonable with the reason of dreams: the logic of real life condemns them as absurdities.
In these idylls, Mr. Tennyson's refined style reached its perfection. In general, they exhibit noble thoughts in noble language. In special, there is a curious union of the modern Miltonic classicism, framed on Homeric and not Latin principles, with the romantic and sententious diction of the sixteenth century. The Elizabethan sententiousness is exemplified in such passages as this:
"When I was up so high in pride
A still more characteristic instance is the remark on Lancelot's refusal of Elaine's love on account of his passion for Guinevere:
"His honor rooted in dishonor stood,
Clearly Mr. Tennyson is not one who, like Ben Jonson, would tax Shakespeare with ridiculousness for the verse, "Ctesar did never wrong but with just cause;" nor, like Mr. Thorpe, would he correct the forcible phrase of the Saxon chronicle which tells how William "took many a mark of gold by right, and with great unright, from his people, for little need." This kind of paradoxical sententiousness. is almost as classical as it is romantic. In Mr. Tennyson it has this double relationship, and is one of the means by which hisromanticism and classicism are fused together.
But amidst all his metaphysical imagery, he always evinces a truly idyllic contemplation of nature in his comparisons and. descriptions. Of this kind is his- favoritecomparison of a watcher to a robin eyeing the delver; his description of people mounting a hill, and disappearing behind, it, who
"Shewed themselves against the sky, and sank ; *' of ivy against a ruin, which looked 6
"A knot, beneath, of snakes; aloft, a grove ;"
of men fleeing in panic, "like a shoal of darting fish," which
"Come slipping o'er their shadows on the sand,
of the tumultuous eating of the brigands in Earl Doorm's Hall,
"Feeding like horses when you hear them feed ;"
and of Arthur cashiering the unjust judges of his kingdom as
"Men weed the white horse on the Berkshire hills, To keep him bright and clean as heretofore."
So again Guinevere's remark to Lancelot about Arthur, which combines the metaphysical with the physical:
"He is all fault who hath no fault at all. For who loves me must have a touch of earth; The low sun makes the color."
In a different direction, a passage on the way in which Elaine in her meditations pored over Lancelot's face, clearly exhibits Mr. Tennyson's idea of art:
"As when a painter, poring on a face,
Among these beauties must be mentioned the three lyrics in the three first idylls— lyrics written, as usual in Mr. Tennyson's blank-verse poems, in triplets, and here in rhyme. They show a great advance upon those in "The Princess," beautiful as the earlier ones were.
In "Enoch Arden," published in 1865, the presentiment of a fatality, which only forms the dim background in the "Idylls of the King," is brought out in full consciousness into the clear light of day. The story is idyllic; but it might be an episode in an epic. Its subject is love, courtship, and marriage ; but its culminating interest lies in the self-mastery of the husband, who returns as from the dead after ten years' absence, finds his wife remarried, and then, not to break up the happiness of the new home which he has just seen at night through the garden window, conquers his own will, resigns all the hopes which have buoyed him up in his long absence, keeps his secret, lives as a poor laborer when he might live as a master, and finally dies, having only confided his secret to one. The subject gives a tragic dignity to the
idyll, which Mr. Tennyson hardly ventured upon before he had written the "Idylls of the King." The special peculiarity, however, of the poem, is the dominant force of presentiment and forecast. The story begins with the wooing of the two boys, who eventually become the successive husbands of Annie Lee.
"This is my house, and this my little wife,"
says Enoch, the stronger:
"' Mine too,' said Philip, 'turn and turn about.'"
And then quarrels are settled by the little maiden, speaking oracularly in her innocence, and declaring " she would be a little wife to both." With this comes the fixed determination of the will:
so as to make a home for Annie. Annie accepts him; Philip sees the pair sitting hand in hand, and reads his doom. Henceforth he dwells apart,
"Bearing a life-long hunger in his heart."
Then, after seven years of prosperity, comes an accident which half ruins Enoch. In his sickness
"He seemed, as in a nightmare of the night
So he prays ; and in answer to his prayer he is offered, and accepts, a berth in a ship China-bound. Annie fights against the resolve,
"Sure that all evil would come out of it."
But Enoch is steadfast, sells his boats, sets up Annie in a small shop, and when his time comes departs. He 'comforts his desponding wife : "I'll be back, my girl, before you know it;" but she answers:
"O Enoch, you are wise,
In his absence her business fails; her youngest child dies; and the family, reduced almost to beggar)', is obliged to depend on the charity of Philip, the old rejected suitor. Annie accepts it because she believes that
"Enoch lives; that is borne in upon me,
But time passes; nothing is heard of Enoch, who is exercising his patience under the palm-trees on a lonely coral island, where he has been shipwrecked. Philip proposes that Annie should marry him; and Annie answers:
"If Enoch comes—but Enoch will not come— Yet wait a year."
He waits the year, and another half-year. Annie, urged by the talk of the town and the silent reproaches of her children, prays for a sign, opens the Bible, and puts her finger on the text "under a palm-tree." She sees Enoch so in a dream, and interprets it that he is in paradise. So Philip and she are married; but she is never happy till her child is born. On the other side Enoch, in his palm-island, in the deaths of his companions reads his own warning, "wait." Once on his lonely island he hears the wedding-bells, which make him shudder. He is at last rescued, and returns, to find his home broken up. He looks upon Annie's face once, and determines that she never, even in death, shall look upon his, so that her new happiness may not be blighted. At last the foreknowledge comes to him that he is to die within three days. Of course, the pathos and nobleness of the work are not made up of this constraining force of predestination, reflected in the prophetic gleams of presentiment, any more than the grandeur of Shakespeare's Richard III. is made up of the fulfilment upon him of the curses of his victims; but in both instances the fateful element predominates, and is made to give a prevalent coloring to the poetry. In "Enoch Arden" this coloring harmonizes with the long-drawn patience of the actors, whose will seems not to be the versatile, ever-changing, everready, instrument which poets of the highest order are able to paint, but rather a slow growth, unresistingly moulded by higher influences. And the fatality not only serves to enforce Mr. Tennyson's idea of the slow and fixed growth of his vegetating love, but also directly ennobles the scenes out of common life which he relates. It makes one feel that the loves of the fisherman and miller are as great in themselves as the loves of princes, and that the same Providence takes equal forethought for the good of the lowest and for that of the highest among the ranks of men.
"Aylmer's Field" is a kind of new and improved edition of" Maud," reduced from
a lyric to an idyll. It takes up the old story, so favorite a one with Mr. Tennyson, of affections crossed by pride. There is the angel daughter, the foolish mother, the father possessed by one idea—the pride of his race and estate—who, in his determination not to let his daughter marry her old playmate, kills her, him, himself, and his wife, with the dagger of sorrow. The author, true to his chosen and now almost necessary attitude, surrounds the story with all the accidents which serve to draw out and prolong the acts of the will, and to give them a dreamy instead of a wakeful character. As usual, the landscape sympathizes with this inertia of the men. It ministers their opiate:
"A land of hops and poppy-mingled corn,
where Aylmers at the hall and Averills at the rectory were immemorial. The Rector's younger brother is the playmate of Edith Aylmer, the heiress. He is
"Ever welcome at the hall,
The word "phosphorescence" is characteristic of Mr. Tennyson ; no other word could have reduced flashing and brilliant intelligence to so inert and calm an image. Phosphorescence is only the pale ghost of fire—the fire of dreamland, that burns not and hardly illuminates, a fire which seems separated by an infinite distance from other fires, like the soul of the dying man from his friends. It would be a more hopeful undertaking to kindle a match by the ray of the dog-star than by the lantern of the glow-worm. Then there is the baronet himself,
"dull and self-involved, Tall and erect,"
but " mighty courteous in the main," who thinks no more of the intimacy of Leolin with his daughter than of the old Newfoundland's familiarity with her. But when he finds out the truth, then comes the dull persistent persecution, ending in Edith's death. The absent lover has a sympathetic presentiment of her fate; and when he learns it is a fact he slays himself with an ornamental dagger, her mysteriously fatal gift. The moral is put into the mouth of the Rector, who has to preach at the maiden's funeral. It is the same sermon against the "fee-farm Cupid" which Thackeray loved to preach. Mr. Tennyson had hitherto put it into the mouths of halfcrazy and vindictive madmen in "Locksley Hall" and "Maud : " here it softened, though the Rector's grief for the frenzied suicide of his brother throws him somewhat into the same passionate position as the earlier apostles of the doctrine. Perhaps Mr. Tennyson thinks that no one can really see the harm of these matches for convenience except those who have suffered in consequence of them.
The diction of " Enoch Arden" and "Aylmer's Field " is without the studied archaism of the " Idylls of the King," and without the conscious imitations of "The Princess." It is the style which Mr. Tennyson has created for himself, to paint the modern world and real life; it is the gradually worked-up result of long and profound artistic study. It is also pregnant with sweet little idyllic conceits, which show, what his early poems did not show, a direct familiarity with nature, not a study of her in the studio of the painter and sculptor. Such are these lines, the second more than the first:
"Pity, the violet on the tyrant's grave."
"The rabbit fondles his own harmless face."
"Sea Dreams" is the story of a married couple who take their sick child to a bathing-place. There the man meets an oily preacher-like banker who has swindled him out of his money. The helpless wrath of the man is kindled by the swindler's unctuous greeting; and the plot of the poem, such as it is, consists in the wife's trying to make her husband more charitable by the aid of his own and her dreams. They however do not wring the desired forgiveness from him till she tells him that the man has died suddenly. He receives the news with an epigram which felicitously appropriates the idea of a well-known line of Rogers:
"He has a heart, and gets his speeches by it."
Mr. Tennyson makes his clerk exclaim:
'' Dead? he? of heart disease? what heart had he To die of?"
Then the woman inculcates the moral which Mr. Tennyson has steadily from the first inculcated from time to time—the moral of the ultimate restitution of all things, when the evil shall become good again:
"If there be A devil in man, there is an angel too. . . . His angel broke his heart;"
and the man, after a struggle, and with a protest against the doctrine,
"His deeds yet live, the worst is yet to come,"
adds, "I do forgive him." There is not much in the poem but its sweet diction; and Mr. Tennyson's music is so sweet that he sometimes charms men into listening to what is intrinsically not worth the pains.
"The Grandmother" is the sorrow of an old woman who has just heard of her eldest son's death at the age of more than seventy years. Her grief has to break through the mists of a memory grown stiff and solid, retaining ancient images and admitting no new ones. She talks of the old man just gone as he was when she first nursed him, chubby and rosy, on her knees. The slowly moving, half-frozen intelligence, the misty affections fixed not on what is but on what was, the weariness of life in the woman of fourscore and ten, form a subject exactly suited to Mr. Tennyson's ideal, and are therefore hit off with raie power and pathos.
The "Northern Farmer" is a happy solution of Mendelssohn's doubt whether there was in nature any such thing as a serious scherzo. The Boeotian dialect, the unsuspicious frankness of the dying farmer, who says exactly what he thinks, without the least consciousness that his thoughts are shocking to pious ears, and justifies all his hard dealings by the plea that he had done his duty by the land, by the parson, by the squire, and by " Bessy Marris's barn "—all this makes the poem itself highly humorous, with a humor akin to Thackeray's. The optimism of the farmer, who considers that every man in doing what he does is doing his duty, and that when duties clash each man's clear path is to keep his own rule, is excellent; and so is his determination to stick to his own rule of a pint of ale nightly and a quart on market nights, spite of doctor and parson, though they perhaps do their duty too in forbidding it. The stolid fixed idea in his head is one of those materialized statuesque mental states which Mr. Tennyson has always chosen for his favorite nurselings.
Among the miscellanies of 1865, "Tithonus," which had appeared earlier in a periodical, is the most noteworthy. This classical fable is one of those which readily precipitate themselves round the pole of Mr. Tennyson's battery. The old man, the bed-fellow of Aurora, who had obtained from her the sad gift of immortality, forgetting to couple his request with that for perpetual youth, now vainiy seeks release and envies the
"Happy men that have the power to die,
"The Holy Grail," which was published in 1870, completes the "Idylls of the King," and unites them into a connected epic. It gives an introduction called "The Coming of Arthur," and two new idylls, "The Holy Grail" and " Pelleas and Ettarre," whose place is to be between "Elaine" and "Guinevere ;" the conclusion is "The Passing of Arthur." This is identical with the "Morte d'Arthur" of 1842, except that a new beginning is added, and it is divested of the introduction and epilogue, which on its first appearance explained it to be the eleventh canto of a destroyed epic. This poem is said to be "connected with the rest in accordance with an early project of the author's." Mr. Tennyson seems to have early projected an epic poem on Arthur, but scarcely such a one as is now made up. In the first design it seems to have been intended to allow the magical and mysterious machinery of the medieval legend to give the predominant tone to ■ the poem. This tone was supreme in the "Morte d'Arthur ;" in the " Idylls of the King" it had retired to the background, thrust out of the way, but not out of mind. When the poem was to be completed in a way to allow the early canto to be used as its conclusion, the new additions had necessarily to be made to harmonize with both the parts which had to be joined. Hence these new poems have an earlier smack than the "Idylls of the King." They stand between them and the " Morte d'Arthur." Or, to speak with more speciality, "The Coming of Arthur" and "The Holy Grail," especially the latter, are entirely magical and mystical; while "Pelieas and Ettarre" is a love idyll, a study of a different phase of love, that of the honorable and inexperienced boy for the mocking jilt who only begins to love him really when she has lost him and turned his true love into a fixed resolve to contemn. Thus the completed epic of
Arthur carefully eschews all that is epic in the legend. It extracts from the story its fantastic and its pathetic episodes, and occupies itself entirely with them, only affording passing allusions and brief studies to the epical parts of the story, which concern the conduct of Arthur as hero, king, and saviour of his country.
In "The Holy Grail," amidst the fantastic and beautiful mediaeval legends, Mr. Tennyson contrives to teach his lesson. Arthur, flower of kings, is, as Mr. Tennyson images him, much too commonplace, or too sensible, to go on the quest. He has his definite work to do, which done, but not before, he can afford to dream. After it is done he says:
"Let visions of the night or of the day
Come, as they will; and many a time they come,
This is as if he said: Our only knowledge of material reality comes from our duties and our needs: we are obliged to act towards things as if they were real: but the moment action ceases and thought begins, then reality begins to evaporate; all turns to dream: we are certain of nothing but the cogito ergo sum, the existence of self as a thinking being ; and on this certainty we build up further certainties—first our immortality, next the being of God, lastly the truth of Christianity. With this conclusion, so strongly held, it is difficult to see why Mr. Tennyson should have been considered a sceptic. He is a sceptic in the same sense, and for the same reason, that Descartes is a sceptic—because his philosophy begins in doubt. But it is not founded on doubt. Doubt in this system merely clears away everything till the doubter comes to the solid ground of indubitable fact. His scepticism is not absolute, its own end and object, but relative, a means to an end; and that end is certain knowledge. If this is scepticism, the whole thought of the world has been sceptical since Descartes. To Mr. Tennyson, when the whole world of eye and ear has been evaporated to a mere vision, this vision becomes the veil which God weaves both to reveal and conceal Himself: