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to be solved is whether man can thus be made nobly and permanently happy, and the solution is experimental; that is to say, the poet places imaginatively before us a soul in the enjoyment of all delights, save spiritual and moral, realises her experience step by step, and finds, in the concluding stage of that experience, the solution of which he is in quest.
First of all, we are present at the building of the palace; and this is not managed in the way in which Byron would very likely have managed it, by a stanza or two of vague allusion to curtains of cloud and the azure and vermilion that are mixed at eventide for the pavilion of the sun, but with an explicitness and fulness of detail that leave nothing to the imagination of the reader, and might have excited the wonder of Keats or of Spenser. On a huge crag-platform, high above the common world, it stands; we see its courts, its cloisters, its squared lawns, its four fountains spouted from the golden gorge of dragons, which unite in one swell, and stream from the mountain-like platform "in misty folds, that floating as they fell lit up a torrent bow." Within, long-sounding corridors "over-vaulted grateful gloom," and along these the soul passed from chamber to chamber. Each room was a perfect whole, but no two rooms were alike. In a succession of incomparable stanzas, Tennyson describes first the landscape adornment of some of the rooms, then the figure-subjects treated pictorially in others. Here are two of the landscapes :—
One show'd an iron coast and angry waves.
Ton seein'd to hear them climb and fall,
Beneath the windy wall.
And one, a full-fed river winding slow
By herds upon an endless plain,
"With shadow-streaks of rain.
Any artist who is master of his business could put these
pictures upon canvas; and I feel sure that Turner, austere critic as he was, would have confessed that he could not paint them in colour more truthfully than Tennyson has painted them in words. Even Turner's pictures must have been dumb; but we hear the waves roaring rock-thwarted under the bellowing caves. It is not impossible that Turner's knowledge that words could convey more in the way of natural description than can be done by the brush may have been one "of those motives which impelled him, during something like thirty years of his life, to make attempts in poetry, and, latterly, to sign himself " author" rather than artist. The following has been very often painted, and is probably familiar to all my readers :—
And one, an English home—gray twilight pour'd
On dewy pastures, dewy trees,
A haunt of ancient Peace.
The figure subjects are Christian, Mahommedan, or
Or in a clear-wall'd city on the sea,
Or thronging all one porch of Paradise,
A group of Houris bow'd to see
That said, We wait for thee.
In one, King Arthur, in sleep that may be death, is watched by weeping queens; in another, Numa meets the nymph Egeria; in a third, Ganymede shoots through the sky, borne upward by the eagle. I have often wondered whether this last was suggested by Titian's picture of Ganymede and the eagle in our National Gallery.
Or sweet Europa's mantle blew nnclasp'd
Prom off her shoulder backward borne;
The mild bull's golden horn.
I quote this as it appears in the earlier editions. In the
most recent, the word "blew" in the first line is changed into " blue." The reader may take which he chooses, but I think the picture gains more by the animation and movement of the blowing breeze than by the touch of colour. In this instance, the painter would have the advantage of the poet, for with one sweep of the brush he could show the mantle both as blue in colour and as blown backwards by the wind. When Tennyson tells us that the mantle was blue, he takes the wind out of his picture, and the unclasped mantle threatens to fall down upon the bull's back. Titian may have given the suggestion for this picture also. Bound the royal dais, on which the soul took her seat, were choice paintings of wise men, conspicuous among them Milton, Shakespeare, Dante, and Homer. Plato and Verulam looked down upon her.
At first the soul was joyful and exultant. She sang in feastful mirth, feeling herself " lord over nature, lord of the visible earth, lord of the senses five." She rejoiced in her isolation, gazing scornfully on the herds of human swine that darkened the plain. At last she summed up her pride in this magnificent and celebrated verse :—
I take possession of man's mind and deed.
I care not what the sects may brawl.
But contemplating all.
So it continued for three years. Then, " lest she should
fail and perish utterly," she was struck by Heaven with
pangs of hell. She dreaded and loathed her solitude. She
scorned herself, then laughed at her self-scorn. She
struggled to bethink her of her spacious mansion, her place
of strength, her glorious world of intellect, beauty, music,
But in dark corners of her palace stood
Uncertain shapes: and unawares
Pride of Culture. 259
And hollow shades enclosing hearts of flame,
And, with dim-fretted foreheads all,
That stood against the wall.
Was the imagery of a mind diseased—of a soul tormented by conscience—ever more powerfully delineated?
Back on herself her serpent pride had curl'd.
"No voice," she shrieked in that lone hall,
One deep, deep silence all!"
She, mouldering with the dull earth's mouldering sod,
Inwrapt tenfold in slothful shame,
Lost to her place and name;
And death and life she hated equally,
And nothing saw, for her despair,
No comfort anywhere.
"She howled aloud, ' I am on fire within !'" There was no reply. For four years the searching agony endured. Then she threw aside her royal robes.
'' Make me a cottage in the vale," she cried,
"Yet pull not down my palace towers that are
So lightly, beautifully built:
When I have purged my guilt."
The essence of the sin was not culture, but the selfishness and aristocraticism of cultured pride; not delight, whether of the senses or of the mind, but delight unshared by others; not abstention from the partisanship of creeds, but contemptuous isolation from those who accept them, and lack of sympathetic appreciation of the truth they contain. Such isolation, such pride, such culture, are indeed damnable.
IN the Dream of Fair Women and Palace of Art Tennyson dealt with subjects belonging emphatically to what may be called the academic or patrician department of literary production. The fair women whose "star-like sorrows " are written on their " immortal eyes," in the one poem, were, each and all, daughters or wives of kings or mighty chiefs; and the lesson inculcated in the other can hardly have much practical interest for any but persons of elaborate culture, aesthetic sensibility, and high social position. In The Princess, too, the subject, scene, and characters belong to the upper classes, and the various lays of the Pound Table are idylls of a king.
At first glance, then, it might seem absurd to call Tennyson in any sense a poet of the people; and yet he has continued from first to last in true poetic sympathy with that wave of democratic feeling and aspiration which passed over the United Kingdom in the days of his early manhood, and which has produced no utterance so melodious as Locksley Hall. The hopes and wishes of the young Liberal in that poem are independent of class distinctions. Listen to his self-delineation :—
Yearning for the large excitement that the coming years would yield.