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HIS FIRST VOLUME.
TTOW vividly I remember the place and hour when I first *' became acquainted with Tennyson's poetry! Two volumes, one of them very tiny, then contained all that he had given to the world, and, as I carried these home from the library of King's College, Old Aberdeen, I stole one or two glances at my treasure. I was perfectly familiar with the poetry of Scott and Byron, had dipped into Keats and Shelley, and had read with passionate and boundless admiration the principal dramas of Shakspearc. The first thing in Tennyson on which my eye fell was the word-portrait of Lilian.
Airy, fairy Lilian,
Flitting, fairy Lilian,
Laughing all she can;
Cruel little Lilian.
This, at least, was new, and I thought it exquisitely nice. It reminded me of nothing I had ever read in poetry or in prose. No strong feeling was produced, but I experienced a distinct sensation of pleasantness like that of seeing a delicately tinted, quaintly shaped china cup, or finding a curiously veined, richly flushed shell on the sea-shore not far from which I was walking. The picture of Lilian was in the tinier of the two volumes. I closed it and opened the other. The lines that met my glance were these:
I see the wealthy miller yet,
His double chin, his portly size,
The busy wrinkles round his eves?
Llis dusty forehead dryly curl'd,
And full of dealings with the world?
In vonder chair I sec him sit,
Three fingers round the old silver cup—
I see his gray eyes twinkle yet
I liked this still better than Lilian—a good deal better; the old miller planted his chair in my memory forthwith, and has sat there ever since. Thirty years have gone by, and the fountain of genuine, refined, serenely intense enjoyment then opened to me is not yet exhausted. My life has been happier, greatly happier, than if I had not known Tennyson's poetry. There arc many poets who have moved me more, and some whose works appear to me more wonderful, but I am not sure that there is any poet whatever who has produced in me so keen and deep a feeling of pleasure.
Of course I cannot be quite sure that my experience on this point has been general; but if I may take my own experience as an indication of the nature of Tennyson's influence generally, I should say that ho is pre-eminently distinguished by the quality of charm. The element of sweetness pervades his poetry; sweetness too subtle to define, sweetness never permitted to cloy the reader, sweetness cunningly allied with, or relieved by, what the poet himself calls "the bitter of the sweet," but which, nevertheless, some crities have declared to be akin to weakness, and to have fitted him to be the poet of women rather than of men. For my own part, I accept the ancient canon of criticism—that poetry ought to be not only A MASTER OF CHARM.
beautiful, but sweet (iVb» satis est pulchra esse poemata; dulcia sunto); and I think that it is in the exceeding beauty of Tennyson's that one chief secret of its sweetness lies.
It was in 1830 that his first thin volume appeared. Scott still lived, but his genius was in the sere and yellow leaf, and the works on which his poetical reputation rests had been long since produced. It is worth noting that Tennyson, in his boyhood, was insatiably fond of the poetry of Scott. No two poets could be more strongly contrasted in their habits of work, Scott being one of the most rapid and spontaneous, Tennyson one of the most elaborate of writers; and yet I fancy that Tennyson caught from Scott more than from any other of his poetical teachers the magical art—for magical it is in the sense of being entirely incommunicable by formal instruction—of fascinating his readers. Regarded as a poetical creator in connection not only with his poems, but his novels, Scott must be pronounced one of the greatest masters of charm that ever lived. He modestly claimed only one power, that of knowing how to "interest" readers; and while his faculties continued unimpaired he certainly did possess this power in a degree unexampled in recent times. It would be nearer the truth than such generalizations often are, to say that Tennyson has combined a studious elaboration, reminding us of Keats, with a warmth and depth of human feeling and a power of interesting readers comparable to Scott's.
The moment was not inauspicious for the appearance of a new poet. The fashions of thought and feeling which had prevailed during the last years of the war and the first years of the peace had begun to change. Byronism, still powerful with the multitude, was ironically smiled at in cultivated circles. Political excitement had succeeded to the fierce passions of martial conflict; industry was in the enthusiasm of youth renewed after long decrepitude; the genius of mechanism, already laying down here and there an iron line between town and town, made infinite promises and awakened infinite hopes. Carlyle and Macaulay had announced themselves in prose essays more fervid and more richly ornamented than most of the poetry of the waning generation, and almost as melodious. "Many influences," as I have said elsewhere, " were working toward undefined issues:" more aspiring and earnest thought, more searching culture, bolder speculation, more exacting taste, and deeper reflectiveness were replacing the somewhat shallow and showy modes of the Regency.
Such was the time when Alfred Tennyson, a Cambridge man of twenty-one, offered to the world, through the medium of Mr. Moxon, his slender volume of poems. In 1832 a second appeared. The great public paid slight attention to either, but their share of critical notice was much above the average obtained in similar cases. One critic, writing in the powerful Westminster Review, hailed the young author as a man of original and mighty genius, who had the mallet hand of the great Elizabethans, and promised higher things in English literature than recent years had seen. The Westminster Review was the organ of philosophical Radicalism, and Tennyson came from the Liberal University, Cambridge; both the poet and the reviewer, therefore, were likely to be viewed askance by Professor Wilson, who, under the name of Christopher North, did the critical bludgeoning in that giant's castle of old Toryism, Blackwood's Magazine. There were one or two feeble poems in the first little volume, and some lines in other pieces which showed a trace of that namby-pambyism, that childishness, that tinkle - tinkle of pretty, meaningless words, into which, at those rare moments when, like Homer, he nods, Tennyson lapses. Wilson quoted with scorn the weakest lines he could find, pronounced Tennyson an "ingenious lad," declared that one sample was "drivel," another "more dismal drivel," a third '' more dismal drivel even than that," and savagely belabored the Westminster panegyrist. It