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Professor Wilson's Review.
is interesting, however, to observe that, toward the end of his article, AYilson. betrays strong misgivings as to the justice of bis censure. He confesses that "he may have exaggerated Mr. Tennyson's not unfrcquent silliness," but is sure that he has "not exaggerated his strength," and says that the extracts arc better than anything else in his article. He gives the young poet very sound advice, telling him to get rid of affectation, to distrust verbal conceits and mere polish or brilliancy of diction, to court simplicity in thought and expression, to have more faith in great common truths, in home-bred feeling and pathos welling from the heart, than in superfine aesthetic sensibilities.
When we turn to the poems which Wilson had before him —those exclusively of the first volume—we are constrained to hay that, though few, they were so original and excellent, that an experienced critic like Wilson might have spoken more enthusiastically about them. They bear curiously vivid marks of the Lincolnshire birth-land of the poet. In fact, knowing that Lincolnshire is one of the most flat and prosaic counties in England, a region of vast plains, interminable water-courses, with only a few trees of the willow and poplar kind, we seem, as we read these early verses of Tennyson's, to be actually transported to the scene. Already he has become Dantesquc, if not in sternness of mood, at least in minuteness of delineation; he trusts nothing to random strokes, to sounding epithets; he sees the landscape and details its features. Not content with telling us that the lonely moated grange stood among gloomy meadows, with bats flitting about its weathered gables, he localizes it for us by minute specific touches.
About a stone-cast from the wall
And o'er it many, round and small,
Hard by a poplar shook alway,
All silver-green with gnarled bark:
For leagues no other tree did mark
Scenery like this has not much on which the eye of the boypoet can rest enraptured; but what there is of beauty in it, or in the sky above it, will be dearly prized, exactly observed, accurately remembered. Accordingly wc find that, as a landscape word-painter. Tennyson is intensely true. A painter might perfectly rely upon his statement of facts, and lay fearlessly on the canvas the "little clouds sun-fringed" which float in his skies. This last epithet is quite exquisite in its accuracy, as you may satisfy yourself by noting, any summer day, how the little clouds, delicate pearl-blue in the middle, are lit with white fringes all round the edge, where the sun changes their vapor into snow. This Tightness of local color has distinguished Tennyson from first to last, and in respect of it a place has been claimed for him beside the very greatest poets.
Perhaps, compared with the great old masters,
But who, out of all their starry number,
We have the sounds even, of the Lincolnshire landscape, as they reach the desolate Mariana in the night.
From the dark fen the oxen's low
He tells us in his Ode to Memory—for that poem is unmistakably autobiographic — that it was not upon "flaunting vines" that the eye of his memory opened, nor upon a waterfall sounding and shining forever, a pillar of white light seen against purple cliffs, but on a more prosaic scene. Yet it is very dear to him, and he invokes memory to bring its quaint pictures back.
IUS TRUTH OF TOUCH.
Come from the woods that belt the gray hill-side,
The seven elms, the poplars four
That stand beside my father's door,
And chiefly from the brook that loves
To purl o'er matted cress and ribbed sand,
Or dimple in the dark of rushy coves,
Drawing into his narrow carthcrn urn,
In every elbow and turn,
The filter'd tribute of the rough woodland.
Who will say that it is the landscape that makes the poet, and not the poet that sees tints of loveliness in, draws tones of melody from, the dreariest landscape, after Tennyson has found so much beauty in one of those drowsy brooks, that "purl" through cresses and over sand, a few feet below the level of the meadow? It is the love that lends the charm—the affection of a good heart for all that was associated with the peace and kindness of a happy home. There is, besides, as the poet himself informs us, a charm for the young describer in those subjects on which his capacities as a word-artist were first exercised. Ruskin says that Turner's drawing of hills, even ^ when he had to represent the stupendous masses of the Alps, was to the last influenced by the forms of hill which he learned to draw in Yorkshire in his youth; and Tennyson, addressing the "great artist Memory," says:
Needs must thou dearly love thy first essay,
And foremost in thy various gallery
And newness of thine art so pleased thee,
That all which thou hast drawn of fairest
With thee unto the love thou bearest
The first-born of thy genius.
And then he adds, in narrow compass, but with marvellous opulence, vividness, and precision of detail, a variety of aspects of Lincolnshire country, from the windy dunes that barricade the sea, to the garden which has been coaxed into beauty by tender culture, where the wind of the wold swoons and dies amidst scents of rose and lavender.
Sometimes, on strong wings of imagination, he rises out of this region of pencilling fancy, becomes broad and bold in his stroke, and crowns his Lincolnshire landscape with splendors brought from other climes. So it is in that superb poem, The Dying Swan. The scene is sketched in the first four lines with a breadth worthy of the most mature artist.
The plain was grassy, wild, and bare,
A few lines after this there is n marvellous bit of minute realization.
Ever the weary wind went on
Do we not seem to stand by the marsh and shiver with the shivering reeds? But the dying swan, singing in death, is too imaginative an affair to suit a strictly realistic scene in Lincolnshire. Accordingly there are features added which even England could not supply, and it is only in the foreground that the landscape continues to be exact and most expressive in its local truth.
Some blue peaks in the distance rose,
One willow over the river wept,
The comparison of the song of the dying swan to the acclamations of a mighty people is worked out with great imaginative power, and the poem ends with an enumeration of details of fen landscape in striking contrast with the few broad strokes that realize for us, in the outset, the gray sky and the grassy plain.
Anon her awful jubilant voice,
With a music strange and manifold,
As when a mighty people rejoice