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to enable him to live in extreme simplicity, and cultivate the muses on a cake of bread. He felt, as Pope and Gray, Wordsworth and Browning felt, that poetry can be pursued best by a man who possesses neither poverty nor riches, but who has just enough to live upon without carking daily care. That Tennyson's income was very small is obvious. He was long betrothed to Emily Sellwood without any prospect of marriage ; in 1839 we find him writing to her, with a noble simplicity : “ Perhaps I am coming to the Lincolnshire coast, but I scarcely know. The journey is so expensive and I am so poor.” Two years later, on account of his poverty, she was forbidden to write to him any more, and even after the publication of his two volumes of 1842 had made him famous he lived in very cheap lodgings in the north of London. In the course of that year he sold his little estate in Grasby, Lincolnshire, and was persuaded to put this and all his other property, including a legacy then just received, into a semi-philanthropic undertaking, a project for some sort of æsthetic wood-carving. The promoter of this scheme seems to have been an addle-pated enthusiast, and in a very short time he and his scheme were absolutely bankrupt.
Tennyson lost every penny he had in the world, and at the age of thirty-five, with set habits, a total inability for ordinary work and a highly-strung nervous system, he found himself face to face with absolute indigence. He fell into a condition of acute hypochondria, and in the course of it “his friends despaired of his life.” He was placed, for many months of 1843 and ’44, in a hydropathic establishment in Cheltenham. As he was slowly recovering, Sir Robert Peel was induced to give him a Crown Pension of £200 a year, and it is hardly too much to say that it is to this intelligent act of royal favor that we owe the existence of a great body of incomparable poetry. It certainly is very curious, and will startle the majority of Lord Tennyson's readers to discover, that, in the very meridian of his career, the poet was reduced to utter penury, to the level of the Otways and Chattertons of harrowing narrative. Never was a pension more patriotically given, or more exactly in the nick of time. In the very month when it was granted, Tennyson wrote: “I have gone thro' a vast deal of suffering, and I begin to feel an old man.” He had now a primrose path stretching before him, and nearly fifty years more of life to enjoy it in.
Another critical period, the record of which is entirely new and of entrancing interest, deals with the composition and the public reception of “Maud” in 1855. The nation was in a feverish and even hysterical state, and the Laureate's attitude was far from being the popular one. But the degree to which Tennyson was attacked and traduced has never been made public before. He was bombarded with letters from strangers, of which a specimen is here given : “Sir, I used to worship you, but now I hate you. I loathe and detest you. You beast ! Yours in aversion, * * *" No doubt this momentary revulsion was very useful to him. His intelligent admirers soon formed a bodyguard, and there was a reaction of intense popularity. But he had been much surprised and hurt, and to the end of his days he used to grumble at the cruel way in which “ Maud” was attacked for its “rampant and rabid bloodthirstiness of soul,” and, less absurdly, for the “key of extravagant sensibility” in which it was pitched. Now, if " Maud” be admittedly unequal, no sound critic will question that it is the poem of Tennyson's in which the variety of his genius is illustrated in its most dazzling and luxuriant fulness.
Dealing in this desultory fashion with what is of most striking novelty in these delightful volumes, it may be well to refer in passing to the section of letters interchanged between the Queen and her “noble Poet Laureate," as she calls him in a very touching letter of Oct. 6, 1892. This correspondence, of unique interest, covers nearly twenty years, and gains in warmth and depth as it proceeds. It is conducted with great dignity and loyal gravity on the one side, with a winning, womanly sweetness on the other. In 1885, the signature of the Queen's letters becomes more intimate; henceforth she is “always yours affectionately.” If those who are foreign to our institutions desire to understand why Her Majesty is the object not merely of an almost superstitious national devotion but of the positive affection of all classes in England, these straight-forward, exquisitely human and unaffected letters to the most illustrious of her subjects should tend to resolve the enigma.
The main value of these two volumes, however, lies not in the illustrative matter that adorns them, or even in the additions which they make to our acquaintance with the career of their subject, but in the extraordinary light which they throw upon
the nature of his intellect and temperament. Of this the world has hitherto known little. Tennyson walked among us withdrawn, silent, in a penumbra of dignified personal mystery. Care was taken by himself and by those who surrounded him to hedge him off from all the perturbations and reverberations of social and public life. He was like the Rose in some mediæval romance to get a sight of him it was needful to contend with thorn-hedges and confront at least one dragon. Those who read this biography carefully will, I think, be of opinion that the necessity for this protective system resulted in large measure from the crisis of 1845. Before that time he had been highly strung, of course, but robust to an exceptional degree. Brookfield had said to him after some feat of strength, “It is not fair, Alfred, that you should be Hercules as well as Apollo.” But after the breakdown of health, which was slowly cured at Cheltenham, the nervous system seems to have been always frail, always easily liable to disturbance. It was the pious and the successful labor of those around Tennyson to minimize the strain of life and muffle all its shocks. Thus, and thus only, was he able to live the unique life for which immortality designed him.
To help us to form an idea of what this arcane ånd hieratic existence of Tennyson was, of what occupied the thoughts of the high-priest in his secret bower of consecrated laurels, a large number of more or less eminent elderly persons several of whom have already since passed behind the vail-have contributed their memories and impressions. These are in the highest degree unequal ; of these observers there are some who lived with this astonishing person for years without, as it seems, ever once perceiving him. Others are so anxious to please the surviving members of the family, that they produce a portrait “ faultily faultless, icily null," which possesses no atom of resemblance. Nothing is more curious than the absence of eye among Englishment of acknowledged intellectual power; they reflect, they assimilate, but rarely indeed are they able to see. Among the blind and the one-eyed a real phenomenal artist seems miraculous, and we are almost dazzled by the extreme merit of the recollections of Mr. Aubrey de Vere. I do not hesitate to say that, after the letters and fragments of Tennyson's own, the most precious portion of these volumes is what we owe in it to Mr. de Vere.
Although, then, the scope of this review precludes quota
tion, I must allow myself to cite from these recollections one short passage, as an example of what it is which makes the whole record so precious. Mr. Aubrey de Vere says:
“Our many conversations, in those pleasant years, turned chiefly on Poetry, a subject on which Tennyson could say nothing that was not original. It was easy to see that to discern the Beautiful in all around us, and to reveal that beauty to others, was his special poetic vocation. In these conversations he never uttered a word that was disparaging, or tainted with the spirit of rivalship. One of the Poets least like himself, Crabbe, was among those whose merits he affirmed most une. quivocally, especially his gift of a hard pathos. The only poet I heard him criticise roughly or unfairly was himself. Compare,' he once said to me, compare the heavy handling of my workmanship with the exquisite lightness of touch of Keats.' Another time he read aloud a song by one of the chivalrous Poets of Charles the First's time, perhaps Lovelace’s ‘ Althea,' which Wordsworth also used to croon in the woods, and said, “There ! I would give all my poetry to have made one song like that !""
These particular memories belong to 1842. What shelves of pompous biography would we not surrender for a few such notes of Milton's talk at Horton or Spenser's at Kilcolman !
This paragraph, however, skilful as it is, is quoted here not as a specimen of the art of Mr. Aubrey de Vere, but because it exemplifies the central characteristic of Tennyson's life. It was a life absolutely devoted to the service of Poetry. No mind of equal vigor, perhaps, was ever occupied for so long a period in the unbroken cultivation of the highest form of literary art, and of absolutely nothing else. Science, politics, invention, the progress of education and philanthropy, the thousand-and-one occupations of a country life, to all these he was vividly and sensitively alive, yet all were approached diliberately from their imaginative side, and if dealt with at all were dealt with poetically. Tennyson was called a dreamer, even by some who knew him well; I am bound to say that on the rare occasions when I had the honor to be in his company, this was not my impression, nor is it the impression which I carry away from his own notes and correspondence here revealed to us. No
I should venture to say, was less a dreamer, but with the intense resolution of a practical man of affairs he drew all themes, all forms of action
and reflection, into the vortex of his own “affairs," which was the creation of delicate poetic art.
In his preoccupation with ideas of poetic workmanship, Tennyson walked about the world forever prepared to seize, with delicate exactitude, impressions of physical beauty. In all his journeyings, he was watching for effects, for conditions, for phenomena, which he could use as the illustration or the ornament of moral ideas. What makes this new biography so invaluable is the evidence that it gives of his mode when at work. And the first place must be given to his incomparable study of the sea.
It is evident that the movement of water was the phy. sical fact which, in the whole of nature, gave Tennyson the most acute pleasure. All of us know the exquisite, and we may have thought the somewhat bold, image with which “Audley Court” closes. Here is the source of it, in a note made at Torquay in 1842: “I saw a star of phosphorescence made by the buoy appearing and disappearing in the dark sea.” The sea on the coast of the English Channel displeased him; it is “not grand,” he wrote, only an angry, curt sea.”
“ The finest seas I have ever seen are at Valentia, on the west coast of Ireland, Mablethorpe, in Lincolnshire, and in Cornwall. At Valentia the sea was grand, without any wind blowing, and seemingly without a wave; but with the momentum of the Atlantic behind, it dashes up into foam, blue diamonds it looks like, all along the rocks, like ghosts playing at hide and seek. When I was in Cornwall it bad blown a storm of wind and rain for days, and all of a sudden fell into perfect calm. I was a little inland of the cliffs, when, after a space of perfect silence, a long roll of thunder, from some wave rushing into a cavern, I suppose, came up from the distance, and died away. I never felt silence like that."
But at Mablethorpe, too, he had his grand phrases about the “interminable waves rolling along interminable shores of sand.” And at Bonchurch he notices “ a little salt pool fluttering round a stone upon the shore”; and again in Ireland “claps of thunder on the cliffs, amid the solid roar"; and at Babbicombe, in Devonshire, the marks of the tide “like serpent-coils upon the deep."
It appears that when he was in the vein he would make dozens of notes of this kind, the majority of which were never