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Tennyson
A Critical Study

Chapter 1.
Biographical

In all cases criticism should bear some relation to biography; in many, the two are inseparable. Sometimes the events and external circumstances of a life intertwine themselves inextricably with a poet's work, as they did with Byron's; sometimes an alien influence can be detected, like a coloured liquid poured into water, traceable at first in its distinct hue, though materially in fusion, then gradually merging into a single but changed whole. one can watch the first crude appearances of Godwin's teaching in Shelley's poetry, and follow the development till there is no separable Godwin, but a new Shelley. Tennyson's is the very opposite of such natures. The most significant thing about his biography is—if one can say so without disparagement—its lack of significance. You find there a most interesting book; you arrive at a picture of the man in his habit as he lived, and not only of him, but of the friends who surrounded him; but the story of his life is not unfolded, for the excellent reason that there was no story with dramatic episodes or mental turning-points for the biographer to tell.

You might as well try to write the biography of an oak. It sprang in a good soil, it drew to itself sustenance from the sap of earth and the dew of heaven, it put out leaves and branches, it became a stature in the forest; but there was no point at which you could say, Something has happened. That is a fair image, indeed Tennyson himself has used it in one of the most characteristic among

his later poems. If you go to sum up his life, what you find is this: That he was born in 1809, that he was bred as a gentleman should be, that he wrote poems, became laureate, grew rich through his art, was the close and honoured friend of the men most honourable in his time, and after eighty-four years died, beautiful and majestic in his death. The whole is a process of growth, gradual and stately, hut of events there are none.

are none. The only thing in Tennyson's life which needs to be stated to explain any of his poems is that he had a friend whom he loved and looked up to; that this friend suddenly died young, and that the poet enshrined his memory in perhaps the finest of all his verse. Nor is there any trace distinguishable of any sudden admixture in his mind. He knew Carlyle intimately, but you cannot put your finger on any poem and say, Here Carlyle comes in. Yet there is no man in all English literature more closely in touch with the thought of his times. His mind was an absorbent; essentially a brooding mind, that slowly drew in to itself the vital elements out of the atmosphere which it breathed and converted them into a definable shape. In a sense no poet is more personal, more self-created; in a sense none more impersonal, none more devoid of all eccentricities and waywardnesses. He led, but it was always on a path that his countrymen were already prone to follow; he struck off at no abrupt tangents; and whether in matters of religious faith, domestic re

form, or imperial aspirations, he had the happy skill to formulate the thought that was lying vague and chaotic in the minds of millions, who instantly knew it and appropriated it to themselves. So typically and normally English is his poetry, and so completely was it assimilated by his contemporaries, that it is difficult to separate cause and effect, and say where he influenced, and where he was influenced by, the general feeling of his countrymen. Thus it is all but impossible to mark oft particular moments in his life as important: for he hardly once seems to have come into collision with a popular prejudice or to have felt the even tenor of his way interrupted by any new motive or new impulsion. However, the first thing to be done is to sketch in outline the man himself, his life and his circumstances.

Alfred Tennyson was born on August 6th, 1809. His father, the Rev. George Clayton Tennyson, was the eldest son of a gentleman who owned a large landed estate, but in consequence of some caprice disinherited him in favour of a younger brother. As a compensation family livings in Lincolnshire were bestowed on him, and his home was the Rectory of Somersby. Thus Tennyson drew his origin directly from the two great conservative elements in English life: the church and the land. The Radicalism of his younger days was far less fundamentally characteristic of the man's whole nature than his later hostility to change. But whether as Radical or as Tory, he was always essentially an aristocrat.

There was a large family of_them-eight sons and four daughters. Alfred Tennyson was the fourth child. He was sent to the neighbouring Grammar School at Louth when he was seven, but left it before he was twelve, and for the rest of his boyhood studied under his father. The education

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