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SPECIMEN OF KNOWLES' VERSE.
FROM "WILLIAM TELL,"
Scaling yonder peak,
Ileavens! with what pride I used
Not always has the Laurel been given to him most worthy of that royal honour; but when the reverend brow of Wordsworth drooped in death, there was none fitter to succeed “the old man eloquent” than the English gentleman who now wears the wreath. By consent of all, Alfred Tennyson stands at the head of English poets in the passing generation. In his own department of literature he is the representative man of the age--caressed by critics, admired by all, imitated by not a few. Rare are the poems published now-a-days untouched with the light of this master-mind, whose pure and steady radiance has been diffusing itself in everwidening circles for more than thirty years.
A Lincolnshire clergyman, rector of Somerby had three sons-Frederick, Charles, and Alfred. All have written poetry, the third and greatest of the three being the present Laureate. Tennyson's poetic career may be said to have begun in 1829, when, as an undergraduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, he won the Chancellor's medal for a poem in English blank-verse upon the somewhat unpromising theme of Timbuctoo. About the same time he joined his brother Charles in the publication of Poems by two Brothers. But in 1830 a bolder step was taken. A Cornhill publisher
announced a modest volume, bearing on its title-page the 1830
words Poems, chiefly Lyrical, by Alfred Tennyson, in which
such pieces as Mariana in the Moated Grange, Claribel, and The Ballad of Oriana, showed that a minstrel of brilliant
THE GROWTH OF POETIC FAME.
promise was trying his 'prentice hand upon the lyre of English song
Undaunted by the frigid reception of his first venture, Tennyson published a second volume in 1833, containing, besides corrected reprints of some former poems, many new compositions, which marked a striking advance both in thought and style. Those who then read for the first time The Lady of Shalott, The Miller's Daughter, Enone, The Lotus Eaters, and, above all, The Queen of the May, an exquisitely touching picture of a pretty wilful village girl fading away amid the brightening blossoms of an English spring, felt that a new well of poetic thought had burst out to gladden and make green the arid roads of modern life. of a poet's lofty mission is to battle with that tendency to the common-place and the matter-of-fact, which belongs to a money-getting age, by affording such nutriment to the imagination as may keėp its fair shoots from withering away in the hot and dusty struggle of our daily lives. And no English poet of modern days has more nobly fulfilled this exalted function than he who has given us the sweet fruits of genius that have just been named.
The critics of 1833 were unkind and unjust to the youthful singer; and for nine years the sweet voice was silent. But it was not the silence of an idle life. Locksley Hall was unfolding its pathetic and passionate beauty. The Gardener's Daughter and Dora were budding into life. Lady Clara Vere de Vere, one of the sternest rebukes ever levelled at the cold arrogance and deadly cruelty of high-born beauty, was in preparation. And such fragmentary poems as Morte d'Arthur and Godiva, dealing with the chivalrous and feudal times of old England, were giving earnest of what the minstrel might do in some future day, should he choose his theme from that dim past, through whose mists we see in broken outline, with here and there a glimpse of brilliant colour shining through a rift, confused groups of giant men, whose life was summed
up in the battle, the tilt-yard, the chase, and the carouse. When in 1842 appeared two volumes, containing the poems to which we have referred with many others of remark- 1842 able beauty, the victory was won. Another King Alfred
was crowned in England, whose realm has wider bounds and whose sceptre has another power than the sceptre and the realm of the illustrious Saxon
Tennyson's next work was published in 1847,-a fanciful poem of the epic class, written in blank-verse, entitled The Princess, a Medley. At a little pic-nic on the grassy turf within a ruin, seven college men tell the tale in turn, and
“The women sang Between the rougher voices of the men, Like linnets in the pauses of the wind.”
A prince and princess are betrothed, but have never met. He loves the unseen beauty; she, influenced by two strong-minded widows, hates the thoughts of marriage, and founds a University for girls. Disguised in female dress, the prince and two friends don the academic robe of lilac silk, and mingle with the gentle under-graduates. All goes well—lectures are duly attended-until upon a geological excursion the princess falls into a whirling river, and is snatched from the brink of a cataract by her lover. The secret being thus discovered, the pretenders are expelled, in spite of a life saved. Then comes war between the kingdoms; the prince is struck senseless in the strife; and as Ida, the Head of the College, moves round the sick-bed, where he lies hovering between life and death, new light dawns upon her. She begins to feel that the gentle ministrations of home are a fitter study for her sex than the quadrature of the circle or the properties of amygdaloid. By degrees
“A closer interest flourished up,
But such as gathered colour day by day.”
through every page, like a golden thread through rich brocade. But with the sweet satiric touch there often mingles a tone of deep social wisdom, which exalts the poem far above mere pretti
Some of the intervening lyrics are the perfection of lingual music, especially those lines descriptive of the dying echo of a bugle-note sounded amid the rocky shores of a lake.
Early in life a great sorrow had fallen upon Tennyson. Arthur Henry Hallam, the historian's son, who had been the poet's bosom friend at college and had been affianced to his sister, died in 1833 at Vienna. Stunned by the heavy blow, the surviving friend long refuses to be comforted; and the black shadow of the pall and the coffin broods upon
his soul. But merciful time works its The shadows turn grey, are touched with light, and at last roll off in golden clouds. « The sad mechanic exercise” of weaving verses in memory of his dead companion restores the mourner to himself, and brings him back to take renewed pleasure in the days that pass. But the gaiety of youth is gone; the graver brow and somewhat saddened voice tell of one who has 1850 drunk of that bitter cup, which Infinite Wisdom often prepares to purify the soul and fit it for higher deeds. Such were the circumstances in which this work—the history of a human sorrow—was composed. Not until 1850 did the group of
poems, which, to the number of one hundred and twenty-nine, make up
the tributary In Memoriam, appear in a printed volume. The stanza, in which all are written, is the well-known eight-syllabled quatrain; to which a very simple modification of rhyme, an exchange between the third and fourth lines, imparts an uncommon tone, —
“ I hold it true whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all."
The lost friend, dying at Vienna, was borne to England and buried in the chancel of Clevedon Church in Somersetshire. How beautifully these circumstances are woven together in the following lines, which condense in their simple language the spirit of all the scenery round that lonely tomb :