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CONTENTS OF VOL. II.
ES S A Y S.
[Oct. 1855.] THERE are two instincts of the poetic nature, two faculties of the imagination, either of which possessed in a high degree is calculated to secure for its possessor a more than common immediateness of popularity. The poet who can enter deeply into, and vividly reproduce, the characteristic elements in the thought and sentiment of his own time, has a hold on it by virtue of sympathy, and of that mysterious hankering after outward expression, which makes all men delight in having their thoughts spoken, and their feelings interpreted for them with a completeness they could never hope themselves to attain. He again has a not less binding claim, based upon their gratitude, who can transport them from the cankering cares of daily life, the perplexities and confusions of their philosophies, the weariness of their haunting thoughts, to some entirely new field of existence, to some place of rest, some “ clear-walled city by the sea,” where they can draw a serene air, undimmed by the clouds and smoke which infest their ordinary existence.
* Maud, and other Poems. By Alfred Tennyson, D.C.L., Poet Laureate.
These are the two broad conditions of immediate acceptance. Those who, like Shelley, have a world of their own, crossing and mingling in perplexed lines with the world by which they are surrounded, must, for the most part, wait for that to pass entirely away before they can attain to a just appreciation.
Tennyson belongs to the first class. His is a mind in exact harmony with the times in which he lives. Such minds spring up every generation or so in the history of a national literature. It is not always easy to trace their antecedents, and yet it is they who lead down the regular line of poetical development. The whole race of poets might be classed in two divisions, according to their unison with, or independence of, the age in which they flourish. The one form a set of successional links in a chain, they are the legitimate children of the times which produced them, they are elder sons, they have the fainily estate from generation to generation, they are members of society, and fathers of families ; they have a numerous offspring ; small poets of the same order spring about them like suckers from a tree; they are welded into the social order. The others may be men of not inferior genius ; but they stand apart, like barren younger brothers; they are solitary ; it is themselves they express, and no more; they may have occasional imitators, but they are neither the founders of schools, nor in them does any school find its culmination; they do not look before and after.” They are connected with their own times, of course, but only at single points. The first are waves, part and parcel of the great river of life rolling with it to the sea; the others are inlets, where the water whirls round while the main current rushes past. The one set are the hierarchs of the Established Catholic Church of poesy, the others are leaders among the Dissenters. To take a few familiar examples ; Chaucer, Beaumont and Fletcher, Cowley, Pope, Byron, are of the legitimate line ; Spenser, Ben Jonson, Milton, Swift, Crabbe, are irregulars, and never has the contrast been more marked than in our own day, between Tennyson and Wordsworth.
Tennyson is the most modern of poets, that is, of great poets, and in the broad and permanent aspects of what constitutes us modern. Lesser poets may represent more vividly the transient phases, the accidents of the passing time; but it is Tennyson who gives us back the true characteristics in small as well as in great matters. His air is modern. He dispenses with the old formalities thought necessary to poetry. He has cast the ancient costume. His dress is to the old forms what a wideawake and easy morning coat is to a wig and claret velvet suit, or the high hat and tight pantaloons of the Regency. He has the free insouciant demeanour characteristic of modern society ; but of English society,—never American His Muse, if she met you and liked you, would drop the Mr. from your name after ten minutes' conversation. She would cut the “right honourable” off her addresses to peers, and ignore the existence of the monosyllable, “sir.” Tennyson goes to his object without preface and circumstantial delay. He does not think it necessary to tell you he is going to say a thing before he says it. You must find out his "Standpunkt" for yourself. And the publishing details are in accordance with this stage of development. His books are undefaced with introductions or annotations; he cuts down a dedication to the very shortest limits, and deems the kind and courteous reader an extinct animal. In what may be called colloquial poetry he stands alone for ease and harmony, though leaning sometimes to affectation and mannerism of expression. This sort of style is abundant all through Mr. Tennyson's first volume, in such poems as “ Dora,” “ Audley Court,” “Edwin Morris,” “Walking to the Mail ;' nowhere so easy and so harmonious as in “Will Waterproof's Lyrical Monologue,” and nowhere so graceful as in the charming poem of the “ Talking Oak.”