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is relieved in Don Juan by the divine quality of action. He kept his word, as he claimed
" You have now
All very accurate, you must allow,
To the episodes of " love, tempest, travel, war," to the solid core of invigorating, health-giving circumstances, absent from Childe Harold, Don Juan owes its easy superiority, its spring and buoyancy, its air of largeness. We are out of doors, under the bright sunlight or the stars, afloat on the current of life. Here too, for the first time, as Swinburne said, his style “is beyond all praise or blame, a style at once swift and supple, light and strong, various and radiant.” One rises from it with some understanding of his European fame.
Byron's star has been for a generation or more if not in eclipse, certainly overcast. He has been in the descendent rather than the ascendant during the latter half of the nineteenth century. While Tennyson filled the horizon of readers and while Wordsworth was slowly climbing to his station among the greater luminaries, Byron receded from his former pride of place. But in England only; on the continent of Europe his star has never paled its fire. "He led the genius of Britain," said Mazzini, "on
“ , “ a pilgrimage throughout all Europe.” After Shakespeare he seems to all countries not English the greatest poet of his race. It is and will remain impossible for us to accept this verdict, and difficult for the foreigner to understand our rejection of it. He will ascribe our judgment to our insular morality, to our Puritanism. He perceives Byron's breadth and freedom, his bold design, his dazzling eloquence, he will not perceive the absence of the delicate tints, the subtle graces, the haunting cadences, the exquisite and refined phrasing which we associate with the masters of our language; he will not perceive his " feeble and faulty sense of metre.” Among us Byron speaks to the many, to an audience not fastidious in the aesthetic and technical values. To the connoisseur in the art of poetry, then, he proves disappointing. Yet it is of the highest moment that a reputation should rest upon a broad popular basis. If it does so, and passes the critical test even with difficulty, it takes an altogether different rank from those reputations which pass the critical test with much to spare, but make no wide or general appeal. Though Byron did not belong to the highest type of creative minds, though his imagination was limited by his experience, though his expression is often rhetorical rather than just or exquisite, after these and all other necessary deductions have been made, the undeniable splendour and attraction of the man and his poetry remain. If you argue that he belongs to the negative, the iconoclastic movement, that we miss in him the spiritual, the reconstructive touch, I answer that he is none the less dæmonic. He is not easily to be numbered with the saints, but it is not the saints only who are magnificent. Byron is magnificent also—
NARRATIVE POETRY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
TENNYSON, MORRIS, ARNOLD
I almost feel hopeless about Alfred now—I mean about his doing what he was born to do," wrote Fitzgerald, after the publication of The Princess, a view assuredly remote from the popular one, which found Tennyson everywhere and at all times flawless and consummate. Anything more whole-hearted than his acceptance by his own generation need never be looked for. A plant of slower growth than Scott's or Byron's, his fame appeared to root itself more firmly, and so increased with the years as to place him high above all rivals. During his lifetime so immense was the attraction-Poe's reiterated declaration that of poets he was “the greatest that ever lived” seemed a pardonable exaggeration. A cloud of glory encircled him, a veritable halo rested upon his head. For long, therefore, criticism of Tennyson -and what a prodigious volume of it poured through journals and reviews—was praise of Tennyson. Hardly at all in public utterances, here and there only in private letters or conversations, one met with a certain dubiety or hesitation. Fitzgerald alone among Tennyson's friends made no effort to conceal his disappointment. He had looked for a work of epic proportions and epic grandeur, something to match the great things in poetry, and looked in vain. Then came The Idylls of the King, in which, it was abundantly proclaimed, Tennyson had passed the final test, and Fitzgerald's last hopes expired. Something had gone wrong, “ the cursed inactivity of the nineteenth century had spoiled him or he “had not the wherewithal to work on."
The judgments of contemporaries are sometimes curious, rarely trustworthy, but of the verdicts upon Tennyson Fitzgerald's more nearly represents, perhaps, the opinions of to-day. Yet
that these will prevail there remains room for doubt. Not the verdicts of a poet's own generation only, those of the generation succeeding his own are also open to suspicion. To judge of a work of art we must stand well away from it, as clear of the retreating wave of reaction as of the advancing wave of enthusiasm. Few of us probably now believe that Tennyson is best represented by The Idylls of the King, or if he is best represented by them, that his station in English poetry is with Spenser or Milton, perhaps not even with Byron or Keats. Childe Harold, for example, may be read when Tennyson's Arthur and Guinevere are forgotten. The question how far Tennyson succeeded in his longer poems is still among his admirers an open question, and as an open question intelligent curiosity may be employed upon it. May not, we may ask, the depreciation of Tennyson, which has undoubtedly set in, have already gone too far? Is perfect success ever attained, and in the Idylls has he not achieved all that was possible? Or again, are we sure that the Arthurian story, rejected by Milton, was as suitable for epic treatment as it was alluring? These and questions like these, more easily, indeed, asked than answered, suggest themselves, but they are secondary to the question how far in the treatment of this theme Tennyson succeeded in capturing the human interest of the familiar story, in heightening the large and lovely elements, in fashioning to new shapes of tragic sadness or immortal beauty the wonderful figures of the ancient legend.
Let us note the character of the legend and his manner of handling it. How will it strike the reader who knows the romances, who takes pleasure in the version of that supreme editor, Malory? It will strike him that the marvels have become of less, the symbolism of more account, that while new interpretations have been offered of it, the story as a story has faded.
This is no less than a great change. The Arthurian story, whatever its origin, took up a transfigured matter not its own, fables the most beautiful, the fables which belong to the childhood of the race, the floating marvellous tales with which all primitive peoples explain to themselves the
everlasting miracle of the world. It drew to itself all the wonders, the terror and delight of simple societies in simple times. It embraced the whole region of miracle, nothing of the mysterious or amazing lay beyond it, of dream-built forms and fancies. Mediæval Christianity did not make these things, they were its fortunate heritage from the immemorial and pagan past. But by some excellent touch of genius it impressed upon them its spiritual seal, the stamp of chivalric and religious ideals, or at least suffered them to keep their place in the legends unaltered. Thus the plain wonders, invented to delight the imagination, the happy isles, the healing wells, the enchanted armour and moving towers and dreamy woods, the dragons and ogres and sorcerers, became signs and symbols of the invisible, instructive matter for the soul. The Celtic Arthur became a Christian knight, and his war against heathen enemies a holy war. At no time, we may believe, were readers drawn to the romances of chivalry otherwise than out of naked delight in marvel and adventure. Yet from the first the parable, if one cared for parable, lay within, a source of mystic power. Spenser preserved it in the Faery Queene, and Tennyson, who believed that there was no grander subject in the world than King Arthur," when he chose to make his poem an allegory,
shadowing sense at war with soul,” neither violated nor out-ran the tradition. To compass it, however, to avoid arbitrary and absurd symbolism, purely forced and fanciful meanings, cost him much anxious concern. And to his needs he sacrificed the old delightful fictions, the magic and marvels of the enchanted land of faery.
The price paid for the allegory was thus a heavy one, and Tennyson appears at a serious disadvantage beside Spenser, who knew that, as Bacon said, without a touch of strangeness there is no excellent beauty, with whom the allegory was secondary to the miracle. The expulsion of the pagan elements—necessary perhaps in the interests of the Christian interpretation-abates the curiosity with which one followed the old and true romance, which is nothing if it be not a house of adventure, a banquet of surprise. Tennyson cannot