THE NEW "IN MEMORIAM." *
TENIrrsoN-movnas of the younger generation, even the more ardent, can hardly be expected to understand the sort of thrill which it gives some, at any rate, of the older, to see once more, and at this season, this little volume, its familiar green cover recalling those which of yore made so many Christmas- tides or New Year's Days memorable, and with which so much of rare and high pleasure is associated. It is like a message from another world. And such, indeed, in a sense it is, for this is In Memoriam taken back and given us again, so to speak, from the poet's very hand, and with his writing upon it. It contains Tennyson's own notes on his famous poem. The " annotations " which appear here are part of a body of brief notes which, after much deliberation and with no little reluctance, he left in the hands of his son, to be given to the world if and when his son thought fit. Lord Tennyson has done well to begin now to publish them, and to take In Memoriam first. Poetry does not need notes, it will be said, and is better without them. That is largely true. Gray, a poet in some ways much akin to Tennyson, thought so ; yet Gray yielded to his friends and his printers, and added a few judicious annotations to his odes. Tennyson was persuaded to do the same, and perhaps with more reason. Even in his lifetime he saw himself studied in school and college, lectured about, commented on, analysed, explained, elucidated. When a poet becomes a classic there grows up a mass of accretion about him, much of it legend, or tradition, or ingenious embroidery. This was the case with Tennyson even in his own day. He was obliged to tell even sensible people that the "broad-brimmed hawker of holy things was not John Bright, and that the "pilot" in" Crossing the Bar" was neither his son Lionel nor Arthur Hallam. The process has gone on in an increasing ratio ever since his death, especially with In Memoriam, about which a whole body of critical literature has grown up. If there are to be comment and exposition, it is well that they should be authentic and correct. What would we not give for such notes as these, by the author, on the Oedipus Coloneus, or the Sixth dieneid, or the Divine Comedy, or Shakespeare's Sonnets ?
Tennyson is not nowadays generally considered a difficult or obscure poet, though it must be remembered that when he began to write obscurity was often charged against him. This is partly because he has become so familiar, partly because his descriptions of Nature are so extraordinarily vivid and exact, so felicitous and finished, still more because the general im- pression he makes is so arresting and engaging. But difficult he is at times, and in more ways than one. His own view of poetry, quoted by his son in this volume, was that it should suggest rather than define, that it should be "like shot silk with many glancing colours." And this his own poetry not seldom is. At times, it is true, he is extraordinarily simple, writing with his eye and his ear on Nature, describing with the most direct, if the most select, language. But, like Dante, he is also a very scholarly and allusive poet, and his allusions are not obvious to those with less learning or science than himself. Still more is he difficult when he is dealing with very deep and abstruse problems, hardly to be expressed at all in "matter- moulded forms of speech," and on which no last or summary word is possible. Then it may happen that, though his exquisite language seems radiantly clear, the reader, if he seeks for too definite a meaning, loses himself, as some one said in reading John Stuart Mill, in "depths of lucid obscurity." In Memoriain is rich in difficulties of all these kinds. Brought out in the fiftieth year of the nineteenth century, it is in date the central English poem of that century. It is
also, almost as nearly, the central poem of the poet's own life, for he lived to eighty-three, and it appeared in his forty-first year, the memorable year in which he married, and was made Laureate. But it is central in much more than mere date. With a poet so astonishingly various as Tennyson, it is difficult to say that any single poem is representative. But if
any can fairly be called so, it is In, Memoriam. It is the fashion with a certain school, following the lead of FitzGerald, to find the real and the best Tennyson in the early lyrical and descriptive poems, "The Miller's Daughter" and the "Dream of Fair Women," and their delightful companions. Even if this were the best Tennyson, it is not the most real. In *Irt Memoriam. Annotated by the Author. London: Macmillan and Co. Os. net.] Memoriam gives us these elements too, but it gives us much more. It gives us, as all the world knows, lovely lyrics, household sayings, unforgettable phrases, imperishable pictures. But it is much more than any of its separate pieces, or its obiter dicta, felicitous as these are. What are its true meaning and message P Why has it had such extraordinary influence? Why is it historically, even if it were to cease to be generally read, the characteristic poem of its age ?
The paramount idea of the nineteenth century is evolution. Its greatest name in the realm of thought is that of Darwin. The assimilation of evolution into the scheme of religion and philosophy, accomplished only gradually and with throes and labouring, is its chief intellectual effort. Tennyson was not exactly a Darwinian before Darwin, but he was an evolutionist before Darwin. Born in the same year, they were, as it happened, though they did not know each other, exact con- temporaries at Cambridge. While Darwin at Christ's was pursuing field-botany and natural history with Professor Henslow, Tennyson at Trinity was discussing with his brother "Apostles" whether "the human body might not be traced from the radiated, vermicular, molluscous, and vertebrate organisms." And he had pursued this track and train of inquiry day by day and step by step with Arthur Hallam. This was the genesis of In Menioriam. Not merely the death of a friend or a brother-poet, as in "Lycidas" or "Adonais," or even of one who was both, as in " Thyrsis," though the last parallel comes nearest, but more than this was its source. It is difficult to realise that he was in truth what Tennyson represents him. Yet Mr. Gladstone is only one of many witnesses ; and Mr. Gladstone said at the time, and again deliberately and twice over, looking back after seventy years, that Arthur Hallam was a spirit so exceptional that lie glorified everything with which he was brought into relation ; that he was "like a passing emanation from some other and less darkly chequered world."
Even if Gladstone and Tennyson were mistaken, seldom certainly was there such a friendship. No wonder that to critics of the time it appeared extravagant and excessive. In a moment it was shattered- " God's finger touch'd.him, and he slept."
The profound and richly stored nature of the survivor was first stunned, then stirred to its very depths. What was the ultimate meaning of the stroke ? Was all over Was it, indeed, as in the Roman poet's hopeless woe, "Adieu, adieu, for evermore,"
or had either Christianity or modern science, either God or Nature, any larger hope to offer ? Tennyson had always pondered these subjects. What is life ? What is death ? Is the soul immortal ? Can love transcend the grave ? Many never care for these questions, or they cannot, or will not, think them out. Tennyson, in comparison, from first to last cared for nothing else. As the Duke of Argyll said, he was in thought habitually handling them. So now at this crisis be was like Plato when he had seen his adored master drink the fatal hemlock and go " where Orpheus and where Homer are." The philosophical problem they had so often discussed became practical, personal, poignant. In Memoriam is a veritable "fight with death," a fight to find his friend again, a fight to keep any heart of hope and faith for himself. He began falter- ingly, gropingly, gradually shaping broken and isolated songs, writing "Ulysses," "Break, break," "Fair ship that from the Italian shore," and "When Lazarus left his charnel cave." At last "he beat his music out." The songs came to him in divers places and at sundry times,—in the lanes of his own Lincolnshire or on its "high wolds," in "streaming London's central roar," by "the babbling Wye," amid the ruins and russet leaves and rain-drenched mosses of Tintern, or wafted on the ambrosial airs of Barmouth. He gave himself to science and philosophy ; he bad done so before, he made now a more methodical and systematic study. The result was that when In Memoriam at last, after seventeen years of silent polishing and perfecting, was produced, it dealt with, and to a large extent anticipated, the movement of thought indicated above, and the needs, intellectual and spiritual, of the age, and was hailed by many fine spirits as not less than the gospel they were seeking. F. W. Robertson of Brighton led the van. "To my mind and heart," he wrote, almost directly after the poem had appeared, "the most satisfactory things that have ever been said on the future state are contained In Memoriam." And again: "It is the most precious work published in this century " ; "to me it is the richest treasure I have had."
F. D. Maurice felt and said the same. Three years after its publication he dedicated his Theological Essays to Tennyson with these words I have maintained in these essays that a theology which does not correspond to the deepest thoughts and feelings of human beings cannot be a true theology. Your writings have taught me to enter into many of these thoughts and feelings." The followers of these men, notably many Nonconformist ministers, welcomed it in the same spirit. It became a sacred book, a sort of Broad Churchman's Christian Year, and the parallel was the more close because, though not following minutely the Church Calendar, it is arranged in periods and by seasons, from Christmas to Christmas.
At the same time, the scientific world more and more recognised Tennyson as a scientific poet, as Huxley said of him, speaking of In Memoriam, "the first poet since Lucretius to understand the drift of science." The more definitely ecclesiastical cared somewhat less for it. They heeded it, because they needed it, less. It has been said that In Memoriam, is not distinctively a Christian poem, that Tennyson does not preach the Christian creed. He does not, it is true, preach any formulation of dogma, however simple. Yet it is no accident that Christianity appears in a well-known canto as the "creed of creeds." All true religions, even Christianity, though they may be much more, are in a sense, and in a part of their area, natural religions. Indeed, Christianity, in so far as it most truly rests on the real needs and nature of man in the world, is the most truly a natural, as well as a revealed, religion. And the fact is, and it is the real strength of Tennyson, that underneath all his art and all his scholarship, all his science and all his philosophy, he was a great natural force, a simple, sincere, childlike nature, face to face with the realities of the universe. One of these realities to him was God. He was a vales, a seer, as well as a poet. He "endured as seeing him who is invisible."
So his greatest poetry, like the greatest of Greek poetry, indeed of all poetry, is "elemental." This quality is less well seen in In 3fentoriam, on account of its form, than in some of the simpler detached pieces. It is seen in "Break, break," in "Oh that 'twere possible," in "Crossing the Bar," and these, for that reason, are more universally understood and popular than much of In Memoriam. But there at the back of all the philosophy of In Menzoriam it is. Tennyson is a poet of Christianity approached from the side of natural religion, but not the less Christian. It is these qualities that the editor brings out in this authoritative little volume. They had already been brought out by him in the noble chapter on In Memoriam in his Life of his father. That chapter he very appropriately uses again here as an introduction to his father's notes. For they are all in the same key and spirit, and herein lies the chief importance of this book.
It is very interesting to be told where certain cantos were written and when, what is the meaning or genesis of phrases dark or allusive. But what is before all valuable is to read rightly the message of the poem as a whole. That it has a message still may be assumed. It will not speak to this generation exactly as it spoke to the last, or to the next generation as it speaks to this. That its incomparable beauty will charm and attract cannot be doubted. But more than this, while Love and Loss remain chief factors in life, while Death devastates, and Hope, nevertheless, as Dante sings, "yet wears her green," it will have its message, and that message will be conveyed more clearly for the brief explanation here added, with so much taste and reticence, by one with whom the poet's personal, immediate tradition still lives, and who tells us, as from his own lips, what is necessary for its understanding, and no more.