« ПретходнаНастави »
so, in some important respects, do our own contem. porary poets. Each represents a class of character which is the counterpart of the other. Each reminds us of truths, which, if we listened to the other alone, we should be not unlikely to forget.
Criticism commonly occupies itself, when surveying the works of any particular artist, either with a study of his peculiar powers, instincts, and aptitudes; or a study of the subjects, towards which, by blind attraction or deliberate choice, he turns; or a study of that fine effluence of the whole artistic nature which can hardly be analysed, and which we call style. The method which M. Sainte-Beuve pursues in his essay on Mathurin Regnier, and André Chénier is different: "Taking successively the four or five great elementary themes of all poetry—God, nature, genius, art, love, human life-let us see how they revealed themselves to the two men we are now studying, and under what aspects they endeavoured to re-produce them.” Such is the method pursued in the essay by M. Sainte-Beuve, and it enables one to surprise and lay hold of some characteristics of an artist which escape the other methods. In applying it, however, as I propose to do, it is well to begin with an explanation.
We are about to study a portion of what may be termed the philosophy of a poet; we are about to consider him as a thinker; but let it be observed, as a thinker, who is in the first place an artist. Now the conclusions of all men on those subjects which chiefly occupy the artist-on God and nature, and
our relations to them—on human character and life, and the struggle of will and circumstances, are the result of much besides pure logic. The very materials of thought which this or that man possesses on such subjects, are dependent, in a great degree, on his moral temperament and emotional tendencies. And the processes also by which those materials are dealt with, and shaped, and turned out by the intellect, depend hardly less on the character of the individual, and his habitual trains of feeling. This holds good for every man. Prove to me by one hundred syllogisms that there is a human duty called reverence, co-ordinate with a duty which directs me to reform what is established ; if my nature is of a passionate ardent kind, the conclusion of your syllogisms will grow dim and fade out my consciousness; the reforming impulse will again and again break over until it quite submerges the conservative principle. It is true of every man that his nature is a living organism, each function of which is affected by all the others; our very physical sensibility may be suspended by an intense act of thought or passionate feeling. But this is true in a special degree of the artist. An idea which obscurely rests upon an emotion, has as secure a place in his nature as any thought which in the mind of another man is elaborated in the understanding. And from every thought in him springs readily an emotion. He works at his best, as Novalis has said, only when “he can put all his powers into a reciprocally quickening activity, and hold them therein.” If, therefore, I speak of Mr. Browning or Mr. Tennyson as a thinker, let it be remembered, that it is as a sensitive, imaginative, emotional thinker.
Let us start in our study—a very partial study— with what may be an assumption for the present, but an assumption which will lead to its own verification. Let us start by saying that Mr. Tennyson has a strong feeling for the dignity and efficiency of law—of law understood in its widest sense. “All things that are have some operation, not violent nor casual; nor doth anything ever begin to exercise the same without some fore-conceived end for which it worketh. And the end which it worketh for is not obtained unless the work be also fit to obtain it by; for unto every end, every operation will not serve. That which doth assign unto each the kind—that which doth moderate the force and power—that which doth appoint the form and measure of working, the same we term ‘Law.'” I quote the definition of Hooker, because, though Mr. Tennyson has imbibed the modern spirit in a large degree, and that with reference to external nature, and the scientific method of approaching it, the heart and imagination of the poet will not permit him to consider a law of nature as simply a generalized expression of facts; he continues to regard it as an invisible power controlling and guiding the operations of things.
Under what aspect is the relation of the world and of man to God represented in the poems of Mr. Tennyson ? Surely, one who feels so strongly the presence of law in the physical world, and who recognizes so fully the struggle in the moral nature of
man between impulse and duty, assigning to conscience a supreme place, has the best materials for a vivid feeling of the personal relation of God to His creatures ? I do not believe so. It is quite possible to admit in one's thoughts and feelings the existence of a physical order of the material world, and a moral order of the spiritual world, and yet to enter slightly into those intimate relations of the affections with a Divine Being, which reveal Him in the tenderest way—as a Father, as a highest Friend. Fichte, the sublime idealist, was withheld from seeing God by no obtruding veil of a material universe. Fichte, if any man ever did, recognized the moral order of the world. But Fichte annihilated his own personality and that of God in the infinity of this moral order. No: it is not law but will that reveals will ; it is not our strength but our weakness which discovers the invisible Helper and Friend; it is not our sufficiencies but our needs; it is the desire of self-surrender, the grief which makes desolate, the solitary rapture which requires a sharer in its excess, the high delight which must save itself from as deep dejection by a transition into gratitude.
Accordingly, although we find the idea of God entering largely into the poems of Mr. Tennyson, there is not much recognition of what is called perhaps unfortunately called—His personal character. There is a tendency to rest in the orderly manifestation of God, as the supreme Law-giver, and even to identify Him (for the feelings though it may not be for the intellect) with His presentation of Himself in the physical and moral order of the universe. And if this precludes all religious or spiritual ecstacy, such as the belief in a sudden and special approach of God is likely to occasion, it preserves the mind from despair or any profound dejection; unless, indeed, the faith in this order itself gives way, when in the universal chaos, no will capable of bringing restoration being present, a confusion of mind wilder than any other must appear. Mr. Tennyson has represented the feminine and masculine religious spirit (with purity for its central moral quality) in two pieces placed side by side in his collected poems—St. Agnes' Eve, and Sir Galahad ; and he has represented them with remarkable truth and ability. But I cannot remember any approach to that rapture of mind which the advent of God produces, among Mr. Tennyson's personal confessions, (naturally as we might expect there to find such a mood of mind,) unless it be one, and that one is an imagined possibility in the passionate parting of two loving souls (a parting full of the joy and grief and glory of self-abandonment) should the personalities of all men be finally remerged in the Supreme Being.
[Love] seeks at least
Before the spirits fade away,
"Farewell! We lose ourselves in light." » On the other hand, as has been said, Mr. Tennyson's sense of a beneficent order of the world lifts him through and over the common dejections of man.