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exquisitely employed it; a Spenserian genius, nay, a genius by natural endowment, richer probably than even Spenser; ... an Elizabethan born too late." His life was short, his quantity of poetry was very small, but the quality of his poetry, of his best poetry, is of the highest order. “He would have been among the very greatest of us if he had lived," said Tennyson; "there is something of the innermost soul of poetry in almost everything he ever wrote.”
MATTHEW ARNOLD, oldest son and second child of Thomas Arnold, the famous head master of Rugby, was born at Laleham, near Staines, December 24, 1822. Dr. Thomas Arnold, himself a writer, was one of the noblest and most accomplished characters of his age, endowed with an earnestness and sincerity that made him all through his life a great force for good. Mary Penrose, Matthew Arnold's mother, the youngest daughter of the Reverend John Penrose, rector of Fledborough in Nottinghamshire, was a woman of striking beauty and unusual dignity of appearance, as well as of fine education and natural ability. Until her death Matthew kept up with her an affectionate and sympathetic correspondence. At the time of Matthew Arnold's birth his father was three years out of Oxford tutoring pupils for the University. Thomas Arnold was not appointed head master of Rugby until 1828.
If ever a man were in danger of being spoiled by overmuch education, Matthew Arnold was that man. Brought up in strictly conventional albeit high-minded environment, at school in Laleham from eight until he was fourteen, at Winchester two years, at Rugby four (1837-41), winning a scholarship at Oxford in 1840 and matriculating at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1841, Arnold ran the risk of having all of his native genius snuffed out by the powerful influences of the formal academic training. Advantageous as such training undoubtedly is in most respects, it cannot be doubted that strict academic bonds tend in many cases to cramp original impulses during a youth's most impressionable years. What Arnold might have been under different circumstances it would be rash to conjecture: we can marvel that he rose to such heights as he did.
Of his college days we know little. He had written verses even before he went to Oxford, having won a Rugby prize with a poem entitled Alaric at Rome, and at Oxford he won the New. digate prize by a poem entitled Cromwell. Neither poem is noteworthy. Among his friends at college were John, Duke Coleridge, later Lord Chief Justice, and J.C. Shairp, later Principal of United College, St. Andrew's. His quick intellect and (on the testimony of his brother) his fashionable dressing made him popular among a certain set: “His Olympian manners," writes Max Müller, “began even at Oxford; there was no harm in them, they were natural, not put on. The very sound of his voice and the wave of his arm were Jove-like.” In the final examination for classical honors Arnold was in the second class, but in the next spring (1845) he was elected to a fellowship at Oriel.
Upon leaving Oxford — he did not relish the life of a don – he taught for a short time at Rugby, then in 1847 became private secretary to Lord Lansdowne, and in 1851 received from Lord Lansdowne an appointment as Inspector of Schools. He retained this inspectorship thirty-five years, conscientiously performing the duties of the position until his resignation in 1886. In June of 1851, a few months after his appointment, he married Frances Lucy Wightman, daughter of an excellent and highly respected judge of the queen's bench, afterwards Sir William Wightman.
In the mean while Arnold had published over the initial “A.” a little volume of poems, The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems (1849). As with so many first volumes, it received no attention and was withdrawn from circulation after a few copies had been sold. The poetry-reading public, usually few in numbers, were engrossed in the rising fame of Tennyson and Browning or looked back to the best work of the still-living Wordsworth and Rogers. The poems themselves in this little volume, including The Strayed Rereller, Mycerinus The Sick King in Bokhara,
The Forsaken Merman, and Resignation, deserved recognition: in later years all but one were reprinted and they are part of the standard editions of Arnold to-day.
Three years later (1852) when he was a man of thirty, Arnold's second volume of verse was published, Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems, by “A.” The reception of this volume was as unsatisfactory as that of the first, although it contained besides the Empedocles, Tristam and Iseult, A Summer Night, On the Rhine, Absence, The Buried Life, Stanzas in Memory of the Author of Obermann, and Lines Written in Kensington Gardens. Before fifty copies had been sold, this volume was, like the first, withdrawn.
Arnold had, however, found himself as a poet, and the next year (1853) he published a new volume, containing a republication of many poems of previous volumes, adding a number of new pieces, and subscribing for the first time his own name on the title-page — “Poems by Matthew Arnold, a new edition.” Among the new pieces which first appeared in this 1853 volume were Sohrab and Rustum, Requiescat, and The Scholar Gipsy. In 1855 was published Poems by Matthew Arnold, second series, containing only two new poems, Balder Dead, and Separation.
With the publication of the 1853 volume and its successor in 1855, Arnold's reputation became established. The excellent critical preface to the former volume had attracted attention, too, by its clear enunciation of sound principles of his art. The practical recognition of his position came in the form of his election in 1857 to the professorship of poetry at Oxford.
Arnold held this professorship for a decade, but during that time did not identify himself especially with the University life. He did not care for the title “Professor" and did not reside at Oxford: he delivered a few lectures, enjoyed the remuneration (less than one hundred pounds a year), and published a little additional poetry. In 1858, when he entered upon the position, he published his tragedy, Merope, but the cold, frigid, reflective style made this a failure. The lyric inspiration came to him more and more seldom as the years went by. In November of 1857, he wrote Rugby Chapel; in 1859, A Southern Night; in 1861, Thyrsis (on the death of his friend Clough); and in 1881, Westminster Abbey (on the death of Dean Stanley).
With the decrease of inspirational poetry, however, came a notable flow of reflective criticism. The publication of certain of the lectures delivered at Oxford insured him a high place as a brilliant and subtle critic. On Translating Homer appeared first in 1861, and on the Study of Celtic Literature in 1867.
His official duties as Inspector of Schools continued through these years. Although the routine of the work at times wearied him, he devoted much of his best energies to the work. He welcomed his assignments to study the educational systems of continental countries and his reports Popular Education of France, with Notices of that of Holland and Switzerland (1861), On Secondary Education in Foreign Countries (1866) show how thoroughly he exerted himself in his duties. His fame as poet and critic lead us now to forget the thirty-five years of steady routine toil in the educational work of the kingdom.
Arnold's work in reflective criticism continued during these years. His powers were well shown in the series, Essays in Criticism, published in 1865 and in Culture and Anarchy in 1869. Here he attacked the stolid English “philistine" indifference to ideas in the realms of literature, politics, and religion. Between 1870 and 1877 he produced a number of essays on religion St. Paul and Protestantism (1870), Literature and Dogma (1873), God and the Bible (1875), and Last Essays on Church and Religion (1877). His interest in poetry continued, though he wrote little himself, and he edited some of Johnson's “Lives," Selections from Wordsworth (1879), Selections from Byron (1881), and wrote the general introduction to Ward's selections from The English Poets. In 1883 his literary eminence was rewarded by a pension of two hundred and fifty pounds a year from the Civil List, upon the receipt of which he retired from his inspectorship.
Of Arnold's private life we know very little. He discouraged all efforts to gain biographical material. His married life was continuously happy, and his affection for his family peculiarly tender and sweet. The satire with which he attacked the lethargic philistine of his own times exposed him to charges of snobbery and priggishness, but his friends have recorded touchingly their evidence to his purity and gentleness of character. “I believe that a more blameless, nay. a more admirable, man in every relation never lived. He was one of the noblest and most perfect characters I have ever known, and I have known him sixty years," wrote Lord Coleridge. “Certain it is that Mr. Arnold's superiority of mien gave offense in some directions, appearing to be regarded as a kind of involuntary criticism. In addition to this, his lofty mental attitude and gravity of demeanor were by some felt to be oppressive, and were misconstrued as pride. Yet proud, in a narrow and selfish sense, Arnold was not. His nature, full of dignity, was yet gentle and singularly sweet, and his interest in the masses was sympathetic and sincere," wrote Florence Earl Coates.
Arnold's end came suddenly and with no warning. His general health had always been good, though his physicians had warned him of hereditary weakness of the heart. April 15, 1888, he was at Liverpool with his wife, planning to meet his daughter as she landed from the steamer. He ran to catch a car, the exertion brought on heart failure, and he died at once.
Arnold never gave in his poetry the impression of being divinely inspired to write. In all his poetical work we can find nothing hastily thrown off in the heat of emotion. He was not endowed with that fine frenzy of which we hear so much. And yet, the quiet, calm, restrained poetry appeals to us. The dignity of the man, the highly cultivated soul of him, shows through the clear direct verse. His poetry is academic, it is true, it smells of the lamp, but it still has a charm. The refinement of language, the subtlety and discrimination of taste, the perfection of form, the reflective spirit, all combine to insure for Matthew Arnold a certain immortality in the minds of lovers of poetry.
It is safe to prophesy that in the perspective of the history of English poetry Tennyson will stand out above his contemporaries as the representative poet of his age. His life compasses all but a few years of the nineteenth century; his work has appealed not to a clique or a restricted circle, but to all classes of readers; his ideals, feelings, and instincts are, more than those of any other poet of the century, typical of the conventional gentleman of his time. New and startling ideas or expressions we seldom find in Tennyson, but we do find a full expression of the mental, emotional, and spiritual life of his contemporaries.
The incidents of his life are in no way sensational. He was always a quiet, retiring man, deeply devoted to his family, and, even in the days of his greatest fame, sincerely desirous of avoiding attention. He has been called unsocial, perhaps because he shunned notoriety. When his house had become the mecca of enthusiasts, he preferred to flee to the secluded parts of his land to escape their attention. He used to show to a favored few the tree overhanging his garden which Americans climbed to get a glimpse of him in his walks. He was in a rage at girls who sought his autographs. And yet, friend after friend has testified to the genial cordiality and simplicity of his conversation among his intimates. He got along splendidly with crusty Carlyle, he was devoted to FitzGerald, and his In Memoriam reveals better than any words can describe the positive passion of friendship of which he was capable.
Alfred Tennyson, the fourth of the twelve children of the Reverend George Tennyson, was born at Somersby, Lincolnshire, August 6, 1809. His father was rector of the parish, a man of more than usual ability, a linguist, with some talent in poetry, in painting, and in music. His mother, Elizabeth Fytche, the daughter of a clergyman, was noted about the countryside for her kindness of heart: “The wicked inhabitants of a neighboring village used to bring their dogs to her windows and beat them in order to be bribed to leave off by the gentle lady, or to make advantageous bargains by selling her the worthless curs."
The family life was unusually happy. The twelve children grew up in this remote village and invented for themselves romantic games. “The boys played great games, like Arthur's knights; they were champions and warriors defending a stone heap; or, again, they would set up opposing camps with a king in the midst of each. ... When dinner-time came, and they all sat around the table, each in turn put a chapter of his history underneath the potato-bowl, – long endless histories, chapter after chapter, diffuse, absorbing, unending, as are the stories of real life of which each sunrise opens on a new part.” 1
Tennyson's education was begun at Louth Grammar School, where he remained five years between 1815 and 1820, and continued under his father's tuition at Somersby until he was ready for college. His school life at Louth was always a black remembrance to him, — “How I did hate that school,” he once said later, — but his years at home were peculiarly valuable. Not only did he profit by his father's direction of his studies, but by his access to the large, wellselected library and by the leisure to indulge his tastes. He had already shown a bent for poetry. His juvenile poems reveal an unusual excellence. In 1827, while he was still studying at home, a little volume entitled Poems by Two Brothers contained the verse of Alfred and Charles Tenny. son. The poems were brought out anonymously and received little attention.
In February of 1828 the “Two Brothers" matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge. At first shy and without friends, they gradually became intimate with a little group of their fellows, including Richard Trench (later Archbishop of Dublin), James Spedding, Edward FitzGerald, Frederick Maurice (later the great liberal preacher), and Arthur Hallam. Alfred was looked upon already by these friends as a young poet of promise. In 1829 he won the Chancellor's prize medal by a poem entitled Timbuctoo, the first instance of the winning of this prize by a poem in blank verse. A year later he published a volume, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, which revealed by such lyrics as Mariana, The Poet, Oriana a mastery of melody and sincere love of beauty through occasional crudities of metrical construction (as in Madeline and Adeline).
A peculiar break in Tennyson's life was his enlistment (1830) with Hallam in the cause of the Spanish insurgents under Torrijos. His short campaign in Spain, unrelieved by the excitement of meeting an enemy, left upon him a lasting love for the Pyrenees. In the valley of Canterety he wrote part of the supremely beautiful Enone.
In 1831, Tennyson, at the news of his father's serious illness, left Cambridge without taking his degree and returned to Somersby. A few days after his return his father died. The Tennysons continued to live at the rectory, however, for six years more, Alfred remaining there absorbed in his work. At the end of 1832 appeared his new volume, simply entitled Poems, containing a number of the lyrical masterpieces, as The Lady of Shalott, Enone, and The Lotos Eaters, upon which Tennyson's fame rests. In this volume the true poet was at his best. Unhappily his genius was not recognized by the reviewers and he suffered, as had so many of his predecessors, from a savage attack in the Quarterly. Tennyson, always acutely sensitive to adverse criticism, was literally overwhelmed and, had it not been for the entreaties of his friends, might indeed have abandoned poetry entirely. For ten years thereafter he published nothing.
A great sorrow came to Tennyson in September of 1833 by the sudden death of Arthur Hallam. Combined with the Quarterly attack, this loss affected his health. He lost much of the robust strength which had been his and retired more and more into the seclusion of his own thoughts. He tried to grow hardened and indifferent to popular fame, and devoted himself heart and soul to the perfection of his poetry. In the next few years he wrote some of his finest verse and meditated long over the beginnings of In Memoriam and Idylls of the King.
Tennyson's popular fame dates from the two-volume edition of Poems with which in 1842 he broke his ten-years' silence. Together with many of his former lyrics revised, this collection included a number of the popular studies of English home-life, as The Gardener's Daughter and The Lord of Burleigh, as well as a more enduring class of poems like Ulysses, Locksley Hall, Sir Galahad, and Morte d'Arthur. The poems took the fancy of all classes, and Tennyson received what his son has called a “chorus of favorable reviews.” The effect of his success upon Tennyson himself was immeasurable. Although his finances were low and his hopes of gaining a sufficient livelihood by his poems still might seem small, all idea of doing anything else was henceforth out of the question. The applause of the multitude and of the critics, however much
· Mrs. Ritchie, Records of Tennyson, Ruskin, Browning.
he may have thought he had steeled himself to indifference, reacted most favorably upon
The 1842 volume won for him the friendship of those few rare souls with whom he was best fitted to commune. His old friends, Spedding, Trench, Milnes, and the rest always continued his friends, but he became well known in a wider circle. “I saw Tennyson, when I was in London, several times. He is decidedly the first of our living poets, and I hope will live to give the world still better things," wrote Wordsworth in 1845. And Carlyle testified his admiration and devotion: in a letter to Emerson in 1844 he wrote: “Alfred is one of the few British or Foreign Figures (a not increasing number I think!) who are and remain beautiful to me; - a true human soul, or some authentic approximation thereto, to whom your own soul can say, Brother!... One of the finest-looking men in the world. A great shock of rough dusty-dark hair; brightlaughing hazel eyes; massive aquiline face, most massive yet most delicate; of sallow-brown complexion, almost Indian-looking; clothes cynically loose, free-and-easy; - smokes infinite tobacco. His voice is musical metallic, — fit for loud laughter and piercing wail, and all that may lie between; I do not meet, in these late decades, such company over a pipe.”
By an unhappy investment Tennyson was reduced to poverty a few years after his 1842 volume had won such general recognition of worth, but this poverty was relieved in 1845 by a government pension of two hundred pounds a year. After that time his poetry, too, began to bring him in a moderate income, so that thenceforth the poet, though never a very wealthy man, was without financial worries.
In 1850 he married Emily Sellwood, to whom he had been long engaged. The alliance was ideally happy: “The peace of God came into my life before the altar when I married her," he said long afterwards. Tennyson's son bears witness to her loving devotion to her husband:“It was she who became my father's adviser in literary matters. 'I am proud of her intellect,' he wrote. With her he always discussed what he was working at; she transcribed his poems: to her, and to no one else, he referred for a final criticism before publishing. She, with her 'tender spiritual nature' and instinctive nobility of thought, was always by his side, a ready, cheerful, courageous, wise, and sympathetic counsellor.”
In November of 1850, after the death of Wordsworth, Tennyson's position in contemporary poetry was recognized by his appointment to the laureateship. It is said that Lord Russell submitted to the queen the names of Professor Wilson, Henry Taylor, Sheridan Knowles, and Tennyson, and that Victoria was influenced in her choice of Tennyson by the admiration which the prince consort expressed for In Memoriam. In view of the subsequent fame of the various candidates, any other choice would have seemed absurd. Tennyson himself complained that his accession brought upon him “such shoals of poems that I am almost crazed with them; the two hundred million poets of Great Britain deluge me daily. Truly the Laureateship is no sinecure."
Outside of the publication of his successive volumes of poems his subsequent years of life were without noteworthy incident. In 1851 he made a trip to Italy and in 1853 he leased a little house and farm called Farringford, near the town of Freshwater, in the Isle of Wight. Later he bought this property, where he lived quietly for fourteen years. His constantly growing fame attracted such crowds of sight-seers that in 1867 he reluctantly left Farringford for a little estate near Haslemere where he built a country house called Aldworth. He was offered a baronetcy by Gladstone in 1873 and by Disraeli in 1874, but it was not until ten years later that he was prevailed upon to accept the honor — "For my own part,” said he, “I shall regret my simple name all my life.” March 11, 1884, he took his seat in the House of Lords as the first Baron Tennyson of Aldworth and Farringford. His health began to fail in his eighty-fourth year, although his mind remained clear to the end. He died peacefully at his home, Aldworth, October 6, 1892. He was buried with great ceremony in Westminster Abbey, October 12.
During these many years without noteworthy incident, his poetic faculty had been continuously exerted. A mere record of his productions will serve to show his industry and the high quality of his work: The Princess (1847); In Memoriam (1850); Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington (1852); Maud and Other Poems (1855); 2d edition revised and enlarged (1856); Idylls