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CHAPTER I

TENNYSON

ONCE only in the history of our literature in verse, and once in prose, has there been seen a royal suzerainty, maintained over an entire epoch by a single writer,

to be compared to that by which Alfred Tennyson 51 has dominated Victorian poetry. The supremacy held

by Alexander Pope over his immediate contemporaries and that held by Samuel Johnson over his, were as great and far more autocratic. But in the half-century that has passed since Tennyson became Poet Laureate, his authority over poetic form has been paramount, as his superiority to all poets of the time is above question or doubt. His flower, to adopt his words of proud humility, has truly worn a crown of light.' Most writers of verse can raise the flowers now. They sow it far and wide by every town and tower. All have the seed from Alfred Tennyson. But the cynic who should call it a weed would be flayed alive, as was Marsyas by Apollo. The people, the critics, the poets with one voice continue to cry, 'Splendid is the flower!' And so say we all.

This royal prerogative enjoyed by Alfred Tennyson, in death as in life, has had some inconveniences, inherent in all royalties. It has placed him not only, as they say in French academies, hors concours-above competition, above criticism, above discussion--but

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almost above free judgment and honest understanding of his fine qualities and his true place in English poetry. No loyal subject would presume to noise abroad a true and impartial estimate of the character and endowments of a reigning sovereign. And so, it has seemed to us all unmannerly, in the nineteenth century, to discuss the poems of Tennyson with the cool freedom that will certainly be applied to them in the next and succeeding centuries. He has never been judged as we judge Byron, Shelley, Keats, or Wordsworth. Since he won his just place as the poet of the Victorian era, he has not been treated as mere poet, or citizen of the immortal Republic of Letters. He has been, like 'Mr. Pope' or 'The Doctor,' invested with a conventional autocracy, and is spoken of in the language of homage, under pain of some form of lèse-majesté. It is far too early to anticipate the judgment of our successors on the place of Tennyson in English poetry. It is not too early to speak of him with freedom and honest admiration, disdaining any spurious loyalty and the whispered humbleness which royal personages expect. To continue this still would be false homage to our glorious literature and to one of the finest poets who adorn its roll.

As Homer was for all Greece the poet, so for the second half of the nineteenth century Tennyson has been 'the Poet'-his devotees spoke of him as 'the Bard' - holding a place quite analogous to that of Hugo in France; for he and Victor both ‘darkened the wreaths of all who claimed to be their peers' in England as in France. No one denies that in England, as in France, there were men of genius who have written admirable verse. Vixere fortes cum Agamem

All men of sense feel the original genius of

none.

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