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IRISH QUARTERLY REVIEW.
No. XIX.-SEPTEMBER, 1855.
ART. I.-TENNYSON AND HIS "MAUD." Maud, and Other Poems. By Alfred Tennyson, D.C.L., Poet Laureate. London: Moxon. 1855.
Five-and-twenty years ago Effingham Wilson published a volume of poems for a young man then in College: he was only known as the son of a clergyman down in the country; and he bore the name of Alfred Tennyson. It was an odd book, full of genius, thought, new coined words, and those mental gymnastics known as esthetic ideas. With great, and grave follies it combined the deepest and truest spirit of Poetry. Critics praised and abused; lectured and suggested; in one page "flooring" the poet, in the next "backing him up" well to the public; but in all phases of criticism admitting his genius, even whilst regretting his wayward fancies.
A second volume appeared in the year 1832, and this was marked by many of the characteristics of the earlier publication; but the working of a mind, striving to achieve a perfect poem was evident; and again the critics blamed, and praised, and petted, and all but spoiled the poet.
Ten years passed on, and the mind of the young student grew with these years, in force and strength. All these years he lived for poesy, and in studying the fair proportions of his idol he learned to know how stilted, how cold, how artificial were the offerings with which, in his early days of poetic adoration, he had decked her shrine.
Ten years of thought; of study; of whole-heart devotion to any pursuit must produce results marked and patent, even where men are less gifted than Alfred Tennyson; and when,
VOL. V.-NO. XIX.
in 1842, Moxon, that poet-publisher for poets, issued the two volumes of Poems, now in the hands of all; the author's mind seemed to have acquired the strength and sustaining power which make the poem immortal, and the poet a demi-god. The books showed that the poetic wild-oats of youthful fancy were sown; The Lady of Shalott was gravely dressed; The Lotus-Eaters was touched and re-touched, and was all the more rich in its dreamy loveliness for the changes; in The Miller's Daughter, the charming Miller's Daughter, the lover's mother was introduced, but these following verses were omitted, and we think not justly:
"Remember you the clear moonlight
I heard, as I have seem'd to hear
But though the poet's mind was there in all the glory of its power and magic charms, yet still the besetting fault, dreaming oddity of fancy was present, and none could say, "Tennyson is a great poet" it was not that he-" nodded," he slept, he snored, and in his slumbers strange contortions and twinings half amused, half disgusted, the astonished, wondering, admiring reader.
The Princess came next; then, In Memoriam, and now we have Maud, and other Poems,-would we had never seen this latter.
What is the true characteristic of genuine poetry? Its power of reaching, exciting, and enthralling every heart. What' is the characteristic of Maud? Maudlin semi-insanity; words meaning nothing worth remembering; and a disjointed tale of love and blood, to be discovered after close and laborious application to the text, omitting the various gasps and gaps of passionate prose run mad which intervene.
But what is Maud? Is it a medley? a dramatic poem? We confess we do not know what to call it ; and as to its outbursts of passion, they are precisely such as Sim Tappertit might, in his bloody-minded moments, have addressed to Miss Miggs. It is not a poem worthy the author of the Miller's Daughter, of Locksley Hall, of Oriana, or of the other exquisite pieces that have rendered Tennyson the poet of the time. Readers have paused in wonder at many a weak and unworthy
passage in The Princess aud in In Memoriam, but if this Maud, or any other poem contained in this volume, is to be considered as the latest specimen of the Laureate's best style, readers will quickly discover that the fancy and imagery of Alexander Smith, and the wild pathos, the deep-hearted poetry of Gerald Massey, are truer, and nobler, and worthier sources of pride to the Nation, than the weak affectations which disfigure the poem now before us.
If poetry consisted in exciting horror; if it were allowable to astonish the reader by a series of disjointed episodes; if a poet could support his reputation by the occasional introduction of a few lines reminding one of his higher productions in earlier and more ambitious days, one might consider Maud a thirdrate composition; but, as these things are not allowable, Maud must be looked upon gently, for the sake of the pleasant hours its author has given us in times of truer inspiration.
Well, asks the reader, what is Maud, and what is the story? Reader, Maud opens with blood, thus:
I hate the dreadful hollow behind the little wood,
Its lips in the field above are dabbled with blood-red heath,
For there in the ghastly pit long since a body was found,
After this introduction we have some lines in the true Tennysonian style, abusing this our age: then, with a recollection of Doctor Hassell, and the Adulteration of Food Committee, the author thus writes, and one can fancy that he is versifying the police reports of the cheap Sunday papers:
Peace sitting under her olive, and slurring the days gone by,
When the poor are hovell'd and hustled together, each sex, like swine,
And the vitriol madness flushes up in the ruffian's head,
And Sleep must lie down arm'd, for the villainous centre-bits
When a Mammonite mother kills her babe for a burial fee,
For I trust if an enemy's fleet came yonder round by the hill,
And the rushing battle-bolt sang from the three-decker out of the foam."
Having thus disposed of the times, Tennyson, with some rhyme, but no reason, thus abruptly introduces Maud :
There are workmen up at the Hall: they are coming back from abroad,
I have heard, I know not whence, of the singular beauty of Mand,
I play'd with the girl when a child; she promised then to be fair.
Maud with her venturous climbings and tumbles and childish escapes,
What is she now? My dreams are bad. She may bring me a curse.
Thanks, for the fiend best knows whether woman or man be the worse.
At length Maud arrives at the village, and the hero being "round the corner" along with all the bumpkins, catches a glimpse of her "sensitive nose," and going home he thus pours out his feelings:
Long have I sigh'd for a calm: God grant I may find it at last!
Dead perfection, no more; nothing more, if it had not been
Or an underlip, you may call it a little too ripe, too full,
Or the least little delicate aquiline curve in a sensitive nose,
The "sensitive nose" appears to have acted upon the mind of the lover with an "Unfortunate Miss Bailey, Giles Scroggins, and Ghost of a Grim Scrag of Mutton, combined power, and Tennyson, thus, not forgetting his never failing "Orion" describes his restless condition :
Cold and clear cut face, why come you so cruelly meek,
He meets Maud "as she rode by on the moor;" she flushes with pride at his salutation, and having told himself that she
is a "milkwhite fawn," and "all unmeet for a wife," that she has "wandered about at her will," he adds, prettily"You have but fed on the roses, and lain in the lilies of life."
Let the reader bear in mind that these lines above quoted are from the pen of Alfred Tennyson: the man of all others in these Kingdoms from whom one might expect taste and feeling. Who could believe that the writer of The Miller's Daughter was able to indite this nonsense. We have heard Tennyson called thoughtful and philosophic, like Wordsworth; fanciful as Coleridge; pathetic, yet strong, as Crabbe. But is this like Wordsworth, or Coleridge, or Crabbe?
Maud's brother appears to have excited the lover's anger; Sim writes ;
"That dandy-despot, he,
That jewell'd mass of millinery,
Tappertit is found trespassing by the brother, and angry at being so discovered, he thus describes him, and he reminds us of a saying of Charles Lamb-we paint our enemies so unflatteringly that no body knows them. There is a curious problem in obstetrics and physiology suggested towards the end of this extract, in which it is stated that Maud is "only the child of her mother."
Scorn'd, to be scorn'd by one that I scorn,
And six feet two, as I think, he stands;
Who shall call me ungentle, unfair,
Why sits he here in his father's chair?
Scarcely, now, would I call him a cheat;
Made her only the child of her mother,
upon a lonely moor he sees his mistress ride, and by her side her brother and a
"new made lord, splendour plucks
The slavish hat from the villager's head."