Anglo-American Antiphony: The Late Romanticism of Tennyson and Emerson

By Richard E. Brantley | Go to book overview
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THREE
Evangelical Principles

The deeply inward yet outwardly directed and inquiring expression of faith that Tennyson features in the otherwise scientifically focused section 124 of In Memoriam is matched in other passages of the poem by the elegist's emphasis on spiritual experience as the complement to natural experience. Neither from the expatiating astronomy of section 124 nor from its incisive biology would any personally efficacious discovery of the divine appear to emerge, for Tennyson declares that "I found Him not in world or sun, / Or eagle's wing, or insect's eye" (124.5-6). These lines, after all, undercut the bumper-sticker mentality of "I found Him!" However, while thus giving vent to doubts worthy of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" ( 1867), Tennyson's persona overcomes his doubt and, despite his grief over the death of Hallam, affirms his personal experience of religious discovery:

If e'er when faith had fallen asleep,
I heard a voice, "believe no more,"
And heard an ever-breaking shore
That tumbled in the Godless deep,

A warmth within the breast would melt
The freezing reason's colder part,
And like a man in wrath the heart
Stood up and answer'd, "I have felt."

(124.9-16)

These lines, echoing the experience of John Wesley in Aldersgate Street, London, where, "at a quarter to nine" on the evening of May 24, 1738, the founder of Methodism's "heart" was "strangely warmed,"1 are more than a

-51-

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