Tennyson

Tennyson

Tennyson

Tennyson

Excerpt

TAINE'S Histoire de la Littérature Anglaise (1863-4), often erratic, yet always lively with ideas, finds its climax and its end in a contrast that is still vivid, between England and France, Tennyson and Alfred de Musset. First, Taine lands us 'at Newhaven or Dover', and leads us through the rolling greenness of the English countryside, its grey medieval towers, its comfortable manors and villas -- homes of a healthy, practical, cultivated gentry, with their gracious, balanced womenfolk, their demure, whiteshouldered daughters. Such was the land, such the public, of Tennyson.

Then Taine wheels back southward on Calais, and whirls us towards Paris. Here, too, there unfolds a countryside almost as green, dotted likewise, though less lavishly, with affluent country houses; yet here in France the provinces remain dominated by Paris, 'like a snail led by a butterfly'. And Paris? A glare of lights that fall garishly on jostling boulevard, grey faubourg, squalid alley; on pallid faces in salon or café, tense with the strain of a fevered restlessness. And yet what a vibration of ideas, what gay, unflinching, uninhibited discussion of all life's values and all life's riddles! Such is the world where Alfred de Musset once loved and agonized -- far less happy, Taine admits, than 'that other poet in the Isle of Wight, among his roses and honeysuckles'. Yet no matter. Musset was not, like Tennyson, 'content to taste and enjoy; he stamped his mark on human thought . . . He tore, despairing, from his entrails the idea he had conceived, and held it up before mankind, bleeding, but alive . . . The world that listened to Tennyson is of more worth than our aristocracy of bourgeois and Bohemians: but I love Alfred de Musset better than Tennyson.'

Matthew Arnold, who was a little apt to inspect poets, as he inspected schools, for their educational value, took a . . .

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