1872, 1886, 1888
Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), like other critics and reviewers, included remarks on Malory in his criticism of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Tennyson’s conception of a ‘blameless king’, he believes, vitiates the force of Malory’s version, a version that Swinburne, like Morris, Rossetti, and Burne-Jones, drew upon for artistic inspiration.
The first selection is from Under the Microscope (London: D. White, 1872), pp. 35-42. Swinburne’s remarks on the Idylls constitute a longish digression here considerably abridged. The second is from an essay, ‘Tennyson and Musset’, published in Miscellanies in 1886 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1911), pp. 248-51. The third selection is the response of the critic Richard Holt Hutton (1826-97) to Swinburne’s criticism of Tennyson’s Arthur. His essay first appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine in 1872; the extract here is from Hutton’s Literary Essays (London: Macmillan, 1888), pp. 400-7.
The lines in Greek in (a) are the concluding lines of Aeschylus’ The Libation Bearers: ‘Oh when will it work its accomplishment, when will the fury of calamity, lulled to rest, find an end and cease?’ —H.W. Smyth, Loeb Classical Library (1926).
(a) Under the Microscope
…the enemies of Tennyson…are the men who find in his collection of Arthurian idyls, —the Morte d’Albert as it might perhaps be more properly called, after the princely type to which (as he tells us with just pride) the poet has been fortunate enough to make his central figure so successfully conform, —an epic poem of profound and exalted morality. Upon this moral question I shall take leave to intercalate a few words…. It seems to me that the moral tone of the Arthurian story has been on the whole lowered and degraded by Mr. Tennyson’s mode of treatment. Wishing to