The Pre-Eminent Victorian: A Study of Tennyson

By Joanna Richardson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT
SPECTRES IN THE DARKNESS

AT the end of 1885, Tennyson published Tiresias and Other Poems. It was dedicated, affectionately, 'to my good friend Robert Browning'. The title-poem told of the prophet who looked, by chance, on Pallas Athene, the naked Goddess of Wisdom, and was stricken with the double curse of blindness and unheeded prophecy. The most interesting poem was undoubtedly The Ancient Sage (much admired by Jowett), in which Tennyson reaffirmed the faith expressed in In Memoriam: that neither the existence of a divine purpose, nor the reality of personality, nor freedom of will, nor immortality could be proved or disproved by human reason. Wisdom lay in faith beyond the forms of faith. Man had his own intimations of immortality:

A breath, a whisper -- some divine farewell --
Desolate sweetness -- far and far away,

and all human fears and sorrows came from the limitations of the human senses. Men were ghosts, who, 'watching from a phantom shore',

Await the last and largest sense to make
The phantom walls of this illusion fade
And shew us that the world is wholly fair.

In Vastness, which appeared almost simultaneously with his new volume, in Macmillan's Magazine, Tennyson repeated another belief he had sketched in In Memoriam: that the reality of self, the reality of love were the surest proofs of immortality, and that without them life would be unbearable. Now, more than fifty years after the catastrophe in Vienna, he still evinced his belief in immortality through his love for Arthur Hallam:

What the philosophies, all the sciences, poesy, varying voices
of prayer?
All that is noblest, all that is basest, all that is filthy with all
that is fair?

-232-

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