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contributions which German Kant and Fichte and Schelling and Hegel have bequeath'd to humanity - and which English Darwin has also in his field -- are indispensable to the erudition of America's future, I should say that in all of them, and the best of them, when compared with the lightning flashes and fights of the old prophets and exaltés, the spiritual poets and poetry of all lands, (as in the Hebrew Bible, there seems to be, nay certainly is, something lacking — something cold, a failure to satisfy the deepest emotions of the soul a want of living glow, fondness, warmth, which the old exaltés and poets supply, and which the keenest modern philosophers so far do not. Upon the whole, and for our purposes, this man's name certainly belongs on the list with the just-specified, firstclass moral physicians of our current and with Emerson and two or three others — though his prescription is drastic, and perhaps destructive, while theirs is assimilating, normal and tonic. Feudal at the core, and mental offspring and radiation of feudalism as are his books, they afford ever-valuable lessons and affinities to democratic America. Nations or individuals, we surely learn deepest from unlikeness, from a sincere opponent, from the light thrown even scornfully on dangerous spots and liabilities. (Michel Angelo invoked heaven's special protection against his friends and affectionate Aatterers; palpable foes he could manage for himself.) In many particulars Carlyle was indeed, as Froude terms him, one of those far-off Hebraic utterers, a new Micah or Habakkuk. His words at times bubble forth with abysmic inspiration. Always precious, such men; as precious now as any time. His rude, rasping, taunting, contradictory tones
what ones more wanted amid the supple, polish'd, money-worshipping, Jesus-and-Judas-equalizing, suffrage-sovereignty echoes of current America ? He has lit up our Nineteenth century with the light of a powerful, penetrating, and perfectly honest intellect of the first class, turn’d on British and European politics, social life, literature, and representative personages -- thoroughly dissatisfied with all, and merci
lessly exposing the illness of all. But while he announces the malady, and scolds and raves about it, he, himself, born and bred in the same atmosphere, is a mark'd illustration of it. A WORD ABOUT TENNYSON
Let me assume to pass verdict, or perhaps momentary judgment, for the United States on this poet - a remov'd and distant position giving some advantages over a nigh one. What is Tennyson's service to his race, times, and especially to America ? First, I should say — or at least not forget - his personal character. He is not to be mention'd as a rugged, evolutionary, aboriginal force — but (and a great lesson is in it) he has been consistent throughout with the native, healthy, patriotic spinal element and promptings of himself. His moral line is local and conventional, but it is vital and genuine. He reflects the uppercrust of his time, its pale cast of thought — even its ennui. Then the simile of my friend John Burroughs is entirely true, “his glove is a glove of silk, but the hand is a hand of iron.” He shows how one can be a royal laureate, quite elegant and “ aristocratic," and a little queer and affected, at the same time perfectly manly and natural. As to his non-democracy, it fits him well, and I like him the better for it. I guess we all like to have (I am sure I do) some one who presents those sides of a thought, or possibility, different from our own — different and yet with a sort of home-likeness a tartness and contradiction offsetting the theory as we view it, and construed from tastes and proclivities not at all his own. To me, Tennyson shows more than any poet I know (perhaps has been a warning to me) how much there is in finest verbalism. There is such a latent charm in mere words, cunning collocutions, and in the voice ringing them, which he has caught and brought out, beyond all others as in the line.
And hollow, hollow, hollow, all delight,
in “The Passing of Arthur,” and evidenced in “The
Lady of Shalott,” “ The Deserted House," and many other pieces. Among the best (I often linger over them again and again) are “ Lucretius,” “The Lotus Eaters,” and " The Northern Farmer.” His mannerism is great, but it is a noble and welcome mannerism. His very best work, to me, is contain'd in the books of “The Idylls of the King,” and all that has grown out of them. Though indeed we could spare nothing of Tennyson, however small or however peculiar -- not “Break, Break," nor “ Flower in the Crannied Wall,” nor the old, eternally-told passion of “ Edward Gray”:
Love may come and love may go,
And fly like a bird from tree to tree.
Till Ellen Adair come back to me.
Yes, Alfred Tennyson's is a superb character, and will help give illustriousness, through the long roll of time, to our Nineteenth Century. In its bunch of orbic names, shining like a constellation of stars, his will be one of the brightest. His very faults, doubts, swervings, doublings upon himself, have been typical of our age. We are like the voyagers of a ship, casting off for new seas, distant shores. We would still dwell in the old suffocating and dead haunts, remembering and magnifying their pleasant experiences only, and more than once impelld to jump ashore before it is too late, and stay where our fathers stay'd, and live as they lived. May-be I am non-literary and non-decorous (let me at least be human, and pay part of my debt) in this word about Tennyson. I want him to realize that here is a great and ardent Nation that absorbs his songs, and has a respect and affection for him personally, as almost for no other foreigner. I want this word to go to the old man at Farringford as conveying no more than the simple truth; and that truth (a little Christmas gift) no slight one either. I have written impromptu, and shall let it all go at that. The readers of more than fifty millions of people in the
New World not only owe to him some of their most agreeable and harmless and healthy hours, but he has enter'd into the formative influences of character here, not only in the Atlantic cities, but inland and far West, out in Missouri, in Kansas, and away in Oregon, in farmer's house and miner's cabin. Best thanks, anyhow, to Alfred Tennyson — thanks and appreciation in America's name. EDGAR POE'S SIGNIFICANCE
By its popular poets the calibres of an age, the weak spots of its embankments, its sub-currents, (often more significant than the biggest surface ones,) are unerringly indicated. The lush and the weird that have taken such extraordinary possession of Nineteenth century verse-lovers
- what mean they? The inevitable tendency of poetic culture to morbidity, abnormal beauty — the sickliness of all technical thought or refinement in itself — the abnegation of the perennial and democratic concretes at first hand, the body, the earth and sea, sex and the like — and the substitution of something for thern at second or third hand — what bearings have they on current pathological study? THE POETRY OF THE FUTURE
The poetry of the future, (a phrase open to sharp criticism, and not satisfactory to me, but significant, and I will use it) - the poetry of the future aims at the free expression of emotion, (which means far, far more than appears at first,) and to arouse and initiate, more than to define or finish. Like all modern tendencies, it has direct or indirect reference continually to the reader, to you or me, to the central identity of everything, the mighty Ego. (Byron's was a vehement dash, with plenty of impatient democracy, but lurid and introverted amid all its magnetism; not at all the fitting, lasting song of a grand, secure, free, sunny race.) It is more akin, likewise, to outside life and landscape, (returning mainly to the antique feeling,) real sun and gale, and woods and shores — to the elements themselves -- not sitting at ease in parlor or
library listening to a good tale of them, told in good rhyme. Character, a feature far above style or polish — a feature not absent at any time, but now first brought to the fore — gives predominant stamp to advancing poetry. Its born sister, music, already responds to the same influences. “ The music of the present, Wagner’s, Gounod's, even the later Verdi's, all tends toward this free expression of poetic emotion, and demands a vocalism totally unlike that required for Rossini's splendid roulades or Bellini's suave melodies. AFTER TRYING A CERTAIN BOOK
I tried to read a beautifully printed and scholarly volume on “the Theory of Poetry,” received by mail this morning from England — but gave it up at last for a bad job. Here are some capricious pencillings that follow'd, as I find them in my notes : In youth and maturity Poems are charged with sunshine and varied pomp of day; but as the soul more and more takes precedence, (the sensuous still included,) the Dusk becomes the poet's atmosphere. I too have sought, and ever seek, the brilliant sun, and make my songs according. But as I grow old, the half-lights of evening are far more
The play of Imagination, with the sensuous objects of Nature for symbols and Faith — with Love and Pride as the unseen impetus and moving-power of all, make up the curious chess-game of a poem. Common teachers or critics are always asking " What does it mean?” Symphony of fine musician, or sunset, or seawaves rolling up the beach — what do they mean? Undoubtedly in the most subtle-elusive sense they mean something — as love does, and religion does, and the best poem;
but who shall fathom and define those meanings ? (I do not intend this as a warrant for wildness and frantic escapades — but to justify the soul's frequent joy in what cannot be defined to the intellectual part, or to calculation.) At its best, poetic lore is like what may be heard of conversation in the dusk, from speakers far or hid, of which we