Tennyson said that the scenes in his poems were so vividly conceived that he could have drawn them if he had been an artist. A twentieth century critic says that Tennyson is almost the inventor of such pictorial lyrics as A Dream of Fair Women and The Palace of Art.
The artistic finish of Tennyson’s verse is one of its great charms. He said to a friend: “It matters little what we say; it is how we say it—though the fools don’t knew it.” His poetry has, however, often been criticized for lack of depth. The variety in his subject matter, mode of expression, and rhythm renders his verse far more enjoyable than that of the formal age of Pope.
Tennyson’s extraordinary popularity in his own time was largely due to the fact that he voiced so clearly and attractively the thought of the age. As another epoch ushers in different interests, they will naturally be uppermost in the mind of the new generation. We no longer feel the intense interest of the Victorians in the supposed conflict between science and religion. Their theory of evolution has been modified and has lost the force of novelty. Theories of government and social ideals have also undergone a gradual change. For these reasons much of Tennyson’s verse has ceased to have its former wide appeal.
Tennyson has, however, left sufficient work of abiding value, both for its exquisite form and for its thought, to entitle him to be ranked as a great poet. We cannot imagine a time when Crossing the Bar, The Passing of Arthur, and the central thought of In Memoriam—
“’Tis better to have loved
Than never to have loved at all,”
will no longer interest readers. To Tennyson belong—
five words long
That on the stretch’d forefinger of all Time
ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE, 1837-1909
[Illustration: ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE, 1837-1909. From the painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.]
Life.—Swinburne was born in London in 1837. His father was an admiral in the English navy, and his mother, the daughter of an earl. The boy passed his summers in Northumberland and his winters in the Isle of Wight. He thus acquired that fondness for the sea, so noticeable in his poetry. His early experiences are traceable in lines like these:—
“Our bosom-belted billowy-blossoming
Whose hearts break out in laughter like the sea.”
He went to Oxford for three years, but left without taking his degree. The story is current that he knew more Greek than his teachers but that he failed in an examination on the Scriptures. He sought to complete his education by wide reading and by travel, especially in France and Italy.
When he was twenty-five, he went to live for a short time at 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, in the western part of London, in the same house with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and George Meredith. Swinburne admired Rossetti’s poetry and was much impressed with the Pre-Raphaelite virtues of simplicity and directness.