On the whole, Miss Austin’s works may safely be recommended, not only as among the most unexceptionable of their class, but as combining, in an eminent degree, instruction with amusement, though without the direct effort at the former, of which we have complained, as sometimes defeating its object. For those who cannot, or will not, learn anything from productions of this kind, she has provided entertainment which entitles her to thanks; for mere innocent amusement is in itself a good, when it interferes with no greater: especially as it may occupy the place of some other that may not be innocent. The Eastern monarch who proclaimed a reward to him who should discover a new pleasure, would have deserved well of mankind had he stipulated that it should be blameless. Those, again, who delight in the study of human nature, may improve in the knowledge of it, and in the profitable application of that knowledge, by the perusal of such fictions as those before us.
[From The Quarterly Review, October, 1859]
1. Tennyson’s Poems. In Two Volumes. London, 1842. 2. The Princess: a Medley. London, 1847. 3. In Memoriam. London, 1850. 4. Maud, and other Poems. London, 1855. 5. Idylls of the King. London, 1859.
Mr. Tennyson published his first volume, under the title of “Poems Chiefly Lyrical,” in 1830, and his second, with the name simply of “Poems,” in 1833. In 1842 he reappeared before the world in two volumes, partly made up from the debris of his earlier pieces; and from this time forward he came into the enjoyment of a popularity at once great, growing, and select. With a manly resolution, which gave promise of the rare excellence he was progressively to attain, he had at this time amputated altogether from the collection about one-half of the contents of his earliest work, with some considerable portion of the second; he had almost rewritten or carefully corrected other important pieces, and had added a volume of new compositions.
The latter handiwork showed a great advance upon the earlier; as, indeed, 1833 had shown upon 1830. From the very first, however, he had been noteworthy in performance as well as in promise, and it was plain that, whatever else might happen, at least neglect was not to be his lot. But, in the natural heat of youth he had at the outset certainly mixed up some trivial with a greater number of worthy productions, and had shown an impatience of criticism by which, however excusable, he was sure to be himself the chief sufferer. His higher gifts, too, were of the quality which, by the changeless law of nature, cannot ripen fast; and there was, accordingly, some portion both of obscurity and of crudity in the results of his youthful labours. Men of slighter materials would have come more quickly to their maturity, and