The gentle thunders of this controversy had scarcely died down when the Times quoted a four-lined epigram about Mr. Leech making a speech, and Mr. Parker making something darker that was dark enough without; and another respectable profession, which hitherto had remained cold, began to take fire and dispute with ardor. The Church, the Legislature, the Bar, were all excited by this time. They strained on the verge of surpassing feats, should the occasion be given. From men in this mood the occasion is rarely withheld. Lord Tennyson died. He had written at Cambridge a prize poem on Timbuctoo. Somebody else, at Cambridge or elsewhere, had also written about Timbuctoo and a Cassowary that ate a missionary with his this and his that and his hymn-book too. Who was this somebody? Did he write it at Cambridge (home of poets)? And what were the “trimmings,” as Mr. Job Trotter would say, with which the missionary was eaten?
Poetry was in the air by this time. It would seem that those treasures which the great Laureate had kept close were by his death unlocked and spread over England, even to the most unexpected corners. “All have got the seed,” and already a dozen gentlemen were busily growing the flower in the daily papers. It was not to be expected that our senators, barristers, stockbrokers, having proved their strength, would stop short at Timbuctoo and the Cassowary. Very soon a bold egregious wether jumped the fence into the Higher Criticism, and gave us a new and amazing interpretation of the culminating line in Crossing the Bar. The whole flock was quick upon his heels. “Allow me to remind the readers of your valuable paper that there are two kinds of pilot” is the sentence that now catches our eyes as we open the Times. And according to the Globe if you need a rhyme for orange you must use Blorenge. And the press exists to supply the real wants of the public.[A]
They talk of decadence. But who will deny the future to a race capable of producing, on the one hand, Crossing the Bar—and on the other, this comment upon it, signed “T.F.W.” and sent to the Times from Cambridge, October 27th, 1892?—
“... a poet so studious of fitness of language as Tennyson would hardly, I suspect, have thrown off such words on such an occasion haphazard. If the analogy is to be inexorably criticised, may it not be urged that, having in his mind not the mere passage ’o’er life’s solemn main,’ which we all are taking, with or without reflection, but the near approach to an unexplored ocean beyond it, he was mentally assigning to the pilot in whom his confidence was fast the status of the navigator of old days, the sailing-master, on whose knowledge and care crews and captains engaged in expeditions alike relied? Columbus himself married the daughter of such a man, un piloto Italiano famoso navigante. Camoens makes the people of Mozambique offer Vasco