THE CHRISTIAN SOCIALIST.
20 August 1851.
TENNYSON AND HIS POETRY
By Gerald Massey.
The Muse of Tennyson is truly a "dainty Ariel." She does not startle, or
astound, but like the invisible spirit, waylays, bewilders, and enchants
you. The subtle spirit of her magic melody, and the power of her exceeding
beauty, have permeated you through and through, ere you are aware, and,
scarcely knowing why, you come most naturally to the conclusion that
Tennyson is the greatest, the sweetest, and the perfectest of our living
singers. There is wondrous witchery in his verse. He is born a singer, and
has perfected his art,
till it is the most natural of things. He is more lyric than
dramatic,—not a mere writer of words to be tagged to music,—but
essentially a singer, from whose heart, and brain, and lips, beauty,
wisdom, truth, and sweet sounds, flow as naturally as rich notes from a
skylark, perfume from a rose, and dew from a summer night. His songs are
among the finest written these last twenty years, notably the "St.
Agnes," the "Miller's Daughter," "May Queen," "New Year's Eve," and
that wondrous "bugle-song" in "The Princess."
But they have no music worthy of them, our musical composers do not
appreciate the tenderness—the intellectual grace—the spirit-beauty, and
of Tennyson's lyrical genius. Only let them hob-a-nob with the
Knight-of-the-Bloody-shoe-string*-bathos of Fitzball and Bunn, they are
better paid, and the public are well pleased.
In his earlier poems, Tennyson was too much of a word-painter, but all
young poets fall into this error more or less, and what marvel that they
should do so? There is such a power and soul of beauty in some words,
that they constitute as great an attraction, and sometimes greater, than
the thought they symbolize; even as the beautiful form and winning
lineaments of one's love may sometimes eclipse the charms of her mind. He
has outgrown this, and pruned the young luxuriance of his style, and now
his poetry is unequalled,—save by that of Keats,—in choiceness and
nicety of epithet, while at the same time, as in "Dora," and parts of
Memoriam," he equals Wordsworth, in his simple grandeur and absence of ornateness, without ever dwindling into (what I venture to call) the
latter's childishness and triviality.
There is perhaps no higher attribute of the poet, than his power of
imparting beauty. There is perhaps no better test of a poet's greatness,
than that of his power of developing a sense and love of beauty in the
souls of his readers. Now, as one of the loftiest objects for workingmen
to read poetry is, that they may get beauty into their souls, and thence
into their daily lives, and as Tennyson's poetry is a very world of
purifying and ennobling beauty, they ought by all means to become
acquainted with it. Yet of all our living poets of eminence, Tennyson is
least known among them.
There are thousands who have heard or read his "May Queen,"—who, if they
have known the name of its author,—have had no further knowledge of his
works: and thousands have never heard of him. This
should not be. We, the living, breathing children of this our "wondrous
mother age," ought to be able to quaff the juice of the grape grown
to-day, as well as the old raisin-wine, the produce of bye-gone
centuries. Yet, I can buy a good copy of Shakespeare for 4s., and the
Tennyson will cost me 20s. I wish they could be sold at ls. a volume, and
circulate throughout the length and breadth of
the land! I purpose to extract a picture or two, to show how a poet can
paint. The first shall be from the "Gardener's Daughter."
"One arm aloft—
Gown'd in pure white, that fitted to the shape—
Holding the bush, to fix it back, she stood.
A single stream of all her
soft brown hair
Pour'd on one side: the shadow of the flowers
Stole all the golden gloss, and wavering
Lovingly lower, trembled on her
But the full day dwelt on her brows, and sunn'd
Her violet eyes, and all her Hebe bloom,
And doubled his own warmth
against her lips,
And on the bounteous wave of such a breast
As never pencil drew. Half light, half shade,
She stood, a sight to make an old man young."
The next shall be the wonderful revival in the "Sleeping Palace," on the
arrival of the fated fairy Prince.
"A touch, a kiss! the charm was snapt.
There rose a noise of striking
And feet that ran, and doors that clapt,
And barking dogs, and
A fuller light illumined all,
A breeze through all the garden swept,
A sudden hubbub shook the hall,
And sixty feet the fountain leapt!
The hedge broke in, the banner
The butler drank, the steward scrawl'd,
The fire shot up, the marten flew,
The parrot scream'd, the peacock squall'd,
The maid and page renewed
The palace bang'd, and buzz'd, and clackt,
And all the long-pent stream of life!
Dash'd downward in a cataract!"
Tennyson has two powerful and touching allegories, the "Vision of Sin" and
the "Lady of Shalott."—The one is a lust of the flesh, the other a
lust of the spirit. I will take the latter for comment: it very happily
illustrates the truth that Genius, if true to its own glorious nature and
mission, must preserve itself pure from the rust of worldly contamination. The poet and the student, as Emerson says, must "embrace solitude as a
bride," they must preserve their own lofty individuality. It is by long
and lonely communings with his own heart, through days of suffering and
nights of pain, that the poet attains a deeper insight. It is by wrestling
and struggling, that he obtains the thews and sinews that throw the world
and win the blessing. He must renounce the petty pleasures of the earthly-minded, and piously abjure the golden greed and lust of gain, that eats
the heart out of Mammon's votaries. He may fall on evil times, but must
utter no selfish complaint.
By the dwelling-place of the Lady of Shalott
"Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
flitteth silken sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the
casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?"
No, she must remain unknown in all the land, regardless of applause—sing
as the bird sings, and the rain falls, and the waters flash and roll, and
let the pleasure-seeking and money-grubbing-world go by.
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
river winding clearly
Down to tower'd Camelot."
There are always a few advanced minds,
awake, early in the morning of the
times, who shall hear the true singer, and appreciate, though the sense be
hard to understand. Alone in her sorrows, her tremblings, and her joys
"There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she
The Lady of Shalott."
She must not halt in her work, to cast yearning glances down to Camelot,
she must toil on, sorrowing and rejoicing, and care for little besides the
perfecting of the web she weaves, the work she is sent on earth to
accomplish. She has a mirror in her mind which shows her what goes on in
the outer world of every-day life. She looks into her own soul, which so
long as it is kept pure is a very well of truth—her own soul reflects and
embraces the whole of humanity.
"And in her web she still delights,
To weave the mirror's magic sights."
Until upon a time, alas!
"When the moon was over-head,
Came two lovers lately wed;
'I am half sick of shadows,' said
The Lady of Shalott."
And from that hour she begins to feel lonely, and to grow aweary of her
loneliness. She sees the loyal knights go riding by, and bethinks herself
that she has no loyal knight to champion her fame and win her the world's
applause; and while in this frame of mind comes the "bold Sir Lancelot,"
who personifies a dangerous popularity, and lo! how gloriously he
glitters in his splendid apparel and grand adornments.
"Tirra lira," by the river
"Sang Sir Lancelot."
Then came the fall, the true and melancholy fall of many a man of genius,
who rose like a star of the first magnitude, but who "looked down to
Camelot," and proved to be but a meteor of the night, soon shooting again
into the dark.—For applause, for love, for wine, and the many enticements
of the world, have they dimmed the finer gold of their being. They have bowed
down the divinity which lived and laboured within them at many an unworthy
shrine, and become of the earth earthy. They have lost their purity of
soul, wherein lies the true alchemy that turns all things to golden life,
and day by day the vision
and the faculty divine have died out of them;—and they have become dim,
distorted, and degraded things,—have forsaken their high and holy calling;
and become one more of the world's million-and-one might-have-beens. Thus the Lady of Shalott.
"She left the web, she left the loom,
The mirror cracked from side to side;
'The Curse is come upon me,' cried
The Lady of Shalott!"
So she descends from her high estate, athirst for Fame, finds a boat, and
floats down to Camelot. Now, like a flaunting courtezan, tricked out for
public note and approval, she writes round the prow of the boat—
"The Lady of Shalott,"
So that all the world may read. Slowly drifts she Camelotward, like one in
a trance dropping headlong into the jaws of danger or death, without power
or even a wish for
rescue. The song she sings dies gradually
low. The inner eyes wax gradually blind, and now she's gone. This
illustration is not alone applicable to the poet and the man of genius,
but to every living immortal soul, for without purity of soul and single-minded aspiration after the better life, no man can attain.
* This was the name of a low romance printed in Paris; only to be
equalled in absurdity by the titles of some of our songs, at present quite
the rage in drawing-room and street.
THE CHRISTIAN SOCIALIST.
6 September 1851.
TENNYSON AND HIS POETRY
By Gerald Massey.
Poem on poem crowds on the memory, and starts up for notice,
for Tennyson is author of so many true and perfect poems, each of them,
long or short, as much the work of a great poet, as "Paradise Lost," "Tam
o' Shanter," and "Paracelus." The "Miller's Daughter," "Ćnone," the
"Palace of Art," "Dora," the "Talking Oak," the "Two Voices," " Locksley
Hall,'' the "Princess," "In Memoriam," &c.
The "St. Simeon Stylites" contains the greatest evidence of
Tennyson's dramatic power. It is a grandly graphic delineation of
that dark spirit of fanaticism, which delights in cursing and degrading
self, rather than in doing good and blessing others, as a means of
redemption; in cursing the flesh that the spirit may aspire. How
terribly he makes the old man recount all his self-inflicted tortures to
win pardon, grace, the hope of glory! And how skilfully the love of
applause and the gratified conceit are unveiled! Hear him;—the
people are congregated round the base of the column on which the old man
has stood for twenty years, bending down to heaven every day, one thousand
two hundred times between the dawn and the starlight;—they are talking
over his cruel martyrdom and his miracles. He exclaims,
"'Tis their own doing, this is none of mine—
Lay it not to me. Am, I to blame for this,
That here come those who worship me?
What am I?
The silly people take me for a saint;
And bring me offerings of fruits and flowers,
And I in truth (thou wilt bear witness here)
Have all in all endured as much and more
Than many great and holy men whose names
Are registered and calender'd as Saints."
The speedy coming of death is finely told. What a clutch at the
crown of all his sufferings, hopes, and fears,—
"While I spake, then a sting of shrewdest pain
Ran shrivelling through me, and a cloudlike change,
In passing, with a grosser film made thick
These heavy; berry eyes. The end! the end !
Surely the end! What's here? a shape, a shade,
A flash of light. Come, blessed brother, come,
I know thy glittering face, I waited long!
My brows are ready. What! deny it now?
Nay, draw, draw, draw nigh. So I clutch it;
'Tis gone! 'tis here again. The Crown, the Crown!
So now 'tis fitted on and grows to me,
And from it melt the dews of Paradise."
Mr. Charles Kingsley has very effectively treated the working of this
fanaticism inculcated and developed by the old Romish Church, on higher
grounds, and on a purer and nobler character than Tennyson's "St. Simeon,"
in his "Elizabeth of Hungary," or the "Saint's Tragedy,"—incomparably the
finest reading drama of these two hundred years.
Apropos of Charles Kingsley, Tennyson has a
noble-sonnet addressed to a friend which might have been worthily
inscribed to him. It truly expresses what we working-men who have
read his writings and heard him in the pulpit feel towards dear Parson
SONNET TO J. M. K
"My heart and hope is with thee, thou wilt be
A latter Luther, and a soldier-priest
To scare church-harpies from the Master's feast,
Our dusted velvets have much need of thee.
Thou art no Sabbath-drawler of old saws
Distill'd from some worm-canker'd homily,
But spurred at heart with fieriest energy
To embattail and to wall about thy cause
With iron-worded proof, hating to hark
The humming of the drowsy pulpit drone
Half God's good Sabbath, while the worn-out clerk
Brow-beats his desk below. Thou from a throne
Mounted in heaven, will shoot into the dark
Arrows of lightning. I will stand and mark!"
All genius is essentially democratic in its elements, though many of its
high-natured inheritors have been untrue to the inner impulses, and
bartered their immortal birthright for the world's miserable mess of
pottage,—forsaken their high calling for place, pension, or power.
And Tennyson is democratic, a great democratic poet. True, he does
not pour forth bitter denunciation, curses of indignation, and
battle-bursts of defiance. He has not felt the wrongs, the
contumely, and the heart-breakings that poor men feel. Still he is
democratic; democratic in his universal sympathies, democratic in his
treatment of things lowly, and in his frequent utterance of stern and
wholesome democratic truths. For instance, hear what he sings to the cold
and cruel scion of lofty lineage, whose dainty ears were accustomed to
none but honeyed words, and accents of flattery tricked out and perfumed
to bend there-into, like fawning courtiers, insinuating themselves into a
regal presence chamber.
"Trust me, Clara Vere de Vere,
From yon blue heavens above us bent
The grand old gardener and his wife
Smile at our claims of long descent.
Howe'er it be, it seems to me
'Tis only noble to be good;
Kind hearts are more than coronets,
And simple faith than Norman blood"
I said he had
no curses of indignation; but here are four hearty ones against things as
they are, from famous "Locksley Hall."
"Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength
Cursed be the social lies that warp us from the living truth!
Cursed be the sickly forms that err from honest Nature's rule!
Cursed be the gold that gilds the straightened forehead of the fool!"
The voice of Progress also sings out cheerily from this same noble poem—
"Not in vain the distance beacons; forward, forward let us
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.
For, I doubt not, through the ages one increasing purpose runs,
And the thoughts of men are widened with the process of the suns;
Through the shadows of the globe we sweep into the younger day,—
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay."
"Locksley Hall" is one of the most powerful tales of passion ever dashed
into fiery verse: though, I think, if the cousin loved Amy to the excess
he pleads, if he had reached that high eminence of which poor human nature
is capable, he would have spared her those bitter mockings and cruel
taunts;—if she could not appreciate his love, surely his hatred would be
impotent, raved he never so divinely. Moreover, according to his own
creed, "love is love for evermore," but, the "flesh will quiver where the
pincers tear;" and to see that high, proud, and passionate heart, with its
hopes gone down, its early idol shattered, its young and lavished
affections poured to waste; to see it stanch the wounds that are bleeding
away its life of life and bravely resolve to begin the world again—for
though this arrow hath missed its aim, its quiver hath many more; though
its bark has been wrecked at sea, it will manfully strike out for the
shore—is a noble lesson, worthy of all acceptation, and stamps Tennyson a
teacher of his age. I cannot quit the "Locksley Hall "without
quoting these four delicious lines—
"Love took up the glass of time and turned it in his
Every moment lightly shaken ran itself in golden sands:
Love took up the harp of life and smote thereon with all his might,
Smote the chord of Self, which trembling, passed in music out of sight."
—to note the
exquisite beauty of the simile in that last line—how perfect! if you
strike the harpstring you cannot see it—it has vanished into a kind of
winged sound, and so when Love smites the chord of self, in the harp of
life, all selfishness passes away in music and trembling.
THE CHRISTIAN SOCIALIST.
20 September 1851.
TENNYSON AND HIS POETRY
By Gerald Massey.
III.—THE "VISION OF SIN."
My dear H.,—You thank me for what I have written on
Tennyson's poetry, and observe that you never expected to have found a
soul in his "Lady of Shalott," believe me, he has written nothing
meaningless or soulless:—and as for what you call obscurities, why, as
Hazlitt remarks, you cannot make an allegory go on all-fours. Of
Tennyson we may say, as the old Chroniclers wrote of Shakespeare, Read
him, again and again, and if so be you do not understand him, then there
is manifest danger that you are not quick of comprehension. You ask
me to unravel you the mystery of the "Vision of Sin." I had thought
it unnecessary to touch upon this poem, its mighty meaning being to me so
clearly apparent. I have already called it an allegory of the lust
of the flesh, in contradistinction to the lust of the spirit, as
illustrated by the "Lady of Shalott." That pourtrayed the degrading
effects of the over-mastering desire for worldly, or popular applause,
which, in its very highest manifestation, has been characterized by a
great poet and greater man, as "the last infirmity of noble minds," and
which in its lowest, is veriest vanity, ending in destruction and death.
The "Vision of Sin" is a "crime of sense, avenged by
sense;"—which avengement has been verified through the history of all
time, even from the first of men; for grant that man was placed in Eden as
a perfect being,—only as perfect even as we can now conceive of,—he must
have sinned against his high, original nature, by eating the flesh of
beasts, inasmuch (if on no other grounds) as he would have had to shed
blood to attain it, and after continual blood-shedding, what marvel, if in
the second generation of men, we chronicle a murderer? It were only
a "crime of sense avenged by sense." We may be fully assured that
the nemesis of nature allows no man to commit crime against himself, or
his fellows, now or six thousand years past, without a just retribution.
She permits no one to sin with impunity. Punishment is certain even on
this side the grave. Never for one day does she omit to post the
day-book of Life, and her ledger account is strictly balanced, for or
against, good or evil.
"Had a vision when the night was late:
A youth came riding toward a palace-gate,
He rode a horse with wings, that would have flown,
But that his heavy rider kept him down."
How many of us do that! When the spirit within us, which is the
"horse with wings" in better moments is stirring at the heart of us,—do we
strenuously and steadfastly strive to orb out space for nobler growth, and
higher life? Do we not rather clog and fetter, that which might
aspire? Yes, our horse hath wings, which bent the air to fly, but we
are heavy riders and keep him down to earth. Seldom indeed do we
give fair vantage-ground for the inherent good that is within us, to
combat with the evil within and around us. Sin is more magnetic to
us than righteousness. And then, how much easier it is to descend a
smooth and gentle declivity— cunningly sloped, and bravely flowered—than
to toil terribly up a rugged and thorny hill!—And the many witching
temptations! The carneying, honeying, insinuation, as of Lucifer to
"Beside you know you can repent at any time."
And while the
heart is so tenderly sensible to all that's seducing, the devil's sure to
be at hand, the very moment. (I wonder whether that is the origin of
the phrase "just in the nick of time.") Thus, with the youth in the
"Then from the palace came a child of sin,
And took him by the curls and led him in
Where sat a company with heated eyes,
Expecting when a fountain should arise:
A sleepy light upon their brows and lips—
(As when the sun, a crescent of eclipse,
Dreams over lake and lawn, and isles
Suffused them, sitting, lying, languid
By heaps of gourds, and skins of wine,
and piles of grapes."
You will have
appreciated the vivid, voluptuous, Poussin-like painting of this picture;
what sleepy light dreams over it: what lazy langour—what happy-drunken
smiles, and dropping eyelids! what ripe, lusty red lips, stained with the
purple wine! And that rich ruddy wine—there you may see its
sparkling bubbles burst, and "tip you the wink of invitation;" and those
luscious grapes, that seem to melt in the glory of their bloom, for very
desire to be crusht. This is fit prelude to the Bacchanalian
saturnalia which follow. And here the poet puts forth his power; and
how his brilliance corruscates and lightens, how his melody grows into
stormy strength, until we altogether whirl in a delirium of happy-madness!
"Then methought I heard a mellow sound,
Gathering up from all the lower ground;
Narrowing in to where they sat assembled
Low voluptuous music winding trembled,
Wov'n in circles: they that heard it sighed,
Panted hand in hand with faces pale,
Swung themselves and in low tones replied;
Till the fountain spouted, showering wide
Sleet of diamond drift and pearly hail;
Then the music touched the gales and died:
Rose again from where it seem'd to fail,
Storm'd in orbs of song, a growing gale;
Till thronging in and in, to where they waited,
As 'twere a hundred-throated nightingale,
The strong tempestuous treble throbb'd and palpitated;
Ran into its giddiest whirl of sound,
Caught the sparkles, and in circles,
Purple gauzes, golden hazes, liquid mazes,
Flung the torrent rainbow round:
Then they started from their places,
Moved with violence, changed in hue,
Caught each other with wild grimaces,
Half-invisible to the view,
Wheeling with precipitate paces
To the melody, till they flew,
Hair and eyes, and limbs and faces,
Twisted hard in fierce embraces,
Like to Furies, like to Graces,
Dasht together in blinding dew:"
This is as far
above the celebrated musical "set-to" of old Timotheus at "Alexander's
Feast," as the performance of Costa's band in executing Rossini's
sparkling score, is above Mayhew's blind "Old Sally's" tympanum-torture on
In this palace of sin, the youth spends his mind-destroying
nights, enfeebling and enervating his poor fevered body, and consummating
earth's worst tragedy, the murder of his soul. And morning after morning,
in the presence of God, Who "made Himself an awful rose of dawn," the
youth has terrible warning; the ruddy light looks in on the scene of
revelry and sin, and day by day he lets slips all chance of betterance.
"God made himself an awful rose of dawn,"
The poet sees misery, disease, degradation, and death, come stealing on,
in the shape of
"A vapour, heavy, hueless, formless, cold,
Came floating on for many a month and year
Unheeded. And I thought I would have spoken
And warn'd that madman ere it grew too late;
But as in dreams, I could not. Mine was broken,
When that cold vapour touch'd the palacegate,
And linked again."
like a mist of darkness, has blotted out the scene of revel and
enchantment with all its hues and shapes of beauty, and the vision
changes: Miserere! What a change!
"I saw within my head
A gray and gap-tooth'd man, as lean as death,
Who slowly rode across a wither'd heath,
And lighted at a ruined inn,"
where he vents
his blasted feelings, with the desperation of drugged despair, in fiercest
irony and wicked wit—horrible as the ghastly grinning of a galvanized
corpse. Worn down to decrepitude—blanched and hoary with premature
age, with one foot tottering in the grave, and the frailest, tremblingest
hold on life,—he will still play the roystering reveller,
"Fill the cup, and fill the can:
Have a rouse before the morn:
Every minute dies a man,
Every minute one is born."
He has become a
daring mocker at his own miserable condition,—
"We are men of ruined blood;
Therefore comes it we are wise.
Fish are we that love the mud,
Rising to no fancy-flies."
scoffer at friendship,—
"Friendship!—to be two in one—
Let the canting liar pack!
Well I know, when I am gone,
How she mouths behind my back."
An atheist to
virtue and all good,—
"Virtue!—to be good and just—
Every heart, when sifted well,
Is a clot of warmer dust,
Mixed with cunning sparks of hell."
"Chant me now some wicked stave,
Till thy drooping courage rise,
And the glow-worm of the grave
Glimmer in thy rheumy eyes."
The ruined, rotten reprobate! What a lurid and ghastly light his
devilish wit flashes on his murky desolation! how it reveals the
blackness of darkness which wraps him round denser and dunner, like
swadling clothes for a child of Hell!. . . .The voice grows faint, there
comes a further change, and his loathsome body—almost quickening into
reptile life, before it is dead—drops into the grave, and the gay child of
pleasure, the glittering darling of sin, the gilded reveller, the gibing,
cruel mocker, the hoary voluptuary, has gone to his last long home.
"Then some one spake: 'Behold! it was a crime
Of sense avenged by sense, that wore with time.'
Another said: 'The crime of sense became
The crime of malice, and is equal blame.'
And one: 'He had not wholly quenched his power:
A little grain of conscience made him sour.'
At last I heard a voice upon the slope
Cry to the summit, 'Is there any hope?'
To which an answer peal'd from that high land,
But in a tongue no man could understand
And on the glimmering limit far withdrawn
God made Himself an awful rose of dawn."
How mournfully pleading is that, "Is there any hope?" and gently and
charitably the poet drops the curtain, leaving us to guess and grope at
the mystery behind the veil,—no man understanding the answer peal'd from
that high land. But,
"God made Himself an awful rose of dawn."
That is, God is
personified in the opening morning, or as Mrs. Browning sings,
"God lives, and lifts his glorious mornings up."
indeed must be the day that dawns in its angry hue, and wrathful fire,
fronting such a scene as the expiring, or the deathbed, of a sinner like
this. How just, how sublime, the
"God made Himself an awful rose of dawn."
This "Vision of Sin" is one of the deepest chords that Tennyson has
struck,—grand teaching that! as sublime in execution as it is significant
in meaning. It is a brave vision, O poet-seer! After that,
they may call you dreamer—be it so most glorious dreamer—dream in such
wise for ever. It is a dream of dark reality, a living and waking
dream, interpreted a myriad-fold among us and around us; bear witness ye
brothels and hells of St. James's, and the thousand other purlieus of sin
that reek with abomination in this modern Babylon, where our strong and
beautiful youth is taken by the curls and led in,—to lavish at the shrine
of Pleasure and Belial, the plunder of the poor, the wealth wrung by tears
and torture from their own pinched and goaded and burthened brethren,—to
waste their noble energies in the arms of dalliance, to burn up the early
dews of life in brute passion's fierce and fiery strife, till their hearts
are seared, their strength melted down, their brains addled and shrunken;
and when they ought to be summering in life's leafy-prime, doing the work
God has given them to do, they are aged, withered, worthless things, only
fit to rot
"Where men and horses pierced with worms,
Are slowly quickening into lower forms;
By shards and scurf of salt, and scum of dross,
Old plash of rains, and refuse patch'd with moss."
It is an appalling fact, that lust, and luxury, have killed off more of
the human race, than all the famine, plague, pestilence, and wars, that
have visited the earth; and Tennyson proves, in thus holding up the deadly
vice in such damnatory guise, that he is a true teacher, and that he has a
lofty sense of the poet's mission. He does not look upon poetry as a
mere glittering foil to be flasht at fence on gala-day; but a two-edged
sword, tempered to bear the brunt of fiery onset in the battle of life: a
weapon—to be wielded with stalwart arm, nerved by a brave, true heart, and
inspired with the highest purpose, to lop off the accursed cancer that is
eating into the bosom of our motherland, and to pierce to the heart of
wrong, and evil, and crime, throughout the world. Such, my dear H.,
is the meaning I educe from Tennyson's "Vision of Sin."—Is he not a brave
The Christian Socialist
THE BROTHERHOOD OF LABOUR
3 May, 1851
"The Brotherhood of Labour," methinks I hear some one
exclaim, eagerly grasping at any excuse. "The Brotherhood of
Labour!" it's too exclusive! Not so, good friend: no accident of
birth, or heritage of white hands and broad lands has given thee any
divine right to be isolated from the Brotherhood of Labour; not for
nothing, nor merely for devouring, wert thou moulded so divinely with the
signet of God set on thy brow. Even as thou art a son of the same
Father, and a brother in the same human family, so shouldst thou be a
worker in the same fraternity of labour; it has taken the youthful prime
and the masculine maturity of ages to produce thee, for thee the world has
been labouring from the beginning. Thou shouldst be doing something,
for the world, the good and glorious world! For thee she clothes
herself like a bride, in the garniture of spring's loveliness! and for
thee the flowers start up at our feet, smiling into our eyes as meaningly
as though they knew we ought to have happy hearts and cheerful
countenances! For thee the grand old woods put on their glorious
greenery, and for thee the birds praise God with myriad voices of
thanksgiving, singing as merrily as though the earth had not a grave or a
sorrow! for thee the ripe corn waves upon a thousand hills, and all the
valleys have rich over-brimmings of plenteousness! For thee the
stars—vestal daughters of the night—God's thoughts written on the leaves
of the blue heaven—preach through the eternal centuries their religion of
silent work-worship; and for thee science standing with one foot on sea,
and one on land—and with hands grasping and guaging the Infinite—unfolds
the mysteries of the universe, and makes us the astronomers of the world's
glorious future and humanity's proud destiny! ay, and for thee, the poor
Toiler worn heart-bare by toil and travel wears such harness of life as
cuts into his very heart-strings; for thee he weeps the bloody tears that
are wrung out in poverty's struggle with daily death! for thee he garbs
his limbs in rags, and for thee he wears purple, fine linen and robes of
splendour, and for thee he day by day robs himself and starves his little
ones, for thee he builds the magnificent halls and kingly temples, and
supplies the lordly mansion and the princely palace with all life's
luxuries, with the riches of all people, and the fruits of all climes, and
for thee he crouches in the dirty den, the filthy hovel and the gloomy
hut. And what right hast thou in this God's world with all its
wealth of beauty and blessings,—what right hast thou in this God's
humanity, but to be a hand—head—or heart-worker in this brotherhood of
labour? Thou hast no right, thou hast no plea for isolation!
To the work then, and with a stern and manful earnest fulfil what God has
missioned thee to do!
Oh! my brother, be no longer a nonentity, a do-nothing amidst
the universal toil of creation. Work! and if thy heart hath been cold and
lifeless, it shall become a warm, living, beating thing pulsing, with all
rich yearnings for humanity! Humanity! I have said it; that is
the true basis of our pact or brotherhood—God and our humanity! We
must unsectarianize before we can regenerate ourselves by an interest one
and indivisible. It is our humanity, a part of thee and me, my
brother, that lies crushed in the mire of degradation; doubt it, and it
shall be made manifest, terribly true—by cholera wedding us in the clammy
clutch of death! by disease with ghastly arms rolling us together in the
dust! Believe it, and work in that belief—and yet we will tear down
the blinding mask which has so long hidden up our beautiful humanity, and
it shall arise as in the old time of love, the Eden of the world, with the
transfiguring glory of the Lord upon it.—believe and work in that belief,
and yet the time shall come when toil shall no longer be a curse, but an
honoured, holy thing!