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I took it, though I did not know I took it,
put it in my bosom, and all at once,
Mary. O God ! I have been too slack, too slack;
Burn !' Her mood rises into absolute insanity, till, in her paroxysm, she cuts out from its frame the picture of Philip :
* This Philip shall not Stare in upon me in my haggardness ; Old, miserable, diseased,
Incapable of children.' And then comes the inevitable revulsion, and, refusing to see Elizabeth for whom she had sent, she goes out slowly on Lady Clarence's arm, her last uttered thoughts running on that · Saint of Aragon,' upon whom almost her first speech in the drama turns; a coincidence of course not accidental.
We hear of her death, and witness the acknowledgment of her sister as Queen; the irrepressible Bagenhall getting in his word almost at the last, in a sort of view-halloa ' for Elizabeth and Protestantism.
No one, we think, who had followed the poem carefully from the commencement, would read this closing scene without being deeply touched by it. In the picture it presents of Mary, at once forlorn, dejected, passionate, and fanatical, we recognise what is true both to human nature and to the probabilities of history, and what is obviously the offspring of the genuine and sympathetic emotion of the poet. The character exhibits that disastrous combination of strong cravings with a weak judgment and a vacillating mind, which almost inevitably leads its possessor to grief and disappointment; a mind halting between two extremes, and strong enough neither for the one part nor for the other; a naturally suspicious temper, hardened and embittered against all who deny her shibboleth, yet still retaining the desire to have one place of repose for her affections; a desire cherished and exaggerated the rather that her premature age and lack of personal charms caused her perpetual gnawing anxiety as to the possibility of attaining and
keeping this blessing for herself. Contemptible as the character is intellectually, it is, as portrayed in this work, by no means devoid of human interest; and we may say that the poet has not ill repaid the debt which he undoubtedly owes to the historian. Yet, on the other hand, it must be said that the pathos of the character, keen as it is at times, is of but an ignoble stamp; and perhaps the very realism which gives the edge to some of the salient passages is a drawback to the dramatic effect of the whole, forcing the details of the picture disproportionately on our notice, in default of such broad and comprehensive painting as might have given to the principal figure a sort of dignity, even of a sinister kind, such as we demand in a serious drama. For drama after all is art, not nature, and power of mere realism is not the highest qualification, whether on the part of author or actor. This, however, is the kind of merit
, which 'Queen Mary' exhibits; notably in the principal character, and to a great extent, as we have observed, in several of the others. The weakness of the poem as a drama lies not in the want of reality in the characters taken separately, but in the want of intelligibly developed action and of the subordination of the whole to a unity of scheme and purpose. Characters which are second-rate and third-rate in their interest and in their position in the story, make utterly disproportionate claims on our attention. Long conversations take place which have no influence on the action of the principal characters, and lead to no result; and in many scenes the poet seems quite uncertain of his own aim, and only desirous that his characters shall each have their talk, and shall talk characteristically. It has been suggested by some injudicious and enthusiastic admirers of our Laureate that this work will compare
with more than advantage with Shakspere's “ Henry VIII." • Henry VIII.,' though neither one of the strongest (except in the part of Katharine) nor one of the most concentrated of Shakspere's plays, has a definite action and purpose to which it is limited, and is not a mere succession of scenes taking place during his reign. The subject of the play is the divorce of Katharine and the re-marriage of the King, and when the climax of the result is reached in the birth of a princess of whom great things are prophesied, the play comes naturally to an end because the result of the action is fulfilled. But the drama of · Queen Mary’has no climax, and aims at no result. It comes to an end, because it is called Queen Mary,' and when she is dead it must therefore stop; otherwise there is really no reason in the nature of the plot and action why the same kind of succession of scenes and conversations should not
go on through Elizabeth's reign, and the play be called . Mary and Elizabeth,' and so on ad infinitum. That the poem exhibits no little pathos and power of indicating character in certain scenes, is unquestionable; but that it should be spoken of as a model of dramatic force only shows what contemporary dramatic criticism has come to.
· Harold' is a work of which it is much easier to estimate both the merits and the demerits, each of which, we may observe, are in such curious contrast to those of its predecessor that one is almost tempted to think the poet has been experimenting upon his public, desirous of ascertaining which of two very opposed forms of dramatic poem meet with most of their approval. The contrast extends even to the nature of the subjects chosen, and their relation to poetry. The subject of
Queen Mary' is eminently historic; the life of Harold' is, for the purposes of the dramatist, in a great measure prehistoric. The character of Mary, at the best, is but weak and ignoble; that of Harold, the very reverse. The period of Mary's reign is interesting, more on account of the great elements that were in opposition than from the personal character of the most prominent actors; that of. Harold' includes events as vitally interesting in themselves, with the additional advantage for the dramatist that they can be traced to the direct personal influence of men, whose sway over the times arose more from the force of their individual character than from the accident of their position. The construction of • Harold' is perfectly logical, and the action continuous and connected from beginning to end. Recognising the fact that this second drama has all these advantages over the first, it may seem matter no less for surprise than for regret that we should feel compelled to consider the result as unsuccessful.
The causes of this failure are not without significance in reference both to the subject of dramatic art generally, and to the mental attitude of the poet in relation to his subject. We have noted the remarkable contrast which this drama presents to its predecessor in several points. We have only to pursue the contrast one step further to arrive at the direct cause of the failure of interest in Harold.' Whilst, as we have seen, the principal characters in Mary' have their characteristics of thought and manner and language more or less clearly discriminated, this discrimination is almost entirely wanting in ‘Harold.' The manner of the various speakers is one and the same: of no character can we say, ' Thy speech bewrayeth thee;' for they all, if we may so express it, speak Tennysonian. Why, however, this should be so; why a poet who, in dealing with a not
very promising subject, could show keen pathos and considerable brilliancy and point in the delineation of personal manner, should appear to lose his capacity entirely in dealing with a subject of more dramatic promise, it is not at first sight very easy to understand.
What we believe to be the principal explanation is connected partly with one of the great qualities which have given Mr. Tennyson's poetry such a hold over the sympathies of his contemporaries in England. None of our poets has ever been so intensely English as he. Throughout his poems of all classes, and during the whole of his long career, breathes the love of English landscape, of English social manners and feeling in its best modern aspect. The love of country is displayed in an earnest interest in her past and her possible future, hardly to be found in the tone and feeling of any other poet of our land. The result is that in dealing with this great struggle between two races for supremacy in our island, he is so intensely interested in the facts and in their bearing on England that his interest in the personages becomes quite secondary. His manner of looking at the subject is epic rather than dramatic. The history of William and Harold is not to him the history of the play and contrast of two characters one against another; it is the contest between Norman and Saxon, and its results upon English history. The self-effacement essential to dramatic writing is almost forgotten, and the poem is pervaded by a fatal self-consciousness. A curious instance of this is to be noticed in the fact that Harold, in his social and theological opinions, is simply a disciple of the modern Broad Church school. What are we to say on finding the chieftain of those battle-axe times giving vent to his feelings in this fashion :
"Oh God! I cannot help it, but at times
Saw them sufficient.' While his sentiments in regard to his love for Edith, and the asceticism urged upon him by King Edward, betray the kind of feeling on such subjects expressed in ‘Yeast, and other works of Mr. Charles Kingsley. It is still more interesting to find that at that early period he was a sound Protestant, and before the battle of Senlac he leaves to England
My legacy of war against the Pope
We should have expected to find these lines in Queen Mary' rather than in Harold;' but all's one for that.'
The poem being yet young from the press, some sketch of its general purport may be looked for at our hands; and we shall gladly touch upon some of the points of interest in regard to thought and expression, in which nothing from the pen of Mr. Tennyson can be wanting. Like its predecessor, the drama opens well; that is, the opening scene is significant of the time and circumstances, and affords a natural opportunity for hinting at the future action. The scene is a room in the king's palace in London; through the open window is seen the comet which occasioned so much consternation at the time, and to which the courtiers are pointing with gestures of fear such as may still be seen rudely represented on the Bayeux tapestry.* Aldwyth and her brother Morcar are the prominent speakers at first. Aldwyth, the daughter of Alfgar of Mercia, and widow of Griffyth, King of Wales (who was conquered and slain by Harold), is an important personage in the drama, and is the most dramatically conceived and portrayed of any of the characters. She is a cold-hearted, strong-minded adventuress, with a newly-conceived love for the conqueror of her husband, or for his probable position as future king. Enter by turns Leofwin and Gurth, two of Harold's brethren, the Normanising Bishop of London, and Stigand, the uncanonical archbishop, who is represented as the model broad churchman of the period. Mr. Freeman, in his · History of the Norman Con. quest, characterises Stigand as being unquestionably the · first man of the day in England,' and Mr. Tennyson professes to follow Mr. Freeman; but we can see no evidence of greatness in his Stigand, who is merely a sensible, goodnatured old fellow. Harold, who subsequently enters, is obviously posed as a contrasting figure to Edward, whose sentiments here and in other scenes are completely in keeping with Mr. Freeman's description of him as one who never • rose above a monk's selfish anxiety for the safety of his own • soul.' He has ó lived a life of utter purity,' built the great church of Holy Peter, and it is well with him—he sees the flashing of the gates of pearl :
* The poet tells us in his preface, what indeed is sufficiently obvious, that the Bayeux tapestry played a part in the foundation of the poem, some portions of which gain additional reality by comparison with this venerable authentic pictorial record. T sible copy of this curious work is the fac-simile (reproduced by the aid of photography) in the architectural ccurt of the South Kensington Museum.