Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/205

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193
TENNYSON AND BOTANY.

less species of animals and plants; and it is not easy to conceive how, under similar conditions, another planet should be simply a vast and useless desert.—La Nature.

 

TENNYSON AND BOTANY.
By J. HUTCHISON.

WORDSWORTH, in the supplementary preface contained in the second volume of his works, asserts in the most emphatic way the deplorable ignorance of "the most obvious and important phenomena" of Nature which characterizes the poetical literature of the period intervening between the publication of the "Paradise Lost" and the "Seasons." It is to be feared that his opinion is, to a large extent, justified by the facts of the case. A very cursory examination of the productions of the poets who flourished during the seventy years referred to will suffice to show how little they were affected by the manifold beauty and grandeur of the visible universe everywhere around them. In this respect they contrast unfavorably, not only with their successors of the present century, which might have been expected, but with those of the two preceding centuries as well. The latter, whose works embrace a period dating back a hundred years from Milton, display, generally, a much more accurate acquaintance with the appearances and phenomena of the natural world, and spontaneousness in the expression of it, than the school of Dryden and Pope, who may be regarded as the most conspicuous examples of Wordsworth's strictures. Of Pope, particularly, it might almost be said that, from his writings, it could scarcely be inferred that there was much else in existence than courts, and fashion, and scandal—not much, at all events, that was worth caring for. He excelled in the representation of the modish life of the day—its fine ladies with their patches, its fine gentlemen with their periwigs, and its general artificiality. Of Nature in its endless continuity, and variety, and mysteriousness, which has stirred the hearts of men in every age, and kindled many smaller poets into enthusiasm, he knew and cared little, and the trim alleys and botanical distortions of Versailles, which he has characteristically described, may be taken as typical of his own inspiration on the matter. It may be worth while mentioning, as a pertinent illustration of these comments, that in his poem of "Windsor Forest," with the exception of a semi-patriotic allusion to the oak, in connection with ship-building, there is not a reference to a single forest-tree, not even to any of those famous historical oaks which abound in the locality. Nature and simplicity, in truth, had gone out of fashion, and were not much in vogue again till far on in the century.

Darwin, a mere poetaster compared with the genius of Twickenham, is a well-known instance of the opposite defect—of the absence