TENNYSON AND THE SCIENCE OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
The hundred years which began with the births of Darwin, Tennyson and Gladstone, and closes with the deaths of Meredith and Swinburne, has been a notable period in English history. Its two chief movements—the growth of science and the growth of democracy—are adequately represented by Darwin and Gladstone. Tennyson was the most widely read and perhaps the greatest poet of the period. The scientific man may be permitted to moralize over the world-wide extension and permanence of Darwin's contribution as compared with Tennyson's. Fifty years ago Darwin's name was almost unknown, whereas Tennyson's was a household word in England. A little later a man was not thought to have made himself ridiculous by saying that he sided with God against Darwin and the devil. Now Tennyson's reputation is being defended; no one would think of defending Darwin. The University of Cambridge lavishes its academic ceremonial on the man of science rather than on the poet. Tennyson wrote:
The man of science himself is fonder of glory, and vain,
An eye well practised In nature, a spirit bounded and poor.
But Darwin's personality and character are comparable with his services to science.
We may place the science of the nineteenth century before its poetry and Darwin before Tennyson; but to do so it is not needful to depreciate the poetry or the poet laureate. Indeed a scientific journal may well call attention to the fact that Tennyson was largely influenced by the science of his period and permitted it to become part of his poetry. Poetry based on the classical tradition can not make a wide or deep appeal to a world in I which it is no longer living; the future of poetry depends on the possibility of its adjusting itself to science and modern life, and Tennyson should receive honor for his efforts to this end.
The well-known verses of "In Memoriam" were printed nine years before the "Origin of Species." The geology may have have come from Lyell, but it was twenty years before Lyell would have been willing to accept the last verse of the stanza:
The solid earth whereon we tread
In tracts of fluent heat began. And grew to seeming random forms, The seeming prey of cyclic storms, Till at the last arose the man.
The doctrine of evolution is frequently used, as in "Maud," where the first verse is scarcely less significant than the second in the couplet:
As nine months go to the shaping an infant ripe for his birth,
So many a million of ages have gone to the making of man.
There will also be found in Tennyson an adequate conception of physical science and an attempt to put even its practical achievements into poetical form. Thus the age is told to
and we even hear of
Scientific knowledge is assumed or taught continually in the pages of Tennyson from the first lines of the "Lady of Shalott," which reawakened the spirit of English poetry—
On either side the river He
Long fields of barley and of rye. . .
Willows whiten, aspens quiver
Little breezes dusk and shiver.
to his last poem with