Gerald Massey: Tennyson and his Poetry

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20 August 1851.


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 happy naiveté 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 "In 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 works of 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 waist.
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 clocks,
 And feet that ran, and doors that clapt,
     And barking dogs, and crowing cocks;
 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 blew,
     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 their strife,
     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
 The shallop 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.

    "Only reapers, reaping early
 In among the bearded barley,
 Hear a song that echoes cheerly
 From the river winding clearly
         Down to tower'd Camelot."

    There are always a few advanced minds, up and 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 Camelot.
 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.


6 September 1851.


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," "Ænone," 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;  Christ!
 '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 Lot.

                     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 of youth!
 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 range,
 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 glowing hands,
 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.


20 September 1851.


By Gerald Massey.


   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.

    The poet

"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 Festus,—

"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 poet's vision.

"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
     and capes—)
 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 the hurdy-gurdy.

    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,"

unheeded.  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."

That vapour, 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."

A wretched 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."

A leering, lascivious lecher,—

"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."

And awful 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 seer?



The Christian Socialist


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!