Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Man of Personality

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      Alfred Lord Tennyson possessed an impressive and attractive personality. There was no comparison with his intellectual Personality. Every inch he looked a poet. His Shakespearean face, his high forehead crowned with dark wavy hair, his reserve, thoughtfulness and detachment gave one the impression that he was a poet. Carlyle described him as "a most restful, brotherly, solid-hearted man."

      Tennyson had a peculiar reserve in his nature. He was habitually sober with a shade of melancholy in his general bearing. Carlyle's remark in this respect is quite apt: "Tennyson was a man solitary and sad, dwelling in an element of gloom, carrying a bit of chaos about him." Consequently, he had little to do either with the politics or the literary controversies of his time. B. Johnson writes: "His character, tastes and pursuits were always single-minded, consistent and, in a sense, limited. He never entered into public life or literary controversy. It may be said that his life was spent in talking, reading and writing-mainly, of course, the last." But his reserve and detachment were truly those of a spectator. No doubt, he never entered into politics etc. But like a silent and keen observer he had his eye upon current affairs and changing ideals. All the time, it was his faith that all clashing interests and opinions whether in politics or in religion, were ultimately governed by the law of ordered progress. His poems are marked by his reserve and love of order.

      Tennyson was, besides, a man with a deep religious and moral bias. Having come of a rural stock, he had a natural love of simple life. His life as well as his writings are marked by a sort of Puritan simplicity, a loftiness of character, a love of discipline and hatred for licence and immorality. For nearly half a century Tennyson was not only a man and poet: he was a voice, the voice of a whole people, expressing in exquisite melody their doubts and their faith, their griefs and their triumphs.

      By temperament and training, his tastes were truly artistic. He had a love of beauty for its own sake. In his appreciation of beauty he always showed a strong artistic sense. He had a keen artistic perception for beauties in Nature, paintings and sculpture and a keen and critical ear for the beauty in music. His sensitive eyes and ears could easily detect a faulty beauty and readily discarded it. Nothing that was not faultlessly beautiful could satisfy him. But he was impressed by the external beauty of Nature. He never bothered himself about its deeper, inner beauty. Tennyson does not, like the romantic poets, idealise Nature. To him Nature is not a living, presence capable of thinking and feeling. One distinguishing feature of his treatment of nature is his close, minute, or scientific observation of her.

      On the political side, he was a patriot to the core. He was a stout nationalist in his views. Love of his country and his country-men was one of the uppermost things in his mind. England was to him in all respects above all other countries of the world. He was always a patriot, and there is no feeling he expresses more fervently than that of pride in England. He contrasts her stability with the fickleness of France. Patriotic ballads like The Revenge and The Defence of Lucknow are among the most prominent characteristics of his later volumes. He considered it a great thing to be an Englishman. He writes:

There is no land like England
Where'er light of day be:
There are no hearts like English hearts,
Such hearts of oak as they be.

      But his nationalistic outlook was narrow and conservative, for it was satisfied with what was old, opposed to the democratic and progressive tendencies of his age. He was thus a reactionary in his political views.

      A. Watson sums up Tennyson's personality, thus: "Among men he was a king of men, among poets a prince of poets. As Turner is most admired by painters, so will Tennyson be placed highest by those to whom the veritable spirit of poetry has revealed itself. A royally-minded man, in his work and in his character, he commands devotion as by right of birth. We need not now hesitate to say that he was, in an epoch of remarkable men, the foremost man of letters of his age and one of the greatest poets of all time." It is to be noted also that, while the twentieth century has thought Tennyson to be limited and regrettable because of his being so often 'escapist' and 'literary', he was in his own time thought of as a Modernist and as one who brought modern life into poetry. The following comment by a contemporary is significant; "He dares, in every page, to make use of modern words and notions..." he was indeed, receptive and unconventional enough to make 'literary' poetry out of new features of industrial England:

"Let the great world spin for ever
down the ringing gooves of change".

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