Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/208

This page has been validated.

that they have probably done more than anybody else to foster the modern idea of Nature, and the love of wild and picturesque scenery. Our business, however, is more particularly with Mr. Tennyson, and with the evidences of botanical knowledge to be found in his works, that part of botany, at least, relating to trees. These allusions, we apprehend, are more numerous, and show more insight, and acquaintance with the forms, and processes, and changes characteristic of the inhabitants of the forest, than those of any other modern author. His verse in this respect differs from other descriptive poetry chiefly in this, that his notices are not general appellations or similitudes applicable equally to any or all trees, but are specific, exact, and true only in the particular case. Thomson, for example, in the "Seasons," is, in general, curiously vague in his descriptions. He generalizes constantly, and presents his readers with broad effects sketched en masse, instead of individual details. Such phrases as "sylvan glades," "vocal groves," "umbrageous shades," and the like, frequently occur, doing duty in place of more minute representations. Mr. Tennyson, on the other hand (and Sir Walter and Wordsworth may also be included), pursues exactly the contrary method. His descriptions are, nearly always, pictures of particular places instead of fancy sketches, and the distinguishing features are given incidentally in the course of the narrative. Where, again, particular trees are referred to, it is almost invariably with a phrase or an epithet clinching the description as precisely as a paragraph from Evelyn or Loudon. And, as poetry, these casual, accidental bits of descriptive writing are infinitely more effective than any amount of versified disquisition, of the Darwin sort, on the processes of vegetation. Slight, too, though in many cases they are, they indicate a deep appreciation of the results and tendencies of modern science. In what remains of this paper it is proposed, a little in detail, to adduce evidence from Mr. Tennyson's poems in support of the views we have expressed. It will not be necessary to go over the whole field, and we shall therefore select a few of the more important trees, and see to what extent his notices of them are corroborative of these preliminary remarks.

The ash will be the first example, and the reference in the lines quoted below is to the proverbial lateness of this tree in developing its foliage. It forms part of the Prince's song in "The Princess:"

"Why lingereth she to clothe her heart with love,

Delaying as the tender ash delays
To clothe herself, when all the woods are green?"

This is a very striking comparison, happily expressed, and, besides serving its immediate purpose, corrects an erroneous notion, somewhat popular, that sometimes the ash and sometimes the oak is in leaf first. Then, again, in "The Gardener's Daughter," Juliet's eyes and hair are thus described: