Much as has been written about the great poet who was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey on the 12th of October last, a few words may properly be devoted to him in this place on account of the marked influence which his writings have had upon the intellectual movement of our time. In him there was an admirable balance and harmony of the logical and emotional powers. Through the former he was in sympathy with the most progressive thought of the age; through the latter, coupled with a noble imagination, he was enabled to enrich the English language with lyrics of priceless value and to infuse into the great body of his poetry the warmth and glow of a high moral inspiration. In many respects Tennyson was an ideal poet. While alive to the controversies of the time, he held a place apart, and never did or suffered aught of a nature to impair the great and ever-increasing consideration in which his name was held. He confined himself strictly to his own region of poetry, not seeking to shine as a prose writer, a critic, a theologian, or a man of society. At the same time his poetical throne was well within view of the people. His style was free from the all but hopeless obscurity of Browning, and yet it was marked by a certain distinction and refinement of thought which placed it just beyond the reach of the intellectually vulgar. Though a "gentleman" by birth, he had sincere popular sympathies; and though an upholder of church and state, his theology was of a very broad and liberal pattern. All things considered, he was in an admirable position for interpreting this age to itself; in other words, for making his contemporaries conscious of the spirit and tendencies of the time. His thought was fresh and forward-glancing in the early years of the century, and in the latest it was still in sympathy with all true progress.
No one can read any considerable portion of the poetry of Tennyson without perceiving his interest in scientific thought. He tells us himself, in Locksley Hall, in a touch which may be regarded as autobiographical:
With the fairy tales of science and the long results of time."
In certain well-known stanzas of In Memoriam he has given us a vigorous sketch of the evolution theory, even anticipating the views of Darwin on the descent of man. That he studied the stars is evident from many allusions. Take the beautiful verses from Locksley Hall:
Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the west;
Many a night I saw the Pleiads rising through the mellow shade,
In The Palace of Art he tells how—
Sleeps on his luminous ring ";
and in The Princess how
And bickers into red and emerald."
That he did not sympathize with the attacks of theologians on scientific speculations may perhaps be gathered from the following lines in the Prologue to his Morte d'Arthur:
The parson taking wide and wider sweeps,
Now harping on the church commissioners,
Now hawing at Geology and schism;
Until I woke and found him settled down
Upon the general decay of faith
Eight through the world—'at home was little left
And none abroad: there was no anchor, none,
That he placed but limited faith in ecclesiastical authority is more than hinted where he says to the Rev. F. D. Maurice: