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TENNYSON'S poem of Maud was first pub
lished in 1855, having been chiefly written in 1854. Its immediate “genesis” was rather a curious one. We are told that having “accidentally lighted upon a poem of his own which begins “O that 'twere possible,' . . . it had struck him that to render the poem fully intelligible, a preceding one was necessary. He wrote it; the second poem, too, required a predecessor, and thus the whole work was written, as it were, backwards.” Such is the account given by Sir Aubrey de Vere, Tennyson's intimate friend. But in reading Maud we can doubtless see other influences at work. The mind of Tennyson, even when his emotions were most thoroughly roused, was always busy with some intellectual problem. For instance, the deep feeling in In Memoriam is inextricably blent with profound theological and philosophical thought. In the Princess, the attractive love-story is made the occasion for discussing the whole problem of the relations of the sexes and the future of womanhood; and here in Maud, which contains some of
Tennyson's most emotional poetry-critics would perhaps say emotional to the verge of hystericswe can trace the effect of contemporary life and its problems on the poet's thought. No one can really enter into Maud without remembering that the first twenty years of the reign of Queen Victoria were marked by great struggles between Labour and Capital, and by the arrival of the plutocrat, who has since become so familiar a figure in English society. The hero of the tale is not only a passionate lover, but is also a victim of the actual order of thingsthat of " new men and old acres.” His father has been ruined by the failure of a vast speculation, while the rogue who led him on has made his own fortune, and has bought up his victim's property. The earlier stanzas of Maud are a bitter invective against all the evils which peace and prosperity have brought to the land—mammon-worship, dishonest gain, mutual distrust, oppression of the poor, drunkenness, wife-beating, overcrowding, adulteration of food, and so forth—just the evils to which Lord Shaftesbury and other noble philanthropists were endeavouring to draw attention in and out of Parliament, and which Ruskin, Kingsley, and others were denouncing in eloquent and incisive prose or still more forcible verse. “ Maud,” said the author himself, “is a little Hamlet.” This remark is so far true that we find Hamlet, as well as the nameless hero of Maud, has his mind preyed upon by a sense of the evil and injustice in the world,~" The time is out of joint,” etc., says Hamlet,—and both personages express themselves in biting invective and sarcasm against the fashions, follies, and corruptions of their own day. Hamlet, however, is much the manlier character of the two, and would never have lost his self-respect and his balance as Tennyson's hero does; in fact it is an open question whether Hamlet ever really went mad at all, and mad or sane he said something shrewd and clever whenever he opened his mouth, whereas there is—to the present editor's thinking—a good deal of rant, or something very like it, in the
One pities Ophelia for having lost the love of Hamlet, one can hardly extend the same pity to Maud, though apparently she died of a broken heart. We could wish the author had been a little more explicit as to her fate; we do not quite know whether she really died, or whether her lover only thought so in his ravings.
At the close of the poem another element is introduced, that of war. We must remember Maud was written in the Crimean year, and as Lord Tennyson's biographer tells us, the concluding part was composed “when the cannon was heard booming from the battleships in the Solent” (Life, i. 405). Tennyson was not the only Englishman who hoped that many of the evils which had been fostered by years of peace and prosperity would be diminished if not cured by the bracing effect of
In the poem war has a double part to play,