Tennyson's Poems

A Character

First printed in 1830.

The only authoritative light thrown on the person here described is what the present Lord Tennyson gives, who tells us that "the then well-known Cambridge orator S--was partly described". He was "a very plausible, parliament-like, self-satisfied speaker at the Union Debating Society ". The character reminds us of Wordsworth's Moralist. See 'Poet's Epitaph';--

One to whose smooth-rubbed soul can cling,

Nor form nor feeling, great nor small;

A reasoning, self-sufficient thing,

An intellectual all in all.

Shakespeare's fop, too (Hotspur's speech, 'Henry IV.', i., i., 2), seems to have suggested a touch or two.

With a half-glance upon the sky

At night he said, "The wanderings

Of this most intricate Universe

Teach me the nothingness of things".

Yet could not all creation pierce

Beyond the bottom of his eye.

He spake of beauty: that the dull

Saw no divinity in grass,

Life in dead stones, or spirit in air;

Then looking as 'twere in a glass,

He smooth'd his chin and sleek'd his hair,

And said the earth was beautiful.

He spake of virtue: not the gods

More purely, when they wish to charm

Pallas and Juno sitting by:

And with a sweeping of the arm,

And a lack-lustre dead-blue eye,

Devolved his rounded periods.

Most delicately hour by hour

He canvass'd human mysteries,

And trod on silk, as if the winds

Blew his own praises in his eyes,

And stood aloof from other minds

In impotence of fancied power.

With lips depress'd as he were meek,

Himself unto himself he sold:

Upon himself himself did feed:

Quiet, dispassionate, and cold,

And other than his form of creed,

With chisell'd features clear and sleek.