Images de page

make all these divisions between Bethel, Ebenezer and Ænon for ever impossible.”

“You will never get it, Hope! Except on the Congregational model, such a thing can never be. I don't say this in the interest of any ism: but because simplicity of constitution is the first essential. Whether we shall ever get rid of our tendency to subdivide, 'secede,' and 'split,' I do not know.”

“ Wait until there is a difficulty at Bethel yonder.”

“I will wait, Arnold, and more, I will trust in the Spirit of God so to help us that when the difficulty does arise, we may one and all feel that, come what may, we must keep together.”

“Do that, and you will be some steps nearer than I fear you are now, to being a holy catholic church."

"Watch us then, and judge accordingly. Good night.” Oakworth.


OUR poets must be in a highly imaginative mood when they call this the “Iron Age.” They can scarcely venture to appeal, in support of the theory that such is its fitting name, to their personal experience; for, to them, provided only they be poets, it is a veritable age of gold. There was a time in England's history when the laborious and stately epic, the crowning work of a lifetime, brought no more to its weary author than a guerdon of scanty pence, grudgingly doled out by a publisher very slow to accept the proffered poetic wares, and filled, or pretending to be filled, with apprehensive fears of failure; whereas, in these days, which it is the habit of some to contrast with the "good old times," the tiniest morsel from a master-pen will secure a rich reward in gold from publishers, eagerly contending with one another for the prize. Nor is the pecuniary return which the poet now pockets without any wearisome delays, the only favourable feature of the time on which his lot has been cast: if it were unworthy of one who aspires to be a leader of men to rest content with what he may perchance deem such an ignoble reward as a cheque from the prosiac dealers of “the Row," then he has the further and more exalted consolation, which was also denied to his less fortunate predecessors, of

ever hard since mechan.consP

a vast audience standing in the posture of fond expectancy, waiting to catch the winged words he may be pleased to utter. What with the really intelligent and sympathetic readers whose prerogative it is to set the literary fashion of the age, and the crowd of ordinary, not to say commonplace folks, who are content to follow whithersoever they are led, the new volume of the Laureate (in spite of those needless ' puffs by which it was heralded) has already become familiar to a larger circle than was ever commanded to attention in the same brief space of time by any bard since human thought and emotion were first embalmed in verse. The mechanical force by which copies of a book can be swiftly multiplied conspires with the wide diffusion of a taste for poetry to give Mr. Tennyson, in a month, such an audience as a Homer, or even a Shakespeare, could only secure in centuries. But of the many thousands who have already possessed themselves of the familiar green-cased volume which bears the name of the self-sacrificing Enoch Arden, there are probably but a few who have looked upon the poem which sets before us his grotesque companion, The Northern Farmer, in any other light than that of a philological curiosity. To most readers, it has been a spring of laughter; or, if it has led in some cases to sober speculation, then the subject on which it has provoked thought and discussion is nothing loftier than that of the peculiar dialect in which it is composed. Few have studied it as an exhibition of character; the many rest content with seeing in it the Laureate's matchless power of constructing verse, even when he has to make it out of the unpromising materials furnished by that Doric tongue which is spoken over those fat fens of Lincolnshire, in the midst of which it was Mr. Tennyson's fortune to be born.

Only one critic, so far as we are aware, has discovered in this singular poem something else than a source of merriment, or a quaint combination of uncouth provincial words. Mr. J. M. Ludlow, writing in one of the few contemporary serials which contemplate a higher end than the beguiling the tedium of the passing hour, tells us that he has found in The Northern Farmer, not a spring of laughter, but of tears. His interpretation of the poem in Macmillan's Magazine for last October is a piece of subtle and thought-suggesting criticism. It may possibly suggest some reflections that are new, even to Mr. Tennyson himself; for it is the merit of a true poet to convey to other minds other ideas besides those which he consciously strives to embody in his verse; but we believe that Mr. Ludlow has not put a meaning into the poet's work which it will not sustain, nor has he drawn from it any inference which it will not legitimately yield when it is subjected to a careful analysis.

" Look on it,” he says, "and you will see what Christianity, civilization

ess powemany rest con have studied the peculiaraught an

and Protestantism combined have done for the English agriculturist, up to vell into the nineteenth century after Christ, the fourth from Gutenberg, from Luther. A creature, whose last thought on his death-bed is of his ale, of which he has had his pint every night, his quart every market night; whose last feeling towards God is one of rebellion against Him for taking away the wrong man, and at the wrong time ; whose only notion of the clergyman is that of a man who reads one perfectly incomprehensible sermon a week, and comes to visit the sick when he wants his tithe from them; whose only ideas of his rights as a freeborn Englishman is that of “ voating wi' squoire an' Choorch an' Stäet," and never voting down church-rates ; whoee highest view of morality consists in maintaining his bastards; a believer in “boggles," i.e. ghosts ; a disbeliever in the steam-engine ; a many-acred funkey, content to find his supreme honour in the smiles of "quolity" as they see him passing by; "muddled” only by the thought of whom his absent squire after his death will choose to toss to, as a bone to one among a host of hungry curs, that land on which he has spent his life.”

When we have The Northern Farmer's portrait thus reduced by the critic to disenchanting prose, we cannot fail to perceive that the poem is freighted with a weightier meaning than those have discerned in it who think it highly curious in a philological point of view. It is, in truth, a solemn indictment laid by the Laureate against the Christian Church in England; for here is one of her children—and he the representative of a large class

-passing away as utter a heathen as if he had been farming land in Lincolnshire when Penda, the last and the bloodiest of all the Pagan kings of Mercia, was ruling there. Nay, dying a death more ignoble than the grand old Vikings died-a death made smaller and more pitiful by the petty burdens which his life of base servitude has laid upon his spirit, made incongruous by reason of the darkness which is in him contrasting with the blessed Light which has been in England for centuries, and made unspeakably more sad than the departure of any Pagan, when we reflect upon the difference in position and opportunity. Here is a man, not an outcast of the Seven Dials, or any other City slum; but a prosperous many-acred agriculturist, a favorite of the squire, on terms of intimacy with the parson, one of the parish overseers most likely, perhaps, even a churchwarden, dying in our midst in this nineteenth century of Our Lord, as if Christ had never been born into this world. Close by there is an old moss and ivy-clad church, reared by pious Saxon hands a thousand years ago; there, in due form, he received baptism when a child, and now its offices will be extended to him in the appointed form at this other extremity of his earthly coursethe bell will sound out its doleful notes from the old tower, telling the villagers that he is gone, and his body will be laid with the priest's official, “ hearty thanks” and “hope," in the duly consecrated ground; and yet, that man has died neither with the dignity of a Pagan, nor yet with the Christian's hopeful trust. He goes neither to the great Valhalla nor to heaven.

“ Over his spirit,” says our interpreter of the scene, “ Eighteen centuries of Christianity have passed in vain. Of a Father in heaven, of a Saviour of mankind, of a Holy Spirit, he knows literally nothing—the cockchafer booming of the parson has utterly failed to convey to his mind the slightest idea of these. Let the clergy look to it, I say. Here is solemn warning for them."

We do not know that the clergy will relish the mode of “improving" the poem which Mr. Ludlow has adopted. Nor can we be sure that Mr. Tennyson purposely composed the piece as a warning to them. But whatever be their spirit or the poet's purpose, we regard the inference of the critic as a just one. Mr. Tennyson's hero is a representative man; and the numerous class to which he belongs are the products of the church established and sustained by the form of law in this English land. That church has had the Northern Farmer all to herself : she has doubtless inspired within his breast the same horror of conventicles which he cherishes against the detestable

“Kittle of stëam Huzzin' an' maäzin' the blessed feälds wi' the devil's oän tëam." and the grand result of her teaching and social influence we see in the death-ded scene, where the poor fen-clod's last request is for his customary jug of “yaäle," and his last thought is not of the new world which he is about to enter, but of who will succeed him in the" squoire’s” favour, and the cultivation of the land which he is about to leave so sorely against his own will. In spite of the hold which the Established Church maintains in many of our rural districts, not upon the intelligence and affections of the people, but rather by the way in which she ministers to the prejudices and the earthly interests of her adherents, a very large proportion of our agricultural population is included within the Free Churches of the land; but in vain will Mr. Ludlow search among our country Nonconforming congregations for men answering to the type of character which Mr. Tennyson has embodied with such power in his Northern Farmer. Many defects they may have; but their instructors have at least sueceeded in teaching them how a Christian ought to die. Something too much akin to “the cockchafer booming "may occasionally be heard in our pulpits, no doubt; but the spirit engendered by our system does not permit our hearers to yield the heedless and unquestioning assent which the Laureate pourtrays" An' I cërd un a bummin' awaäy loike a buzzard-clock ower my head; An' I niver knaw'd what a mean'd, but I thowt a 'ad summut to saäy,

An' I thowt a said whut a owt to 'a said, an' I comed away." The attendants even at our rural chapels are little accustomed to sit under the sound of the Gospel, or to come away from sermon in this frame of mind. It is rather their fault, as the advocates

vitu do not fat by acquiescacher said, charges

olin of Tho. Pagan of he preacher

of Conformity do not fail to remind us, to err on the other side by dissent rather than by acquiesence—their thoughts being, perhaps, too frequently that the preacher said, " whot a owt not to ’a said.” Such, at least, has been one of the charges brought against the spirit of Nonconformity by its opponents; and, if it be true, it will serve to show how little the buzzard-clock style of preaching can possibly prevail in our midst. The man who intends to succeed in any of our pulpits, even though they be pulpits planted in the soporific fen-lands, must have a message to the people, and must make that message plain to their comprehension; otherwise the farmers to whom he preaches will treat him much as the resolute old Pagan of the poem under review disposed of the goblin of Thornaby Waste

“But I stubb'd un oop wi' the lot, an' raaved an' rembled un oot.” Mr. Ludlow is of opinion that Mr. Tennyson “has embodied for us, in thought and feeling, a type-ay, and an ennobled one -of full four-fifths of the present agricultural population of England, below the so-called 'gentleman-farmer.'” If he confines his view to that ecclesiastical institute in which alone such a personage as the farmer in question can be found, we do not venture to say that his estimate is over the mark; but if he predicates thus much of the whole agricultural population of England, then we beg to doubt the accuracy of his assertion. As he exempts the gentleman-farmer class, we call upon him to exclude from his estimate the much larger class who have escaped from the mechanical appliances of that State Church which make The. Northern Farmer the "grovelling clod” that he is—who are as efficient workers in breaking up the uncultivated places as this baptised Pagan, and as true to their daily duty which they owe to their “betters," but who have learned in the despised village, Bethel or Salem, that there are other wastes besides those of their Thornabys that stand in need of “stubbing," and that there is another Householder besides the “squoire” to whom they must render an account. Ramsey, Hunts.

W. H. W.

« PrécédentContinuer »