195. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

One story of Romanticism (mostly true, however simplified) goes: some poets from 1790s onwards find their freedom in their capacity to imagine the world. It reflects a distortion and exaggeration of idealist philosophy: freedom arrives as man imposes his understanding onto reality. The better, defensible, fruitful story about German idealism goes: in self-conscious actions and beliefs about the world, humanity finds its freedom. (That is … Continue reading 195. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

127. (George Eliot)

This post will open with George Eliot and then drift, possibly to return. For a starting point, consider one of the most beguiling and frustrating of passages in nineteenth-century British literature: Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great … Continue reading 127. (George Eliot)

111. (John Keats)

On either side of John Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” sit Wordsworth’s “Resolution and Independence” and Tennyson’s “Vision of Sin.” All three are poems about encounters with pictures of strikingly alien people: Wordsworth’s, characteristically, about the imagination’s projection interfering with what is before him; Tennyson’s, characteristically, framed by an account of the vision’s arrival and dissipation. Wordsworth’s poem, then, founded on the conflict between … Continue reading 111. (John Keats)

77. (R.H. Hutton)

One of the chief differences between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century voices of critical prose is that the former wrote for the salon or coffee house; for rooms that could hold fewer voices, where no voice dominated quite as easily. The critical prose of the nineteenth-century, on the other hand, comes, with Hazlitt being a definitive early case, to be written for a lecture hall, in the … Continue reading 77. (R.H. Hutton)

72. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

Tennyson loved Byron first; the story, propagated by Tennyson’s laureate self, of the young Alfred sobbing at the great poet’s death (and carving Byron’s name in rock) both acknowledged the depth and disavowed the persistence of his feelings. In the anecdote, they are made to seem juvenile, adolescent, even infantile. But through adulthood Tennyson was, in his own mind, the infant crying and with no … Continue reading 72. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

40. (Henry James)

Henry James’ critical perception of others didn’t depend on his seeing himself in their words; but he might have been stirred to self-reflection in articulating a discovery (or discovering an articulation) about Tennyson: It is poised and stationary, like a bird whose wings have borne him high, but the beauty of whose movement is less in great ethereal sweeps and circles than in the way … Continue reading 40. (Henry James)

34. (Robert Browning)

Apt that an Italian would assist with placing Browning plain before the eyes. Franco Moretti (once again), but this time on realist prose in The Bourgeois: Between Literature and History (Browning, a poet between literature and history, suits the title too): It is at once the most ‘natural’ and most ‘un-natural’ way of observing the world, this unfaltering attention to what is: natural, in that it … Continue reading 34. (Robert Browning)