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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The concept of nature in the poetry of Alfred Tennyson and George Meredith Stone, James Stuart

Abstract

Following a general historical discussion of the idea of nature, the study continues with an analysis of the main sources for Tennyson's nature, concept. Here some stress is put upon the temperament of the poet as well as upon his scientific, philosophical and religious affinities with the doctrines of progress and evolution. Chapter three deals with the view of nature in Tennyson's poetry. That Tennyson regarded nature merely as the physical world interpreted by science is demonstrated by a treatment of his poetry that recognizes the different moods of the poet. The conclusion arrived at is that, no matter what mood he was in, Tennyson viewed nature with suspicion. His attempts to embrace pantheism or to escape actuality through mysticism, transcendentalism, or romantic primitivism indicated his failure to reconcile his idea of nature with religious beliefs that demanded personal immortality and absolute morality for man. Because of these emotional needs, Tennyson, especially after the publication of Darwin's scientific treatises on evolution, was forced into a dualism that separated moral (or spiritual) man from a vast, cruel, immoral (or amoral) nature that Tennyson saw as antagonistic to both man and God. For Tennyson man's progress had nothing to do with nature. Chapter four argues that Meredith adopted Goethe's idea that nature is a vital, benevolent being that includes man and God in a unity of the real and ideal worlds. Because Meredith avoided the contradictions that science and Kantian transcendentalism introduced into Tennyson's philosophy, he was able to attain to a conception of the creative and ethical oneness of Earth. Hence he could use Darwinism to clarify his basically Goethian concept of nature, for he abjured the ideas of personal immortality and absolute morality and saw man as a creature of Earth who was progressing toward the harmonious altruistic balance of blood, brain, and spirit that existed in essential humanity. Meredith could rejoice in the struggle of life, which he saw as a struggle for balance and not for existence, because he had from the beginning accepted nature as a beneficent Earth to whose operations man must adjust himself. The last chapter discusses the different approaches of Tennyson and Meredith to nature, their attitudes to nature's law, and their ideas concerning man's place in nature. One argument resulting from this comparison is that Tennyson, applying Kant's transcendental theories and his own emotional reactions to his scientific interpretation of nature, was pessimistic about nature, whereas Meredith, approaching nature by way of the Goethian synthesis and a happy outlook that discerned a desirable mean in all nature's operations, was optimistic about her. Moreover, Meredith's idea of nature was more modern than Tennyson's, for Meredith's belief in altruism and co-operation being the primary law of nature is supported by certain present-day biological and sociological theories.

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