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Carlyle and Tennyson : relations between a prophet and a poet Allgaeir, Johannes

Abstract

Carlyle was much, more popular and influential in the nineteenth century than he is in the twentieth. Many critics "believe that he exerted an influence over Tennyson, but there is very little direct evidence to support such an opinion. However, circumstantial evidence shows that Tennyson must have been interested in what Carlyle had to offer; that Carlyle and Tennyson were personal friends; and that there are many parallels between the works of Carlyle and Tennyson. Carlyle is essentially a romantic. His attitude toward art is ambivalent, a fact which is indicative of the conflict between Carlyle's longing for beauty, goodness, and truth on the one hand, and, on the other, his realization of the difficulty in reaffirming these absolutes within the spirit of his age. This ambivalence is related to the post-Kantian conflict between "Mere Reason" and "Understanding". Carlyle describes that conflict as the result of a process of ever-increasing self-consciousness of both the individual and society. Tennyson's early poetry is determined by the same "romantic" conflict, "but whereas in Carlyle's writings this conflict is philosophically resolved, Tennyson's early poems lack this resolution. One may say that these poems represent Tennyson's "Everlasting No." Carlyle and Tennyson met first in 18J8 and soon became personal friends. Although during the forties their friendship was at times very intimate, it seems that Carlyle took Tennyson not very seriously, and that Tennyson was sometimes annoyed over Carlyle's blustering manner. But on the whole, Tennyson regarded Carlyle very highly. In In Memoriam, many sections of which were written after Tennyson had become acquainted with Carlyle, Tennyson arrives at an "Everlasting Yea," i.e., at a reconciliation of "Mere Reason" and "Understanding" through renunciation (Selbsttötung). In addition, the poem displays many similarities with Sartor Hesartus. But whereas in Carlyle's writings the resolution of the "basic romantic polarity" is mainly rational, it becomes an intense emotional experience in Tennyson's poem. "Locksley Hall" displays many similarities with Sartor Resartus in general, and with Book II in particular. These similarities have led William D. Templeman to maintain that "Locksley Hall" is a dramatization of Book II of Sartor. But apart from parallels "between the two works, there is no evidence to support this view. After 1850, when Tennyson received the laureateship and founded a family, he became more self-reliant. His meetings with Carlyle became less frequent and more formal. However, there are many indications that both men held each other in high esteem, despite the fact that Carlyle often criticised Tennyson. The plot and the characters in Maud resemble Book II of Sartor Resartus. In addition, there are several other parallels between Maud and some of Carlyle’s works. In one instance it appears likely that Tennyson has used an image from Past and Present. Furthermore, the hero in Maud undergoes a progression from an "Everlasting No" to an "Everlasting Yea," but there is little evidence to prove that such parallels reflect influences. After 1855, the friendship between Carlyle and Tennyson may be described as a "friendly companionship between two equals, neither ignoring the other, but each enjoying full intellectual independence." After a temporary estrangement, probably caused by Carlyle's overbearing manner, Tennyson appears to have taken the initiative in reviving the friendship (1865). Although Carlyle's criticism of Tennyson continued to be unfair and destructive, Tennyson often indicated that he had an affectionate regard for Carlyle. "Locksley Hall Sixty Years After" suggests that Tennyson agreed closely with Carlyle's political views. Because Carlyle and Tennyson were interested in the same intellectual problems; because Carlyle formulated solutions to these problems much earlier than Tennyson; because Tennyson appears to have accepted these solutions after he had met Carlyle; because the two men were personal friends; and because there are many parallels between their works, it appears likely that Carlyle has exerted some influence over Tennyson, although the extent of such influence cannot be determined.

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