[The original review of the Moxon Tennyson appeared in the Art-Journal without illustrations, which I have added, and I have also corrected the magazine's misspelling of Rossetti. — George P. Landow.]
Poems. By Alfred Tennyson, D.C.L., Poet Laureate. Published by E. Moxon, London.
Whether the laureate wreath which adorns the brow of Alfred Tennyson has been won by superiority over every other living poet, is a question we are not called upon to decide: his Sovereign's favour has placed it where it is, and popular applause has followed the appearance of his writings. Under such circumstances it was only reasonable to expect, according to the fashion of the day, an illustrated edition of at least some of his poems; and we have now a very beautiful volume, issued by Mr. Moxon, of the early poems (those originally published in 1830 and 1832), adorned with a large number of woodcuts from drawings by some of our most distinguished artists, Mulready, Maclise, Stanfield, Creswick, Horsley, Holman Hunt, Millais, and Rossetti, The peculiarity of Tennyson's style of writing, imaginative and highly-coloured, but frequently open to the charge of affectation, was perhaps, in some degree, a justifiable reason for enlisting the services of the Pre-Raffaellite school of artists in the work of illustration; yet we are much inclined to doubt whether their aid will be generally considered to have given much additional value to the volume. The quaintness of thought and expression that is found in the verse, needed not necessarily to be followed by quaintness of pictorial design. The artist may work harmoniously with the poet without any participation in the peculiarities of the latter, when these peculiarities have a constrained or affected tendency; be must work from, as well as up to, his model; but then we look for his own ideas of the subject before him, expressed in the true language of pictorial art, and not in that of any particular school or creed. Tennyson's heroes and heroines are not all men and women of the mediaeval ages: but even when they belong to it, we would not have them drawn strictly after the fashion of the art of that period.
Left to right: (a) Mulready's Life and Thought have gone away Side by side for The Deserted house. Stanfield's (b) Lotus Eaters. (c) Ulysses [Click on these images for larger pictures.]
Mulready is the contributor of four illustrations; of these we prefer "The Deserted House," a solemn scene, yet rich in poetical imagery; and another, "The Goose," a perfect contrast to the former, lively and humorous as Hogarth. Maclise illustrates the "Morte d'Arthur," in two subjects, both exceedingly beautiful compositions, especially the latter of the two, where the king lies extended in the "dusky barge," the decks of which vaganees: can he suppose that such art as he here exhibits can be admired? Is it not more calculated to provoke ridicule, or, if not ridicule, pity for one who can so misapply his talents? It is fortunate for the engravers, Messrs. Dalziel, T. Williams, W. J. Linton, Green, and Thompson, that they are not responsible for anything but what has been placed in their hands to engrnve; that they have had to do they have done with their accustomed skill: we could only wish that subjects more worthy of their time and labour than some we could point out had been entrusted to them. However, the Pre-Raffaellite school has many admirers, and Tennyson has more, so there need be little apprehension of this volume not finding a home in many households.
"Were dense with stately forms,
Black-stoled, black-honded, like a dream—by these
Three queens with crowns ol" fold."
From Stanfield's pencil are six sketches, three marine and three landscape; of these the "Lotuseater" and "Ulysses" merit particular notice for their picturesque and truthful character. Creswiek is also a contributor of six subjects, all of them worthy of his greut reputation as a landscape painter. Horsley illustrates the few lines entitled "Circumstance, in a head-piece and tail-piece; and "The May Queen" in three subjects, characterised by taste and delicacy of feeling.
Left to right: (a) Millais's A Dream of Fair Women and (b) Millais's The Lord of Burleigh. (c) Hunt's Recollections of the Arabian Nights [Click on these images for larger pictures.]
We now come to the Pre-Raffaellite school of artists, of which Millais claims the first notice as the largest contributor, eighteen being the number of designs to which his name is affixed: the majority of these show far less of the peculiarities of the artist than might be expected from his constancy to his adopted style; and among them are a few to which no one, we imagine, would take objection, and which are fine in conception and feeling, and by no means deficient in pictorial beauty: such qualities will generally be acknowledged in the second illustration of the poem—" A Dream of Fair Women," representing Queen Eleanor,—
"Who kneeling with one arm about her kinjr,
Drew forth the poison with her balmy breath,
Sweet as new buds in spring,"—
in the frontispiece to "The Talking Oak," and in that to "Lord of Burleigh." Holman Hunt has furnished seven subjects for tho volume: most graceful and poetical is the Mussulman sailing down the Tigris, one of two designs illustrating the "Recollections of the Arabian Nights;" the frontispiece to "The Lady of Shalott" is a strange fancy that none but an artist of genius could have invented, but the lady is not drawn after the PreRaffaellite fashion. Five subjects are from the pencil of Rossetti; with the exception of "Sir Galahad," a vigorous and effective study, but, so far as we can make it out, without the slightest reference to any descriptive line in the poem it professes to illustrate, these designs are beyond the pale of criticism; if Millais and Hunt have shown something like an inclination to abjure their artistic creed, Rossetti seems to revel in its wildest extra
Left to right: Hunt's (a) The Lady of Shalott. (b) Rossetti's Sir Galahad and (c) Rossetti's The Palace of Art [Click on these images for larger pictures.]
Poems by Alfred Tennyson, D.C.L., Poet Laureate. London: E. Moxon, 1857.
“Reviews.” Art Journal (1856): 231. Hathi Trust Digital Library version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 6 August 2013.
Last modified 6 August 20133