ARTHUR HENRY HALLAM. REMAINS, IN VERSE AND PROSE, OF ARTHUR HENRY HALLAM. With a Preface and Memoir. London: John Murray, Albemarle-Street. 1863.

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apped in a fold of his friend's glory, Arthur Hallam's works will go down to after-ages. Generation after generation will seek to know who was he to whom the great poet of the Victorian era looked up with a reverence so entire, by whose loss he was smitten with a sorrow so mighty, so deep, so blessed, as that which inspired the "In Memoriam." And, undoubtedly, the first feeling which acquaintance with what he has left behind him will invariably produce will be one of disappointment. In dealing with Arthur Hallam, we instinctively measure him by a Tennysonian standard, — in other words, by the highest. But the true way, on the contrary, of appreciating the man in himself would be to reject that standard altogether, and to ask oneself, suppose Tennyson had never existed, what would be the place in English literature of Arthur Hallam? If we succeed in making this effort, it is marvellous how his stature rises at once. Say it is once more 1831, and a new poet writes thus:

This was my lay in sad nocturnal hour,
What time the silence felt a growing sound
Awful, and winds began among the trees,
Nor was there starlight in the vaulted sky.
Now is the eyelid of the jocund sun
Uplifted on the region of this air,
And in the substance of his living light
I walk enclosed. Therefore to matin chaunts
Of all delighted birds I marry a note
Of human voice, rejoicing unto thee,
Ever-beloved . . .
Then I believed thee distant from my heart;
Thou hadst not spoken then, I had not heard:
And I was faint, because I breathed not
Breath of thy love, wherein alone is life.
But at this hour my heart is seen, my prayer
Answered and crowned with blessing; I have looked
Into thine eyes, which have not turned awry,
But rested all their lavish light upon me,
Unutterably sweet, till I became
Angelic in the strength of tenderness,
And met thy soul down-looking into mine
With a responsive power; thy word hath passed
Upon my spirit, and is a light for ever,
High o'er the drifting spray of circumstance;
Thy word, the plighted word, the word of promise
And of all comfort. In its mighty strength
I bid thee hail, not as in former days,
Not as my chosen only, but my bride,
My very bride, coming to make my house
A glorious temple. Be the seal of God
Upon that word until the hour be full

Or thus again:

Tbe garden trees are busy with the shower
That fell ere sunset; now methinks they talk
Lowly and sweetly, as befits the hour,
One to another down the grassy walk.
Hark! the laburnum, from his opening flower,
This cherry-creeper greets in whisper light,
While the grim fir, rejoicing in the night,
Hoarse mutters to the murmuring sycamore.
What shall I deem their converse? Would they hail
The wild grey light that parts yon massive cloud,
Or the half-bow, rising like pillared fire?
Or are they sighing faintly for desire
That with May sun their leaves may be o'erflowed,
And dews about their feet may never fail?

There are echoes here both from Wordsworth and from Coleridge; but what depth and warmth of human feeling as compared with the one, what a fresh sympathy with and keen observation of nature as compared with the other! Man is no more a mere element in a landscape, as he is mostly for Wordsworth; nature is no more a mere background for man, as she is mostly for Coleridge, even in his most elaborate descriptions; out of the very fullness of the man's own personality wells forth his fellow-feeling with the world of God around. Wordsworth's chosen friendships are with all those elements of nature which lie furthest away from man, — rocks, rivers, heaths, mountains; or, again, with the humblest flowers, provided only they be wild ones, — the daffodil, the daisy, the celandine; if he cares for a primrose, it must be by "a river's brim." But here we have a poet who does not seem to feel that nature is polluted by man's touch, who listens to the voice of the garden "laburnum"; not that, like a horticulturist, he sets a value on the plant because it is not a wild one, but simply that, — rail though he may, perhaps, against the "busy town" and the "social mill," — he can yet see the mark of the Divine hand as well on the cultivated plant as upon the wild. Surely, supposing once more that no Tennyson had ever sung, these snatches of verse from Arthur Hallam's hand would have made him a place in English literature not unlike that of Andre Chenier in French (though, indeed, a less prominent one), as one whose light, though early quenched, was yet the promise of a new poetical day.

It may be said, indeed, that such a point of view would not be a true one, since, when Arthur Hallam wrote, Alfred Tennyson had written already, and was the object of his warm admiration. It is of course impossible to say to what extent each may have influenced the other. Still — not to speak yet of the judgment of others — if we compare Arthur Hallam's poems with the contemporary ones of Tennyson, — although the mastery of the latter over form is already royally complete, and such as his friend could probably never have attained to, — yet we shall remain at least doubtful whether the maturity of thought and feeling at once does not rather rest with Arthur Hallam. And if we turn then to the testimonies respecting the man himself, which are collected in the Preface prefixed to the volume (and which is among the most touching biographical sketches ever penned), we may find reason to suspect that, in all except mere style, Arthur Hallam may have owed less to Tennyson than Tennyson to him; that, at a given period, the one was a greater man than the other.

Does this diminish Tennyson's greatness? Quite the contrary: it restores it. How many men has one met with who view the "In Memoriam" as a piece of poetical exaggeration! What is that feeling of disappointment of which I spoke, which the first perusal of Hallam's "Remains" is sure to provoke, but a tacit accusation of the same kind against the living poet? "You speak to us of a 'flower of men,' one 'kindred with the great of old,' — and we find nothing but a few poems never rising to absolute excellence, and a few prose essays, of which one only, that on Rossetti and Dante, and some portions of the kindred oration on the influence of Italian literature, have substantial claims to be remembered for their own sake. Are we to distrust your judgment, or your truthfulness? Are you merely self-deluded, or have you been playing tricks with us and with yourself?" Such, I repeat it, although we may not realize the fact to ourselves, is really the meaning of our disappointment. But if we once accept the fact of Arthur Hallam's superiority, whilst their joint Uvea lasted, to his friend, then everything falls into its place, and that great woe of the poet, recovering all its truth, becomes to us once more reverend and sacred.

For, indeed, all history shows that some men's works are greater than themselves; other men are greater than their works. Rousseau in the last century, Lamartine in this, with the whole tribe of great men who are not such to their valets, belong to the former class; whilst the greatest of heathens, who drank down his hemlock draught without leaving a written line for legacy to the world, sufficiently exemplifies the latter. And to this latter class, we now begin to see, belonged also Arthur Hallam. The man was greater than what he wrote or did. We have been idly measuring him by written words, by the metre of his verse or the fashioning of his prose. His friend has bidden us take a truer measure, that of the greatness of his own sorrow. Take these scraps of prose and verso for what they are, the mere fragments of a vanished life. Would you judge of Cleopatra's beauty by a few shreds of her mummy?

And surely it must have happened to many of us to meet with men who have impressed us with as vivid a sense of their superiority as Tennyson expresses with reference to Arthur Hallam, but who pass away from this world without leaving any adequate imprint of that superiority, except upon the memories of a few. The difference between our feelings in such cases and those enshrined in the "In Memoriam" is then simply one of intensity in ourselves, and powers of expression as towards others. There are some now living who remember one to whom the vates sacer has alone been wanting, to secure for him a name at least as eminent as that of Arthur Hallam. Who that ever really knew Charles Blachford Mansfield, but must bear about with him while life lasts the sense of a void which can never be filled on earth, the remembrance of an excellence altogether unique, of a matchless loveliness of spirit, of a promise which was utterly boundless? And yet what remains of him for the world to judge by? A chemical discovery, most fruitful in realized results, which for the many obscure wholly the name of the discoverer; reports of a few lectures; an entry in the register of patents; some scattered papers; a volume of travels, as fascinating, certainly, as any of our day, yet ending abruptly and unintelligibly; a chemical work, which has been creeping for years through the press; a mass of unfinished MSS. "What can be said of him, then, but this — the man was greater immeasurably than his works? Though no two lives ran ever more various and divergent than those of Charles Mansfield and Arthur Hallam, none who loved the one will ever dare to accuse Tennyson of the slightest untruthfulness or exaggeration in his expression of the feelings which bound him to the other.

J. M. L.


“Arthur Henry Hallam.” The Reader: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Art. London: “Published at 112, Fleet Street,” (10 January 1863): 31-32. Hathi Trust Digital Library web version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. 17 April 2022.

Last modified 17 April 2022