A Critical Analysis of Tension’s In Memorial A. H. H. During the Victorian Period, long held and comfortable religious beliefsfell under great scrutiny. An early blow to these beliefs came from theUtilitarian, followers of Jeremy Bantam, in the form of a test by reason of manyof the long-standing institutions of England, including the church.
When seenthrough the eyes of reason, religion became “merely an outmoded superstition”(Ford ; Christ 896). If this were not enough for the faithful to contend with,the torch of doubt was soon passed to the scientists. Geologists werepublishing the results of their studies which concluded that the Earth was farolder than the biblical accounts would have it (Ford ; Christ 897). Astronomerswere extending humanity’s knowledge of stellar distances, and Natural Historianssuch as Charles Darwin were swiftly building theories of evolution that defiedthe Old Testament version of creation (Ford & Christ 897). God seemed to bedissolving before a panicked England’s very eyes, replaced by the vision of acold, mechanistic universe that cared little for our existence. Alfred, Lord Tennyson was painfully aware of the implications of such auniverse, and he struggled with his own doubts about the existence of God.Order now
Weglimpse much of his struggles in the poem In Memorial A. H. H. , written inmemory of his deceased friend, Arthur Hallam.
The poem seemed to be catharticfor Tennyson, for through its writing he not only found an outlet for his griefover Hallam’s death, but also managed to regain the faith which seemed at timesto have abandoned him. Tennyson regained and firmly reestablished his faiththrough the formation of the idea that God is reconciled with the mechanisticuniverse through a divine plan of evolution, with Hallam as the potential linkto a greater race of humans yet to come. In the first of many lyric units, Tennyson’s faith in God and Jesusseems strong. He speaks of “Believing where we cannot prove” (l. 4), and issure that God “wilt not leave us in the dust” (l.
9). The increasing threatposed to religion by science does not worry Tension here, as he believes thatour increasing knowledge of the universe can be reconciled with faith, saying:”Let knowledge grow from more to more,But more of reverence in us dwell;That mind and soul, according well,May make one music as before” (1. 25-28). He does anticipate doubt, though, as he asks in advance for God’s forgivenessfor the “Confusions of a wasted youth” (l. 42). Tennyson here foresees thedifficulties inherent in reconciling God with the cold universe slowly emergingfor the notes of scientists.
In order to deal with the tasks set before him, Tennyson must firstboldly face the possibility of a world without God. In stanza number three,Sorrow, personified as a woman, whispers these disconcerting possibilities to agrief-ridden Tennyson, saying, “And all the phantom, Nature, stands-. . . / Ahollow form with empty hands” (3. 9, 12).
He questions whether he should “embrace” or “crush” Sorrow with all her uncomfortable suggestions. Tennyson goes on to face an even worse possibility than a lonelyuniverse, that being the possibility of an existence without meaning. In thisview, human life is not eternal, and everything returns to dust forever. God islike “some wild poet, when he works / Without a conscience or an aim” (34. 7-8).
Why even consider such a God, Tennyson asks, and why not end life all the soonerif this vision of God is true (34. 9-12)? He answers himself in the next poem,however, as he banishes such a possibility on the evidence that love could neverexist in such a reality. What we consider to be love would actually be only bea two-dimensional sense of “fellowship,” such as animals must feel, out ofboredom or crude sensuality (35. 21-24)The many poems which follow fluctuate between faith and doubt.
Inpoem fifty-four Tennyson consoles himself with the thought:”That nothing walks with aimless feet;That not one life shall be destroyed,Or cast as rubbish to the void,When God hat made the pile complete” (54. 5-9). Line nine of poem fifty-four definitely assumes a plan for God’s creation,humanity, and an end goal. In the next two poems, however, he returns to thedoubts which a scientific reading of nature inspires, and reminds himself thatthough nature is “So careful of the type” (55. 7), she is yet “careless of thesingle life” (55.
8). This notion of survival of the fittest is extremelydisconcerting to Tennyson. He notices in poem fifty-six the even more alarmingfact that many species have passed into oblivion, and that humans could verywell follow in their footsteps. This is the mechanistic “Nature, red in toothand claw,” (56. 15) whose existence seemed beyond a care of human lives and humanneeds. No longer were men God’s chosen and beloved, but, on the contrary, theyseemed no more noble than the countless scores of other life which had roamedthe planet and passed into extinction.
Tennyson writes:”O life as futile, then as frail!O for thy voice to soothe and bless!What hope of answer, or redress?Behind the veil, behind the veil” (56. 25-28). He feels, here, all too well the possibility of our own cosmic insignificance. The one hope that remains for Tennyson lives in the thought thatevolution might actually be God’s divine plan for humanity.
If we have, in fact,developed to our present state from a lower form, then who is to say thatdevelopment has ceased? Might we not be evolving ever closer to God’s image anddivinity itself, leaving behind the “Satyr-shape” (35. 22) and ape-like visage ofour ancestors? The fact that we love, as Tennyson mentioned before, separatesus from animals. To support this idea, Tennyson delves into his relationshipwith Arthur Hallam, a figure linking humanity’s present condition to thesuperior race yet to come. In poem sixty-four, Tennyson speaks of Hallam,describing him with the words:”And moving up from high to higher,Becomes on Fortune’s crowning slopeThe pillar of a people’s hope,The center of a world’s desire” (64. 13-16). In subsequent sections, he speaks of the divinity present in Hallam, seeming tocompare him at times even to Jesus, as in poem eighty-four, where he writes, “Isee thee sitting crowned with good” (84.
5), and, later, in unit eighty-seven, “. . . we saw / The God within him light his face, / And seem to lift the form, andglow / In azure orbits heavenly-wise’ (87.
35-37). Hallam, Tennyson suggests,would have been a link not only between the present race and that which is tocome, but also between a world in turmoil and the God who will restore it topeace. This notion of the division between chaotic nature and an ordereddivinity is metaphorically expressed through images of the spirit leaving thebody (47. 6-7), the body, of course, being the physical entity prone to sicknessand weariness, and the spirit as the transcendent aspect which shall someday bereunited with those in Heaven (47. 9-16).
He speaks of the coming of the “thousand years of peace” (106. 28),presumably when the higher race is realized and all institutions have beenreformed for the “common love of good” (106. 24). It is not yet time, though,for this race to find fruition. He speaks of Hallam as “The herald of a higherrace” (118. 14), suggesting that his friend was merely a glimpse of what is yetto come.
Humanity must yet “Move upward, working out the beast, And let the apeand tiger die” (118. 27-28). In other words, a nature now brutal and cold,careless of life, will someday become, “High nature amorous of the good”(109. 10-11). These words suggest a slow process, not to be accomplished in thelife of merely one man, no matter how great he may be.
Tennyson seems comfortedby the contemplation of the golden age to come, though, saying, “And all is well,though faith and form / Be sundered in the night of fear” (127. 1-2). Throughhis contemplation, Tennyson seems to have renewed his faith that nature has notbeen abandoned by God, though science would have us believe it so. Finally, after addressing these doubts raised by science, Tennyson turnshis sights to the Utilitarian attack on religion.
In poem 124, he explains thatone cannot come to God through reason, but must fell divinity. He writes:”I found Him not in world or sun,Or eagle’s wing, or insect’s eye,Nor through the questions men may try,The petty cobwebs we have spun” (124. 4-7). Instead, Tennyson rediscovers his faith through the emotion, saying “I have felt”(124.
16). This statement harkens back to the passages in which Tennyson speaksof love as the convincing factor that we are not alone, for without God, lovewould be an excessive and unnecessary dimension, and thus would have no reasonto exist at all in a mechanistic universe. . His love for Hallam, and the hopethat they will someday meet again, is thus the tie which holds Tennyson to hisfaith.
Through Hallam, whom Tennyson says, “O’erlook’st the tumult for afar”(127. 19), he knows “all is well” (127. 20). With the epilogue, the private, intellectual wars of In Memoriamconclude peacefully. Tennyson describes the wedding day of his sister andsuggests that the child resulting from the union will be yet “a closer link /Betwixt us and the crowning race. .
. No longer half-akin to brute” (127-28, 133). He reminds us yet again that Hallum “Appeared ere the times were ripe” (139),and thus merely anticipated that “far-off divine event, / To which the wholecreation moves” (143-44). Works CitedFord, George H.
and Carol T. Christ. “The Victorian Age”. The NortonAnthology of English Literature. Ed. M.
H. Abrams. New York: W. W.
Norton andCo. , 1993. (pps. 891-910). Tennyson, Alfred, Lord.
In Memoriam A. H. H. . Ed.
M. H. Abrams. New York: W. W. Norton and Co.
, 1993. (pps. 1084-1133).