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could not fail to be inspired with something of Darwin's loving and minute study of organic life; moreover, he liked to wander by himself along the seashore and on the sandy downs with an eye for everything that could be seen. In no poet can be found more beautiful illustrations of felicitous combination of science and poetry. Here and in subsequent chapters I propose to exhibit something of the indebtedness of poetry to scientific fact; and I make a beginning with Tennyson, in whom it is so exceptionally striking.
It is evident that Tennyson was a skilled botanist, much more so than Wordsworth, who, though he had an absorbing interest in flowers, was content with a sentimental but unscientific admiration, and did not display the same intimate and disciplined knowledge as his successor in the Laureateship. Tennyson's range of reference is wide beyond all others. He introduces plants that never figured in poetry before. Chaucer and Burns made much of the daisy-that sweet "crimson-tipped flower"; Wordsworth, too, devoted a whole poem to the same plant, although the lesser celandine was more his favourite, being in a sense a discovery of his own. Tennyson loves the daisy and the violet, the lily and the rose, but
his garden is more catholic and cosmopolitan, and includes the privet and the sunflower, the convolvulus and the speedwell, the willow and the horse-chestnut.
The fruit of the horse-chestnut has a distinctive colouring somewhat rare in Nature, and it has accordingly been adopted as a picturesque epithet in several directions. Tennyson transforms the conventional "chestnut " hair into something fresher and more definite. In The Brook Katie Willows' hair is
in gloss and hue the chestnut, when the shell Divides threefold to show the fruit within.
It is only the skilled botanist, accustomed to. examine fruits as well as the more attractive flowers, that knows how many carpels are combined in the chestnut capsule. Such matters Tennyson has studied with care, and all his descriptions may be taken as perfectly accurate and satisfying the utmost demands of scientific truth. The image appeals very powerfully to all who have seen the beautiful gloss, like that of polished mahogany, which the chestnut carries when its fruit emerges from its encasing shell—a gloss which is speedily lost after exposure to the air. That this is not a merely isolated fact, a piece of chance knowledge on the
part of the poet, is proved by many other references to the same tree. Leolin Aylmer was sanguine of countenance :
a but less vivid hue
Than of that islet in the chestnut-bloom 1
Flamed in his cheek.
Here again we have a minute observation of the chestnut flower, possible only to those who have subjected the throat of its petals to almost microscopic examination, for this bright pink speck is not likely to be seen by the mere passer-by. The inflorescence of the same tree—a much more familiar sight is well described in The Miller's Daughter: Or those three chestnuts near, that hung In masses thick with milky cones,
where the word "cone" exactly reproduces the shape of the pointed panicle. The same poem describes the chestnut buds :
I came and sat
Below the chestnuts when their buds
Were glistening to the breezy blue.
This glistening of the swelling buds in the springtime, just before bursting into leaf-Nature's clever way of protecting the tender contents from frosthas never before appeared in poetry. Even this does not exhaust the chestnut references. In that beautiful
fragment, Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere, the tree is depicted at a somewhat later stage of growth And drooping chestnut-buds began To spread into the perfect fan Above the teeming ground.
Here the keywords are "drooping" and "
“fan,” which together hit off to perfection the chestnut leaves at the stage prior to full leafage. The lines recall Wordsworth's
The budding twigs spread out their fan
To catch the breezy air.
Still another allusion, an autumn picture
And only through the faded leaf
The chestnut pattering to the ground.
Now, taking these descriptions together, we have almost a complete account of the chestnut tree-its flowers, its leaves, its buds, its fruit-all beyond the reach of one who is not more or less of a botanical student.
Many other examples of minute attention to details of tree botany might be quoted. In The Gardener's Daughter, Alice's hair is—
More black than ashbuds in the front of March.
Till the poet pointed out the colour of ashbuds in March, this was an observation which few dwellers in the country had been able to make for themselves.
Mrs. Gaskell in Cranford introduces a character who, in spite of an outdoor life, had never noticed the fact, and takes shame to himself that it had escaped him. Another feature of the ash-its late leaf-time-is skilfully portrayed. The Princess delays to loveAs the tender ash delays
To clothe herself when all the woods are green.
How few ordinary people, of those at least who live in cities, know that the ash tree is one of the last to put forth her green leaves !
Tennyson has also studied the yew tree, and knows all about its dioecious habit, its clouds of pollen, its inconspicuous flowers. In The Holy Grail
Beneath a world-old yew tree, darkening half
That puff'd the swaying branches into smoke.
The smoke is the pollen from the staminate flowers. The same thought appears in In Memoriam: :
Old warder of these buried bones,
And answering now my random stroke
Dark yew, that graspest at the stones
And dippest towards the dreamless head,