The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 6. Enoch Arden and dialect ballads
The same excess of sentiment, which, in a great poem, should have given place to thought and passion, and the same over-elaborate art, are apparent in the rustic idyll which gives its name to the volume published in 1864, Enoch Arden, etc., a tragedy of village life founded on a story given to Tennyson by the sculptor Woolner, recalling, in many of its details, Crabbe’s The Parting Hour. Fundamentally, there is more of Crabbe than of Wordsworth in Tennyson’s tales of English country-life, for, though Tennyson is more sentimental than Crabbe and his treatment far more decorative, he does not idealise in the mystical manner of Wordsworth. But, in style and verse, there could not well be a greater difference than that between the vividpictures, the tropical colouring, the sophisticate simplicity of Enoch Arden and the limited, conventional phraseology, the monotonous verse in which Crabbe tells his story with so much more of sheer dramatic truth. But it was in the direction of sheer dramatic truth, mastering and, to some extent simplifying the style, that Tennyson’s genius was advancing most fruitfully, and the earnest of this is two poems which accompany Enoch Arden, the dialect ballads in six-foot anapaests, The Grandmother and The Northern Farmer—Old Style, the first of which owes its poignancy to the sorrow with which Tennyson gazed on his own first child born dead, while the latter is the earliest altogether felicitous expression of the vein of dramatic humour which ran through his naturally sombre temperament. Tennyson could not trifle, but he had a gift of caustic satire to which he might have given freer play with advantage to his permanent, if not his immediate, popularity. The two farmer poems and The Village Wife are worth several such poems as Dora and Enoch Arden.