Thursday 9 December 2021

Lockyer, Tennyson and a Cooke


Westminster Gazette, Monday 12th December 1910

The very interesting little book, " Tennyson as a Student and Poet of Nature," by Sir Norman Lockyer, K.C.8., and Winifred L. Lockyer just published by Messrs. Macmillan (4s. M. net), contains the passages in the late Laureates works which deal with the scientific aspects of nature. "

All such references have been brought together and classified, and by means of notes kindly supplied by various authorities it has been shown how very true to fact Tennyson's descriptions are and how keen and careful an observer be was." Quite a number of prominent scientific authorities have given their assistance, and Lord Tennyson has also read some of the proofs and made suggestions.

In the matter of nature knowledge, Dante, it is contended, is the only poet Who can be even named along with Tennyson. Sir Norman Lockyer, in his preface, tells of his own meetings with Tennyson, and of the great interest the poet always took in matters scientific.

Sir Norman was living in 1864 at West Hampstead, and had erected his 6in. Cooke Equatorial in the garden, and concerning Tennyson he says : I soon found that he was an enthusiastic astronomer. and that few points of the descriptive part of the subject had escaped him. He was, therefore. often in the observatory. Some of his remarks still linger fresh in my memory. One night the moon’s terminator swept across the broken ground round Tycho, he said "What a splendid Hell that would make." Again, alter showing him the clusters in Hercules and Perseus, he remarked musingly. I cannot think much of the county families after that."

In the seventies and eighties Tennyson rarely came to London without discussing some scientific points with his friend. In 1890 Sir Norman visited Tennyson at Aldworth, when he was in his eighty-second year : I was then (says Sir Norman) writing the " Meteoritic Hypothesis" and he had asked for proof sheets. Where I arrived there I was touched to find that he had had them bound together for convenience in reading, and from the conversation we had I formed the impression that he had read every line. It was a subject after his own heart. . . . One of the nights during my stay was very fine, and be said to me " Now. Lockyer. let us look at the double stars again," and we did. There was a 2inch telescope at Aldworth. Tennyson's interest in astronomy was, Sir Norman adds, persistent until his death.

The breadth of Tennyson's outlook upon nature is, as Sir Norman Lockyer points out, only equalled by the minute accuracy of observation displayed. Hundreds of quotations are here grouped together from his poems, and they refer not only to evolution but to the starry heavens, the sun and sunlight, the moon and moonlight, bird-life and song, the insect world, animals and their ways, plants and trees, water and aquatic life, the importance of knowledge, and so forth.

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