My text is from William Allingham, The Diaries, and the entry for 1 February 1867:
Tennyson is unhappy from his uncertainty regarding the condition and destiny of man. Is it dispiriting to find a great Poet with no better grounds of comfort than a common person? At first it is. But how could the case be otherwise? The poet has only the same materials of sensation and thought as ordinary mortals; he uses them better; but to step outside the human limitations is not granted even to him. The secret is kept from one and all of us. We must turn eyes and thoughts to the finer and nobler aspects of things, and never let the scalpel of Science overbear pen, pencil and plectrum. A Poet's doubts and anxieties are more comforting than a scientist's certainties and equanimities.
"At first it is." This must be one of the lightest of understatements. To a reader such as Allingham, who in common with many Victorians seems inclined to treat poets as sources of wisdom equal to the true prophets of the established religions, the discovery of clay feet on so perfect and true a poet as Tennyson can only have been quite shocking, and it speaks well of their friendship that no care was taken to conceal these embarrassingly earthbound extremities. But Allingham recovers well: "But how could the case be otherwise?" Correct: the poet has no access to any kind of understanding, through reflection on the materials brought to him by sensation, that is not available to any other individuals. Then, staggering in over-correction, he falls over: "he uses them better". This seems unlikely to be true, unless it is to mean that he writes them down in poetry, but that seems unlikely to qualify, since the best use would be that resulting in the best understanding, and we know from Allingham's initial premise that poets, however impressive their writings may seem to be, have no better grounds of comfort than anyone else.
He dusts himself down: "to step outside the human limitations is not granted even to him". Quite so, that much is obvious. He excuses his fall: "The secret is kept from one and all of us." Apparently, if indeed there is a single secret, a final truth only discovered at the great unveiling. With this he straightens his hat and attempts to regain what dignity can be rescued with a few vacuous pieties: "We must turn eyes and thoughts to the finer and nobler aspects of things, and never let the scalpel of Science overbear pen, pencil and plectrum." A decent reader will look the other way; it is unbecoming to embarrass let alone mock a man whose clothes have become disarranged through no fault of his own.
And then in parting he rescues it all: "A Poet's doubts and anxieties are more comforting than a scientist's certainties and equanimities." That sentence is, like Bradley's remarkable observations on the character of poetic effects ("About the best poetry, and not only the best, there floats an atmosphere of infinite suggestion"), a simple and candid observation of one of the principal paradoxes in the readerly experience of poetry; the scientific certainties and equanimities, that mental repose that comes from conclusions grounded in the most rigorous derivation of propositions from careful thought about our sensory input, offer weaker comfort to a troubled mind than the less carefully found, but over-made, utterance of a poet. How can this possibly be? It should so clearly be the other way around. My own views have been set out in detail elsewhere (see for example "The Free and the Compromised" 2004), and I will not recapitulate them here; those that care must read them for themselves. Allingham, no more than Bradley, has the answers, but his honesty in reporting the materials of his sensation is to be treated with the greatest respect. If only all critics were as sincere.