Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892).Portrait by Peter Kramer (1823-1907). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Right Honourable
The Lord Tennyson
Born May 6 1809(1809-Template:MONTHNUMBER-06)
Somersby, Lincolnshire, England, UK
Died October 6 1892(1892-Template:MONTHNUMBER-06) (aged 83)
Haslemere], Surrey, England, UK
Occupation Poet laureate

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, FRS (6 August 1809 - 6 October 1892) was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria's reign, and remains among the most popular of all English poets.

Life[edit | edit source]

Overview[edit | edit source]

Tennyson was the 4th son of George Tennyson, rector of Somersby, Lincolnshire, where he wasorn b. His father was himself a poet of some skill, and his 2 elder brothers, Frederick and Charles, were poets of a high order. His early education was received from his father, after which he went to the Grammar School of Louth, whence in 1828 he proceeded to Cambridge. In the previous year had appeared a small volume, Poems by Two Brothers, chiefly the work of his brother Charles and himself, with a few contributions from Frederick, but it attracted little attention. At the university he was one of a group of highly gifted men, including Trench , Monckton Milnes (afterwards Lord Houghton), Alford, Lushington, his future brother-in-law, and above all, Arthur Hallam, whose friendship and early death were to be the inspiration of his greatest poem. In 1829 he won the Chancellor's medal by a poem on Timbuctoo, and in the following year he brought out his 1st independent work, Poems Chiefly Lyrical. It was not in general very favorably received by the critics, though Wilson in Blackwood's Magazine admitted much promise and even performance. In America it had greater popularity. Part of 1832 was spent in travel with Hallam, and the same year saw the publication of Poems, which had not much greater success than its predecessor. In the next year Hallam died, and Tennyson began In Memoriam and wrote The Two Voices. He also became engaged to Emily Sellwood, his future wife, but owing to various circumstances their marriage did not take place until 1850. So far as the public were concerned, he remained silent until 1842, when he published Poems in 2 volumes, and at last achieved full recognition as a great poet. From this time the life of Tennyson is a record of tranquil triumph in his art and of the conquest of fame; and the publication of his successive works became almost the only events which mark his history. The Princess appearing in 1847 added materially to his reputation: in the lyrics with which it is interspersed, such as "The Splendour Falls" and "Tears, idle Tears" he rises to the full mastery of this branch of his art. The year 1850 was perhaps the most eventful in his life, for in it took place his marriage which, as he said, "brought the peace of God into his life," his succession to the Laureateship on the death of Wordsworth, and the publication of his greatest poem, In Memoriam. In 1852 appeared his noble "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington" and 2 years later "The Charge of the Light Brigade." The publication of Maud in 1855 gave his rapidly growing popularity a perceptible set-back, though it has since risen in favor. But this was far more than made up for by the enthusiasm with which the 1st set of The Idylls of the King was received on its appearance 4 years later. Enoch Arden, with the "Northern Farmer," came out in 1864; other works followed through Demeter and other poems (1889), including "Crossing the Bar," and The Death of Œnone (1892). Tennyson, who cared little for general society, though he had many intimate and devoted friends, lived at Farringford, Isle of Wight, from 1853-69, when he built a house at Aldworth, near Haslemere, which was his home until his death. In 1884 he was raised to the peerage. Until he had passed the threescore years and ten he had, with occasional illnesses, enjoyed good health on the whole. But in 1886 the younger of his 2 sons died, a blow which told heavily upon him; thereafter frequent attacks of illness followed, and he died on October 6, 1892, in his 84th year, and received a public funeral in Westminster Abbey.[1]

Tennyson excelled at penning short lyrics such as "In the valley of Cauteretz", "Break, Break, Break", "The Charge of the Light Brigade", "Tears, Idle Tears" and "Crossing the Bar / Tennyson Crossing the Bar". Tennyson also wrote some notable blank verse including Idylls of the King, Ulysses, and Tithonus.[2]


Alfred Lord Tennyson - The Circle of the Hills - Documentary - poetry

The poetry of T. is characterised by a wide outlook, by intense sympathy with the deepest feelings and aspirations of humanity, a profound realisation of the problems of life and thought, a noble patriotism finding utterance in such poems as The Revenge, the Charge of the Light Brigade, and the Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington, an exquisite sense of beauty, marvellous power of vivid and minute description often achieved by a single felicitous phrase, and often heightened by the perfect matching of sense and sound, and a general loftiness and purity of tone. No poet has excelled him in precision and delicacy of language and completeness of expression. As a lyrist he has, perhaps, no superiors, and only two or three equals in English poetry, and even of humour he possessed no small share, as is shown in the Northern Farmer and in other page 377pieces. When the volume, variety, finish, and duration of his work are considered, as well as the influence which he exercised on his time, a unique place must be assigned him among the poets of his country.[1]

Youth[edit | edit source]

Tennyson was born at Somersby, a village in North Lincolnshire (between Horncastle and Spilsby), the 4th of 2 children of Rev. Dr. George Clayton Tennyson, rector of Somersby. His mother was Elizabeth, daughter of Rev. Stephen Fytche, vicar of Louth in the same county. Of the 12 children,8 were sons, and of these, 2 besides Alfred became poets of distinction: Frederick Tennyson and Charles, who in later life adopted the name of an uncle, and became Charles Tennyson Turner All of the children seem to have shared the poetic faculty in greater or less degree. Their father, owing to "a caprice" of his father, George Tennyson (1750-1835) of Bayons Manor, had been disinherited in favour of his younger brother Charles (Tennyson D'Eyncourt), and the disappointment seems to have embittered the elder son to a degree that affected his whole subsequent life.[3]

Alfred was brought up at home until he was 7 years old, when he was sent to live with his grandmother at Louth and attend the grammar school in that town. The master was strict and passionate, and the poet preserved no happy memories of the 4 years passed there.[3]

In 1820, the boy returned to Somersby to remain under his father's tuition until he went to college. The rector was an adequate scholar and a man of some poetic taste and faculty, and the boy had the run of a library more various and stimulating than the average country rectory could boast. He became early an omnivorous reader, especially in poetry, to which he was further drawn by the rural charm of Somersby and its surroundings, which he was to celebrate in one of his earliest descriptive poems, the "Ode to Memory." A letter from Alfred to his mother's sister when in his 13th year, containing a criticism of Samson Agonistes, illustrated by references to Horace, Dante, and other poets, exhibits a quite remarkable width of reading for so young a boy.[3]

Even before this date the child had begun to write verse. When only 8 (so he told his son in later life) he had written "Thomsonian blank verse in praise of flowers;" at the age 10 and 11 he had fallen under the spell of Pope's Homer and had written "hundreds and hundreds of lines in the regular Popeian metre." Somewhat later he had composed an epic of 6,000 lines after the pattern of Scott, and the boy's father hazarded the prediction that "if Alfred die, one of our greatest poets will have gone."[3]

In 1827 Tennyson's elder brother Frederick went up from Eton to Trinity College, Cambridge; and in March of the same year Charles Tennyson and his brother Alfred published with J. & J. Jackson, booksellers of Louth, the Poems by two Brothers, Charles's share of the volume having been written between the ages of 16 and 17, Alfred's between 15 and 17. For this little volume the bookseller offered 20l., of which sum, however, half was to be taken in books. The two young authors spent a portion of their profits in hiring a carriage and driving 14 miles to a favourite bit of sea-coast at Mablethorpe.[3]

The little volume is strangely disappointing, in the main because Alfred was afraid to include in it those boyish efforts in which real promise of poetic originality might have been discerned. The memoir by his son supplies specimens of such, which were apparently rejected as being "too much out of the common for the public taste." These include a quite remarkable dramatic fragment, the scene of which is laid in Spain, and display an equally astonishing command of meter and of music in the lines written "After reading the 'Bride of Lammermoor'." The little volume printed contains chiefly imitative verses,[3] in which the key and the style are obviously borrowed from Byron,Moore, and other favourites of the hour; and only here and there does it exhibit any distinct element of promise. It seems to have attracted no notice either from the press or the public.[4]

Cambridge[edit | edit source]

In February 1828 Tennyson (and his brother Charles) matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge. Here he speedily became friendly with a remarkable group of young men, including J.R. Spedding, Richard Monckton Milnes, R.C. Trench, Blakesley, J. Mitchell Kemble, Merivale, Brookfield, Charles Buller, and Arthur Hallam; this last destined to become his dearest friend, and profoundly to influence his character and genius during his whole life. "He was as near perfection," Tennyson used to say in after times, "as mortal man could be."[4]

The powers of Tennyson now developed apace; for, besides enjoying the continual stimulus just mentioned, he pursued faithfully the special studies of the place, improving himself in the classics, as well as in history and natural science. He took a keen interest in political and social questions of the day, and also worked earnestly at poetic composition. To what purpose he had pursued this last study was soon to be proved by his winning the chancellor's medal for English verse on the subject of "Timbuctoo"' in June 1829. His father had urged him to compete; and having by him an old poem on the "Battle of Armageddon," he adapted it to the new theme, and so impressed the examiners that, in spite of the daring innovation of blank verse, they awarded him the prize. Monckton Milnes and Arthur Hallam were among his fellow-candidates. The latter, writing to his friend W.E. Gladstone, spoke with no less generosity than true critical insight of "the splendid imaginative power that pervaded" his friend's poem. It certainly deserved this praise, and is as purely Tennysonian as anything its author ever produced.[4]

"Timbuctoo" was speedily followed by the appearance of a slender volume of 150 pages entitled Poems chiefly Lyrical, which appeared in 1830 from the publishing house of Effingham Wilson. The volume contained, among other pieces which the author did not eventually care to preserve, such now familiar poems as "Claribel," the "Ode to Memory," "Mariana in the Moated Grange" (based upon a solitary phrase in Measure for Measure), the "Recollections of the Arabian Nights," the "Poet in a golden clime was born," the "Dying Swan: A Dirge,' the 'Ballad of Oriana,' and 'A Character."[4]

If the unconscious influence of any poetic masters is to be traced in such poems, it is that of Keats and Coleridge; but the individuality is throughout as unmistakable and decisive as the indebtedness. If the poems exhibit here and there on their descriptive side a lush and florid word-painting, there is no less clearly discernible a width of outlook, a depth of spiritual feeling as well as a lyric versatility, which from the outset distinguished the new-comer from Keats.[4]

The poetry-loving readers of the day were not at once attracted by the book. The poets and thinkers of the day, however, promptly recognised a kindred spirit. In the Westminster Review the poems were praised by Sir John Bowring. Leigh Hunt noticed them favourably in the Tatler; and Arthur Hallam contributed a very remarkable review (lately reprinted) to the Englishman's Magazine — a short-lived venture of Edward Moxon.[4]

In the summer of this year Tennyson joined his friend Hallam in an expedition to the Pyrenees. Hallam, with John Sterling, Trench, and others, had deeply interested himself in the ill-fated insurrection, headed by General Torrijos, against the government of Ferdinand II. Tennyson returned from the expedition stimulated by the scenery. Parts of Œnone were then written in the valley of Cauterets.[4]

Return to Somersby[edit | edit source]

In February 1831 Tennyson left Cambridge without taking a degree. His father was in bad health, and his presence was much desired at Somersby. Although the 2 years and a half spent at Trinity had brought him, through the friends made there, some of the best blessings of his life, he left college on no good terms with the university. In a sonnet penned in 1830 he denounced their "wax-lighted" chapels and "solemn organ-pipes," because while the rulers of the university professed to teach, they "taught him nothing, feeding not the heart." But his friends, notably Arthur Hallam. hud supplied this defect in the Cambridge curriculum; and Tennyson returned to his village home full of devotion to his mother, who was soon to be his single care, for his father died suddenly, leaning back in his study chair, within a month of his son's return.[4]

Arthur Hallam had become a frequent and intimate visitor,[4] and had formed an attachment to Tennyson's sister Emily as early as 1829; 2 years later this ripened into an engagement. The happy period during the courtship when Hallam "read the Tuscan poets on the lawn" and Tennyson's sister Mary brought her harp and flung "a ballad to the listening moon," will be familiar to readers of In Memoriam.[5]

The living of Somersby being now vacant, an anxious question arose as to the future home of the Tennyson family; but the incoming rector (possibly non-resident) not intending to occupy the rectory, they continued to reside there until 1837. Not long after his father's death Tennyson was troubled about his eyesight; but a change of diet corrected whatever was amiss, and he continued to read and write as before. The sonnet beginning "Check every outflash" was sent by Hallam (who apologized for so doing) to Moxon for his new magazine, and a few other trifles found their way into Keepsakes.[5]

Tennyson visited the Hallams in Wimpole Street, where social problems as well as literary matters were ardently discussed. Tennyson was now, moreover, preparing to publish a new volume, and Hallam was full of enthusiasm about the "Dream of Fair Women," which was already written, and about the "Lover's Tale," as to which its author himself had misgivings. In these young days his poems, like Shakespeare's "sugared sonnets," were handed freely about among his friends before being committed to print.[5]

In July 1832 Tennyson and Hallam went touring on the Rhine. On their return Hallam acknowledged the receipt of the lines to J.S. (James Spedding) on the death of his brother, and announced that Moxon (who was to publish the forthcoming volume) was in ecstasies about the "May Queen."[5]

Poems, 1832[edit | edit source]

The volume Poems, by Alfred Tennyson, appeared at the close of the year (though dated 1833). It comprised poems still recognised as among the noblest and most imaginative of his works, although some of them afterwards underwent revision, amounting in some cases to reconstruction. Among them were "The Lady of Shalott," "The Miller's Daughter," "Œnone," "The Palace of Art," "The Lotos-Eaters," and "A Dream of Fair Women."[5]

300 copies of the book were promptly sold, but the reviews did not coincide with this more generous recognition by the public. The Quarterly had an article (April 1833) silly and brutal, after the usual fashion in those days of treating new poets of any individuality; and it is generally admitted that it was mainly the tone of this review which checked the publication of any fresh verse by the poet for nearly 10 years.[5]

A great sorrow, moreover, was now to fall upon the poet, colouring and directing all his thoughts during that period and for long afterwards. On 15 September 1833 Arthur Hallam died suddenly at Vienna, while travelling with his father. His remains were brought to England and interred in a transept of the old parish church of Clevedon, Somerset, overlooking the Bristol Channel. Arthur Hallam was the dearest friend of Tennyson, and was engaged to his sister Emily, and the whole family were plunged in deep distress by his death. From the beginning Tennyson's whole thoughts appear absorbed in memories of his friend, and fragmentary verses on the theme were continually written, some of them to form, 17 years later, sections of a completed In Memoriam.[5]

Another poem, "The Two Voices" or "Thoughts of a Suicide," was also an immediate outcome of this sorrow, which, as the poet in later life told his son, for a while "blotted out all joy from his life, and made him long for death." It is noticeable that when this poem was originally published in the 2nd volume of the 1842 edition, to it alone of all the poems was appended the significant date, "1833."[5]

During the next few years Tennyson remained chiefly at home with his family at Somersby, reading widely in all literatures, polishing old poems and writing new ones, corresponding with Spedding, Kemble, Milnes, Tennant, and others, and all the while acting (his two elder brothers being away) as father and adviser to the family at home. In 1836, however, the calm current of home life was interrupted by an event fraught with important consequences to the future life and happiness of Tennyson.[6]

His brother Charles, by this time a clergyman, and curate of Tealby in Lincolnshire, married, in 1836, Louisa, the youngest daughter of Henry Sellwood, a solicitor in Horncastle. The elder sister, Emily, was on this occasion taken into church as a bridesmaid by Alfred. They had met some years before, but the idea of marriage seems to have entered Tennyson's mind on this occasion. No formal engagement, however, was recognized until 4 or 5 years later, and the fortunes of the poet necessitated a still further delay of many years. The marriage did not take place until 1850.[6]

In 1837 the family had to leave the rectory at Somersby, and they moved to High Beech in Epping Forest, where they remained until 1840. They then tried Tunbridge Wells; but, the air proving too strong for Tennyson's mother, they again moved, in 1841, to Boxley, near Maidstone. Meanwhile Tennyson continued to work earnestly and steadily at his art. As early as 1835 we hear of much fresh material for a new volume being complete, including the "Morte d' Arthur," the "Day Dream," and the "Gardener's Daughter."[6]

In 1837 an invitation to contribute to a volume of the "keepsake order," consisting of voluntary contributions from the principal verse writers of the day, resulted in Tennyson giving to the world, which probably took little notice of it, a poem that was later to rank with his most perfect lyrical efforts. The volume, entitled The Tribute, and edited by Lord Northampton, was for the benefit of the family of Edward Smedley, a much respected literary man who had fallen on evil days, and to it Tennyson contributed the stanzas beginning:

Oh ! that 'twere possible
After long grief and pain,
To find the arms of my true love
Round me once again.[6]

In this same year Tennyson was introduced to Mr. Gladstone, who became his cordial admirer and friend. Meantime, as late as 1840, the engagement with Emily Sellwood remained in force; but after this date correspondence between them was forbidden by the lady's family, the prospects of marriage seeming as remote as ever.[6]

Poems, 1842[edit | edit source]

At last, in 1842, the long-expected Poems (in two volumes) were allowed to see the light. The date marks an epoch in Tennyson's life, for his fame as unquestionably the greatest living poet (Wordsworth's work being practically over) was now secure. In addition to the reissue of the chief poems from the volumes of 1830 and 1833, many of them rewritten, the second volume consisted of absolutely new material, and included "Locksley Hall," the "Morte d'Arthur," "Ulysses," "The Two Voices," "Godiva," "Sir Galahad," the "Vision of Sin," and such lyrics as "Break, break, break' and "Move eastward, happy earth."[6]

But, notwithstanding this new success and the growing recognition that followed, the fortunes of Tennyson did not improve. He and other members of the family had invested a considerable part of their small capital in a scheme for "wood-carving by machinery," which was to popularise and cheapen good art in furniture and other household decoration. A certain Dr. Allen was the originator, and to him the Tennyson family seem to have blindly entrusted their little capital. The speculation, from whatever cause, did not succeed, and the money invested was hopelessly lost.[6]

"Then followed," says his son, "a season of real hardship, for marriage seemed further off than ever. So severe a hypochondria set in upon him that his friends despaired for his life." It was doubtless this critical condition of his health and fortunes that led his friends to approach the prime minister of the day, Sir Robert Peel; and in September 1845 Henry Hallam was able to announce that, in reply to the appeal, the premier had placed Tennyson's name on the civil list for a pension of 200l. a year. It was Monckton Milnes who, according to his own account, succeeded in impressing on Sir Robert the claims of the poet, of whom the statesman had no previous knowledge. Milnes read him "Ulysses," and the day was won.[6]

By 1846 the Poems had reached a 4th edition, and in the same year their author was violently assailed by Bulwer Lytton in his satire, The New Timon: A poetical romance of London. Tennyson was dismissed in a few lines as "Schoolmiss Alfred," and his claims to a pension rudely challenged. Tennyson replied in some stanzas of great power entitled "The New Timon and the Poets," signed "Alcibiades." They appeared in Punch (28 Feb. 1846), having been sent thither, according to the poet's son, by John Forster, without their author's knowledge. A week later the poet recorded his regret and his recantation in 2 stanzas headed "An Afterthought." They still appear in his collected Poems under the head of 'Literary Squabbles,' but the previous poem was not included in any authorised collection of his works.[6]

In Memoriam[edit | edit source]

Tennyson's next appeal to the public was in The Princess, which appeared in 1847. In its earliest shape it did not contain the 6 incidental lyrics, which were added in the 3rd edition in 1850. The poem, duly appreciated by poets and thinkers, in spite of reaching 5 editions in 6 years, does not seem to have widely extended Tennyson's popularity.[6]

But it was far otherwise with In Memoriam, which appeared anonymously in June 1850. The poem, written in a 4-lined stanza — believed by the poet to have been invented by himself, but which had been in fact long before used by Sir Philip Sidney, Ben Jonson, and notably by Lord Herbert, of Cherbury — had grown to its final shape during a period of 17 years following the death of Arthur Hallam.[6] Issued with no name upon the title-page, its authorship was from the start never in doubt.[7]

The public, to whose deepest and therefore commonest faiths and sorrows the poem appealed, welcomed it at once. The critics were not so prompt in their recognition. To some of them the poem seemed hopelessly obscure. Others regretted that so much good poetry and feeling should be wasted upon "an Amaryllis of the Chancery Bar;" while another divined that the writer was clearly "the widow of a military man."[7]

The religious world, on the other hand, were perplexed and irritated for different reasons. Finding the poem intensely earnest and spiritual in thought and aim, and yet exhibiting no sympathy with any particular statements of religious truth popular at the time, the party theologians bitterly denounced it. To those, on the other hand, who were familiar with the deeper currents of religious inquiry working among thoughtful minds in that day, it was evident that the poem reflected largely the influence of Frederick Denison Maurice.[7]

How early in his life Tennyson made the personal acquaintance of Maurice seems uncertain. But Tennyson had been from his Cambridge days the intimate friend of those who knew and honoured Maurice, and could not have escaped knowing well the general tendency of his teaching. As early as 1830 we find Arthur Hallam writing to W.E. Gladstone in these terms: "I do not myself know Maurice, but I know well many whom he has known, and whom he has moulded like a second nature; and those, too, men eminent for intellectual powers, to whom the presence of a commanding spirit would in all other cases be a signal rather for rivalry than reverential acknowledgment." Maurice, moreover, was closely allied with such men as the Hares, R.C. Trench, Charles Kingsley, and others of Tennyson's early friends keenly interested in theological questions. And it may here be added that Tennyson invited Maurice to be godfather to his 1st child in 1851, and followed up the request with the well-known stanzas inviting Maurice to visit the family at their new home in the Isle of Wight in 1853.[7]

The immediate reputation of In Memoriam and the continued sale of the previous volumes now enabled Moxon to insure Tennyson a certain income which would justify him in marrying. The wedding accordingly took place on 13 June 1850 at Shiplake-on-the-Thames. The particular place was chosen because, after 10 years of separation, the lovers had met again at Shiplake, at the house of a cousin of the Tennysons, Mrs. Rawnsley. In after life, his son tells us, his father was wont to say "The peace of God came into my life when I wedded her."[7]

Poet laureate[edit | edit source]

In April 1850 Wordsworth died, and the poet-laureateship became vacant. The post was initially offered to Rogers, who declined it on the ground of age. The offer was then made to Tennyson, "owing chiefly to Prince Albert's admiration of In Memoriam." The honor was very acceptable, though it entailed the usual flood of poems and letters from aspiring or jealous bards.[7]

Meantime Tennyson wrote to Moxon in reply to a request for another volume of poems, "We are correcting all the volumes for new editions." In 1851 he produced his fine sonnet to Macready on occasion of the actor's retirement from the stage. On 20 April 1851 his 1st child, a son, was born, but did not survive its birth. In July of the same year Tennyson and his wife traveled abroad, visiting Lucca, Florence, and the Italian lakes, returning by the Splügen. The tour was afterwards celebrated in his poem "The Daisy."[7]

After his return to Twickenham, where they were now living (Chapel House, Montpelier Row), the poet was busy with various national and patriotic poems, prompted by the doubtful attitude towards England of Louis Napoleon, "Britons, guard your own," and "Hands all round," printed in the Examiner. On 11 Aug. his second child, a son, was born, and was named Hallam, after his early friend. The baptism was at Twickenham, and the godfathers Henry Hallam and F.D. Maurice.[7]

In November of this year the Duke of Wellington died, and Tennyson's "Ode" appeared on the morning of the funeral. It met at the moment with "all but universal depreciation." The form and the substance were alike unconventional, and its reception but one more instance of the great truth that a new poet has to create the taste by which he himself is to be enjoyed. No doubt it was added to and modified slightly to its advantage afterwards, and remains at this day among the most admired of Tennyson's poems.[7]

In 1853, while the poet was on a visit to the Isle of Wight, he heard of the house called Farringford at Freshwater as being vacant; and a joint visit with his wife to inspect it resulted in their taking it on lease, with the option of subsequent purchase. Tennyson had become weary of the many intrusions upon his working hours while so near London, and the step now taken was final. The place was purchased by him some 2 years later,[7] out of the profits resulting from Maud, and during the rest of his life Farringford, "close to the ridge of a noble down," remained Tennyson's home for the greater part of each year.[8]

In March 1854 another son was born to the Tennysons, and christened Lionel. This was the year of the Crimean war, the causes and progress of which deeply interested Tennyson. In May of this year he was in London arranging with Moxon about the illustrated edition of his poems, in which Millais, Holman Hunt, and Rossetti, the young Pre-Raphaellite party, took so distinguished a part. Later he was visiting Glastonbury and other places associated with the Arthurian legend, which already he was preparing to treat in a consecutive form.[8]

But in the meantime he was busy with a different theme. He was engaged upon Maud. His friend and neighbour in the Isle of Wight, Sir John Simeon, had suggested to him that the verses printed in Lord Northampton's Tribute of 1837 were, in that isolated shape, unintelligible, and might with advantage be preceded and followed by other verses so as to tell a story in something like dramatic shape. The hint was taken, and the work made progress through this year and was completed early in 1855.[8]

In December 1854 he read in the Times of the disastrous charge of the light brigade at Balaclava, and he wrote at a sitting his memorable verses, based upon the newspaper description, in which had occurred the expression "some one had blundered." The poem was published in the Examiner of 9 December.[8]

Maud appeared in the autumn of 1855. The poem, a dramatic monologue in consecutive lyrics, was received for the most part both by the critics and the general public, even among those hitherto his ardent admirers, with violent antagonism and even derision. There were many reasons for this. Tennyson had never before told a story dramatically; and the matter spoken being delivered throughout in the 1st person, a large number of readers attributed to the poet himself the sentiments of the speaker — a person thrown off his mental balance (like Hamlet) by private wrong and a bitter sense of the festering evils of society, in this case (it being the time of the Crimean war) "the cankers of a calm world and a long peace."[8]

The rebuff thus experienced by the poet was keenly felt; for he well knew, as did all the finer critics of the hour, that parts at least of the poem reached the highest water-mark of lyrical beauty to which he had yet attained. Although it may be doubted whether the general reader has ever yet quite recovered from the shock, this remains still the opinion of the best judges.[8]

The little volume contained, besides the "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington," "The Daisy," the stanzas addressed to the Rev. F.D. Maurice, "The Brook: An idyll," and the "Charge of the Light Brigade." This last-named poem was in a second edition restored to its original and far superior shape, containing the line "Some one had blundered," which had been unwisely omitted by request of timid or fastidious friends.[8]

Idylls of the King[edit | edit source]

Not discouraged by adverse criticism, Tennyson continued to work at those Arthurian poems, the idea of which had never been allowed to sleep during the progress of other work. "Enid" was ready in the autumn of 1856, and "Guinevere" was completed early in 1858. In this year, moreover, he wrote the earliest of those single dramatic lyrics in monologue by which his popularity was to be greatly widened. "The Grandmother" appeared in Once a Week, with a fine illustration by Millais, in July 1859; and the mingled narrative and dramatic story, "Sea Dreams," the villain in which reflected certain disastrous experiences of the poet himself, was published in Macmillan's Magazine for 1800.[8]

The Idylls of the King appeared in the autumn of 1859, and received a welcome so instantaneous as at once to restore its author to his lost place in the affections of the many. The public were fully prepared for, and full of curiosity as to, further treatment by Tennyson of the Arthurian legends. The fine fragment, originally given to the world in 1842, had whetted appetite for further blank verse epic versions of the story; and such lyrics as "Sir Galahad" and the "Lady of Shalott" had shown how deeply the poet had read and pondered on the subject.[8]

The Duke of Argyll had predicted that the Idylls would be 'understood and admired by many who were incapable of understanding and appreciating many of his other works,' and the prediction has been verified. At the same time such poems as "Elaine" and "Guinevere" became at once the delight of the most fastidious, and the least. Men so different as Jowett, Macaulay, Dickens, Ruskin, and Walter of the Times swelled the chorus of enthusiastic praise.[8]

Meantime Tennyson's heart and thoughts were, as ever, with his country's interests and honour, and the verses "Riflemen, form!" published in the Times, May 1859, had their origin in the latest action of Louis Napoleon, and the fresh dangers and complications in Europe arising out of it.[8] A corresponding song for the navy ("Jack Tar"), printed in the poet's Memoir by his son, was composed under the same influences.[9]

From the publication of the earliest Idylls until the end of the poet's life, his fame and popularity continued without a check. The next years were years of travel. In 1860 he visited Cornwall, Devonshire, and the Scilly Islands; and in 1861 Auvergne and the Pyrenees, where he wrote the lyric "All along the Valley" in memory of his visit there 30 years before with Arthur Hallam. In this same year the prince consort died, and the second edition of the Idylls was prefaced by the dedication to his memory.[9]

Enoch Arden[edit | edit source]

Tennyson was now at work upon "Enoch Arden" (or the "Fisherman," as he initillly called it), and in April 1862 he had an interview with the queen. Later in the year Tennyson made a tour through Derbyshire and Yorkshire with F.T. Palgrave. In 1863 "Aylmer's Field" was completed, and the laureate wrote his "Welcome to Alexandra" on occasion of the marriage of the Prince of Wales.[9]

Enoch Arden appeared in 1864, and was an instantaneous success, 60,000 copies being rapidly sold. It contained, besides the title-poem and "Aylmer's Field," "Tithonus" (already printed in the Cornhill Magazine), the "Grandmother," and "Sea Dreams," and a fresh revelation of power hardly before suspected the "Northern Farmer: Old style." This was to be the beginning of a series of poems in the dialect of North Lincolnshire, exhibiting a gift of humorous dramatic characterisation which was to give Tennyson rank with the finest humourists of any age or country.[9]

The volume (mainly perhaps through "Enoch Arden," a legend already common in various forms to most European countries) became, in his son's judgment, the most popular of all his father's works, with the single exception of 'In Memoriam.' Translations into Danish, German, Latin, Dutch, Italian, French, Hungarian, and Bohemian attest its widespread reputation.[9]

Later Poems snd Dramas[edit | edit source]

The years that followed were marked by no incident save travel, unremitting poetic labour and reading, the visits of friends, and converse with them. He printed a few short poems in magazines, but published no further volume until the Holy Grail in 1869. The volume contained also "Lucretius," "The Passing of Arthur," "Pelleas and Ettarre," "The Victim," "Wages," "The Higher Pantheism," and "Northern Farmer: New style."[9]

On 23 April (Shakespeare's birthday) 1868 he had laid the foundation-stone of a new residence, named Aldworth, near Haslemere, and this now became a second home. In 1872 the Arthurian cycle received a further addition in Gareth and Lynette. In 1873 the poet was offered a baronetcy by Gladstone, and declined it, though he would have accepted it for his son. The same distinction was again offered by Disraeli in 1874, and again declined.[9]

In 1875 he gave to the world his earliest blank-verse drama, Queen Mary, carefully built on the Shakespearean model. This new departure was not generally welcomed by the public, the truth being that any imitation of the Elizabethan poetic drama is necessarily an exotic. Moreover, Tennyson had never been in close touch with the stage. He used playfully to observe that "critics are so exacting nowadays that they not only expect a poet-playwright to be a first-rate author, but a first-rate manager, actor, and audience, all in one." There is an element of truth in this jest. It was just because Shakespeare had filled all the situations here mentioned that his plays have the special quality which the purely literary drama lacks. Adapted to the stage by Henry Irving, Queen Mary was produced at the Lyceum with success in April 1876. The drama Harold was published the same year.[9]

In 1879 Tennyson reprinted his very early poem, "The Lover's Tale," based upon a story in Boccaccio. It was written when its author was under 20, and printed in 1833, but then distributed only among a few private friends. The ripening taste of the poet had judged it as too florid and redundant; and he published it at this later date only because it was being "extensively pirated."[9]

In December of this year the Kendals produced at the St. James's Theatre his little blank-verse drama The Falcon (based upon a story in the Decameron), which ran 67 nights. Fanny Kemble rightly defined it as "an exquisite little poem in action;" and, although the plot is perilously grotesque as a subject for dramatic treatment, as produced and played by the Kendals it was undoubtedly charming. The play was initially published (in the same volume with The Cup) in 1884.[9]

In March 1880 Tennyson was invited by the students of Glasgow University to stand for the lord-rectorship; but on learning that the contest was conducted on political lines, and that he had been asked to be the nominee of the conservative party, he withdrew his acceptance. Ordered by Sir Andrew Clark to try change of climate, in consequence of illness from which he had suffered[9] since the death of his brother Charles in the preceding year, Tennyson and his son visited Venice, Bavaria, and Tyrol.[10]

The same year (1880) saw the publication of the volume entitled Ballads and Poems. Tennyson was now in his 71st year, but these poems distinctly added to his reputation, the range and variety of the subjects and their treatment being extraordinary. They included "The Revenge," "Rizpah," "The Children's Hospital," "The First Quarrel," "The Defence of Lucknow," and "The Northern Cobbler.' Many of these were based upon anecdotes heard in the poet's youth, or read in newspapers and magazines, and sent to him by friends.[10]

In 1881 (in the January of which year The Cup was successfully produced at the Lyceum) he sat to Millais for his portrait, and he lost one of the oldest and most valued of his friends in James Spedding. On 11 November 1882 was produced at the Globe Theatre his drama The Promise of May, written at the request of a friend who wished him to attempt a modern tragedy of village life. It was hardly a success, the character of Edgar, an agnostic and a libertine, being much resented by those of the former class, who found an unexpected champion one evening during the performance in the person of Lord Queensberry, who rose from his stall and protested against the character as a libel.[10]

The year 1883 brought him another sorrow in the death of his friend Edward FitzGerald. In December of the same year a peerage was offered to him by the queen on the recommendation of Mr. Gladstone; the proposal had been submitted to him while Mr. Gladstone and the poet were on a cruise together in the previous September in the Pembroke Castle, and was now (January 1884) accepted by him after much hesitation.[10]

In 1884 his son Hallam was married to Miss Audrey Boyle, and his son and daughter-in-law continued to make their home with him until the end of his life. The Cup, The Falcon, and the tragedy of Becket were published this year. Tiresias, and other poems appeared in the year following, containing a prologue to "Tiresias," dedicated to the memory of FitzGerald. The volume contained the noble poem "The Ancient Sage," and the poem, in Irish dialect, "To-morrow."[10]

In 1886 the poet suffered the most grievous family bereavement that he had yet sustained in the death of his second son, Lionel, who contracted jungle fever while on a visit to Lord Dufferin in India, and died while on the voyage home, in the Red Sea, April 1886. In December of this year the "Promise of May" was printed, in conjunction with "Locksley Hall: Sixty years after." During 1887 the poet took a cruise in a friend's yacht, visiting Devonshire and Cornwall, and was in the meantime preparing another volume of poems, writing "Vastness' (published in Macmillan's Magazine for March), and "Owd Roä," another Lincolnshire poem, based upon a story he had read in a newspaper.[10]

Last years[edit | edit source]

In 1888 he had a very serious illness — rheumatic gout — during which at one time his life was in great danger. In the spring of the year following he was sufficiently recovered to enjoy another sea voyage in his friend Lord Brassey's yacht the Sunbeam. In December 1889 the volume Demeter, and other poems appeared, containing, among other shorter poems, "Merlin and the Gleam," an allegory shadowing the course of his own poetic career, and the memorable "Crossing the Bar," written one day while crossing the Solent on his annual journey from Aldworth to Farringford.[10]

During 1890-1891 he suffered from influenza, and his strength was noticeably decreasing. In 1891 he was able again to enjoy his favourite pastime of yachting, and completed for the American manager Mr. Daly an old and as yet unpublished drama on the subject of Robin Hood (The Foresters, which was given in New York in 1891, and was revived at Daly's Theatre in London in October 1893).[10]

In 1892, the last year of his life, he wrote his "Lines on the Death of the Duke of Clarence." He was able yet once more to take a yachting cruise to Jersey, and to pay a visit to London in July. As late as September he was able to enjoy the society of many visitors, to look over the proofs of an intended volume of poems (The Death of Œnone), and to take interest in the forthcoming production of Becket, as abridged and arranged by Henry Irving, at the Lyceum (produced eventually in February 1893).[9]

During the last days of the month his health was so palpably failing that Sir Andrew Clark was summoned. The weakness rapidly increased, signs of fatal syncope appeared on Wednesday, 5 Oct., and the poet passed away on the following day, Thursday, 6 Oct. 1892, at 1.35 A.M.[9] His last words were; "Oh that press will have me now!".[11]

Writing[edit | edit source]

Main article: Tennyson's poetry

That brilliant, if wayward, genius Edward Fitzgerald persisted in maintaining that Tennyson never materially added to the reputation obtained by the 2 volumes of 1842; and this may be so far true that had he died or ceased to write at that date he would still have ranked, among all good critics, as a poet of absolute individuality, the rarest charm, the widest range of intellect and imagination, and an unsurpassed felicity and melody of diction. In all that constitutes a consummate lyrical artist, Tennyson could hardly give further proof of his quality.[12]

But he would never have reached the vast audience that he lived to father round him had it not been for In Memoriam, the Arthurian Idylls (notably the opening installment), and the many stirring odes and ballads commemorating the greatness of England and the prowess and loyalty of her children. It is this many-sidedness and large-heartedness, the intensity with which Tennyson identified himself with his country's needs and interests, her joys and griefs, that, quite as much as his purely poetic genius, has made him beloved and popular with a far larger public than perhaps any poet of the century.[12]

Recognition[edit | edit source]

In 1829, at age 20, Tennyson was awarded the Chancellor's Gold Medal at Cambridge for an early poem, "Timbuctoo".[13][14]

Tennyson was invested as Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom on 19 November 1850, aged 41, and held the post for 41 years, until his death on 6 October 1892; the longest-serving Poet Laureate.[15]

In June 1855 the university of Oxford conferred on Tennyson the degree of D.C.L. He met with an enthusiastic reception from the undergraduates.[8]

In 1869 Tennyson was made an honorary fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.[9]

In 1884 he was made Baron Tennyson, of Aldworth and Freshwater.[15]

On Wednesday, 12 October 1892, he was buried in Westminster Abbey. The pall-bearers were the Duke of Argyll, Lord Dufferin, Lord Selborne, Lord Rosebery, Jowett, Mr. Lecky, James Anthony Froude, Lord Salisbury, Dr. Butler (master of Trinity, Cambridge), the United States minister (Mr. R. T. Lincoln), Sir James Paget, and Lord Kelvin. The nave was lined by men of the Balaclava light brigade,[9] by some of the London rifle volunteers, and by the boys of the Gordon Boys' Home."[12] The grave is between those of John Dryden and Robert Browning, and in front of the monument to Chaucer. In 1895 a bust of the poet, by Thomas Woolner, was placed on a pillar nearby. It had been made in 1857 and was the gift of Mr Jenner.[16]

The Tennyson memorial beacon upon the summit of High Down above Freshwater was unveiled by the dean of Westminster on 6 August 1897. Lady Tennyson died, at the age of eighty-three, on 10 Aug. 1896, and was buried in the churchyard at Freshwater. A tablet in the church commemorates her and her husband.[12]

10 of his poems ("Mariana," "The Lady of Shalott," "The Miller's Daughter," "Song of the Lotos-Eaters," "St. Agnes' Eve," "Blow, Bugle, blow," "Summer Night," "Come down, O Maid," "In Memoriam" (excerpt), "Maud," and "O that 'twere possible") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900.[17]

The chief portraits of Tennyson are: 1. The fine head painted by Samuel Laurence about 1838, of which a reproduction is prefixed to the 'Memoir,' 1897. 2. A three-quarter length by Mr. G. F. Watts, painted in 1859, and now owned by Lady Henry Somerset (Memoir, i. 428). 3. A full face by Watts, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London, dated 1865. 4. A portrait by Professor Herkomer, painted in 1878. 5. Three-quarter figure in dark blue cloak, 'one of the finest portraits by Sir John Millais' painted in 1881, and owned by Mr. James Knowles. 6. A three-quarter length by Watts, painted in 1891 for Trinity College, Cambridge (a replica of this was made by the painter for bequest to the nation). The admirable bust of Tennyson by Woolner, of which that in the abbey is a replica, was executed in 1857 (a copy by Miss Grant is in the National Portrait Gallery, London). Another bust by Woolner was done from life in 1873.[12]

Biography[edit | edit source]

The publication of the biography by his son still further widened and heightened the world's estimate of Tennyson. It revealed, what was before known only to his intimate friends, that the poet who lived as a recluse, seldom for the last half of his life emerging from his domestic surroundings, used his retirement for the continuous acquisition of knowledge and perfecting of his art, while never losing touch with the pulse of the nation, or sympathy with whatever affected the honour and happiness of the people. This study of perfection made of him one of the finest critics of others as well as of himself; and had he chosen to live in more social and public relations with the literature and thought of his time he would have taken his place with Ben Jonson, John Dryden, and Samuel Johnson, as among the leading and most salutary arbiters of literary opinion in the ages they respectively adorned.[12]

In popular culture[edit | edit source]

Virginia Woolf wrote a play Freshwater, showing Tennyson as host to his friends Julia Margaret Cameron and George Frederic Watts;[18]

Tennyson wrote a number of phrases that have become commonplaces of the English language, including: "Nature, red in tooth and claw", "'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all", "Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die", "My strength is as the strength of ten, / Because my heart is pure", "Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers", and "The old order changeth, yielding place to new". He is the 9th most frequently quoted writer in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.[19]

Publications[edit | edit source]

Poetry[edit | edit source]

Plays[edit | edit source]

Juvenile[edit | edit source]

Collected editions[edit | edit source]

Letters[edit | edit source]

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[22]

Poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson[edit | edit source]


THE LADY OF SHALOTT' -Alfred Lord Tennyson


Claribel by Alfred Lord Tennyson

See also[edit | edit source]

Preceded by
William Wordsworth
Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
Alfred Austin

References[edit | edit source]

  •  Ainger, Alfred (1898) "Tennyson, Alfred" in Lee, Sidney Dictionary of National Biography 56 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 66-75 . Wikisource, Web, Mar. 6, 2017.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 John William Cousin, "Tennyson, Alfred, 1st Lord," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 375-377. Wikisource, Web, Mar. 13, 2018.
  2. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation. Web, June 30, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Ainge, 66.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Ainger, 67.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Ainger, 68.
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 Ainger, 69.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 Ainger, 70.
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 8.11 Ainger, 71.
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 9.11 9.12 9.13 9.14 Ainger, 72.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 Ainger, 73.
  11. Andrew Motion, BBC Radio 4, "Great Lives: Alfred, Lord Tennyson", broadcast on 4th August 2009
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 Ainger, 74.
  13. Friedlander, Ed. "Enjoying 'Timbuctoo' by Alfred Tennyson"
  14. "Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1809 - 1892". BBC. Web, Oct. 27, 2007.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Tennyson as Poet Laureate, Cambridge Authors, University of Cambridge. Web, Mar. 6, 2017.
  16. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, People, Our History, Westminster Abbey. Web, Mar. 13, 2018.
  17. Alphabetical list of authors: Shelley, Percy Bysshe to Yeats, William Butler. Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 19, 2012.
  19. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (5th ed.). Oxford University Press. 1999. 
  20. Search results = au:John Churton Collins, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Jan. 5, 2015.
  21. Search results = au:Pelham Edgar, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Nov. 8, 2013.
  22. Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1809-1892, Poetry Foundation, Web, July 29, 2012.

External links[edit | edit source]


This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: Tennyson, Alfred]

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