Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Summary

Alfred Tennyson, I Baron Tennyson, FRS (Somersby, Lincolnshire, England, August 6, 1809 – Lurgashall, West Sussex, England, October 6, 1892) was an English poet and playwright, one of the most illustrious of world literature, belonging to post-Romanticism.

Most of his work is inspired by mythological and medieval themes, and is characterized by its musicality and the psychological depth of his portraits. Later in his career he made several attempts to write theatrical dramas although with little or little success. He was also poet laureate of the United Kingdom during most of Queen Victoria”s reign.

Origins

Tennyson was born in the village of Somersby, in the county of North Lincolnshire, between Horncastle and Spilsby. He came from a strange family background. He grew up in a parson”s house, but over this respectable setting loomed madness, alcoholism and melancholy. He was the fourth of twelve children of the Reverend George Clayton Tennyson (1778-1831) and his wife Elizabeth Fytche (1781-1865). The Tennysons were an old Lincolnshire family settled at Bayon”s Manor. The poet”s grandfather, George Tennyson MP, had disinherited the poet”s father, who had been sadly installed in the parsonage at Somersby, in favor of the younger son, Charles Tennyson D”Eyncourt, and this disappointment seems to have embittered the elder son to an extent that was to affect him for the rest of his life. Elizabeth Fytche was the daughter of the Reverend Stephen Fytche, vicar of Louth, in the same county. The Reverend George Clayton Tennyson (1778-1831) was parish priest of Somersby (between 1807 and 1831), Benniworth and Bag Enderby, as well as vicar of Grimsby (from 1815). George Tennyson (1750-1835) belonged to the agrarian bourgeoisie of Lincolnshire, owning Bayon”s Manor and Usselby Hall. Of the twelve children of the marriage, eight were boys, and of these, two besides Alfred would become prominent poets: Frederick Tennyson and Charles, who would later adopt the name of an uncle and become Charles Tennyson Turner. All the sons seem to have shared to a greater or lesser extent poetic aptitudes. Tennyson”s father was a poet of some skill. According to Eugene Parsons, George Clayton Tennyson was a man of “superior abilities and great attainments, interested in architecture, music, painting and poetry,” and the Tennysons lived comfortably despite their rural parson”s salary and their good use of money management allowed them to summer at Mablethorpe and Skegness on the east coast of England.

Tennyson was a descendant of King Edward III of England. For, it would seem, the roots of his grandfather, George Tennyson, can be traced from the middle class Tennyson through Elizabeth Clayton, the Reverend George Clayton Tennyson”s mother, through ten generations to Edmund, Duke of Somerset.”

Training, children and youth

Alfred grew up in the family home and was sent to Louth to live with his grandmother and attend grammar school in that town, as his mother had maintained a connection with this typical Lincolnshire township, where his father, the Reverend Stephen Fytche, had been a vicar. The teacher was a strict and passionate man, and the poet would not keep a good memory of the four years he spent there. At the end of that period, in 1820, the young man returned to Somersby to be educated by his father until he entered college. The rector was a competent scholar and a man of some poetic taste and faculty. At the rectory, the boys had an excellent library at their disposal, and on this the young poet would base his extensive knowledge of the English classics. He became a precocious and omnivorous reader, especially in the genre of poetry, to which he was most attracted 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. During his childhood in the small village of Somersby, the fertile pastoral landscape of this area of Lincolnshire influenced the boy”s imagination, and is clearly reflected in all his early poetry, although it has now been authoritatively established that the locations of his theme poems, which had been cleverly identified with existing streams and farms, were entirely imaginary. He began writing in prose and verse at a very early age. Tennyson was already writing copiously: at the age of twelve “an epic of 6. 000 verses” at fourteen a drama in blank verse, and so on; these exercises, quite properly, have not been edited, but the poet would say of them at the end of his life, “I seem to me to have written them all in perfect metre.” The boy”s father ventured to predict that “if Alfred dies, one of our greatest poets will be gone.” A letter from Alfred to his mother”s sister when he was thirteen, containing a review of Samson Agonistes, illustrated with references to Horace, Dante, and other poets, reveals a truly remarkable breadth of reading for such a young boy. The news of Byron”s death (April 19, 1824) made a deep impression on him: it was a day, he said, “when the whole world seemed to grow dark to me”; he went into the woods and carved “Byron is dead” on a rock.

The family was in the habit of spending summer vacations on the county coast, frequently at Mablethorpe, and there Tennyson acquired his impressions of the vastness of the sea. FitzGerald very justly attributed the scenic nature of Tennyson”s genius to the imprint left on his imagination by “old Lincolnshire, where there were not only such fine seas, but such beautiful hills and valleys in the midst of The Wolds.” After publishing a joint collection of poems (1827), the young brothers Charles and Alfred Tennyson spent part of their earnings to hire a carriage and drive fourteen miles to their favorite corner of the coast at Mablethorpe. On February 20, 1828, Charles and Alfred Tennyson enrolled at Trinity College, Cambridge, where Frederick, the eldest of the living brothers, was already studying. The poet would later tell Edmund Gosse that his father would not let him leave Somersby until, in successive days, he had recited from memory the entirety of Horace”s odes. The brothers settled in rooms at 12 Rose Crescent, and subsequently moved to Trumpington Street. They were shy, and at first made few friends; but they gradually gathered around them a few select colleagues, and Alfred progressed to be regarded at Cambridge “as a great poet and an elder brother” by a group which included Richard Chenevix Trench, Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton), James Spedding, W. H. Thompson, Edward FitzGerald, W. H. Brookfield, Blakesley, J. Mitchell Kemble, Charles Buller, and, above all, Arthur Hallam (1811-1833), the historian”s youngest son, destined to become his dearest friend and profoundly influence his character and genius throughout his life, and whose friendship and early death were to be the inspiration of his greatest poem. “He was as near perfection,” Tennyson was wont to say on later occasions, “as mortal man could ever be.” By 1829, Arthur Hallam had become a frequent and intimate visitor to the house, and had formed a bond with Tennyson”s sister Emily. Two years later, this would mature into an engagement. At the University, Tennyson, Hallam and the others were members of the Cambridge Apostles, a society that sought to form an intellectual elite. At that time, Tennyson”s faculties were developing rapidly; for, in addition to enjoying the continuous encouragement of such a society, he faithfully pursued the studies proper to the school, perfecting himself in the classics as well as in history and natural science. He acquired an enthusiastic interest in the political and social questions of the time, and also worked hard at poetic composition.

In the summer of 1830 Tennyson and Hallam volunteered for the militia of the Spanish insurgent Torrijos, and made a brief foray into the Pyrenees, without encountering any enemies. Trench and others were deeply interested in the failed insurrection, led by General Torrijos, against the government of Ferdinand VII. Tennyson returned from the expedition stimulated by the beautiful landscapes of the Pyrenees.

In February 1831, Tennyson left Cambridge without graduating. His father was in poor health, and his presence was much desired at Somersby. Although the two and a half years he spent at Trinity had brought him, through the friendships he made there, some of the best blessings of his life, he left the college on not good terms with the university as “alma mater.” In a sonnet written in 1830 he denounced its “candle-lit” chapels and its “solemn organs,” for while the governors of the university professed to teach, they “taught him nothing, nourished his heart.” But his friends, and especially Arthur Hallam, had supplied this defect in the Cambridge curriculum; and Tennyson returned to his home in the village full of devotion to his mother, who was soon to center all his attention, for his father died suddenly reclining in his study chair a month after his son”s return. The dwelling at Somersby then becoming vacant, an anxious question arose concerning the future home of the Tennyson family; but as the new rector (possibly non-resident) had no intention of occupying 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 what was going wrong, and he continued to read and write as before. Arthur Hallam was then engaged to Emily Tennyson (later Mrs. Jesse, 1811-1889), and frequently stayed in Somersby. The happy period during the courtship, when Hallam “read upon the grass the Tuscan poets” and Mary, Tennyson”s sister, carried her harp and played “a ballad to the listening moon,” will be familiar to readers of In Memoriam. Tennyson would visit the Hallams in Wimpole Street, where they would argue passionately about social problems as well as literary matters. On the other hand, Tennyson was then preparing the publication of a new volume, and Hallam was very enthusiastic about A Dream of Fair Women, which was already written, and The Lover”s Tale, which was generating doubts in its own author. With regard to the former, it is noteworthy that it is perhaps the most characteristic realization of Tennysonian art; it is impeccable in diction and rhythm, highly burnished and of a passion twice distilled, but still vibrant. In these youthful days, his poems, like Shakespeare”s “sugared sonnets,” were freely passed among his intimate friends before being sent to press. In July 1832, Tennyson and Hallam set out on a trip up the Rhine. On his return, Hallam acknowledges receipt of the verses to J. S. (James Spedding) on the death of his brother, and claims that Moxon (who was to publish the volume in preparation) was enraptured with The May Queen. The publication of one of his major works, Poems (1832), culminated shortly before the blow fell on Tennyson that for a time left him without energy. In August 1833 Arthur Hallam left with his father, a great historian, for the Tyrol. They got no farther than Vienna, where Mr. Hallam, returning to the hotel on September 15, 1833, found his son dead on a sofa: a sudden cerebral hemorrhage ended his life. His remains were taken to England and buried in a transept of the old parish church of Clevedon (Somerset), raised over the Bristol Channel, on January 3, 1834. These events affected Tennyson extremely. Arthur Hallam was Tennyson”s dearest friend and was engaged to his sister Emily, and the whole family was deeply distressed by his death.

Indifferent alike to fame and influence, Tennyson spent these years chiefly at Somersby, in a uniform devotion of his whole soul to the art of poetry, reading much and varied, polishing old poems and writing new ones, corresponding with Spedding, Kemble, Milnes, Tennant, and others, and at the same time exercising (in the absence of his two elder brothers) the role of father and adviser to the family at home. In 1835 he fell deeply in love with Rosa Baring, a lady of great beauty and fortune, whose rejection inspired some of his most sorrowful poems and reminded him of his precarious social position. In 1836, however, the customary calm of family life was disturbed by an event fraught with important consequences for Tennyson”s future life and happiness. His brother Charles, then a clergyman and curate at Tealby (Lincolnshire), married Louisa, the youngest daughter of Henry Sellwood, notary of Horncastle, in 1836. At the ceremony, the elder sister, Emily, was chosen for the occasion as maid of honor by Alfred himself. They had met a few years earlier, but this seems to have been the first occasion on which Tennyson began to entertain in his mind the idea of marriage. In 1837, much to his chagrin, the Tennysons left the Lincolnshire rectory where they had lived for so long. They moved to High Beech, in Epping Forest, which was to be their home for three years: Tennyson lived with his mother and siblings at Beech House (rebuilt in 1850), at the foot of Wellington Hill, from 1837 to 1840. He was described as “wandering strangely up and down the house in the early hours of the morning, muttering poems to himself”. His engagement to Emily Sellwood had been accepted by her parents in 1837, despite misgivings about his lack of means and employment. However, ten more years were to elapse before they could afford to marry: the marriage would not take place until 1850. In that same year (1837) Tennyson was introduced to William Gladstone, who became thereafter his cordial admirer and friend. Meanwhile, as late as 1840, the engagement to Emily Sellwood remained in force; but subsequent to this date correspondence between the two was forbidden by her family, and the prospects of marriage seemed as remote as ever. In 1840, the Tennysons moved to Tunbridge Wells, where the climate would prove too harsh for Tennyson”s mother, and a year later to Boxley, near Maidstone, to be near Edmund Lushington, who had married Cecilia Tennyson. Alfred went from that time onwards more and more frequently to visit London.

Maturity

From 1842 onwards Tennyson”s life is a record of quiet success in his art and the conquest of fame; the publications of his successive works would become almost the only events that would mark his existence. However, despite the success of the second edition of Poems (1842) and the growing recognition that followed it, Tennyson”s financial situation did not improve, and material difficulties were now coming his way for the first time. Material difficulties were now coming his way for the first time. Perhaps to dispel doubts within his fiancée”s family about his financial independence, Tennyson had decided to invest an estate in a project of pyrography machinery, which was intended to popularize and cheapen the artistic finish on furniture and other household furnishings. Thus it was that the poet became the victim of a certain speculator, who induced him to sell his small estate at Grasby (Lincolnshire) and invest the proceeds, with all the rest of his money and some of that of his brothers and sisters, in a ”Decorative Carving Patent Company”: within a few months the whole scheme collapsed, and Tennyson was left penniless. He was beset by such overwhelming hypochondria that he sank into despair, and for some time was under the care of a hydropathic physician at Cheltenham, where absolute rest and isolation gradually restored him to health. It was, no doubt, this critical state of his health and fortune that moved his friends to appeal to the then prime minister, Sir Robert Peel; and in September, 1845, at the suggestion of Henry Hallam, the poet was granted a pension of £200 a year. It was Monckton Milnes, according to his own account, who succeeded in impressing Sir Robert Peel with his vindication of the poet, of whom the statesman had no previous knowledge. Milnes read “Ulysses” to him, and it paid off. Tennyson”s health gradually recovered, and in 1846 he was hard at work on The Princess; in the autumn of that year he undertook a tour of Switzerland, and saw the great mountains for the first time. In 1847 nervous prostration again forced him to undergo treatment at Prestbury: “They tell me not to read, not to think; but they might as well tell me not to live.” Dr. Gully”s thalassotherapy was successfully tested.

The Tennyson home was then at Cheltenham: on his occasional visits to London the author was in the habit of seeing Thackeray, Coventry Patmore, Browning and Macready, as well as old friends, but avoided “society.” In 1848, during a trip to Cornwall, Tennyson met Robert Stephen Hawker, of Morwenstow, with whom he seems, though the evidence is doubtful, to have conversed about King Arthur and to have taken up his intention to write an epic poem on that subject.

The year 1850 was perhaps the most memorable of his life, for it saw his marriage-which, he would say, brought into his life “the peace of God”-his proclamation as poet laureate after Wordsworth”s death, and the publication of his magnum opus, In Memoriam. The sale of Tennyson”s poems gave him security to settle down, and on June 13, 1850, he married Emily Sarah Sellwood (1813-1896) at Shiplake. That particular place was chosen because, after ten years of preparations, the bride and groom had met again in Shiplake, at the home of a cousin of the Tennysons, Mrs. Rawnsley. Of this union it is not necessary to add more than what the poet himself would remember much later: “The peace of God came into my life before the altar when I married her”. Wordsworth had died (in April of the same year), leaving vacant the honorary title of poet laureate of the United Kingdom. The distinction was offered in the first instance to Samuel Rogers, who declined the offer on the grounds of age. Tennyson was then offered it, “chiefly on account of Prince Albert”s admiration for ”In Memoriam,”” a profound funeral elegy to the death of his friend Hallam:

The award was very acceptable, although it involved the usual bombardment of poems and letters from aspiring or jealous bards. On November 19, 1850 Queen Victoria appointed Tennyson poet laureate. The remuneration inherent in the “office” was very small, but it was of secondary value in greatly stimulating the sale of his books, which constituted his main source of income. The young couple bought a house in Warninglid, in Sussex, which did not suit them, and then one in Montpelier Row (Twickenham), which turned out better. On April 20, 1851 their first child was born, a boy who, however, would not survive the birth. At the time Tennyson was studying a great deal about the ancient world, and reading some Milton, Homer and Virgil. In July of the same year Tennyson and his wife traveled abroad, visiting Lucca, Florence and the Italian lakes, and returning via Splügen. The trip would later be celebrated in his poem “The Daisy”. Of 1852 the main events were the birth, in August, of his eldest son Hallam, second Lord Tennyson, and in November the publication of the Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington, which appeared on the same morning as the funeral. By then Tennyson”s fame was solidly established, and the poet and his family decided to move to escape the hordes of admirers who besieged their home.

In the winter of 1853 Tennyson came into possession of a small house and farm called Farringford, near Freshwater on the Isle of Wight, which he initially rented and subsequently bought: this beautiful place, surrounded by oaks and cedars, entered his life and filled it with color and delicate charm. For the rest of his life, Farringford would remain Tennyson”s home for most of the year.

As to his relation to the doctrine and thought of Frederick Maurice, at what early point in his life Tennyson had personal knowledge of the former is something that seems uncertain. But, from his Cambridge days, Tennyson had been an intimate friend of those who knew and honored Maurice, and he could not have escaped being well acquainted with the general trend of his doctrine. Maurice, moreover, was closely allied with such men as the Hares, R. C. Trench, Charles Kingsley, and others from among Tennyson”s early friendships, keenly interested in theological questions. And at this point it should be added that Tennyson had proposed to Maurice to be the godfather of his first child in 1851, and went further in his request with the well-known stanzas inviting Maurice to visit the family at their new home on the Isle of Wight in 1853.

In March 1854 another son was born to the Tennysons and was christened Lionel. This was the year of the Crimean War, the causes and development of which interested Tennyson deeply. In May of this year he was in London arranging with Moxon for the illustrated edition of his poems, in which Millais, Holman Hunt and Rossetti, the young Pre-Raphaelite group, had so distinguished a part. Later, he was visiting Glastonbury and other places connected with the legend of King Arthur, which he was already preparing to treat cyclically.

In June 1855 he was invested Doctor of Civil Law at Oxford: he was received for the occasion, which may be considered his first public appearance, with a “tremendous ovation”.

After the failure of his play Maud, Tennyson”s delicate spirit had been wounded. For some years the world knew nothing of him; he was at Farringford, occupying his time in Arthurian lore. He had become the object of inordinate personal curiosity, being a hard fellow to find and the subject of amusing legends. He cared little for society in general, though he had many intimate and devoted friends. It was in 1857 that Bayard Taylor saw him, and was impressed in front of a man “tall and broad-shouldered like a son of Anak, with the hair, beard and eyes of a southern darkness.” The following were years of travel. This period of somewhat mysterious withdrawal from the world embraced a tour of Wales in 1857, a visit to Norway in 1858, and a trip through Portugal in 1859. In 1860 he visited Cornwall and the Scilly Isles; and in 1861 he traveled through Auvergne and the Pyrenees, with Arthur Hugh Clough, who was to die a few months later. On the occasion of the publication of his “Dedicatory” of the Idylls to the Prince Consort, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who died in December 1861, Tennyson was presented in April 1862 to the queen, who “stood pale and statue-like before him, in a sort of majestic innocence.” Henceforth the poet enjoyed the constant favor of the sovereign, though he could never be molded into a conventional courtier. Well into the year Tennyson made an excursion through Derbyshire and Yorkshire with F. T. Palgrave.

The following years were marked by the absence of events, except for travel, poetic work and indefatigable reading, visits from friends and conversations with them. In April 1864 Garibaldi visited Farringford; in February 1865 Tennyson”s mother died in Hampstead at the age of eighty-five; in the following summer Tennyson traveled in Germany. Time passed, with incidents though few and slight, Tennyson”s popularity in Britain growing steadily to limits unprecedented in the annals of English poetry. In 1867 he acquired some land at Blackdown, beyond Haslemere, at that time an isolated corner of England; there Mr. James Knowles (later Sir) began to build him a house eventually christened Aldworth. On April 23, 1868 (Shakespeare”s birthday) he had laid the foundation stone of his new residence. Also in 1869, Tennyson was made an honorary fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1873 Gladstone offered him a Dignity of Baronet, and Disraeli again in 1874; and in both cases such an honor was gallantly declined, though on the former occasion the poet would have accepted it for his son. During these years Tennyson”s thoughts were largely occupied with the building of Aldworth.

In March 1880 Tennyson was invited by the students of the University of Glasgow to run for the rectorship; but on learning that the contest would be conducted along political lines, and that he had been proposed as a Conservative Party candidate, he withdrew his acceptance. Following the prescription of Sir Andrew Clark to try to change airs, because of an ailment he had suffered since the death of his brother Charles the previous year, Tennyson and his son visited Venice, Bavaria and the Tyrol. In 1881 he posed for a portrait of Millais, and lost one of his oldest and most valuable friends: James Spedding.

Last years

The year 1883 brought him another sorrow with the death of his friend Edward FitzGerald. In September of the same year, Tennyson and Gladstone set out on a journey through the north of Scotland, as far as Orkney, and across the ocean to Norway and Denmark. At Copenhagen they were entertained by the King and Queen, and after numerous festivities, returned to Gravesend: this adventure served to cheer the poet, who had been depressed since the death of his favorite brother, Charles, and who was now entering a stage of admirable vigor. During the trip, Gladstone had decided to offer a title of nobility to Tennyson while they were visiting Pembroke Castle. On Gladstone”s recommendation, the queen offered him the title in December; after some hesitation, the poet consented to accept it, but added, “For my part, I shall miss my simple name all my life.” On March 11, 1884, he took his seat in the House of Lords as Baron Tennyson of Aldworth and Farringford. He voted a couple of times, but never spoke in the House. Also in 1884 his son Hallam married Miss Audrey Boyle, and both (son and daughter-in-law) remained in the parental home until the end of Tennyson”s life. Until past the age of seventy he had enjoyed, with occasional illness, generally good health. But in 1886 the poet suffered his most serious family misfortune with the death of his second son, Lionel, who had contracted tropical fever while visiting Lord Dufferin in India, and died on the return voyage, in the Red Sea (April 1886). It was a blow that fell heavily upon him. During 1887 the poet took a cruise on a friend”s yacht, visiting Devonshire and Cornwall. Late in 1888 he suffered a dangerous attack of rheumatic gout, from which in December it seemed that he could hardly hope to recover, but his magnificent constitution carried him through. In the spring of the following year he was sufficiently recovered to enjoy another sea voyage on the “Sunbeam,” the yacht of his friend Lord Brassey. During 1890-1891 he suffered from influenza, and his strength was noticeably depleted. In 1891 he was again able to enjoy his favorite pastime, sailing, and in fact, it was noted that he had wonderfully recovered the good humor of his youth, and even a not inconsiderable part of his physical strength.

In the summer of 1892 he would still be able to travel to Devonshire and take part once more in a yacht cruise to the Channel Islands; and this would not yet be his last outing away from home, for in July he was on a visit to London. Shortly after his eighty-fourth birthday, however, symptoms of weakness appeared, and in early September his condition began to be alarming. Nevertheless, he still had the strength to enjoy the company of numerous visitors, review the proofs of a collection of poems in preparation (The Death of Enone), and take an interest in the impending production of Becket, condensed and adapted by Henry Irving, at the Lyceum (it was finally to open in February 1893). During the last days of that month his health was so visibly broken that Dr. Clark had to be notified. The weakness was rapidly increasing, signs of a fatal syncope appeared on Wednesday, October 5. Tennyson retained to the end his intellectual lucidity and absolute mastery of his faculties, reading Shakespeare with manifest reasoning until a few hours before his death. With the splendor of the full moon falling upon him, his hand clutching his Shakespeare book, and looking, as we have been told, almost supernatural in the majestic beauty of his old age, Tennyson passed away at Aldworth on the evening of October 6, 1892, Cymbeline, the play he had been reading on his last evening, was laid in his coffin, and on the 12th he was publicly buried with great solemnity in Westminster Abbey. The pallbearers were the Duke of Argyll, Lord Dufferin, Lord Selborne, Lord Rosebery, Lord Jowett, Lecky, James Anthony Froude, Lord Salisbury, Dr. Butler (Professor of Trinity, Cambridge), the United States Minister R. T. Lincoln), Sir James Paget, and Lord Kelvin. The temple was guarded by members of the Balaclava Light Brigade, some Rifle Volunteers from London and the Gordon Boys” Home boys. The tomb is next to that of Robert Browning, and opposite the Chaucer monument. The bust of the poet, by Woolner, was later placed “by the column, near the grave”. Tennyson”s memorial stele, erected above Freshwater on the summit of High Down, was unveiled by the Dean of Westminster on August 6, 1897. Mrs. Tennyson died, aged eighty-three, on August 10, 1896, and was buried in Freshwater Cemetery. A plaque in the church commemorates both spouses.

His biography, written with admirable devotion and taste by his son, Hallam, second Lord Tennyson, was published in two volumes in 1897. This memoir further enlarged and intensified the world”s esteem for Tennyson. In it he revealed details hitherto known only to his intimate friends: that the poet, who lived as a recluse, seldom in the latter half of his life left his domestic surroundings; that in his retirement he devoted himself to the continuous acquisition of knowledge and the perfecting of his art, never losing touch with the pulse of the nation or sympathy with anything that affected the honor and happiness of the people. At the time of his death, and for some time after it, the enthusiastic recognition of Tennyson”s genius was too extravagant to endure.

In March 1827, Charles Tennyson and his brother Alfred published with J. & J. Jackson, booksellers in Louth, an anonymous collection of Poems by two Brothers. That “two” referred to Charles and Alfred (whose contributions predominated), who shared the surprising profit: £20. Charles had written his contribution between the ages of sixteen and seventeen, and Alfred his between fifteen and seventeen. The little volume is strangely disappointing, mainly because Alfred was wary of including in it those juvenile compositions in which a real harbinger of poetic originality might have been perceived. Such examples, which were apparently discarded as being “too out of the ordinary for public taste,” include a rather remarkable dramatic fragment, the action of which is set in Spain, and show an equally astonishing mastery of meter and musicality in verses written “after reading “The Bride of Lammermoor.”” The little printed volume contains chiefly imitative poems, in which tone and style are obviously borrowed from Byron, Moore, and other favorites of the day; and only occasionally exhibits any promising distinctive element. It seems not to have attracted the attention of either the press or the public.

In June, 1829, Alfred Tennyson won the Chancellor”s Medal for his poem entitled Tombuctoo. With great imperfections, this work in Miltonic blank verse shows the genius of a poet, in spite of a curious obscurity both of thought and style. His father had urged him to compete; and having for it an old poem on The Battle of Armageddon, he adapted it to the new subject and so impressed the jury that, in spite of the bold innovation of his blank verse, they awarded him the prize. Monckton Milnes and Arthur Hallam were among the other candidates. The latter, in a letter to his friend W. E. Gladstone, spoke with no less generosity than true critical perception of the “splendid imaginative power which pervaded” his friend”s poem. It certainly deserved this praise, and is as purely Tennysonian as anything its author ever wrote. But by this time Tennyson was writing even more promising compositions, and, as Arthur Hallam was soon to perceive, with an extraordinary fervor in the cult of beauty. The results of this enthusiasm and artistic labor appeared in the volume of Poems chiefly lyrical, published in 1830. It was a light volume of 150 pages issued by Effingham Wilson”s publishers, at the Royal Exchange. The volume contained, among other compositions that the author was ultimately not interested in keeping, such now-familiar poems as “Claribel,” “Ode to Memory,” “Mariana in the Moated Grange” (based on an isolated phrase from Measure for Measure), “Recollections of the Arabian Nights,” “The Poet in a golden clime was born,” “The Dying Swan: a Dirge,” “Ballad of Oriana,” and “A Character.” If there is any trace of the unconscious influence of any poetic master in such poems, it is that of Keats and Coleridge. While the poems exhibit here and there in their descriptive aspect an exuberant and florid figuralism which is not restrained by that perfected taste which was to come, there is no less clearly discernible a breadth of perspective, a depth of spiritual feeling as well as a lyrical versatility, which from the first distinguished the newcomer from Keats. Readers fond of contemporary poetry, however, were not immediately attracted to the book. Nevertheless, the poets and intellectuals of the day recognized a kindred spirit at once. The poems were praised by Sir John Bowring in the Westminster Review. Leigh Hunt reviewed them favorably in The Tatler; and Arthur Hallam contributed to the Englishman”s Magazine-a short-lived project of Edward Moxon-with a very notable review. This book would have been astonishing as the production of a young man of twenty-one, even though, since Byron”s death six years earlier, there had been no singular dearth of good poetry in England. Here, at least, in the light volume of 1830, a new writer was revealed, and in “Mariana,” “The Poet,” “Love and Death,” and “Oriana,” a singer of wonderful though still impure melody. On the whole, it was not very favorably received by the critics. In America it had a greater popularity. The veteran S. T. Coleridge, praising the genius of the book, censured its metrical imperfection. For this criticism he would constantly reprove himself. Coleridge, however, was perfectly just in his observation; and the metrical anarchy of the “Madelines” and “Adelines” of the 1830 volume showed that Tennyson, with all his delicacy of modulation, had not yet mastered the art of verse.

The sonnet beginning “Check every outflash” was sent by Hallam (who apologized for doing so) to Moxon for his new magazine, and a few other trifles found a place in The Keepsake. The volume Poems, by Alfred Tennyson appeared in late 1832 (though dated 1833). It comprises the poetic work of the years 1830-1833, spent mainly in Somersby: poems still recognized among his noblest and most imaginative works, although some of them would later be revised, in some cases to the point of recomposition. This was undoubtedly one of the most astonishing revelations of complete genius ever produced by so young a man. Poems, the first volume of poetry Tennyson published as a mature poet (he was even ridiculed as belonging to the “cockney school”, that is, influenced by such authors as Leigh Hunt or Keats. Keats was undoubtedly for him an indisputable model, more than for his ideas for the images, diction and metrical resources he used. The Lady of Shalott, A Dream of Fair Women, Œnone, The Lotos-Eaters, The Palace of Art and The Miller”s Daughter deserve to be highlighted, along with a handful of other lyrical, delightful and sublime poems. The Lady of Shalott mimics the ballad form, softening and refining it, depriving it of the rough immediacy of, for example, The Ancient Mariner. Three hundred copies of the book were sold immediately. The first effect of Hallam”s death on the art of his friend Tennyson was the composition, in the summer of 1834, of the poem The Two Voices, or Reflections of a Suicide, also the immediate result of this tragedy, which, as the poet later related to his son, for a time “blotted all joy from his life and made him long for death.” It is remarkable that when this poem was first published in the second volume of the 1842 edition, it was the only one of all the poems to bear the significant date “1833”. To the same period belong the beginnings of the Idylls of the King and In Memoriam, both long meditated. The silence that followed was, according to some, the result of the shock of the loss of his best friend; according to others it was due to discouragement at the poor reception of his two volumes of poems, published that same year.

In the meantime, Tennyson continued to work formally and steadily at his art. It is recorded that as early as 1835 he had much unpublished material ready for a new volume, including “The Death of Arthur,” “The Day Dream,” and “The Gardener”s Daughter.” In 1837, an invitation to contribute to a memorial volume, consisting of voluntary contributions from the leading writers of poetry of the day, gave Tennyson an opportunity to bequeath to the world-which probably took little notice-a poem that would later be ranked among his most perfect lyrical creations. The volume, entitled The Tribute and edited by Lord Northampton, was for the benefit of the family of Edward Smedley, a highly respected litterateur who was going through a rough patch.

In 1842, the two-volume edition of his Poems broke the ten years of silence he had imposed upon himself to maintain. In the new edition of Poems, along with many compositions already known to all lovers of modern poetry, were rich and abundant additions to his work. In addition to the reprinting of the principal poems of the 1830 and 1833 volumes, many of them rewritten, the second volume contained absolutely new material, and included “Locksley Hall,” “The Death of Arthur,” “Ulysses,” “The Two Voices,” “Godiva,” “Sir Galahad,” “Vision of Sin,” and such lyric poems as “Break, Break, Break,” and “Turn Eastward, Happy Land.” Most of those studies of domestic life in England, which formed such an extremely popular section of Tennyson”s work, such as “The Gardener”s Daughter,” “On the Way to the Post Office,” and “The Lord of Burleigh,” were now being published for the first time. In Ulysses, Tennyson combined all the positive aspects of his early poetry with a theme symbolizing the romantic conception of the heroic spirit and created the modern lyric genre of the dramatic monologue, in which the poet assumes the psychic mask of a historical or literary character whom he makes speak in the first person and identifies with him. The aging warrior finds himself unable to adapt to the routine of life when he returns to Ithaca, so he decides to return to the sea with his warriors, as Dante Alighieri had already written in his Divine Comedy. The lines of this poem hide an unpaternal contempt, the contempt felt by the man of action for the farsighted and conservative. Although the Victorians seemed to be satisfied with the civilization they were building, they also admired those who deserted it to lead a life of action or heroic simplicity (as is the case with Maud”s hero), a typically post-Romantic antithesis. And neither can we forget that beneath the circle of security surrounding the old warrior there lurks, according to some critics, that subterranean force that pulls in the opposite direction. It is from 1842 that Tennyson”s universal fame must be dated; from the moment of the publication of those two volumes he ceased to be a curiosity, or the favorite of a coterie of advanced men, and took his place as the leading poet of his time in England.

By 1846, Poems had reached its fourth edition, and that same year its author was violently attacked by Bulwer-Lytton in his satire The New Timon: Poetical Romance of London. Within a few lines, Tennyson was dismissed as “Schoolmiss Alfred,” and his demand for a pension was rudely contested. Tennyson retorted with a few powerful stanzas entitled “The New Timon and the Poets” and signed “Alcibiades.” They appeared in Punch (February 28, 1846), having been forwarded to that one, according to the poet”s son, by John Forster without the knowledge of their author. A week later the poet recorded his regret and retracted them in two stanzas entitled “An Afterthought”. They appear in his Selected Poems under the heading “Literary Disputes,” but the earlier poem was not included in any authorized collection of his works.

The Princess was published in 1847, in a later modified and considerably enlarged configuration: initially it did not include the six accessory songs, which were added for the first time in the third edition (1850). The poem, punctually appreciated by poets and thinkers, does not seem, despite reaching five editions in six years, to have significantly increased Tennyson”s popularity. The princess has aged. She is remembered for some chiseled lyric poetry and for Gilbert”s parody Princess Ida, which, however, is losing ground because of the difficulty of keeping the original in mind. However, this volume did materially increase his reputation: in the songs intermingled in this work, such as “The Decline of Splendor” or “Tears, Idle Tears,” the author achieves complete mastery of this branch of his art. Carlyle and FitzGerald lost “all hope in him after “The Princess”, or pretended to do so.” It was true that the course of his genius was slightly altered, in a direction apparently less pure and austere than that of the highest art; but his concessions to the tastes of the public greatly increased the breadth of the circle to which he addressed himself. But, on the other hand, he was a long way from In Memoriam, which was to appear anonymously in 1850.

After overcoming certain vicissitudes, In Memoriam was able to be published, in its original anonymous form, in May 1850. The public was initially very puzzled by the nature and object of this poem, which was no more than a chronicle of Tennyson”s emotions during bereavement, not even a statement of his philosophical and religious beliefs, other than, as he would always later explain, a sort of Divine Comedy culminating in the happy marriage of his younger sister, Cecilia Lushington. In fact, the great blemishes of In Memoriam, its redundancy and the disorder of its parts, were largely due to the disjointed manner of its composition. In Memoriam is neither a long poem nor a collection of short lyric poems, but something not quite rightly placed between the two. The poem, written in four-line stanzas – a mode which the poet believed himself to have invented, but which had in fact been used long before by Sir Philip Sidney, Ben Jonson and especially Lord Herbert of Cherbury – had been building up to its final version over a period of seventeen years after Arthur Hallam”s death. Published without a name on the title page, there was never any doubt as to its authorship. The public, to whose deepest and therefore most common beliefs and sorrows the poem appealed, embraced it immediately. The critics were not so quick to recognize it. To some of them the poem seemed hopelessly obscure. The religious establishment, on the other hand, was perplexed and irritated for different reasons. Considering that the poem was intensely serious and spiritual in its thought and purpose, and yet exhibited an antipathy to any concrete sentences concerning religious truth common at the time, the faction of theologians denounced it bitterly. To those who, on the other hand, were familiar with the deeper currents of religious investigative work among the thinking minds of the day, it was evident that the poem largely reflected the influence of Frederick Denison Maurice. Unlike the King”s Idylls, In Memoriam does prove representative of the Victorian era, to the present reader, of the spirit of its time. In Memoriam is elaborated from a series of elegiac poems prompted by the death of his friend. It is overwhelming in its unbearable grief, sorrow and long months of melancholy, torment and spiritual doubt. The poems follow the unfolding of his grief over time and the consequent religious crisis into which he is plunged. He faces the new vision of the natural world that scientific discoveries were imposing on the educated people.

In 1851 he produced his fine sonnet dedicated to Macready on the occasion of the actor”s retirement from the stage. After his return, in the summer of 1851, from Italy to Twickenham, where they then resided (Chapel House, Montpelier Row), the poet kept busy on various poems of a national and patriotic character-“Britons, guard your own” and “Hands all round,” published in The Examiner-spurred by Louis Napoleon”s ambiguous attitude toward England. In 1852 his noble Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington appeared. It immediately met with “almost unanimous depreciation.” The format and substance seemed unconventional. There is no doubt that this volume was subsequently enlarged and slightly modified for the better, and to this day it remains one of Tennyson”s most admired poems.

In 1854 he published The Charge of the Light Brigade, and was busy composing Maud and the accompanying lyric poems. His friend and neighbor on the Isle of Wight, Sir John Simeon, had suggested to him that the verses composed for The Tribute to Lord Northampton of 1837 were, in that isolated form, unintelligible, and it might be desirable for them to be preceded and followed by other verses so as to tell a story in a dramatic type format. The suggestion was heeded, and the work progressed through that year and would be completed by early 1855. In December 1854, he read in The Times the news of the disastrous charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, and wrote in one sitting, based on the Times correspondent”s description, his memorable verses, in which he included the expression “somebody had made a mistake.” The poem was published in The Examiner on December 9. The numerous compositional planes we see in In Memoriam are reduced to one in Maud, where Tennyson most conveniently treats tragedy in relation to an imaginary character. Maud appeared in the fall of 1855. It is a very long poem, absolutely stunning, about murder, obsession, madness, desperate love, all peppered with more accessible verses of intense beauty. Its reception by the critics, however, was the worst test of his equanimity that Tennyson had ever had to endure. In Maud he had gone far beyond his usual serenity of style, reaching an ecstasy of passion and expressive audacities which proved scarcely intelligible to his readers, and which were certainly not welcome. Consequently, the publication of Maud marked a perceptible setback in his growing popularity. The poem, a dramatic monologue in successive songs, was received by most critics and by the general public, even among his hitherto fervent admirers, with violent opposition and even scorn. There were many reasons for this. It was the first time that Tennyson had told a story dramatically; and the matter being narrated in the first person, a large number of readers attributed to the poet himself the feelings of the narrator-a person out of his senses (like Hamlet) by his own mistakes and by a bitter feeling caused by the bitter evils of society, in this case (it being the time of the Crimean War) “the wounds of a calm world and an enduring peace”-to the poet himself. The revulsion thus experienced by the poet makes itself penetratingly felt. 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. The latter poem was in a second edition revamped to its original and far superior format, including the line “someone had made a mistake,” which had been unwisely omitted at the request of timorous or fastidious friends.

Tennyson”s genius was perfectly suited to the short narrative poem of a lyrical character, such as “The Lady of Shalott,” about Elaine”s fatal love for Lanzarote (or “The Lotos-Eaters,” which evokes the paradisiacal country of the Lotophagi of the Odyssey, where memory and consciousness of duty were lost). But his ambition induced him to devote himself to the epic poem, a line on which he worked, at intervals, throughout his life. Undaunted by adverse criticism, Tennyson continued to work on those Arthurian poems, the idea of which had kept him awake at night during the progress of other works. “Enid” was ready in the autumn of 1856, and “Geneva” would be completed early in 1858. In 1857 two Arthurian poems had been privately and tentatively printed under the title Enid and Nimue, or the True and the False, to test how the idyllic format would be appreciated by Tennyson”s inner circle of friends. Also in 1858 he wrote the first of those individual monologue lyric-dramatic poems by which his popularity was to increase enormously. “The Grandmother” was to appear in Once A Week, beautifully illustrated by Millais, in July 1859. Maud”s fiasco would be more than compensated for by the enthusiasm with which her next work was to be received at the time of its publication: the public was fully prepared and full of curiosity to learn of Tennyson”s new treatment of the Arthurian legends, and in the summer of 1859 the first series of Idylls of the King at last saw the light, and achieved a popular success greater than any of the English poets, except perhaps Byron and Scott, had previously experienced. At times these works lacked unity and seemed more like lyrical groupings than organically conceived poems. Lyric poems such as “Sir Galahad” and “The Lady of Shalott” had shown to what extent the poet had read and reflected on the subject. At the same time, poems like “Elaine” and “Guinevere” at once delighted the most exquisite, and those who were not so exquisite. Men as different as Jowett, Macaulay, Dickens, Ruskin, and Walter (of The Times) nourished the chorus of enthusiastic praise. The Duke of Argyll had predicted that the Idylls would be “understood and admired by many of those who were incapable of understanding and appreciating many of his other works,” and the prediction was fulfilled. Within a month of its publication, 10,000 copies had been sold. However, Idylls of the King fails to become the national epic that Tennyson would have wished to make it, although it has wonderful passages. The Idylls were four: “Enid”, “Vivien” (formerly “Nimue”), “Elaine” and “Guinevere”. They consisted of episodes from the epic of the fall of King Arthur and the Round Table which Tennyson had been preparing for so long, and which he could hardly say he had ever finished, although almost thirty years later he would give them up. The four Idylls were part of a great historical or mystical poem, and were welcomed as four painstaking studies of prototypical women. Audiences and critics alike were enraptured with the “sweetness” and “purity” of treatment. A few, like Ruskin, doubted about “that greater quietness of style”; one or two came to suspect that the “sweetness” was obtained at some sacrifice of force, and that the “purity” implied a concession to Victorian conventions. The Hispanist and Oxford University professor William James Entwistle (1896-1952) opined that Tennysonian loose verse proved an inappropriate medium for the artfulness of the Idylls of the King. “What might have been a moral critique of the age fragmented” – according to Entwistle – “into loose episodes; the verse is also excessively limned to be enduring. It is essentially lyrical or episodic, and when so taken, as in the magnificent “Death of Arthur,” it is full of noble sonority.” From the publication of the first Idylls to the end of the poet”s life his fame and popularity continued unstoppable.

Meanwhile Tennyson”s heart and thoughts were, as ever, with the interests and honor of his country, and the lines of “Riflemen, Formation!”, published in The Times (May 1859), had their origin in the last action of Louis Napoleon, and in the new dangers and complications for Europe which arose from that action. A Song for the Navy (“Jack Tar”), first printed in the poet”s Memoirs written by his son, was composed under the same influences. Urged on by the Duke of Argyll, Tennyson turned his attention to the subject of the Holy Grail, though he advanced in it unevenly and slowly. The story of “Sea Dreams,” a narrative-dramatic mixture, the villain of which reflects certain disastrous experiences of the poet himself, was published in Macmillan”s Magazine in 1860. On the occasion of his second trip to the Pyrenees (1861), he wrote the lyric poem “Along the Valley”, in memory of his visit to that place thirty years earlier with Arthur Hallam. Later he composed “Helen”s Tower” and the “Dedication” of the Idylls to the Prince Consort (“This to his Memory”). He had temporarily put aside the Arthurian legends, and gave himself up to the composition, in 1862, of Enoch Arden, (or The Fisherman, as he first entitled it). which, however, was not to appear until 1864 in a volume which also contained “Sea Dreams,” “Aylmer”s Field,” and, above all, “The Northern Farmer.” This was to be the first of a series of poems in the North Lincolnshire dialect. In 1863 “Aylmer”s Field” was completed, and the laureate wrote his “Welcome to Alexandra” on the occasion of the marriage of the Prince of Wales. Idylls of Home (London, 1864), Enoch Arden”s volume, was an immediate success, with 60. 000 copies quickly sold. It contained, in addition to the above titles, “Titono” (already printed in the Cornhill Magazine) and “The Grandmother.” The volume (mainly perhaps thanks to “Enoch Arden,” a legend already common in various forms to most European countries) became, in his son”s opinion, the most popular of all Tennyson”s works, with the sole exception of In Memoriam. Translations into Danish, German, Latin, Dutch, Italian, French, Hungarian and Czech attest to its wide reputation. In 1865 a Selection of the Works of Alfred Tennyson, Doctor of Civil Law, Poet Laureate, with six new poems, was published in London. This is the time of two of his rare privately printed pamphlets: The Window (1867) The Noble Poem Lucretius, one of Tennyson”s greatest verse monographs, appeared in May 1868, and in this year The Holy Grail was finally completed; it was published in 1869, together with three other Idylls belonging to the Arthurian epic and several miscellaneous lyric poems, in addition to Lucretius. The reception of this volume was cordial, but not as universally respectful as Tennyson had come to expect from his adoring public. He continued with absolute calm, however, sure of his mission and his music. The last tournament was published in the Contemporary Review in 1871. His next volume, Gareth and Lynette (1872), gave continuity and, as he then supposed, culminated the King”s Idylls, to the great satisfaction of the poet, who had encountered many difficulties in finishing the last sections of the poem. The poetic cycle was not yet complete, as he considered it, but for the time being he banished it from his mind.

Considering his work with the romantic Arthurian epics completed, Tennyson turned his attention to a branch of poetry which had always attracted him, but which he had never seriously attempted: drama. He set himself a scheme-which he cannot be said to have carried very far-that of illustrating “the formation of England” through a series of great historical tragedies. His Queen Mary, the first of these plays-chronicles, was published in 1875 and staged by Sir Henry Irving at the Lyceum in 1876. Although it was full of admirable dramatic writing, theatrically it was not well composed, and failed on the stage. Queen Mary was a blank verse drama carefully constructed on the model of Shakespeare. This new departure was not generally well received by the public, for it is quite true that any imitation of Elizabethan poetic dramas is necessarily somewhat exotic. On the other hand, Tennyson had never been in close contact with the theater. He used to joke by observing that “critics nowadays are so exacting that they expect not only of a poet-dramatist that he should be a first-rate author, but a first-rate director, actor, and spectator all in one.” There is an element of truth in this joke. It was precisely because Shakespeare had embraced all the above facets that his plays possess the special quality from which purely literary drama suffers. Extremely stubborn in this respect, the poet continued to attempt his assault on the theater, attempt upon attempt, practically all of them failed until the seventh and last, which unfortunately was posthumous. To actually achieve success on the stage would have given Tennyson more satisfaction than anything else, but he was not given to live long enough to see this flower also added to the thick crown of his glory. Meanwhile Harold, a tragedy of doom, was published in 1876; but, though perhaps the best of its author”s dramas, it was never performed.

During these years his few lyric poems were energetic ballads of adventure, inspired by an exalted patriotism-The Revenge (1878), The Defense of Lucknow (1879)-but he reprinted and finally published his old unpublished poem The Lover”s Tale, and a little play of his, The Falcon, an adaptation in verse of Boccaccio, was produced by the Kendals at their theater late in 1879. He aptly defined it as “an exquisite little poem in action”; and, although its plot is dangerously grotesque as a subject for dramatic treatment, produced and performed by the Kendals it was undoubtedly charming. The play was first published (in the same volume with The Cup) in 1884. Tennyson had reached the age of seventy, and it was tacitly assumed that he would retire to a dignified rest. In fact, he then began a new period of poetic activity. In 1880 he published the first of six important collections of lyric poems, entitled Ballads and Other Poems, and containing the somber and magnificent “Rizpah”. Tennyson was then seventy-one years old, but these poems significantly increased his reputation, because of the breadth and variety of the themes and their extraordinary treatment. Many of them were based on anecdotes heard in the poet”s youth, or read in newspapers and magazines, and referred to him by friends. The Cup (1881) and The Promise of May (1882), two small plays, were produced without substantial success in London theaters: the second of these is perhaps the least successful of all the poet”s longer writings, but its failure irritated him excessively.

In the autumn of 1884 his tragedy Becket was published, but finally the poet became disenchanted with the theater and gave up all hope of “satisfying the demands of our modern theater”. Curiously, after his death, Becket would be one of his most successful plays on the stage. Another interesting miscellany, Tiresias and Other Poems, was published in 1885, with a posthumous dedication to Edward FitzGerald. It is noteworthy that in this volume the King”s Idylls were at last completed with the publication of Balin and Balan; it also contained the splendid speech To Virgil, the noble poem “The Ancient Sage,” and the Irish dialect poem “To-morrow.” The indefatigable old poet continued to write doggedly, and by 1886 he had ready another collection of lyric poems, Locksley Hall Sixty Years After; he was visually impaired, but his memory and intellectual curiosity were as lively as ever. In the course of 1887 he was preparing another book of poems, writing “Vastness” (published in March in Macmillan”s Magazine) and “Old Roä,” another Lincolnshire poem, based on a story he had read in a newspaper. He was over eighty when he published the collection of new poetry entitled Demeter and Other Poems (1889), which appeared almost simultaneously with Browning”s death, a fact that left Tennyson de facto as a unique figure in poetic literature. The aforementioned volume contained, among other short poems, “Merlin and the Lightning,” an allegory that shadows the course of his poetic career, and the memorable “Crossing the Bar,” written one day while crossing the Solent on his annual journey from Aldworth to Farringford. In 1891 he completed for the American producer Daly an old and unpublished drama on the theme of Robin Hood: The Foresters: Robin Hood and Maid Marian, was premiered in New York in March 1892, with Miss Ada Rehan and revived at Daly”s Theatre in London in October 1893. During that year (1891), Tennyson devoted himself tirelessly to poetic composition, finishing “Akbar”s Dream”, “Kapiolani” and other contents of the posthumous volume entitled The Death of Enone (1892). In 1892, the last year of his life, he wrote his Verses on the Death of the Duke of Clarence. After his death, an edition of his Complete Works was published in London in 1894 in a single volume, with the last modifications.

As a poet, Tennyson is much more complex than he appears; we have to be very awake to the connotations of the words, to the metrical effects.

Tennyson is a poet of exceptional musicality who refined his natural gifts by hard work and constant revision of his works. Tennyson”s poetry is characterized by a broad outlook; by his intense sympathy with the feelings and aspirations of humanity; by his deep understanding of the problems of life and thought; by a noble patriotism which finds expression in such poems as The Revenge, The Charge of the Light Brigade, or the Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington; for his exquisite sense of beauty; for his wonderful power of vivid and minute description, achieved sometimes by means of a single fortunate phrase and often reinforced by perfect correspondence between sense and sound; and for a general grandeur and purity of tone. No poet has surpassed him in precision and delicacy of language and in integrity of expression. As a lyric poet he has, perhaps, no one to excel him, and only two or three equals him in English poetry, and he even possessed no small share of humor, as he shows in “The Northern Farmer” and other compositions. When the volume, variety, finish, and length of his work, and the influence he exerted on his age, are taken into consideration, he must be assigned a unique place among the poets of his country.

In our days there are critics who detract from Tennyson”s work by showing himself so close to his audience (probably unrefined people) and consider ridiculous the fact that he expressed his sympathy for the queen herself.

Edward FitzGerald, that brilliant though fickle genius, persisted in maintaining that Tennyson never came to add anything more to the reputation gained by the two volumes of 1842; and this may be true to a certain extent, for had he died or ceased to write at that date he would still be rated, among all good critics, as a poet of absolute singularity, the rarest charm and widest intellectual and imaginative range, and of unequalled felicity and melody in language. In all that constitutes an accomplished lyric artist, Tennyson could hardly have given more proof of his quality. But he would never have reached the enormous audience he gathered around him had it not been for In Memoriam, the Arthurian Idylls (especially the first installment), and the many stirring odes and ballads commemorating the greatness of England and the prowess and loyalties of her offspring. It is that many-sided quality and that magnanimity, the intensity with which Tennyson identified himself with the needs and interests of his country, with its joys and sorrows, that, as much as his purely poetic genius, made him beloved and popular with a wider public than perhaps any poet of his century enjoyed.

Theater

Sources

  1. Alfred Tennyson
  2. Alfred, Lord Tennyson