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||Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) - 1st Baron Tennyson of Aldworth and Freshwater|
English author often regarded as the chief representative of the Victorian age in poetry. Tennyson succeeded William Wordsworth as Poet Laureate in 1850; he was appointed by Queen Victoria and served 42 years. Tennyson's works were melancholic, and reflected the moral and intellectual values of his time, which has made them especially vulnerable for later critic.
"Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
Alfred, Lord Tennyson was born in Somersby, Lincolnshire, the fourth of twelve children. His father, George Clayton Tennyson, was a clergyman and rector, who was notoriously absentminded and suffered from depression. His dark moods often overshadowed the family, if not the bleak Lincolnshire landscape. Alfred began to write poetry at an early age in the style of Lord Byron. His first drama in blank verse Tennyson wrote at fourteen. After four unhappy school years at Louth, where he was bullied by his big boys and masters, he was tutored at home. Tennyson then studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, but he did not aim at academic excellence. He joined the literary club 'The Apostles,' where he met Arthur Hallam who became his closest friend. The undergraduate society discussed contemporary social, religious, scientific, and literary issues.
Encouraged by 'The Apostles,' Tennyson published Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (1830), which included the popular 'Mariana.' Hallam, who was well-connected, anonymously placed a review in the Englishman's Magazine, in which he said: "There is a strange earnestness in his worship of beauty which throws a charm over his impassioned song, more easily felt than described, and not to be escaped by those who have once felt it." (from 'On Some of the Characteristics of Modern Poetry, and on the Lyrical Poems of Alfred Tennyson') With Hallam he travelled on the Continent. By 1830, his friend had become engaged to his sister Emily. After his father's death in 1831, Tennyson returned to Somersby without a degree.
Tennyson's next book, Poems (1833), received
unfavorable reviews, and he ceased to publish for nearly ten years.
Hallam died suddenly on the same year in Vienna. It was a heavy blow to
Tennyson. He began to write 'Im Memorian' for his lost friend – the
work took seventeen years to finish. A revised volume of Poems,
which included the 'The Lady of Shalott' and 'The Lotus-eaters'.
d'Arthur' and 'Ulysses' appeared in the two-volume Poems (1842),
and established his reputation as a writer. In 'Ulysses Tennyson
portrayed the Greek after his travels, longing past days: "How dull it
is to pause, to make an end, / To rust unburnished, not to shine in
use!" The Grail romances did not appeal to Tennyson's imagination and he came to write of the Holy Grail in the Idylls of the King
(1859) reluctantly: "As to Macaulay's suggestion of the Sangreal, I
doubt whether such a subject could be handled in these days without
incurring a charge of irreverence. It would be too much like playing
with sacred things", he explained in a letter to the duke of Argyll.
During his later years Tennyson produced some of his best poems. After marrying in 1850 Emily Sellwood, whom Tennyson had already met in 1830 and who had been the object of his affection for a long time, the couple settled in 1853 in Farringford, a house in Freshwater on the Isle of Wright. From there the family moved in 1869 to Aldworth, Surrey. Tennyson's life was then uneventful. Emily ran two houses, provided lavish meals, and pampered her husband. In London he was a regular guest of the literary and artistic salon of Mrs Prinsep at Little Holland House. Tennyson's mother died in 1865. On the funeral day he wrote in his diary: "We all of us hate the pompous funeral we have to join in, black plumes, black coaches and nonsense. We should like all to go in white and gold rather, but convention is against us."
Among Tennyson's major poetic achievements the elegy mourning the death of his friend Arthur Hallam, In Memoriam (1850). The personal sorrow led the poet to explore his thoughts on faith, immortality, and the meaning of loss: "O life as futile, then, as frail! / O for thy voice to soothe and bless! / What hope of answer, or redress? / Behind the veil, behind the veil." Among its other passages is a symbolic voyage ending in a vision of Hallam as the poet's muse. Some critics have seen in the work ideas, that anticipated Darwin's theory of natural selection. "Who trusted God was love indeed / And love Creation's final law – / Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw / With ravine, shriek'd against his creed – ", Tennyson wrote. He was born in the same year as Darwin, but his view about natural history, however, was based on catastrophe theory, not evolution.
"Into the jaws of death,
The patriotic 'Charge of the Light Brigade' was first published in The Examiner, on December 9, 1954 and included Maud (1855). Although at first Maud was found obscure or morbid by critics ranging from George Eliot to Gladstone, 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' became one of Tennyson's best known works. Later the poem also inspired Michael Curtiz's film from 1936, starring Errol Flynn. Historically the fight during the Crimean war brough to light the incompetent organization of the English army. However, the stupid mistake described in work honored the soldier's courage and heroic action.
During his later years Tennyson produced some of his best verse. Enoch Arden (1864) was based on a true story of a sailor, thought to be drowned at sea but who returned home after several years obly to find that his wife had remarried. In the poem Enoch Arden, Philip Ray and Annie Lee grow up together. Enoch wins her hand. He sails abroad and is shipwrecked for 10 years on a deserted island. Meanwhile Annie has been reduced to poverty. Philip asks her to marry him. Enoch returns and witnesses their happiness, but hides that he is alive and sacrifices his happiness for theirs. An Enoch Arden has come to mean a person who truly loves someone better than himself. The poem ends simply with the lines, "So past the strong heoic soul away. / And when they buried him, the little port / Had seldom seen a costlier funeral." Idylls of the King (1859-1885) dealt with the Arthurian legeds, and The Ancient Sage (1885) and Akbar's Dream (1892) testified the poet's faith in the redemption offered by love. Despite Tennyson pessimism about the human condition, he believed in God.
In the 1870s Tennyson wrote several plays, among them poetic dramas Queen Mary (1875) and Harold (1876). In 1884 he was created a baron. Tennyson died at Aldwort on October 6, 1892, and was buried in the Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. Soon he became the favorite target of attacks of many English and American poets who saw him as a representative of narrow patriotism and sentimentality. Later critics have praised again Tennyson. T.S. Eliot has called him "the great master of metric as well as of melancholia" and that he possessed the finest ear of any English poet since Milton.
For further reading: Tennyson: Aspects of His Life by Harold Nicholson (1923); Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir by His Son by Hallam T. Tennyson. Hardcover (1940); Alfred Tennyson by Sir Charles Tennyson (1949); Tennyson by Jerome H. Buckley (1960); Tennyson Laureate by Valerie Pitt (1962); The Two Voices by Elton E. Smith (1964); Tennyson by C. Ricks (1972); Tennyson: The Unquiet Heart by R.B. Martin (1980); Lady Tennyson's Journal, ed. James O. Hoge (1981); Tennyson and the Doom of Romanticism by Herbert F. Tucker. Hardcover (April 1988); Anglo-American Antiphony: The Late Romanticism of Tennyson and Emerson by Richard E. Brantley (1994); Tennyson, ed. by Rebecca Stott (1996); Alfred Lord Tennyson: The Poet in an Age of Theory by W. David Shaw (1997); Tennyson and His Circle by Lynne Truss (1999); Alfred Tennyson by Andrew Lang (2001); Tennyson: To Strive, To Seek, To Find by John Batchelor (2012) - See also: John Keats