Alfred, Lord Tennyson Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 19th Century)

0111201592-Tennyson.jpg(Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.
Alfred, Lord TennysonAlfred, Lord TennysonImage via writersmug.com

Article abstract: Generally considered to be the quintessential Victorian poet, Tennyson grappled with grief in the midst of the most profound theological crisis in the history of the modern world, caused by the emergent theory of evolution. Tennyson’s poetry of spiritual struggle and affirmation captured the soul of his generation.

Early Life

Alfred Tennyson was born on August 6, 1809, the fourth of George Tennyson’s twelve children. His mother, née Elizabeth Fytche, was an easy-going and indulgent woman who encouraged her children’s literary efforts. At the rectory, young Alfred had access to his father’s twenty-five-hundred-volume scholarly library, which included books on theology, philosophy, history, classical and Oriental literature, and science. Although Tennyson was educated formally first at a village school and later at a boys’ school in Louth, the majority of his preuniversity instruction was received at home under his father’s supervision. George Tennyson was an intellectually gifted and well-educated man whose intelligence and learning were undermined by his emotional instability. Alfred Tennyson’s tempestuous and insecure home life during childhood fostered periods of despondency that were severe enough to affect adversely his physical health throughout his lifetime. Yet despite having to undertake numerous water cures for a variety of ailments which were indiscriminately identified as gout, Tennyson lived a long and productive life. Although the instability of his early years contributed to his unhappiness, it also deepened his sensitivity to the spiritual turmoil of his generation.

Six months before Tennyson commenced his studies at Cambridge University in 1827, a volume entitled Poems by Two Brothers was published by a Lincolnshire bookseller. It was in fact a collection by three brothers; half of the poems it contained were written by Alfred Tennyson, while the other poems were contributed by his elder brothers Frederick and Charles. The volume received little notice, but it did allow Tennyson to enter university with some confidence in his poetic ability. His physical appearance, as it was described upon his arrival at Cambridge, communicated a greater confidence than he felt. Standing more than six feet tall, he towered above his fellows, and his broad chest and massive head were imposing. His swarthy handsomeness, deep brown eyes, and long, dark, unkempt hair gave him a mysterious, romantic air. Severe shortsightedness lent him a remote gaze which was often mistaken for aloofness. His poor eyesight also contributed to his social ineptness on occasions when he would either scrutinize his companions at an awkwardly close range or else, insecure without visual cues, withdraw from general conversation entirely.

At Cambridge, in 1829, Tennyson made the most important acquaintance of his life. Arthur Henry Hallam, who had been a fellow competitor for the Chancellor’s gold medal for English verse, which Tennyson won with his poem “Timbuctoo,” became not only his closest friend but also his literary advocate. He encouraged Tennyson to publish his first notable collection of poetry, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, in 1830 and anonymously gave it a favorable commentary in The Englishman’s Magazine in 1831. In his review, Hallam defined Tennyson’s style in terms which modern critics have described as an anticipation of Symbolist poetics. Tennyson’s enduring dislike of magazine criticism began with a scathing review of Poems, Chiefly Lyrical in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1832. Because of his fear of poor reviews, Tennyson was hesitant to publish new poems, a tendency which remained with him throughout his career. Yet this fear also drove him to scrupulous revision, which often improved his work.

Life’s Work

Tennyson was recalled to Somersby immediately before his father’s death in March, 1831, and he never returned to the university to complete his degree. The following year, at Hallam’s urging, he assembled the manuscript of a volume entitled Poems (1832). It included a number of pieces often found in modern anthologies: “The Lady of Shalott,” “Œnone,” “The Palace of Art,” and “The Lotos-Eaters.” Poems was unfavorably received when it was first published, but in 1835, the philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote a review praising Tennyson’s use of scenery to symbolize feeling. Mill’s encouragement arrived too late, however, to offer much comfort; when it appeared, Tennyson was still grieving Hallam’s untimely death in the summer of 1833.

Tennyson composed some of his finest poems in the period following his friend’s death, particularly the exquisite elegiac stanzas that were to make up the commemorative poem In Memoriam (1850). Lacking Hallam’s energetic support, the young poet failed to publish a new volume of poetry until 1842. Between Hallam’s death in 1833 and the publication of In Memoriam in 1850, only two books appeared: Poems (1842) and The Princess (1847). The 1842 volume incorporated revised versions of the best work he had published in 1833 along with some new poems including “Ulysses,” “Break, Break, Break,” and his early Arthurian piece, “Morte d’Arthur.” The Princess, a long narrative poem, presents a rather superficial treatment of the serious Victorian issue of women’s education. The conflict between a prince and a princess, whose engagement is broken when the princess decides to found a women’s university, dissolves when she sees the error of her politics and returns to fulfill her promise of marriage. The resolution is achieved principally through the songs, which focus on the personal rather than the political implications of the couple’s relationship. Despite its poetic imperfections, The Princess was a popular success.

In Memoriam established Tennyson’s growing reputation as a lyric poet. The volume’s short poems, in the distinctive abba stanza form, are arranged not by date of composition but by their place in the psychological pattern of grieving. The tone of the poems moves from frustration and anger at the indifference of Nature to man’s fate toward a celebration of human love. The publication of In Memoriam opened new opportunities in Tennyson’s personal life. The trial edition that he sent to Emily Selwood in 1849 helped to revive their broken engagement, and in 1850, after fourteen years’ delay, they were married. The success of In Memoriam also brought royal recognition; at the end of the year, Queen Victoria made Tennyson poet laureate. Shortly before his death, the monarch awarded him a barony.

After 1850, Tennyson published many short poems, which appeared first in literary magazines and later in collected volumes. He also wrote several unsuccessful plays. His major works in this period were two long poems, Maud and Other Poems (1855) and Idylls of the King (1859-1885). Tennyson’s first attempt at a narratively conceived poem since The Princess, Maud tells of a young man driven mad by thwarted love who kills his lover’s brother in a duel. His act of murder and Maud’s subsequent death plunge the hero into even greater despair until he redeems himself through self-sacrifice in a patriotic war. The story unfolds not in a conventional narrative but in a series of lyrics which express the hero’s subjective responses to external events. The innovative style perplexed the critics, whose reviews were generally hostile. Tennyson forever maintained that Maud was his favorite poem, despite its miserable reception, and he became notorious for reading it aloud to company at every opportunity.

Idylls of the King is based on Sir Thomas Malory’s medieval account of the Arthurian knights in his Le Morte D’Arthur (1485). Tennyson had first dealt with the topic in his own “Morte d’Arthur,” published in Poems. Revised and renamed “The Passing of Arthur,” it eventually appeared as the conclusion of twelve “idylls” which make up Tennyson’s complete Arthurian cycle. Idylls of the King is a complex and occasionally brilliant narrative poem which has stimulated a remarkable amount of scholarly criticism since the mid-1960’s. Although the contemporary critical response was ambivalent at best, Idylls of the King met with wide popular acclaim.

Summary

The self-absorbed lyricism of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s early poems, tempered by the conservative fears of social upheaval which preoccupied the poet later in life, evolved into a poetry which dealt with the important issues of his time by drawing them into a personal focus. What John Stuart Mill discussed in a philosophical treatise, On the Subjection of Women (1869), for example, Tennyson explored through the relations between a prince and his intellectually ambitious princess. While Tennyson’s emphasis in The Princess on an ideal of domestic harmony that ignores the complex socioeconomic forces that shape political reality may seem myopic and naïve to a modern reader, the use of an intimate focus in In Memoriam is very effective. It was in personal terms that nineteenth century individuals were best able to comprehend the chaos that scientific discovery and growing industrialization had made of their worldview.

The Princess, Tennyson’s first serious attempt to reconcile the social and didactic with the personal and emotive claims of poetry, earned for him not only popularity but also the financial security to proceed with his long-postponed marriage. The stellar success of In Memoriam three years later thrust Tennyson into a degree of fame and fortune which swelled with the interest of an increasingly literate middle-class population at home and the growing enthusiasm of his audience in the United States.

In the wake of two equally hostile poetic sensibilities (fin de siècle aestheticism, which denigrated the moral dimension of art, and early twentieth century modernism, which abhorred subjectivity), Tennyson’s reputation suffered an unfortunate reversal. Not until the middle of the twentieth century, when modern American scholars such as W. D. Paden and Edgar F. Shannon reevaluated Tennyson’s achievement, did the great Victorian begin to regain literary respectability. Since the publication of Jerome H. Buckley’s seminal study in 1960, excellent modern editions have appeared along with a host of scholarly, biographical, and critical works that have reclaimed Tennyson for the twentieth century.

Bibliography

Buckley, Jerome H. Tennyson: The Growth of a Poet. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960. Buckley examines the external influences of the Victorian moral, social, intellectual, and scientific climate in the light of the personal details of the poet’s biography to chart the growth of Tennyson’s poetic sensibility.

Jump, John, ed. Tennyson: The Critical Heritage. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1967. Reprints thirty-five reviews of Tennyson’s works. A useful documentary companion to Edgar F. Shannon’s book.

Martin, Robert Bernard. Tennyson: The Unquiet Heart. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. Martin’s readable study draws on a wealth of published Tennyson biographies and criticism as well as unpublished letters and manuscripts.

Palmer, D. J., ed. Tennyson. London: Bell and Sons, 1973. A collection of essays, three of which are particularly interesting; “Tennyson: A Reader’s Guide” gives a historical bibliographic survey of Tennyson scholarship and criticism; “Tennyson and His Public 1827-59” and “Tennyson and Victorian Social Values” provide social and literary context.

Ricks, Christopher. Tennyson. New York: Macmillan, 1972. The modern editor of Tennyson’s poems offers a critical biography that makes use of previously inaccessible manuscripts and biographical material.

Shannon, Edgar F. Tennyson and the Reviewers: A Study of His Literary Reputation and of the Influence of the Critics upon His Poetry, 1827-51. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1952. An examination of the dynamic relationship between Tennyson’s poetry and the reviews.

Shaw, W. D. Tennyson’s Style. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1976. An excellent study of Tennyson’s poetry in the context of literary tradition in general and of Romantic and Victorian poetic theory and practice in particular.

Tennyson, Alfred. The Poems of Tennyson. Edited by Christopher Ricks. London: Longman, 1969. The most complete and scholarly edition of Tennyson’s poems. It includes one early play, The Devil and the Lady (wr. c. 1823), but excludes the later plays. Ricks draws on the Eversley edition, which contains Tennyson’s own annotations, and on numerous unpublished manuscripts.

Tennyson, Sir Charles. Alfred Tennyson. New York: Macmillan, 1949. Written by Tennyson’s grandson, this is the first authoritative formal biography of Tennyson. In addition to Tennyson’s life and personality, the book deals with the poet’s social, political, intellectual, and religious milieu.

Tennyson, Hallam, Lord. Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1897. Reprint. New York: Greenwood Press, 1969. A rather biased and overprotective biography by the poet’s eldest son. Despite its lack of objectivity, it is an excellent biographical sourcebook. All subsequent biographers have relied on its materials.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Alfred, Lord Tennyson was born in 1809 at Somersby Rectory in Lincolnshire, but his father, the Reverend Dr. George Tennyson, was not the typical Anglican clergyman. As the dispossessed eldest son of a wealthy landowner, he was forced to accept a profession he disliked, but it afforded him time to educate his children. A man of culture and intelligence himself, he noticed early that Alfred, the fourth of his twelve children, had a gift for poetry, which he readily encouraged. Alfred began writing verses during his earliest years, and at twelve he began an epic poem in imitation of Sir Walter Scott . This caused his father to remark: “If that boy dies, one of our greatest poets will have gone.” Tennyson was spurred on by this encouragement and by collaboration with his brother Charles; Poems by Two Brothers was published when Alfred was still in his teens.

When Tennyson went to Cambridge in 1827, he became associated with a group of brilliant young men who called themselves the Apostles. One of the most gifted of them, Arthur Hallam, became his best friend and chief advocate. This group of friends helped him to overcome his initial shyness; they gave him confidence and broadened his experience so that in the next few years he published two volumes of poetry: Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (1830) and Poems (1832, imprinted 1833).

All seemed to be going well in a promising literary career but then came a series of shocks. The most traumatic was certainly the sudden death of Hallam in 1833; their friendship had become so close and deep that Tennyson went into a long period of depression following his friend’s death. He published very little over the next nine years, but rather than attribute these years of silence completely to Hallam’s death, one has to recognize several other serious blows that fell at about the same time. In 1831, two years before Hallam’s death, Tennyson’s family suffered a series of grievous troubles: Alfred’s father died, his brother Edward had to be confined because of insanity, and his favorite brother, Charles, became addicted to opium. Added to these troubles were the hostile reviews of his poetry. For one who had received only encouragement and praise from family and friends, the reviews, which called his poetry “obscure” and “affected” and branded him “the pet of a cockney coterie,” were sufficient to cause Tennyson to question his poetic gifts. Though stung by these losses and criticism, he became a much better poet. When he did publish again, in 1842, he showed a remarkable advance over his earlier work, and the critical reception that followed assured him a place in English literature. Even Wordsworth acknowledged, “He is decidedly the first of our living poets.” Tennyson followed this triumph with the publication of his long elegy on Hallam, In Memoriam (1850), and that same year, he was named poet laureate to succeed Wordsworth.

The remaining years of Tennyson’s long life were productive. Financially secure, he was able to marry Emily Sellwood, whom he had loved for fourteen years. They purchased a country estate, which freed him somewhat from the public demands that accompanied his growing popularity. After publishing the experimental monologue Maud in 1855, he devoted nearly twenty-five years to the twelve books of the epic Idylls of the King (1859-1885). During the last third of his life, he published six other volumes of poetry, which contained some good poems and a great number of popular poems. Works such as Enoch Arden (1864), full of domestic sentimentality, added to his popularity but detracted from his lasting reputation. It was also during this period that he began writing his verse dramas . Reassured by his almost universal fame and his belief that someone needed to restore the lagging stature of English drama, he disregarded his own lack of knowledge of the theater and wrote seven plays in the hope that someone else would make them acceptable for public performance.

Tennyson remained for fifty years the most popular poet of his age. After he accepted the peerage in 1883, he lived out the last years of his life as beloved poet and respected sage, mostly at his country estate of Aldworth. When he died in October, 1892, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, and a whole nation mourned the loss.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson Biography (British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Alfred Tennyson, first Baron Tennyson of Aldworth and Freshwater, was born at Somersby in the Lincolnshire district of England on August 6, 1809, the fourth of twelve children. His father, the Reverend George Tennyson, was a brooding, melancholic man, whose lifelong bitterness—inspired by his having been disinherited in favor of a younger brother—manifested itself in his behavior toward his family. Alfred was spared much of his father’s wrath, however, because George Tennyson apparently recognized his fourth son’s special brilliance and took pains to tutor him in history, science, and literature. Tennyson spent five years at Louth Grammar School (1815-1820), then returned home to continue his studies under his father’s personal guidance.

Tennyson began writing poetry at an early age; at eight, he was imitating James Thomson, and at twelve, he was writing romances in the manner of Sir Walter Scott. In 1827, the year he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, he and his brothers Charles and Frederick published Poems by Two Brothers.

At Cambridge, Tennyson was an undisciplined student. He was well received by his fellow students, however, and in 1829, he was elected a member of the Apostles, a club devoted to intellectual inquiry. Through this association, he met Arthur Henry Hallam, who was to figure prominently in his life. In 1829, Tennyson won the Chancellor’s Medal for his poem “Timbuctoo,” and in 1830, he published Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. In March, 1831, George Tennyson died, and shortly afterward Tennyson left Cambridge without a degree.

Tennyson’s 1832 volume, Poems, like his earlier one, was treated rather roughly by reviewers. Their comments, coupled with the death of Hallam in 1833, caused him to avoid publication for ten years. Hallam’s death was an especially severe blow to Tennyson. Hallam had been engaged to Tennyson’s sister, and the two men had become very close friends. The poet suffered prolonged fits of depression after receiving the news of Hallam’s death. Eventually, however, he was able to transform his grief into a series of lyrics that he published in 1850, titling the elegy In Memoriam A. H. H.

During the years between Hallam’s death and the publication of In Memoriam, Tennyson was far from inactive. He lived with his mother and other members of his family, assisting in their moves from Somersby to Tunbridge Wells, then to Boxley. During these years, he spent time in London, Cornwall, Ireland, and Switzerland, gathering material for his poems. In 1834, he fell in love with Rosa Baring, and when that relationship cooled, he lighted on Emily Sellwood, whose sister had married his brother Charles. Tennyson had no real means of supporting a family at that time, so he was forced to wait fourteen years to marry. He returned to publishing in 1842, issuing a two-volume set titled simply Poems; it contained both new materials and revisions of previously published poems. In 1847, he published The Princess, a long narrative exploring the roles of men and women in modern society.

Months after In Memoriam appeared in May, 1850, Tennyson’s fortunes rose meteorically. In June of that year, he married Emily Sellwood. In November, he was named poet laureate, succeeding the recently deceased Wordsworth. During his forty-two years as laureate, he wrote numerous poems commemorating various public events, among them some of his more famous works, including “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington” (1852) and “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1854). He came to be lionized by the British public, and even the Royal Family made numerous personal requests for him to commemorate events of importance.

The 1850’s was a productive and important decade for Tennyson. In 1855, he published Maud, and Other Poems; in 1859, he brought out a volume containing the first four Arthurian stories that would be joined by eight others during the next twenty-five years to form Idylls of the King.

The Tennysons’ first child was stillborn, but in 1852, Hallam Tennyson was born. The family moved to Farringford on the Isle of Wight in 1853. The following year a second son, Lionel, was born.

The remainder of Tennyson’s life can be characterized as personally stable but artistically tumultuous. During the 1860’s, 1870’s, and 1880’s, several collections of his poems were issued. The poet added eight new volumes to his growing list of works. Beginning in the mid-1870’s, Tennyson turned to drama, writing several successful plays and taking great interest in the details of their production. In 1886, his son Lionel died while returning from India. His elder son, Hallam, remained with the poet, serving as a kind of secretary and executor. In the early months of 1892, Tennyson’s health began to fail, and he died in bed in October of that year, his hand resting on a volume of Shakespeare.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201592-Tennyson.jpgAlfred, Lord Tennyson Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Alfred Tennyson (TEHN-uh-suhn) was born on August 6, 1809, in Somersby, Lincolnshire, England, where his father, the Reverend George Tennyson, was serving as rector of a church. His mother’s name was Elizabeth Fytche Tennyson. Early in life he exhibited intellectual brilliance that caught his father’s attention. George Tennyson arranged for his son to attend Louth Grammar School from 1815 to 1820 and gave the precocious youth private lessons thereafter. Life at home was not all serene, however, as Tennyson’s father suffered from a form of mental illness that led to a serious breakdown in 1824. In fact, George Tennyson’s untimely death in 1831 caused the poet to leave Cambridge without a degree so that he could help settle family affairs.

From an early age, Alfred showed an intense interest in poetry, writing verses modeled on those of James Thomson and, later, Sir Walter Scott. In the same year that he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, 1827, he and his brother published a slim volume of poetry; it was not well received by the critics. At Cambridge, Tennyson was not a good student, but he made several friendships that would figure importantly in his life. The most significant was that with Arthur Henry Hallam, a brilliant young man who was influential in Tennyson’s participation in the Apostles, a famous Cambridge debating and social club. While at Cambridge, Tennyson published a second volume of poetry; it, too, was reviewed harshly.

After leaving Cambridge, Tennyson traveled with Hallam on the Continent in 1832 and published his third volume of poems. During the following year, however, Hallam, who was then engaged to Tennyson’s sister, died suddenly while visiting Vienna. The death shattered Tennyson but stimulated his creative genius: During the next seventeen years, he composed more than a hundred lyrics loosely centered on his grief over the loss of Hallam; in 1850, he published these under the title In Memoriam.

By 1837, the Tennyson family had found that it could no longer remain at Somersby, and Alfred supervised the move of the clan to High Beech, Epping. He published nothing during the decade, but he worked at revising earlier poems and writing lyric and dramatic works that he would eventually publish during the latter half of the nineteenth century. In 1847, he published The Princess, a long narrative poem focusing on the question of women’s rights and proper relations between the sexes.

Though he had fallen in love with Emily Sellwood in 1836, Tennyson was not able to marry her until 1850, the same year in which he published his elegy for Hallam. That year was a watershed in the poet’s life. The poem celebrating Hallam’s death became immensely popular, establishing Tennyson’s reputation with the British reading public; late in that same year, upon the death of William Wordsworth, Tennyson was named poet laureate of England.

For the next four decades, Tennyson spent his professional life in service to the Crown and the British public, writing occasional poems and several major works that celebrated his country’s heritage. In 1855, he published a long, complicated poem titled Maud, which combined his interest in the psychological dimensions of human character with his perennial desire to experiment with various forms of poetic meter. His Arthurian poem Idylls of the King, which appeared piecemeal between 1859 and 1885, won wide acclaim, as did collections of new lyrical and narrative verse. Profits from his work, coupled with his pension from the Crown, allowed him to provide comfortably for his family and establish himself as a respectable gentleman, though somewhat of a recluse.

In 1851, the Tennysons’ first child was stillborn, but in the following year Emily gave birth to a son, whom the poet named Hallam. A second son, Lionel, was born two years later. In 1853, Tennyson moved his residence to Faringford, a country house on the Isle of Wight off the southern coast of England. In 1868, he established a second residence, Aldworth, in Haslemere. To these residences came politicians from England and abroad, writers, and tourists, paying court to the now-famous poet. He was awarded a barony by the monarchy shortly before his death.

During the 1870’s and 1880’s, Tennyson turned his hand to drama, completing a series of historical plays that received significant public approval. Tragedy struck the family in 1886, when his son Lionel, who had emigrated to India, died during a return voyage to his homeland. Late in 1888, Tennyson himself began to suffer from failing health. He died on October 6, 1892, in Aldworth, near Haslemere, Sussex—clutching a copy of works by William Shakespeare.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s immense popularity among his contemporaries was a contributing cause to his decline in critical esteem during the first half of the twentieth century, when the reaction against Victorianism reached its height. Following the sympathetic judgment of mid-century critics, such as the poet’s grandson Sir Charles Tennyson and noted Victorianist Jerome H. Buckley, more recent scholars have rekindled interest in Tennyson’s works and have ranked his best poems—works such as “Ulysses,” “Tithonus,” In Memoriam, and Idylls of the King—among the finest in the language.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alfred Tennyson (TEHN-uh-suhn), the fourth son of the Rev. G. C. Tennyson, rector of the parish at Somersby in Lincolnshire, was born in 1809. His literary output began at the age of six, with blank verse scribbled on a slate, and culminated some seventy-five years later with the much-quoted “Crossing the Bar.” In between came poetry that is sometimes magnificent, often vapid and mawkish, but always characteristic of an age alternately self-confident and self-conscious, the age of Victoria.

Somersby was a quiet village with fewer than a hundred inhabitants. Tennyson’s father was talented (a dabbler in poetry, painting, architecture, and music), and his mother, whose maiden name was Elizabeth Fytche, was noted for her gentleness and sweet disposition. In this setting Tennyson’s talent developed early. While he was attending Louth Grammar School he broke into print with Poems by Two Brothers, a collection which actually contained the works of three members of a talented family—Alfred, Frederick, and Charles. This juvenile volume shows the influence of George Gordon, Lord Byron, whom Alfred admired so greatly that when he heard of his death he took a lonely, sad walk and carved into the sandstone, “Byron is dead.”

In 1828 Tennyson went to Trinity College, Cambridge. There he took an interest in politics and became a member of the Apostles, a club of young literary men. Among these friends was Arthur Henry Hallam, whose later death at the age of twenty-three so affected Tennyson that he published nothing for ten years. Hallam is elegized in In Memoriam, a loose collection of philosophical lyrics that seems to be groping for, but never quite reaching, the handhold of faith. At Cambridge Tennyson won the chancellor’s medal for his poem “Timbuctoo,” and it was there he brought out in 1830 his first important volume, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. Although some of the reviews of this book were unkind, perhaps justifiably so, and although the influence of another Romantic poet, John Keats, is very evident, the volume marked the beginning of a career almost unmatched in popularity for a poet during his lifetime.

Two years later came another volume, which included “The Lady of Shalott” and “The Lotus Eaters,” two poems in the smooth, melancholy tone of Tennyson at his best. Then came Hallam’s death and the ten years of silence. Hallam was Tennyson’s close friend and the fiancé of his sister Emily; when Tennyson heard the news of his unexpected death in Vienna, he was shocked and shaken. Later he began working on In Memoriam, a labor that lasted for seventeen years. Not until 1842 did Tennyson publish again, bringing out two volumes, one of which contained “Morte d’Arthur,” the beginning of a series on the Arthurian legends which became Idylls of the King. Also in 1842 appeared “Locksley Hall,” one of Tennyson’s most popular poems.

Tennyson’s most auspicious year was 1850. After unwise speculation had left him penniless and two bouts with nervous prostration had damaged his health, his affairs took a threefold upsurge: He married Emily Sellwood, he published In Memoriam, and he was appointed poet laureate to succeed William Wordsworth. Outstanding among his “official” poems as laureate is his “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington,” a stiff but moving tribute. The laureateship became the first step toward elevation to the peerage, an honor bestowed on him by an admiring Queen Victoria. Tennyson had twice refused this honor (tendered to him first through William Gladstone and then through Benjamin Disraeli), but he accepted it in 1883, becoming baron of Aldworth and Farrington. Even before he became a peer, Tennyson’s popularity had been great (ten thousand copies of the first series of Idylls of the King, published in 1859, were sold within a few weeks), but now this tall, gaunt man, the idealized figure of a poet, became almost a living legend. After his death there was a reaction against his sentimentality and “Victorianism,” but poems like “The Lotus Eaters,” “Tithonus,” and “Ulysses” still ring strong and true.

Tennyson’s life was quiet and unhurried. Most of it he spent at his home, Farringford, on the Isle of Wight and, after 1867, at Blackdown in Surrey, where he lived in a house which he named Aldworth. In this later period he tried his hand at poetic dramas: Queen Mary, Harold, and Becket. Only the last became a success on the stage. In 1889, Demeter, and Other Poems came out, twenty thousand copies of which were sold within a week. On his eightieth birthday, Tennyson received tributes from all over the world. Though the end of his life was not far away, he still had the strength to write a romantic play, The Foresters, a drama on the Robin Hood theme, which was produced at Daly’s Theatre in New York in 1892. Tennyson died at eighty-three at his home, Aldworth House, and was buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson Biography (Poetry for Students)

Tennyson was born in 1809 in Somersby, Lincolnshire. The fourth of twelve children, he was the son of a clergyman who maintained his office...

(The entire section is 115 words.)

Alfred, Lord Tennyson Biography (Poetry for Students)

Alfred, Lord Tennyson was born August 6, 1809, in Somersby, Lincolnshire, England. His father was a clergyman, the rector of Somersby, a...

(The entire section is 374 words.)

Alfred, Lord Tennyson Biography (Poetry for Students)

Lord Tennyson Published by Gale Cengage

Tennyson was born August 6, 1809, in Somersby, Lincolnshire, England. The fourth of twelve children, he was the son of a clergyman who maintained his office grudgingly after his younger brother had been named heir to their father's wealthy estate. According to biographers, Tennyson's father, a man of violent temper, responded to his virtual disinheritance by indulging in drugs and alcohol. Each of the Tennyson children later suffered through some period of drug addiction or mental and physical illness, prompting the family's grim speculation on the "black blood" of the Tennysons. Biographers surmise that the general melancholy expressed in much of Tennyson's verse is rooted in the unhappy environment at Somersby.

Tennyson enrolled at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1827. There he met Arthur Hallam, a brilliant undergraduate who became Tennyson's closest friend and ardent admirer of his poetry. Hallam's enthusiasm was welcomed by Tennyson, whose personal circumstances had led to a growing despondency: his father died in 1831, leaving Tennyson's family in debt and forcing his early departure from school; one of Tennyson's brothers suffered a mental breakdown and required institutionalization; and Tennyson himself was morbidly fearful of falling victim to epilepsy or madness. Hallam's untimely death in 1833, which prompted the series of elegies later comprising In Memoriam, contributed greatly to Tennyson's despair. In describing this period, he wrote: "I suffered what seemed to me to shatter all my life so that I desired to die rather than to live." For nearly a decade after Hallam's death, Tennyson published no poetry. During this time, he became engaged to Emily Sellwood, but financial difficulties and Tennyson's persistent anxiety over the condition of his health resulted in their separation. In 1842, an unsuccessful financial venture cost Tennyson nearly everything he owned, causing him to succumb to a deep depression that required medical treatment. Tennyson later resumed his courtship of Sellwood, and they were married in 1850. The timely success of In Memoriam, published that same year, ensured Tennyson's appointment as Poet Laureate, succeeding William Wordsworth. In 1883, Tennyson accepted a peerage, the first poet to be so honored strictly on the basis of literary achievement. Tennyson died October 6, 1892, and was interred in Poet's Corner of Westminister Abbey.