Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
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.
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.
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...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
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...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
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...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
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...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised 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.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised 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...
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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.