Arthur Henry Hallam Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Arthur Henry Hallam, the son of a famous historian, was born in London on February 1, 1811. He spent the summer of 1818 abroad with his father, Henry, learning French. After two years of preparatory school at Putney, Hallam again traveled throughout the summer and then entered Eton, remaining for five years. While there, he was an active participant in debates on issues such as Catholic emancipation, the disarming of the Highlanders after Culloden, the merits of Thomas Jefferson, John Milton’s political conduct, ancient versus modern writers, the character of Augustus, Greek accomplishments in history and drama, and many similar topics. Hallam left Eton, properly confirmed, in July, 1827, and then went on to Italy, where he remained for nine important months. Returning to England by way of Switzerland, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in October, 1828, and was soon recognized as an erratic but brilliant student who was already showing promise as a poet. In April, 1829, Hallam met Tennyson, thereby beginning the most eloquently celebrated friendship in English literature, and incidentally inviting a comparison of poetic talents that has never been to Hallam’s advantage.

On May 9, 1829, Hallam was elected to membership in the Apostles, a debating society at Cambridge that included most of those whose fellowship and intellectual stimulation would be important to him, including Tennyson, for a time. Though Tennyson was relatively indifferent to the club and its disputations, Hallam relished this further opportunity for debate, and he presented several excellent essays to its members. Perhaps the most decisive addition to his own outlook gained from the Apostles was an appreciation for the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, which quickly became a passion.

After illness, poetic defeat (by Tennyson), and summer travel in France and Switzerland, Hallam returned to Trinity in the fall of 1829 and arranged for the first English edition of Shelley’s Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats (1821). His friendship with Tennyson also deepened considerably. During...

(The entire section is 855 words.)