Arthur Henry Hallam Critical Essays


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Arthur Henry Hallam’s chief contribution to English poetry lies in his influence upon Tennyson, including their rivalry and friendship, their mutual literary and intellectual reflections, and the tragic questioning of Hallam’s loss that resulted in Tennyson’s In Memoriam. Both were aspiring poets prior to their meeting, but Hallam’s kindred mind almost certainly deepened Tennyson’s in certain respects and helped him to some liberating influences, those of Shelley and Italy in particular. Tennyson’s lifelong commitments to political and religious freedom, scenic travel, and poetic concern with landscape and geology probably owed a great deal to Hallam. Anyone familiar with Tennyson’s poems, moreover, is aware that Hallam inspired not only In Memoriam but also some shorter poems, such as “Ulysses,” which was in large part a heroic response to the news of Hallam’s death, and “Vastness,” which was in part a poignant reminiscence of it. Tennyson’s longest poem, Idylls of the King (1859-1885), an epic of King Arthur, is thought to reflect the idealized humanity that Hallam might well have achieved. Full discussion of Tennyson’s poetry, then, would deal at length with Hallam as a literary influence.

Poetry as biography

The poems that Hallam left are especially valuable as biography. While still at Eton in 1827, he published some verses on a story connected with the Lake of Killarney in the Eton Miscellany, but these were not reprinted by his father. His nine-month stay in Italy that year resulted in a flourish of poetry, much of it inspired by a young woman of twenty-six named Anna Wintour, whose dark eyes and floating hair he found irresistible. Several of his poetic tributes to her were in Italian (as some letters between Emily Tennyson and himself would later be). Other poems concerning Italy celebrated objets d’art in the Pitti Palace in Florence and the graves of John Keats and Shelley in Rome. After returning to England in 1828, Hallam continued to think of Wintour and wrote for her a long poem, full of Dante and William Wordsworth, titled “A Farewell to the South,” which was published in 1830 but suppressed in 1834. It compares favorably with what other poets have written at the age of seventeen.

Meditative fragments

In 1829, Hallam wrote (and published the next year) a series of “Meditative Fragments in Blank Verse,” as he called them, which attest to his struggles not only with spiritual questions but also with desperate fears of approaching insanity, as his letters of that year attest. Another poem, called “Lines Written in Great Depression of Mind” (March, 1829), even expresses his wish for death. That April, in the first of three vain tries, Hallam attempted to win the Chancellor’s Medal at Cambridge...

(The entire section is 1165 words.)