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Tennyson's Life and
Poetry: and Mistakes
Concerning Tennyson



Printed by THE CRAIG PRESS, Chicago.








There is already an extensive Tennyson literature. Of books relating to
the scenes connected with his life and works, are Walters' _In Tennyson
Land_; Brooks' _Out of Doors with Tennyson_; also Church's _Laureate's
Country_, and Napier's _Homes and Haunts of Lord Tennyson_. There is a
mass of material, both critical and biographical, in Shepherd's
_Tennysoniana_; Wace's _Life and Works of Tennyson_; Tainsh's _Study of
the Works of Tennyson_; Jennings' _Sketch of Lord Tennyson_; and Van
Dyke's _Poetry of Tennyson_. Besides these may be mentioned Brightwell's
_Tennyson Concordance_; Irving's _Tennyson_; Lester's _Lord Tennyson and
the Bible_; also Collins' _Illustrations of Tennyson_.

Valuable help for understanding and appreciating _In Memoriam_ is afforded
by the volumes on that poem written by Robertson, Gatty, Genung, Chapman
and Davidson. Much interesting information is given in Dawson's _Study of
"The Princess"_; Mann's _Tennyson's "Maud" Vindicated_; Elsdale's _Studies
in the Idyls_; and Nutt's _Studies on the Legend of the Holy Grail_. A
collection of Tennyson's songs, set to music by various composers, has
been issued by Stanley Lucas and by Harper & Bros.

Several volumes of selections from Tennyson's writings have appeared as
follows: _Ausgewählte Gedichte_, with notes (in German) by Fischer,
Salzwedel, 1878; _Lyrical Poems of Alfred Tennyson_, with notes (in
Italian) by T. C. Cann, Florence, 1887; _Lyrical Poems of Lord Tennyson_,
annotated by F. T. Palgrave; _Select Poems of Tennyson_, and _Young
People's Tennyson_, both edited by W. J. Rolfe; _Tennyson Selections_,
with notes by F. J. Rowe and W. T. Webb; and _Tennyson for the Young_,
edited by Alfred Ainger.

Among school editions of Tennyson's poems, are _The Princess_, with notes
by Rolfe, also by Wallace; _Enoch Arden_, with notes by Rolfe, by Webb,
and by Blaisdel; _Enoch Arden_, with notes (in German) by Hamann,
Leipzig, 1890; _Enoch Arden_, with notes (in French) by Courtois, Paris,
1891; _Enoch Arden_, with notes (in French) by Beljame, Paris, 1891; _Les
Idylles du roi, Enoch Arden_, with notes (in French) by Baret, Paris,
1886; _Enoch Arden, les Idylles du roi_, with notes (in French) by
Sevrette, Paris, 1887; _Aylmer's Field_, annotated by Webb; _The Two
Voices_ and _A Dream of Fair Women_, by Corson; _The Coming of Arthur_ and
_The Passing of Arthur_, by Rowe; _In Memoriam_ and other poems, by

Innumerable papers on Tennyson and his poetry have been published in
newspapers and periodicals. A large number of these reviews and some
descriptive articles are contained in the following volumes: Horne's
_Spirit of the Age_; Howitt's _Homes and Haunts of British Poets_;
Hamilton's _Poets-Laureate of England_; Robertson's _Lectures_; Kingsley's
_Miscellanies_; Bagehot's _Literary Studies_; Japp's _Three Great
Teachers_; Buchanan's _Master Spirits_; Austin's _Poets of the Period_;
Forman's _Our Living Poets_; Friswell's _Modern Men of Letters_; Haweis'
_Poets in the Pulpit_; McCrie's _Religion of Our Literature_; Devey's
_Comparative Estimate of English Poets_; Gladstone's _Gleanings of Past
Years_; Archer's _English Dramatists of To-Day_; Stedman's _Victorian
Poets_; Cooke's _Poets and Problems_; Fraser's _Chaucer to Longfellow_;
Dawson's _Makers of Modern English_; Egan's _Lectures on English
Literature_; and Ritchie's _Light-Bearers_.

For favorable or unfavorable estimates of Tennyson, the reader is referred
to the lectures of Dowden and Ingram in the _Dublin Afternoon Lectures on
Literature and Art_, and to the collected essays of Brimley, Bayne,
Hadley, Masson, Stirling, Roscoe, Hayward, Hutton, Swinburne, Galton,
Noel, Heywood, Bayard Taylor and others.

Some side-lights are thrown on the Laureate in Ruskin's _Modern Painters_;
Hamerton's _Thoughts on Art_; Masson's _Recent British Philosophy_; and
Arnold's _Lectures on Translating Homer_. Stray glimpses of the man in his
personal relations are found in the _Carlyle and Emerson Correspondence_;
Fanny Kemble's _Records of a Girlhood_; Caroline Fox's _Memories of Old
Friends_; Reid's _Life of Lord Houghton_; and in the _Letters and Literary
Remains of Edward Fitzgerald_.

But with all that has been written concerning Tennyson, no monograph, so
far as I am aware, has hitherto appeared which is at once comprehensive
and accurate. Mrs. Ritchie's beautiful portraiture of the Laureate, with
its touch of hero-worship, lacks a great deal of being a survey of his
literary career. No biography of Alfred Tennyson has been published which
is worthy the name. For many years students and lovers of the poet
encountered difficulty in obtaining full and exact information on the
chief events of his life. I undertook to supply this want in the essay
entitled "Tennyson's Life and Poetry."

In the preparation of this paper, I had occasion to consult various
periodicals and works of reference. With scarcely an exception, I found
the articles on Tennyson in cyclopedias and biographical dictionaries
faulty in many particulars. Even the sketches in recent compilations and
journals are full of misleading and conflicting statements. I became
impressed with the thought that these errors ought to be exposed and
corrected. The result was the critique - "Mistakes concerning Tennyson." I
gathered my materials from a variety of sources, and always aimed to
disengage the truth. I depended largely on Rev. Alfred Gatty, Mrs.
Ritchie, Mr. Gosse, Prof. Palgrave, Prof. Church, Mr. C. J. Caswell, and
Dr. Van Dyke as the most trustworthy authorities.

My thanks are due Dr. W. F. Poole, of the Newberry Library, for placing at
my disposal an immense collection of bibliographies, catalogues and
bulletins of foreign books. I desire also to express my obligations to Dr.
Henry van Dyke, of New York City, for aiding me in my researches.


3612 Stanton Ave., Chicago,
_April, 1892_.



Alfred Tennyson was born August 6, 1809, in Somersby, a wooded hamlet of
Lincolnshire, England. "The native village of Tennyson," says Howitt, who
visited it many years ago, "is not situated in the fens, but in a pretty
pastoral district of softly sloping hills and large ash trees. It is not
based on bogs, but on a clean sandstone. There is a little glen in the
neighborhood, called by the old monkish name of Holywell." There he was
brought up amid the lovely idyllic scenes which he has made famous in the
"Ode to Memory" and other poems. The picturesque "Glen," with its tangled
underwood and purling brook, was a favorite haunt of the poet in
childhood. On one of the stones in this ravine he inscribed the
words - BYRON IS DEAD - ere he was fifteen.

Alfred was the fourth son of the Rev. George Clayton Tennyson, LL.D.,
rector of Somersby and other neighboring parishes. His father, the oldest
son of George Tennyson, Esq., of Bayons and Usselby Hall, was a man of
uncommon talents and attainments, who had tried his hand, with fair
success, at architecture, painting, music and poetry. His mother was a
sweet, gentle soul, and exceptionally sensitive. The poet-laureate seems
to have inherited from her his refined, shrinking nature.

Dr. Tennyson married Miss Elizabeth Fytche, August 6, 1805. Their first
child, George, died in infancy. According to the parish registers, the
Tennyson family consisted of eleven children, viz.: Frederick, Charles,
Alfred, Mary, Emily, Edward, Arthur, Septimus, Matilda, Cecilia and
Horatio. They formed a joyous, lively household - amusements being
agreeably mingled with their daily tasks. They were all handsome and
gifted, with marked mental traits and imaginative temperaments. They were
especially fond of reading and story-telling. At least four of the boys
were addicted to verse-writing - a habit they kept up through life, though
Alfred alone devoted himself to a poetical career as something more than
a pastime. Frederick Tennyson's occasional pieces are characterized by
luxuriant fancy and chaste diction; the sonnets of Charles won high praise
from Coleridge, but the fame of both has been overshadowed by that of
their distinguished brother.[1]

The scholarly clergyman, who was an M. A. of Cambridge, carefully attended
to the education and training of his children. He turned his gifts and
accomplishments to good account in stimulating their mental growth. Alfred
was sent to the Louth Grammar School four years (1816-20). During this
time he presumably learned something, although no flattering reports of
his progress have come down to us. Then private teachers were employed by
Dr. Tennyson to instruct his boys, but he took upon himself for the most
part the burden of fitting them for college. Only a moderate amount of
study was imposed by the rector. A great deal of the time Alfred was out
of doors, rambling through the pastures and woods about Somersby and Bag
Enderby. He was solitary, not caring to mingle with other boys in their
sports. As a child, he exhibited the same peculiarities which
characterized the man. He was shy and reserved, moody and absent-minded.
Alfred and Charles were devotedly attached to each other, and frequently
were together in their walks. The lads were both large and strong for
their age. Charles was a popular boy in Somersby on account of his frank,
genial disposition - which cannot be said of the reticent Alfred.

One incident connected with the poet's education at home is worth
repeating. His father required him to memorize the odes of Horace and to
recite them morning by morning until the four books were gone through. The
Laureate in later years testified to the value of this practice in
cultivating a delicate sense for metrical music. He called Horace his
master. Certainly no other bard has ever excelled Tennyson in the art of
expressing himself in melodious verse.

From his twelfth to his sixteenth year, Alfred was apparently idle much of
the time, yet he was unconsciously preparing for his life-work. He was
gathering material and storing up impressions which were afterwards
utilized. It was with him a formative period. The hours he spent strolling
in lanes and woods were not wasted. The quiet, meditative boy lived in a
realm of the imagination, and his thoughts and fancies took shape in crude

This period of day-dreaming was followed by one of marked intellectual
activity. The thin volume - _Poems by Two Brothers_, printed in 1826,
contained the pieces written by Alfred when he was only sixteen or
seventeen. It shows that these were busy years. The Tennyson youths not
only scribbled a great deal of verse - they ranged far and wide in the
fields of ancient and modern literature. Their father had a good library,
and they appreciated its treasures. In the footnotes of their first book
were many curious bits of information, and quotations from the classics.

The Tennyson children were fortunate in having cultured parents. They were
favored in another respect. Dr. Tennyson was comfortably well off for a
clergyman. His means - which he shrewdly husbanded - enabled the family to
spend the summers at Mablethorpe on the Lincolnshire coast. Thus Alfred's
passion for the sea was early developed. For some time it was the rector's
custom to occupy a dwelling in Louth during the school year. In this way
the seclusion and monotony of Somersby life were broken. The young
Tennysons saw considerable of the world. They were often welcomed in the
home of their grandmother, Mrs. Fytche, in Westgate Place, and
occasionally visited the stately mansion at Bayons. Especially Charles and
Alfred were at times the guests of their great-uncle Samuel Turner, vicar
of Grasby and curate of Caistor, who afterwards left his property and
parish livings to his favorite, Charles Tennyson Turner. Such were the
experiences of the Laureate's youth and childhood, which inevitably
influenced his whole life and entered into his poetry. He illustrates the
truth that a poet is largely what his environment makes him.

Byron exercised a magical spell over him in his teens, and this influence
is apparent in his boyish rhymes which are tinged with Byronic melancholy.
Afterwards Keats gained the ascendency. As a colorist, Tennyson owes much
to this gorgeous word-painter, whom he has equaled, if not surpassed, in
his own field.

Alfred, in his boyhood, gave unmistakable indications of genius. During
his university course at Cambridge, he was generally looked upon as a
superior mortal, of whom great things were expected by his teachers and
fellow-collegians. Dr. Whewell, his tutor, treated him with unusual

While at Trinity college (1828-31) he formed friendships which lasted till
death ended them one by one. It was indeed a company of choice spirits
with whom Tennyson had the good fortune to be associated. Among them were
Thackeray, Helps, Garden, Sterling, Thompson, Kinglake, Maurice, Kemble,
Milnes, Trench, Alford, Brookfield, Merivale, Spedding and others. Besides
these, he numbered among the friends of his early manhood Fitzgerald,
Hare, Hunt, Carlyle, Gladstone, Rogers, Landor, Forster, the Lushingtons
and other famous scholars and men of letters.

In the companionship of such men, he found the stimulus necessary for the
development of his poetical faculty. They all regarded him with feelings
of warmest admiration.[2] The young poet had at least a few appreciative
readers during the ten or twelve years of obscurity when the public cared
little for his writings. He was encouraged by their words of commendation
to pursue the bard's divine calling, to which he was led by an
overmastering instinct. He could afford to wait and smile at his slashing
reviewers. Meanwhile he profited by the suggestions of his critics. In
this respect he presents a striking contrast to Browning. He mercilessly
subjected his productions to the most painstaking revision.[3] He
attempted various styles, and experimented with all sorts of metres. Thus
he served his laborious apprenticeship and acquired a mastery of his art.
His eminent success has confirmed the expectations of his youthful

During his stay at Cambridge, Tennyson met Arthur Henry Hallam, a son of
the historian. Hallam, who was a young man of extraordinary promise,
became the dearest of his friends - more to him than brother. Their
intimate fellowship was strengthened by Arthur's love for the poet's
sister. It was his strongest earthly attachment. In 1830, the two friends
traveled through France together, and stopped a while in the Pyrenees. On
revisiting these mountains long afterward, the Laureate, overcome by
reminiscences of other days, wrote the affecting lines entitled "In the
Valley of Cauteretz":

All along the valley, stream that flashest white,
Deepening thy voice with the deepening of the night,
All along the valley, where thy waters flow,
I walk'd with one I loved two and thirty years ago.
For all along the valley, while I walk'd to-day,
The two and thirty years were a mist that rolls away;
For all along the valley, down thy rocky bed,
Thy living voice to me was as the voice of the dead,
And all along the valley, by rock and cave and tree,
The voice of the dead was a living voice to me.

In 1833, the sudden death of Hallam, then Emily's betrothed, produced on
Alfred's mind a deep and ineffaceable impression. While brooding over his
sorrow, the idea came to him of expressing his emotions in verse which
might be a fitting tribute to the dead. At different times and amid widely
varying circumstances, were composed the elegiac strains and poetic
musings that make up "In Memoriam," a poem representing many moods and
experiences. It is a work occupying a place apart in literature. Its
merits and defects are peculiar. There is no other elegy like it, and it
may be doubted whether a second In Memoriam will ever be written. Tennyson
erected an appropriate and imperishable monument to the memory of his lost
friend. In conferring immortality upon his beloved Arthur, he gained it
for himself. His best claim on the future is to be known and remembered as
the author of "In Memoriam," his masterpiece.

Equally enduring is the melodious wail - "Break, break, break," one of the
sweetest dirges in all literature. Hallam was buried (Jan. 3, 1834) at
Clevedon by the Severn, near its entrance to the Bristol Channel, within
sound of the melancholy waves. Singularly this exquisite song, which
breathes of the sea, was not composed here, but "in a Lincolnshire lane at
five o'clock in the morning," as the Laureate himself has declared. It was
written within a year after Hallam's death, Sept. 15, 1833.

Not much has been learned of Tennyson's early manhood. No very definite
picture can be formed of his life after he left college. He seldom wrote
letters. Even his most intimate friends could not succeed in carrying on a
correspondence with him. What happened to him is not, however, all a
blank. A few scraps relating to his history are found in the letters of
Carlyle, Fitzgerald, Milnes and others. A number of autobiographical
fragments are sprinkled through the poems which he wrote between 1830 and
1850, but they refer more to his spiritual development than to the outward
events which constitute memoirs.

Mrs. Tennyson and her family continued to live at the Rectory after her
husband died, March 16, 1831. In the autumn of 1835, she removed to High
Beach, Epping Forest, ("In Memoriam," CII., CIV., CV.), and about 1840 to
Well Walk, Hampstead. Here she made her home the rest of her life with her
sister, Mary Ann Fytche - nearly all of her sons and daughters having
married and scattered. She died February 21, 1865, at the age of

Alfred's university career was cut short by his father's death. For some
years he remained at home - a diligent student of books and a close
observer of nature. He roamed back and forth between Somersby and London,
alternately in solitude and with his friends.[4] Fitzgerald tells of his
visiting with Tennyson at the Cumberland home of James Spedding in 1835.

Here Alfred would spend hour after hour reading aloud "Morte d'Arthur" and
other unpublished poems, which his scholarly friend criticized. In 1838,
he was a welcome member of the Anonymous Club in London, and for several
years he had rooms in this city at various intervals.[5] It was his custom
to make long incursions through the country on foot, studying the
landscapes of England and Wales and pondering many a lay unsung. Thus he
became familiar with the natural features of the places illustrated in his
poems with such pictorial fidelity and vividness, though not with
photographic accuracy.

Through this long period he was unknown to the great world. He lived
modestly, though not in actual want. His books brought him no substantial
returns till long after 1842. There was but little left of his patrimony,
if any, when he was granted a pension of £200 in 1845. This timely aid was
obtained for him by Sir Robert Peel, chiefly through the influence of
Carlyle and Milnes.

Henceforth fortune graciously smiled upon him and made amends for past
neglect. His reputation was becoming well established, and new editions of
his poems were being called for. The Queen chanced to pick up one of his
earlier volumes, and was charmed with the simple story of "The Miller's
Daughter." She procured a copy of the book for the Princess Alice; this
incident, it is related, brought him into favor with the aristocracy and
gave a tremendous impetus to his popularity. After the death of Wordsworth
in 1850, Tennyson was appointed Poet Laureate. Since then he has been
highly esteemed by the royal family, and has produced in their honor some
spirited odes and stately dedications.

The poet married (June 13, 1850) Miss Emily Sellwood, of Horncastle, whom
he had known from childhood. Her mother was a sister of Sir John Franklin,
and her youngest sister was the wife of Charles Tennyson Turner. Two or
three years they lived at Twickenham, where Hallam Tennyson was born in
1852. Together they visited Italy in 1851, and vivid memories of their
travels are recalled in "The Daisy," addressed to his wife. This
interesting poem, written at Edinburgh, was suggested by the finding of a
daisy in a book - the flower having been plucked on the Splugen and placed
by Mrs. Tennyson between the leaves of a little volume as a memento of
their Italian journey. The poet's fancy was stirred and revived the
delicious hours -

In lands of palm and southern pine;
In lands of palm, of orange blossom,
Of olive, aloe, and maize and vine.

Those who are familiar with Tennyson's poems know how exalted is his ideal
of woman as wife and mother. Lady Tennyson seems to have met the poet's
exacting requirements almost perfectly. What sort of helpmeet she has been
he lovingly portrayed in the "Dedication," - a tender tribute that was
fully deserved. "His most lady-like, gentle wife," Fitzgerald called her.
Of superior education and talent, she was a worthy companion for an
author. A number of her husband's songs she has set to music. She has
never sought public recognition. Content with the round of duties in a
domestic sphere, she has lived for husband and children. Their married
life has been exceptionally harmonious.[6]

In 1852, the Laureate's largely increasing income enabled him to purchase
an estate of more than four hundred acres near Freshwater, Isle of Wight.
In the lines, "To the Rev. F. D. Maurice," dated January,[7] 1854, the
poet depicts his pleasant life in this delightful retreat:

Where, far from noise and smoke of town,
I watch the twilight falling brown
All round a careless-order'd garden
Close to the ridge of a noble down.

You'll have no scandal while you dine,
But honest talk and wholesome wine,
And only hear the magpie gossip
Garrulous under a roof of pine:

For groves of pine on either hand,
To break the blast of winter, stand;
And further on, the hoary Channel
Tumbles a breaker on chalk and sand.

In 1855, Tennyson received the honorary degree of D. C. L. from
Oxford.[8] His prosperity continued - there being considerable profits from
judicious investments and immense sales of his books. In 1867, he bought
an estate near Haslemere, Surrey, "for the purpose of enjoying inland air
and scenery." Here he built a fine Gothic mansion, which is an ideal
residence for a poet. Aldworth House is situated far up on Blackdown
Heath, and overlooks a lovely valley. It is near the northern border of
Sussex. "The prospect from the terrace of the house," says Church, "is one
of the finest in the south of England." The poet thus pictures the place
which has been his summer home for more than twenty years:

Our birches yellowing and from each
The light leaf falling fast,
While squirrels from our fiery beech
Were bearing off the mast,
You came, and look'd, and loved the view
Long-known and loved by me,
Green Sussex fading into blue
With one gray glimpse of sea.

In 1883, the Laureate had amassed property estimated to be worth £200,000.
He was offered and accepted a peerage during the latter part of this year,
and became Baron of Aldworth and Farringford, January 24, 1884. He took
his seat in the House of Lords March 11. In 1865, he declined a baronetcy
offered by the Queen as a reward for his loyal devotion to the Crown.
Whatever distinction may attach to the honorable name of Lord Tennyson,
the majority of his numerous readers prefer to call him plain Alfred

It may not be widely known that Baron Tennyson has a splendid lineage, of
which he has modestly kept silent, unlike Byron. According to a writer in
the _St. James' Gazette_, who traced his ancestry back to Norman times,
Tennyson is descended from an illustrious house of "princes, soldiers, and
statesmen, famous in British or European history." Some of his remote
relatives were crowned heads - one being the celebrated Malcolm III. of

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Online LibraryEugene ParsonsTennyson's Life and Poetry → online text (page 1 of 3)