THE LIFE STYLE OF ALFRED TENNYSON
JAMES CARL LUNDQUIST
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF TIE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
I wish to express my thanks to Professors Alton C. Morris,
Ants Oras, and Richard Anderson for serving on my committee. To
Professor Edwin C. Kirkland, who served as an encouraging yet patient
chairman, I am deeply grateful.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS . . . . . . . . ... . . .... ii
PROLOGUE: TENNYSON'S GREAT ESCAPE. . . . . . . . .. 1
PART ONE: ALFRED TENNYSON, SECRET AGENT. . . . . . . 6
PART TWO: THE GHOST OF ARTHUR HALLAM. . . . . . . . 61
PART THREE: PRINCE ALBERT'S KISS . . . . . . . .. .109
PART FOUR: "MR. TENNYSON'S ABOMINABLE CARICATURE". . . ... 160
PART FIVE: LORD TENNYSON ON THE CROSS BENCHES. . . . . ... 194
EPILOGUE: THE TABLELAND OF LIFE. . . . . . . . ... 244
BIBLIOGRAPHY. . . . . . . . . ... . . .... 253
VITA. . . . . . . . . ... . . . . .... .257
PROLOGUE: TENNYSON'S GREAT ESCAPE
Tennyson hated literary biographers and desperately tried to avoid
their clutches. "What business has the public to want to know all about
Byron's wildnesses?" he once ranted. "He has given them fine work, and
they ought to be satisfied."' But Byron's poetry, as much as it reveals
about the man, has never satisfied the curiosity of his readers; and
neither has Tennyson's. Since Tennyson's death, no less than fourteen
full or partial biographies of the poet have been published. Two of
these, Hallam Tennyson's Memoir (1897) and Sir Charles Tennyson's Alfred
Tennyson (1949), are factually indispensable to the Tennyson scholar. A
third, Sir Harold Nicolson's Tennyson (1922), is useful for its attempt
to defend Tennyson's relevance in this century. But most of the others
are the collections of gossip that Tennyson detested and that he took
steps to avert. As death was approaching, he instructed his son, Hallam,
to burn a substantial portion of his letters and other biographical mate-
rial, and said that, if necessary, the incidents of his life should be
given as briefly as possible but with sufficient notes to preclude the
chance of further biographies. Hallam realized the impossibility of
such a demand, and according to a possibly apocryphal story, snatched
many of the Tennyson papers from the fire at the last moment. And so,
instead of putting future biographers out of business, Hallam provided
1Hallam Tennyson, Alfred, Lord Tennyson: A Memoir by His Son (New
York, 1897), II, 165. Hereafter cited as Memoir.
2Memoir, I, xii, xvi.
them with a massive body of uninterpreted facts and anecdotes-.about the
interpretation of which,Hallam's successors have not felt his humility.
But as the steady appearance of Tennyson biographies would indicate,
there has been a pervasive dissatisfaction with the results of the in-
terpretation; despite all of the lives we have of the poet, it seems as
if he has indeed succeeded in escaping the postmortem characterization
he so hated.
Because of Tennyson's great escape, the following general state-
ment made by Jerome H. Buckley about a current deficiency in Victorian
scholarship has much validity when applied to Tennyson studies: "the
essential character of all but a few of the great poets eludes us; we
know scarcely any of them as we know the great Romantics. We need there-
fore fresh biographies, assimilating the many details at our disposal,
lives which will show us the poets at work as poets rather than merely
supply amusement through chronicles of eccentricities different from our
own." The Life Style of Alfred Tennyson is an attempt to answer Buck-
ley's challenge through the application of Alfred Adler's individual psy-
chology to biography and literary study. This approach seems especially
relevant to the peculiar deficiency in Victorian period biography, for
Adlerian theory emphasizes the very aspect which is most lacking in the
majority of studies we now have--the essential character of the subject.
Tennyson's earlier biographers have touched on his essential char-
acter, but in a fragmentary and inconsistent way. Two impressions of the
3Jerome H. Buckley, "General Materials," The Victorian Poets: A
Guide to Research, ed. Frederic E. Favcrty (Cambridge, Mass., 1956), p.
poet are thus gained in reading the various lives. The major image is
that of a Victorian saint, a man who upheld the ideals of a period in
which ideals, like the Crystal Palace, glittered on the outside and
sparkled on the inside, but proved to be drafty, gross, and devoid of
any lasting worth. This is the impression given by most of the turn-of-
the-century biographies written by Benson, Weld, Lounsbury, and others.
And it is also given by such a recent work as Joanna Richardson's The
Pre-Eminent Victorian (1962). The second impression, and the one that
has most appealed to twentieth century readers of Tennyson, is that of
a brooding, schizophrenic, English Dostoevsky, given to long periods of
despondency accentuated by the conflict between the private and public
aspects of his personality. This is the image put forth by Nicolson,
Baum, Buckley, and even, in most instances, Sir Charles Tennyson. Both
impressions are essentially valid, but neither alone presents the com-
plete Tennyson, for his personality constituted an intricate interweav-
ing of his idealism and his black-bloodedness.
Tennyson's life was dominated by one central theme, the ideal
society, a theme that was recurrently thwarted by a counter theme, what
in "The Palace of Art" he called "the riddle of the painful earth." Out
of Tennyson's concern for the ideal society, the world vision it led to,
and the depression brought about by the frustration of his apocalyptic
dream, came a distinctive response pattern which can be seen as his life
Tennyson's treatment of the riddle is studied in detail by Will-
son Emery Wood in an unpublished dissertation,"Alfred Tennyson and His
Riddle of the Universe" (George Peabody, 1954).
style. As early as the age of five or six, he developed a way of living
which, more than anything else, determined the nature of his poetry, his
thought, and his role as the most representative figure of his age. He
was at once an idealist and something of a neurotic pessimist, a child of
his century and yet a forerunner of subsequent generations of poets. He
fervently hoped for a better world, yet at the same time realized that
the world is a painful place, that human attainments are limited, and
that the postulation of any sort of ideal seems preposterously absurd.
What has been missed in the analysis of Tennyson's life is the
delicate balance he struck between his idealism and his awareness of all
the questions implied by the riddle. Recent commentators, it seems,
have made much of Tennyson's depression and doubt; but not enough has
been made of the core of idealism which was just as central to his life.
Nicolson wrote, for example, that "We find him throughout his life en-
deavouring in anguish to rid himself of this obsession of Space and Time,
of this crushing immensity, of this dread of eventual annihilation."
Throughout Tennyson's poetry and his life are, to be sure, numerous in-
stances when anguish and despair have the upper hand. Yet Tennyson was
adamant in his conviction that the instinct of the soul attests to a need
for the far-off goal of a better England, a better world, and an improved
humanity. In his persistent belief in his ideal, and in his equally per-
sistent doubt of the significance of human hopes and dreams in the immen-
sity of the universe, he neither achieved the lasting mystic ecstasy of
5Sir Harold Nicolson, Tennyson: Aspects of His Life, Character,
and Poetry (London, 1922), p. 270.
Christina Rossetti, nor did he submit to the sad agnosticism which at-
tracted Clough. Like his own King Arthur, he struck a compromise between
the two; and in this compromise lies his essential character.
PART ONE: ALFRED TENNYSON, SECRET AGENT
Early in July, 1830, Tennyson set out with Arthur Hallam on the
only real adventure of his life, an adventure which symbolizes his way
of living both in his earlier and later years. Tennyson had decided to
take part in a proposed Spanish revolution as a secret agent, hoping
through his services to help bring about a more democratic government
in Spain. Hallam and Tennyson had had enough of Cambridge life, and
wanted to test the political idealism which they had so strongly af-
firmed during debates in a club called "The Apostles," a group of in-
tellectuals to which they belonged.
While Tennyson was at Cambridge, the University environs were fre-
quented, as were London and Oxford, by a shabby, discontented group of
Spanish exiles, some of whom earned a meager living by teaching their
native language. The Spaniards were refugees from the tyranny of Fer-
dinand VII, who had torn up the Spanish Constitution in 1823 and rein-
stated the Inquisition. Throughout the .1820's, these exiles wandered
up and down the English streets, mumbling discontentedly and plotting a
return to their homeland. "Daily in the cold spring air, under skies so
unlike their own," wrote Carlyle, "you could see a group of fifty or a
hundred stately tragic figures, in proud threadbare cloaks; perambulating,
mostly with closed lips, the broad pavements of Euston Square and the
regions about St. Pancras new Church." The leader of this group was
1Thomas Carlyle, Life of John Sterling, Scribner's Edition (New
York, 1900), p. 64.
General Torrijos, a diplomatic, courtly man who was regarded at the time
as "a kind of living romance." Torrijos and his ragged followers were
largely without realistic hope or direction until they gained the sym-
pathy of John Sterling, then editor and owner, along with Frederick
Maurice, of The Atheneum. With the young Sterling working to build up
English support for a Spanish revolution, the prospects of Torrijos's
followers began to improve.
Sterling, Torrijos, and others, among them Tennyson and Hallam,
concluded that if a small guerrilla force could be landed in Spain, there
might be a good chance of arousing the people to revolt against Ferdinand.
But first there was the problem of how to finance the expedition. Ster-
ling contributed as much as he could of his own money, and then approached
his friends in the Apostles, from whom he obtained considerable donations.
Tennyson, less able to contribute money than most of his companions, was
willing to take part in the expedition himself. Even with the eager
response of the Apostles and other support, Sterling and Torrijos still
did not have enough money to launch their project, much less sustain the
raiders once they landed.
Just at the point when the whole plot seemed impossible, the sudden
appearance of Sterling's cousin, Robert Boyd, changed the exiles' outlook.
Boyd, a young man with Byronic intentions, had just resigned his commis-
sion in the Indian Army, and as Charles Tennyson put it, "found himself
.. with a sum of L5,000, a craving for adventure, and nothing to
2arlyle, p. 67.
Carlyle, p. 67.
do."3 An Ulster comrade had told Boyd that in a creek on the Irish
coast lay a wrecked and worn out royal gun brig which had been condemned
and was being offered for sale. The friend wanted Boyd to buy the ship
and turn privateer; but Boyd had nobler ambitions and decided to wait
until he could find a more worthwhile cause before parting with his cash.
When Boyd told his cousin about his dreams and the gun-brig in the Irish
creek, Sterling had a quick reply. "If you want an adventure of the Sea-
king sort, and propose to lay your money and your life into such a game,"
said Sterling, "here is Torrijos and Spain at his back; here is a Golden
Fleece to conquer, worth twenty Eastern Archipelagos."4 Boyd demanded to
meet Torrijos at once; and in a few hours the revolutionists had both a
ship and sufficient operating money. The wrecked brig was soon forgotten,
however, and an abler vessel obtained in the Thames.
The plans for the expedition were settled within a few weeks. When
the ship was ready, it was to drop down the Thames and to take on Torrijos
and his army of fifty adventurers at Deal. Sterling,Boyd and a few other
Englishmen were to accompany then. But Sterling's health failed at the
last minute and he was unable to go. He consequently took upon himself
the final arrangements, supervising the sailors on the ship before it
sailed, and making certain that the supplies were in order.
Despite all the caution taken by Sterling and his friends, the
Spanish government somehow learned of the proposed operation and notified
3Sir Charles Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson (New York, 1949), p. 93.
Hereafter cited as Tennyson.
4Carlyle, p. 70.
the English authorities. A few days before the planned date of departure,
Sterling looked up from his preparatory work to see a gang of armed men
climbing aboard the ship. The vessel was declared seized in the King's
name and nobody was to move until all names were given, the ship searched,
and the intentions of the voyage declared. Sterling realized at once that
he had to take some action or his professional career as well as the ex-
pedition would be ruined. He managed to signal a passing wherry, without
attracting the attention of the Thames Police, and leaped from the ship
into the smaller boat. "Stop'" shouted a policeman from the ship's deck.
"Why stop? What use have you for me, or I for you?" shouted Sterling as
the wherry began to pull away. "Stop, or I'll shoot you!" screamed the
policeman as he drew his pistol. "No you won't," said Sterling. "I
will," said the policeman. "If you do you'll be hanged at the next Maid-
stone Assizes, then; that's all," replied Sterling. The policeman was too
dumbfounded to shoot, and Sterling reached the shore.5
Sterling made his way to Deal as fast as he could. Torrijos was
faced with a rapid decision. The ship was lost and, if the guerrillas
remained in Deal much longer, they would surely be arrested. No alter-
native was left except to take whatever passage could be obtained that
night from Deal. The Spaniards and their English companions split up,
getting shipping however they could in a variety of ships as private
passengers. Their point of assembly was to be Gibraltar; and one by one
they reassembled there.6 Boyd, a few Regent Street democrats, fifty
Carlylc, p. 73.
Carlylc, p. 73.
picked Spaniards, and Torrijos, were ready to begin their private war of
Tennyson's part in the revolution came after a series of blunder-
ing and abortive efforts by Torrijos. Attempts on Cadiz, the lines of
St. Roch, and other places were thwarted before more than a few shots
could be fired. Much worse, the invasion was threatened more by a lack
of weapons and money than by the Royalist opposition. This was in late
June and early July, the time when Hallam and Tennyson disappeared from
London. Apparently, none of Tennyson's relatives knew where he was going.
His mother believed that he had left their Somersby home to seek medical
advice in London. Tennyson's mission was to carry money and coded instruc-
tions into the Pyrenees and there make contact with a band of northern
Spaniards who had agreed to work with Torrijos.
Tennyson and Hallam travelled, continually fearful of detection,
across France and into the mountains. The Spanish Government had been
forced to engage in a few shooting encounters with the revolutionaries
and knew that efforts were being made to supply the insurgents from Eng-
land. When the two young men finally made contact with the Spaniards,
much of the romance drained away from the adventure. Torrijos and Ojeda,
the northern leader, were widely separated and had difficulty in coordi-
nating their movements. Ojeda was also jealous of Torrijos and less than
eager to obey the orders contained in the cyphered message. Ojeda frankly
expressed to Tennyson a desire, "Couper le gorge a tous les cures," and
7Carlyle, p. 75.
added with his hand on his chest, "mais vous connaissez mon coeur'"
With that remark, Tennyson's role as a secret agent ended, his message
disregarded and his person insulted.
In late September Tennyson and Hallam returned to England, talking
about a "wild and bustling time."9 A few days after landing in England,
Tennyson received word that John Kemble, one of the Englishmen who went
to join Torrijos, had been captured and was to be put on trial for his
life. Tennyson posted for miles through the early dawn trying to find
some official at Lincoln or elsewhere who could help to save Kemble.
After driving himself to exhaustion, Tennyson learned that the report was
false and that his frenzied effort had been for nothing.0 It was one of
the few distressing rumors that was to prove false. On the last night of
November, 1831, Torrijos and his men were forced to leave Gibraltar, which
had been a place of refuge from which to launch their attacks on the Span-
ish coast. Because of a fresh uprising against the crowd by one of the
leading Spanish generals, the British Governor felt compelled to issue an
order declaring that Gibraltar could not shelter the rebels. In addi-
tion, the Spanish Government had been thrown into a mood of fearful agita-
tion by the Three Days' Revolution in France, and was putting pressure on
British Diplomats to end the aid the rebels were getting from English
sympathizers, as well as to stop harboring the revolutionists on
8Tennyson, p. 95.
Tennyson, p. 95.
10Memoir, I, 54.
1Memoir, I, 54.
Gibraltar.2 Torrijos and his men had to set sail for Malaga in two
small ships. At once they were pursued by Spanish guardships and were
forced to run ashore at Fuengirola near Malaga. They set up their de-
fenses in a farmhouse but were quickly surrounded by an overwhelming
number of troops and had to surrender. Torrijos, Boyd, and fifty-four
others were shot by a firing squad a few days later on the Esplanade of
Hallam was dejected by the adventure and by the failure of the
revolution; Tennyson, on the other hand, seemed to thrive on the mission
and was not deeply despondent about the outcome. He improved in health
and came back talking of the beauty of the Pyrenees. "For him the jour-
ney, abortive though its main purpose was," wrote Charles Tennyson, "un-
doubtedly proved one of the formative experiences of his life."14 It was
such an important event in his life because it meant involvement in a
scheme to bring about a more ideal society in Spain. It meant facing the
many problems that block human aspiration on earth (distance, lack of
understanding between different nationalities, the apathy of the masses,
and in Ojeda's jealousy, the perversity of human nature) and striving to
bring about the ideal. At the same time, Tennyson's almost fatalistic
belief that the operation would not succeed appeared in his lack of deep
sorrow or surprise upon learning of the sad incident on the Esplanade.
Through the entire adventure, as in most of the other events of Tennyson's
Tennyson, p. 95.
13Carlyle, p. 88.
1Tennyson, p. 95.
life, runs the theme of the ideal. Never before did he engage on such a
direct expression of his life objectives; and he was never to do so after-
ward. But, in a way, much of his earlier and later life follows the pat-
tern of his devotion to Torrijos and the mission to Ojeda. There is the
embracement of the plan to effect the ideal, a confrontation with the
painful earth, a knowledge of the impracticality of it all, and eventual
resignation to the defeat. And Tennyson's role, especially in his poetry,
was often that of a secret agent bringing a cyphered message about the
ideal society to men who were, like Ojeda, indisposed to listen.
The idealism which proved to be such a motivating force in Tenny-
son's mission to Spain goes back to his boyhood and has its origins in
his family situation. An alcoholic, rationalistic clergyman for a
father, an emotional pietist for a mother, and a brood of brothers and
sisters, some of whom were precocious and some of whom were deranged,
provided an environment for the young Tennyson which acquainted him very
early with the noblest human aspirations and the most distressing reali-
ties of human frailty.
Dr. George Tennyson, the poet's father, was a disturbed man, given
to self pity and impulsive rages, burdened with a large family, and mar-
ried to a woman whose character was antithetical to his own. Dr. Tenny-
son had ample reason to be disturbed. Born the first child of an aris-
tocratic father, he was denied patrimony of the estate because his father
thought him less capable than a younger brother. Although his father
secured him a number of profitable livings within the church, Dr.
Tennyson was naturally dissatisfied with his condition and with the wast-
ing of his substantial talents in obscure rural parishes. He was a
preacher of exceptional ability, and showed some promise of becoming a
church scholar. He was widely read in English, Greek, and Latin, and
knew Syrian and Hebrew as well as French, Spanish, Italian, and German.5
Even though his religious views were not orthodox (he refused, for example,
to read the Athanasian Creed and was opposed to the doctrine of eternal
punishment), he worked hard at his duties as a parish clergyman and
earned a great deal of fame as a preacher, his extant sermons possessing
"a sonority and rhythm not unbecoming the father of poets."16 As his
family grew and he became increasingly discontented, he found more and
more comfort in liquor, to the destruction of his health and to the dis-
may of Mrs. Tennyson. He frequently abused his wife and children with
his language, and was found one night with a knife and a loaded gun in
his room, threatening to kill his son Frederick, who had just been rus-
ticated from Cambridge, and then to use the weapons on the rest of the
family.17 His life was continually broken by such moods of violent ag-
gressiveness opposed to other moods of tenderness toward his family and
devotion to his parish.
In contrast to her husband, Elizabeth Tennyson was described by
Edward Fitzgerald as "One of the most innocent and tenderhearted ladies
I ever saw."18 She was one of the beauties of the county in which she
15Tennyson, p. 12.
16Tennyson, p. 14.
Tennyson, pp. 60-61.
18Memoir, I, 17.
grew up and was reported to have had twenty-five offers of marriage. Her
attitude toward religion was one of evangelical pietism and threw her from
the first into opposition to her husband's distaste for any excessive emo-
tion in religion. She achieved such local notoriety for her sensitivity
that farm boys would bring their dogs to her window and beat them, hoping
that she would give them money to let the animals alone.19 She followed
the pietist revival during the years after the Napoleonic wars with in-
terest, applauding the establishment of Edward Irving's mission at Hatton
Garden in 1822, and the publication of Keble's Christian Year in 18272--
events that her husband viewed with little enjoyment. While Dr. Tennyson
read the classics or continental literature, Mrs. Tennyson paged through
the Bible, Mrs. Hemans, and Beattie's Calendar. Where her husband was
practical, she was impractical; where he was violent and abusive, she was
tender and loving; and where he was rationalistic about religion, she was
emotional. She countered his inconsistency of character with her own
steadfastness, and managed to keep their large family together. Tennyson
undoubtably got much of his concern for the painfulness of the human con-
dition from his father, and his vague, emotional hope for the future good
from his mother. Dr. Tennyson won the young poet's fear and respect; but
his mother earned his love.
The incompatibility of George and Elizabeth Tennyson certainly did
not extend to their sexual relationship; in all, they had twelve children,
eleven of whom survived. Alfred, born in 1809, was the fourth. He was
19Tennyson, p. 14.
20Tennyson, p. 48.
preceded by George (died in infancy), Frederick, and Charles, and followed
by four brothers (Edward, Arthur, Septimus, and Horatio) and four sisters
(Mary, Emily, Matilda, and Cecilia). All of the children were born
within fourteen years of each other, consequently entering into intense
competition among themselves. The three older brothers were extremely
precocious and began matching poems with each other before they were ten
years old. The younger children lacked the intense brilliance of Freder-
ick, Charles, and Alfred, and felt obscured by their older brothers and
slighted by the greater attention Dr. Tennyson paid to his three geniuses.
The family conditions probably had a lot to do with the mental and
emotional instability which dogged most of the children when they became
adults. Frederick was rusticated from Cambridge for cutting chapel and
for impertinence; he later became an Anglo-Israelite and a spiritualist.2
Charles, Alfred's favorite brother, developed a nervous disorder after
leaving Cambridge. A doctor recommended opium and before long Charles
became an addict.22 Edward's mental health degenerated while he was still
in his teens and he was found to be "plainly unfit for any thrift." In
1832, a doctor recommended that Edward be sent to Lincoln Asylum. This
proposal was rejected; but arrangements were made for him to live with a
doctor at York under the pretense of studying medicine. This plan did not
work, the maladjustment became acute, and Edward was confined until his
21Tennyson, pp. 59, 341.
22Tennyson, p. 128.
23Tennyson, p. 108.
death in 1890. Arthur was troubled by alcoholism in much the same way
as his father and displayed some of Edward's nervous instability. In
1843 his alcoholism became so bad that he had to return home for a cure.
Septimus also was a victim of the curious nervous instability of the
Tennysons. Dante Gabriel Rossetti told an anecdote of a visitor who,
upon entering a drawing room,saw a large, unkempt man arise from the
hearth rug where he had been stretched out, advance with an extended hand,
and grimly say: "I am Septimus, the most morbid of the Tennysons."26
Alfred, in a letter to his uncle, described Septimus's condition in some
detail, writing: "He is subject to fits of the most gloomy despondency
accompanied with tears--or rather he spends whole days in this manner,
complaining that he is neglected by all his relations and blindly re-
signing himself to every morbid influence." Septimus never was able
to overcome his melancholia, and his life was lived without direction and
without a profession. Horatio was the most adventurous of the brothers,
setting out in 1837 to farm in Tasmania. But the venture failed and he
was back home by 1843 with dim prospects and, as Edward Fitzgerald re-
marked, "seeming rather unused to the Planet."28 Despite the financial
problems Horatio had to face during the rest of his life, he did not
develop the acute melancholia of his brothers; he was perhaps the most
24Tennyson, p. 127.
25 nyson p. 199.
Tennyson, p. 199.
Tennyson, p. 199.
2Tennyson, p. 150.
28Tennyson, p. 199.
Tennyson, p. 199.
mentally stable of all the Tennysons, with the exception of Alfred.
The sisters shared some of the precocity and instability of the
brothers. Mary, Emilia, and Cecilia were devoted to literature and wrote
verse;29 but they were also somewhat overly intense, at least in the
opinion of their grandfather, George Tennyson, who thought that "the
girls were such bluestockings and so odd altogether, it seemed most un-
likely that any young man of position would come forward to marry any of
them." Mary was regarded as "Very handsome, very quiet, very amiable,
but not very gay."31 She was engaged to John Heath of the Apostles in
1835; but the relationship was soon broken off. She later married and
lived a fairly placid life. She reportedly "shared more than any of
Alfred's sisters in his poetic imagination and capacity for mystical
experience.32 Emily is the most famous of the sisters, primarily be-
cause she was engaged to Arthur Hallam. She was a victim of the psycho-
somatic ailments which afflicted other members of her family, and during
times of enforced separation from Hallam in their engagement, she suffered
mysterious pains in her side.33 With Hallam's death in 1833, she lapsed
into a state of depression. Unlike Edward and Septimus, she was able to
overcome her weakness and eventually made a satisfactory marriage. There
is no evidence of any disorder on the part of Cecilia. She married Edmund
29Tennyson, p. 46.
30Tennyson, p. 110.
31Tennyson, p. 149.
32Tennyson, p. 476.
33Tennyson, p. 111.
Lushington in 1842 and apparently lived a quiet life. The wedding, of
course, is the subject of the epithalamion which concludes In Memoriam.
Matilda was the quietest and most obscure of Tennyson's brothers and
sisters. She never married and lived to be 100, dying in 1913. She be-
came obsessed with religion from time to time, displaying the character-
istic family morbidity. She also developed an abnormal passion for the
famous opera singer Theresa Tietjens; among her papers were a few scraps
of verse about the singer's death, and a sheet of mourning paper in which
was enfolded a lock of Theresa's hair. On the paper was written: "This
paper holds my beloved Theresa's hair--I have kissed it many times."34
Tennyson grew up sharing in the genius and the madness of his
immediate relations. During his early years and even into his late teens,
the family was almost a closed circle. The children were anomalies in
the country parishes where they lived and did not often associate with
children of their own age outside of the family. There was an abundance
of love and sympathy felt by the children for each other and, at its best,
the family seemed like an ideal environment to the poet. Charles, Freder-
ick, and Alfred provided each other with intellectual companionship and
walked through the fields shouting verses to each other. Later, all of
the children joined in composing serial stories, each taking a daily in-
stallment. Dr. Tennyson, when out of his black moods, became a devoted
instructor to his children and, in a large measure, their precocity can
be attributed to his willingness to undertake their education. Mrs. Ten-
nyson tempered her husband's tough-minded method of pedagogy with her
34Tennyson, p. 504.
patient emphasis on the spiritual significance of what they were learning.
She was particularly influential on the young poet in her insistence on a
religious depth in his juvenile poetry. But at its worst, the family
situation became very painful for Tennyson. His father's unkindness and
injustice afflicted the boy's nerves and health, and brought about severe
depression. Several times Tennyson left the rectory at night after one of
his father's fits, fell onto a grave in the churchyard, and prayed to be
beneath the sod himself.35
As Tennyson grew up, his family environment gradually worsened.
During the years 1822-27, his father lapsed deeper into his alcoholism,
and Tennyson found himself divided between the conflicting demands and
personalities of his parents. By his own testimony, Tennyson indicated
that he passed through "moods of misery unutterable."36 His brothers and
sisters tended to alternate between moods of extreme joy and extreme de-
pression. Tennyson himself was subject to great and sudden shifts from
happiness to despair. "I remember," he said as an old man, "that some-
times in the middle of the dance a great and sudden sadness would come
over me and I would leave the dance and wander away beneath the stars, or
sit gloomily and abstractly below stairs. I used to wonder then what
demon it was that drove me forth and took all pleasure from my blood."3
He remembered that the pleasure was taken out of one of his first trips
35Memoir, I, 15.
3Memoir, I, 40.
3Tennyson, pp. 102-103.
to London when he was suddenly struck with the thought that all the
inhabitants of the city and all the members of the multitude brushing
shoulders with him would, within a few years, be stark in their coffins.38
The family was a paradigm to Tennyson of the outside world he was
eventually to experience. His father's character is much like the charac-
ter of God that is represented in the later poetry with its continual
debate over whether God is a tyrant or a loving father. The pietism of
his mother, with its reassuring love and continual emphasis on the other-
worldly nature of human life, found its way into the "spiritual meaning"
which plays such a large part in his poetry. And, of course, his mother's
belief that God is love, is the view that usually won out in Tennyson's
metaphysical speculation. The happier moments in the family, when the
intense aesthetic companionship of the three older brothers and the rapt
admiration of the sisters combined with a rare intellectual and religious
balance struck by the mother and father, were emblematic of the ideal
society which Tennyson adopted as his life objective--perhaps because it
was the first life he knew. At the same time there was the puzzling in-
consistency of his father's behavior and the manic depression of his
brothers and sisters which confronted him as a boy. Why, with all the
intelligence and physical strength and beauty of the family, must their
life with each other always tend toward sadness and outbursts of anger?
Why must a pleasant evening around the mother be broken by a drunken out-
burst from the father? These were questions Tennyson had to deal with
from the first moments of his consciousness; they were questions which
38Memoir, I, 40.
oppressed him in one form or another until his death. As the poet grew
up, an increasing split between the father and the rest of the family
occurred. This can in part be seen as the source of Tennyson's sense of
isolation, another major theme in his poetry. Not only was the family
isolated from the other families in the parish; it was also cut off from
the drunken father. In Tennyson's poetry there is the corresponding idea
of man on earth isolated from the universe and alienated from a God that
seems at times irresponsible or at least capricious.
The greatest of all parallels that can be drawn between Tennyson's
family and his later conception of the world is the manner in which po-
etry became central to his adjustment within the familial microcosm.
Poetry early became the major way in which Tennyson asserted his person-
ality in a situation which at times threatened to overwhelm him. By the
age of four or five he was already chanting impromptu poetry. On a windy
day he would spread his arms and say: "I hear a voice that's speaking in
the wind."39 Another of his favorite phrases which he would often repeat
was "far, far away." His belief in special inspiration for the poet
and his concern with both spatial and temporal distance are obviously
foreshadowed in these pronouncements of the child. His first written
verse was composed during a period of sickness as a response to a chal-
lenge. One Sunday when he was eight years old, Tennyson was kept home
39Tennyson, p. 25.
4Tennyson, p. 25.
Tennyson, p. 25.
by a cold while the rest of the family went to church. Charles challenged
him to write some poetry during the time he would be left alone, giving
the praise of flowers as a subject. When the family returned from church,
they were greeted by the young poet displaying two sides of a slate
covered with blank verse lines in imitation of Thomson. All the startled
Charles could say was "You've done it."41 His early ability for versifi-
cation won him the notice of his relatives, although their approbation was
not entirely whole-hearted. When his grandmother died, his grandfather
requested that he write a poem on her death. After reading the poem, the
old gentleman rewarded Tennyson with half a guinea, telling him: "Here is
half a guinea for you, the first you have ever earned by poetry, and take
my word for it, the last."42 Tennyson's father recognized his son's
ability with more perception than did the grandfather. Dr. Tennyson was
eager to read Alfred's poetry and to offer him sympathetic advice. He
even bound with his own hands the notebooks in which the boy poet wrote
out his early verse. Tennyson learned, while very young, that his poetry
was almost always a sure way to please his father and earn his respect.
His poetry in those childhood years often seems to take on the appearance
of a peace offering, for when Dr. Tennyson was pleased with his son's ef-
forts, his rages were forestalled, and Alfred's security temporarily as-
The influence of Tennyson's father on his poetry was intensified
after 1820, when Dr. Tennyson took upon himself the education of Alfred
41Tennyson, p. 25.
42Memoir, I, 13.
and Charles. The boys had received their primary instruction at the
Louth Grammar School under a system of learning which included whipping
as a large part of the curriculum; and despite the recurrent irascibil-
ity of their father, the boys were glad to escape to his tutelage. It
seems from the single-minded and fierce attention Dr. Tennyson gave to
their education that he was trying to compensate for his unrealized am-
bitions and the failure to use his own abilities. "I have known some
satisfaction in thinking that my boys will turn out to be clever men," he
wrote in an 1824 letter to his brother. "Phoenix-like, I trust (though I
don't think myself a Phoenix) they will spring from my ashes, in conse-
quence of the exertions I have bestowed upon them."44 Dr. Tennyson had
both a passion for literature and an excellent library. His method of
instruction was to turn the boys loose in the library and then to advise
their plan of reading. Under this arrangement, they read the standard
Greek and Latin classics as well as Spenser, Shakespeare, Beaumont and
Fletcher, Milton, Pope, Thomson, Collins, Gray, Campbell, Macphergon,
Byron, and Scott. Dr. Tennyson made certain that they were introduced
to Dante through Boyd's translation of the Inferno. Just as influential
were a number of more exotic books, among them Galland's Arabian Nights;
Savary's Letters from Egypt; William Jones's Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian
translations; Sale's Koran; Ulloah's Voyages; Brand's Observations on
Popular Antiquities; and Jacob Bryant's Analysis of Ancient Mythology.
Tennyson, p. 31.
Tennyson, p. 31.
And there were, of course, such works as the modern reprint of Morte d'
Arthur, the Decameron, Orlando Furioso, Don Quixote, and Mrs. Barbauld's
fifty volumes of the British novelists.45 It is quite plain from the
reading Dr. Tennyson prescribed for his sons that the resurrection he
foresaw for himself through them was to be a literary one.
By the age of ten or eleven, Tennyson was beginning to produce
poetry in quantity; and under the stimulation of his father's instruction
and library, the volume of poetry he turned out between 1820 and 1828 is
amazing. One of the relics of this period of production is a quarto note-
book, sixty-three pages long, entirely in Latin, and divided into three
sections: Vol. I, 1820, The Poetry of Tennyson; Vol. II, The Lyrical
Poetry of Tennyson; and Vol. III, The Prose Writings of Tennyson. By the
age of eleven, Tennyson was already thinking of himself as a poet with a
shelf of works to his credit.46 Some of his early poetry was oral. In
her old age, his sister Cecilia would tell of how Alfred would set her,
when she was little more than a baby and he eight or nine, on his knee,
Arthur and Matilda leaning on each side of him, and then tell them "leg-
ends of knights and heroes among untravelled forests rescuing distressed
damsels, or on gigantic mountains fighting with dragons. . ." But
most of his composition was with pen and ink. "About ten or eleven Pope's
Homer's Iliad became a favourite of mine," Tennyson wrote in a note to his
45Tennyson, p. 32.
46Tennyson, p. 33.
Memoir, I, 5.
son, Hallam, in 1890, "and I wrote hundreds and hundreds of lines in
the regular Popeian metre, nay could even improvise them."48 In the
same note, Tennyson told of other poetry he wrote during his adolescence.
"At about twelve and onward I wrote an epic of six thousand lines a la
Walter Scott,--full of battles, dealing too with sea and mountain scen-
ery,--with Scott's regularity of octo-syllables and his occasional vari-
eties," continued Tennyson, "Though the performance was very likely worth
nothing I never felt myself more truly inspired. I wrote as much as
seventy lines at one time, and used to go shouting them about the fields
in the dark." Other poems written in the 1820-1828 period include the
remarkably Miltonic"Armageddon,"at least two blank-verse plays (The Devil
and the Lady and another which has not survived), a variety of poems in
Latin and Greek metres, some shorter poems in English, and the lyrics
which went into Poems by Two Brothers, Tennyson's first published volume.
Almost all of Tennyson's early poems deal with the same themes and
problems of his later poetry. They are filled with agonizing passages on
mortal fate, speculation about God and the nature of evil, visions of the
future of humanity, and a concern for the ideal society. Just as impres-
sive as the thematic maturity is the care with which the poems, even in an
unfinished state, seem to have been written. Tennyson took himself, his
subject matter, and his poetry seriously from his very first attempts.
In his earliest verse and in his latest, Tennyson apparently wrote with a
Memoir, I, 11.
49Memoir, I, 12.
sense of divine calling, feeling that he was to be a poet and nothing
else. And there is very little evidence that he ever considered any
other profession except that of poet. Poetry became a distinctive aspect
of his life by the age of four or five and remained so throughout the
following years. Equally distinctive was the sort of poetry he wrote:
serious, carefully composed verse, which almost always returns to a vari-
ation on the themes of the riddle and the ideal.
Tennyson's free translation, at the age of fifteen, of the first
ninety-three lines of Claudian's De Raptu Proserpinae into one hundred-
thirty-three lines of rhymed English couplets is one of his most preco-
cious and thematically typical early poems. The passage selected for
translation contains most of the questions Tennyson dealt with time after
time in later poems. For example, the nature of God is taken up in the
poem, and the tentative conclusion drawn in the final line is that Jove
can be called: "That haughty God who sways the realms above. . .
Another question concerns the origin of natural law, the poet mentioning
how "laws to man are giv'n, and acorns yield/To the rich produce of the
golden field." What makes the poem of special interest, however, is the
interpretation of Pluto's demand for a wife as a defiance of Heaven by Hell:
"Hell's haughty Lord in times of old began/To rouse againstt Heav'n the
terrors of his clan" because he felt it was unfair that he alone, of all
the gods, "Should lead a dull and melancholy life,/Without the fond
50All quotations from Tennyson's early poems in this section are
from Alfred Tennyson, The Devil and the Lady and Unpublished Early Poems,
ed. Sir Charles Tennyson (Bloomington, Indiana, 1964).
endearments of a wife." Running through the poem is a threat of impend-
ing chaos for all of the creatures caught between Heaven and Hell in the
dispute of Pluto and Jove. The monsters of Hell are roused to arms,
Tisiphone, one of the Furies, calls up the dead, and the poet concludes
that "Now had all nature gone to wrack again. . ." Only the Fates are
able to restrain Pluto. They plead with him to "Break not, ah' break not
with unholy deed/That peace our laws have fix'd, our threats decreed,"
and assure him that Jove will grant his wish for a wife. The poem breaks
off with Pluto's plea for conjugal felicity being sent to Jove. The
translation apparently ends at that point because the part of Claudian's
reinterpretation of the myth that most appealed to Tennyson also ends
there. Claudian, through the use of the Proserpine myth, tried to express
certain ideas about the claims of Hell on Heaven and the preservation of
natural order in the world. The major contention is that "haughty Jove"
must be flexible enough to yield to the demands of the lower Olympians
when the alternative is cosmic disaster. This is heady material indeed
for a fifteen-year-old boy to handle in a free translation; but Tennyson
demonstrated that he knew the full import of the original poem by expand-
ing the section which deals with the impending revolt and disorder to
show the need for Jove's acquiescence.
"Armageddon," written about the same time as the translation of
Claudian, is an even more striking poem. There is a curious obliteration
in the first nine lines of the manuscript, leaving only these disjointed
phrases: "Prophecy whose mighty grasp . ings whose capacious soul
. illimitable abyss . bottomless futurity . giant figures
that shall pace . of its stage-- whose subtle ken . the doubly
darkened firmament . to come with all its burning stars. . ." The
nouns Prophecy, soul, abyss, futurity, firmament, and stars, and the ad-
jectives mighty, capacious, illimitable, bottomless, and giant indicate
the breadth of Tennyson's intellectual concern in the poem and in most of
his thought. It is a poem in which the boyish Tennyson put on the mantle
of Milton and attempted to assume the role of poet-as-prophet. For sub-
ject matter he chose the last great battle between the forces of good and
the forces of evil. For the setting he chose the earth, but only as the
focal point of the universe. And his vision swept back and forth over
the entire expanse of human time, finally settling on the events foresha-
dowing the moment when time shall have a stop. Again, as in the transla-
tion of Claudian, there is a brooding sense of impending chaos; and the
major conflict is between heaven and hell with man caught in the middle.
The poem opens with the poet claiming an inspiration which enabled him to
acquire "knowledge of the Latter Times." The poet then describes himself
standing on a mountain overlooking the valley in which the great battle
is to take place. After depicting the tents of God in the East and the
tents of Satan in the West, he launches into an account of a visit from
an angel who explains to him what is to come. After about five-hundred
lines, the poem breaks off with the battle yet to take place.
As is often the case with fragments, "Armageddon" achieves such
unity that someone reading the poemunaware of its incompleteness and not
too suspicious of the ellipsis with which it ends, might think it to be
complete. From the standpoint of Tennyson's development as a poet, the
poem is in a sense complete, for it attempts to do as much as almost any
of his other poems. First of all, there is the emphasis on the role of
the poet as an inspired prophet. Tennyson as a youth set his mind toward
the kind of knowledge that could only be attained and transmitted in a
poetic vision. The opening tribute to the source of his inspiration and
the section describing the visit from the angel are attempts to indicate
that the vision has been attained. The account of the angel opening the
poet'seyes represents a wish fulfillment on the part of Tennyson for the
sort of knowledge he sought throughout his life to obtain. After the
angel says "Open thine eyes and see," the poet's soul is said to "grow
godlike" and his "mental eye grew large" so that he seemed to be standing
"Upon the outward verge and bound alone/Of God's omniscience." He became
able to see the smallest atom in the air and the cities on the moon. He
could hear and understand men talking in unknown tongues, and perceive
"notes of busy Life in distant worlds." His mind seemed filled with the
most infinite ideas so that all sense of time, being, and place was lost
in the swell of his enormous conceptions. He became "a part of the Un-
changeable,/A scintillation of Eternal Mind." His transfiguration was so
great that he remarks: "Yea. in that hour I could have fallen down/Before
my own strong soul and worshipp'd it." This conception of the poetic
vision is certainly an exaggerated one; but it was an attempt by the young
poet to gain an insight into the enigmas of the universe--or at least an
attempt to express what the poet must be able to know and see if he is to
be a prophet or a seer and if he is to satisfy his own desire for knowl-
edge about the nature of his world. If the poet is to face the riddle of
the painful earth, he must be able to see as the inspired poet in
"Armageddon" does. This is, of course, impossible in actuality. How
then is a poet to fulfill his function as seer and prophet? That was
the question Tennyson wanted to answer when he wrote the poem and for
years afterward. The answer that eventually came was perhaps embodied
in the use of myth and allegory later worked into The Idylls of the King.
The poet can see; but not with his own eyes, and not directly.
The view of man which comes out in "Armageddon" is just as basic
to Tennyson's later thought and poetry as is his concern with the poetic
vision and the role of the poet as a seer. In the third section of
"Armageddon," the angel addresses the poet as "The Everlasting Man,"
saying that the human spirit, whether it is limited in action, capable of
the greatest knowledge, or joined to the body from a previous carnation,
is nevertheless "deathless as its God's own life" and "Burns on with in-
extinguishable strength." Here in this youthful poem can be seen Tenny-
son's flat assumption that the human soul is eternal and that, like God
Himself, it is capable of realizing the most fabulous potentialities. Ten-
nyson's conception of man became crystallized very early; man, to Tennyson,
was mostly spirit with a little bit of flesh--and the flesh could be
transcended through poetry, the poet being able to take the sympathetic
and sensitive reader with him to the mountain which overlooks the valley
of Megiddo and enable him to visualize the Day of the Lord. If the poet
can make the reader sense what this might be like, he can also make him
sense what the ideal society might be like, or how man must think of him-
self if he is to attain it. In such a conception of man as is put forth
in "Armageddon," Tennyson was implying a system of ethics in which the
first proposition is that man must believe in his eternal nature. Once
this is realized, the path of conduct becomes the path of progress toward
the greatest possible achievements (understanding the nature of the earth,
understanding human nature, building a better society, and moving toward
God); for man, in Tennyson's view, has the time in which to work, time
which stretches from this world to the next and embraces the City of God
on Earth as well as the City of God in Heaven.
"The Coach of Death" is another poem Tennyson wrote at the age of
fourteen or fifteen, and like the translation of Claudian and "Armageddon,"
it makes use of myth and folklore to sound another variation on the theme
of the riddle and the ideal. The poem is an out-and-out imitation of
Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, employing macabre description and even the
ballad stanza, although the regularity of the four-line pattern and the
abab rime scheme differs from Coleridge. Most of the 132-line fragment
is devoted to describing a dark coach which waits at the door of an old
inn to carry off souls to hell. As the coach pulls out, it is contrasted
to the silvery-bright Paradise Coach, which is carrying souls heavenward.
The poem, even though it is an imitation and a boyish experiment, attempts
to probe, through the use of symbols, into the nature of death. As in
"Armageddon," Tennyson tried to assure his readers that he was capable of
engaging in such metaphysical visualizing, writing that he, as a poet,
has a burning heart which enables him to cast his eyes over the gloomy
earth, listen to the "Thick sobs and short shrill screams arise/Along the
sunless waste," and then "To draw strange comfort from the earth,/strange
beauties from the sky." The poet, according to Tennyson, can confront
the riddle of the painful earth and squeeze out of all the agony he sees
and hears a message of comfort, truth, and beauty.
In "The Coach of Death," a highly significant contrast is drawn
between the grim realities of human existence and the beauty and fresh-
ness of the earth. The travellers in the coach lift their eyes from the
gloomy waste of the underworld and see far above them "the green verge
of the pleasant earth" with its summer plains, shining seas, and happy
firesides. The pleasant earth seems impossibly unrelated to the under-
world and its barkless trees; yet the coach is setting out on its journey
up the snowy highway of mortality and will pay its unwelcome visit to some
house where a man or woman or child will exchange the green earth for
black death. This same sort of contrast is drawn in "The Outcast," a poem
Tennyson wrote when he was seventeen. The persona of the poem mentions
the beauty of his father's groves and hills with their bright colors and
early-morning sunlight, but remarks that he will not return to this
pleasantness because his human experience has turned the earth's beauty
to ugliness. The broken stile, the wavy paths, the hawthorn trees, and
the chattering brook bring only "Lone images of varied pain" to his "worn
mind and fevered brain." For Tennyson, the agony of human life has much
of its source in this awful contrast between the beauty of the earth and
the painful thoughts and depressing attitudes which color a man's percep-
tion of the beauty. In the midst of the brightest summer day, the coach
of death may stop. Despite the prospects of a rich inheritance, a young
man cannot return to his father's estate because of the depressing associa-
tions which the groves and hills bring to mind. The young Tennyson saw
that the earth is a paradise, but a fool's paradise because only a fool
can enjoy it. The sensitive, thoughtful man, when he looks at the beauty,
cannot forget the horrible aspects of his life and the lives of all men.
But still there is the tantalizing beauty, the hearty optimism which comes
out of a bright fall day and good health. How can we embrace the beauty
and maintain the cheerful attitude? Only by becoming better men and by
improving our way of living, concluded the young Tennyson.
Another poem written about the same time as "The Outcast" offers a
suggestion of how humans and the human condition can become better. The
poem is entitled, "In Deep and Solemn Dreams," and the central idea is
that dreams of the society for which we long have an enchanting power
which makes our dreamless moments "Hopeless, heartless, and forlorn."
The persona of the poem tells how in his deepest and most profound dreams
he envisions "Great cities by an ocean blue" with sheenyy spires and tur-
rets mixt," a veritable "City of the Blest." The city is peopled with the
persona's most ideal people, those who have become perfect in love to him
through death. When this dream fades, another takes its place. The
second dream is of "A careless, free and happy crowd" freed from the
press of mortal worries and eager to join in fellowship with the happy
poet. This dream also fades and leaves the poet in the darkness he dreads.
The poem ends at this point, but there is the implication that dreams of
the kind of world we would like to live in serve us as a motivating fac-
tor. The dreamer can do two things to alleviate his forlorn feeling. He
can attempt to dream again; but this will only lead to the feeling of
hopelessness as the dream fades. Or he can seek to make the dream a rc-
ality by engaging in some sort of activity which will seek to bring about
the "Great cities by an ocean blue."
Accompanying the young Tennyson's conviction that man is eternal
and that human vision must be directed toward solving the riddle of his
own existence and building a better environment for himself was an over-
whelming and agonizing sense of responsibility which became in itself a
source of anguish. This is reflected in the poem, "Perdidi Diem," which
dates from about the same time as "In Deep and Solemn Dreams." The poem
opens with the poet describing himself as a carcass in the coffin of his
flesh, his soul "but th' eternal mystic lamp,/Lighting that charnel damp."
His nature is compared to that of the owl: "As darkness, dark ourselves
and loving night,/. . Night-owls whose organs were not made for light."
Because of the way he was created, the poet feels compelled to pore upon
the mysteries of his own infinite nature and torment his spirit with an
insatiable longing to understand the riddle of his being and the riddle
of the earth. In the night he sees some young ravens fluttering in agony
on the ground after having fallen from their nest; and in the agony he
experiences as he watches them in wretchedness, he asks: "What is the
death of life if this be not to die?" But at the same time he knows that
to him "a Power is given,/An effluence of serenest fire from Heaven" which
gives him an existence pulsating to the musical fire of God's heart. And
this power sustains him because it makes him sense that all existence is
part of "one life, one heart, one glow." All creation is symbolized in a
cone and the topmost plane of the cone is God, with his pulsations extend-
ing to the very base.
But the most famous and most impressive of all Tennyson's early
work is The Devil and the Lady, the first draft of which was probably
composed when he was fourteen. The play, written in blank verse, tells
of a magician named Magus who is called away on a mysterious errand and
leaves his wife in the care of the Devil. After sending the wife to bed,
the Devil disguises himself in her clothes, admits her lovers to the
house, and toys with them until the magician returns, when the play breaks
off. As a drama, The Devil and the Lady suffers from the same defects as
Tennyson's later plays: too much dialogue and not enough action, abortive
attempts at humor, too much imitation of Shakespearian idiom, and a will-
ingness to sacrifice dramatic unity in order to insert purple passages.
Nevertheless, it is a brilliant piece of writing for a boy of fourteen,
particularly in the way the different characters--a lawyer, a chemist, a
soldier, a mathematician, a sailor, and a monk--are made to speak in the
trade jargon peculiar to each.
Like the other early poems, The Devil and the Lady foreshadows
much of Tennyson's mature thought. "The play opens," wrote Charles Tenny-
son, "with an invocation to 'omnipotent love' conceived as the Ruler of
the Universe and 'vast link of the Creation'--an idea absolutely basic to
all the poet's thought and continually repeated during his long life, as,
for example, in the preface to In Memoriam and the sonnet 'Doubt and
Prayer' included in his posthumous volume, The Death of Oenonc."51
Another basic idea is the conception, also put forth in'Perdidi Diem,"
51Tennyson, p. 43.
that God fills all space and that all life is thus held in common as a
part of God. A component of this idea is the belief, emphasized in one of
the Devil's speeches, that spiritual existence is the only reality and
that the reality of matter is only an illusion. Later, especially in In
Memoriam, Tennyson was to balance the idea of God as omnipotent love with
the belief in the spiritual being as the only reality, and find in them
enough strength to overcome the anxiety brought about by the pre-Darwin-
ian theories of evolution, the discoveries in astronomy, and the general
tendency for science to reduce the stature of man. Unless such anxiety
is overcome, the postulation of an ideal is meaningless; and Tennyson at
fourteen apparently realized this, or was at least beginning to.
Tennyson's prolific output of poetry from the age of eleven on
gradually led him to consider publication; and in 1827 his first published
verse appeared in a thin volume entitled Poems by Two Brothers. The
volume actually should have been called Poems by Three Brothers because
Frederick as well as Charles and Alfred contributed to it. The signifi-
cance of the volume has long been overlooked, primarily because most of
Alfred's contributions were not among his best, or even his good, poetry.
Charles Tennyson noted, for example, that the poems "are almost all exer-
cises in the fashionable styles of the day, particularly those of Gray,
Byron, Moore, and Scott, showing little trace of his emotional condition
at the time and far less similarity to the mature Tennyson than even The
Devil and the Lady'52 Such poems as "The Coach of Death," which were
52Tennyson, p. 49.
written by the time the volume came out but omitted from it because they
were considered to be aesthetically offensive to the public taste, are
certainly better than the poems Tennyson chose to publish in 1827. But
the subject matter of a majority of Tennyson's poems in the volume points
to his social idealism with much more directness than most of the early
poetry. Several of the poems, for example, are laments for the fall of
once-superior civilizations, dealing with such matters as Pizarro's
destruction of the Peruvians, the fall of Jerusalem, and the fall of
Babylon. Others are addresses sympathizing with politically-oppressed
nationalities; Tennyson encourages the Greeks to revolt against the
Turks, and praises the Spaniards in their rebellion against King Ferdi-
nand. And other poems, such as "Alexander and the High Priest," "The
Druid's Prophecies," and "The Vision of King Charles the Eleventh of
Sweden" deal with the ideal society in more visionary terms. The con-
cern for a better social order which motivated Tennyson to devote himself
to the Spanish cause can be seen in these poems as nowhere else in his
youthful work. They reveal that his emotional condition at the time was
not dominated by the moody introspection and metaphysical speculation
that predominates in much of the other poetry he wrote during the period.
His evident concern with the destruction of past civilizations before they
could approach the ideal, his advocation of revolution to start a nation-
ality moving toward the ideal, and his visions of what the future might
hold for an improved mankind all have a great deal of similarity to the
attitudes held when he later wrote the Idylls of the King and the dramas.
Even though the versification, imagery, and symbolism of Tennyson's ef-
forts in Poems by Two Brothers are not handled well, and even if the
poems seem derivative, the themes were central to his personality and
his thinking at the time the book came out.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Tennyson's juvenilia is that
almost none of the poems were written as exercises. For the most part,
they were all seriously conceived and executed, and dealt with major
philosophical and religious problems. At an age when most boys of his
generation were playing cricket, Tennyson was sitting in his father's
library trying to write poems in which he meditated on the nature of God,
the influence of natural law on man, the origin of mortal agony, and the
possibility of a better world peopled by better men. Out of the serious-
ness with which these questions were pondered, came a recognizable thematic
style in most of the poetry written by the time Tennyson was seventeen.
As in "Armageddon," "Perdidi Diem," and "The Coach of Death," there is
the conviction that the poet receives special inspiration or possesses a
special power which enables him to see and feel what the average man can
only dimly comprehend. Tennyson demanded that the reader take him seri-
ously because his poetry is given a mystic seriousness by some force out-
side himself. Another element of Tennyson's style is the devotion to the
belief that the human soul is eternal and co-existent with God, a belief
which is continually called into doubt by the spectacle of the painful
world. But because humanity shares more of God's nature than the nature
of the material creation, there is always the hope that a civilization
will be developed to overcome the painful aspects of our life. Mankind
has the potential, thought Tennyson, to establish a society which would
thrive on love, not anguish; and it became a primary purpose in his po-
etry to make people aware of their potentiality. Magus the magician in
The Devil and the Lady was able, through his knowledge, to force the power
of evil to protect his wife's innocence; Tennyson thought that all men,
if they were willing to strive toward the sort of knowledge symbolized by
Magus' magic, could convert what is now evil into a force for the good.
Again and again in the poetry that followed "Armageddon,""Perdidi Diem,"
"The Coach of Death," and The Devil and the Lady, Tennyson reiterated his
sense of inspiration, the eternal nature of the soul, the question of
human anguish, and the belief that we can somehow make things better.
The young man who could risk his life for the sake of a band of
Spanish revolutionaries as well as the young man who spent more time out-
side the dance than within, is present in Tennyson's teenage poems. Just
as the verse took on a distinctive style by the time Poems by Two Brothers
was published, so too did Tennyson's way of living take on a style of its
own, for the poems were central to his life, and in many ways, his youth-
ful experience was central to the poetry. He very early began to live
for the sake of writing poetry, perhaps because he realized that for him
writing poetry was essential to living. At first the poetry was a way of
securing and maintaining his position in a competitive family situation
which made him feel threatened by children above and below. Then it be-
came a way of winning his father's approval. And with his first publica-
tion, it became a way of winning the approval of the world. Despite the
expansion of its function, however, the roots of Tennyson's poetry and
its characteristic subject matter go back to the situation in which it
originated, a situation broken up into moments of agony and bitterness
among the members of the Tennyson family, and moments of loving rapport.
Out of the bitterness came an awareness of the painful earth; out of the
moments of joy and love came a realization that human beings can estab-
lish an ideal relationship with one another. Once these opposing factors
became even vaguely a part of Tennyson's consciousness, his life style
began to take shape. And by the time Tennyson reached the age of four-
teen we can see already the Tennyson of twenty, the Tennyson of thirty,
of fifty, and of eighty. But we can see only the outline; the role had
been cast but the acting was yet to be done.
On February 20, 1828, the closed circle of the Tennyson family was
broken when Alfred and Charles matriculated at Trinity College. Tennyson
left the old rectory at Somersby to begin the most intense period of his
poetic development. When he entered Cambridge, he was a shy, seedily
dressed youth who was saved from nondistinction only by the volume of
schoolboy verse he had published with Charles and Frederick. When he
left his college in 1833 without taking a degree, he was regarded as one
of the greatest student poets ever to be enrolled and had to his credit
a volume of his own verse, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, which had received some
favorable reviews. But more importantly, while at Cambridge Tennyson
passed under the influence of a group of brilliant young men who were to
have a lasting effect on his thought and on his development as a poet.
These friends, most of whom were members of the fabled Apostle's Club,
were to reinforce Tennyson's self-concept so strongly that not even the
death of his father, threat of poverty for his immediate family, and
the loss of his best friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, could deter him from
fulfilling what he felt to be his destiny as a poet. The life style
which had developed in the rectory thus carried over into the Cambridge
years, acquiring greater consistency and amplitude as Tennyson grew
Although the prospect of the university promised an escape for
Tennyson from the difficult conditions at the rectory, it soon posed
another problem--loneliness. At first he felt more isolated than he ever
had at Somersby. As happens to most young men away from home for the
first time, the moments of happiness he had known with his family seemed
to outweigh the moments of hatred and bitterness. Of course, much of his
initial anguish at Cambridge can be attributed to his shyness. The first
time Alfred and Charles went for dinner at the College Hall, they were so
panicked by the confusion of strange faces that they turned back to their
rooms without eating.53 This shyness was a problem for Tennyson all
through his life. Even when he had been the dominant literary figure in
England for forty years and had associated with royalty, statesmen, and
noted figures in almost all fields, "his sensibility was so extreme that
introduction to strangers often inflicted him with a paroxysm of self-
Tennyson's shyness was at first increased by the suddenness with
which he seemed to have stepped out of the small world of his childhood
53Tennyson, p. 55.
5Tennyson, p. 55.
into a world where reform measures, Milton, Canning, Euripides, ghosts,
Shelley, and William Whewell suddenly confronted him with frightening
confusion. He was aided tremendously, however, by his intense desire to
learn, and in a short time he began to make an impression on the other
students. Despite his homesickness, he continued to work on his poems,
experimented with Latin and Greek verse, and began for the first time a
rigorous study of history and natural science. And as always, his social
idealism showed through. He supported the Anti-Slavery Convention, advo-
cated the abolition of subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles, and voiced
his admiration of Canning, Peel, and the Duke of Wellington.55 His ad-
justment to college life was further aided by his appearance,which com-
manded admiration and attention from the first. By 1828 he was over six
feel tall, dark-skinned, broad-shouldered, and had a magnificent head.
Others drew the same conclusion as W. H. Thompson, later Master of Trin-
ity, who said upon first seeing Tennyson: "That man must be a poet."56
Tennyson's background of family strife, fits of melancholia com-
bined with moments of visionary hopefulness, and his initial feelings of
anxiety at leaving Somersby were perhaps major factors in the friendship
that developed between him and Arthur Henry Hallam, a friendship that did
much to alleviate Tennyson's loneliness at Cambridge. Unlike Tennyson,
Hallam came from a happy and cultured home. His father, Henry Hallam,
was a leading historian, a literary scholar, and a man of wealth. He
and his wife were as one in their devotion to their children, and spared
55Memoir, I, 41.
56Tennyson, p. 56.
no expense in Hallam's education.57 When Hallam entered Cambridge in
October, 1828, he had been reading French and Latin since the age of
nine, had written several tragedies, had attained a reputation as the
best poet and debater at Eton, and had spent eight months in Italy, where
he accumulated an extensive knowledge of Italian art and literature.58
Tennyson was greatly in need of a friend when Hallam arrived, particu-
larly a friend who possessed the congenial family background he lacked,
for Tennyson's family relations were especially strained at this time.
In December, 1828, Frederick, Tennyson's oldest brother, had been rusti-
cated from Trinity College for missing chapel and behaving insolently to
the Master of the College.59 Although Dr. Tennyson thought the penalty
too severe, his son's rustication was nevertheless a serious blow. With
Frederick's dogmatic and aggressive character back at Somersby to irritate
his father, and the elder Tennyson's brooding over his son's rustication,
conditions at the rectory rapidly worsened. Dr. Tennyson abused his wife
and children with more vituperation than ever and Tennyson was constantly
troubled during his first year at Cambridge by reports from home of his
father's violence. "The thought of these things," wrote Charles Tennyson,
"would cause the depression, which had haunted him since adolescence, to
descend upon him like a torm, and with it a conviction of his own sinful-
ness, and an agonizing realization that he was drifting away from the
57Tennyson, p. 63.
58Tennyson, pp. 63-64.
religion which meant so much to his beloved mother, and without which it
was so hard to endure those bitter times of distress at the Rectory and
to find a meaning and a purpose in human existence."6 Friendship with
Hallam helped Tennyson to take his thought off Somcrsby and gave him the
reassurance of concurrence as he developed his religious thinking away
from his mother's pietism and toward the unreassuring but honest belief
that "There lives more faith in honest doubt,/Believe me, than in half
Tennyson's friendship with Hallam quickly alleviated his loneliness,
drew him from the fringes and into the center of college life, and cer-
tainly contributed more to his development as a poet than any other human
contact he made. It is worth noting that there was less of Tennyson's de-
pression during the years 1829-1833 than in most of the other periods of
his life. This apparent stability of disposition is striking when the
number of unfortunate events in which he was involved is recounted. The
Spanish revolution in which Tennyson, Hallam, and other Apostles assisted
against Ferdinand VII ended in tragic failure. Hallam became engaged to
Tennyson's sister, Emily, but was forbidden by the elder Hallam to see or
correspond with her for a year. In 1831 Tennyson's father died. Tenny-
son's grandfather was pressing him and his brother Charles to take holy
orders. It was discovered that the two brothers had acquired substantial
debts at Cambridge, and Tennyson was forced to come down without taking
his degree. Christopher North criticized Tennyson's first solo volume,
60Tennyson, p. 66.
Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, and called its author a member of the Cockney
School. Edward Tennyson, Alfred's brother, suffered a nervous breakdown.
Hallam's father and George Tennyson, Tennyson's grandfather, had diffi-
culty over Emily's marriage settlement. Tennyson's brother Charles be-
came an opium addict. And Poems, Tennyson's second major volume, was
savagely attacked by Croker in the Quarterly Review of April, 1833. That
Tennyson, given as he was to black moods, maintained a steady output of
poetry, and a relatively placid mental state even though such a number of
disconcerting events took place, is a tribute to the strength of his
friendship with Hallam.
But even during the happy years Tennyson enjoyed with Hallam, there
is evidence of the ever-present vein of despondency in Tennyson's nature.
His behavior in courtship at this time is described as varying "between
romantic compliment and sudden lapses into gloom."61 In 1831, intensive
study as well as worry occasioned by the financial distress accompanying
the death of Dr. Tennyson brought about a mental uneasiness which affected
Tennyson's physical health. He began to fear he was going blind,62 a fear
that understandably enough made him despondent. The cold and exact manner
in which Tennyson's grandfather set about clearing the Doctor's debts and
the liabilities at Cambridge, and providing an allowance for Tennyson's
mother was also very disquieting to Tennyson's mind. Hallam, after tak-
ing his degree and beginning to read law in London, wrote to Emily in
Tennyson, p. 102.
62Tennyson, p. 112.
January of 1832, asking her to help him in bringing Tennyson "to better
hopes and more steady purposes. . I would sacrifice all my own peace
to see you and him in peace with yourselves and with God."63 When the
1832 volume, Poems by Alfred Tennyson, came out and was sneered at by all
of the major critics, "the cloud of depression settled on him once more."64
About this time, Tennyson even ended a congratulation to his Aunt Russell
on the birth of a grandson with these words: "I hope for his own peace of
mind he will have as little of the Tennyson about him as possible."65
But these relatively minor lapses into gloom were trivial compared to the
generally buoyant mood maintained during his Cambridge years.
Hallam's influence on Tennyson was so great partially because their
temperaments were both marked by similar idealism. "It is simple truth,"
wrote Gladstone, "that Arthur Henry Hallam was a spirit so exceptional
that everything with which he was brought into relation during his shor-
tened passage through this world, came to be, through this contact,
glorified by a touch of the ideal."66 For Tennyson, the ideal meant a
better world. For Hallam, it was something closer to the ideal which
Dante symbolized in Beatrice, an otherworldly love-object. Hallam's in-
fatuation with a series of girls, which eventually culminated in his en-
gagement to Emily Tennyson, indicates that, like Shelley, he tried to seek
in a mortal image the likeness of what is perhaps eternal. But the ideal-
63Tennyson, p. 117.
64Tennyson, p. 136.
6Tennyson, p. 136.
6Tennyson, p. 64.
ism of the two friends is basically much the same. Both saw the need
for themselves to keep an unobtainable objective in view because the ef-
fort to attain it enriched their lives and intensified their devotion to
learning and art. And Tennyson himself, by coming into contact with Hal-
lam, was glorified by a touch of the ideal--so much so that, because of
Hallam's enthusiastic puffing of Tennyson's poetry, in 1833 there was
actually a debate among students at the Cambridge Union on the question:
"Tennyson or Milton, which the greater poet?"67
It was to Hallam's influence that Tennyson probably owed his member-
ship in the Apostles. When Hallam was elected to the club on May 9, 1829,
it was only a week later, on May 16th, that Tennyson was voted membership.
Hallam had associated with various members of the club during his days at
Eton and no doubt made use of his friendships to get the poet into the
group. The influence the club had on Tennyson could be indicated by a
roll call of the members in 1829 alone. There was John Kemble, who be-
came one of the leading authorities in the nineteenth century on Old Eng-
lish literature. Richard Chenevix Trench became Dean of Westminster, was
later made Archbishop of Dublin, and led the Irish Church through the
crisis of its disestablishment. Richard Monckton Milnes was famous for a
generation as a London social figure and managed to find time to edit and
publish the first biography and collected edition of Keats. James Sped-
ding was to retire from the Colonial Office to devote himself to a bio-
graphy and critical edition of Francis Bacon. Edmund Lushington became
Professor of Greek at Glasgow. W. H. Thompson, just as much a scholar as
67Memoir, I, 91.
Lushington, became Master of Trinity College.68 These, the principal
members of the club, matched wits with Tennyson, listened to his poetry,
and were the first of his generation to proclaim him as a major poet.
They provided him with a sympathetic audience, nourished him with ideas,
and eliminated the narrow bookishness which had threatened to be a nearly
fatal consequence of his precocious and secluded years at the rectory.
The Apostles debated on politics, read Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley,
Butler, Hume, Bentham, Descartes, and Kant, and argued about such questions
as the origin of evil, the source of morality, and the personality of
God.69 The subject matter of many of the debates centered around the-
same questions as much of Tennyson's poetry. The minutes of one meeting,
for example, show the Apostles discussing and later voting on these ques-
tions: 'Is an intelligible First Cause deducible from the phenomena of
the Universe?" "Is there any rule of moral action beyond general expedi-
ency?"70 The first question, of course, deals with the riddle of the
earth, and the second with the possibility of an ideal influencing ethi-
cal action. Tennyson voted no to the first and aye to the second. But
the meetings were not the dull gatherings of young men trying to weary
themselves with unanswerable and somewhat pretentious questions that they
might at first seem to be. "Last Saturday we had an Apostolic dinner
when we had the honour, among other things of drinking your health,"
wrote one of the Apostles to Tennyson concerning a meeting the poet could not
68Tennyson, pp. 70-71.
69Memoir, I, 43-44.
70Memoir, I, 44.
attend. "Edmund Lushington and I went away tolerably early; but most of
them stayed till past two. John Heath volunteered a song; Kemble got
into a passion about nothing but quickly jumped on again; Blakesley was
afraid the Proctor might come in; and Thompson poured large quantities
of salt upon Douglas Heath's head because he talked nonsense."71
Hallam was one of the more enthusiastic members of the Apostles,
and his most significant writing, the essay "Theodicaea Novissima," was
composed to be read at a meeting of the club. In the essay, he treated a
characteristic Apostolic subject: the existence of moral evil in the
world. His answer was derived from the same belief in omnipotent love
that was fundamental to most of Tennyson's speculation.72 Hallam was
usually to be found in some other club member's room discussing and
propounding similar beliefs. "Arthur Hallam could take in the most ab-
struse ideas with the utmost rapidity and insight, and had a marvellous
power of work and thought, and a wide range of knowledge," said Tennyson.
"On one occasion, I remember, he mastered a difficult book of Descartes
at a single sitting."73 The breadth of Hallam's interest and ambitions
during his membership in the Apostles is evident in a project he was in-
spired to undertake while under the influence of the club. With one or
two of his scholarly friends, he began a translation of Dante's Vita
Nuova with notes and prefaces.74 Such enterprises as this, combined with
71Mcmoir, I, 44.
Tennyson, p. 82.
73Memoir, I, 45.
74lMemoir, I, 44-45.
his overwhelming brilliance, soon made Hallam one of the central figures
in the group.
Tennyson, in contrast to his friend, was one of the most outwardly
unenthusiastic members of the Apostles. He got off to an awkward start
in the club, being elected too late in the summer term of 1829 to attend
more than a few meetings. And soon after the autumn term began, he was
fined five shillings for missing meetings.75 According to the rules, he
was expected to read an essay at one of the gatherings, but when his turn
came, even though he had a paper on "Ghosts" written, he could not be
brought to read it. This was a breach of the club rules and Tennyson
had to resign his membership.76 He was not really dismissed from the
club, however, and was allowed to attend the meetings as a noncontributor
to the essay sessions. Douglas Heath, one of the Apostles, wrote that he
remembered Tennyson at the meetings,"sitting in front of the fire, smok-
ing and meditating, and now and then mingling in the conversation. I
cannot satisfy myself as to the time when I became an Apostle, or when I
made acquaintance with A. T. My belief is that he had already become an
honorary member extraordinary.77 Tennyson was known for his ability to
listen calmly to a discussion and suddenly contribute a word or an obser-
vation that changed the whole course of the dialogue. One night, for ex-
ample, he broke in with a theory that the "development of the human body
75Tennyson, p. 83.
7Tennyson, p. 83.
77Memoir, I, 43.
might possibly be traced from the radiated, vermicular, molluscous, and
vertebrate organisms."78 Although Coleridge and others had propounded
similar theories, Tennyson was nevertheless making the point over thirty
years before Darwin's Descent of Man.
Although Tennyson was hesitant about reading essays to the Apostles,
he did not show a similar shyness about his poetry, which the club members
received with enthusiasm. The extent of their enthusiasm can be seen in
some of the letters they wrote in 1832. Charles Merivale wrote to Thomp-
son that "The Palace of Art" was read to each man as soon as he came back
from vacation. "Though the least eminent of the Tennysonian Rhapsodists,"
he adds, "I have converted by my readings both my brother and your friend
(or enemy?) Richardson to faith in the 'Lotos-eaters.' They rather scoff
at the former (the 'Palace of Art'), and ask whether 'The abysmal depths
of personality' means the Times newspaper?"79 In another letter written
to Thompson, Spedding wrote: "We talk out of the 'Palace of Art,' and the
'Legend of Fair Women.' The great Alfred is here (in London), i.e. in
Southampton Row, smoking all the day, and we went from this house on a
pilgrimage to see him. . ." On July 18, 1832, Spedding wrote again:
"I say, a new volume by A.T. is in preparation, and will, I suppose, be
out in Autumn. In the meantime I have no copy of the 'Palace of Art,'
but shall be happy to repeat it to you when you come; no copy of the
Memoir, I, 44.
80Memoir, I, 86.
'Legend of Fair Women,' but can repeat about a dozen stanzas which are of
the finest . ."81 As in his family situation, Tennyson found poetry
to be a way of asserting himself at Cambridge; and through it he gained
the recognition and respect of his peers. Almost every new poem he wrote
was circulated among the Apostles and eagerly discussed. His sensitivity,
however, made him especially disdainful of criticism. Despite the prin-
ciple of free speech upon which the society was founded, he would permit
disapproval to be expressed only by silence.82
In the summer of 1830, Tennyson collected some of the poems he had
written for the enjoyment of the Apostles and published them in the volume,
Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. These poems show a continuation of the themes
treated in his juvenile poetry, but with an increased mastery of metrics
and sophistication of phrase. The choice of metaphysical subjects in such
pieces as "The Mystic," and "A Spirit Haunts the Year's Last Hours," is
in a measure due to the influence of the Apostles, but from the earlier
poetry it is clear that the concern about such subject matter was a part
of Tennyson's thinking from his boyhood onward. What differs is that
there is a feeling of immediacy in the poems, a feeling that the questions
under discussion are of immediate and profound significance to the poet as
he wrote about them. In the earlier verse, such as "The Coach of Death,"
the prospect of death does not seem to be directly confronting the poet.
But in many of the poems in the 1830 volumes, Tennyson was writing about
81Memoir, I, 86-87.
82Tennyson, p. 85.
death and madness as distinct possibilities in the present. That curious
poem, "The Supposed Confessions of a Second-rate Sensitive Mind Not in
Unity with Itself" is an example.
"The Supposed Confessions" shows, as no other Cambridge poem does,
the conflict Tennyson passed through in trying to reconcile the riddle of
the painful earth to his idealism. In the poem, Tennyson presents a per-
sona who is anguishing over his painful condition in the world, certain
of nothing, but finding comfort through persisting in his questioning.
Although by no means a polished example of Tennyson's verse, "The Supposed
Confessions" treats most of the elements in Tennyson's thinking during his
college years and serves as a prototype for many later first-person poems
in which personal conflicts are set forth through the guise of a persona.
Like Tennyson himself during his Cambridge days, the persona is
despondent, torn by a fear of having betrayed his mother, thrown into in-
tense anguish by his persistent religious doubt, but too honest to enfold
himself in the religious tradition of his class. His predicament is one
which Tennyson saw for every man, a predicament in which a man feels him-
self bound up in a particular time and place, having at the same time as-
pirations and hopes about a more ideal condition and way of living, but
suffering intense guilt because of a belief that somehow, somewhere, there
has been a personal failure. In the midst of such conflict, the only
certainty that appears is the reality of the riddle. To Tennyson, there
seemed to be only one path a man could follow, and that was the path of
the riddle, for only out of questioning and doubt can movement toward the
far-off goal of an ideal society come about. Underneath this hope is the
conviction that human destiny, so far as the poet can see, is to question
with no certainty of ever finding an answer. This destiny is what makes
the hope involved in the search less than an immediate comfort; for man,
if he is to lift himself out of his present condition, must face the
riddle or he cannot make the earth any less painful. If he were to throw
himself into the everyday pursuit of property, money, and position, he
could easily lose himself in the immediacy of things and thus take his
mind off his anguish. But,according to Tennyson, the authentic man does
not do this; he faces the riddle and all of its pain. And this is why,
in faltering moments, he cries out with the young man in "The Supposed
0 weary life! 0 weary death'
0 spirit and heart made desolate'. 83
0 damned vacillating state' I, 18
This cry appears in poem after poem as an echo of the search for the
answer to the riddle and as a counter theme to the optimism associated
with Tennyson's idealism.
The direct confrontation of the riddle and the ideal as it appears
in "The Supposed Confessions" changed little in basic outline in later
poems. In other pieces such as "St. Simeon Stylites," "Locksley Hall,"
"In Memoriam," Maud, Enoch Arden, "Aylmer's Field," "The Voyage,"
"Lucretius," The Idylls of the King, "Despair," "The Wreck," and Locksley
Hall Sixty Years After, the pattern is that of present agony, an awareness
83Volume and page numbers, unless otherwise specified, refer to
Alfred Tennyson, The Works of Tennyson, annot. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ed.
Hallam Tennyson, Eversley Edition, 9 vols. (London, 1908). Most Tennyson
scholars accept this edition as standard.
of what might have been, and an overall sense of guilt. What did change,
however, is the finesse with which Tennyson handled the basic situation.
In "The Supposed Confessions," the technique is quite straightforward
and simple. Little attempt was made to separate the persona from Tenny-
son himself, and except for the statement that the mother is dead, there
is no difference between Tennyson's own condition when he wrote the poem
and that of the persona. In later poems, the point of view is most often
third person, thus giving the conflict stature as a universal human pheno-
menon: it becomes the human condition rather than Tennyson's personal
problem. Another later development, notably in The Idylls, is another
level of conflict in the juxtaposition of characters who are engaged in
different interpretations of the search.
The major difference, then, between Tennyson's juvenile poems and
the poems he wrote at Cambridge was his realization that he was becoming
involved in the search to answer the riddle and that the conclusions he
came to in his poetry were to have a direct influence on whether or not
he and his fellows were going to become better men and whether or not
human conditions were to be improved. Just as the persona in the "Sup-
posed Confessions" has to wriggle out of his personal dilemma and face
the riddle and the future beyond, so Tennyson felt he had to overcome the
depression brought on by the eccentricities of his family and face his
future as a poet. He realized that it was time for him to "look into the
laws/Of life and death" (I, 18) and analyze and compare until understand-
Tennyson's increasing sense of involvement can be seen perhaps no
better than in "The Palace of Art," one of the most important poems to
appear in the 1832 volume, for it is the first poem in which the phrase
"riddle of the painful earth" appeared. The phrase occurs in a stanza
which is at once the link and transition between a description of the
soul's blissful isolation and the subsequent description of the moral
deterioration resulting from an attempt to live entirely in a world of
art. Several things should be noticed about the function of the riddle.
It is first presented as a thought which cannot be repressed and must be
dealt with. But when the soul finally realizes the sterility of her iso-
lation, the riddle causes her to be cast into the uneasiness, insecurity,
and confusion the Palace was built to avoid. The enigma of the riddle
persistently plagues the artist who tries to divorce his art from the
world he is placed in; and once it is faced and its pervasiveness realized,
it reveals the bare bones of art for art's sake.
The phrase had approximately the same function in Tennyson's life
as it does in the poem. Like the psyche figure in "The Palace of Art,"
Tennyson in his formative years at Cambridge and during his friendship
with Arthur Hallam showed signs of trying to make art a world unto itself
and to utilize it as a protection from the disturbing, distasteful, and
demoralizing problems presented to him by the real world. The reality
of this tendency was apparent to Tennyson's friends; and Richard Trench,
one of the Cambridge Apostles, was compelled to say to him: "Tennyson,
we cannot live in art.84
84Memoir, I, 118.
"The Palace of Art" was written in acknowledgment of Trench's warn-
ing, and the poem serves to symbolize Tennyson's own inner experience
through the representation of the isolated maiden as his soul. The deco-
rations of the Palace stand for the heritage of nineteenth century cul-
ture. Comfortable within this heritage, the self-embracing soul is able
to look down on the everyday struggle that has produced the culture.85
But when the riddle presents itself, this comfort becomes discomfort,
for the mind sensitive enough to beauty to construct the Palace cannot
avoid being sensitive to the painful world--a world that penetrates even
"The Palace of Art" thus serves to illustrate the importance of
the riddle of the painful earth as a shaping influence on both Tennyson's
life and on his work. It first occurred in a poem which is devoted to an
exposition of what the artist's relationship to the world should be. And
it occurred at a time when Tennyson was trying to determine what sort of
poetry he would devote himself to writing. Just as the riddle altered
the outlook of the psyche figure in the poem, so it altered Tennyson's
outlook: it initiated a change from calm, complacent enjoyment of the
fruits of culture, to a fierce, raging, desperate questioning of the sort
which produces and nurtures culture. Tennyson himself went through this
process while at Cambridge and accepted a role which had been latent ever
since his first poems, a role in which the poet becomes a sort of secret
agent carrying coded messages to his fellows from a nebulous source of
inspiration, the messages nearly always dealing with how men should live
85Lionel Stevenson, "The 'high-born maiden' Symbol in Tennyson,"
PMLA, LXIII (1948), 235.
and work to bring about the ideal society, and sometimes presenting a
visionary glimpse of the heavenly city itself.
Such an exalted view of the poetic function is quite directly
stated in the famous poem, "The Poet." The poem is about the legendary
"golden clime" in which poetry was first born, a time when the poet was
gifted with an inspiration which enabled him to see a special pattern in
the confusion of life and death, good and evil, and the human ego. This
pattern is "The marvel of the everlasting will,/An open scroll" (I, 58).
From his inspiration, the poet was able to fashion "winged shafts of
truth" (I, 59). The poet served as a catalyst; out of his truth came
more truth, and soon "the world/Like one great garden show'd" (I, 59).
Because of the poet's power, men were able to see the great design of the
universe, and the result was freedom and wisdom, a freedom and wisdom un-
stained with blood. In this poem, Tennyson not only maintained that poet-
ry sustains culture; he also maintained that poetry is the very source of
all social progress.
Tennyson saw the role of the poet as a mighty one, but at the same
time he realized that the poet's position in a culture is very precarious.
This is evident in the "The Poet's Mind," a companion poem to "The Poet."
For the poet to be effective as an agent for culture, his mind must not
be vexed by persons of shallow wit or else his source of inspiration will
be cut off:
Clear and bright it should be ever,
Flowing like a crystal river,
Bright as light, and clear as wind. (I, 61)
The metaphor of society as a garden,which appears in "The Poet," is
carried over into this poem with a good deal of amplification. The poet
is symbolized as "a purple mountain/Which stands in the distance yonder"
(I, 62). In the center of the garden is a fountain which "is ever drawn/
From the brain of the purple mountain" (I, 62). And the mountain itself
draws the water "from heaven above" (I, 62). But the beautiful garden
can be easily destroyed if those unsympathetic to poetry are allowed to
Dark-brow'd sophist, come not anear;
All the place is holy ground;
Hollow smile and frozen sneer
Come not here. . .
The flowers would faint at your cruel cheer. (I, 61)
For the garden, with all its magnificence, to be preserved, the sacred-
ness of its life-giver, the purple mountain with its spring, must be
honored. Sophistry, with its cruel comfort, can only destroy what the
poet has engendered and sustained, for the sophist's ear is dead to the
poet's "song of undying love" (1,62).
Through the metaphor of the garden as it is used in "The Poet"
and "The Poet's Mind," Tennyson explicitly put forth his conception of
the relationship between the poet and society, a conception that was again
stated at greater length in "The Palace of Art." The poet, according to
Tennyson, draws his power from heaven, transforms it in his poetry, and
energizes civilization. This was the sort of poet he tried to be. And
at the age of twenty-four, with two volumes of verse behind him, the sup-
port of a group of young men who were among the brightest in their genera-
tion (and later proved it), and secure in the friendship of Arthur Henry
Hallam, the way ahead looked clear.
PART TWO: THE GHOST OF ARTHUR HALLAM
One evening in mid-September of 1833, Mary and Matilda Tennyson
were walking along a country lane in front of the rectory at Somersby.
It was late twilight and the long shadows cast by the already vanished
sun were turning into indefinite patches of blackness. The girls were
talking idly, neither paying much attention to what was being said.
There was little excitement at the rectory. Alfred was spending much of
his time writing, his mother was brooding over the family's money worries,
and Emily was the quietest of all, for Arthur Hallam, her husband to be,
was in Italy with his father. Arthur had spent several weeks at the rec-
tory during the summer, weeks that were passed courting Emily, talking to
Alfred, and entertaining the fatherless and somewhat disrupted Tennyson
family. After he left at the end of July, the family tempo slowed and
the atmosphere seemed especially dull to Mary and Matilda. They both
missed the presence of Arthur and were looking forward to his return
when he would marry Emily and become more than just a guest at the rec-
tory. Because of the growing darkness, they stepped off the lane and
began walking toward the rectory. At once, almost as if in unison, they
both stopped and turned around; a tall figure, completely clothed in
white, was approaching. As the figure passed, the sisters recognized
the unmistakable gait and the head thrown back in contemplation; it
looked like Arthur Hallam. The girls were too surprised to move until
the ghostly form had passed; then they started running after it. But
as fast as they attempted to follow, they were unable to gain on.it. At
last the figure seemed to pass through the hedge at a spot the girls
could easily enough mark. But when they reached the point where the
figure disappeared, they found no break in the hedge. Matilda stared
at the ground for a moment, looked hesitatingly about, burst into tears,
and ran all the way back to the rectory.
Tennyson was unable to make anything of the incident until October
1. He knew that Matilda was an exceptionally imaginative girl and that
she could easily be led to mistake a bush or an animal for a ghost. But
it was strange that the usually more restrained Mary would also have seen
the white phenomenon. He wondered about their story for a few days and
then uneasily dismissed it. On the first day of October, Matilda stopped
at the postoffice while returning from her dancing lesson at Spilsby.
There was a letter for Alfred from Italy; she was glad to see it because
she knew it must carry news of Arthur. The handwriting was not his, but
she did not pay much attention to that. When she entered the rectory,
she found Alfred sitting at the table in the Gothic dining room. She
gave him the letter and then went upstairs to take off her hat. He
paused a moment before opening it, suspicious of the handwriting, then
quickly broke the seal. As soon as he had read the first two sentences
of the strange script, the tall white figure in the lane made sense. The
letter was from Arthur's uncle, Henry Elton, and began: "At the desire
of a most afflicted family, I write to you because they are unequal from
the grief into which they have fallen to do it themselves. Your friend,
ITennyson, pp. 144-145.
sir, and my much-loved nephew, Arthur Hallam, is no more." When he
finished the letter, Tennyson left the room. A few minutes later, he
asked that Emily be sent to him; she was the first he told of the news.
All the painfulness of human existence seemed to hit Tennyson at
once with Hallam's death. The sense of involvement in human affairs
which had developed during the Cambridge years and the immediacy of the
social and metaphysical problems treated in his college poetry were but
foreshadowings of the anguish into which Hallam's death threw him. The
problem of the relationship between the artist and society, the need for
a better community of men, and even the awful contrast between the earth's
beauty and the melancholy reaction of human beings to it, were paled by
the awful issues brought forth by the loss of Hallam. "Arthur seemed to
tread the earth as a spirit from some better world," wrote his father in
the introduction to Arthur's posthumous volume of essays and poems. And
Tennyson had to agree, asking himself from the first moment of comprehend-
ing the October 1 letter what kind of a world and what kind of a power
would permit such a youth as Arthur Hallam to die just as he was beginning
to fulfill his high promise. Hallam Tennyson wrote of his father that the
"overwhelming sorrow . for a while blotted out all joy from his life
and made him long for death, in spite of his feeling that he was in some
2Memoir, I, 105.
Tennyson, pp. 144-145.
Arthur Henry Hallam, Remains in Verse and Prose, ed. Henry Hallam
(Boston, 1863), p. 48.
measure a help and comfort to his sister."5 Again and again Tennyson
had to ask himself whether all of man's hopes are to end as those of
Arthur Hallam, cut off in the prime of health by a force so sinister
that even the autopsy was somewhat uncertain. For the first time, Ten-
nyson began to feel crushed by the riddle of the painful earth. Perhaps
there was no answer. Perhaps all human effort is in vain. Perhaps Arthur
Hallam's life was no more than it suddenly appeared to be--just a momentary
eddy in the stream of time.
Hallam's death came at what would seem to be the worst possible
time for Tennyson. He had gotten his start as a poet with two volumes
of verse out by 1833. But his reputation was by no means established and
had actually deteriorated after the 1832 volume.
The 1830 poems had immediately received two short, but favorable,
reviews in the Spectator and the Atlas. It was also, of course, highly
acclaimed by Tennyson's fellow students at Cambridge. As the volume
became better known, other appreciative notices were given it. At the
end of February and the beginning of March, 1831, Leigh Hunt devoted four
issues of the Tattler to the poetry of Charles and Alfred, writing that he
had not "seen such poetical writing since the last volume of Mr. Keats."
One of the most perceptive reviews was by Sir John Bowring in the West-
minster Review of January, 1831. He recognized the strong note of social
idealism in Tennyson's poetry and urged him to consecrate his poetry to
5Memoir, I, 109.
Tennyson, p. 92.
7Tennyson, p. 114.
the improvement of his country and the world.8 But the most lavish praise
came from the pen of Arthur Hallam, who talked Edward Moxon, publisher of
the furtive Englishman's Magazine, into publishing an essay entitled "On
Some of the Characteristics of Modern Poetry and on the Lyrical Poems of
Alfred Tennyson." Unlike Bowring, Hallam emphasized Tennyson's devotion
to beauty for its own sake and compared some of the passages in the volume
to Milton and Aeschylus. Paradoxically Hallam's excessive praise, more
than the deficiencies in Tennyson's poetry, occasioned the only real at-
tack on the volume. In May, 1832, Professor John Wilson, who wrote under
the pen name of "Christopher North," blasted Tennyson in Blackwood's
Magazine, calling his poetry "a perfect specimen of the super-hyperbolical
ultra-extravagance of outrageous Cockney eulogistic foolishness."0 Hallam
calmed Tennyson's anger at the attack and told him that the review, even
if it was not encouraging, attracted attention to the poet. But Tennyson
lost some of his boyish certainty and labored hard at polishing the poems
which appeared in December, 1832.
The new volume fell from the press almost stillborn, even though it
was far superior to Poems, Chiefly Lyrical and contained some of Tennyson's
most famous pieces, such as "The Lotos Eaters," "The Palace of Art," and
"The Lady of Shalott." Almost all of the critics pronounced it inferior
to its predecessor, and despite a satirical epigram directed against
Tennyson, p. 114.
9Tennyson, p. 115.
10Tennyson, p. 120.
"fusty Christopher," Wilson refused even to acknowledge the volume in
Blackwood's. John Lockhart in the Quarterly Review made up for Wilson's
silence with a malicious attack; and two years after the volume came out,
a third of the copies remained unsold.11 Arthur Hallam was there to con-
sole his friend, however, and pointed out that Samuel Rogers had pro-
nounced Tennyson to be the most promising poet of the time, that the
Lockhart article kept Tennyson before the public, and that Cambridge was
still behind him.12 Although this comfort was slight, it enabled Tenny-
son to continue writing. But when Hallam died, the prop fell away, and
Tennyson began to think that his career as a poet was over.
At first unable to face the prospect of going on with his work,
Tennyson eventually found himself retiring to his study and expressing
his grief in verse. A few days after the burial of Arthur on January 3,
1834, Tennyson jotted down a few lines in his notebook, then paused to
read them over:
Where is the voice I loved? ah where
Is that dear hand that I would press?
Lo' the broad heavens cold and bare,
The stars that know not my distress.
The Vapour labours up the sky,
Uncertain forms are darkly moved'
Larger than human passes by
The shadow of the man I loved,
And clasps his hands, as one that prays.
The white figure in the rectory lane had come back to haunt Tennyson again--
Tennyson, p. 137.
12Tennyson, p. 141.
13Memoir, I, 107.
as it was to during the next seventeen years. The appearance of the
spectre offered assurance of Hallam's survival to Tennyson. At the same
time the awful indifference of "the broad heavens cold and bare" drove
the poet to the depths of pessimism. Again, even in the most depressing
personal loss he was to experience, Tennyson was caught in the conflict
between future hope and the coldness of present reality. Slowly, and
with doubts of his ability to go on, he turned to his poetry just as he
had turned to it as a child growing up in a neurotic family, and just
as he had turned to it as a shy country boy at Cambridge.
As he labored over his poetry in the years following the loss of
Hallam, Tennyson struggled to lay that white spectre in the lane to rest.
The ghost of Arthur Hallam was far more real to Tennyson than it was to
the two sisters who had actually seen it. They could perhaps accept it
as proof that their beloved Arthur still somehow survived. But for the
poet, the spectre became a symbol of his own unfulfilled and somewhat
nebulous hopes for the future and also seemed to represent his fear that
all human aspiration would eventually end in aimless and shadowy wander-
ing in obscure country paths. One of the first poems that he began when
he was able to start work again was "The Two Voices." This poem was
first titled "Thoughts of a Suicide," a title which reflects the depth
of Tennyson's depression at the time. In it, Tennyson dealt with his
grief and anxiety with an immediacy that does not appear in In Mneoriam.
While In Memoriam is a retrospective view, at least in the final form
Tennyson gave it, of the journey from despair to hope following Hallam's
death, "The Two Voices" is more of an on-the-spot treatment of what
Tennyson went through in 1833 and 1834.
Despite the title, there are actually three voices in "The Two
Voices"; and out of the dialogue between these voices develops a conflict
which was central to Tennyson's thought in this crucial period. The time-
honored interpretation of the voices has the first voice as the voice of
scepticism (that is the annotation given by Hallam Tennyson), the second
voice as the voice of faith, and the third voice as Tennyson himself.
The three voices are really different aspects of Tennyson's thinking as
he attempted to reconcile the scepticism which resulted from Hallam's
death to the hope and optimism that played such a heavy role in his pre-
vious years. Tennyson seems to have accepted, metaphorically at least,
the time-honored triune theory of personality with its idea of the self
caught between two contending forces. This theory appeared in the medieval
idea of man's existence being a middle ground between heaven and hell, and
in the more sentimental belief in a good angel and a bad angel for every
man. It also appeared much later in Freud's conception of the id, the
ego, and the superego. As in all of the theories, the effort in "The Two
Voices" is toward reconciliation of the forces, a reconciliation that
Tennyson also had to effect for himself. The poem thus parallels what
most likely took place within Tennyson's mind as he sought to build a
new life after 1833.
The overwhelming power of the grief Tennyson first felt upon read-
ing that brief letter on October 1 is indicated by the amount of space
given in the poem to the voice of despair and scepticism. "Thou art so
full of misery," asks the voice in its first utterance, "Were it better
not to be?" (I, 122). This appeal to suicide occurs in the opening
stanza of the poem and shows the immediacy of the temptation. The voice
does not receive a sympathetic response to its appeal, for the persona has
a lofty conception of the human form and refuses to "cast in endless shade/
What is so wonderfully made" (1, 122). But the voice takes up the argu-
ment and attempts to convince the persona that man may not be what he
thinks. The voice points out that as for being well made, the dragonfly
surpasses man both in beauty and efficiency. And even though the human
race does have the intelligence the lower forms lack, the scale of knowl-
edge is so infinite that man has not gained a real height, nor moved
closer to absolute knowledge in any substantial way. The persona is
forced to look at the insignificant time spanned by his own life and admit,
rather painfully, that his share of endless time is not of much signifi-
cance. Worst of all, the voice points out that there is little probabil-
ity that the persona, or any other man, will ever answer the riddle toward
which all of his intellectual effort has been directed:
Yet hadst thou, thro' enduring pain,
Link'd month to month with such a chain
Of knitted purport, all were vain.
Thou hadst not between death and birth
Dissolved the riddle of the earth.
So were thy labour little-worth. (I, 130)
The arguments of the voice are so potent and so biting that they indicate
the extreme anguish and despair Tennyson had to endure during the period
when he wrote the poem.
Tennyson, like the persona in the poem, did not give himself up to
the subtleties of the voice; but he passed through an excruciating ex-
perience in dealing with it. To yield to despair would have been to
disrupt the whole stream of his life, to cut himself off from his past,
and to abandon the goals around which that past was structured. The
struggle was between chaos and consistency, between insanity and sanity.
Just as the persona in the poem begins to counter the suggestions of the
voice with opposing thoughts, so too must Tennyson have carried on the
battle against despair. The persona thus deadens the thought that the
dragonfly is more wonderfully made than man by asserting that man is the
highest work of creation. The fear that there may be higher created be-
ings in the universe is countered with the thought that there can be no
other planet exactly like the earth and no other being exactly like man.
Although he cannot say that mankind in general has moved much closer, if
at all, to absolute knowledge, he can cite the example of a man like
Stephen who, through tremendous effort, "Saw distant gates of Eden gleam"
and heard "The murmur of the fountain head" (I, 132). The thought that
his own lifetime is swallowed up in infinitude and that it, like his
father's life seemed to be, is a "life of nothings," is assuaged by the
conclusion that such a thought is "No certain clearness, but at best/A
vague suspicion of the breast" (I, 138). All of these arguments the
persona can handle without much trouble.
The real threat to the persona, as it was to Tennyson, is the re-
alization that progress in human knowledge seems at the moment impossible.
What good can come out of facing the riddle of the painful earth if no
answer of any kind will ever be found? The persona must admit:
I toil beneath the curse,
But, knowing not the universe,
I fear to slide from bad to worse.
And that in seeking to undo
One riddle, and to find the true,
I knit a hundred others new. (I, 133)
Out of the realization that the riddle will never be answered arises the
persona's greatest anguish, for he fears that all effort is useless and
wonders about the worth of going on. Why then, he asks, are men so un-
willing to die? If pain is such an awful reality, and perhaps the only
reality, as the voice maintains, why don't men seek the cessation of pain
in death? The answer which the persona gives is the turning point in the
poem, as it must have been in this period of Tennyson's life. He con-
cludes that no man has ever sincerely longed for death:
'T is life, whereof our nerves are scant,
0, life, not death, for which we pant;
More life, and fuller, that I want. (I, 141)
Men want a better life, a better society than they have at the present;
and the persona, as a representative man, is no exception. This repre-
sents a return to the dominant theme in Tennyson's life before Hallam's
death and is a reaffirmation of what the search to find an answer to the
riddle is all about. It is not merely a search to find an answer for the
sake of the answer itself. It is a search for a fuller life, a search
for a better way of living, and a search for a more ideal society. But
how is a man ever to move toward such a life since he toils "beneath the
curse" and the effort to answer the riddle seems hopeless? The answer is
given symbolically as the persona stands at his window on a Sabbath
The father, mother, and child the persona sees walking to church
are representative of the three aspects of himself; in the unity of the
family he sees the unity he must achieve if he is to move toward a fuller
life, to move, as the family does, "On to God's house" (I, 141). He
achieves this unity by listening to the second voice, the voice of hope
and faith, which gives him sufficient optimism to go on with his life.
The second voice balances the grim reality of the first voice with the
shadowy unreality of the poetic vision, assuring the persona that somehow
the voice can "see the end, and know the good" (I, 142) even though it
may not speak of what it knows. Just as the father, mother, and child
walk hand in hand, so the three aspects of the persona's personality--the
voice of tough-minded scepticism, the voice of hope and the poetic imagin-
ation, and the self--are reconciled. Out of this reconciliation can come
the concentration of energy necessary to move on toward God's house, on
toward the ideal society.
In "The Two Voices," Tennyson can be seen facing the most pressing
problems brought about by the loss of Hallam. Suicide, despair, and frag-
mentation of his life along with possible insanity were immediate threats
to the poet. Tennyson was able to pull himself together, much as the
persona does, and to look to the future again. But there were many other
temptations and difficulties he would have to overcome before the ghost
of Arthur Hallam could be laid to rest.
Tennyson was troubled by another temptation during the months and
years immediately after October 1, 1833, a temptation which was in many
ways almost as debilitating as the temptation to commit suicide. This
was the temptation to glory in his sense of loss and to set himself aside
as one who has suffered intensely, and who, because of his suffering, de-
serves some sort of saint-like award. Like the problem of suicide, this
problem is treated in a poem, "St. Simeon Stylites." St. Simeon was the
saint who sought to earn forgiveness for his sins and salvation for his
soul by spending over thirty years in penance on top of a series of pil-
lars. Fitzgerald noted that "St. Simeon" was "one of the poems A. T.
would read with grotesque Grimness, especially at such passages as
'Coughs, Aches, Stiches, etc.,' laughing aloud at times.'4 What Fitz-
gerald failed to note was the double ring in Tennyson's laughter--the
poet was laughing at the saint, but he was also laughing at himself, for
when he wrote the poem he was trying to overcome, through ridicule, the
temptation to achieve recognition by torturing himself over the loss of
Hallam. Tennyson saw at once the selfishness and the hypocrisy in such a
way of living and attacked it by satirizing St. Simeon, seemingly hoping
to give himself strength to begin once again working toward the goals he
had postulated as a youth.
Another poem which reveals the struggle Tennyson had with the im-
pulse to isolate himself from the world and to abandon the idealism of
his youth is "Locksley Hall." Although not published until the 1842
volume, the poem was most probably written in 1835.15 Ever since the poem
appeared, attempts have been made to find a love affair in Tennyson's life
1Alfred Tennyson, The Works of Tennyson (London, 1908), II, 304.
1Tennyson, p. 194.
to parallel that of the youth in the poem. All such attempts have been
unsuccessful, primarily because the situation of lost love and disillu-
sionment is only roughly analagous to Tennyson's own situation in the
years after 1833. The hero of the poem may actually have been patterned
after Tennyson's brother, Frederick, who did have a love affair with a
girl who bore some resemblance to the Amy of the poem.6 But the problem
of isolation and despair that the hero of the poem faces is symbolical of
the same problem that Tennyson had to deal with. Like the youth in
"Locksley Hall," Tennyson had lost a love in Hallam which had occupied a
central position in his life and had sustained his vision of the future.
What was he to do? Was he to step out of the stream of progress and
spend his days feeling sorry for himself, or was he to plunge forward
once again? As in "The Two Voices" and "St. Simeon Stylites" the answer
was for going on.
"Locksley Hall" is a poem in which Tennyson sought to reassure him-
self of the validity of his goals through loud and direct affirmation of
the famous vision of "all the wonder that would be." This vision differs
considerably from the visions of such poems as "The Supposed Confessions,"
and "The Two Voices." In each of those poems, the vision is virtually un-
stated; it is a search for an answer to the riddle of the painful earth,
and all of the consequences involved in that search, highly personal, and
its outcome not very explicit. But the persona of "Locksley Hall" sees
not just a vague personal possibility, but a fairly definite hope for his
1Tennyson, p. 194.
race. His is a "Vision of the World" (II, 44), involving not himself alone
but, as he says, also "Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping
something new" (II, 44). With "Locksley Hall," it seems as if Tennyson
stopped seeing the search to answer the riddle as a pilgrimage by an iso-
lated artist through a wasteland but as a journey undertaken by a multi-
tude with the stakes being the improvement of the race and the creation
of an ideal society as well as the salvation of the individual. Even
though the great disappointment in his past made Tennyson doubt his ideal-
ism, in "Locksley Hall" the final verdict is in favor of the search as a
long-term proposition involving the corporate effort of many people.
"Yet I doubt not thro' the ages one increasing purpose runs," is the af-
firmation of the persona, "And the thoughts of men are widen'd with the
process of the suns" (II, 45). Tennyson once again was able to see a pur-
pose behind the frantic activity of mankind, and discerned progress in the
increasing complexity and breadth of human thought. He saw a steady
stream of men devoting themselves to the acquisition of knowledge, asking
the questions that have to be asked, and striving to build a better des-
tiny for man on earth.
Tennyson went beyond a mere mention of what this destiny would be
to make his highly acclaimed prophecy concerning "the Vision of the world."
This is really a vision of the ideal society and represents his most ex-
plicit statement of what would transpire if men aspired to the ideal by
first facing the riddle of the earth. The prophecy has three parts.
First, out of the widening knowledge of men shall come technological
achievements which will provide the vehicles for a greatly increased
world trade; this will result in a wider distribution of the world's
goods. Second, the expanded opportunities for trade will lead to greed;
and war, utilizing the new technology for weaponry, will result. Third,
the war will be resolved through a world federation of governments "And
the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law" (II, 45). Such
is the vision that Tennyson saw, and except for the bit about universal
law, history has followed the general pattern of his prediction.
The vision of "Locksley Hall" has been widely attacked for being
hopelessly optimistic and representative of the Victorian willingness to
ignore the baser aspects of human nature. But Tennyson did not put forth
the vision with the glibness of which he has often been accused. He re-
alized that the acceptance of the vision depended on the eye through which
it was viewed. He admitted that when he was in the depths of his depres-
sion, he had an
Eye, to which all order festers, all things here are out of joint:
Science moves, but slowly slowly, creeping on from point to point:
Slowly comes a hungry people, as a lion creeping nigher,
Glares at one that nods and winks behind a slowly-dying fire.
In such a depressed condition, all control seemed to be absent from the
world. The images of festered order and things out of joint are images
of pain and are effectively utilized to convey Tennyson's increased re-
alization, after Hallam's death, of what a painful planet the earth is.
Even science, which to Tennyson was one of the prime factors in building
an ideal society, seemed painfully slow. And civilization with its plod-
ding history and cons of agonizing advance could be portrayed by the des-
pairing poet in the symbol of a sleepy man nodding before a dying fire
while the forces of barbarism creep closer. Just as the young man in the
poem has to overcome his jaundiced eye, so too did Tennyson have to as-
cend out of his gloom before his idealism could be reasserted and expanded
into the grandiose vision of the future. Tennyson knew that most men did
not share his vision, even in what was supposed to be an age of optimism.
What he maintained in "Locksley Hall" was that if they could somehow get
the jaundice out of their eyes, they also would see what he saw. So it is
not really the vision which is excessively optimistic, but Tennyson's hope
that other men would somehow obtain the clear eyes of the poet.
The way in which the mortal jaundice can be cured is quite simple
in conception but not so simple in execution. The cure involves, as it is
outlined in "Locksley Hall," a sacrifice of the past and the present to
the future in the adoption of a style of life which is essentially Tenny-
son's own--the devotion of the self to the future improvement of society.
The persona of the poem finds the solution for his dilemma in following
the mighty wind of progress. He overcomes the temptation of the past by
realizing that Amy is lost to him forever. He overcomes the temptation
of the present, the temptation to escape to a tropical isle and live in
pagan idleness, by admitting that he is not "a beast with lower pleasures"
or a "beast with lower pains" (II, 48) but a human being, "the heir of all
the ages, in the foremost files of time" (II, 49), and must engage in the
search to which mankind is heir. And at last he commits himself whole-
heartedly to the future, proclaiming: "Not in vain the distance beacons.
Forward, forward let us range,/Let the great world spin for ever down the
ringing grooves of change" (II, 49). This is the way a man must live,
thought Tennyson; and until more men adopt such a way of living, the
vision would remain just a vision.
Tennyson's reassertion of his hope for the future is seen in many
of the minor poems written in the same years as "The Two Voices," "St.
Simeon," and "Locksley Hall." Such poems include "You Ask Me, Why, Tho'
Ill at Ease," "Of Old Sat Freedom on the Heights," "Love Thou Thy Land,
with Love Far-Brought," "The Golden Year," "L'Envoi," and "The Poet's
Song." The three patriotic poems, "You Ask Me, Why," "Of Old Sat Freedom,"
and "Love Thou Thy Land," reiterate Tennyson's belief in the present re-
ality and future possibility of social progress through the slow but per-
sistent growth of freedom in England. "The Golden Year" deals quite
directly with the poet's vision of social progress and the realist's con-
tention that all such progress seems illusory. In the poem. Leonard the
poet puts forth a vision of all things moving onward toward that pleasant
.. .wealth no more shall rest in mounded heaps,
But smit with freer light shall slowly melt
In many streams to fatten lower lands,
And light shall spread, and man be liker man
Thro' all the season of the golden year. (II, 23)
Leonard himself remarks that, as he ages, he wonders when and if the
golden year will ever come. James, the aged laborer, is unsympathetic
to Leonard's dream and remarks:
What stuff is this'.
Old writers push'd the happy season back,--
The more fools they,--we forward: dreamers both.
But while James is scornful of the poet's optimism, he is aware of another
sort of vision, the vision of the worker: "That unto him who works, and
feels he works,/ This same grand year is ever at the doors" (II, 25).
Again, in this poem, Tennyson tried to balance the impossibility of ever
solving the riddle or of bringing the golden year about with the necessity
and virtue of working on anyway. The power of the laborer's vision is
emphasized in the last stanza of the poem in which, just as James con-
cludes his pronouncement, blasting is heard in the slate quarry high above.
The point is clear: while the poet's idealism feeds on ink and paper, the
laborer's thrives on blasting powder; but their objective is nevertheless
the same--the golden year. In the "L'Envoi" section of "The Day-Dream,"
the slowness and invisibility of human progress, which James laments in
"The Golden Year," is tempered with the famous observation that "we are
Ancients of the earth,/And in the morning of the times" (II, 69). And in
"The Poet's Song," Tennyson re-emphasized the role of the poet taken by
Leonard in "The Golden Year." The poet's uniqueness, contended Tennyson,
resides in his prophetic power: "For he sings of what the world will be/
When the years have died away" (II, 140). Such is the sort of poet
Tennyson tried to be in these poems, and in most of the major ones that
Even though Tennyson continually returned to his idealism as he
worked on his poetry during the 1830's and 1840's and tried to fill what
he considered to be the poet's role and function, he had serious doubts
about whether he would ever be popular enough to make more than a minor
contribution to the establishment of the society which he envisioned. He
was discouraged by the severe critical attacks which were made on his 1830
and 1832 volumes, was continually plagued with the problem of how to earn
a living, and as a final humiliation, was refused the hand of the girl he
wanted to marry because her father thought that Tennyson's future as a
poet was without the sort of promise necessary to undertake the support
of a wife and family. These problems were not as psychologically central
to the poet as his disturbance over the death of Hallam, but until they
were at least partially resolved he could not turn his full attention to
the primary problem of that shadowy figure in white who ceaselessly
dogged his thinking and writing in the years leading up to 1850.
Without Hallam's support, Tennyson did not want to face the criti-
cal abuse he was certain he would receive if he chose to publish another
volume. Because of the virulence which resulted from Hallam's overly
lavish praise of Poems, Tennyson was shy about any sort of notice, both
good and bad. "John Heath writes me word that Mill is going to review me
in a new Magazine, to be called the London Review, and favourably," he
wrote in 1835 to James Spedding; "but it is the last thing I wish for,
and I would that you or some other who may be friends of Mill would hint
as much to him."17 He went on to write, and underlined the statement
for emphasis, that he did not "wish to be dragged forward again in any
shape before the reading public at present. . .18 He was even reluc-
tant to send an obscure poem to the annuals which were continually press-
ing him for contributions. When R. M. Milnes wrote in 1836 to tell
17Memoir I, 145.
Memoir, I, 145.
Memoir, I, 145.
Tennyson that Lord Northampton had half a promise from Milnes that Ten-
nyson would contribute a poem to a charity book being gotten up for the
impoverished family of a dead writer, the poet angered his friend with
the answer: "Three summers back, provoked by the incivility of editors,
I swore an oath that I would never again have to do with their vapid
books . .,,19 And then he added: "how should such a modest man as I
see my small name in collocation with the great ones of Southey, Words-
worth, R. M. M., etc., and not feel myself a barndoor fowl among pea-
cocks?"20 Tennyson was both afraid of the critics and skeptical of his
own ability; even with all of the pressure exerted by his friends to pub-
lish, it was 1842, and then haltingly and with many reservations, before
he could be brought to bring out another volume.
Tennyson's refusal to publish in the late 1830's and early 1840's,
while it relieved his anxiety about the threat of criticism, led to
another sort of anxiety which tended to cancel out whatever benefit he re-
ceived from avoiding public notice. This was the fear that in not publish-
ing he was trying to escape from the responsibility he felt as a poet and
that he was wasting his youth in idleness. As he did with most of his
fears, Tennyson externalized this one in a poem, "The Vision of Sin."
Along with "The Palace of Art," "The Two Voices," and "St. Simeon," "The
Vision" is said to be one of the four poems in which he tried to set out
a theory of life for himself.2 Like all of these poems, it deals with
9Memoir, I, 158.
20nemoir, I, 158.
21Tennyson, p. 194.
the role of the artist in society, but in this case with an artist who
gives himself up to license and pleasure and stifles his art in self-
seeking grossness. Tennyson's own note on the poem points out its most
important aspects as well as providing a good summary of its content:
"This describes the soul of a youth who has given himself up to pleasure
and Epicureanism. He at length is worn out and wrapt in the mists of
satiety. Afterwards he grows into a cynical old man afflicted with the
'curse of nature,' and joining in the Feast of Death. Then we see the
landscape which symbolizes God, Law and the future life."22 Throughout
the poem is a depressing mood of wasted talent and shattered idealism.
The title of the poem indicates that it utilizes a typical Tennysonian
device, the vision; but what is seen is not the positive possibility of
"Locksley Hall" but the negative possibility which awaits the poet who
turns away from his artistic responsibility. Part of the poem's night-
marish quality derives from the rapid transition from a description of
a young poet getting off his overburdened Pegasus to a subsequent des-
cription of him as an old man whose Pegasus has turned into a "brute"
(II, 126). The implication is that once the poet abandons his Pegasus
in youth and gives up the prospect of artistic accomplishment, it is but
a short step to old age and broken dreams. With old age comes pessimism;
and the pessimism of the decrepit poet is just the sort that would have
been most depressing to Tennyson when he wrote the poem, for the old man
has lost all hope of bringing about a better world. He mocks the dignity
22Alfred Tennyson, The Works of Tennyson, II (London, 1908), 354.
of humanity, the principle of order in the universe, friendship, virtue,
and religion, concluding with a scornful laugh at what all of these add
up to--the ideal society:
Drink to lofty hopes that cool--
Visions of a perfect State:
Drink we, last, the public fool,
Frantic love and frantic hate. (II, 131)
All social idealism, says the old man, is doomed to be lost amid the
scurrying love and hate of humanity. And Tennyson feared that in the
limbo he then occupied, a limbo in which he was caught between his pain-
ful love for Hallam and the biting hatred of the critics, he too might
turn into a cynical old man who would come to call his youthful hopes
"my mockeries of the world" (II, 133).
Tennyson could get out of this limbo in only one way, and his
friends knew it--he had to start publishing again. Friends like George
Venables, a lifelong intimate of Thackeray and a fellow Apostle, repeat-
edly urged Tennyson not to be careless of his possible fame and influ-
ence. Carlyle hoped to turn Tennyson's idle genius to better work than
poetry, encouraging him to devote his attention to prose, telling him
that he was "a life-guardsman spoilt by making poetry."24 But most of
Tennyson's associates had no intention of turning him away from his po-
etry. Their great fear was that his unwillingness to negotiate with a
printer was going to result in the loss of too many poems which he wrote
and then carelessly tossed aside or circulated haphazardly in manuscript.
23Memoir, I, 165.
24Memoir, I, 188.
Despite the personal appeals of such friends as Venables, Milnes, and
Fitzgerald, it was pressure from sympathetic readers in America that
finally brought Tennyson to publish. In 1838, Emerson urged C. C.
Little & Co. of Boston to reprint the 1830 and 1832 volumes. Tennyson
received a letter from the company in May of that year proposing the
project; but, probably because of his protestations, the reprint did not
appear. The enthusiasm for Tennyson's work did not die out in America,
however, and in early 1841 he received another letter which threatened
that if he would not publish in England, Little & Brown, the successors
of C. C. Little & Co., would do it for him.26 Tennyson finally capitu-
lated under such pressure and agreed to publish corrected versions of
the best poems in his earlier volumes and certain new poems. These were
to be brought out in England with copies to be sent to an American pub-
lisher. Even with such promises made, in the end Fitzgerald had to carry
him off with violence to complete the final arrangements in the offices
of Moxon, the printer.27
Although the sale of the eight-hundred copies published in the
twin volumes of 1842 was slow (by September, four months after publica-
tion, only five-hundred of the eight-hundred copies were sold),28 Tenny-
son was once more before the public and his reputation could undergo
fresh development. Many of the reviewers were hostile, but in a stodgy
25Tennyson, p. 179.
26Tennyson, p. 188.
27Tennyson, p. 191.
28Tennyson, p. 196.
way that did not have much influence with the new generation of writers
and critics then coming into power. Such critics as H. F. Chorley in
The Atheneum and William Jerdan in the Literary Gazette mouthed all the
hackneyed cliches picked up from Christopher North about Tennyson's
feeble thought and his flowery affectation.29 But the most perceptive
and generally most influential article was the long and sympathetic es-
say written by James Spedding for the Edinburgh Review. Spedding em-
phasized the improvements Tennyson made in his old poems and pointed out
the mystical appeal Tennyson's poetry holds for the heart of his reader.
Spedding also was aware of Tennyson's social interest and wrote of Tenny-
son's art "having its root deep in the pensive heart, a heart accustomed
to meditate earnestly and feed truly upon the prime duties and interests
of man."30 Even more important was the reception the 1842 volumes re-
ceived from other writers of Tennyson's generation. The book reached
Ruskin, Rossetti, Arnold and others. It made Carlyle a devoted reader
of Tennyson's poetry. And Dickens, himself in the first flush of success,
sent a copy of his novels to Tennyson.31 After ten years of silence,
Tennyson had once more found his voice; and to his surprise, he had also
found some listeners.
The 1842 volumes were successful in every area except that vital
one of money. Immediately after publication and for a few years beyond,
Tennyson did not find himself much better off financially than he was
29Tennyson, p. 196.
30Tennyson, p. 196.
31Tennyson, p. 197.
before; and his condition had been desperate enough then. It was 1840
before all of the legal complications which had stemmed from the death
of old Dr. Tennyson could be straightened out. Tennyson possessed, after
disposing of some land left him and adding the proceeds to a legacy of
five-hundred pounds, total assets of three-thousand pounds. He quickly
disposed of this amount in a scheme which was almost as bizarre as his
expedition to Spain.
In July, 1840, Tennyson made what was to prove ultimately a dis-
astrous acquaintance while on a tour through a madhouse. Dr. Matthew
Allen, the proprietor of the asylum at Fairmead, was introduced to Tenny-
son and then, in turn, introduced Tennyson to a patented process for carv-
ing wood by machinery. It was just the sort of thing to appeal to the
poet. The process, if perfected, would enable all Englishmen to have the
beauty of hand-carved furniture in their homes at a factory-carved price.
This represented both a chance to help improve the cultural level of the
people and a chance for Tennyson to make some money; and he went for it
almost at once. He rounded up his slight fortune and turned it over to
Allen, assured that within twelve months his three-thousand would be worth
ten-thousand and that within five years he would have a yearly income at
least that large.32 But in 1841, the agent who was to have bought the
patent for the investors absconded with the money entrusted to him.
When it became plain in 1842 that the project had failed and that
his fortune was gone, Tennyson lapsed into such a mood of depression that
32Tennyson, pp. 186-188.
for a time his friends doubted whether he would live.33 Tennyson him-
self wrote: "I have drunk one of those most bitter draughts out of the
cup of life, which go near to make men hate the world they move in."34
The effect of the disaster was to send him to a hydropathic hospital. On
the way, he stopped to see Fitzgerald,who wrote that "He looked and said
he was ill: I have never seen him so hopeless. . He would scarcely
see any of us and went away suddenly."35 While in the hospital, Tenny-
son wrote to Fitzgerald about the terrible depression he had passed through
after the fiasco with Allen. "The perpetual panic and horror of the last
two years," Tennyson wrote, "had steeped my nerves in poison: now I am
left a beggar, but I am somewhat better off in nerves. . They were so
bad six weeks ago that I could not have written this, and to have to write
a letter on that accursed business threw me into a kind of convulsion. I
went through Hell."36 He began to doubt whether he would ever be able to
support himself in England and started to think about moving to Italy,
where he was certain he could get along on much less.37
With his future once again threatened, despite the growing popu-
larity of the 1842 volumes, Tennyson's friends took it upon themselves
to make certain that he stayed in England and that he began his next
"Memoir, I, 221.
34Memoir, I, 221.
35Tennyson, p. 201.
36Tennson, p. 201.
3Tennyson, p. 201.
Tennyson, p. 201.
volume. Fitzgerald, Carlyle, and others began puffing the idea of a
Civil List pension for Tennyson, the very idea of which was at first
offensive to the poet. Carlyle was one of the strongest advocates and
managed to buttonhole Richard Monckton Milnes, who was then a member of
Parliament, about the matter. When Milnes protested that his constituents
would think that Tennyson was a poor relation of some sort and that the
whole thing would look like a put-up job, Carlyle replied: "Richard
Milnes, on the day of judgment, when the Lord asks you why you didn't get
that pension for Alfred Tennyson, it will not do to lay the blame on your
constituents; it is you that will be damned."38 The most effective sup-
port, however, came from Henry Hallam and Gladstone, who both wrote to
Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister, urging him to recognize Tennyson.
The old poet, Samuel Rogers, lent his backing, and Peel was warm to the
suggestion. The Prime Minister protested that he could not make a Civil
List grant because all of the money for the year had already been com-
mitted. But he could make a relief grant of two hundred pounds from
another fund, if this would be acceptable to the poet and his backers.39
Tennyson at first refused, but at last, after talking it over time after
time, accepted. A few days later he received a letter from Peel which
began: "I rejoice that you have enabled me to fulfillthe intentions of
Parliament by advising the Crown to confer a mark of Royal Favour on one
38Hallam Tennyson, Materials for a Life of A. T. Collected for My
Children (printed but not published, London, 1895[?]), I, 298. Hereafter
cited as Materials.
39Tennyson, p. 206.
Tennyson, p. 206.
who has devoted to worthy purposes great intellectual powers.40 Tenny-
son did not feel entirely right about the pension even after he had ac-
cepted it, and spent some anguished moments writing half-apologetic letters
to people he thought might be a little suspicious of his action. In a
letter to the Rev. H. Rawnsley dated 1845, for example, he wrote: "I
have done nothing slavish to get it: I never even solicited for it
either by myself or thro' others. . And Peel tells me "I need not by
it be fettered in the public expression of any opinion I choose to take
up."41 But as soon as the second thoughts wore away, he was able to
stop brooding over the wood-carving disaster and get back to work.
The pension, though it solved Tennyson's personal needs at the time
was not enough to enable him formally to take up a matter which had suf-
fered from his impecuniousness as much as his poetry had--the courtship
of Emily Sellwood. Tennyson had met Emily in 1830, when she was seven-
teen, and was struck at once with the strange, unearthly quality of her
beauty. In that first encounter, Emily and Arthur Hallam, while walking
in the forest near Somersby Rectory, met Tennyson at a turn in the path;
the poet stopped, stared at the girl for a moment, and quite spontaneously
asked: "Are you a Dryad or an Oread wandering here?"42 Apparently in
love as well as in government, Tennyson longed for something better than
reality; and Emily always seemed to him more like a creature from elf-
40Materials, I, 297.
4Materials, I, 299.
42lemoir, I, 148.
land than from merry middle earth. He was not at an age nor in a posi-
tion to think of doing anything more about Emily's beauty than to wonder
at it in 1830. But in 1836, when he took her into the church as a brides-
maid at the wedding of his brother Charles and her sister Louisa, he sud-
denly decided that he was ready to make a bride out of the bridesmaid, a
decision he memorialized in these lines:
0 happy bridesmaid, make a happy bride'
For all at once a pleasant truth I learned,
For, while the tender service made thee weep,
I loved thee for the tear thou couldst not hide,
And prest thy hand, and knew the press returned,
And thought, 'My life is sick of single sleep:
0 happy bridesmaid, make a happy bride!' (I, 113)
Their engagement followed and they looked forward to marrying as soon as
Tennyson's financial condition would permit. A few years passed without
any improvement in the poet's resources; and because of his unwillingness
to publish, there seemed little hope that they ever would. At last, in
1840, Emily's father felt compelled to call off the engagement and forbade
all correspondence between the two.4
The broken engagement became another source of intense anxiety for
Tennyson, an anxiety which was amplified by the place Emily had come to
occupy in his life during the betrothal period. Tennyson had made her,
in a much more tender and less bantering way, assume the same role as
Hallam had earlier. He sounded his new ideas with her and sought from
her the unquestioning and loyal praise that he thought he could never
expect from the critics. His letters to her during the 1836-1840 period
43Memoir, I, 176.
reflect how much of a sounding board she had become to him. In the
letters he discussed Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, travel, religion,
death, space and time, mystic communion with nature, and, of course, the
weather. Through all of the correspondence, in one way or another, runs
the recurring themes of his poetry and his life, his sense of wonder at
the mystery and riddle of the earth and his allegiance to the future with
the prospect of improvement it holds. In one of the letters he gave a
wide-eyed account of a huge fireball which raced up the valley and
seemed to explode over the Tennyson's pond in the midst of a thunderstorm.
In another letter he asked Emily a question which was bound up in the knot
of questions implied in his riddle of the painful earth: "Why has God
created souls knowing they would sin and suffer?"44 "Annihilate within
yourself these two dreams of Space and Time," he wrote in the philosophi-
cal tone many of his letters took on. "To me often the far-off world
seems nearer than the present, for in the present is always something
unreal and indistinct, but the other seems a good solid planet, rolling
round its green hills and paradises to the harmony of more steadfast
laws.45 He went on to emphasize the pervasiveness of his dream for a
better world by explaining how his idealism remained, despite the threat
inherent in the apparent realities of the present world and its gruesome
riddle: "There steam up from about me mists of weakness, or sin, or
despondency, and roll between me and the far planet, but it is there
44Memoir, I, 170.
45Memoir, I, 171-172.
still."46 And in yet another assertion of his personality he states:
"The far future has been my world always." At a time when his poetry
was not being placed before the public and when he desperately needed
the devoted ear which Hallam had provided, Emily was there to listen and
to advise--but mostly listen. When this outlet was cut off by the ac-
tion of Mr. Sellwood, Tennyson was afflicted with a despondency almost
as great as when Hallam died.
The breaking off of the engagement, more than the loss of his for-
tune a few years later, seems to have been the real start of the over-
whelming black-bloodedness on the part of the poet which so many of his
contemporaries noticed in the 1840's. Shortly after Tennyson was forced
to stop writing to Emily, he was reported by Fitzgerald to have been
"really ill in a nervous way, what with an hereditary tenderness of nerve
and having spoiled what strength he had by excessive smoking . poor
fellow, he is quite magnanimous and noble natured, with no meanness or
vanity or affectation whatever, but very perverse, according to the na-
ture of his illness."48 He began, for the first time, seriously to lose
confidence in himself as a poet. Even though R. H. Horne in his New
Spirit of the Age (1844) stated that Tennyson's position as a major poet
of the century was firmly established, Tennyson himself thought other-
wise, sincerely feeling that his friend, Coventry Patmore, would surpass
Memoir, I, 172.
4Memoir, I, 168.
48Tennyson, p. 184.
him. He often talked with desperate frankness about his verse.
Aubrey de Vere reported that the poet would decry "the foolish facility
of Tennysonian verse," maintaining that he would trade every word he had
written for Suckling's reputation.50 All this led his friends to doubt
whether he had either the physical or mental health to continue the rigor-
ous application for him--never a facile versifier--to write poetry. And
it was such concern, of course, that prompted them to secure him a pen-
Although the pension proved to be a great relief to Tennyson, he
still was unable to marry. This fact, along with his lifelong moodiness,
did not permit the buoyant recovery Fitzgerald and others had hoped the
pension would bring about. When Milnes proposed to introduce him to the
Duke of Wellington in 1846 at Bath House, Tennyson refused, remarking
darkly: "Why should the great Duke be bothered with a poor poet like
me?"51 The friendship Tennyson struck up with Patmore at this time of-
fered some relief, but the younger poet, to maintain the friendship, had
to adapt himself to moods of black depression and much wandering about
the streets at night.52 Sir Charles Tennyson wrote that "During these
walks, or while the friends sat over a simple meal in some suburban
tavern, Tennyson often sank into a gloomy reverie, which would fall upon
him and put a stop to all conversation. His dark eyes would suddenly set
49Tennyson, p. 201
5Tennvson, p. 204.
51Tcnnvson, p. 212.
52Tennyson, p. 214.
like those of a man who sees a vision and no further sound would pass
from his lips, perhaps for an hour."53 Tennyson also began to fear that
he was growing old and became very sensitive to remarks about his chang-
ing appearance. Jane Brookfield, wife of W. H. Brookfield of the Apos-
tles, told an anecdote about Tennyson's reaction to a remark by Moxon
that Tennyson would soon be as bald as Spedding. Tennyson brooded over
the comment, which was made on a Switzerland tour in 1846, until he re-
turned to England. He then put himself under the care of a Mrs. Porter,
who rubbed his head and pulled out dead hairs at an hourly rate.54
Only marriage seemed to promise relief for him; and in 1846 such relief
appeared to be many years off.
Tennyson's concern about his own marriage led him, quite apparent-
ly, to think about the place of marriage in society and of what the ideal
relationship should be between men and women. Out of such thinking came
his first long poem, The Princess. While the poem was being written,
Tennyson said that the two great social questions then facing England
were the plight of the poor man and the higher education of women. Be-
fore the second question could be resolved, he thought that women had to
learn that "woman is not undevelopt man, but diverse."5 Hallam Tennyson
stated that his father believed that the sooner women realize this, "the
better it will be for the progress of the world."56 What the relationship
53Tennyson, p. 214.
5Tennyson, p. 215.
55Memoir I, 249.
5Memoir, I, 249.
56Memoir 1, 249.
should be between man and woman if society is to improve is summed up in
the famous lines about the diverse equality of the sexes:
[Let] this proud watchword rest
Of equal; seeing either sex alone
Is half itself, and in true marriage lies
Nor equal, nor unequal: each fulfills
Defect in each, and always thought in thought,
Purpose in purpose, will in will, they grow,
The single pure and perfect animal,
The two-cell'd heart beating, with one full stroke,
Life. (IV, 136)
Only when woman assumes her place beside man and strives to excel in the
abilities peculiar to her sex will she further human progress, thought
Tennyson. On the other hand, man must fulfill his responsibility in
equal fashion by loving only one maiden and loving her truly. Tennyson
saw the sexual relationship, as expressed through marriage, to be central
to human development and the continuance of culture. From the right sort
of marriage will come, thought Tennyson, high thought, courtliness, love
of truth, and, eventually, "the crowing race of humankind" (IV, 135). And
that was the kind of marriage he hoped to have with Emily Sellwood--if
the engagement could ever be renewed.
Appropriately enough, the publication of The Princess and its
success contributed a great deal to the materialization of Tennyson's
marriage. The first edition, which was published in November, 1847,
consisted of two thousand copies, all of which were sold in the next year.
Less than twelve months after the first date of publication, a second
edition was issued.7 As the poem began to gain public favor, Tennyson
57Tennyson, p. 224.
found himself suddenly besieged with more dinner engagements than he
could handle. In the midst of his new-found fame he was forced to admit
to Fitzgerald that he had been "be-dined usque ad nauseum."58 A third
edition of the poem was needed by the final months of 1849 and he further
increased its popularity by the addition of the inter-sectional lyrics.59
With the publication of the third edition in February, 1850, Tennyson's
income rose to about five-hundred pounds a year. He also had in rough
form the poems which later made up In Memoriam and was offered tnree-
hundred pounds in advance for them by Moxon.60 His financial condition
had improved so much that he felt at last he could seek to renew the en-
gagement with Emily. He met his brother Charles, who had married Louisa
Sellwood, in London during December, 1849, and it is likely that he asked
Charles to inform the Sellwoods that the once-penniless poet was now
flourishing.61 Tennyson's future father-in-law condescended to look with
greater favor on him; but it required more than The Princess to make Mr.
Sellwood completely accept Tennyson as a good enough man for Emily.
While The Princess brought Tennyson within reach of Emily again,
another poem, In Memoriam, clinched the engagement. When Mr. Sellwood
forced the two lovers to stop writing in 1839, he was suspicious of the
poet's shaggy locks, Bohemian style of living, and slightly ambiguous
58Tennyson, p. 224.
59Tnnyron, p. 234.
60Tennyson, p. 240.
UT nnyson, p. 240.