Discover the poetic journey and cultural impact of Lord Alfred Tennyson, one of the Victorian era’s eminent poets. Explore his life, works, and enduring literary legacy.
Alfred Tennyson; (1809-1892), English poet, who was the most influential poet of the Victorian era. He served as poet laureate for 42 years and in that capacity was the poetic spokesman of the Queen and her subjects, who looked to him to give artistic expression to their moral and intellectual concerns.
Tennyson was born in Somersby, Lincolnshire, on Aug. 6, 1809, the third of 11 children. His father, a clergyman, was subject to manic depression, and the family’s life was frequently unhappy. The elder Tennyson was able, however, to undertake personally the education of his children, largely at home. Alfred began to write verse at an early age. His first published works appeared in the inaccurately titled Poems by Two Brothers (1827), which also included verse by his brothers Frederick and Charles.
In 1827, Tennyson matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge. There he met Arthur Hal-lam, who became his closest friend. Though morbidly shy, Tennyson was encouraged by Hallam to enter into the society of the university and was accepted into a literary club, “The Apostles,” whose members warmly praised his poetry. In 1829, Tennyson won the Chancellor’s Medal for his poem Timbuctoo and in the following year published his first volume, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. In 1831 his father died, and he was forced to leave Cambridge without a degree and return home to Somersby.
The next few years were difficult for Tennyson. His volume Poems, published in 1833, received unfavorable reviews. In the same year, Hallam, who had been engaged to Tennyson’s sister Emily, died suddenly, and his death proved a staggering blow to the poet. Although Tennyson continued to write, he practically ceased publication for almost 10 years. He reworked early poems and composed new ones, finally publishing the two-volume Poems in 1842. This collection, which included the Morte d’Arthur, later to be incorporated into Idylls of the King, and Ulysses, established Tennyson as the chief poet of his generation. His preeminence was confirmed in 1850 with the publication of In Memoriam, dedicated to Hallam’s memory. In the same year, Tennyson was named poet laureate.
Tennyson married Emily Sellwood, his love of many years, in 1850. He had met and fallen in love with her in 1836, but her father had forbidden a match at the time because of Tennyson’s financial insecurity. The couple settled in Farringford, a house in Freshwater on the Isle of Wight in 1853. His years there with his wife and two sons, Hallam and Lionel, were the happiest of Tennyson’s life. The family remained in Freshwater until 1869, when they moved to Aid-worth, a house built for them in Surrey.
Tennyson’s later years were uneventful but his creativity continued unabated. His great work of these years was the Idylls of the King (1859-1885). From the 1860’s he decided seriously to try his hand at poetic drama, but none of his plays became successful. In 1884, almost universally revered and admired, he accepted a peerage, becoming Baron Tennyson of Aldworth and Farringford—the first Englishman to be elevated to such high rank for literary distinction alone. Lord Tennyson died at Aldworth on Oct. 6, 1892, and was buried in the Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.