Alfred Lord Tennyson was a poet laureate of the United Kingdom during the reign of Queen Victoria and also one of the most known poets in English Literature. He continued and refined the traditions of Romantic Movement left to him by his predecessors, Wordsworth, Byron and Keats. His poetry was considered remarkable for its metrical variety, rich descriptive imagery and exquisite verbal melodies. His subject matter ranged from medieval legends to classical myths and from domestic situations to observations of nature. He had excelled the art of writing short lyrics which can be evident from his poems like, "In the valley of Cauteretz", "Break, Break, Break", "The Charge of the Light Brigade", "Tears, Idle Tears" and "Crossing the Bar". One of his noted works include “In Memoriam A.H.H.”, which he wrote to commemorate his best friend Arthur Hallam. His other significant works include “Idylls of the King”, “Ulysses”, and “Tithonus”. Also, many of his phrases have become commonplaces of English Literature today. Some of his most frequently used phrases include “Nature, red in tooth and claw”, “T’is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”, “Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers”, “The old order changeth, yielding place to new” and so on. After Shakespeare, Tennyson is the second most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
Alfred Lord Tennyson Childhood & Early Life
Alfred Lord Tennyson was born on August 6, 1809 in Somersby, Lincolnshire. His father, George Clayton Tennyson was a rector for Somersby and few other institutions. Tennyson belonged to a noble and royal ancestry. His father was a man of superior abilities and varied skills and had made significant contribution in the field of painting, architecture, music and poetry. Alfred Tennyson’s mother,Elizabeth Fytche was the daughter of Stephen Fytche who was the vicar of St. James Church, Louth (1764). The couple had twelve children and Alfred Tennyson was fourth amongst them. His father took significant attention and care of his children’s education and training. Alfred, along with his two brothers, Charles Tennyson Turner and Frederick Tennyson, was sent to Louth Grammar School in 1816. The threesome had started penning poems in their early teens, which resulted in the publication of a combined collection of the poems of the three brothers, when Alfred was only seventeen years old.
After attending Louth Grammar School for four years, Tennyson enrolled himself Scaitcliffe School, Englefield Green and King Edward VI Grammar School, Louth. In 1827, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge where he joined a secret society known as Cambridge Apostles. At the Cambridge only, Tennyson met Arthur Henry Hallam who became his best friend. The same year in 1827, his first poem collection, “Poems by Two Brothers” was published which had compositions from him and his elder brother Charles. His first composition, “Timbuctoo” brought him the Chancellor's Gold Medal at Cambridge in 1829. The following year, he published his first solo poem collection, “Poems Chiefly Lyrical”. This poem collection had the famous poems like “Claribel” and “Mariana” and became popular for its sentimental nature.
Returning to Lincolnshire
The year 1831 came with sudden turmoil in Tennyson’s life. His father died as a result of which Tennyson had to leave Cambridge mid-way, before taking his degree. After returning to the rectory, he stayed there for next six years to take care of his widowed mother and family. His best friend, Arthur Henry Hallam came to stay with him in summer where he met Alfred’s sister, Emilia Tennyson. The two fell in love and got engaged. The year 1833 was worse for Tennyson, for his second collection of poetry was heavily criticized. He decided not to publish any other poem for next ten years. The same year, Arthur Hallam suddenly died in Vienna due to cerebral haemorrhage. The sudden death of Arthur Hallam deeply affected Tennyson and influenced his poetry. It inspired him to write masterpieces like, “In the Valley of Cauteretz" and “In Memoriam A.H.H.” After staying in rectory for six years, Tennyson and his family moved to High Beach, Essex in 1837. He also invested in wood carving enterprise during this period, but met with huge losses. Consequently, he moved to London and resided in Chapel House, Twickenham.
Career and Later Life
While living in London, Tennyson published two volumes of “Poems”. While the first collection had the already published poems, the second collection comprised of entirely new poems. This poem collection included famous poems like, “Locksley Hall”, “Tithonus”, and “Ulysses”. 1850 came as the golden year for Tennyson. He was on the top of his literary career and finally published his dedication to Arthur Hallam, “In Memoriam A.H.H.”. The same year he was appointed as the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, succeeding William Wordsworth. He remained on the post of Laureate till his death in 1892. While on the post of Poet Laureate, Tennyson produced various appropriate verses which included, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington” and “Ode Sung at the Opening of the International Exhibition”.
Queen Victoria was a fervent admirer of Tennyson’s writings and made him the Baron Tennyson of Aldworth in the County of Sussex and of Freshwater in the Isle of Wight in 1884. He was offered baronetcy earlier as well, in the year 1865 and 1868, but on both occasion, he refused to accept the offer, finally accepting it in the year 1883, at Gladstone's earnest solicitation. He took his seat in the House of Lords on March 11, 1884. During the last years of his life, Tennyson wrote about his religious beliefs and revealed how he dared convention and also about his leaning towards agnosticism and pandeism. His few famous religious comments include, "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds” which he wrote in “In Memoriam” and "The churches have killed their Christ” which he wrote in “Maud”, 1855.
Alfred Tennyson married Emily Sellwood on June 13, 1850 in the village of Shiplake. Both knew each other since childhood days, but didn’t come close until Tennyson’s brother Charles married Emily’s younger sister, Louisa. The couple had two sons, Hallam Tennyson born in August 11, 1852 and Lionel born on March 16, 1854.
Tennyson continued to write till his last days. He died on October 6, 1892 at Aldworth. He was aged 83 and long-lived like most of his family members. He was buried at Westminster Abbey. Later, a memorial was erected for him in All Saints' Church, Freshwater.