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Author! Author! at the R.F.Burton Library


Our August birthday boy is Alfred, Lord Tennyson, born August 6, 1809.

Alfred Tennyson was born
August 6th, 1809, at Somersby, Lincolnshire, fourth of twelve children of
George and Elizabeth (Fytche) Tennyson. The poet’s grandfather had violated
tradition by making his younger son, Charles, his heir, and arranging for the
poet’s father to enter the ministry. The contrast of his own family’s
relatively straitened circumstances to the great wealth of his aunt Elizabeth
Russell and uncle Charles Tennyson made Tennyson feel particularly impoverished
and led him to worry about money all his life.

He also
had a lifelong fear of mental illness, for several men in his family had a mild
form of epilepsy, which was then thought a shameful disease. His father and
brother Arthur made their cases worse by excessive drinking. His brother Edward
had to be confined in a mental institution after 1833, and he himself spent a
few weeks under doctors’ care in 1843. In the late twenties his father’s
physical and mental condition
worsened, and he became paranoid,
abusive, and violent.

In 1827
Tennyson escaped the troubled atmosphere of his home when he followed his two
older brothers to Trinity College, Cambridge, where his tutor was William
Whewell Because they had published Poems
by Two Brothers
in 1827 and each won university prizes for poetry, the
Tennyson brothers became well known at Cambridge. In 1829 The Apostles, an
undergraduate club, whose members remained Tennyson’s friends all his life,
invited him to join. The group, which met to discuss major philosophical and
other issues, included Arthur Henry
, James Spedding, Edward Lushington, and Richard Monckton
Milnes — all eventually famous men who merited entries in the Dictionary of National Biography.

Hallam’s was the most important of these friendships. Hallam, another
precociously brilliant Victorian young man as having unusual promise. He and
Tennyson knew each other only four years, but their intense friendship had
major influence on the poet. On a visit to Somersby, Hallam met and later
became engaged to Emily Tennyson, and the two friends looked forward to a
life-long companionship. Hallam’s death from illness in 1833 (he was only 22)
shocked Tennyson profoundly, and his grief lead to most of his best poetry,
including In Memoriam , “The Passing of Arthur”, Ulysses,”
and “Tithonus.”

Tennyson was always sensitive to criticism, the mixed reception of his 1832 Poems hurt him greatly. Critics in
those days delighted in the harshness of their reviews: the Quarterly Review was known as the
“Hang, draw, and quarterly.” John Wilson Croker’s harsh criticisms of
some of the poems in our anthology kept Tennyson from publishing again for
another nine years.

success of his 1842 Poems made
Tennyson a popular poet, and in 1845 he received a Civil List (government)
pension of £200 a year, which helped relieve his financial difficulties; the
success of “The Princess” and In
and his appointment in 1850 as Poet Laureate finally
established him as the most popular poet of the Victorian era.

By now
Tennyson, only 41, had written some of his greatest poetry, but he continued to
write and to gain in popularity. In 1853, as the Tennysons were moving into
their new house on the Isle of Wight, Prince Albert dropped in unannounced. His
admiration for Tennyson’s poetry helped solidify his position as the national
poet, and Tennyson returned the favor by dedicating The Idylls of the King to his memory. Queen Victoria later
summoned him to court several times, and at her insistence he accepted his
title, having declined it when offered by both Disraeli
and Gladstone.

suffered from extreme short-sightedness — without a monocle he could not even
see to eat — which gave him considerable difficulty writing and reading, and
this disability in part accounts for his manner of creating poetry: Tennyson
composed much of his poetry in his head, occasionally working on individual
poems for many years. During his undergraduate days at Cambridge he often did
not bother to write down his compositions, although the Apostles continually
prodded him to do so. (We owe the first version of “The Lotos-Eaters”
to Arthur Hallam, who transcribed it while Tennyson declaimed it at a meeting
of the Apostles.)

like most of his family (no matter how unhealthy they seemed to be) Alfred,
Lord Tennyson died on October 6, 1892, at the age of 83.

The above is from


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  1. Junie Ginsburg Junie Ginsburg August 2, 2011

    I enjoyed reading this very much, Ms. Puchkina, thank you for posting it!

    Is there an event that will be connected with this?

  2. Leia Rossini Leia Rossini August 2, 2011

    Our holidays on the home page list the 13th as H.G. Wells Day as well….   readings or some other celebratory fete for these acclaimed authors may be in order. 


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