Alfred Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson

Biography of Alfred Tennyson

Lord Alfred Tennyson is one of the most popular poets of the Victorian Era in England and one of the most famous poets in English literature. He was named Poet Laureate after William Wordsworth and served in the position for forty-two years. He is remembered for his sober style and moralizing tone. Many of his poems are standards of 19th-century literature and are critical and popular favorites. The body of critical work on him is immense, and although some of his work is seen as too sentimental today, his intellectual contributions to poetry and metaphysics are undeniable.

Alfred Tennyson was born August 6, 1809, in Lincolnshire, England, to George and Elizabeth Tennyson. The family was very large; eleven children reached maturity. Alfred's father was not wealthy, as his grandfather had made his younger son Charles his heir, leaving George to enter the ministry. Tennyson often worried about money throughout his life. Several of Tennyson's family members also struggled with alcoholism and mental illness, including his father, who grew violent and paranoid from excessive drinking in the 1820s.

Tennyson left the family home to attend Trinity College at the University of Cambridge with his two brothers. He had already been writing poetry before he went away to school. One of his particular quirks was that, as he walked or performed other duties, he would think of discrete lines or phrases and store them in his memory until he invented the proper context in which to use them. At Cambridge his tutor was William Whewell, a renowned philosopher. Tennyson and his brothers Frederick and Charles published Poems by Two Brothers in 1827 and became well-known at the college, winning prizes for poetry.

At this time Tennyson composed the strange and mesmerizing "Timbuctoo," which attracted the notice of other young intellectuals. Tennyson was invited to join the Apostles Club in 1829, which included Arthur Henry Hallam, James Spedding, Edward Lushington, and Richard Monckton Milnes. These men would be his friends his entire life (except for Hallam, who died young). Hallam and Tennyson were particularly close, and the former became engaged to Tennyson's sister Emily after he met her on a visit to Somersby.

In 1830 Tennyson published Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. The volume included poems such as "Mariana," "The Kraken," and "Ode to Memory." "Mariana" is one of Tennyson's most beguiling and justly famous works. Reviews of this volume were generally favorable. In 1832 Tennyson published Poems, which included "The Lady of Shalott," "The Lotos-Eaters," "The Palace of Art," and "Oenone." Unfortunately, the reviews were brutal and damning, and Tennyson, sensitive to criticism, was crushed.

Hallam's death in 1833 at the age of 22 was another profoundly devastating blow to Tennyson. This death, his sister's despair over her fiancé's death, the terrible reviews, his father's death, his poverty and isolation in the country where he resided, and his own fears about mental illness and addiction pushed him into depression. He said of this period, "I suffered what seemed to me to shatter all my life so that I desired to die rather than to live." Many of Tennyson's most famous works of poetry were influenced by his immense grief even though they were not uniformly pessimistic. These included "Ulysses," "Tithonus" and, of course, the monumental In Memoriam A.H.H..

Tennyson became engaged to a young woman, Emily Sellwood, but fears about his financial situation and his possible mental problems led him to break off the engagement in 1840. During this time he was rather itinerant, moving about a great deal, and some of those closest to him thought his poetic genius had evaporated. In 1842, however, he published Poems, which contained some work from 1830 and 1832 that had been revised as well as new work; these two volumes provided the basis for his excellent reputation and secured his fame.

A government pension in 1845 alleviated some of his financial distress, and he married Emily in 1850. In 1847 he published "The Princess: A Medley," and in 1850 he finally published In Memoriam anonymously. Subsequent editions of that poem brought Tennyson a great deal of fame and money. The death of Wordsworth in 1850 seemed to designate Tennyson as his poetic successor, and indeed, in 1850 he was made Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. Alfred's and Emily's first son, Hallam, was born in 1852, and a year later they established a home in Farringford, the Isle of Wight. A second son, Lionel, was born in 1854. "Maud, and Other Poems" was published in 1855, The Idylls of the King was published in 1859, and Tennyson published various other poems throughout the next decade.

Tennyson was admired by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. The Queen described her first impression after meeting him: "very peculiar looking, tall, dark, with a fine head, long black flowing hair & a beard, — oddly dressed, but there is no affectation about him." Tennyson accepted an offer of barony in 1883 and took his seat in the House of Lords in March 1884. He also was awarded honorary degrees from Oxford and Edinburgh, and he made friends with other luminaries such as Charles Dickens, William Gladstone, and Robert Browning.

Lord Tennyson was frequently ill throughout the 1880s. He suffered immensely once again when his son Lionel died at age 32 in 1886. On October 6, 1892, Tennyson died. He is buried at Westminster Abbey.

Poems by Alfred Tennyson

  1. 'None
  2. A Dedication
  3. A Dream of Fair Women
  4. A Farewell
  5. A Welcome to Alexandra
  6. After-Thought
  7. All Things Will Die
  8. Amphion
  9. Audley Court
  10. Aylmer's Field
  11. Boadicea
  12. Break, Break, Break
  13. Claribel
  14. Come Down, O Maid
  15. Cradle Song
  16. Crossing the Bar
  17. Enoch Arden
  18. Flower in the Crannied Wall
  19. Godiva
  20. Hero To Leander
  21. In Quantity
  22. In the Valley of Cauteretz
  23. In the Valley of the Cauteretz
  24. Late, Late, so Late
  25. Locksley Hall
  26. Mariana
  27. Mariana in the South
  28. Marriage Morning
  29. Milton
  30. Morte d'Arthur
  31. Morte D'Arthur
  32. New Year's Eve
  33. Northern Farmer
  34. Northern Farmer: New Style
  35. Northern Farmer: Old Style
  36. Nothing Will Die
  37. Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal
  38. Ode
  39. Oenone
  40. Of Old Sat Freedom on the Heights
  41. Poland
  42. Recollections of the Arabian Nights
  43. Requiescat
  44. Sea Dreams
  45. Sir Galahad
  46. Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere
  47. Specimen of a Translation of the Iliad in Blank Verse
  48. St Simeon Stylites
  49. St. Agnes' Eve
  50. Tears, Idle Tears
  51. The Ballad of Oriana
  52. The Charge of the Light Brigade
  53. The Death of the Old Year
  54. The Deserted House
  55. The Dying Swan
  56. The Eagle
  57. The Flower
  58. The Gardener's Daughter
  59. The Golden Year
  60. The Goose
  61. The Grandmother
  62. The Higher Pantheism
  63. The Islet
  64. The Kraken
  65. The Lady of Shalott
  66. The Lady of Shalott (1832)
  67. The Lady of Shalott (1842)
  68. The Letters
  69. The Lotos-eaters
  70. The Mermaid
  71. The Merman
  72. The Miller's Daughter
  73. The Palace of Art
  74. The Poet
  75. The Poet's Mind
  76. The Revenge: A Ballad of the Fleet
  77. The Ringlet
  78. The Sailor Boy
  79. The Sleeping Beauty
  80. The Spiteful Letter
  81. The Voyage
  82. Timbuctoo
  83. Tithonus
  84. To J. S.
  85. To the Rev. F.D.Maurice
  86. To Virgil
  87. To Virgil, Written at the Request of the Manuans for the Nineteenth Centenary of Virgil's Death
  88. Ulysses
  89. Wages
  90. Walking to the Mail
  91. You Ask Me, Why, Tho' Ill at Ease