The Pre-Eminent Victorian: A Study of Tennyson

By Joanna Richardson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
IN MEMORIAM

ON June 1st, 1850, a plain little purple volume, unadvertised, anonymous, was published by Edward Moxon under the title In Memoriam. The Times attacked the poem as being 'much too long, obscure and difficult', while one critic declared it must have come 'from the full heart of the widow of a military man'. The Dublin University Magazine reviewed In Memoriam with Henry Taylor's play, The Virgin Widow, and considered that The Virgin Widow 'most demands careful perusal'.

The author was soon identified, but In Memoriam had a mixed reception. "'The literary season has been remarkably stagnant,'" wrote Monckton Milnes in July. 'An Anglo-German novel, The Initials, two new volumes of Grote's History, and Tennyson In Memoriam are the only books that suggest themselves.' This was his only recorded reference to the elegy. Nor, it seems, did Patmore admire the poem, for the P-R B Journal recorded his belief that there were no 'really great men living in the region of pure intellect; not even Tennyson, though he might have thought him such, had he not written ...' FitzGerald, who reported in August that the 'Elegiacs on A. Hallam ... sell greatly: and will, I fear, raise a host of Elegiac scribblers,' sent his harsh judgment to Frederick Tennyson: 'In Memoriam ... is full of the finest things, but it is monotonous, and has that air of being evolved by a Poetical Machine of the highest order.' 'In Memoriam is certainly very elegant,' twittered Miss Mitford, 'but to me, so many poems, all in one measure, and all on one subject, proved tiresome enough.' Charlotte Brontë, still mourning the loss of her two sisters, confessed to Mrs Gaskell:

I closed the book when I got about half-way. It is beautiful; it is mournful; it is monotonous. Many of the feelings bear in their utterance the stamp of truth; yet if Arthur Hallam had been somewhat nearer Alfred Tennyson -- his brother

-57-

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