Swinburne admired much of Tennyson’s work, but as a representative of the new poetry he challenged comparison with the older poet, particularly in the treatment of Arthurian themes. Though some of Tennyson’s comments on Swinburne were admiring, D. G. Rossetti’s letter to him, cited below, indicates his reservations about Poems and Ballads. He resented Swinburne’s criticism of his work, too. Finally, ‘Birthday Ode’ and ‘Threnody’ were pleasant tributes by the younger to the elder poet. The selections from the Memoir are used by special permission of Macmillan & Co. Ltd.
(i) From Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir by His Son, i, 425 (under ‘1858’): I must tell you however that young Swinburne called here the other day with a college friend of his, and we asked him to dinner, and I thought him a very modest and intelligent young fellow. Moreover I read him what you indicated [Maud], but what I particularly admired in him was that he did not press upon me any verses of his own.
(ii) Memoir, i, 496: Accept my congratulations on the success of your Greek play [Atalanta in Calydon]. I had some strong objections to parts of it, but these I think have been modified by a re-perusal, and at any rate I daresay you would not care to hear them; here however is one. Is it fair for a Greek chorus to abuse the Deity something in the style of the Hebrew prophets?
Altogether it is many a long day since I have read anything so fine; for it is not only carefully written, but it has both strength and splendour, and shows moreover that you have a fine metrical invention which I envy you.