Tennyson Remembered

By Tomlinson, Bernard | Contemporary Review, November 1992 | Go to article overview

Tennyson Remembered


Tomlinson, Bernard, Contemporary Review


THE exhibition, Tennyson (1809-1892), which has been running at The Wordsworth Centre, Dove Cottage, Grasmere, and latterly at The Usher Gallery, Lincoln, was a celebration of the life and achievements of a poet who produced some of the most famous and popular poems in the English language, from the thundering cadences of |The Charge of the Light Brigade'-- that futile heroic gesture which highlighted the Crimean Campaign, to the erotic |Maud' which Tennyson described as |a little Hamlet, the history of a morbid poetic soul, under the blighting influence of a restlessly speculative age'. During the lifetime of the poet, the inventive Victorian mind had devised the means to record the human voice and the camera had been developed. The Crimean Campaign had started in an atmosphere of public enthusiasm and patriotism but blunders in the field led to charges of incompetent command under Lord Raglan, who is said to have died of a broken heart. Conditions at the front were hard and cholera was rampant. The public mood changed to doubt and despair.

It was against this backcloth that the celebrated photographer, Roger Fenton, went to the Crimea in 1855, leaving after six months with cholera and 360 unique war photographs. The exhibition displayed a collection of these photographs, several on loan from the Queen. Accompanying these prints was the voice of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, reading his epic lines.

The exhibition unfolded the life of the poet from a violent childhood, over-shadowed by poverty and the black bile of the Tennyson family. His father, epileptic and paranoid -- often drunk -- was nevertheless able to supervise Alfred's education at home. Two of his brothers became insane and the shadow haunted him all his life. In 1827 he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he met the ill-fated Arthur Hallam who died at the age of twenty-two, becoming the inspiration for Tennyson's great poem, |In Memoriam'. At Cambridge he became a friend of the talented portrait painter, James Spedding, who lived on the shores of Bassenthwaite. Spedding introduced Tennyson to Wordsworth, then living at Rydal Mount. The two poets became friends and when Wordsworth became Poet Laureate, he declared Tennyson, |decidedly the first of our living poets'.

April, 1827, saw Tennyson's first appearance in print. Poems by Two Brothers was published by Jacksons, booksellers at Louth. …

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