Alfred Tennyson was born in Somersby, Lincolnshire, the fourth of the twelve children of George Tennyson, clergyman, and his wife, Elizabeth. His fatherís father had gone against all tradition in making his younger son,
Charles, his principal heir, and arranging for George to enter the ministry.
In 1816 (7) Tennyson was sent to Louth Grammar School, which he disliked so intensely that in later life he refused even to walk past the school. From 1820 (11) he was educated at home, mainly by his father, who introduced him to such works as
The Arabian Nights, The Koran and other books of folklore and myth. He joined his brothers, Frederick and Charles, at
Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1827 (18), and, with his brother Charles, published
Poems by Two Brothers in the same year.
Tennyson's father becomes unstable
At home, his father had become dangerously unstable. Elizabeth Tennyson complained of his foul language towards her and his children, and there were bad tempered rows between him and his eldest son, during which threats of serious violence were made. Georgeís family finally persuaded him to go abroad.
At Cambridge, Tennyson was invited to join the undergraduate club called the Apostles, whose members included
Arthur Henry Hallam,
Spedding, Edward Lushington (who later married Tennysonís sister Cecilia), and
Richard Monckton Milnes. The Apostles were influential in encouraging his poetic calling, and were to remain his friends for the rest of his life, though the club itself was little more than a private debating society with a few odd rituals (eg each meeting was begun with the eating of anchovies on toast). The
personality of Arthur Hallam was to have a huge impact on his sensibilities.
In 1830 (21) he published
Poems Chiefly Lyrical.
Goes to republican Spain
Through the Apostles, Tennyson and Hallam became involved with Spanish exiles working for the establishment of a republic in Spain, and the two friends travelled to the South of France as couriers. During this period Hallam became emotionally attached and then engaged to Tennysonís sister Emily.
Death of his father
In 1831 (22) Tennysonís father, who had returned home, died.
Hallam contributed an essay entitled On Some of the Characteristics of Modern Poetry, and on the Lyrical Poems of Alfred Tennyson
to Moxonís Englishman's
Magazine (August 1831, 22), which was attacked by Professor John
Wilson, writing in
(May 1832, 23) under the pseudonym Christopher North. Wilson ridiculed the use
of the word 'genius' to refer to Tennyson, and attributed the demise of the Englishman's
Magazine (which ceased publication after October 1831, 22), to the
'superhuman - nay supernatural - pomposity' of this one paper, though he did add that he had good hopes of Alfred Tennyson.
The two men went on a trip down the Rhine in the summer of 1832 (23).
Death of Tennyson's friend Hallam
In 1833 (24) Hallam made a trip abroad with his father, and died suddenly in Vienna, an event which had a profound emotional impact on Tennyson, and led him later to write some of his most memorable verse, including
In Memoriam, Ulysses, Tithones and the Passing of
His brother Edward confined
His brother Edward was confined to a mental institution in 1833 (24), and Tennyson became increasingly concerned about his own physical and mental health.
His brother Charles marries and he
meets his future wife
In 1836 (27) his brother Charles married Louisa Sellwood, the daughter of a solicitor from Horncastle, and Tennyson found himself best man with Emily Sellwood, his future wife, bridesmaid. By early 1837 (28) it was generally accepted that they were engaged.
Health and a misguided investment
His health was a continual concern to him, and in 1840 (31) he visited a sanitarium in High Beech,
Epping Forest run by
Allen. While there, Allen persuaded him to invest the inheritance he had received from his grandfather (who had died in 1835, 26) and some of his familyís money (to the extent of some £8000) in
a scheme to produce wood carvings by steam power. The scheme failed, and Tennyson was effectively left penniless.
He revises Poems
A new version of
Poems appeared in 1842 (33) in two volumes, the first volume containing revised versions of the poems from the previously published works, and the second volume new works, including
The Lady of Shallot, The Lotus Eaters, Morte díArthur and Ulysses. The publication established his
reputation. It received praise from both
Carlyle and Dickens,
and was followed by an influential essay which appeared in 1844 (35) amongst a
collection of essays contributed by, among others, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, entitled A New Spirit of the Age
(edited by R.H.Horne).
He receives government pension
In 1845 (36) he was awarded a government pension of £200 a year by the Prime Minister,
Peel, after a campaign by his friends.
He becomes Poet Laureate
The Princess, a Medley was published in 1847 (37), and sold well, running to
five editions by 1853. In 1850 (41) he succeeded
Poet Laureate, and married Emily Sellwood.
That same year (41) he published
In Memoriam, substantially a memorial to his late friend Arthur Hallam, on which he had been working intermittently since 1833 (24), and which addressed the
High Victorian interests in death, remorse and spiritual growth. The book was a critical and commercial success, and went to
three further editions in the same year.
His first son born and the Duke of
His son, who was christened Hallam, was born in 1852 (42), and later that year he produced an
Ode on the Death of Wellington, which was printed as a pamphlet in an edition of 10,000, and sold to the crowd outside
St Paulís for the funeral of the dead hero.
He settles in Farringford on the Isle
In 1853 (44) the Tennysons settled at Farringford, a house in Freshwater on the Isle of Wight.
His second son born and he writes the
of the Light Brigade
His second son Lionel was born in the following year (45). He wrote and published
the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854, and the poem was included in the volume
Maud published in 1855 (46), which Moxon printed in an edition of 10,000, and reprinted within the year.
He writes further poetry and, for
the first time, plays
He continued to write and publish to the end :
Idylls of the King (1859, 50), which was printed in an edition of 40,000, and reprinted within 6 months,
Enoch Arden and Other Poems (1864, 55), of which 60,000 copies were sold in the first year,
Lucretius (1868, 59), The Holy Grail and Other Poems (1869, 1871 and 1872, 60, 62 and 63),
Queen Mary, a play (1875, 66), Harold (1876, 67), The Falcon (1877, 68),
Ballads and Other Poems (1880, 71), The Cup, a play (1881, 72), The Promise of May (1882, 73),
Beckett (1884, 75), Tiresias and Other Poems (1885, 76), Locksley Hall Sixty Years After (1886, 77),
Demeter and Other Poems (1889, 80), The Death of Oenone and Other Poems (1892, 83) and
The Foresters (1892, 83).
He died in 1892 (83) and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Alfred Lord Tennyson Biography : Links
Arthur Hallam -
On Some of the Characteristics of Modern Poetry, and on the Lyrical Poems of Alfred Tennyson
The Englishman's Magazine, August 1831
A New Spirit of the Age
A.C.Bradley - A
Commentary on Tennyson's In Memoriam
Painting by the Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman-Hunt : The Lady of Shallot
Photograph of Alfred Lord Tennyson
Woodcut illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti for Poems
Photograph of Tennyson at Farringford with his family
Part of In Memoriam in Tennyson's handwriting
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Elizabethan poets :
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Percy Bysshe Shelley
George Gordon, Lord Byron