Written with great learning and unusual grace, it will spur new interest in a poet who has much to say to our own contemporaries. George Clayton Tennyson, the eldest son, had been forced into the Church against his will after his father decided to make his youngest son, Charles his heir.
In the writing of , Tennyson would take up three of his most abiding themes: loss, change, and transcendence.
Yet, while these cantos were still evolving, he would also publish a third book of verse in 1842, which included some of his greatest poems: “Break, break, break,” “Ulysses,” “Morte d’Arthur,” “Locksley Hall,” and “Tithonous.” Hallam’s loss might have been a bane to his personal life but it was a boon to his poetry.
In addition to division, the Tennysons suffered from madness.
Mary, Tennyson’s eldest sister, struggled with religious mania; his brothers Arthur and Horatio labored under recurrent mental instability; his brother Edward was actually confined to an asylum; and his youngest sister Matilda was never the same after being dropped on her head in a coal scuttle.
Then, again, with loyal friends, Tennyson could be oddly cold and aloof—Edward Fitzgerald was made to endure this especially after fame made Tennyson more than usually grand—but in his favor it must be said that after Thackeray handed in his dinner pail, Tennyson took in his orphaned daughters.
Indeed, on walks along Hampstead Heath, he would often confide in Annie Thackeray about his early poverty, self-doubts, and loneliness, proof that the adulated Laureate never entirely outgrew the unhappy boy from Somersby.For Henry James, everything about this consummate poet was “a thousand miles away from American manufacture.” However, the dark side to his steely dedication to his art was a tendency towards solipsism.As Batchelor remarks, “even with Arthur Hallam, it can often seem that what Tennyson loved was not Arthur himself, but Arthur’s love of Tennyson: his own image and his own genius as reflected in Arthur’s loyal admiration.” Batchelor also quotes the strictures of Edward Lear, who remarked in his friend “the anomaly of high souled & philosophic writings combined with slovenliness, selfishness, & morbid folly.” In this light, Batchelor’s Tennyson can sometimes remind one of that unforgettable ‘monster’ that Ted Hughes shared with his readers in “Famous Poet,” behind whose eyes one can see nothing “But the haggard stony exhaustion of a near-/Finished variety artist.” Certainly, a good deal of Tennyson’s later work was given over to writing narrative verse of questionable merit— (1864) comes to mind–composed to satisfy the enormous demand for his work on the part of a public flattered that their Laureate should wish to please them.When Hallam’s father asked for a reminiscence, the poet replied that he had “attempted to draw up a memoir of his life and character, but I failed to do him justice.I hope to be able at a future period to concentrate whatever powers I may possess on the construction of some tribute …” Seventeen years later, the poet released (1850), a collection of 133 lyrics, which, taken together, constitute his far-ranging meditation on the meaning not only of his friend’s life and death, but of his entire age’s preoccupation with what Newman called the “great .” For James Knowles, the founder of the Metaphysical Society and a good friend of Tennyson, the poem, confronting as it did the desolation of unbelief, “was the cry of the whole human race.” That two of the most eminent of Victorians—the Queen herself and Benjamin Disraeli—had a special attachment to the poem underscored the deep chord it struck with Tennyson’s contemporaries.It exacerbated his epilepsy and turned him into a violent drunkard.Indeed, Tennyson would often have to flee the rectory to flee his father’s drunken rages.Then, again, another brother would always introduce himself to guests by declaring, “Hello, I am Septimus: I am the morbid Tennyson.” As for Tennyson himself, he not only feared madness but longed for death.As his wife told his son Hallam when engaged in writing his father’s biography, Tennyson, terrified of his father’s rages, often ‘went out through the black night, and threw himself on a grave in the churchyard, praying to be beneath the sod himself.” Then, again, the poet confessed that “In my youth I knew much greater unhappiness than I have known in later life.Indeed, as Batchelor shows, it was Hallam who arranged publication for Tennyson’s first two books, which included such classic poems as “Mariana,” “The Kraken,” “The Lady of Shalott,” “The Lotos-Eaters,” and “A Dream of Fair Women.” Considering Tennyson’s auspicious debut, it is easy to see why the young poet was so attached to his friend: Hallam helped Tennyson become Tennyson.But then Hallam died suddenly in 1833 of apoplexy while visiting Vienna, and Tennyson was shattered.