Alfred Tennyson, 1809-1892

Introduction | Island 1 | Island 2 | Island 3 | Island 4 | Island 5

Island 1:
Tennyson, Lincolnshire, and the Romantic Legacy


Tennyson was born in 1809, in the tiny Lincolnshire village of Somersby, where his father was Rector. He and his family lived there till 1837. The first island features Tennyson's first book, Poems by Two Brothers, along with other works from his early career, including his Cambridge prize-poem Timbuctoo, his contributions to literary annuals, works by his brothers Charles and Frederick, and illustrations of places connected with his Lincolnshire background.

[Alfred, Charles, and Frederick Tennyson]
Poems by Two Brothers
London: W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, and J. and J. Jackson, Louth, 1827.
First edition, second issue in original paper wrappers.

"The following poems were written from ages fifteen to eighteen, not conjointly, but individually.... [N]o doubt, if submitted to the microscopical eye of periodical Criticism, a long list of inaccuracies and imitations would result from the investigation. But so it is; we have passed the Rubicon, and we leave the rest to fate" (preface). Shown here is the text of the poem "Why Should We Weep for Those Who Die?"

This item was the first acquisition made possible through direct financial support from the Thomas Cooper Society.

T. W. Wallis
Louth Market Place (about 1848)
from Andrew Wheatcroft, The Tennyson Album
London: Routledge, 1980.

Louth, where Tennyson went to the old Grammar School as a boy, was a small market town some eleven miles from Somersby. The tall building in the center of the picture is the bookshop and printing-office of the Jackson brothers, who in 1827 printed and published the Tennyson boys' Poems by Two Brothers.


Five Illustrations of Somersby and Its Environs
prepared for John Cumings Walters, In Tennyson Land
London: George Redway, 1890.

These illustrations of Somersby Church, the bridge, and "Philip's Farm" are examples of the rather sentimentalized late-Victorian tourist descriptions of Tennyson's Lincolnshire roots. Perhaps uniquely for a major English poet's birthplace, Somersby Rectory has never been regularly open to visitors, but nonetheless there was a constant stream of books lake Walters's.

Edward Hull
Gate of Somersby Rectory
from Alfred J. Church, The Laureate's Country
London: Seeley, 1891.

Somersby was the smallest of Dr. Tennyson's four Lincolnshire parishes, with fewer than a hundred inhabitants. The Rectory and Church are down a steep-sided valley, some six miles from the nearest market-town. Though Dr. Tennyson added on to the house at both ends, it must have been very cramped for his large family and several servants.

artist unknown
Bayons Manor, Tealby (about 1848)
from Andrew Wheatcroft, The Tennyson Album
London: Routledge, 1980.

The contrast between Somersby Rectory and Bayons Manor illustrates one of the underlying currents in Tennyson's early life. Bayons, originally the home of Tennyson's grandfather, was inherited by his father's younger brother, Charles, who took the name Tennyson D'Eyncourt and rebuilt the house in the 1830's as a kind of pastiche medieval castle, complete with great hall, battlements, and moat. Tennyson's own, much poorer branch of the family always felt disinherited and scorned the aristocratic pretensions of the D'Eyncourts. Bayons fell into disrepair after the Second World War and was demolished in the early 1960's.

William Mearns
Somersby Rectory
from William Howitt, The Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets
London: Richard Bentley, 1847.

This very early published picture shows Tennyson's birthplace and childhood home. The pointed gables on the right are the roof of the Gothick dining room that the Rector, Tennyson's father, built himself to accommodate his eleven children.

Alfred Tennyson
The Devil and the Lady
London: Macmillan, 1930.
First, limited edition, edited by Charles Tennyson, the poet's grandson.

This extraordinary pastiche of an Elizabethan of Jacobean blank-verse comedy, written when Tennyson was only fourteen, illustrates how deeply he had saturated his mind in English Renaissance poetry. Though chiefly farcical, it contains lines as beautiful as any Tennyson ever wrote. He borrowed images and phrases from it for other poems, even if publication of the whole text was delayed till long after his death.

Alfred Tennyson
"Timbuctoo. A Poem"
in Prolusiones Academicae praemiis annuis dignitate
Cambridge: John Smith, 1829.

Tennyson's entry, written on an assigned topic, won the 1829 Chancellor's Medal at Cambridge University. Though the quest for Timbuctoo was in the news in 1828-29, much of Tennyson's poem came directly from an earlier work, "Armageddon." Tennyson was the first medal-winner to use blank verse rather than heroic couplets but got a friend to read the poem at the Senate House in his place. The other contributors to the Prolusiones were C. R. Kennedy and Charles Merivale.

Alfred Tennyson
Poems, Chiefly Lyrical
London: Effingham Wilson, 1830.

Tennyson's first solo volume included such well-known early poems as "Mariana", "Ode to Memory", "The Dying Swan", and "The Kraken". This first edition has pages 72 and 91 in the corrected state (cf. Wise 16). Effingham Wilson was known as a radical or reform publisher, and the reputation of the firm may have drawn conservative criticism of Tennyson's early work.

Alfred Tennyson
London: Edward Moxon, 1833 [December 1832].
Original paper boards.

Many of Tennyson's best-known poems first appeared in this volume, published when he was only twenty-four, including"The Lady of Shalott""Œnone", "The Palace of Art", and "The Lotos-Eaters". The printing and publication of the volume was supervised by Tennyson's Cambridge friend Arthur Hallam, and the volume initiated a period of nearly forty years in which Tennyson's work was published by the firm of Moxon.

Alfred Tennyson
"No More"
in The Gem: A Literary Annual
London: W. Marshall, 1831.

Alfred Tennyson
in Friendship's Offering and Winter Wreath: A Christmas and New Year's Present
London: Smith, Elder, 1833 [1832].

Other contributors to these collections included Macaulay, John Clare, David Moir, and Mrs. Howitt. Tennyson's sonnet had originally appeared in Moxon's Englishman's Magazine in 1831. Literary annuals like The Gem and Friendship's Offering were an important publishing phenomenon in the 1820's and 1830's. A mixture of giftbook and literary anthology, they collected poems, short stories, and engravings from contributors who were often well-known both as writers or artists and for their aristocratic social connections. Tennyson himself, wrote Hallam in 1832, "begins to think himself a fool for kindly complying with the daily requests of the Annuals," but his contributions brought him public attention early in his career.

Frederick Tennyson
"Poetical Happiness"
in The Amulet: A Christian and Literary Remembrancer
London: F. Westley and A. H. Davis, 1832.

All three of the "Two Brothers" continued to write poetry. Her great-grandson, Sir Charles Tennyson, reported that, when Tennyson's mother, as an old lady, overheard strangers in the shops or omnibuses of Cheltenham talking about In Memoriam, she would interject with "It may interest you to know that Iamd the mother of the Laureate." Then she would add, "My sons, Frederick and Charles, also have written some beautiful verses." Frederick Tennyson (1807-1898), the poet's spendthrift elder brother, lived most of his adult life out of England, in Italy (where he knew the Brownings) and on the Channel Island of Jersey (where he combined Swedenborgianism with British Israelitism). He published a further volume of poetry, Days and Hours, in 1854 and three more in the 1890's. Other contributors to this literary annual included Felicia Hemans, Bulwer-Lytton, L. E. L., and Geraldine Jewsbury.

Charles Tennyson
Sonnets and Fugitive Pieces
Cambridge: B. Bridges, 1830.

Charles Tennyson (later Tennyson-Turner — 1808-1879), after sturggling with a recurrent addiction to opium, spent his whole career as a Vicar of the tiny North Lincolnshire village of Grasby. Late in life, he published three further volumes of sonnets.


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