Alfred Tennyson, 1809-1892

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

Island 2:
Tennyson, Interpreter of Mid-Victorian Britain


The second island shows Tennyson as the interpreter of Victorian Engliand in the new social themes of Poems in Two Volumes (1842), his treatment of women's eduction in The Princess (1847), his poems about the Crimean War (both the well-known "Charge of the Light Brigade" and variant versions in his more complex Maud [1855]), and his role as Queen Victoria's Poet Laureate. The theme here is his growing public recognition and his engagement with Victorian social and political events.

Samuel Laurence
Alfred Tennyson (about 1840)
original in National Portrait Gallery, London.

This is the most famous portrait of the young Tennyson, showing how he must have appeared both to his contemporaries at Cambridge and in the 1830's to such friends on the London literary scene as Thomas Carlyle.

Edward Hull
The New Court, Trinity College, Cambridge
from Alfred J. Church, The Laureate's Country
London: Seeley, 1891.

Tennyson was an undergraduate at Trinity College from 1828 to 1831. The New Court in the Gothic style had been opened in 1823, and it was there that Arthur Hallam had his college rooms. Hallam's role in the student debates there of the Apostles, and Tennyson's mixed emotions on revisiting New Court in later years, are portrayed in In MemoriamLXXXXVII.

Alfred Tennyson
Poems. In Two Volumes
London: Edward Moxon, 1842.

This publication broke Tennyson's self-imposed "ten years' silence" following the reviewers' hostility to his 1832 volume. The frontispiece shows an engraving of the famous Lawrence portrait. The first volume is a selection and revision from Tennyson's earlier books, while in the second volume such new poems as "Locksley Hall", "Ulysses", and"Morte D'Arthur" show the poet exploring, both directly and through myth, a closer engagement with the social dilemmas of his society.

F. N. Broderick
Farringford House (1894)
from Andrew Wheatcroft, The Tennyson Album
London: Routledge, 1980.

Tennyson moved to Farringford, on the Isle of Wight, in 1853, and it was his main home for the rest of his life. Like his father at Somersby Rectory, he added onto his house; this photograph shows, on the left, the large neo-Gothic library added in 1871 to provide a private space away from visitors and house-guests.

Alfred Tennyson
A Welcome
London: E. Moxon, 1863.

This short poem is an example of the official poetry that Tennyson wrote as Poet Laureate. Shown here in the leaflet form issued for the occasion, the poem celebrates the marriage of Princess Alexandra of Denmark ("Sea-Kings' daughter from over the sea") to Edward, Prince of Wales.

Alfred Tennyson
"Attempts at Classical Metres in Quantity"
Cornhill Magazine 8 (December 1863): 707-709.

Throughout his life Tennyson was fascinated by the technical challenge of classical translation, and poems like this illustrate the poetic virtuosity that accompanied the challenging thematic foci of his middle-period work. The topic Tennyson chose for this exercise illustrates also his continuing distrust of reviewers and critics, whom he often felt misunderstood him.

Alfred Tennyson
The Princess: A Medley
London: Edward Moxon, 1847.

This poem, in which a group of undergraduates take turns telling a story about a prince and his two friends who infiltrate an all-women college disguised as female students, was in part a response to the new Queen's College, London, an experiment in women's higher education founded in 1847. Tennyson's friends F. D. Maurice and Charles Kingsley were both (part-time) professors there. Tennyson's poem, itself part burlesque, was itself burlesqued by Gilbert and Sullivan in the Savoy OperaPrincess Ida (1884). The famous songs were added to the poem in the third edition (1850).

Alfred Tennyson
Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington
London: Edward Moxon, 1852.
Blue paper covers.

This poem was published on 18 November 1852, the day of Wellington's state funeral procession through the streets of London. The image here is from a painting of the event by Louis Haghe. Wellington's funeral was the model on which Churchill planned his own state funeral (1965).

Alfred Tennyson
Maud, and Other Poems
London: Edward Moxon, 1855.

Long misunderstood by critics, Tennyson's Maud is now widely regarded as his greatest poem. A fragmentary monodrama presented from the viewpoint of an alienated and often mad young man, it narrates his disillusion with Victorian commercialism, his love for the beautiful Maud, and his decision to enlist to fight in the Crimean War. Historians of psychiatry count the poem as among the earliest and most subtle descriptions of manic-depression, and literary critics now recognize it also as among the most innovative of Tennyson's works in poetic form.
The ending the "New Edition" of Maud (1856) is displayed here alongside the ending of the first edition to show how the poet revised the poem's conclusion.

Alfred Tennyson
"The Lady of Shalott"
with an illustration by William Holman Hunt
from Poems
London: Moxon, 1866.
From the collection of Patrick Scott.

It was the symbolic and mythical poems of Tennyson's earlier writing that most appealed to the artists of the period. The first illustrated edition of his work was commissioned by Moxon from members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including Woolner, Hunt, Millais, Rossetti, and others. Their images still influence modern response to Tennyson's poetry.

Men of the Period, no. 28. The Poet Laureate
from Vanity Fair.
From the collection of Patrick Scott.

The famous series of so-called "Spy cartoons," caricatures of famous Victorians, appeared in the weekly magazine Vanity Fair. The Tennyson caricature was not by "Spy" but by his predecessor on the magazine, Carlo Pellegrini or "Ape" (1839-1899), an Italian immigrant artist and member of the Prince of Wales' social circle.


"The Charge of the Light Brigade"

Alfred Tennyson
"The Charge of the Light Brigade"
from Maud and Other Poems
London: Edward Moxon, 1855.

Perhaps the most famous of Tennyson's recitation-pieces, this poem was written in shocked response to the first newspaper report in The Times on the heroic disaster of Lord Cardigan's charge with the Eleventh Hussars against a battery of Russian guns during the Crimean War. The poem first appeared in another newspaper, The Examiner, and was also printed as a leaflet for distribution to the troops before its first book-form appearance, shown here.

Alexander William Kinglake
The Invasion of the Crimea: Its Origin and an Account of its Progress Down to the Death of Lord Raglan
Volume IV. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1858.

Kinglake was the Times war correspondent in the Crimea, frequently getting his reports published before any official war dispatches reached London. The map shows the valley up which the Earl of Cardigan led his Light Brigade (light cavalry) to charge the Russian gun-batteris. The Light Brigade lost all but 197 men out of over 600 who began the charge "into the Valley of Death."


Columbia Departments Campus Libraries
Columbia Libraries and Collections