Alfred Tennyson, 1809-1892

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

Island 5:
Tennyson and the Victorian Publishing Revoluti

The fifth island focuses on Tennyson as a publishing phenomenon. Groups of works show his extensive dramatic writing, his relationship with the American publishing house of Ticknor and Fields, his reluctant republication of long-suppressed early poems to combat unauthorized piracies, his steady stream of new poetry, and his final canonization in the posthumous Eversley Edition (1907-1908). The theme here is Tennyson's representative status as the first major English poet to make his career following the revolutionary nineteenth-century developments in book production and marketing.

Partly because he wanted a higher return from these increased sales to meet an increasingly expensive lifestyle, partly because the trusted original owner Edward Moxon had died in 1858, Tennyson became dissatisfied with his long-time publishers Moxon and transferred his works to a series of other publishers — Alexander Strahan (1869-73), Henry S. King (1874-78), Charles Kegan Paul (1879-83), and finally, from 1884, the eminently respectable firm of Macmillan & Co.

Sometimes book-collectors complain that Tennyson's later works are bibliographically uninteresting because they all look very much the same. Throughout the Victorian period, each title was printed from stereotype plates, and the plates continued in use even when Tennyson changed from publisher to publisher. Hence, Tennyson's later first editions and the many reprintings that the market required appear increasingly standardized. In fact, however, these similarities may hide many small alterations of text, and these "green Tennysons," once dismissed as worthless reprints, are now of increasing scholarly significance.

The Dramas

In the 1870's, Tennyson began a series of historical dramas and other plays, initially for the famous actor-manager Henry Irving, aiming to fill the historical gaps in and around Shakespeare's dramatic version of English history. The historical plays called for elaborate and costly staging, and they have seldom been revived since their Victorian productions.

Emily Tennyson
List of Tennyson's Literary Income, 1859-65
from June Steffenson Hagen, Tennyson and His Publishers
London: Macmillan, 1979.

This handwritten list of Tennyson's receipts from the Moxon firm shows the astonishing impact of Tennyson's income, first from the 1859 Idylls and then from Enoch Arden in 1864. Tennyson's income from Enoch Arden in the first few months alone would have paid even a well-salaried schoolmaster or clergyman for over fifty years.

Tennyson and His American Publishers

Through most of Tennyson's career, British authors could not obtain copyright for their books in the United States, but the prominent Boston publishing firm of Ticknor and Fields took special pride in being Tennyson's "authorized" American publisher. Ticknor's plan for a (pirated) collection of Tennyson's early poems had been one factor in persuading him to prepare the 1842 collection in England, and thereafter Ticknor sent Tennyson occasional payments and received early proofs of his forthcoming books. The images show how Ticknor usedTennyson's written authorization on the title-verso in place of the normal copyright notice. They also include two different publication formats, the standard brown cloth Ticknor used for most publications and one of the small "Blue-and-Gold" giftbook reprints, which Ticknor originally developed especially for Tennyson's works and then used for many other authors.

Alfred Tennyson
The Lover's Tale
London: C. Kegan Paul, 1879.

Tennyson arranged the belated publication of this early narrative poem solely to counteract the several pirated editions already on the market. He had written it as an undergraduate, and it had actually been set in type for his Moxon volume in 1832. At the last minute, Tennyson withdrew it as "too full of faults," though Hallam commented on the cancellation, "You must be point blank mad."

Tennyson's Later Poetic Volumes

By contrast with the mixed reception of Tennyson's plays, his poetry continued to be popular with a wide readership. The later volumes were all collections of shorter works, including popular patriotic ballads like "The Revenge" in the 1880 volume, philosophical poems such as "The Ancient Sage" and "Vastness," and newly-apprehensive political works such as "Locksley Hall Sixty Years After" (important enough politically to be reviewed by the Prime Minister himself, W. E. Gladstone).

Alfred Tennyson
The Death of Œnone, Akbar's Dream, and Other Poems
London & New York: Macmillan, 1892.
No. 435 of 500 special copies, original white cloth.

This was the last of Tennyson's poetic volumes and is unusual in being published not only in the familiar small green-bound format (above) but also in a special limited larger-format collector's edition. The Stoddart engraving of Tennyson shown here served as the latter's frontispiece.

The Works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The Eversley Edition, nine volumes
London: Macmillan, 1907-1907.
From the collection of Patrick Scott.

From the 1860's successive publishers had persuaded the poet to allow his separate works to be issued together as the Cabinet Edition, the People's Edition, the Library Edition, and so on, but Tennyson held out firmly against the provision of any annotation. After his death, his son, Hallam, Lord Tennyson, gathered Tennyson's final textual correction and scattered comments on the poem for an authorized collected edition, the Eversley edition, shown here. While the text itself has been superseded by modern research, the annoatations still represent an important primary source. The first volume is opened to show the forntispiece portrait of Tennyson in 1891 by G. F. Watts.

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

Aldworth House, on the top of the Blackdown Hills in Surrey, was built for Tennyson to the designs of his friend J. T. Knowles as a summer retreat from the vacation crowds near his long-time home Farringford, on the Isle of Wight. Some of the elaborate exterior stonework and interior woodwork reflects Tennyson's description of Arthur's Camelot in Idylls of the King.

Alfred Tennyson
Crossing the Bar
from Demeter and Other Poems
London: Macmillan, 1889.

This poem (also displayed in its fair-copy manuscript form) grew from one of Tennyson's experiences while waiting for a boat to cross the Solent to his home on the Isle of Wight. Tennyson directed that this poem should always be placed last in any collection of his work. A musical setting was sung at his funeral at Westminster Abbey in 1892 and is still found in some hymnals. The illustration here, "Crossing the Bar," was published in Punch on 15 October 1892, nine days after Tennyson's death.


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