Did you know that the poet laureate Tennyson is the second most quoted writer after Shakespeare according to “The Oxford Book of Quotations.” Can’t think of a single line you would credit to Lord Alfred? How about? “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do or die.” From The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Or, “it is better to have loved and lost.”
This poet of the Romantic age had a terrific impact on the sensibilities of his generation and for generations to come. He was the creator of such epic poems as “The Lady of Shalott,” and “Ulysses.”
Tennyson was born in the village of Somersby in Lincolnshire to the Reverend George Clayton and Elizabeth Tennyson. He would spend his formative years in this little known and relatively isolated part of rural England. Today, that area is known as “Tennyson’s county” and outside the Lincoln Cathedral stands a massive bronze statue commemorating his brilliance as a favored and famous son.
Lincolnshire would be the background for “The Lady of Shalott” and his descriptions of this area can still be found in part of the county. “On either side of the river lie, long fields of barley and of rye. That clothe the wold and meet the sky; and thro the filed the road runs by.”
Although Tennyson, and his brother Charles, would begin writing and publishing poetry in their teenage years, financial success and notoriety would come much later in his life.
Tennyson lived a life filled with tragedy. The death of his father in 1831 would force Tennyson to leave Trinity College, Cambridge and return to Lincolnshire to handle family affairs. The loss of family fortune would precipitate a move to Epping Forest and the wrench from his beloved Lincolnshire could be read into his epic “Ulysses,” produced at a time of great turmoil in his life.
Even Tennyson’s great love of Emily Sellwood would be a story of delay. The two fell in love at the wedding of Alfred’s brother Charles. However, Emily’s father disapproved of Tennyson’s bohemian ways and his love of port and cigars. The two would not be allowed to marry for almost ten years. It would be the success of his poem “In Memoriam A.H.H.”, a work that sold nearly 60,000 copies and was said to have brought comfort to Queen Victoria who was mourning the death of her beloved Albert, that would thrust Tennyson into the limelight.
In just one year, 1850, Tennyson would achieve financial success, be appointed Poet Laureate in succession to Wordsworth, and finally be allowed to marry his beloved Emily.
Success would bring a whole new set of challenges including being constantly sought after by autograph hunters. His solution would be to remove himself and Emily to a more quite location – the Isle of Wight. He an his bride were to find a neglected Georgian house on Freshwater Bay on the western side of the island.
Tennyson would find the dramatic cliffs and turbulent seas a constant source of inspiration for the next three decades. Recently the area has been names an “Area of Outstanding Beauty” and the Tennyson Heritage Coast is a walker’s dream.
Tennyson was a man of many parts. The romantic poet being the best known element of his personality but he was so much more. A devoted father to his two sons, a peripatetic traveller, lover of new inventions and a political reactionary, this complex poet was a man for the 19th century and its emerging technologies.
Physically he was also complex. Tall and strong, yet very short sighted and given to staring intensely at people and objects. He also bore a very strong physical resemblance to Dickens, which led to his being mobbed at the funeral of his colleague.
You can find Tennyson in many parts of England from the Alfred Tennyson Centre within the Lincoln Central Library, to his early family home in Somersby, and to Tennyson’s favorite home on the Isle of Wight, Farringford. You can even spend the night, at a cost of about 150 pounds per person in the home, or take a free guided tour on any Tuesday.
Come and learn more about the second most quoted writer of the English language – Alfred Tennyson.