No man ever got very high by pulling other people down. The intelligent merchant does not knock his competitors. The sensible worker does not knock those who work with him. Don’t knock your friends. Don’t knock your enemies. Don’t knock yourself.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
More than any other contemporary writer, Alfred Tennyson (1809 -1892) embodied the Victorian age, and during his lifetime, he, Queen Victoria and William Gladstone were said to be the three most famous people alive. Much loved by Victoria and Albert, he became poet laureate in 1850, and remained so until his death, the longest serving before and since. He was also unique in being the first peer to be created for his writing. By general consensus, then and now, he was the finest of the Victorian poets.
Alfred Tennyson was born on 6 August 1809 in Lincolnshire, a rector’s son and the fourth of twelve children.
Tennyson and two of his older brothers were writing poetry in their teens, and a collection of poems by all three were published locally when Alfred was only seventeen. One of those brothers, Charles Tennyson Turner later married Louisa Sellwood, the younger sister of Alfred’s future wife. The other poet brother was Frederick Tennyson. One of Tennyson’s other brothers, Edward Tennyson, was institutionalised at a private mental asylum, where he died.
Tennyson a student at Louth Grammar School for four years (1816–1820) and then attended Scaitcliffe School, Englefield Green and King Edward VI Grammar School, Louth. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1827, where he joined a society called the Cambridge Apostles. At Cambridge Tennyson met Arthur Henry Hallam, who became his best friend.
His first publication was a collection of his boyish rhymes and those of his elder brother Charles entitled Poems by Two Brothers published in 1827. In the spring of 1831, Tennyson’s father died, requiring him to leave Cambridge before taking his degree. He returned to the rectory, where he was permitted to live for another six years, and shared responsibility for his widowed mother and the family.
In 1833, Tennyson published his second book of poetry, which included his well-known poem, The Lady of Shalott. The volume met heavy criticism, which so discouraged Tennyson that he did not publish anything more for ten years, although he continued to write.
In 1842, while living modestly in London, Tennyson published two volumes of poems, the first included works already published and the second was made up almost entirely of new poems. They met with immediate success. Poems from this collection, such as Locksley Hall, Tithonus, and Ulysses have met enduring fame. The Princess: A Medley, a satire of women’s education, which came out in 1847, was also popular for its lyrics. W. S. Gilbert later adapted and parodied the piece twice, in The Princess (1870) and in Princess Ida (1884).
After William Wordsworth’s death in 1850, and Samuel Rogers’ refusal of the post, Tennyson was appointed to the position of Poet Laureate, which he held until his own death in 1892 – by far the longest tenure of any Laureate before or since. He fulfilled the requirements of this position by turning out appropriate but often uninspired verse, such as a poem of greeting to Alexandra of Denmark when she arrived in Britain to marry the future King Edward VII. In 1855, Tennyson produced one of his best known works, The Charge of the Light Brigade, a dramatic tribute to the British cavalrymen involved in an ill-advised charge on 25 October 1854, during the Crimean War. Other esteemed works written in the post of Poet Laureate include Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington and Ode Sung at the Opening of the International Exhibition.
Tennyson continued writing into his eighties and died on 06 October 1892 at Aldworth aged 83. He was buried at Westminster Abbey.