Sunday, 23 March 2014

Alfred Tennyson, 1809-92: Part II: The Early Years

I've been trawling through the archives at the library again, and in particular for Sundays, "The Pilot" which was the monthly magazine for the Church of England in Jersey for many years. Every month, there would be pieces from the minister of each church, along with various other articles of interest.
In 1995, the Reverend Tony Keogh began a series of articles in "The Pilot" under the umbrella title "God and the Poets", beginning with a four part look at Tennyson. I thought it was a shame that it should be buried in the past, so I've transcribed it for my blog. Here is part 2.
In Memoriam can be read at  
And there is a discussion of it with Melvin Bragg on "In Our Time" at:  
which can be listen again, or download as Podcast.
God and the Poets:
Alfred Tennyson, 1809-92: Part II: The Early Years
By Tony Keogh
Alfred Tennyson was born in 1809, the sixth of twelve children of the Rector of Somerby in Lincolnshire. His paternal grandfather, a solicitor and businessman, disinherited Tennyson's father, his eldest son George, and ruled over the family like an ogre. The Rector himself was addicted to alcohol and died in 1831 after some distressing episodes, aged fifty-three.
Alfred went to Louth Grammar School but was unhappy so was educated at home until he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge. He was critical of Cambridge as a whole, a society of "puddle-paced square caps" and "tiny-witted teachers," whom he wrongly charged with whipping and rusticating John Milton; this severe re judgment was much regretted by him later on. He left without taking a degree, which did not concern him over much since he and his friends knew that he was going to be a poet which profession did not require the accolade of academe. In fact, Cambridge was emerging from its eighteenth century torpor to become the university of Lightfoot, Westcott, Hort, Jebb, Kelvin and eventually Rutherford and Hawkings.
Tennyson received training in the Classics; essential to his own poetry, and belonged to a group of young intellectuals known as the Apostles, of which the "Coleridge" among theologians, F D Maurice, a great friend of Tennyson throughout his life, was an early inspiration. In later years, the Apostles came to be
regarded as homosexual in orientation, but Tennyson was at an age of innocence in male friendship and Freud had not yet appeared to make society sex-obsessed.
It was at Cambridge that Tennyson met his greatest friend of all, Arthur Hallam, a promising scholar and poet, who became engaged to one of his sisters. It was a tragically brief friendship of barely four years yet therein lies its pathos and its abiding influence.
Hallam and Tennyson went abroad together in 1831 on a curious excursion to the Pyrenees to take money to a Spanish revolutionary general, the money having been collected from those, including the Apostles, who were anxious to support the growing movements of European democracy which, so feeble at this time, became the hallmark of nineteenth century history. To quote Auden, "This was Tennyson's first and last excursion into practical politics."
Hallam journeyed to Vienna and Budapest in 1833, partly at his father's suggestion, to aid his convalescence from serious influenza. He was excited at what he saw, both in art and society, but he caught a slight fever in Austria on his way home and died suddenly on 15th September.
Tennyson did not display devastated outward grief: "He seemed less overcome than one would have expected," was the comment of a friend. The death coincided with some harsh reviews of his poetry which made him desist from further publications for almost a decade, but he could not stop composing verse. Almost at once, he began the masterpiece which took him the next seventeen years to write - "In Memoriam."

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