Alfred Lord Tennyson 1809 – 1892 was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom and remains one of the most popular English poets.
Tennyson also knew a homeopath from Cambray in Cheltenham called Dr. Ker (C. B. Kerr), who he referred to in a letter to Charles Dickens, and he was a close confident of homeopath James John Garth Wilkinson (‘… though Dr. Garth Wilkinson was the friend, and often the physician, of Carlyle, Froude, Dickens, Tennyson…’ Anon, Sotheran’s price current of literature, (1 Jan 1920). Page 111. See also Roger Cooter, Studies in the history of alternative medicine, Logie Barrow An Imponderable Liberator: JJ Garth Wilkinson, (Macmillan in association with St Antony’s College Oxford, 2 Dec 1988). Page 89), who shared his interests in Mesmer, Emanuel Swedenborg and spiritualism. Tennyson was one of many highly respected individuals to frequent the spa of James Manby Gully, who was known to provide cold water treatments and homeopathic medicines.
When Tennyson was in his late thirties, he suffered from petit mal seizures and a nervous breakdown supposedly due to thwarted romantic hopes, the death of a close friend, and financial anxieties. He first sought care at a spa under the direction of Edward Johnson, and there is record of him going to two other spas.
He was so despondent and ill that friends despaired for his life. However, shortly after he went to the spa and homeopathic clinic operated by James Manby Gully, he experienced noticeable benefits. In fact, although Tennyson was not yet fully cured, after James Manby Gully‘s treatment, he no longer wrote to friends that he was suffering from “hypochondria” as he had done so many times previously. Even Tennyson’s mother saw the difference and referred to James Manby Gully as “a very clever man”.
Five years later Tennyson brought his new wife for care from James Manby Gully. Tennyson lived a long and fruitful life.
Tennyson travelled to America where he knew James T Fields, one of America’s most famous publisher of American writers, and a partner in Ticknor and Fields, had a bookstore known as Parnassus Corner on Old Corner.
His literary salon was packed with the influential people of the time, including Louisa May Alcott, John Greenleaf Whittier, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, James Russell Lowell, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Julia Ward Howe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Bret Harte, Bayard Taylor, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edwin Booth, and Nathaniel Parker Willis who described Parnassus Corner as ‘the hub in which every spoke of the radiating wheel of Boston intellect had a socket.. ‘.
Alfred Tennyson was born in Somersby, Lincolnshire, a rector’s son and fourth of 12 children. He was one of the descendants of King Edward III of England. Reportedly, “the pedigree of his grandfather, George Tennyson, is traced back to the middle-class line of the Tennysons, and through Elizabeth Clayton ten generations back to Edmund, Duke of Somerset, and farther back to Edward III.”
The poet’s grandfather had violated tradition by making his younger son, Charles, his heir, and arranging for the poet’s father to enter the ministry. The contrast of his own family’s relatively straitened circumstances to the great wealth of his aunt Elizabeth Russell and uncle Charles Tennyson (who lived in castles!) made Tennyson feel particularly impoverished and led him to worry about money all his life.
His father, George Clayton Tennyson (1778–1831), was a rector for Somersby (1807–1831), also rector of Benniworth and Bag Enderby, and vicar of Grimsby (1815). The reverend was the elder of two sons, but was disinherited at an early age by his own father, the landowner George Tennyson (1750–1835) (who belonged to the Lincolnshire gentry as the owner of Bayons Manor and Usselby Hall), in favour of his younger brother Charles, who later took the name Charles Tennyson d’Eyncourt.
Rev. George Clayton Tennyson raised a large family and “was a man of superior abilities and varied attainments, who tried his hand with fair success in architecture, painting, music, and poetry.” Rev. Tennyson was “comfortably well off for a country clergyman and his shrewd money management enabled the family to spend summers at Mablethorpe and Skegness, on the eastern coast of England.” His mother, Elizabeth Fytche (1781–1865) was the daughter of Stephen Fytche (1734–1799), vicar of Louth (1764) and rector of Withcall (1780), a small village between Horncastle and Louth.
Tennyson’s father “carefully attended to the education and training of his children.”
Tennyson and two of his elder brothers were writing poetry in their teens, and a collection of poems by all three was published locally when Alfred was only 17. 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.
Tennyson was first a student of 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 1828, where he joined the secret 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 1829 he was awarded the Chancellor’s Gold Medal at Cambridge for one of his first pieces, on “Timbuctoo“. Reportedly, “it was thought to be no slight honor for a young man of twenty to win the chancellor’s gold medal.” He published his first solo collection of poems, Poems Chiefly Lyrical in 1830. “Claribel” and “Mariana”, which later took their place among Tennyson’s most celebrated poems, were included in this volume.
Although decried by some critics as over sentimental, his verse soon proved popular and brought Tennyson to the attention of well known writers of the day, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
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 her large brood. His friend Arthur Hallam came to stay with him during the summer and became engaged to Tennyson’s sister, Emilia Tennyson.
Tennyson also had a lifelong fear of mental illness, for several men in his family had a mild form of epilepsy, which was then thought a shameful disease. His father and brother Arthur made their cases worse by excessive drinking. His brother Edward had to be confined in a mental institution after 1833, and he himself spent a few weeks under doctors’ care in 1843. In the late twenties his father’s physical and mental condition worsened, and he became paranoid, abusive, and violent.
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 again for 10 more years, although he continued to write. That same year, Arthur Henry Hallam suffered a cerebral hæmorrhage while on vacation in Vienna and died. It devastated Alfred, but inspired him to produce a body of poetry that has come to be seen as among the world’s finest and best poems. However, roughly a decade of poetic silence followed Arthur Henry Hallam‘s death.
Tennyson and his family were allowed to stay in the rectory for some time, but later moved to Essex. An unwise investment in an ecclesiastical wood-carving enterprise soon led to the loss of much of the family fortune.
In 1839, Alfred and Emily Sellwood were officially engaged. By 1840, they were officially unengaged. Emily’s father had put a stop to the match, supposedly because Alfred was too poor to marry. He was, but the real reason was probably the very unhappy marriage between Charles, Alfred’s older brother, and Louisa Sellwood, Emily’s sister.
Charles was an opium addict, and though he eventually straightened out, by then Louisa had worked herself into a nervous collapse trying to help him. So Alfred and Emily suffered the pangs of separation, which showed pretty strongly in Alfred’s poetry of the time.
He threw himself into traveling and studying, and he eventually became proficient in several languages, including Persian and Hebrew…
In 1849, a wondrous thing happened-brother Charles was reconciled with his wife. The following year, on 13 June, Alfred and Emily married in great secrecy…. On 11 August 1852, Hallam Tennyson was born, followed by Lionel Tennyson on 16 March 1854.
In 1842, while living modestly in London, Tennyson published two volumes of Poems, the first of which included works already published and the second of which 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. W. S. Gilbert later adapted and parodied the piece twice: in The Princess (1870) and in Princess Ida (1884).
It was in 1850 that Tennyson reached the pinnacle of his career, finally publishing his masterpiece, In Memoriam A.H.H., dedicated to Arthur Henry Hallam. Later the same year he was appointed Poet Laureate in succession to William Wordsworth. In the same year (June 13), Tennyson married Emily Sellwood, whom he had known since childhood, in the village of Shiplake…
After William Wordsworth‘s death in 1850, Tennyson succeeded to the position of Poet Laureate, which he held until his own death in 1892. 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.
Queen Victoria was an ardent admirer of Tennyson’s work, and in 1884 created him Baron Tennyson, of Aldworth in the County of Sussex and of Freshwater in the Isle of Wight. Tennyson initially declined a baronetcy in 1865 and 1868 (when tendered by Benjamin Disraeli), finally accepting a peerage in 1883 at William Gladstone‘s earnest solicitation. He took his seat in the House of Lords on 11 March 1884.
Julia Margaret Cameron‘s sister ran the artistic scene at Little Holland House, and many homeopaths and supporters of homeopathy mingled together here, including Lewis Carroll, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and many others.
Tennyson was the first English writer raised to the Peerage. A passionate man with some peculiarities of nature, he was never particularly comfortable as a peer, and it is widely held that he took the peerage in order to secure a future for his son Hallam. Recordings exist of Lord Tennyson declaiming his own poetry, which were made by Thomas Alva Edison, but they are of relatively poor quality.
Famously, he wrote in In Memoriam: “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” In Maud, 1855, he wrote: “The churches have killed their Christ.” In “Locksley Hall Sixty Years After,” Tennyson wrote: “Christian love among the churches look’d the twin of heathen hate.” In his play, Becket, he wrote: “We are self-uncertain creatures, and we may, Yea, even when we know not, mix our spites and private hates with our defence of Heaven.” Tennyson recorded in his Diary (p. 127): “I believe in Pantheism of a sort.”
His son’s biography confirms that Tennyson was not Christian, noting that Tennyson praised Giordano Bruno and Spinoza on his deathbed, saying of Giordano Bruno: “His view of God is in some ways mine.” D. 1892.
Tennyson continued writing into his eighties, and died on 6 October 1892, aged 83. He was buried at Westminster Abbey. He was succeeded as 2nd Baron Tennyson by his son, Hallam, who produced an authorised biography of his father in 1897, and was later the second Governor-General of Australia.