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The poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, is among the greatest of English literature.Many of his poems are mainstays of literature courses, and most have attracted copious critical attention. Among the many people who assisted me, I feel an obligation to single out Ms. In the view of many early reviewers, Shannon says, Tennyson was part of the radical crowd that was thought to be headquartered at Cambridge (Tennyson, 25, 22). The young John Stuart Mill, writing in an early issue of the London Review (July 1835), accuses the Quarterly Review of practicing needless antagonism toward new voices.
His frustration at having to complete his work without quoting from the manuscripts at Trinity was shared by many who used this first edition. Kingsley’s review is especially noteworthy because it represents a new turn in Tennyson criticism: the age of unqualified, perhaps even hyperbolic, praise for anything the poet published.
Fortunately, the prohibition was lifted several years later. In Memoriam, he states without hesitation, is “the noblest Christian poem which England has produced for two centuries” (Jump 173).
One of the primary purposes of the series is to illuminate the nature of literary criticism itself, to gauge the influence of social and historic currents on aesthetic judgments once thought objective and normative. Throughout most of his life he had become accustomed to treating the family of his Uncle George with open disdain. “What a discredit it is that British taste and Poetry should have such a representative before the Nations of the Earth and Posterity! Posterity will, it is hoped, have a sound judgment on such matters, and if so what an age this must appear when such trash can be tolerated and not only tolerated but enthusiastically admired! Posterity has not come to share Uncle Charles’s judgment. A Catalogue of the Tennyson Collection in the Library of University College, Cardiff. The early volumes were reviewed favorably in several journals, including the Western Messenger in Louisville, Kentucky.
— (Studies in English and American literature and culture. Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson, Baron, 1809–1892—Criticism and interpretation—History. Roberta Rohrbach of the Franco Library at Alvernia, a librarian and researcher extraordinaire when it comes to locating copies of long-out-of-print volumes and journals. Meeting the work of emerging writers “with a curl of the lip,” the critic for the Quarterly gains pleasure not from the work being reviewed, but from “his own cleverness in making it contemptible” (Jump 85).
The rise in the Victorians’ reputation during the middle of the twentieth century saw a concurrent rise in Tennyson’s stature, though the hostile trends latecentury critics displayed toward more politically conservative Victorian writers has had an effect on the Victorian laureate’s reputation. Horne is perceptive, too, in recognizing that, although little acknowledged in earlier reviews, “Ulysses” is “one of the most exquisite . In fact, many of these reviewers challenged the poet to become more of a teacher and less a melancholy lyricist.
At the same time, some of his poems have risen or fallen in stature — a trend reflecting as much on the tastes of the twentieth century as it does on Tennyson. John Forster, writing in the Examiner in 1842, expresses these TENNYSON AMONG HIS CONTEMPORARIES: 1827–1892 ♦ 15 thoughts succinctly: “we think that he would find himself able to fly a higher flight than lyric, idyl, or eclogue, and we counsel him to try it” (Shannon, Tennyson, 62). Anyone wishing to understand Tennyson’s reputation should first be familiar with the history of the texts used to present his works to twentieth-century readers, the major sources for biographical information, and the important bibliographical studies that precede and complement the present study. While some early commentaries were decidedly favorable (cf. Marston sums up critical opinion quite succinctly in the opening sentence of his Athenaeum review in 1848: “There is so much to admire in this volume that we cannot wish it unwritten,” he says, but “so much also to censure that, while we could recognize the whole if tendered as a pledge of genius, we cannot accept it as a due consummation of that faculty” (Jump 166). For more than half of the twentieth century, scholars relied on the multivolume edition of Tennyson’s poetry, commonly known as the Eversley Edition, published by Macmillan & Co. Shannon, Tennyson, 98–100), strong criticisms by writers in influential periodicals such as the Spectator, Athenaeum, and Atlas gave the public a negative impression of the poem. On the other side of the ocean, however, the young poet was faring much better. Contents Acknowledgments Introduction vii 1 1: Tennyson Among His Contemporaries:1827–1892 11 2: A Mixed Legacy: 1892–1916 31 3: Criticism Pro and Con: 1916–1959 65 4: The Tennyson Revival: 1960–1969 104 5: The Height of Critical Acclaim: 1970–1980 127 6: Tennyson Among the Poststructuralists: 1981–1989 149 7: Tennyson Fin-de-Siècle: 1990–2000 175 8: A Twenty-First Century Prospectus 194 Works by Alfred Tennyson 197 Works Cited 199 Index 227 Acknowledgments A S THE CRITICS OF CULTURE are quick to point out, no book is produced in a vacuum, and no author can claim exclusive rights to its preparation. Whether Croker, Wilson, and other early reviewers were aiming principally at Tennyson or the associates who held him in high esteem may be debated. But now he was totally exasperated with his nephew Alfred’s latest volume, Maud, and Other Poems. The Bayons branch of the family never reconciled themselves to the fame achieved by their poor relation who had been elevated (quite unfairly in their view) to become England’s poet laureate in 1850. The admiring commentary written by Margaret Fuller for the Dial in 1841 indicates the high favor in 2 which Tennyson was held by his American cousins. Marshall compiled A Tennyson Handbook (1963), providing details about publication history, background, plot, and theme. “The Influence of Tennyson in America: Its Sources and Extent.” Review of Reviews (6 December 1892): 553–56. “Tennyson.” The Athenaeum: A Mirror of Victorian Culture. The result was the publication, in 1850, of In Memoriam, A. One went so far as to surmise that it 16 ♦ TENNYSON AMONG HIS CONTEMPORARIES: 1827–1892 was written by a widow as a tribute to her late husband. Novelist Charles Kingsley, writing in Fraser’s Magazine (September 1850), expressed what many thought: “All the world, somehow, knows the author” (Jump 173). Man and His Myths: Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King” in Critical Context. While this book still serves as a useful guide to understanding individual poems, Marshall’s work was supplanted in INTRODUCTION ♦ 3 less than a decade by one of the great achievements of twentieth-century editing, Christopher Ricks’s The Poems of Tennyson (1969). Reaction to the poem was almost universally favorable. And above all, he could offer readers the possibility of hope emerging from grief as he did in his signatory accomplishment, In Memoriam A. He did not simply become a poet laureate; rather he became “the greatest of all laureates, the man with whom the title itself will always be most closely associated” (Ormond 109). Whether negative criticism or the series of personal tragedies that brought significant change to his life affected him more may be open to question; what is certain is that Tennyson waited a decade to publish another volume of poetry. The first contained selections of earlier works, many revised; the second consisted of previously unpublished poems. John Sterling, like Tennyson an Apostle at Cambridge, wrote a balanced review that appeared in what might seem a most unlikely place: the Quarterly Review (September 1842), which had published Croker’s hostile attack a decade earlier. He was, as Joanna Richardson describes him in the title of her critical biography, the “pre-eminent Victorian.” Hence, it is not surprising that Tennyson’s reputation has risen, fallen, and risen again as critics during the twentieth century continued to reassess and reinterpret the Victorian Age. After a lengthy introduction in which he bemoans the absence of any great poets in his own time — the influence of his mentor Thomas Carlyle is most evident at this point — Sterling praises Tennyson for producing verse that is fit to its station and worthy of readers’ attention. As the century closed, a new generation was finding fault not only with his artistry but also with what they considered his priggish morality, while those who were growing old with him continued to treat him with the reverence accorded to sages and saints. Having expressed confidence in Tennyson’s poetic powers more than a decade earlier (Tatler, February 1831), he encourages Tennyson to outgrow his boyish desire for unqualified praise (128). Horne acknowledges this explicitly in A New Spirit of the Age (1844) when he awards Tennyson “the title of a true poet of the highest class of genius” (153). Fox, Mill, Hunt, Sterling, and certainly Hallam and Spedding all express their belief that Tennyson’s early efforts would not be his best. For a half-century after his death, his reputation suffered the same fate as other Victorians at the hands of their children and grandchildren who found the promises of optimism and belief in progress demolished and dispelled by the tragedy of world war and the emergence of modernism. Hunt’s balanced critique indicates that the tide was turning in the poet’s favor. Horne is among the earliest to notice a characteristic that later critics, including T. Eliot, would highlight in describing Tennyson’s limitations: while he can be “intensely tragic” and display “great power of concentration,” he “is not at all dramatic” (Jump 160). They predicted that, once he turned to loftier subjects, he would produce works that 4 would rank with the greatest in the language. “Tennyson’s Parable of Soul Making: A Jungian Reading of The Princess.” In CUNY English Forum.