Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 56.djvu/76

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Tennyson
Tennyson
70

no name upon the title-page, its authorship was never from the first moment in doubt. The public, to whose deepest and therefore commonest faiths and sorrows the poem appealed, welcomed it at once. The critics were not so prompt in their recognition. To some of them the poem seemed hopelessly obscure. Others regretted that so much good poetry and feeling should be wasted upon 'an Amaryllis of the Chancery Bar;' while another divined that the writer was clearly 'the widow of a military man.' The religious world, on the other hand, were perplexed and irritated for different reasons. Finding the poem intensely earnest and spiritual in thought and aim, and yet exhibiting no sympathy with any particular statements of religious truth popular at the time, the party theologians bitterly denounced it. To those, on the other hand, who were familiar with the deeper currents of religious inquiry working among thoughtful minds in that day, it was evident that the poem reflected largely the influence of Frederick Denison Maurice. How early in his life Tennyson made the personal acquaintance of Maurice seems uncertain. But Tennyson had been from his Cambridge days the intimate friend of those who knew and honoured Maurice, and could not have escaped knowing well the general tendency of his teaching. As early as 1830 we find Arthur Hallam writing to W. E. Gladstone in these terms: 'I do not myself know Maurice, but I know well many whom he has known, and whom he has moulded like a second nature; and those, too, men eminent for intellectual powers, to whom the presence of a commanding spirit would in all other cases be a signal rather for rivalry than reverential acknowledgment.' Maurice, moreover, was closely allied with such men as the Hares, R. C. Trench, Charles Kingsley, and others of Tennyson's early friends keenly interested in theological questions. And it may here be added that Tennyson invited Maurice to be godfather to his first child in 1851, and followed up the request with the well-known stanzas inviting Maurice to visit the family at their new home in the Isle of Wight in 1853.

The immediate reputation of 'In Memoriam' and the continued sale of the previous volumes now enabled Moxon to insure Tennyson a certain income which would justify him in marrying. The wedding accordingly took place on 13 June 1850 at Shiplake-on-the-Thames. The particular place was chosen because, after ten years of separation, the lovers had first met again at shiplake, at the house of a cousin of the Tennysons, Mrs. Rawnsley. In after life, his son tells us, his father was wont to say 'The peace of God came into my life when I wedded her.'

In April 1850 Wordsworth died, and the poet-laureateship became vacant. The post was in the first instance offered to Rogers, who declined it on the ground of age. The offer was then made to Tennyson, 'owing chiefly to Prince Albert's admiration of "In Memoriam.'" The honour was very acceptable, though it entailed the usual flood of poems and letters from aspiring or jealous bards. Meantime Tennyson wrote to Moxon in reply to a request for another volume of poems, 'We are correcting all the volumes for new editions.' In 1851 he produced his fine sonnet to Macready on occasion of the actor's retirement from the stage. On 20 April 1851 his first child, a son, was born, but did not survive its birth. In July of the same year Tennyson and his wife travelled abroad, visiting Lucca, Florence, and the Italian lakes, returning by the Splügen. The tour was afterwards celebrated in his poem 'The Daisy.' After his return to Twickenham, where they were now living (Chapel House, Montpelier Row), the poet was busy with various national and patriotic poems, prompted by the doubtful attitude towards England of Louis Napoleon 'Britons, guard your own,' and 'Hands all round,' printed in the 'Examiner.' On 11 Aug. his second child, a son, was born, and was named Hallam, after his early friend. The baptism was at Twickenham, and the godfathers Henry Hallam and F. D. Maurice.

In November of this year the Duke of Wellington died, and Tennyson's 'Ode' appeared on the morning of the funeral. It met at the moment with 'all but universal depreciation.' The form and the substance were alike unconventional, and its reception but one more instance of the great truth that a new poet has to create the taste by which he himself is to be enjoyed. No doubt it was added to and modified slightly to its advantage afterwards, and remains at this day among the most admired of Tennyson's poems. In 1853, while the poet was on a visit to the Isle of Wight, he heard of the house called Farringford at Freshwater as being vacant; and a joint visit with his wife to inspect it resulted in their taking it on lease, with the option of subsequent purchase. Tennyson had become weary of the many intrusions upon his working hours while so near London, and the step now taken was final. The place was purchased by him some two years later out of the profits resulting from 'Maud,' and during the rest