May 14

This Day in History

Literary

May 14, 1842:

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, publishes his popular volume Poems

On this day in 1842, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, publishes a volume called Poems. While the 32-year-old poet had already published several other books of verse, Poems, which included works like "Ulysses" and "Morte D'Arthur," was considered his best work to date. The book confirmed his growing stature as a poet after more than a decade of writing.

Tennyson was born into a chaotic and disrupted home. His father, the eldest son of a wealthy landowner, was disinherited in favor of his younger brother. Forced to enter the Church to support himself, the Rev. Dr. George Tennyson became a bitter alcoholic. However, he educated his sons in the classics, and Alfred Tennyson, the fourth of 12 children, went to Trinity College at Cambridge in 1827. The same year, he and his brother Charles published Poems by Two Brothers. At Cambridge, Tennyson befriended a circle of intellectual undergraduates who strongly encouraged his poetry. Chief among them was Arthur Hallam, who became Tennyson's closest friend and who later proposed to Tennyson's sister.

In 1830, Tennyson published Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. The following year, his father died, and he was forced to leave Cambridge for financial reasons. Besieged by critical attacks and struggling with poverty, Tennyson remained dedicated to his work and published several more volumes.

The sudden death of Tennyson's dear friend Arthur Hallam in 1833 inspired several important works throughout Tennyson's later life, including the masterful In Memoriam of 1842. The publication of Poems in 1842 boosted Tennyson's reputation, and in 1850 Queen Victoria named him poet laureate. At long last, Tennyson achieved financial stability and finally married his fiancee Emily Sellwood, whom he had loved since 1836.

Tennyson's massive frame and booming voice, together with his taste for solitude, made him an imposing character. He craved solitude and bought an isolated home where he could write in peace. In 1859, he published the first four books of his epic Idylls of the King. Eight more volumes would follow. He continued writing and publishing poems until his death in 1892.

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