Decorative Initial A lfred, Lord Tennyson, like Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Charles Kingsley, T.H. Huxley, and Victoria herself, is one of the people meant when we speak of " the Victorians."

What made Tennyson so Victorian was his ready acceptance of the mores of his day, his willingness to conform to popular taste, to write a poetry that was easily understood and enjoyed (something that Robert Browning never could, or would, do, although he often said he wanted to). If we expect poets to be rebellious, like Shelley, Byron, Swinburne, or Dylan Thomas, Tennyson must disappoint us in this regard; but it is important to remember that his behavior involves no hypocrisy. This was a position which he readily accepted: no Poet Laureate before him had so regularly written so much occasional verse. He wrote poems on the death of Lord Nelson, on the birth of Princess Alexandra, and dedicated the complete Idylls of the King to Albert, the Prince Consort (Victoria's beloved husband) -- which lead to Swinburne's description of the Idylls as the "Morte d'Albert." But again, we should remember that Tennyson knew and liked the royal family. Prince Albert had come to visit him on the Isle of Wight just shortly after he and his family had moved in, and the Queen summoned him to court several times. It was at her insistence that he accepted his title, having declined it once when Disraeli offered it and again when Gladstone did.

Partly as a result of his position as a public and nationalist figure, Tennyson was by far the most popular poet of the Victorian era. No poet was ever so completely a national poet: Henry James said in 1875 that his verse had become "part of the civilization of his day." This probably explains why literary opinion turned so sharply against him in the earlier part of the twentieth century, as we reacted against all things Victorian.


Victorian Web

Last modified 1988