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Alfred, Lord Tennyson was the most famous living poet in the world

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Royalty on Wednesday, 31 July 2013

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This edited article about Tennyson the Poet Laureate originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 356 published on 9 November 1968.

Tennyson, picture, image, illustration

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the first Poet Laureate known to the general public by Ken Petts

On 5th November, 1850, Alfred Tennyson received a letter from Windsor Castle. It read:

“By the death of the late lamented Wm. Wordsworth the office of Poet Laureate to the Queen became at her Majesty’s disposal . . . I have received the commands of the Queen to offer this post to you, as a mark of Her Majesty’s appreciation of your literary distinction.”

Tennyson thereupon wrote two letters – one refusing the post, the other accepting it. Then he sat down to dinner with his family and guests while he made up his mind which one to send. In the end, he accepted.

Alfred Tennyson, the fourth of a Lincolnshire parson’s 12 children, was then 41. He had constructed “an epic of 6,000 lines” by the time he was 12, and composed a drama in blank verse at the age of 14.

By 1850, when he was 41, Tennyson’s reputation was secure not only in Britain but also on the Continent and in America. He had already published three collections of his poems.

With Wordsworth, “Poet Laureate” was only a title. With Tennyson, it no longer fell short of its true meaning and purpose. Tennyson was the first poet to be recognised by the man-in-the-street as the greatest living representative of a living branch of letters.

Tennyson’s poems have a dignified, simple and sincere quality – he wrote on genuine impulse and not because he had to.

His life spanned a long period. For the 40 years or so of his Laureateship (the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny came in the first seven years) he wrote about scenes in English history, about the sea, the countryside and the people of this island kingdom.

Tennyson became known as “The Poet of the People”, and he had the ability “to walk with kings, nor lose the common touch”. He became a personal friend of the Queen and in his later years she sought guidance and comfort from him. He hesitated a long while before accepting a title, but in the spring of 1884, and at the express wish of the Queen, he became Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He was by now the most famous poet in the world.

When Tennyson died, on 6th October, 1892, the whole nation mourned.

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