An infant crying in the night


Like T S Eliot a century later, Tennyson found in the depth of his own suffering a way of reaching into anxieties that defined an epoch: the circling, hesitant stanzas of In Memoriam piled up over the ensuing years until, finally published anonymously in 1850, they came to embody the uneasy, needy spirit of the age. Wordsworth’s The Prelude, posthumously published in the same year, was quite eclipsed: it must have seemed like yesterday’s news. The extraordinary popularity of In Memoriam turned Tennyson into a very great success, which was never going to be unequivocally good news for someone whose métier was founded on the opposite of success. He became Poet Laureate; he married; he gradually turned into an institution. Batchelor is good on the days of fame, both the very great pleasure that Tennyson obviously took in celebrity and how simply awful he found it. His elder son, who was given the Christian name Hallam, remembered walking with his father one day when someone tapped him on the arm. ‘Do you know who it is with whom you are walking?’ asked the grammatically punctilious stranger. ‘Yes, my father,’ replied Hallam. ‘Nonsense, man,’ returned the pest, ‘you are walking with the poet Tennyson.’

more from Seamus Perry at Literary Review here.