Alfred, Lord Tennyson (b. 6 August 1809 – d. 6 October 1892) is one of Lincolnshire's most famous figures. He remains the longest serving Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, having held the position for 42 years. Still one of Britain's most loved poets, Tennyson is the ninth most quoted author in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations with many people still finding inspiration in his work today.
Tennyson was born in Somersby, a village in the East Lindsey district of the county. He was the fourth of twelve children born to George Clayton Tennyson, the rector of Somersby, and his wife Elizabeth. Tennyson attended Louth's King Edward VI Grammar School from 1816 to 1820, before being educated by his father who shared a love of poetry. In 1827, Tennyson then went to Trinity College, Cambridge. In the same year, aged 18, he published his first collection entitled Poems by Two Brothers, which also featured work by his brother Charles. In 1829 he won the Chancellor's Gold Medal for the poem Timbuctoo. Tennyson published his first solo collection, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, in 1830.
The death of his father in 1831 meant Tennyson had to leave Cambridge and return to Lincolnshire. At the end of 1832 he published another volume of poetry: Poems by Alfred Tennyson. It contained work that would become well known, such as The Lady of Shalott, but received unfavourable reviews. These greatly affected Tennyson. Subsequently he shied away from publication for a decade, although he did continue to write during that time. The sudden death of his close friend Arthur Hallam, who he had met at Cambridge, also affected Tennyson badly.
Hallam's death inspired Tennyson's In Memoriam A.H.H., which, after 17 years of writing, was published in 1850 and is now widely regarded as the highest point in Tennyson's career. This contained the famous lines, ’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all, and became a huge source of comfort to many who had lost loved ones, including Queen Victoria. She appointed Tennyson as Poet Laureate in the same year. In 1883 Tennyson was awarded a peerage, and became Baron Tennyson of Aldworth and Freshwater. Tennyson died at his home in Aldworth, Sussex, 1892.
The selection of objects in the Spotlight Display provides an insight into Tennyson as a man and a poet. These were all purchased by Lincolnshire County Council from the Tennyson family. Some of the displayed objects would have been found in Tennyson's desk. These include ink bottles, an ivory pencil, a bottle of cologne that Tennyson used to clean his pipes and a beautiful writing case. Other items are much more personal and include a lock of Tennyson's hair, a travel pipe, a silk top hat and a pair of his spectacles.
When writing his poetry, Tennyson took inspiration from a wide variety of sources. Much of his earlier work drew on the imagery of classical myths and medieval romances, while his later work offered poetic responses to the important events of the day. In 1854 he wrote The Charge of the Light Brigade after reading a newspaper article describing the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. Tennyson's words have continued to resonate with many people. In the challenging situation we are all currently facing, these words from the Idylls of the King (1885) seem to be as relevant today as when they were first written:
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
The Tennyson Spotlight Display will be available to visit until Thursday 15th November. To pre-book your free entry ticket please click here.
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