Tennyson, Alfred by Faye Huntington
The birthplace of Alfred Tennyson, Poet-Laureate,
is described as an old white
rectory, standing on the slope of a hill, the
winding lanes shadowed by tall ashes and
elms, with two brooks meeting at the bottom
of the glebe field. One who has written of
the poet says: "In the early beginning of
this century the wind came sweeping through
the garden of this old Lincolnshire rectory,
and as the wind blew, a sturdy child of five
years old, with shining locks, stood opening
his arms upon the blast and letting himself be
blown along, and as he travelled on he made his
first line of poetry, and said, 'I hear a voice
that's speaking in the wind;' and ever since that
hour voices have been speaking to him and he
has given to us the thoughts borne on winds and
waves and by circumstances and surroundings,
in language that we can understand. Through
his poems we catch glimpses of babbling brooks,
and gardens, and ivied walls; of Italian skies
and summer mornings, of peaceful homes and
of battle crash, and as we read we may take in
the pure and grand sentiments which cannot
fail to have an elevating and inspiring influence
upon our hearts and lives."
Alfred Tennyson first saw the light in Lincolnshire,
England, in the year 1809. His father
was a clergyman, and a man of great abilities,
who carefully educated his children, and from
whom his sons may have inherited their poetical
genius. Of their mother it has been said that
"she was intensely and fervently religious, as a
poet's mother should be."
The story of Alfred's first attempt at verse-making
is this: one Sabbath all the elders of
the family were going to church, leaving the
child alone. An older brother gave him a slate
and a subject, "The Flowers in the Garden,"
and when the family returned from service he
handed the slate to his brother covered over with
blank verse, then waited while the critic read!
Imagine his satisfaction when the slate was
handed back with, "Yes, you can write."
It is also said that the first money he earned
by his pen was upon the occasion of his grandmother's
death, when he wrote an elegy, at his
grandfather's request, for which the old gentleman
paid him ten shillings, saying, "There, that
is the first money you have earned by your poetry,
and, take my word for it, it will be the last."
That must have been rather discouraging. If
the old grandfather could know of the honors
and the money which have come to his grandson
through his writings, he would doubtless be astonished.
He began to write for the press when quite
young, and has written much, and I have no
doubt his poems are familiar to you all. He
was made Poet-Laureate in 1850.
A boy who lived in the neighborhood of Tennyson's
home in the Isle of Wight, gave his definition
of Poet-Laureate to a lady who asked him
if he knew Mr. Tennyson.
"He makes moets for the Queen," was the
"What do you mean?" asked the lady.
"I don't know what they means," said the
boy, "but p'licemen often seen him walking
about a-making of 'em under the stars."
After Mr. Tennyson's marriage he settled at
Freshwater, in the Isle of Wight. This home of
the poet is described as "a charmed palace, with
green walls without, and speaking walls within.
There hung Dante with his solemn nose and
wreath; Italy gleamed over the doorways;
friends' faces lined the way, books filled the
shelves, and a glow of crimson was everywhere;
the great oriel drawing-room window was full of
green and golden leaves, and the sound of birds
and the distant sea. Beautiful in spring-time
when all day the lark trills overhead, and when
the lark has flown out of our hearing the thrushes
begin and the air is sweet with scents from many
"Later, when the health of Mrs. Tennyson required
a more quiet place, for Freshwater had
become a fashionable summer resort, the family
made for themselves a new home on the summit
of a high lonely hill in Surrey."
Now I might copy for you some bits out of
the poems I like the best; or, I might gather
here a cluster of bright gems, but I think you
will enjoy the search if you each try this for
Once I had occasion to select for a literary
exercise "Gems from Tennyson," and I found
it a delightful task, only it was hard to choose,
and harder to find a stopping place. I will
give the boys just one extract:
"Not once or twice in our fair island story,
The path of duty was the way to glory;
He that ever following her commands,
On with toil of heart and knees and hands,
Through the long gorge to the far light has won
His path upward and prevail'd,
Shall find the toppling crags of duty scaled
Are close upon the shining table-lands
To which our God himself is moon and sun."