October 24, 2017
Tennyson and In MemoriamOn this day in 1833 Arthur Henry Hallam died suddenly at the age of twenty-two, while on a trip to Vienna. Although a promising poet and essayist, Hallam is chiefly remembered as the one eulogized in Tennyson's In Memoriam. The two first met at Cambridge, where they became members of the legendary intellectual club, the "Apostles," and best friends. For sixteen years after Hallam's death Tennyson wrote his series of poems; though connected as stages in an evolving grief, the whole was not foreseen, nor was publication planned. When gathered together and anonymously printed on June 1st, 1850, In Memoriam was immediately popular-60,000 copies sold in six months-and soon regarded as a monument not just to Hallam but to the Victorian Age.
Tennyson regarded his poem as a response to the challenges of Darwinian science and industrialization,"a kind of Divina Commedia" spoken by "the voice of the human race" and expressing "my conviction that fear, doubt and suffering will find answer and relief only through Faith in a God of Love." Or as the poem's concluding lines express it, "One God, one law, one element, / And one far-off divine event / To which the whole creation moves." Some find the poem's doubts and grief more telling than its faith, or prefer the famous lines on human love:
The captive void of noble rage,
The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:
I envy not the beast that takes
His license in the field of time,
Unfetter'd by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;
Nor, what may count itself as blest,
The heart that never plighted troth
But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
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