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Picture of Arthur Henry Hallam, poet; nineteenth century British Literature / English Literature and poetry

September 15, 1833
Alfred Lord Tennyson, Arthur Henry Hallam
Tennyson and In Memoriam
by Steve King

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On 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:
    I envy not in any moods
    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.
For Tennyson, the poem was also about love won. Within two weeks of publication, he and Emily Sellwood married, she and her family now having overcome their own doubts about Tennyson's religious faith. On their honeymoon they visited Arthur Hallam's grave, "a kind of consecration" of their vows; in time they would name their first son "Hallam," and Tennyson would conclude that "The peace of God entered into my life when I married her." Prosperity and fame also arrived: poet laureate Wordsworth had recently died, and on the strength of In Memoriam, which was much admired by Queen Victoria and others in high places, Tennyson vaulted to the front of the list of candidates. This changing of the guard -- the Romantic Wordsworth saw "Nature's holy plan," while the Victorian Tennyson saw "Nature, red in tooth and claw" -- would last for most of the next half-century and, as put in a biography written by Tennyson's grandson, establish another monument:
    And something else had happened, the significance of which he [Tennyson] was beginning dimly to realize. Marriage, In Memoriam and the Laureateship had broken down his last defences against the stream of life. The days of musing and brooding were over. The recluse of Somersby had become a National Institution.

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Related authors:  Arthur Henry Hallam, Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Lord Tennyson, John Milton, Percy Bysshe Shelley
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