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Alfred Tennyson
by [?]

No student of pedagogics now believes that the free use of the rod ever made a child “good”; but all agree that it has often served as a safety-valve for a pent-up emotion in the parent or teacher.

The father of Alfred Tennyson applied the birch, and the boy took to the woods, moody, resentful, solitary. There was good in this, for the lad learned to live within himself, and to be self-sufficient: to love the solitude, and feel a kinship with all the life that makes the groves and fields melodious.

In Eighteen Hundred Twenty-eight, when nineteen years of age, Alfred was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge. He remained there three years, but left without a degree, and what was worse, with the ill-will of his teachers, who seemed to regard his as a hopeless case. He wouldn’t study the books they wanted him to, and was never a candidate for academic distinctions.

College life, however, has much to recommend it beside the curriculum. At Cambridge, Tennyson made the acquaintance of a group of young men who influenced his life profoundly. Kemble, Milnes, Brookfield and Spedding remained his lifelong friends; and as all good is reciprocal, no man can say how much these eminent men owe to the moody and melancholy Tennyson, or how much he owes to them.

* * * * *

Tennyson began to write verse very young. His first line is said to have been written at five, and he has told of going when thirteen years of age to visit his grandfather, and of presenting him a poem. The old gentleman gave him half a guinea with the remark, “This is the first money you ever made by writing poetry, and take my word for it, it will be the last!” When eighteen years of age, with his brother, Charles, he produced a thin book of thin verses.

We have the opinion of Coleridge to the effect that the only lines which have any merit in the book are those signed C.T. Charles became a clergyman of marked ability, married rich, and changed his name from Tennyson to Turner for economic and domestic reasons. Years afterward, when Alfred had become Poet Laureate, rumor has it he thought of changing the “Turner” back to “Tennyson,” but was unable to bring it about.

The only honor captured by Alfred at Cambridge was a prize for his poem, “Timbuctoo.” The encouragement that this brought him, backed up by Arthur Hallam’s declaiming the piece in public–as a sort of defi to detractors–caused him to fix his attention more assiduously on verse. He could write–it was the only thing he could do–and so he wrote.

At Cambridge he was in the habit of reading his poetry to a little coterie called “The Apostles,” and he always premised his reading with the statement that no criticism would be acceptable.

The year he was twenty-one he published a small book called, “Poems, Chiefly Lyrical.” The books went a-begging for many years; but times change, for a copy of this edition was sold by Quaritch in Eighteen Hundred Ninety-five for one hundred eighty pounds. The only piece in the book that seems to show genuine merit is “Mariana.”

Two years afterward a second edition, revised and enlarged, was brought out. This book contains “The Lady of Shalott,” “The May Queen,” “A Dream of Fair Women” and “The Lotus-Eaters.”

Beyond a few fulsome reviews from personal friends and a little surly mention from the tribe of Jeffrey, the volume attracted little or no attention. This coldness on the part of the public shot an atrabilarian tint through the ambition of our poet, and the fond hope of a success in literature faded from his mind.

And then began what Stopford Brooke has called “the ten fallow years in the life of Tennyson.” But fallow years are not all fallow. The dark brooding night is as necessary for our life as the garish day. Great crops of wheat that feed the nations grow only where the winter’s snow covers all as with a garment. And ever behind the mystery of sleep, and beneath the silence of the snow, Nature slumbers not nor sleeps.