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Tennyson: a romantic in an un-romantic age

Emeritus Professor John Batchelor, Newcastle University

Date/Time: 4th December 2012

When Alfred Tennyson was born, on 6 August 1809, the figures who came to define what we mean by ‘Romantic’ were at full strength. The young Tennyson loved both the poetry and the political daring of Byron and Shelley, identified closely with Keats’ lyricism, and was in awe of Coleridge and Wordsworth. We now think of Tennyson as a paramount Victorian, but Victoria did not become queen until 1837, by which time some of his greatest poems were already written. The Romantics both nurtured Tennyson and made way for him; after Wordsworth’s death in 1850 Tennyson succeeded him as Poet Laureate.

From the publication of his Morte d’Arthur in 1842, Tennyson had moved towards the big narrative poems that he would write for 30 years of his later life: with these ‘Idylls of the King’ he moulded the Victorian audience’s taste for long poems which celebrated English national identity. But the lyrical privileging of imagination was never abandoned, and reappears strongly in his last volumes. He never stopped being a Romantic.

The reader for this lecture was Ben Schwarz, a Newcastle University graduate and playwright, who is based in the North East.