Hallam & Tennyson

September 15: 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 A. H. H. The two first met at Cambridge, where they became best friends, and members of the legendary intellectual club, the "Apostles." Hallam's death became an enduring inspiration for Tennyson—sixteen years of meditative poems, these connected as stages in an evolving grief, though Tennyson neither foresaw their unity nor expected to publish them. When gathered together and anonymously printed on June 1st, 1850, In Memoriam was overwhelmingly 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 In Memoriam as a response to the challenges of Darwinian science and industrialization. Intended as an expression of "my conviction that fear, doubt and suffering will find answer and relief only through Faith in a God of Love," the poem concludes with a ringing affirmation of "One God, one law, one element, / And one far-off divine event / To which the whole creation moves." But some find the poem's doubts and grief more telling than its faith, or prefer the famous lines on human love:

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."


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).