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In Somersby. A little, a very little, wooded village in Southern Lancashire; behind it the white road climbing up to Tetford and the high wold; below it the brook slipping down past many a thorp off to the North Sea; pasture land about, dotted with sheep; misty hills afar-off: such is Somersby. As you come into the village by the hedge-row road winding northward from Horncastle, you see only one house of importance. It is a large rambling two-story house, with tiled roof and white wall, standing amidst elms and poplars, and overlooking from its side windows a quiet secluded lawn, edged with yews. This house in the early years of the century was the rectory of the Rev. George Clayton Tennyson, vicar of Grimsby, Bag Enderby, and Somersby. He was a just, austere man, but a man of many accomplishments, fond of music, a mathematician, linguist, and artist. If rather a hard man, even in bargains, any hardness in his nature was compensated for by the tenderness of his wife, daughter of the vicar of the neighbouring town of Louth.

The rectory was large, but it was none too large for the children that came to fill it-five daughters, and seven

sons of whom the third, born August 6, 1809, was Alfred Tennyson. The family was bookish; no sooner did the boys learn to write than they began authorship, and essays, poems, novels, tragedies are the story of their boyhood. Alfred wrote his first verses, when a bit of a schoolboy at Louth. They were about the flowers of the garden, and when he brought his elder brother his slate covered with blank verse after the manner of the Seasons, "Yes, you can write," said Charles. He wrote an elegy, however, on his grandmother, and his grandfather, giving him ten shillings, said with the wisdom of age, "There, that is the first money you have earned by your poetry, and, take my word for it, it will be the last." The facility of those early days must have been wonderful; the boy was not twelve years old when he had completed an epic of some four thousand lines; even the matured poet was not so ambitious.

One story that Tennyson himself tells lets us see the passionate devotion to poetry that possessed him even in childhood. When the news of Byron's death penetrated into that remote household, it came with a thrill of infinite grief the poet never forgot :

"Byron was dead!" I thought the whole world was at an end. I thought everything was over and finished for everyone that nothing else mattered. I remember I

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walked out alone, and carved Bryon is dead' into the sandstone." One thinks of Jane Welsh away in the north and the "awful and dreary blank" that came over creation when she heard the same words.

As the boys grew up they walked to the village-school of Holywell Glen, a spot that nature with trees and terraced rocks has made of perfect beauty. were sent to the grammar-school of Louth.

Still later they
Of these days

nothing of note is recorded, except perhaps a weakness in arithmetic and a tendency to reverie that made the future poet to his surprise often late for lessons.

What told on Alfred's life, was not those years so much as the following. Leaving Louth at the age of eleven, he was for eight years home in Somersby, studying with tutors, reading and writing prodigiously, going in to Horncastle for music and to meet one who afterwards became his wife, Miss Sellwood, niece of Sir John Franklin. Then there were the winter evenings spent by the family in music and reading; the long tramps over the wolds, all the boys smoking; reveries under the stars or in the twilight—“he would sit on a gate gawmin' about him," as farmer Baumer saw it. The summers were spent down at the little sea-side cottage at Mablethorpe in full view of the fens,

'Stretched wide and wild the waste enormous marsh.'

and of the

'Wild wave in the wide North-sea

Green-glimmering towards the summit.'

How all this pervades Tennyson's poetry; how it streams back to him in memory, -the 'ridged wolds,'' the sand-built ridge,' the 'lowly cottage,'

The woods that belt the grey hill side,

The seven elms, the poplars four

That stand beside my father's door,

And chiefly from the brook that loves

To purl o'er matted cress, and ribbed sand,

Or dimple in the dark of rushy coves.'

Such memories never vanish; in the susceptible tenacious mind of the poet they linger, welling up with fountainlike strength and freshness forever.

First authorship. In 1827 the eldest son Frederick went up to Cambridge, leaving Charles and Alfred to

carry on their devotion to reading, rambling, smoking, and poetry. Once, as the old nurse relates, they planned a distant expedition that called for more money than the ` tight purse of the father would allow. Why not print your poems, their confidant, the coachman, suggested. Out of the litter of MSS. they culled a hundred pages of boyish verse, called the collection Poems by two Brothers, sold it to a Louth bookseller, and rich with £10 for the copyright set off on their tour through the Lincolnshire churches.

At Cambridge. On Nov. 9th, 1828, Charles and Alfred joined Frederick at Cambridge. They were shy country lads, with no liking for society or for the sports and interests usual in university life. Alfred however became a member of a small society of choice spirits, which, under the name of the Apostles, brought together a few men, everyone of whom was afterwards famous. Such were Alford, Merivale, Milnes, Trench, Maurice, and above all Arthur Hallam, younger than Tennyson, a singularly sweet and brilliant genius, as near perfection," said his friend, 66 as mortal man can be." Tennyson though an Apostle did not cease to be a disciple of the muses. The Chancellor's prize, the goal of ambition to all the college poets, fell to him in 1829 for his verses on "Timbuctoo," Moreover he was constantly writing one thing or another and reading aloud his work to friends who would drop into his room evenings, in his strange deep monotonous half-chant.

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Poems, 1830. Thus was the material made ready for the poet's first real volume, the thin precious little book called Poems, chiefly Lyrical,* 1830. Here was the advent of a new poet; one who had, to quote Hallam,

*References are made to the poems of this volume on pp. 201, 212.

luxuriance of imagination yet control over it, power of entering into ideal characters and moods, picturesque delineation of objects, holding them fused in strong emotion, variety of lyrical measures, responsive to every changing feeling; elevation, soberness, impressiveness of thought. The tone and manner were new, provoking opposition and challenging and receiving criticism. The criticism is long dead; but the voice being authentic lived on, winning adherents.

In 1830 there was an exciting page of romance when Tennyson, Hallam, and some other Apostles went to Spain to join in the movement against Spanish despotism. Their movement was quixotic, and came to nothing as far as Spanish liberty was concerned; but it did much to cement the friendship of Tennyson and Hallam. This friendship grew closer even when the poet, on his father's death in 1831, withdrew from Cambridge to his home. Hallam and Spedding and Garden would go down to join the family group in Somersby. What sweet life those lines of Tennyson recalls, when thinking most of Hallam he wrote,

'O bliss, when all in circle drawn

About him, heart and ear were fed
To hear him, as he lay and read

The Tuscan poets on the lawn:

Or in the all-golden afternoon

A guest, or happy sister, sung,

Or here she brought the harp and flung
A ballad to the brightening moon.'

In 1831 the bond of friendship was made still stronger by
Hallam's engagement to the poet's sister Emily.

Poems of 1832. The following year when Hallam went up to London and the study of the law, Tennyson remained in Somersby working on his second volume.


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