Thursday, August 7, 2008

From Writer's Almanac

Yesterday was Alfred, Lord Tennyson's birthday. I love when I read about an artist that was crazy about their craft. It reminds me of Judge and John.

It's the birthday of the poet Alfred Tennyson, (books by this author) born in Lincolnshire, England (1809). Tennyson lived at a time when authors like Charles Dickens were turning the novel into the most popular form of literature, and he was one of the last poets who could sell as many books as a novelist. Nearly every literate household owned at least one copy of his poetry. He was also one of the last poets of an era when poets wrote for the spoken voice. In Tennyson's day, poetry was meant to be read aloud among groups of people, as a form of parlor entertainment, like karaoke. He was a friend of Queen Victoria, and he wrote public poems for England, including "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington" (1852) and "Charge of the Light Brigade" (1854), which became unofficial national anthems.

At the height of his career, he was one of the most famous men in England. He loved poetry so much that he wrote almost nothing else. Unlike other poets of his day, he never wrote a preface, an essay, a review, a diary, a memoir, or even a fragment of autobiography. He hated writing letters because they took time away from his real work.

Tennyson moved with his wife, Emily, to the Isle of Wight to a big, secluded house called Farringford. Emily loved that their clocks were not even synchronized with those of the rest of the world. Alfred took walks on the great chalk cliffs overlooking the sea, composing his poems to the rhythm of his own footsteps.

In 1864, he published Enoch Arden, which had the largest sales of any book during his lifetime. More than 40,000 copies sold on publication, and in the first year, it made Tennyson more than £8,000, as much as the income of many of the richest men in England. In London, Tennyson was followed in the streets by admirers, and the walls of his country estate were lined with tourists who sometimes even came up to the house and peered into the windows to watch the family eat their dinner.

At the age of 75, he was offered a lordship in honor of his poetry. It was the first time in history that any Englishman had ever been given a title for literary achievement alone. Tennyson said that he accepted the title on behalf of all literature. And that is why we now call him Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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