Tennyson and Browning perform

  • William Michael Rossetti


When Tennyson had concluded, Browning was implored to read his ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’, which, with some little pressing, he consented to do. The contrast between the two readers was interesting and highly characteristic. Tennyson, in his introduction to his ‘Mort Arthur’, has well described his own elocution—‘mouthing out his hollow o’s and a’s’ (except that ‘mouthing’, as a term of disparagement, should be altered into some milder word) — his grand deep voice sways onward with a long-drawn chaunt, which some hearers might deem monotonous, but which gives noble value and emphasis to the metrical structure and pauses. Browning’s voice, which was at once rich and peculiar, took much less account of the poem as a rhythmical whole; his delivery had more affinity to that of an actor, laying stress on all the light and shade of the composition — its touches of character, its conversational points, its dramatic give-and-take. In those qualities of elocution in which Tennyson was strong, and aimed to be strong, Browning was contentedly weak; and vice-versa.1 To which of the two modes of reading the preference should be accorded will remain a matter of taste; in the very small audience on that occasion, most were, I think, in favour of Tennyson.


  1. On 27 September 1855, Tennyson and Browning read at 13 Dorset Street, London, where the Brownings were staying. Tennyson gave his recent Maud, and was sketched as he read by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Also present were Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Arabel Barrett, Ford Madox Brown, William Michael Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. It was, W. M. Rossetti declared elsewhere, ‘truly a night of the gods, not to be remembered without pride and pang’ (Dante Gabriel Rossetti: his Family Letters, 2 vols (London, 1895), i.191).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • William Michael Rossetti

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