Larger Hopes and the New Hedonism: Tennyson and FitzGerald
In defiance of both seniority and the alphabet, ‘Tennyson and FitzGerald’ is a formulation that shapes itself much more readily than ‘FitzGerald and Tennyson’; and it is of course a very different kind of pairing from Pope and Swift, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Eliot and Pound. It is the disparities between Tennyson and his friend (and again one instinctively puts it that way round) that most quickly seize the mind: the whale and the minnow; the vastly prolific major poet dedicated to the bardic vocation, and the dilettante translator-cum-man-of-letters whose creative stream usually ran shallow and sometimes dried up altogether; the celebrity or national institution, cossetted by his family and besieged by admirers, and the lonely eccentric single gentleman living a life of obscurity and self-imposed monotony. Yet their lives touch at many points; and, unequal though their achievement is, if In Memoriam was the Victorian age’s favourite poem, the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, which appeared in the same decade, was surely a close runner-up. After glancing at the history and nature of the relationship between Tennyson and FitzGerald, and the surviving record on both sides, I would like to make some comparisons between these two poems, the most celebrated sets of quatrains of their period. And if I seem at times to dwell a little more on FitzGerald than on Tennyson, this will be because In Memoriam and its history have received the larger share of attention in the past and will probably be more familiar to readers.
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- 1.Robert Bernard Martin, Tennyson: the Unquiet Heart (Oxford and London: Clarendon Press and Faber & Faber, 1980), p. 10.Google Scholar
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