Tennyson pp 141-159 | Cite as

Larger Hopes and the New Hedonism: Tennyson and FitzGerald

  • Norman Page


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.


Arab Character Opium Addict Royal Asiatic Society Large Hope Mental Breakdown 
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  1. 1.
    Robert Bernard Martin, Tennyson: the Unquiet Heart (Oxford and London: Clarendon Press and Faber & Faber, 1980), p. 10.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Robert Bernard Martin, With Friends Possessed: A Life of Edward FitzGerald (London: Faber & Faber, 1985), p. 22.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Charles Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson (London: Macmillan, 1949), p. 191.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    J. E. C[adell], ‘The True Omar Khayam’, Fraser’s Magazine, n. s., xix (May 1879), p. 650. The reviewer notes of the translation that ‘its inexactness has allowed for the infusion of a modern element’. FitzGerald himself describes the review as ‘a temperate and just Article’ (to E. B. Cowell, June 1879: Letters of EF iv, 225). It is perhaps not unfair to mention that Mrs Cadell was herself at work on a text and translation of Omar that remained unfinished at her death in 1884.Google Scholar
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    Mary Eleanor FitzGerald-Kerrich, ‘Edward FitzGerald: a Personal Reminiscence by his Great-Niece’, Nineteenth Century lxv (1909), p. 468.Google Scholar
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    John A. Lester, Jr, Journey through Despair 1880–1914: Transformations in British Literary Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968), p. 8; Sol Gittleman, ‘John Hay as a Critic of the Rubáiyát’, Victorian Newsletter xxiv (1963), p. 26.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    F. E. Hardy, The Life of Thomas Hardy (London: Macmillan, 1962), pp. 268, 446.Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    J. A. Clark, ‘On First Looking into Benson’s FitzGerald’, in Fifty Years of the South Atlantic Quarterly ed. W. B. Hamilton (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1952). The facetious tone of this essay makes it difficult to know how seriously Clark means to be taken: some of the alleged echoes are unconvincing, but others are undeniably startling.Google Scholar
  9. 21.
    David Daiches, Some Late Victorian Attitudes (London: André Deutsch, 1969), pp. 15–16.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1992

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  • Norman Page

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