In 1833 Arthur Henry Hallam died suddenly at the age of twenty-two, while on a trip to Vienna. Although a promising poet and essayist, Hallam is chiefly remembered as the one eulogized in Tennyson's In Memoriam. The two first met at Cambridge, where they became members of the legendary intellectual club, the "Apostles," and best friends.
For sixteen years after Hallam's death Tennyson wrote his series of poems, eventually collecting them as In Memoriam.
On June 1st, 1850, In Memoriam was published and was soon regarded as a monument not just to Hallam but to the Victorian Age.
Within two weeks of publication, Tennyson and Emily Sellwood married, she and her family now having overcome their own doubts about Tennyson's religious faith. On their honeymoon they visited Arthur Hallam's grave, "a kind of consecration" of their vows; in time they would name their first son "Hallam," and Tennyson would conclude that "The peace of God entered into my life when I married her."
Soon Tennyson became the poet laureate, replacing Wordsworth who had recently died. And replacing the Romantic Wordsworth who saw "Nature's holy plan," while the Victorian Tennyson saw "Nature, red in tooth and claw"
According to his grandson, "And something else had happened, the significance of which he [Tennyson] was beginning dimly to realize. Marriage, In Memoriam and the Laureateship had broken down his last defences against the stream of life. The days of musing and brooding were over. The recluse of Somersby had become a National Institution."
Tennyson regarded his poem as a response to the challenges of Darwinian science and industrialization, "a kind of Divina Commedia" spoken by "the voice of the human race" and expressing "my conviction that fear, doubt and suffering will find answer and relief only through Faith in a God of Love." Or as the poem's concluding lines express it, "One God, one law, one element, / And one far-off divine event / To which the whole creation moves."
Some find the poem's doubts and grief more telling than its faith, or prefer the famous lines on human love:
- I envy not in any moods
The captive void of noble rage,
The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:
I envy not the beast that takes
His license in the field of time,
Unfetter'd by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;
Nor, what may count itself as blest,
The heart that never plighted troth
But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
- (after steve king)