I preached Tennyson to them

William Allingham’s Works,
Mark Samuels Lasner laments, in William Allingham: A Bibliographical Study

William Allingham’s Works

Mark Samuels Lasner laments, in William Allingham: A Bibliographical Study (1993), that out of Allingham’s many published works the only one that ‘has received anything approaching popular attention’ is his posthumously published Diary (page 9). Lasner posits that the reason for this is that the Diary records ‘the talk and daily lives of Allingham’s more famous contemporaries—the Brownings, Rossetti, George Eliot, Henry James, and above all Tennyson and Carlyle’ (page 9).
For those who are unfamiliar with Allingham’s work, he published in many forms, including poetry and drama. You can read many of his poems and you’ll find a complete list of his works (with modern editions and quotations).

Allingham’s Early Life

Allingham was born on 19 March 1824 in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. He had a difficult childhood; his mother died when he was only nine years old and his father’s health was not strong. When he was fourteen he left school to work at the bank where his father was manager. He does not seem to have relished his work in the bank, for in his Diary he writes that eight years later, 1846, he ‘gladly took leave for ever [sic]’ of that post to move to Belfast and take the post of Principal Coast Officer of Customs even though it only paid £80 per year (page 31).

Allingham’s Admiration for Tennyson’s Poems

Allingham reveals his reverence for Tennyson’s work in the first comment he makes on his new post in the Customs office:

I preached Tennyson to them, hitherto an unknown name, and recited bits from Locksley Hall, meeting at first a cold reception, but afterwards better acknowledgement. One of the head-clerks came up to me one morning with the greeting, ‘Well, I’ve read Locksley Hall, and it’s a very fine poem!’ (31-32)

He leaves the subject here and goes on to discuss how he lived his life in Belfast. It is rather endearing that he considers the subject closed once he demonstrates that he has won over his audience to his way of seeing Tennyson’s poetry. That he couches his promotion of Tennyson as ‘preaching’ and treats the head-clerk’s change of attitude as a conversion of sorts demonstrates how seriously he took his mission to share the poet’s work with those around him.

On 1 January 1849, two years before Allingham finally made Tennyson’s acquaintance, he again notes a friend’s response to Tennyson. He wrote that one of his friends ‘looked into my Tennyson, and saying, “Now this is what I call stuff!” began to read out part of ?none’ (page 45). Allingham goes on to report ‘He looked rather stunned. How Tennyson gives the effect of everything,--enriched with a peculiar glow!’(page 45). He seems to take great pleasure in seeing the profound impact Tennyson has on his readers.

It is, of course, impossible to know which lines of ‘Oenone ’ (to use the more usual spelling) Allingham and his friend were so struck with on that on that cold January day, but it is easy to see that any passage from this poem would strike a reader as ‘giv[ing] the effect of everything’; the poem begins with an invocation of the landscape in which Oenone wanders as she mourns the loss of Paris and then details the lamentations she makes to her ‘Dear mother Ida’.

These are the most striking accounts of Allingham’s feelings about Tennyson before the two poets met. He also recounts a solitary dinner in a restaurant during which he meets someone he thinks might be Tennyson (page 51). Clearly, Allingham is eager to meet the great poet, which accounts for his excitement when he learns that Coventry Patmore planned to give Tennyson a copy of Allingham’s first volume (page 58).


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the early accounts of Allingham’s relationship with Tennyson and his work. Next time, I’ll examine their first meeting and the early years of their relationship. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your reactions to Allingham’s works and/or which of Tennyson’s poems you think is most ‘enriched with peculiar glow’.

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