Tennyson only met Prince Albert once and at the time of Prince Albert’s death , 14 December 1861, he had not yet met the Queen. Nevertheless, Princess Alice wrote to him soon after her father’s death to ask him to write something about him to soothe her mother’s grief. Tennyson never did like writing on set subjects and he feared that whatever he wrote about a man he held in such high esteem would fail.
Idylls of the King
He felt he must write something on this occasion and decided to dedicate the new edition of Idylls of the King to the Prince. For the dedication he wrote the blank-verse poem that has ever since been appended to the Idylls. Princess Alice wrote to Tennyson on receiving the lines and said the Queen wanted her to tell him ‘how much moved she was in reading them, and that they had soothed her aching, bleeding heart’ (Dear and Honoured Lady, p.65). We can only imagine how relieved he must have been that his poem had been well received.
". . . very peculiar looking"
The following year Tennyson had further proof that the Queen held him in high regard. On 25 March 1862 he received a letter commanding him to visit Queen Victoria at Osborne House; the ever shy Tennyson was nervous about the meeting.
It took place on 14 April 1862. The Queen described it briefly in her diary:
I went down to see Tennyson who is very peculiar looking, tall, dark, with a fine head, long black flowing hair and a beard—oddly dressed, but there is no affectation about him. I told him how much I admired his glorious lines to my precious Albert and how much comfort I found in his ‘In Memoriam.’ He was full of unbounded appreciation of beloved Albert. When he spoke of my own loss, of that to the Nation, his eyes quite filled with tears. (Dear and Honoured Lady, p. 69)
Tennyson’s frank and honest reaction to meeting his sovereign and to Albert’s death are endearing. She must have been used to people putting on airs when meeting her and seems to have found his lack of affectation refreshing. That speaking of Albert brought tears to his eyes must have proven to her that the emotion expressed in his dedication to Idylls of the King was genuine. Also, the regard Tennyson had for her beloved Albert must have strengthened her esteem for the poet.
This was the first of several visits. Between visits there were letters regarding what they had discussed, Tennyson’s poetry (In Memoriam , was, unsurprisingly frequently mentioned), and volumes the Queen sent to Tennyson. For example, in their first interview they discussed a couple of volumes of German poetry that were not available in England. Afterwards, the Queen sent to Germany for them and had them specially bound and sent to Tennyson.
A Barony Refused
The Queen wanted to use her position to do something for Tennyson. He, typically for him, refused to ask for anything. So, she offered him a barony by way of publically honouring the man whose work had given her such comfort after her husband’s death. He refused this honour four times: 1865, 1873, 1874, and 1880. Each time he refused he asked that it instead be conferred on his son, Hallam Tennyson, after his death. However, in 1883, he finally accepted the title. The Queen’s persistence in offering the barony to him demonstrates her continued interest in and regard for Tennyson.
Does this account of Tennyson’s relationship with Queen Victoria surprise you in any way? Or is it what you would have expected of him? As promised, next time I’ll discuss parts of In Memoriam. Do let me know which sections are your favourites and why.