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Alfred Lord Tennyson described Arthur Henry Hallam as being ‘as near perfection as mortal man could be’. The two had met at Trinity College Cambridge in April 1829. Both joined the Cambridge Apostles – a secret debating society which discussed literature, religion and politics – and both entered the Chancellor’s Prize Poem Competition (which Tennyson won). The two became close friends and Hallam spent the 1830 Easter vacation with the Tennysons at their family home in Somersby, Lincolnshire. It was here that Hallam declared his love for Tennyson’s sister Emily, and where Hallam and Tennyson made plans to publish a volume of poetry together. Hallam also played an important role in Tennyson’s career, introducing him to the publisher Edward Moxon and writing perceptive articles praising his poetry. When Hallam died suddenly, at the age of only 22, the effect on Tennyson was profound. It plunged him into a lengthy period of mourning during which he questioned his religious faith, but it also provided the impetus for arguably his most famous poem, In Memoriam.
The poems seen here come from Hallam’s notebook. The page with the heading ‘Sonnet. I need not say by whom’, however, although written down in Hallam’s hand was actually composed by Tennyson. Hallam sent the sonnet, without permission, to Edward Moxon, publisher of The Englishman’s Magazine. The poem was published in the periodical in August 1831 – together with an essay by Hallam titled ‘On Some Characteristics of Modern Poetry, and on the Lyrical Poems of Alfred Tennyson’. The poem itself was never reprinted by Tennyson.
The other poems shown here were all composed by Hallam and provide a fascinating, and intensely personal, insight into Hallam’s life and his relationship with both Alfred and Emily Tennyson. ‘A plaint’, dated June 1831, is a love poem addressed to Emily, and mentions her ‘dark delicious eyes’. The following poem, beginning ‘Oh Poetry, oh rarest spirit of all … ’ is a heartfelt farewell to poetry itself. ‘A lover’s reproof’ was, again, written for Emily – Hallam sent her a copy of the poem in a letter postmarked 12 July 1831. ‘A scene in Summer’, dated 1831, was addressed to Alfred Tennyson – ‘Alfred, I would that you beheld me now, sitting beneath a mossy ivied wall …’.
The friendship between Hallam and Tennyson was deep, playing an essential part in the formative development of both. His love for Emily – the pair became formally engaged in April 1832 – would have drawn him even closer into the family. Although Hallam is still primarily remembered simply as Tennyson’s close friend – a friend whose death provided the impetus for In Memoriam – he is increasingly regarded as a poet of note, and as a perceptive critic whose encouragement helped to shape Tennyson’s early work.