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  You are in: Home > Biography > ‘A Life Lived Quickly’  
 

‘A Life Lived Quickly’
Tennyson’s Friend Arthur Hallam and His Legend

Martin Blocksidge

Martin Blocksidge was Head of English at the Royal Grammar School, Guildford, and Director of Studies at St. Dunstan's College, London. He is a former President of The English Association. Martin Blocksidge is the author of The Sacred Weapon: An Introduction to Pope's Satire, and editor and contributor to Teaching Literature and Shakespeare in Education (Continuum), as well as various articles on Shakespeare, nineteenth-century poetry, and the teaching of English literature.

 

Arthur Hallam’s early death was the subject of Tennyson’s celebrated poem In Memoriam. As a result of its popularity, Hallam became a legendary figure, very much accepted on Tennyson’s terms as being almost divinely gifted and of immense promise. While this representation of Hallam has remained generally accepted, A Life Lived Quickly seeks both to supplement and challenge it, offering a more detailed and objective portrait of the man. That Hallam has a difficult relationship with his father (himself a famous literary figure), suffered a mental breakdown during his first year at Cambridge, and pursued an extremely fraught love affair with Tennyson’s sister in the face of opposition from both families, are important but largely unknown aspects of his life. The author also repudiates the often-made suggestion that Hallam and Tennyson may have had a homosexual relationship.

As well as examining Hallam’s published writings, the book makes liberal use of his letters, of which a collected edition has been in existence since 1981, and includes treatments of hitherto unpublished poems and more recently discovered letters. Apart from presenting Arthur Hallam as a complex and interesting character in his own right, the book offers insight into the literary culture of early nineteenth-century England. In devoting attention to Hallam’s time at Eton and Cambridge, the book also deals in detail with the experience of being educated in those unreformed institutions.



List of Illustrations, Preface & Acknowledgements

chapter one
Naturally Disputatious: Father and Son, 1811–1822

chapter two
An Unreformed Education: Eton College, 1822–1827

chapter three
A Farewell to the South: Italy, 1827–1828

chapter four
‘Cambridge I hate intensely’: Trinity College, 1828–1829

chapter five
Living Awfully Fast: The Apostles and Somersby, 1830–1831

chapter six
A Young Man of Letters, 1831–1833
The Last of Cambridge
Mainly in London

chapter seven
A Creature of Great Promise: Death and Transfiguration

Notes, Bibliography & Index


“Scrupulously fair-minded…balanced and believable…generous but clear-eyed.” TLS

“In the penultimate paragraph of his biography, Martin Blocksidge writes:
‘It is as a phenomenon just beyond the reach of physical reality that Hallam has largely been perceived since his death. It has served so many to grant him his own special status: superhuman, almost supernatural, iconic, but bearing only a glancing reference to the man of flesh and blood.’


It is quickly apparent that Blocksidge’s purpose in this fine survey of Hallam’s 22 years of life is to restore flesh and blood to these fugitive remains. Nowhere is this more potently successful than in his account of the idyllic Somersby episodes of 1830 when Hallam fell in love with Emily Tennyson and produced what are easily his best poems, called in the manuscript notebook in which they are inscribed ‘Somersby Sonnets’ and ‘Sonnets written after my return from Somersby’. Because, as Blocksidge says, these poems look outwards to the loveliness of the settings and to the tenderness of the beloved, they are paradoxically more revealing about Hallam’s personality than most of his other poems. Importantly he says that from this moment Hallam’s involvement with the Tennyson family increasingly centred on Emily rather than on Alfred. This jolts one into a redefining of our picture of the Alfred/Arthur relationship and it is like a breath of fresh air blowing over perceptions, assumptions and judgments figuring in many biographical presentations of Tennyson.

It means of course that we must see Tennyson’s In Memoriam not only as a memory of Arthur Hallam but also as a memory of Arthur’s courtship of Emily. This is why the setting of Somersby is so important. Blocksidge opens this vein and prompts these further speculations though he does not develop them. It must be remembered that Hallam’s intent was to marry Emily – the whole movement of these, his last years, was moulded by this driving desire. There is thus a striking resonance in Tennyson’s having chosen to end his great elegy with a marriage, so bringing Hallam’s quest for marital fulfilment into a correspondingly powerful imaginative poetic conclusion.

While Hallam’s relationship with Emily may be a central issue in the book, other issues are treated with equal dexterity. For example, Hallam’s distress on having to leave schoolfriends highlights the essentially lonely side of his nature and explains to a great degree his pull to the gregarious world of debating which he relished both at Eton and at Cambridge. Also the problem of Gladstone and Hallam’s acquaintance is succinctly and sensitively dealt with, as in this extract:

In 1829, two years after his departure from Eton, Gladstone’s feelings about Hallam were still peculiarly intense, as an entry in his diary for the 14th of September that year shows. […] Gladstone sounds wounded and betrayed. The entry is embarrassed and oblique, its subject remaining anonymous throughout, though easily identifiable. Gladstone seems to be confronting a series of emotions which he would otherwise prefer to evade. Other potentially problematic aspects of the life are treated with similar delicacy; while Henry Hallam figures large in the outline of Arthur’s upbringing and provokes dislike in the reader, as he did his own contemporaries, here Blocksidge softens the effect with a sympathy and compassion that enriches the portrayal.

The book is graced with choice expressions (Tennyson’s ‘fleet but flimsy’ poems addressed to young ladies, ‘real or imagined’, for example), the research is rigorous and the judgements are fair and rounded. This is an extremely worthy tribute to its subject and it is pleasing to have it appear in the bicentennial year.” Roger Evans, Tennyson Research Bulletin


It is admirable in many ways: superbly researched, judicious, comprehensive, and very readable. For the first time we have something approaching the real Hallam, a sense of what he was, and what he might have been.” Essays in Criticism, January 2013

“Hallam became an intimate of the whole Tennyson family in Lincolnshire and fell deeply in love with Tennyson’s sister Emily. But Henry Hallam sternly imposed conditions: the young people were not to see each other or communicate until after Hallam’s twenty-first birthday, which was February 1832. In retrospect Henry’s behaviour looks unbearably harsh. In fairness to him, however, it needs to be remembered that Hallam did not have a profession or independent means, was supposed to be training for a career in the law, and neglected his legal studies in order to promote his friend Tennyson’s poetry. No one was to know that Hallam’s tiredness, headaches, and high colour were symptoms of a propensity to aneurism which would suddenly kill him the following year.

Blocksidge’s biography tells the whole of this story with great tact and skill, and provides new information about the young man’s life. Hallam’s Eton years are particularly well handled. Hallam was at Eton under John Keate, a successful headmaster in the sense that the school was brought into control and became a responsible teaching institution in his hands. But his methods were notorious. Hew was a tiny man, just five feet high, and he would cope with problems of discipline by administering mass floggings to the boys. There was undoubtedly a sadistic side to Keate. Blocksidge is careful to be fair to Keate, though, bringing out the good side of his work in the school and stressing that he was a happily married man with a large family. He also points out Hallam’s good fortune in meeting with the care of a quite different man , Edward Craven Hawtrey, Hallam’s housemaster, gentle, patient, and humane where Keate was blustering and abrasive. Hallam did not particularly like Eton – it would not hold idyllic memories for him as it did for many old Etonians – but he appreciated the great intellectual strides he was able to make there.

Hallam was formidably energetic; the substantial body of writings left behind after his death is remarkable for such a short life. He was also emotionally precocious and more sexually aware than his older friend Tennyson. Hallam understood his own appeal, and enjoyed the fact that other young men fell in love with him. Gladstone, at Eton, was the first, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, there were several; they included the fat, vain, generous Trinity undergraduate Richard Monckton Milnes (later Lord Houghton) and, of course, Tennyson. The degree to which Tennyson’s feeling for Hallam was sexual is hard to judge. What is certain is that his feeling for Hallam, as a person, was decidedly stronger than Hallam’s for him. Hallam venerated and promoted Tennyson’s prodigious talent; Tennyson loved Hallam in all his aspects. After Hallam’s death, though, Tennyson’s behaviour was in some ways mysterious. Despite being specifically invited by Hallam’s father, Tennyson did not go to Hallam’s funeral in January 1834 (whereas Milnes did go). Tennyson also indulged himself in a round of Christmas jollities in his native Lincolnshire in the winter of 1833, just a few weeks after Hallam’s death.
In later life Tennyson would robustly resist the notion that his affection for Hallam was excessive. Nevertheless, questions about the extent to which In Memoriam records a homosexual relationship have never gone away. After its first publication Tennyson himself was nervous about possible homosexual readings of his poem and changed some of its lines for subsequent editions. Blocksidge confronts this topic head-on and discusses it with delicacy and discrimination, exploring carefully and accurately the way such sexuality was understood in Tennyson’s lifetime. Hallam Tennyson, the poet’s son, notoriously destroyed a great many letters after his father’s death in 1892, and subsequently suppressed many facts in Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir (1897). He was working in the aftermath of the Oscar Wilde scandal, and was “influenced by the emergence of the first public British literary homosexual” (255). Blocksidge’s conclusions are as balanced and reasonable as the evidence is ever likely to permit. This is a thoroughly researched and rewarding biography and a valuable contribution to Tennyson studies.” John Batchelor,
Victorian Studies



 

Publication Details

 
Hardback ISBN:
978-1-84519-418-5
 
 
Page Extent / Format:
272 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
 
Release Date:
October 2010
  Illustrated:   Yes
 
Hardback Price:
£25.00 / $49.95
 
 

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