History behind ‘The Lines of War’: Arthur Hallam and Alfred Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson is possibly the most famous of the high Victorian poets. His Idylls of the King (1859) as a reworking of the medieval Arthurian legends and was hugely popular. His interest in these legends goes back to his youth, and in particular his friendship with Arthur Henry Hallam (1811-1833). Hallam was the son of Henry Hallam, Dean of Bristol, and Julia Elton, of Clevedon Court, Somerset.

Hallam and Tennyson met at Cambridge in 1829, and formed a very close relationship, that may have been homosexual. They both were members of the exclusive Cambridge Apostles, a debating society whose members over the years have included the major figures of Britain’s nineteenth and twentieth century history. Hallam and Tennyson travelled widely together on the continent, and in 1832, Hallam became engaged to Tennyson’s sister. Tennyson was already exploring Arthurian themes with his Lady of Shalott (1832) when he received the devastating news that Hallam had died in Vienna by apoplexy, while walking in the Alps with his family. His body was brought back and is interred in his mother’s family vault at Clevedon Old Church, on the backs of the Bristol Channel. While Hallam never lived at Clevedon Court, he probably spent childhood holidays there.

The death of Hallam deeply affected Tennyson for the rest of his life. He wrote Morte d’Arthur (1842) in response to Arthur’s death and later included in the Idylls, but most famously, In Memoriam A.H.H. (1850), which became one of the most celebrated poems of the nineteenth century and was especially read by Queen Victoria after the death of Prince Albert in 1861.

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Lord Alfred Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Brief Biography

Arthur Henry Hallam

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