Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam. Third ed. Moxon, 1850 with inscription and annotations. ABLibrary Rare X 821.81 T312in 1850b

Letter from Arthur Henry Hallam to Emily Tennyson (1831) ABL v831100101

Rare Item Analysis: Faithful to the Dead: Memorializing Arthur Henry Hallam

By Nikki Thompson

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Arthur Henry Hallam died suddenly on September 15, 1833 at twenty-two years old. Hallam was close friends with Alfred, Lord Tennyson; the two met at Cambridge and shared a love of poetry, theology, and politics. Hallam later met Tennyson’s sister Emily and the two fell in love. Both of the rare items listed above are held at the Armstrong Browning library.  One of them is a letter from Arthur Henry Hallam to Emily Tennyson during their courtship in 1831. Hallam wrote to Emily while away, disclosing a previous relationship he had but assuring Emily that she needn’t worry about his faith wavering. Just two years after writing this letter, Hallam passed away.In response to Hallam’s death, Tennyson wrote a long series of poems called In Memoriam, which works to memorialize Hallam through use of eulogy (offers praise to a dead person) and elegy (laments the death of someone). Tennyson’s masterpiece also deals with themes of remaining faithful to the dead, a theme which Emily comments on in her annotated copy of In Memoriam. By comparing Hallam’s letter to the way Tennyson blends eulogy and elegy in In Memoriam, readers can analyze whether Tennyson’s depiction of Hallam is accurate. Further, considering Emily’s annotation on poem LI (which was L in her edition) gives Tennyson’s question of fidelity more depth as it personally relates to her.

It is useful to examine Tennyson’s use of eulogic and elegiac language before comparing his tone to Hallam’s own tone in the 1831 letter. In poem LXXXV, Tennyson writes about Hallam:

A life that all the Muses decked,

With gifts of grace, that might express,

All-comprehensive tenderness,

All-subtilising intellect…

I woo your love: I count it crime

To mourn for any overmuch;

I, the divided half of such

A friendship as had mastered Time (45-48; 61-64).

These lines illustrate Tennyson’s use of both eulogy and elegy. In the first four lines, Tennyson uses dramatic language and allusions to mythology to offer praise to the late Hallam. He praises Hallam’s tenderness and intellect, suggesting that these were so great they must have been bestowed upon Hallam by the Muses. Multiple times throughout In Memoriam, Tennyson portrays Hallam as semi-divine (“half divine” in XIV, “noble” LX, “divinely gifted” LXVI). His language serves not only to eulogize, but perhaps to idealize Hallam’s character. However, Tennyson shifts from eulogy to elegy in the following four lines. He mourns Hallam’s death, but attempts to find comfort in the idea that their friendship had “mastered Time.” I take this to mean that Tennyson need not mourn too much for Hallam, as their friendship endures. This theme is taken up at greater length in poem LI, for which we will consider the annotation in Emily Jesse’s copy of In Memoriam.

As mentioned before, the Armstrong Browning holds a letter written by Arthur Henry Hallam to Emily Tennyson in 1831. In the letter, Hallam tells Emily of a relationship he had with a woman before he met her. Hallam seems to represent himself differently than Tennyson does in In Memoriam; while Hallam also uses allusions to mythology, he situates Emily as the heroic figure rather than himself. Hallam wrote: “It is not love I felt for that lady… are you jealous now I have told you this?” His lighthearted tone continues as he reassures Emily of his faithfulness. He says that Emily holds him “in willing chains and sweet captivity” and compares Emily’s conquest of him to Achilles’ conquest of Hector in the Iliad. While Hallam includes references to Milton and Homer, he does not present himself as having “all-subtilising intellect” and his teasing tone does not seem to show his “all-comprehensive tenderness” (as Tennyson describes in poem LXXXV).

Image of a handwritten letter from Arthur Henry Hallam to Emily Tennyson

Two years after writing this letter, Hallam died suddenly. Emily Tennyson went on to marry Captain Richard Jesse in 1842. Tennyson supported this marriage, giving Emily to Richard in marriage, but both Emily and Alfred continued to struggle with remaining faithful to Arthur in death. Tennyson wrote extensively on this in poem LI, which (as noted above) was numbered L in the edition owned by Emily. He asks: “Shall he for whose applause I strove, / I had such reverence for his blame, / See with clear eye some hidden shame /And I be lessened in his love?” (5-8). Tennyson worries that in death, Hallam can see his flaws more clearly and is judging him accordingly. He admonishes his thoughts, saying “I wrong the grave with fears untrue: / Shall love be blamed for want of faith?” (9-10). He feels guilty for suggesting that Hallam would lack mercy. In Emily Jesse’s copy of In Memoriam, an annotation next to line ten reads “Yes.” By studying the handwriting in the book’s dedication, I reasoned that this annotation is written in Emily’s handwriting, though this is only speculation. However, if we say that Emily wrote “yes” here, it seems she is struggling with Tennyson over how to remain faithful to Hallam though she is now married. It seems that Tennyson arrives at a different conclusion than Emily, saying “Ye watch, like God, the rolling hours / With larger other eyes than ours, / To make allowance for us all” (14-16). While Tennyson believes that Hallam is merciful in death, Emily is unsure. Perhaps she felt a lasting guilt for “moving on” from Hallam in her marriage to Captain Jesse.

Image of poem L with "yes" written in pencil in the margin next to line 10.

The theme of faithfulness to the dead appears in two different ways in Tennyson’s In Memoriam. First, the reader questions whether Tennyson is faithfully representing Hallam as he was and simply lamenting his death (elegy) or whether he was aggrandizing Hallam with praise (eulogy). Looking to a letter written by Hallam himself as a secondary source is helpful to acquire a more comprehensive view of Arthur Henry Hallam as a man. Second, Tennyson wrestles with ideas of fidelity to his dead friend. By examining Emily Jesse’s (née Tennyson) copy of In Memoriam, readers see that she, too, struggled with this concept. Tennyson sought both to process his grief and remain faithful to Hallam; with the help of these two rare items, we can analyze with more clarity how well Tennyson accomplished his goal.