I’m a day late, but I wanted to post something in acknowledgment of the anniversary of Poe’s death. He died October 7, 1849. As a fan of bothPoe and Tennyson, I always found it very slightly eerie that Tennyson and Poe’s death days were just 1 day (and several years) apart. So I thought I’d share this short article that I wrote ages ago, but it still stands up I think. Enjoy.
Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred Tennyson never met, but were firm allies. Poe defended Tennyson from plagiarists, while Tennyson saw Poe as an American genius.
Alfred Tennyson was not especially appreciated outside of England in the 1830s and 1840s, but Edgar Allan Poe was one of the first American writers and critics to praise his poetry. Poe lamented that not enough people recognized Tennyson’s talents. While Poe was nearly savage in his treatment of other writers, he said hardly a negative word about Tennyson.
What Did Poe Think of Tennyson?
Poe once said, “I am not sure that Tennyson is not the greatest of poets.” This was spoken during a time when not many American reviewers were interested in Tennyson. John Olin Eidson noted in Tennyson in America, that Poe never faltered in his support of Tennyson as a great writer, and encouraged others to read his works even while he struggled to get his own poems and stories read.
Poe Defends Tennyson from Plagiarists
Poe vigorously defended Tennyson in publications that he wrote for, and called out other authors, particularly Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, for supposedly plagiarizing Tennyson’s poems. Poe compared Tennyson’s “The Death of the Old Year” and Longfellow’s “Midnight Mass for the Dying Year” and claimed Longfellow took ideas and concepts from Tennyson’s poem.
Eidson points out that Poe may have plagiarized from Tennyson’s poem “The Deserted House” for his own poem “The Haunted Palace.” The publication Foreign Quarterly Review compared the two poems and said Poe’s work was Tennysonian, which troubled Poe thereafter.
What Did Tennyson Think of Poe?
Tennyson for his part returned the other writer’s sentiments, though perhaps not as frequently or steadfastly. But his mutual admiration with Poe no doubt helped the careers of both writers.
The Poet Laureate was not overly fond of many American authors, but Poe was an exception. He reportedly called Poe “the most original genius that America has produced,” according to Peter Ackroyd in his book Poe: A Life Cut Short. This is a high compliment from a man who preferred to have praise directed at himself rather than others.
Apart from his estimation of Poe as one of the best American writers, Tennyson noted to an American visitor that the one thing he would have liked to see in the United States was Poe’s grave. He also wrote a laudatory four lines for Poe after his death, in which he lamented the briefness of Poe’s time on earth, and the ridicule he’d received.
Though they were not friends, and never even met, Poe and Tennyson had an unexpected yet not surprising connection as writers. Poe helped Tennyson’s reputation in America, and Tennyson acknowledged Poe’s greatness when there were still some who said scathing things about the man, rather than acknowledging him for his great works. Though it was not a friendship, it worked for both writers.
- Ackroyd, Peter. Poe: A Life Cut Short. London: Chatto & Windus. 2008.
- “A Visit to Tennyson: An American Describes His Call Upon Him at His Isle of Wight Home”, New York Times. February 13, 1886.
- Eidson, John Olin. Tennyson in America: His Reputation and Influence from 1827 to 1858. Athens: The University of Georgia Press. 1943.
- Joseph, Gerhard J. “Poe and Tennyson”, PMLA. Vol. 88, No. 3 (May, 1973). pgs. 418-428.