ALFRED TENNYSON was born at Somersby, near Spilsby, England, August 6, 1810 (given 1809 by some, and January 12, 1810, by others).
His father was the Rev. George Clayton Tennyson, LL.D., a Lincolnshire clergyman, who is described as "a tall, striking and imposing man, full of accomplishments and parts, a strong nature, high souled, high tempered." Alfred's mother was the daughter of the Rev. Stephen Fyche. To the Rev. Tennyson were born eleven or twelve children, seven of whom were sons. The three eldest, Frederick, Charles and Alfred, formed a brotherhood of poets, though Alfred is the only one who gained great literary distinction.
Tennyson was fortunate in the influence of his home. The children were a noble little clan of poets and knights, coming from a knightly race. Somersby was so far away from the world, so behindhand in its echoes, that though the early part of the century was stirring with the clang of legions, few of its rumors seem to have reached the children. They never heard, at the time, of the battle of Waterloo. They grew up together, playing their own games, living their own life; and where is such life to be found as that of a happy, eager family of boys and girls, before Doubt, the steps of Time, the shocks of Chance, the blows of Death, have come to shake their creed? Mrs. Tennyson, the mother of the family, was a sweet and gentle and most imaginative woman; so kind-hearted that it passed into a proverb, and the wicked inhabitants of a neighboring village used to bring their dogs to her windows and beat them, in order to be bribed by the gentle lady to leave off, or to make advantageous bargains by selling the worthless ours. She was intensely, fervently religious. After her husband's death (he had added to the rectory and made it suitable for his large family) she still lived at Somersby with her children. The daughters were growing up; the older sons were going to college. Frederick, the eldest, went first to Trinity, Cambridge, and his brothers followed him there in turn. Life was opening for them, they were seeing new aspects and places, and making new friends and bringing them home to their Lincolnshire rectory.
At an early age Tennyson showed signs of poetic powers. On one occasion, when the members of the family were going to church, Charles handed Alfred a slate and gave him a subject for a poem. Upon returning home, Alfred took the slate to his brother, with a poem covering both sides. Charles scanned the lines, then handed the slate back with the encouragement, "Yes, Alfred, you can write." The next instance was not so encouraging. Upon the death of his grandmother the young poet was asked to write an elegy that would be appropriate. The task was performed, whereupon Alfred's grandfather handed the boy ten shillings, saying, "There, that is the first money you have earned by your poetry, and, take my word for it, it will be the last." But the youth persevered, and, before he was nineteen, published a volume of poems conjointly with his brother Charles. In 1829 he gained the Chancellor's medal for an English prize poem, his subject being "Timbuctoo."
Referring to Tennyson's early days, William Howitt has written: "You may hear his voice, but where is the man? He is wandering in some dreamland, beneath the shade of old and charmed forests, by far-off shores, where
The plunging seas draw backward from the land
Their moon-led waters white;'
by the old mill-dam, thinking of the merry miller and his pretty daughter; or wandering over the woodlands where
'Norland whirlwinds blow.'
"From all these places--from the silent corridor of an ancient convent, from some shrine where a devoted knight recites his vows, from the dreary monotony of 'the moated grange,' or the forest beneath the 'talking oak'--comes the voice of Tennyson, rich, dreamy, passionate, yet not impatient, musical with the airs of chivalrous ages, yet mingling in his song the theme and spirit of those that are yet to come."
His fame was established in 1830, when he published "Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, by Alfred Tennyson" From that date to this--a period of fifty-five years--he has been a distinguished character in English letters. In 1833 he issued another volume, giving unusual signs of poetic power. This volume was handled severely by critics, which was the cause, perhaps, of the delay of nearly nine years before his next volume appeared. The young poet received the criticism in a true scholarly spirit, and set about correcting his faults. The two volumes which he brought out in 1842 raised him to the position of absolute superiority. These volumes, entitled "Poems," contained many of his first poems completely revised and many new ones. The following appeared in the list: "Morte d'Arthur," "Godiva," "The May Queen," "Dora," "Talking Oak" and "Locksley Hall." These poems are among the best in the language, and they alone would render the author's name immortal. "Locksley Hall" is Tennyson's most finished work.
From the date of the above works Tennyson has stood at the head of English poetry. In 1847 appeared "The Princess, a Medley;" 1850, "In Memoriam," a volume of short poems written as a tribute of respect to his beloved friend, Arthur Hallam, who died in his twenty-third year.
"At the time Arthur Hallam died he was engaged to be married to a sister of the poet. She was scarcely seventeen. One of the sonnets addressed by Hallam to his betrothed was written when he began to teach her Italian:
'Lady, I bid thee to a sunny dome,
Ringing with echoes of Italian songs;
Henceforth to thee these magic halls belong,
And all the pleasant place is like a home.
Hark, on the right, with full piano tone,
Old Dante's voice encircles all the air;
Hark yet again, like flute-tones mingling rare
Comes the keen sweetness of Petrarca's moan.
Pass thou the lintel freely; without fear
Feast on the music. I do better know thee
Than to suspect this pleasure thou dost owe me
Will wrong thy gentle spirit, or make less dear
That element whence thou must draw thy life-
An English maiden and an English wife.'
"As we read the pages of this little book we come upon more than one happy moment saved out of the past, hours of delight and peaceful friendship, saddened by no foreboding, and complete in themselves.
'Alfred, I would that you behold me now,
Sitting beneath an ivied mossy wall.
Above my head
Dialates immeasurable a wild of leaves,
Seeming received into the blue expanse,
That vaults the summer noon.'
"There is something touching in the tranquil ring of the voice calling out in the summer noontide with all a young man's expansion." The young friends had played and studied and traveled together, and they had anticipated a brilliant and happy life in the society of each other. But the spell was broken by Arthur's sudden death while traveling with his father in Austria. The memory of his friend is tenderly embalmed by Tennyson in "In Memorian."
By this time the poet's fame was so thoroughly established that, upon the death of Wordsworth, in 1850, the queen appointed Alfred Tennyson Poet Laureate. In 1852 he wrote an "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington;" 1855, "Maud, and other Poems;" 1859, The "Idyls of the King." The last named is a great connected poem, dealing with the very highest interests of man. The work at once took its place among the greatest poems in the English language. "Enoch Arden, and other Poems" appeared in 1864; "The Holy Grail," "Pelleus and Etarre," and "The Windows, or Songs of Wrens," set to music, 1870; "The Tournament," and "Gareth and Lynette," 1872.
At Somersby Tennyson met Miss Sellwood, and their acquaintance resulted in their marriage. Miss Sellwood came from an ancient and honorable family, her mother being a sister of Sir John Franklin. Shortly after their marriage they settled at Freshwater, in the Isle of Wight, where they still live. In addition to this home they own an estate in Surrey, to which they retreat when the tourists and visitors become too oppressive in the Isle of Wight.
He died at Alworth House, near Hoslsmere, Surrey, Oct. 6, 1892, of old age, passing away peacefully, after several days of painless illness. In the afternoon of his last day he asked for his copy of Shakespeare, and turning to the fourth act of Cymbaline, he placed his hand upon the line, "Fear no more the heat of the sun," and telling his son not to let it be removed, he kept it by him till he died, and it was buried with him.
Biography from: http://www.2020site.org/poetry/index.html