Two Imaginatives Of Their Century

With this opportunity (or rather invitation) to write another blog post on Tennyson in association with his life/works and our interests, I chose to investigate more into my favourite era of literature:

Elizabeth Gaskell, Elizabeth Browning, Emily Brontë, Charlotte Brontë.
Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, Lord Tennyson, Thomas Hardy.

The Victorian Era had extremely profound writers throughout. That’s a fact. Those writers and their works are still captivating and interesting.  Also, most of the quintessential Victorian pieces are still recognisable by many. Writers like Charles Dickens, the Brontës, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, the Brownings, and of course Lord Tennyson infused the literature movement in the mid to late 1800s.

To understand and develop my thoughts on Tennyson, I decided to use resources to accumulate a quick comparison. This comparison will be focused on Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning. Also, it will be conducted through two aspects: life and works.


Sometimes the best way to understand someone is by learning about their background and beliefs. Both Tennyson and Browning have interesting biographies and both were friends. George Herbert Palmer writes in his article the The Monologue of Browning that “the two poets never conceived of themselves as rivals” (Palmer, 122).

He had “spent three-quarters of his life in the country” (Palmer, 126).

Tennyson was born, as we know from reading our handy Norton Anthology, to a reverend and lived a “small rectory in Somersby” (1156). And after attending Cambridge until 1831, he began writing poetry heavily (1157). Ultimately, as we know, he wrote some of the best pieces in literature, became Poet Laureate, and a favourite of Queen Victoria.

Browning, who is also in our Norton Anthology, was born in 1812 in London (1275). When he first started producing poems, he was a “relatively unknown experimenter” until his marriage to another poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1275). He was unlike most poets during the era as he approached writing with new perspective. Browning wrote unstable poems which make it “difficult to discern the relationship of the poet to his speaker” (1275). As his work grew, he became a “forerunner” in poetry (1278).

In The Monologue of Browning, Palmer states some of the key differences between the two poets’ lives:

“Tennyson is English for many generations; Browning is of compound nationality. Tennyson lived in England and found his subjects there; Browning lived long on the continent and gathered his subjects from everywhere except England. Tennyson is a university man; Browning had a miscellaneous education. Tennyson is acquainted with physical science; Browning only with literature, many literatures. Tennyson’s life is rooted in institutions; Browning cares little for them. Tennyson has a strong interest in the social and religious questions of his age; Browning only in the problem of self-development. Through many generations Tennyson was connected with the Established Church; Browning, his parents, and his wife were Congregationalists. Tennyson was an idealistic recluse; Browning a realistic man of the world.” (Palmer, 122)

“Browning had earlier written in his volume of Selections ‘Dedicated to Alfred Tennyson. In poetry -illustrious and consummate. In friendship-noble and sincere.'” (Palmer, 123)


Tennyson and Browning vary in stylistic, thematic, and linguistic techniques.

It is apparent that Tennyson admired the medieval age as the Arthurian legend is an active idea in his more popular works. Although in reading his works it is also evident that he was a passionate mind. His works are thought-filled and emotional, especially In Memoriam.  As Palmer puts it, Tennyson wrote “the shimmering charm, the ideal beauty, the refinement, the wistfulness” in life (144)

Whereas Browning is not exactly the opposite, but definitely antithetic in his writing choices. Browning was much more spontaneous with format, expression, and thought. Palmer gives an appropriate summary of Browning in that his “aim too is not moral instruction but the dispassionate study of individual character, good and evil qualities are allowed to intertwine in the same perplexing fashion as in actual life” (Palmer, 133)

In The Monologue of Browning, Palmer also explains some of the differences between the two poets’ writing:

“Tennyson’s figures are generalized; Browning’s particularized. Tennyson’s favorite time is that of the medieval myth; Browning’s the later Renaissance. Tennyson aims at beauty, through approved and standard language; Browning at force and expressiveness. Tennyson chooses for subjects graceful and harmonious incidents; Browning unusual and startling ones. Tennyson is the conscious artist, ever correcting; Browning the spontaneous improvisatore. Tennyson has an exceptional mastery of poetic technique; Browning is rugged and bizarre. Tennyson has many of the traits of a refined and timid woman; Browning is all manliness and optimism. Tennyson was a dramatist at the end of his life; Browning at the beginning.” (Palmer, 122)

These Victorian poets differed in so many ways, yet were captivating for society and given the highest recognition. I find both of their portfolios of work wonderful, no matter how different they are from each other. And through this comparison, my knowledge of both men grew.

Now George Herbert Palmer writes that “Tennyson and Browning summarize the imaginative life of their century” (Palmer, 144). Do you agree?  Does Lord Tennyson do so? Does Browning?

Links and sidenotes are always fun too:

  • Few lines from The Passing Of Arthur in Idylls of the King read by Alan Rickman right here

  • All of Robert Browning’s poems can be located here

  • If you like the Arthurian legend, I hope you have seen the BBC’s Merlin


Christ, Carol T. and Catherine Robson, eds. “Alfred, Lord Tennyson.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. E. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012. 1156-1159. Print.

Christ, Carol T. and Catherine Robson, eds. “Robert Browning.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. E. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012. 1275-1278. Print.

Palmer, George H. “The Monologue of Browning.” The Harvard Theological Review 11.2 (1918): 121-44. JStor. Cambridge University Press. Web. 3 Mar. 2013. < >.


About Theresa Kenney

A busy-bee student type at the University of Calgary in the midst of an undergraduate combined degree in Political Science and English.
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