Alfred Tennyson. An Essay. In Three Parts.

William Fulford

General Description

Date: 1856
Genre: Prose essay


◦ Georgiana Burne–Jones, Memorials.

◦ Gordon, “Oxford and Cambridge Magazine”.

◦ Mackail, J. W. Life of William Morris .

Scholarly Commentary

Guest Editor: PC Fleming


William Fulford (1831-1882) wrote this three-part essay on Tennyson, who in 1856 had been poet laureate for six years and was at the height of his popularity. As Walter Gordon notes, this essay would have excited more interest than any other contribution in the first issue of the Magazine (78).

All the members of the brotherhood were fond Tennyson (a medallion of him, by Thomas Woolner, was advertised in the November issue, intended to be bound with the Magazine) but Fulford particularly adored him. Dixon described Fulford as “absolutely devoured with admiration for Tennyson,” (Mackail 42) and Fulford’s esteem for Tennyson is clear in this essay, and in many of his other contributions to the Magazine. Fulford counts on the reader recognizing his enthusiasm, and he closes the last part of the essay by hoping that his zeal may encourage his readers to examine Tennyson more closely, even if his arguments do not.

This essay sets the tone for the Magazine’s later essays on contemporary authors. Fulford begins by discussing the relationship between the author and the reviewer, portraying himself as “an interpreter between [Tennyson] and the public,” and claiming “whatever I shall advance will have been carefully weighed, and will be the result of several years’ almost uninterrupted reading of the Author. Would that every reviewer of a great writer could say as much” (7). Vernon Lushington and Edward Burne-Jones, writing on Carlyle and Ruskin, respectively, would continue Fulford’s ideal, and taper their admiration for these men with carefully thought-out observations.

From the beginning, Fulford planned this essay to be in three parts, with one part appearing in each of the Magazine’s first three issues. In the first part, he discusses poetry in general, and specifically “The Two Voices” (which he praises as true philosophical poetry), “The Lady of Shalott”, “The Vision of Sin”, and “The Princess”, with the most attention given to the two latter poems. Following Carlyle, Fulford links poetry with music, and he gives “The Lady of Shallott” as the example of Tennyson at his most musical. He uses this poem also to illustrate his feeling that poetry should be “painting in words.” The unity of different artistic mediums — poetry, music, and painting — is a common theme in the Magazine.

In the February issue, Fulford reviews “In Memoriam”, continuing the discussion of philosophical poetry he began in January. He allies modern English poets with the biblical prophets, and argues that the task of the poet is to interpret between men and God. A central point of Fulford’s argument here is that not all of Tennyson’s poetry should be considered obscure, and that “a very large portion of it is intelligible at once to every mind, and of universal interest.” The power of “In Memoriam”, says Fulford, stems from Tennyson’s ability to move from the common to the uncommon, to address complicated philosophical questions within a simple commemoration of Hallam. Fulford critcises contemporary readers who see poetry as simply “light literature.”

The final part of Fulford's essay, published in March, reviews the recently-published Maud, and other Poems. Again, Fulford challenges contemporary readers, and directs this last part of his essay toward those who reviewed Maud unfavorably. He spends the majority of the essay discussing the title poem, turning to the other poems only in the last few pages.

Textual History: Composition

Burne-Jones, in an 1855 letter, mentions that the first instalment of a three-part essay on Tennsyson, written by Fulford, is to be included in the first issue of the magazine. (Memorials 122).


Fulford sent a copy of the January issue of The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine to Tennyson. He responded warmly to the magazine as a whole, but declined to comment on this essay because “to praise it, seeming too much like self-praise.” (Gordon, 84)

Printing History

First printed in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, 1856, in three parts: The first part in January, the second part in February, and the last part in March.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: Fulford001.raw.xml