Tennyson is best known for his short lyrics, including Crossing the Bar and Break, Break, Break, a poignant yet simple expression of grief. "But oh for the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still."
Emily Sarah Sellwood was born in Lincolnshire in 1813. Her father was a solicitor who often acted for the Tennysons. Her mother was sister to Sir John Franklin, the Arctic explorer.
With the family connections, Alfred and Emily knew each other as children but it was years later that they fell in love.
Emily's sister Louisa married Charles, Alfred's brother in 1836. After an absence of years Emily and Alfred met at the wedding and their relationship became a love match. They began a correspondence and became engaged officially in 1839. By this time it was apparent that Charles was an opium addict and a great trial to his wife Louisa. Alfred had certain liberal and bohemian leanings that Emily's father disapproved of. He had no intention of letting another daughter marry into the Tennyson family. He insisted the engagement be broken and forbade his daughter to correspond with Tennyson. Also at this time, Tennyson was concerned over his financial situation and his uncertain health, so perhaps this played a role in the broken engagement as well.
It was years before they resumed their relationship. By this time, Charles had straightened himself out, Alfred had risen in the world to become a candidate for the position of Poet Laureate of Great Britain, and his health had improved. Alfred and Emily renewed their love for each other. Still, they married in secrecy.
On June 13, 1850 they were married in a country church in Shiplake by a mutual friend, Reverend Rawnsley. The Rawnsley's nurse, who helped Emily prepare for the wedding described the scene : "Ah, how she loved him, and how proud he seemed of her, and what a pair they looked as they walked on the lawn afterwards”.
Tennyson said "The Peace of God came into my life before the altar when I wedded her"
Emily had artistic talents and was a help to her husband. She composed music for some of his lyrics and acted as his secretary.
Alfred and Emily had two sons. Hallam and Lionel. Tennyson doted on his family and it was said he spoiled his sons a little. He felt an intense loss when Lionel died from a fever. He became troubled, questioning and searching for proof of immortality. Throughout most of his life, he was affected by depression, but as his health deteriorated in his last years he appeared to find a serenity and acceptance of life.
Lord Tennyson died in 1892 from complications arising from gout, his wife and son beside him.
Many phrases we use commonly today originated in Tennyson's work. Everyone will recognize his words "Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."
Queen Victoria admired his work and wrote that Tennyson's In Memoriam was a great comfort to her on the death of Prince Albert.
Tennyson is buried at Westminster Abbey in Poets' Corner.