The Friendship of Alfred Lord Tennyson and Charles Dickens

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Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson and Novelist Charles Dickens Were Friends

Victorian writers Alfred Lord Tennyson and Charles Dickens enjoyed mutual admiration and friendship. The two were arguably the most popular and well-known writers of their genres, fiction and poetry, in the Victorian era. In addition to that common bond, some people even observed that Dickens and Tennyson physically resembled each other. Upon seeing a sketch done by John Millais of Dickens on his deathbed, Tennyson reportedly said, likely with some discomfort, that it was like looking at himself.

That the biggest literary giants of the Victorian age should have gotten along so well is interesting. Their friendship could not be considered anywhere near as close as Tennyson’s friendship with Arthur Hallam was, for example, but throughout their lives, the two writers had a genial and steady camaraderie.

Alfred Tennyson and Charles Dickens’s Friendship

Dickens once sent Tennyson a set of his works in March 1843, and told of the love he felt for Alfred because Tennyson’s poems had touched his heart. He bequeathed the books to him with “[T]he love I bear you as a man whose writings enlist my whole heart and nature in admiration of their Truth and Beauty.”

Tennyson favored this kind of adoring attention, and after such sentiments were expressed, Tennyson enjoyed attending dinner parties with Dickens as his host. He went to hear Dickens’s reading of A Christmas Carol in Manchester, and once declined to travel with Dickens so he would not disturb him while he wrote Dombey and Son.

Alfred Dickens

Dickens named his sixth child after Tennyson and another friend, Count Alfred d’Orsay. The child, born on October 28 1845, was therefore named Alfred d’Orsay Tennyson Dickens. Tennyson attended the christening of little Alfred as one of his godfathers, though Tennyson did not later return the favor to Dickens when he had two sons of his own.

Charles Dickens Influenced by Alfred Tennyson

Robert Bernard Martin notes in his book Tennyson: The Unquiet Heart that while Tennyson and Dickens got on well, Tennyson may have felt unsettled at times when they were together, possibly because of their physical resemblance. Martin also remarks that Dickens seems to have wanted a deeper friendship with Tennyson than Tennyson did with him, though they always got along.

Still Dickens was a great admirer of Tennyson’s works. Peter Ackroyd speculates in his biography Dickens that Dickens may have been influenced by the poet’s Idylls of the King, for Dickens had been reading it while writing A Tale of Two Cities. Ackroyd also suggests that Dickens was influenced by In Memoriam when he wrote David Copperfield.

The Death of Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens died on June 9 1870. When Tennyson attended Dickens’s funeral, he ended up becoming very unsettled and left early. This was possibly because of the physical resemblance between them, but also because he was aware that his own presence as a reluctant celebrity took away from the importance of Dickens at his own funeral.

Victorian Novelist Charles Dickens and Victorian Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson

That Charles Dickens and Alfred Tennyson should have been friends when Dickens was the foremost Victorian novelist and Tennyson was the foremost Victorian poet is a heartening thing. Both writers could sympathize with each other though they did not write in the same mediums. They did not forget that they owed some allegiance to each other, for only they could understand what it was like to be so famous in a time when such fame for authors was somewhat unusual. In that sense they were kindred spirits.

Sources:

  1. Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens.London: Vintage Books, 2002.
  2. Levi, Peter. Tennyson. New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1993.
  3. Martin, Robert Bernard. Tennyson: The Unquiet Heart. London: Faber & Faber, 1983.
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