Alfred Tennyson

On this date* in 1809, Alfred Tennyson was born in England. By the time his Poems was published in 1833 (including "The Lady of Shalott"), Tennyson had established his name as a poet. By 1850, he had earned the title, Poet Laureate. Tennyson, a deistic pantheist, was not entirely unorthodox, but he routinely trumpeted freedom ("Make bright our days and light our dreams," To J.S., 1833). Tennyson alienated freethinkers of his day when he wrote an agnostic hero in Promise of May (1882) with an "unworthy character," according to freethought historian Joseph McCabe. But Tennyson made up for such an undiplomatic lapse in other writings. Famously, he wrote in In Memoriam: "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds." In Maud, 1855, he wrote: "The churches have killed their Christ." In "Locksley Hall Sixty Years After," Tennyson wrote: "Christian love among the churches look'd the twin of heathen hate." In Becket, he wrote: "We are self-uncertain creatures, and we may, Yea, even when we know not, mix our spites and private hates with our defense of Heaven." Tennyson recorded in his Diary (p. 127): "I believe in Pantheism of a sort." His son's biography confirms that Tennyson was not Christian, noting that Tennyson praised Giordano Bruno and Spinoza on his deathbed, saying of Bruno: "His view of God is in some ways mine." D. 1892.

* Tennyson's birthdate is given as August 5 by some sources. According to one source, his baptismal records say August 5, but his mother preferred to celebrate his birthday on August 6, her wedding anniversary, so we will, too!

“In our windy world, what's up is faith, what's down is heresy.”

—Alfred Tennyson, Harold, 1876

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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