Alfred Lord Tennyson, "The Charge of the Light Brigade"

Bill Federer

Camelot and King Arthur's Court, Knights of the Round Table, Guinevere, Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad, and the search for the Holy Grail ...

(The Holy Grail was Jesus' cup at the Last Supper.)

Our imaginations soar with history and legend immortalized in "Idylls of the King," written 1859-85 by poet Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Alfred Lord Tennyson embellished the medieval legend of the Lady of the Lake who gave the sword Excalibur to the courageous young King Arthur.

Scenes of this were portrayed in Disney's 1963 animated musical fantasy movie, The Sword in the Stone.

Born AUGUST 6, 1809, Alfred Lord Tennyson was the son of an Anglican clergyman.

As a young poet, Tennyson came to the attention of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge had written in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," 1798:

"He prayeth best who loveth best

All things both great and small;

For the dear God who loveth us,

He made and loveth all."

In 1850, Tennyson married Emily Sellwood, to whom he had been engaged for a long time. He wrote:

"The peace of God came into my life before the altar when I wedded her."

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote:

"Bible reading is an education in itself."

Tennyson wrote in "Maud," 1855, part II, sec. iv, st. 3:

"Oh, Christ, that it were possible,

For one short hour to see,

The souls we loved, that they might tell us,

What and where they be."

Tennyson's "In Memoriam," 1850, chapter XXVII, stanza 4, has the line:

"'Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all."

Tennyson wrote "In Memoriam," 1850, chapter XXXI:

"When Lazarus left his charnel-cave,

And home to Mary's house returned,

Was this demanded-if he yearned

To hear her weeping by his grave?

"'Where wert thou, brother, those four days?'

There lives no record of reply,

Which, telling what it is to die,

Had surely added praise to praise.

"From every house the neighbors met,

The streets were filled with joyful sound;

A solemn gladness even crowned

The purple brows of Olivet.

"Behold a man raised up by Christ;

The rest remained unrevealed;

He told it not, or something sealed

The lips of that Evangelist."

Queen Victoria once said:

"Next to the Bible, 'In Memoriam' is my comfort."

Queen Victoria honored Alfred Lord Tennyson as Britain's Poet-Laureate.

A line from Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "In Memoriam" is displayed in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., in the Jefferson Building's Main Reading Room above the figure of History:


Tennyson was referred to by U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Josiah Brewer in his lecture "The Promise and Possibilities of the Future," 1905:

"Some think ... that we are mere atoms of matter tossed to and fro ...

Speaker Reed once said...great events of history were brought about by an intelligent and infinite Being ... If you will reflect a little you will be led to the conclusion that, as Tennyson writes 'Through the ages one increasing purpose runs.'"

Justice Brewer continued:

"If there be a 'purpose running' through the life of the world, is it not plain that one thought in the divine plan was that in this republic should be unfolded and developed in the presence of the world the Christian doctrine of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man?"

Alfred Lord Tennyson echoed an older poet, Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), who wrote in "The Monastery," 1830, chapter XII:

"Oh, on that day, that wrathful day,

When man to judgment wakes from clay,

Be Thou, O Christ, the sinner's stay

Though heaven and earth shall pass away."

Tennyson wrote in "Crossing the Bar," 1889, st. 3:

"I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crossed the bar."

Tennyson wrote in "Enoch Arden," 1864, line 222:

"Cast all your cares on God; that anchor holds."

Alfred Lord Tennyson recorded the obedience and courage of the British Cavalry in the memorial poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade" during the Crimean War near the Black Sea.

The Crimean War took place near the Black Sea, with Britain and France fighting together with the Muslim Ottoman Empire against Russia.

Over a half-million died in the Crimean War which ended in 1856.

A woman who cared for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War was Florence Nightingale -- the pioneer of the modern nursing profession.

She was known as "The Lady with the Lamp," as she made her rounds at night to check on injured soldiers.

During the Crimean War, at the Battle of Balaclava, 1854, a mistaken command sent the British cavalry riding to their deaths directly into the path of firing Russian cannons.

Tennyson wrote:

"Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

'Forward, the Light Brigade!

'Charge for the guns!' he said:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'

Was there a man dismay'd?

Not tho' the soldier knew

Someone had blunder'd:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred."

When Russia lost the Crimean War, it feared Britain would expand its Canadian territory of British Columbia by claiming Russian Alaska.

To preempt this, on March 30, 1867, Russia quickly sold 586,412 square miles of Alaskan Territory to the United States for $7.2 million -- about 2 cents per acre. It was the second largest land purchase in history.

The largest was the Louisiana Purchase of 828,000 square miles in 1803.

The third largest was the Mexican Cession of 520,000 square miles in 1848.

The U.S. Secretary of State who negotiated the purchase of Alaska was William Henry Seward, who served under Lincoln during the Civil War.

Like Lincoln, Seward was strongly anti-slavery, so much so that the same night Lincoln was shot, an accomplice of John Wilkes Booth broke into Seward's home and attempted to assassinate him.

William H. Seward had previously been Governor of the State of New York, 1839-43; and U.S. Senator 1849-61.

After the Civil War, Seward continued as Secretary of State under President Andrew Johnson, 1865-69.

His efforts to purchase Alaska from Russia were ridiculed at the time, as "Seward's Folly," as Alaska was thought to be of no value.

Only later, after Alaska was found to be rich in natural resources, was appreciation was shown to Seward.

William H, Seward stated in his oration, "The Destiny of America" (Columbus, Ohio, September 14, 1853):

"Shall we look to the sacred desk? Yes, indeed; for it is of Divine institution, and is approved by human experience.

The ministers of Christ, inculcating Divine morals, under Divine authority, with Divine sanction, and sustained and aided by special cooperating influences of the Divine Spirit, are now carrying further and broadly onward the great work of the renewal of the civilization of the world, and its emancipation from superstition and despotism."

As vice-president of the American Bible Society, William Henry Seward stated in 1836:

"I know not how long a republican government can flourish among a great people who have not the Bible; the experiment has never been tried; but this I do know: that the existing government of this country never could have had existence but for the Bible.

And, further, I do, in my conscience, believe that if at every decade of years a copy of the Bible could be found in every family in the land its republican institutions would be perpetuated."

Seward stated:

"I do not believe human society ... ever have attained, or ever can attain, a high state of intelligence, virtue, security, liberty, or happiness without the Holy Scriptures; even the whole hope of human progress is suspended on the ever-growing influence of the Bible."


World History