- Michael Thorn
Tennyson, Frederick (1807–1898), poet, was born at Louth in Lincolnshire on 5 June 1807, the second son of George Clayton Tennyson (1778–1831), rector of Bag Enderby and Somersby, and his wife, Elizabeth Fytche (bap. 1780, d. 1865). Frederick grew up in the Somersby rectory, together with his brothers Alfred Tennyson (1809–1892) and Charles (1808–1879) [see Turner, Charles], four other brothers, and four sisters. While his younger brothers received much of their early education at home, Frederick, as the oldest surviving son (the Tennysons' first child had died in early infancy), was sent away to school: first to the grammar school in Louth in 1814, and then from 1818 to 1826 to Eton College, where he was captain of the school.
From Eton Frederick went first to St John's, then to Trinity College, Cambridge, closely followed by his younger brothers Charles and Alfred. His university career was interrupted in 1828 when he was rusticated for three terms. Having failed to attend chapel, he superciliously accused the chancellor, Christopher Wordsworth (brother of William), of hypocrisy at the disciplinary hearing. Frederick's punishment for this act of insolence set him at odds with a father whose health had been seriously undermined by heavy drinking. The two came to blows on 20 February 1829—in an incident that required the presence of the village constable; the constable was the Tennysons' next-door neighbour, a fact often not mentioned in accounts of this incident. After gaining his BA degree in 1832 and spending a few footloose years in and around Somersby, Frederick went to live in Florence, managing to support a comfortable lifestyle with income from inherited property in Grimsby. In 1839 he married Maria Giuliotti (d. 1884), daughter of the chief magistrate of Siena.
The confusingly titled Poems by Two Brothers (1827) had contained a handful of poems by Frederick, in addition to those by Alfred and Charles. Frederick continued to write poetry, but his collection Days and Hours (1854) was so little noticed that he published no more poetry until an old man. The greater part of his life was dedicated to pursuing his love of music—in Florence he frequently invited a small orchestra to play at his home—and mysticism. Like his sister Mary he was a keen reader of Swedenborg. After leaving Italy in 1859 and moving to St Ewold's, Jersey, he helped to edit and promote an arcane and astrological book about masonry—Veritas (1874)—by his friend Henry Melville.
The work produced in Tennyson's last years—The Isles of Greece (1890), an epic based on fragments of Sappho and Alcæus, Daphne (1891), and Poems of the Day and Year (1895)—was no more noticed than the earlier volume (part of which was contained in the 1895 title). Four lyrics included in the second edition of Palgrave's Golden Treasury showed Frederick at his best, but did not encourage discovery of his other work. He outlived both Alfred and Charles, and spent his final years in South Kensington, London, at 14 Holland Villas Road, the home of his oldest child, Julius, by then a captain in the army, and reputed to be the strongest man in uniform. Frederick Tennyson died at home on 26 February 1898.
Edward FitzGerald's opinion of his friend Frederick's poetry, as expressed in a letter to E. B. Cowell in 1871, has been borne out by posterity: 'There is a monotony and total want of dramatic faculty in the stories (for stories mostly the book consists of) which will confine them to very few readers, and to those few readers' shelves.'
- C. Tennyson, The Tennysons: background to genius (1974)
- H. Tennyson, Alfred Lord Tennyson: a memoir by his son, 2 vols. (1897)
- C. Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson (1949)
- R. B. Martin, Tennyson: the unquiet heart (1980)
- N. Page, ed., Tennyson: interviews and recollections (1983)
- M. Thorn, Tennyson (1992)
- Indiana University, Bloomington, Lilly Library, personal papers, corresp., and family papers
- Lincoln Central Library, Tennyson Research Centre
- J. M. Cameron, photograph, 1865, Lincoln Central Library, Tennyson Research Centre
- R. Taylor & Co., wood-engraving (after photograph), BM; repro. in ILN (26 Sept 1891)
Wealth at Death
£1085 14s. 3d.: resworn probate, April 1899, CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1898)