Turner [formerly Tennyson], Charles
- Roger Evans
Turner [formerly Tennyson], Charles (1808–1879), poet, was born on 4 July 1808 at Somersby rectory, Lincolnshire, the second surviving son of the Revd Dr George Clayton Tennyson (bap. 1778, d. 1831) and his wife, Elizabeth (bap. 1780, d. 1865), daughter of the Revd Stephen Fytche, formerly vicar of Louth, and his wife, Martha. He was educated at Louth grammar school from 1815 to 1821 and then with his next youngest brother, Alfred Tennyson, under their father who gave them rigorous tuition in preparation for admission to Cambridge. Tennyson was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1827, the year in which, with Alfred and his elder brother, Frederick Tennyson, he published Poems by Two Brothers. While at Cambridge he produced his first independent volume, Sonnets and Fugitive Pieces (1830), a collection of delicate verse expressive of a gentle disposition much admired by Coleridge. He graduated in 1832 and was ordained deacon in 1832 and priest in 1833. On the death in 1835 of his great-uncle, the Revd Samuel Turner, Tennyson inherited property in Caistor, Lincolnshire, and the lordship of the manor of Grasby nearby. In the same year, in deference to the terms of his great-uncle's will, he changed his name by royal licence from Tennyson to Turner and it was under the name Charles Turner that he published his subsequent volumes, though the sobriquet Tennyson Turner became established in his lifetime.
On 24 May 1836 Turner married Louisa Sellwood (1816–1879), the youngest daughter of a Horncastle attorney and sister of Emily who was to marry Alfred in 1850. Also in 1836, on the death of the incumbent vicar, he was instituted into the living of Grasby, which was in his own gift. This was to remain his parish until his death. Soon after their marriage his wife's mental powers became impaired and this distressing situation, exacerbated by his resorting to opium, led to their separation in 1839. Largely residing in Cheltenham, he was an absentee priest from 1843 to 1849 when he was reunited with his wife. Despite her continued mental illness, they resumed their marital life in Grasby vicarage, newly built in 1850. They remained childless.
After not writing poetry for some years, Turner suddenly produced an elegiac sonnet on the death of a relative in 1854. It was the first of a number of contributions to periodicals and was published in 1860 in the new Macmillan's Magazine. In 1864 he published Sonnets, a volume which reveals the influence of the sacramentalist idiom of Keble, a pronounced antipathy to current neologistic thinking, and a sensitive delicacy in its descriptions of natural forms. This was followed in 1868 by Small Tableaux and in 1873 by Sonnets, Lyrics and Translations, which betrays a preoccupation with human relationships in the context of love and marriage.
Illness forced Turner to withdraw from the offices of the church in 1866, although he never resigned the living. He nevertheless maintained the pastoral care of his parishioners and in 1869 at his own expense rebuilt the church, employing an architect of high-church persuasion, Charles Buckeridge.
Turner died at 6 Imperial Square, Cheltenham, from a bladder complaint on 25 April 1879. His wife, who had been confined in an asylum for the insane near Salisbury since October 1878, survived him by less than a month. They were buried (Turner on 1 May) in the same plot in Bouncers Lane cemetery, Cheltenham. Some fifty unpublished sonnets found among Turner's papers were added to his collected poems in a memorial volume edited jointly in 1880 by Hallam Tennyson and James Spedding with Alfred Tennyson taking overall control in its early stages and contributing a moving prefatory poem. The best of the 343 sonnets and the handful of lyrics which constitute the corpus of his work are notable for their compassion and for their quite individual perception of flux in diurnal and seasonal conditions in the Lincolnshire landscape he loved.
- Tennyson family letters, diaries and notebooks, Tennyson Research Centre, Lincoln
- Lincs. Arch., Tennyson family papers
- Lincs. Arch., Turner family papers
- Lincs. Arch., Bishop Kaye papers
- R. Evans, ‘Secret rooms: the life and work of Charles Tennyson Turner’, PhD diss., U. Hull, 1993
- R. W. Goulding, ed., Louth old corporation records (1891)
- LondG (4 Sept 1835), 1677
- E. F. Shannon, ‘Alfred Tennyson's admission to Cambridge’, TLS (6 March 1959), 136
- S. T. Coleridge, MS marginalia in copy of Sonnets and fugitive pieces, 1830, Tennyson Research Centre, Lincoln
- d. cert.
- parish register (marriages), St Mary's Church, Horncastle
- Lincoln Central Library, Tennyson Research Centre, corresp., diaries, and papers
- Lincs. Arch., family corresp.
- BL, letters to Macmillans, Add. MSS 55252–55254
- Lincs. Arch., Dixon archive
- Lincs. Arch., Kaye archive
- Wilts. & Swindon HC, register of Laverstock House lunatic asylum
- J. J. E. Mayall, photograph, 1864, Tennyson Research Centre, Lincoln
- T. J. M. Townsend, oils, 1868, Tennyson Research Centre, Lincoln
Wealth at Death
under £1500: administration with will, 16 Aug 1879, CGPLA Eng. & Wales