Gollancz and Tennyson

Readers of my fortnight-old post on Gollancz’s Pearl will recall a brief discussion of the inclusion of an epigraphic quatrain from then Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Appearing on the page just after the Holman Hunt frontispiece, it reads:





As I noted before, this quatrain is printed in ALLCAPS in all the editions, and I suspect that the consequent epitaphic effect is no doubt intended. There is certainly a tension between the polished stone gleaming in the “lyric coronet”, now safe from that moul that marreȝ a myry iuele, and the graven quality of the words. But there’s more at work here.

Before I saw the light and became a medievalist, I spent part of my wayward youth as a would-be Romanticist. I worked most of the time on mid-nineteenth-century print culture, especially the phenomenon known as the literary annuals or gift-books, those luxury tomes largely intended as seasonal presents for marriageable young ladies of acute sensibility. (If you’ve read Middlemarch, Ned Plymdale gives Rosamund Vincy a copy of The Keepsake.) The books were popular for their pairing of high-quality reproductions of fine art (new steel-plate engraving and steam press technology aiding mass print runs) with poems and short stories commissioned from famous writers including Scott, Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, and others. While the literary annuals have their share of small-R romance, they are also heavily informed by the aesthetic that a Victorian character on That Mitchell and Webb Look summed up as “portraits of ill children praying.” Or, for the more visually-inclined, the 1824 Forget-Me-Not opened with this funereal frontispiece:

1824 FMN Frontispiece

Gollancz was born a little late to have experienced even the tail-end of the annuals craze: many of the most prominent titles ended their runs in the mid-1840s and nearly all were gone by 1860. He would likely have encountered them nonetheless, for they were very well-made, included a lot of artistic reproductions from Turner, Reynolds, and the like, and literature from great poets and authors of the age. On top of this, owners were unlikely to part with them, given their expense: many annuals retailed for about £1 or so—quite a sum at the time. Many were kept in families and handed down from one generation to the next. Tennyson was certainly familiar with literary annuals, having written for a number of them in the 1830s, including The Golden Treasury and The Gem.

According to a little bit of research I did in connexion with the Tennyson quatrain, Tennyson’s library, now housed at the Lincolnshire County Council’s Tennyson Research Centre (see the Catalogue here, items AT/1764 and AT/1765 on p. 17), contains two copies of the Gollancz first edition. One is a thank-you copy, numbered 49 of 50 printed; the fly-leaf is inscribed to the poet from the editor: “To Lord Tennyson with most grateful regards. I. Gollancz.” This is rather graceful, compared to the public thanks he offers in the Preface to the first edition:

“Finally, it is my privilege to express my profound thanks to the Laureate for having guerdoned my labour with the most coveted of distinctions; graced with the imprimatur of his honoured name, ‘Pearl’ will, I feel sure, find kindly welcome in many an English home.”

Gollancz may have missed his true calling: he would have made an excellent editor of the literary annuals.

The second copy is the more interesting for it demonstrates the tactical branding (cf. “imprimatur”) that Gollancz had in mind as he prepared his first edition. Read: he knew what he was doing. The TRC’s Catalogue provides the title to the volume in brackets, for, while the Holman Hunt frontispiece is present, the title page is not, which leads the catalogue to wonder parenthetically if this was a proof copy, which the dates certainly do suggest. The rough dating of the copy is determined by a letter tucked into it that is dated 18 November 1890 from Gollancz to Hallam Tennyson. It asks Tennyson the Younger, who lived with his father as his personal secretary, to interest Lord Alfred in the poem. The lines that were to become the poetical guerdon are written in pencil on the back of this copy’s Holman Hunt frontispiece in Hallam Tennyson’s hand. While I’m reluctant to speculate cynically, it may be that the aging Tennyson saw something in the enterprising scholar’s request that reminded him of Charles Heath’s and the other gift-book editors’ annual solicitations and rattled off a few lines very much in that spirit.

Elsewhere in the edition, Gollancz forges links with Tennyson’s oeuvre, whether out of genuine feeling, canny marketing to guarantee a “kindly welcome in many an English home”, or—quite likely—a mix of both. On the first page of his Introduction, he positions Pearl as anticipating or presaging Tennyson’s great elegy: “its artistic form indicates the peculiar position this old ‘In Memoriam’ occupies in the evolution of modern English poetry.” (The 1921 edition substitutes early for old and gets a little less Darwinian: “in the progress of English poetry.”) In his explanatory notes, he twice draws parallels between passages in Pearl and the lament for Hallam. For instance, Gollancz highlights the parallel between the commonplace of new growth from the corpse in Pearl 25–36 and In Memoriam XVIII (“And from his ashes may be made / The violets of his native land.”). The more interesting—and certainly more complicated—weaving with Tennyson’s work appears in the first edition only. In space between the title page the preface, just after the Tennysonian quatrain, Gollancz includes a dedication page. It reads:

Gollancz 1891 Dedication Page

The quotation is from the fifth stanza of Tennyson’s Maud, a tale of lost love and an angelic apparition that restores purpose to the mourner’s life. The complication of course comes from the fact that, in Maud, the deceased heroine and her apparition are aged sixteen years and thus the lost love is of a decidedly romantic nature—no ambiguity about the luf-daungere there. (Also the Pearl-dreamer has no Crimean War to head to after waking from his dream on the cold huyl-side.)

We might assume that Gollancz has chosen this epigraph to complement the quatrain even as it compliments the author of the lines, but perhaps some generosity of interpretation is in order here. The rather careerist entry for Sir Israel in the DNB concludes by commenting on his well-known affection for children that endeared him to many friends and acquaintances. He came from a large family and had many nieces and nephews. My cursory glances over ancestry websites show a numbers of relatives born right around the time of the preparation and publication of the first edition of Pearl. Mabel Gollancz, the daughter of his brother, Alexander, was born in 1890, for example. However, I was unable to discover how long she lived or the fate of her sister Winifried (b. 1891). (Of their brother Victor we have much more information. He was, among many other things, Orwell’s first publisher.) I’m terribly curious—with no hint of the nefarious—about the particular personal goings-on, if any, that would prompt the scholar to include this dedication. But, then, in so doing I may be guilty of precisely the same sort of biographical projection that Gollancz undertakes when he insists that the poet elegizes his own daughter in Pearl. (Israel Gollancz himself would not marry until 1910, at the age of 47; he had two children with his wife Alide [née Goldschmidt], Marguerite [!!!] and Oliver. Both, it is happily noted, lived long lives.)

I hope, too, that this sentimental note supplies a counter to the some of the cynicism above. It is obvious from every sentence in both editions that Gollancz loved Pearl deeply. His express purpose in publishing his edition—and including a modern English translation—was to make the poem more accessible and to get it to more readers, beyond those with connexions to the British Academy or subscribers to Furnivall ventures or the Early English Text Society. If he considered playing upon the tastes of consumers—tastes conditioned by decades of anthologies that paired steel-plate engravings with “poetical illustrations” to reflect and exemplify the sensibilities of the readers and owners as much as to educate, entertain, and inform them—then so be it. What matters most is that more and more readers did, in the end, encounter and come to love Pearl, some maybe loved it even as much as Gollancz.


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