"In Tennyson I perceive a nature higher and wider than my own, at the foot of which I can sit happily and with love." — Coventry Patmore
lthough no official record exists of Lord Alfred Tennyson's and Coventry Patmore's first meeting, Patmore's friend and biographer, Basil Champneys, estimates that their acquaintance began sometime around 1846 after the publication of Patmore's early poems. Most likely, the two would have met at the Procters' house where Patmore also met Monckton Milnes and many other members of his father's literary circle. Patmore, the younger of the two friends, acted like something of a sycophant to his elder in the early stages of their relationship. However, once he had become more established in his poetic career, Patmore began to treat Tennyson more as his equal than as his literary mentor. Nonetheless, the records of the two men's correspondences reveal Tennyson as more of a critic and reviewer of Patmore's work than the other way around (see his letter about Angel). On the other hand, Tennyson's and Patmore's friendship clearly exceeded the boundaries of a professional relationship, and the two not only accompanied one another on long walks (much in the tradition of Coleridge and Wordsworth's relationship), but Patmore also stayed with Tennyson for extended periods of time at the Tennysons' place in Coniston.
In retrospect, it seems that their relationship was also very much rooted in Tennyson's appreciation for Emily Patmore. Tennyson, who was married several years after meeting Coventry and Emily, informed Patmore of his engagement to Mrs. Tennyson before notifying almost any of his other friends, and it was not long after the Tennysons' marriage that Mrs. Tennyson and Emily Patmore also became very close. Furthermore, Emily Patmore's death may caused a change in the two poets' friendship. Although Champneys cites a number of reasons for the demise of Patmore's and Tennyson's relationship, it is clear that the prolonged illness and eventual death of Patmore's first wife adversely affected many of his literary friendships including the one he had cultivated with Tennyson. According to Champneys, as Patmore began to progress in his career, his mystic tendencies drove him to work towards a new standard of poetry which was no longer in line with the Tennysonian ideals for verse. Champneys thus quotes Patmore from around the time of his fallen friendship with Tennyson as saying that Tennyson's "earlier [verses] were Tennyson" whereas the later were merely "Tennysonian." Indeed, many of Tennyson's friends agreed with Patmore.
However, the correspondence between the two friends reveals that personal reasons led to the end of their relationship and not, as Champneys vaguely suggests, because of diverging views of poetry. After all, Patmore's 1859 review of one of Tennyson's Maudin the Edinburgh Review proved to be a quite favorable one. Champneys points to an issue concerning Emily's illness that created a rift in the poets' friendship. When Emily's prolonged sickness led to severe financial difficulties, an anonymous lady appealed to an organization known as the Literary Fund to assist Patmore. Unaware that Patmore had not sanctioned the appeal for funding, Tennyson was one of the first to sign this petition, and Patmore took offense. Thus in June 1881, when Thomas Woolner, a common friend of the two, urged Patmore to restore his friendship with Tennyson, Patmore wrote Tennyson of his anger about the affair of the Literary Fund. At a time when Tennyson was unaccustomed to writing personal letters (only a year before his death), he responded to Patmore's letter in order to explain the misunderstanding. Apparently, this appeal for forgiveness was insufficient, and Patmore discontinued all personal and friendly correspondence with Tennyson apart from one literary gesture in which he sent him a copy of his Odes. Although Patmore never publicly denounced Tennyson, according to Champneys, he never forgave his former friend and mentor. Then again, the period of seclusion which followed Emily Patmore's death along with Patmore's second marriage and conversion to Catholicism marked a stage in Patmore's life in which he appears to have severed many of his former friendships and literary ties.
Champneys, Basil. Memoirs and correspondence of Coventry Patmore. 2 vols. London, G. Bell & Sons, 1900.
Last updated 6 July 2004