n a characteristically Victorian manner, Tennyson combines a deep interest in contemporary science with an unorthodox, even idiosyncratic, Christian belief. In Memoriam, which he wrote between 1833 and 1850, contains his most important confrontations with contemporary science, particularly with geology and biology. Drawing upon Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology (1830-33), Tennyson anticipated Darwinian conceptions of evolution and their implications, such the extinction of entire species, including man. Darwin did not publish until 1859, almost a decade after In Memoriam; Robert Chambers' Vestiges of Creation had come out in 1844 after most of Tennyson's poem was already written.
In Darwin among the Poets, Lionel Stevenson suggests that the crucial lines from Idylls of the King suggest Tennysonian ideas of evolution:
The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfills Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world,
These ideas of human progress probably have much in common with those of Hegel and Comte, both of whom see man progressing from an early state of mere superstition, through Christianity, to an understanding of his place in the universe based more nearly on reason and science.
Last modified 28 November 2001;
Thanks to "jsz" for pointing out a broken link.