Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Turner, Charles Tennyson

TURNER, CHARLES TENNYSON (1808–1879), poet, born at Somersby, Lincolnshire, on 4 July 1808, was second son of the Rev. George Clayton Tennyson, rector of Somersby, and elder brother of Alfred Tennyson [q. v.] He was educated at the grammar school of Louth, and afterwards at home under his father's tuition, until he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he matriculated on the same day as his brother Alfred, on 20 Feb. 1828. He there won the ‘Bell scholarship’ (open to the sons of clergymen) in 1829. He had already given proof of the poetic faculty he shared with so many of his family by joint authorship with his brother Alfred of the ‘Poems by Two Brothers,’ published by them anonymously in 1827. He graduated B.A. in 1832, and was ordained in 1835 to the curacy of Tealby, Lincolnshire, and after about two years was appointed vicar of Grasby, Lincolnshire. Meantime he had changed his name to ‘Turner,’ on succeeding to a small property by the death of a great-uncle, Samuel Turner of Caistor. In later life his health compelled the resignation of his living, and he died at Cheltenham on 25 April 1879. In 1836 he married Louisa Sellwood, the youngest sister of the lady who became later the wife of his brother Alfred. His wife survived him less than a month. They had no children.

His nephew Hallam (the second Lord Tennyson), writing of his uncle in the year following his death, tells of the charm of his personality, his fondness for flowers and for dogs and horses, and all living things, and his sweetness and gentleness of character. As early as 1830 he had published a small volume of some fifty sonnets, which attracted the attention of the discerning few, and among them of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who made some extant notes and criticisms upon them, showing a genuine appreciation. The poet did not again appeal to the public until 1864, when a further collection of nearly a hundred sonnets was published, dedicated to his brother Alfred. Subsequent volumes appeared in 1868 and 1873. In 1880, after his death, the whole of the foregoing were reissued in one volume, with additions, under the title of ‘Collected Sonnets, Old and New,’ with a brief biographical sketch by his nephew Hallam, a prefatory poem by his brother Alfred, and a critical introduction by James Spedding [q. v.] This volume contains in all nearly 350 sonnets, and half a dozen short lyrics in other forms. Like the only other master of the sonnet with whom he can be compared, Wordsworth, he wrote, or rather printed, too many for his fame. Some are on topics such as the questions at issue between orthodoxy and scepticism, which are wholly unfitted for declamatory treatment in the sonnet form, while others are of inadequate interest or workmanship. But when all deductions are made there remains a considerable body of sonnets of rare distinction for delicate and spiritual beauty, combined with real imagination. Alfred Tennyson reckoned some among the finest in the language, and the judgment of the best critics will coincide.

[Authorities referred to above; Life of Alfred Tennyson, by his son.]

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