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Hallam, Tennyson, homosexuality and the critics.

In his introduction to Byron and Greek Love, Louis Crompton identifies a "central issue confronting gay studies"--"the friendship problem":

If a novel, poem, or essay describes or expresses ardent feelings for a member of the same sex, when are we to interpret these as homosexual and when are we to regard them merely as reflections of what is usually called romantic friendship? ... In Byron's day there was a popular cult of romantic friendship to which Byron as a boy had wholeheartedly responded. Many of his early poems were certainly inspired by it. But he also went beyond this by falling in love with boys and (at least during part of his early life) by becoming a homosexual lover in the physical sense (6).

Crompton persuasively argues that the tendency of some contemporary "interpreters" to refuse to "find a homosexual meaning in poetry unless conclusive biographical evidence has been forthcoming" (6-7) may be unnecessarily strict, given the general prejudice against homosexuality. His evidence of Byron's homosexuality (perhaps a component of a bisexuality) is irrefutable.

Yet Crompton also argues for a careful evaluation of the relationships between members of the same sex in historical periods other than our own, and opposes an unduly inclusive definition of homosexuality:

How, in reading the poems or letters or fiction of the past, are we to distinguish between romantic friendship and homosexual love? Both may speak with intense devotion, both reflect strong passion. Can we ever be sure the feeling has or has not an erotic side to it? Modern "scientific" psychology is not always useful. By extending the term homosexual to include all affective relations between men or between women, Freud has obfuscated rather than clarified the issue. Usually friendship does not have an erotic basis. Occasionally it does, and in the latter case the relationship belongs to gay history. (72-73)

Few relationships between men in the nineteenth century have been more subject to sexual speculation than that between Alfred Tennyson and his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam. Yet, were it not for Tennyson's In Memoriam A.H.H., perhaps only a Freudian critic would have posited a homosexual connection between the two men. By far the longest, most discursive and complex elegy in English, In Memoriam is also the most personal. In no other memorial does the poet recount in such detail so many incidents from the dead man's life. For no elegy in English, at least, celebrates a closer relationship. Beyond the circumstances of their acquaintance, for example, little can be made of Milton's personal relationship to Edward King; Shelley and Keats barely knew one another; and though Arnold's and Clough's friendship endured longer, "Thyrsis" mostly commemorates their estrangement. "Ave Atque Vale" is perhaps the extreme example of separation of poet and subject: Swinburne never met Baudelaire and knew only his poetry; his elegy was premature, written in response to a false account of the French poet's death (Lang 519). But the subject of In Memoriam was Tennyson's closest friend during the last four years of Hallam's life. Moreover, had he lived, Hallam--engaged to Tennyson's sister Emily--would surely have become a member of the Tennyson family.

Nor, given the language of In Memoriam, is modern speculation about its sexual genesis surprising. From the "Prologue," which speaks of the poet's grief"for one removed, / Thy creature, whom I found so fair" (37-38) to the "Dear friend" of section 129, who, in his transfigured state, apparently becomes "Mine, mine, for ever, ever mine," Arthur Henry Hallam, to judge by the elegy's expressions, seems to have been the object of Tennyson's intense affection.

The critical reception of In Memoriam offers a brief chronicle of nineteenth- and twentieth-century attitudes towards sexuality. During Tennyson's lifetime, there were few objections to the poem's "intimate" tone. Gladstone, who cherished Hallam's companionship when they were at Eton and seems to have begrudged Hallam's closer friendships with James Milnes Gaskell and Tennyson, praised In Memoriam as "a noble monument to one for whom no monument could be too noble" (Letters 23-25; 34). After the death of Albert, Queen Victoria found consolation in altering section 13 ("widow" for "widower"; "her doubtful arms" for "his") in her copy of In Memoriam:
   Tears of the widower, when he sees
   A late-lost form that sleep reveals,
   And moves his doubtful arms, and feels
   Her place is empty, fall like these.

Clearly neither Queen nor Laureate saw anything inappropriate in the stanza's gender references (Dyson and Tennyson 67-68). Tennyson himself was quoted as saying "if anybody thinks I ever called him `dearest' in his life they are much mistaken, for I never even called him `dear'" (Ricks, Tennyson 206; from Nineteenth Century 33 [1893]: 187).

Recent critics have asserted that implications of homosexuality were apparent in the November 1851 London Times review of In Memoriam ("The Poetry of Sorrow," almost certainly written by Manley Hopkins, Gerard's father); the review accused Tennyson's poem of excessively feminine "amatory tenderness." Yet, as Edgar Shannon has noted (141-62), this was the sole review to suggest that the elegist's sentiments might be unmanly. (1) Since The Times review is cited by every one of the critics I discuss below, the passage those critics cite is worth quoting:

A second defect, which has painfully come out as often as we take up the volume, is the tone of--may we say so!--amatory tenderness. Surely this is a strange manner of address to a man, even though he be dead:--
   So, dearest, now thy brows are cold,
   I see thee what thou art, and know
   Thy likeness to the wise below,
   Thy kindred with the great of old.

   But there is more than I can see,
   And what I see I leave unsaid,
   Nor speak it, knowing death has made
   His darkness beautiful with thee.
   [IM 74: 5-12]

Very sweet and plaintive these verses are; but who would not give them a feminine application? Shakespeare may be considered the founder of this style in English. In classical and Oriental poetry it is unpleasantly familiar. His mysterious sonnets present the startling peculiarity of transferring every epithet of womanly endearment to a masculine friend,--his master-mistress, as he calls him by a compound epithet, harsh as it is disagreeable. We should never expect to hear a young lawyer calling a member of the same inn "his rose," except in the Middle Temple of Ispahan, with Hafiz for a laureate. Equally objectionable are the following lines in the 42nd sonnet:--
   If I could write the beauty of your eyes,
   And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
   The age to come would say this poet lies;
   Such heavenly touches ne'er touched earthly faces.

Is it Petrarch whispering to Laura? We really think that floating remembrances of Shakespeare's sonnets have beguiled Mr. Tennyson. Many of these poems seem to be contrived, like Goldsmith's chest of drawers, "a double debt to pay," and might be addressed with perfect propriety, and every assurance of a favourable reception, to one of those young ladies with melting blue eyes and a passion for novels whom we found Mr. Bennet so ungallantly denouncing in a recent letter to his children.

We object to a Cantab being styled a "rose" under any conditions; but do not suppose that we would shut up nature, as a storehouse of imagery and consolation, from him who laments a lost companion of his school, or college, or maturer days, with whom he took sweet counsel and walked as a friend. Let Cowley weep for Harvey. Most exquisitely does the poet of all joy and sorrow write--
   So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
   Or as sweet seasoned showers are to the ground.

The harvest of memory will come up abundantly, as the seed falls up and down life; the shadow of the familiar form glides over the landscape; the old field-path recalls him; and the warm homestead, the meadow stile, the windy sheepwalk, the gray church tower, the wrangling daw in the quarry,--each is dear and each has a voice, as having been seen with him and by him. But this source of interest requires to be opened with a sparing hand. It easily and quickly is corrupted into sentiment. We can appreciate the meditative rapture of Burns, who saw his "Jean" in the flower under the hedge; but the taste is displeased when every expression of fondness is sighed out, and the only figure within our view is Amaryllis of the Chancery Bar.

While this passage criticizes In Memoriam as too akin to Shakespeare's classicism and especially Orientalism, its chief objections are to the poem's aesthetic decorum--Tennyson indulges in an inappropriate grief. Indeed, the Times' reviewer acknowledged, perhaps reluctantly (in a passage seldom cited), the poet's artistic achievement:

The book of verses bearing the title of In Memoriam is a tribute to the genius and virtues of a most accomplished son of Mr. Hallam, the historian. Let the acknowledgment be made at once that the writer dedicated his thoughts to a most difficult task. He has written 200 pages upon one person--in other words he has painted 120 miniatures of the same individual, with much happiness of expression, great bloom and freshness of landscape illustration, and many touching scenes of busy and indoor life. English literature possesses no work which, in compass and unity, can be justly compared with In Memoriam. (28 November 1851, p. 8)

And the reviewer's apparent condemnation of Shakespeare's sonnets concludes with an approving allusion to the sentiments of "the poet of all joy and sorrow" (sonnet 75). In any case, the objections of the Times reviewer clearly didn't disturb Tennyson. Though he constantly revised In Memoriam, he never changed a word in section 74, nor altered the strong assertion of 61 that "I loved thee, Spirit, and love, nor can / The soul of Shakespeare love thee more." (2)

For much of the Victorian age, In Memoriam served as a poetic alternative to the Bible, for both believers and honest doubters, many of whom would have had strong objections to insinuations of homosexuality. (3) By the end of the Wilde century (to employ Alan Sinfield's term), however, all--seemingly--had changed. Hallam Tennyson, the Laureate's designated biographer and model of cautious decorum, apparently became concerned about the sexual potentialities in his father's poetical testament. Between the initial and published versions of the Memoir, for example--fearing a homosexual construction--Tennyson's son deleted part of Benjamin Jowett's comment on In Memoriam's affinities to Shakespeare's sonnets (Ricks 2:313). And this was only one instance of his suppressions and mispresentation of the material to be included in the Memoir (Elliott). Reticence, apparently, was the rule of late Victorians, facing the inquiries of new men, strange faces, and other minds. After the public humiliation of Wilde, no reputation was safe: even the Laureate might be accused of "beastliness."

Perhaps it was fitting that, during the early twentieth-century attempt to rehabilitate Victorian values and sensibilities, Tennyson--and In Memoriam specifically--was a focal point for homosexual critics. Harold Nicolson and W. H. Auden, whose estimations of the Laureate were certainly qualified, both expressed admiration for the "those lonely, wistful, frightened elegies" (Nicolson 297). Nicolson's 1923 hypothetical homosexual relationship between Tennyson and Hallam draws upon general details from the Memoir; its specifics are all imagined:

The way that Arthur would burst in when one was reading Paley, and talk so brilliantly, so fluently, about the derivation of moral sentiments; the way that he would let his hand fall gently upon one's shoulder; the way that on Sunday afternoons he would join one on the Grantchester round. And his views, his helpful, optimistic, convincing views, about the immortality of the soul. And the Valley of the Cauteretz; and the plans for the long vacation; and his reading Dante on the floor at Corpus Buildings; and the first day that he came to Somersby; and the evenings on the lawn; and the cherries by the Drachenfels.

And oh! the way he would take one's arm, on summer evenings, under the limes! (4)

Auden, whose notorious quip about Tennyson--"the stupidest" English poet--needs to be placed in his more appreciative context ("there was little about melancholia that he didn't know" [Auden x]), gives few details of Tennyson's relationship with Hallam. Instead, he focuses on the psychological impact of Hallam's death, comparing Tennyson's feelings in In Memoriam to those expressed both by Augustine and Baudelaire:

But whatever the initiating cause, Tennyson became conscious in childhood of Hamlet's problem, the religious significance of his own existence. Emotions of early childhood are hard to express except accidentally because the original events associated with them are not remembered. Hallam's death, a repetition of the abandonment experience, gave Tennyson the symbolic event which mobilized what he had already suffered and gave his fear a focus and a raison d'etre. (5)

For T. S. Eliot, whose own sexuality has been under debate, In Memoriam is a diary, not of a relationship, but of a conflicted sensibility, "of a man confessing himself" (Hunt 132). Eliot's appreciative essay never confronts the personal biographical basis of the poem--perhaps, as some critics have suggested, because discussing Tennyson's friendship with Hallam was too intimidating, too intimate. (6)

Later twentieth-century criticism of Tennyson would not be possible without the vast amount of biographical and textual material that became available after World War II. Sir Charles Tennyson's balanced 1949 biography of his grandfather first revealed the existence and significance of Tennyson family letters and other documents, while Jerome Buckley's influential 1960 critical study drew upon the substantial unpublished Harvard collection of Tennyson's notebooks and papers (Buckley 261). But most important for a reassessment of In Memoriam was what Nicolson (297) yearned for nearly half a decade before: the 1969 reconstruction of the elegy's genesis and process of composition by Tennyson's greatest editor, Christopher Ricks. Ricks, whose revised 1987 edition of Tennyson's Poems benefited from the release of the Trinity College manuscripts formerly interdicted by Hallam Tennyson, presents the most authoritative text of In Memoriam (supplemented but not supplanted by Shatto and Shaw's independent edition). Publication of additional historical matter made possible substantial reinterpretations of Tennyson's life. Far most significant is Lang and Shannon's three-volume collection of Tennyson's Letters, though editions of letters and diaries of some of Tennyson's contemporaries provide additional information (e.g., FitzGerald's and Hallam's Letters, and Waller's A Circle of Friends).

Such abundance of scholarship naturally generated new Tennyson biographies. Robert Bernard Martin's 1980 Tennyson: The Unquiet Heart was the first to draw upon this modern documentation. Ricks distilled his learning and insights into a compact bio-critical volume, Tennyson (1972; rev. ed. 1989). The two most recent full-length biographies (Levi and Thorn) marked the centennial of the Laureate's death. None of Tennyson's modern biographers could skirt the issue of homosexuality, and Martin and Ricks tackle it directly. Despite the language of In Memoriam, both scholars reject intimations of anything like a physical homosexual relationship between Tennyson and Hallam. Martin, who, as I've suggested elsewhere, has more than a little antipathy towards his subject, echoes Crompton:

It has been the tendency in post-Freudian times to look at such matters in an increasingly unsubtle fashion and to fasten categorical labels that are inexact at best. Love is described as either homosexual or heterosexual with little awareness that it may consist of a good deal that defies those categories. Sexual feelings may be the most common stimulus to love, but even in relationships that are deeply sexual there are many other factors that have little to do with sex. Sympathy, companionship, likeness of interests, and even habitual proximity often form a great part of love, although they are not obviously sexual in prompting. It was surely these feelings that were at the heart of Tennyson's friendship with Hallam. (Martin 94)

Ricks, who asserts that "anyone who believes that Tennyson's feelings for Hallam were not homosexual should try to say why" (206), argues that the domestic metaphors in In Memoriam are based upon Tennyson's familial experience, and, more importantly, that the poem's unselfconscious expressions of physical contact are clear evidence that Tennyson had no thought of any possible homosexual construction. (7) Both Levi (58-60) and Thorn (68ff) spend even less time dismissing the imputation.

In this heyday of queer studies and attention to sexualities, however, the weight of scholarship and carefully researched biographies has been dismissed by a number of recent critics. Attacking the supposed naivete of earlier commentators, these critics assert an explicit homosexuality as In Memoriam's biographical basis. Perhaps swayed by the elegy's personal, even intimate references, they treat the poem not as an imaginative construct, but as a homosexual testament, recording Tennyson's true feelings for his friend.

My purpose here is not to offer another reading of In Memoriam. The degree to which this complex, multileveled work of art reflects Tennyson's sexual feelings (and what those feelings might be) has been subject to much speculation--the inevitable result of the function of criticism at the present time. Instead, I simply want to examine the biographical and historical bases of some recent critics' speculation about Tennyson and Hallam's relationship.

Tennyson was raised in what today might be called a dysfunctional household. He was the third of eleven surviving children (five sons, six daughters) of an alcoholic father--who felt he had been ill-treated by his own father--and a loving mother. Dr. Tennyson seems seldom if ever to have physically abused his children (and Tennyson never spoke ill of his father), though the psychological toll--the "black blood" that beset the family--was probably heavy. Nevertheless, familial strains only strengthened the bonds between almost all of the Tennyson children. Alfred was privately well-schooled by his father; he was a poet at an early age, and by the time he met Hallam at Cambridge in the spring of 1829 had published (together with his two brothers) a volume of verse (Poems by Two Brothers). Dr. Tennyson's death in March 1831 ended Tennyson's collegiate career (his two older brothers, Charles and Frederick, graduated in 1832); he returned home to become a reluctant paterfamilias for several years. He began writing In Memoriam almost immediately after hearing of Hallam's death early in October 1833.

Arthur Henry Hallam was the elder son, and one of four surviving children (both sisters and his brother were born during his lifetime), of the most eminent Whig historian of his age, Henry Hallam. Henry was a strong-willed but apparently loving father, who seemed determined that Arthur should follow in his successful footsteps. After a comfortable childhood, Arthur attended Eton (where he became friends with Gladstone and other only somewhat less eminent Victorians-to-be) and was destined for Christ Church, Oxford, his father's school. When admission to Christ Church proved impossible, however, Henry Hallam chose the other preeminent English college, Trinity College, Cambridge. There Arthur met Tennyson early in 1829 (Kolb, "Christ Church"). He became officially engaged to Alfred's sister Emily in December 1830, received his B.A. early in 1832, and spent the rest of his short life apprenticed in a conveyancer's office, while publishing a number of reviews and short literary pieces. Hallam died in Vienna on 15 September 1833, after a tour of east Europe with his father.

Alan Sinfield's 1986 Alfred Tennyson (in the "Rereading Literature" series) was the first substantive critical work to resurrect speculation about a homosexual relationship between the poet and Hallam. Almost all subsequent critics seem to draw their inspiration from Sinfield, perhaps because he had previously shown himself to be a textually sensitive critic of Tennyson (Sinfield, Language).

Sinfield begins by alleging the homosexual basis of In Memoriam's presumed literary models--Dante's Divine Comedy ("an authoritative translation of the ideal construction of homosexual love, as it was received from the Greeks, into a more amenable heterosexual form") and Shakespeare's sonnets. He asserts that In Memoriam was "cleaned up" mostly by Tennyson's son, Hallam, and that the "general failure of twentieth-century criticism to discuss [this] issue is a scandal." (8) Sinfield ranks Tennyson on Jeffrey Weeks' scale of "four kinds of nineteenth-century `homosexual' (as we would call it) experience." The Laureate becomes an example of "the highly individualized, the deeply emotional, sometimes even sexual, relation between two individuals who are otherwise not regarded, or do not regard themselves, as `deviant.'" We can be only momentarily reassured that "there is no reason to assume that Tennyson's `deeply emotional' attachment to Arthur Hallam was `really' a suppressed or repressed instance of [`a total way of life ... involvement in an identity and sub-culture which, with its own system of values and ideologies, is the obvious forerunner of that of the present day']." (131-32 and 131n28, referring to Weeks 33-35).

At the same time, the fact that the relationship perhaps was not directly sexual, or perhaps was just momentarily so (at Cauteretz?), does not mean that we can heave a sigh of relief and relax because they were just good friends. Such intensity of male bonding was situated ambiguously and provocatively in the complex field of nineteenth-century sexuality. As in our own time, sex and gender were sites of struggle across which people contested opposing patterns of behaviour, within a context of changing class and power relations. The emotions represented in In Memoriam should be understood as in uneasy relation to the dominant notions of proper manly behaviour. (131-32)

When Sinfield finally offers biographical support for his contentions, his language is far more qualified:

Tennyson commented on [In Memoriam] section 97: "The relation of one on earth to one in the other and higher world. Not my relation to him here. He looked up to me as I looked up to him" (Ricks, Poems [1969], 949). Nevertheless, it is my belief that what is exposed through Tennyson's preoccupation with Arthur's superior and neglectful stance is the continuation of a pattern of relations between the two young men which was established while Arthur was alive. Their admiration may indeed have been mutual, but Tennyson may have felt, even so, that he was dependent on the attention of his sophisticated, charismatic and popular friend. There is more than a touch of condescension in this letter from Arthur Hallam: "I feel to-night what I own has been too uncommon with me of late, a strong desire to write to you. I do own I feel the want of you at some times more than at others; a sort of yearning for dear old Alfred comes upon me, and that without any particularly apparent reason" (Memoir [1], p. 87). (148-49)

Apparently Sinfield (whose book was published five years after Hallam's Letters) didn't feel the need further to document Hallam's "superior and neglectful stance." It would, I think, have been rather difficult to do. Here, for example, is the continuation of Hallam's 31 July 1833 letter to Tennyson that Sinfield excerpts from the Memoir:

I missed you much at Somersby, not for want of additional excitement; I was very happy. I had never been at Somersby before without you. However I hope you are not unpleasantly employed in the land of cakes and broiled fish. I hear that you were charmed with the amiability of the Gardens; I also hear in town that the old Monteiths have been here instead of there. I trust you finished the "Gardener's daughter" and enriched her with a few additional beauties drawn from the ancient countenance of Monteith's aunt. Have you encountered any Highland girl with "a shower for her dower"?

I should like much to hear your adventures but I daresay it will be difficult to persuade you to write to Vienna whither I am going on Saturday with tolerable speed. At all events if you have any traveller's tale to tell, do not tell it often enough to get tired of it before we meet. I am going perhaps as far as Buda. I shall present your poetic respects to the Danube and to certain parts of Tyrol. (Letters 767)

Notable in this fuller version of Hallam's letter are, first, a lack of condescension towards Tennyson on Hallam's part; and second, Tennyson's clear independence--venturing up to Scotland without even mentioning the trip to Hallam--from his friend. (9) Even without access to Letters, Sinfield might have ascertained these same qualities from material excerpted in the Memoir. In June 1830, for example, Hallam wrote to Tennyson's mother, enclosing Tennyson's Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, originally to be published with Hallam's privately printed Poems (1830).

... there are reasons which have obliged me to change my intention, and withdraw my own share of the work from the Press. One of these was the growing conviction of the exceeding crudeness of style which characterized all my earlier attempts.... I have little reason to apprehend your wasting much time over that book, when I send you along with it such a treasure in your son's poetry. He is a true and thorough poet, if ever there was one.... (10)

Though Hallam may have excessively disparaged his own work--it was his father who insisted that his son's poetry be withdrawn from the joint publication--his estimation of Tennyson's poetry remained consistent and undiminished. On 31 July 1831, having sent off (without the poet's permission) Tennyson's sonnet, "Check Every Outflash," to be published in Edward Moxon's new Englishman's Magazine, he wrote to Tennyson:

I have been expecting for some days an answer to my letter about Moxon; but I shall not delay any longer my reply to your last, and before this is sent off yours may come. I, whose imagination is to yours as Pisgah to Canaan, the point of distant prospect to the place of actual possession, am not without some knowledge and experience of your passion for the past. To this community of feeling between us, I probably owe your inestimable friendship, and those blessed hopes which you have been the indirect occasion of awakening. But what with you is universal and all-powerful, absorbing your whole existence, communicating to you that energy which is so glorious, in me is checked and counteracted by many other impulses, tending to deaden the influence of the senses which were already less vivacious by nature. (Memoir 1: 81; minor variants in Letters 446-47)

Around the beginning of November 1832, Hallam, who had supervised and spurred the publication of Tennyson's Poems (1832), diplomatically tried to dissuade the poet from publishing "To Christopher North," an ill-considered squib against John Wilson, who had reviewed Poems, Chiefly Lyrical with less than unqualified praise:

Remember the maxim of the Persian sage: "[GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]." Your epigram to North is good, but I have scruples whether you should publish it. Perhaps he may like the lines and you the better for them; but "[GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]." I think the "Lover's Tale" will be liked, as far as I can remember its old shape. (Memoir 1: 88; minor variants in Letters 678-79).

Soon after Hallam pleaded with Tennyson about another decision regarding the poet's new book:

Dear Nal,

By all that is dear to thee--by our friendship--by sun moon & stars--by narwhales & seahorses--don't give up the Lover's Tale. Heath is mad to hear of your intention. I am madder. You must be pointblank mad. It will please vast numbers of people. It pleases the wise. You are free from all responsibility as to its faults, by the few lines of preface. Pray--pray--pray--change your mind again. I have ordered Moxon to stop proceedings, till I hear from you again. Therefore write instanter [this postscript to Hallam's 20 November 1832 letter to Emily Tennyson is only in Letters 688]).

In ultimately publishing "To Christopher North" and withdrawing The Lover's Tale from his collection, Tennyson (perhaps unwisely) disregarded his friend's advice. But Tennyson was always decisive about the terms of his publications, as Hallam's 11 October 1829 letter to Richard Monckton Milnes illustrates:

You have my free vote for publishing along with Tennyson, and myself: but mine alone is not enough, and as he refused his brother on the score of not wishing a third, some difficulty may lie in your way. (Letters 334)

Even these brief excerpts can't begin to show what Hallam's surviving letters make abundantly clear: there was never a pattern of dependency between Tennyson and Hallam. Tennyson was just as sophisticated, self-assured and willful as his friend. Though bound by familial ties and family problems to Somersby, the poet took every opportunity to escape from home, where he pleased, when he could. On more than one occasion he caught Hallam completely by surprise--for example by showing up unexpectedly in London in June 1832, and then persuading his friend at the last moment to accompany him to Germany (Letters 597ff). And perhaps the first allusion to Tennyson in Hallam's Letters (302; see also 294-95) foretold a dissatisfaction Hallam would voice throughout their friendship: "of Tennyson I am utterly ignorant: he never wrote to me." (11) Since Hallam was usually separated from the Tennyson family, letters were crucial, "to keep pure and limpid, the source of all generous emotions" (see Letters 19-20).

Sinfield continues his selective documentation of the Tennyson/Hallam relationship in The Wilde Century (1994). Acknowledging, for instance, that it is "striking" that Tennyson could use domestic metaphors employing intimate language in In Memoriam, he suggests an underlying sexual tension, since Tennyson's models for his poem, the Latin elegy and the Greek pastoral, "had often accommodated same-sex passion." According to Sinfield, Hallam had "registered" a similar tension in his discussion of Platonic love in his 1832 "Essay on the Philosophical Writings of Cicero":

He derived the idea of intense friendship as an inspiration to virtue from Plato, but felt he had to justify "that frequent commendation of a more lively sentiment than has existed in other times between man and man, the misunderstanding of which has repelled several from the deep tenderness and splendid imagination of the Phaedrus and the Symposium." (Sinfield, Wilde 58-59)

But this short quotation from Hallam's essay doesn't suggest any "embarrassment" (Sinfield's term). Moreover, the fuller context makes this point clearer. Hallam has identified the "great principle" of "moral community" in Cicero's works:

To inspire men with this virtuous passion, which, however dispersed over particular affections, and perceptible in them, has, like conscience, from which it springs, too little hold on sensation to act often from its own unaided resources, was the great aim of the Platonic philosophy. Its mighty master, who "[GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" discerned far more of the cardinal points of our human position, than numbers, whose more accurate perception of details has given them an inclination, but no right, to sneer at his immortal compositions--Plato saw very early, that to communicate to our nature this noblest kind of love, the love of a worthy object, would have the effect of a regeneration to the soul, and would establish conscience in nearly the same intimacy with the world of our senses, which she already maintains with our interior existence. Hence his constant presentation of morality under the aspect of beauty, a practice favoured by the language of his country, where from an early period the same to [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] had comprehended them both. Hence that frequent commendation of a more lively sentiment than has existed in other times between man and man, the misunderstanding of which has repelled several from the deep tenderness and splendid imaginations of the Phaedrus and the Symposium, but which was evidently resorted to by Plato, on account of the social prejudices which at that time depressed woman below her natural station, and which, even had the philosopher himself entirely surmounted them, would have rendered it perhaps impossible to persuade an Athenian audience that a female mind, especially if restrained within the limits of chastity and modest obedience, could ever possess attractions at all worthy to fix the regard, much less exhaust the capacities of this highest and purest manly love.

The passage may not convey an accurate definition of Platonic love, but it is not "embarrassed" or defensive. Hallam ascribes Plato's homoerotic emphasis both to the status of women within Athenian society and to its paganism: Christianity will subsequently provide the crucial link between human and divine love. Hallam does not fault Plato; he credits the Greek philosopher with a prefiguring of the (Christian) truth to be revealed:

The soul of man was considered the best object of [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], because it partook most of the presumed nature of Divinity. (12) There are not wanting in the Platonic writings clear traces of his having perceived the ulterior destiny of this passion, and the grandeur of that object, which alone can absorb its rays for time and for eternity. The doctrine of a personal God, himself essentially love, and requiring the love of the creature as the completion of his being, often seems to tremble on the lips of the master, but it was too strange for him, too like a fiction of wayward fancy, too liable to metaphysical objections. (Writings 158-59)

Many of Sinfield's charges are repeated in Jeff Nunokawa's 1991 "In Memoriam and the Extinction of the Homosexual." For example, Nunokawa sees Ricks's--and Gordon Haight's--inability to acknowledge homosexuality in In Memoriam--and Tennyson's anxiety about it--as a sign of the prejudices of their generation:

It is difficult for a contemporary audience to read [IM 93: 13-14: "Descend, and touch, and enter; hear / The wish too strong for words to name"] without thinking that the wish too strong for words to name is the love that dare not speak its name. Tennyson's critics have often resisted such interpretations by reminding us that expressions of devotion must be situated historically.... There is often more homophobia than history in the traditional appeal to the differences between Victorian and contemporary discourses of desire.

Not surprisingly, he cites the same sources as Sinfield:

Tennyson's own trouble with ["the tone of amatory tenderness," from The Times review, above] may be registered in his famous protest that while Hallam lived, he never called him "dearest." (427)

Nunokawa's assertion about the different class relationship between Hallam and Tennyson also derives from Sinfield's questionable notion of "dominant notions of proper manly behaviour":

In Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick examines the ideological efficacy for the Victorian bourgeoisie of this evolutionary model of male desire. Sedgwick suggests that the social distinctions within the class of Victorian gentlemen were figured as different developmental stages within an individual psychic career in order to promote "the illusion of equality ... within that class." We may begin to sense that importance of such a softening of social distinctions for Tennyson in his relation to Arthur Hallam when we recall the difference between Tennyson's rather vexed and confused class and financial circumstances, and Hallam's far more secure possession of wealth and aristocratic position. The difference in their social circumstances, while perhaps not dramatic to our eyes, was sufficiently significant that, in the words of Robert Bernard Martin, "it is surprising that the most celebrated friendship of the century should ever have begun at all."

Hence, according to Nunokawa,

In section 60 ... the terms that [Tennyson] employs here to measure the distance between himself and Hallam describe his sense of loss as a sense of socioeconomic inferiority (429-30).

One must assume that Nunokawa wrote about the "social distinctions" between Hallam and Tennyson with only a superficial glance at Martin's biography. (13) Martin makes it abundantly clear that Tennyson's grandfather ranked as one of the wealthier landowners in England, and Tennyson was never "confused" about his class status. He only sought what he considered his rightful inheritance to achieve it. Likewise, Hallam had no claim to "aristocracy"; his mother was merely one daughter of Sir Abraham Elton of Clevedon Court. Though Henry Hallam was certainly well-todo, his fortune came to him from a widowed sister, and only after his son's death.

Moreover, uncertainty about his "socioeconomic status," especially during the futile financial negotiations with Tennyson's grandfather, plagued Hallam for the last two years of his life. After he became engaged to Emily Tennyson, his letters are preoccupied with attempting to obtain enough money to marry--according to the considerable expectations of both his, and Emily's, family. On 10 September 1832, for example, Hallam wrote to Frederick Tennyson, Emily's and Alfred's older brother, begging him to charge "his future estate" with the amount that the two sides (represented by Henry Hallam and Emily's grandfather) disagreed over (Letters 643).

Though Christopher Craft's chapter, "`Descend, and Touch, and Enter': Tennyson's Strange Manner of Address" (44-70; originally published in 1988), is largely confined to a reading of In Memoriam, it, too, draws upon Sinfield's biographical representation. For instance, Craft argues that the 1851 Times review, expressing a "palpable gender anxiety" about In Memoriam, is "hardly anomalous" (47). But Craft doesn't even allude to Shannon's discussion of other In Memoriam reviews; he offers only Charles Kingsley's 1850 Fraser's Magazine article as additional evidence of a critic acknowledging homosexual predilections in In Memoriam. The context of Kingsley's treatment of Tennyson's relationship with Hallam, however, seems to be as free of "anxiety" as Hallam's treatment of Platonic love in his essay on Cicero:

Within the unseen world which underlies and explains this mere time-shadow, which men call Reality and Fact, he had been going down into the depths, and ascending into the heights, led, like Dante of old, by the guiding of a mighty spirit. And in this volume, the record of seventeen years, we have the result of those spiritual experiences in a form calculated, as we believe, to be a priceless benefit to many an earnest seeker in this generation, and perhaps to stir up some who are priding themselves on a cold dilettantism and barren epicurism, into something like a living faith and hope. Blessed and delightful it is to find, that even in these new ages the creeds which so many fancy to be at their last gasp, are still the final and highest succour, not merely of the peasant and the outcast, but of the subtle artist and the daring speculator! Blessed it is to find the most cunning poet of our day able to combine the complicated rhythm and melody of modern times with the old truths which gave heart to martyrs at the stake, to see in the science and the history of the nineteenth century new and living fulfilments of the words which we learnt at our mothers' knee! Blessed, thrice blessed, to find that hero-worship is not yet passed away; that the heart of man still beats young and fresh; that the old tales of David and Jonathan, Damon and Pythias, Socrates and Alcibiades, Shakespeare and his nameless friend, of "love passing the love of woman," ennobled by its own humility, deeper than death, and mightier than the grave, can still blossom out if it be but in one heart here and there to show men still how sooner or later "he that loveth knoweth God, for God is Love!"

All such male/male relationships are types of the relationship of man to his God. Kingsley calls In Memoriam "in our eyes, the noblest English Christian poem which several centuries have seen" (Fraser's Magazine 42: 252-55).

Like Nunokawa, Craft seems to suggest that Ricks's treatment of Kingsley's review reflects a homophobic prejudice:

Christopher Ricks has charged Kingsley with "recklessness" and has balked at the allusion to 2 Samuel, calling it "that perilous phrase." (Craft 48)

But Ricks's remarks simply voice the later nineteenth-century anxiety about Kingsley's language.

Charles Kingsley, with some recklessness, exulted in finding a successor to "the old tales of David and Jonathan, Damon and Pythias, Socrates and Alcibiades, Shakespeare and his nameless friend, of `love passing the love of woman'"; he was drawn twice to this perilous phrase, praising In Memoriam for "a depth and vehemence of affection `passing the love of woman' ... altogether rivalling the sonnets of Shakespeare."

It is not only a post-Freudian world which finds some cause for anxiety here. Benjamin Jowett remarked of Tennyson,
   Once again, perhaps in his weaker moments, he had thought of Shakespeare as
   happier in having the power to draw himself for his fellow men, and used to
   think Shakespeare greater in his sonnets than in his plays. But he soon
   returned to the thought which is indeed the thought of all the world. He
   would have seemed to me to be reverting for a moment to the great sorrow of
   his own mind. It would not have been manly or natural to have lived in it
   always. But in that peculiar phase of mind he found the sonnets a deeper
   expression of the never to be forgotten love which he felt more than any of
   the many moods of many minds which appear among the dramas. The love of the
   sonnets which he so strikingly expressed was a sort of sympathy with
   Hellenism. (Ricks, Tennyson 204)

As Ricks points out, this is the passage that Hallam Tennyson edited for presentation in the Memoir, cutting Jowett's last sentence and that which begins "It would not have been manly...."

Throughout his chapter, Craft draws upon Sinfield's connection (Tennyson 144; see also Wilde) between the supposed homosexuality in In Memoriam, and the explicit homosexuality documented in J. A. Symonds' Memoirs. This amounts to guilt by implication: Craft implies--despite a feeble disclaimer--that because both men wrote about the contact of hands, they must both have been homosexual (Craft 56-59).

The biographical evidence poses Craft and Nunokawa--no less than Sinfield--with an interpretative conundrum. Anxiety results from discomfort; homosexual anxiety presumably results from discomfort with one's homosexuality, or its exposure. No one would argue, I think, that Tennyson's biographical comments on Hallam, including In Memoriam, deliberately document an explicit homosexual relationship; Tennyson would hardly write about so taboo a subject so intimately to an audience largely unsympathetic to such an orientation, in an age in which, as all gay historians have documented, open homosexuality faced dire consequences. But nowhere in the extant biographical genesis of the poem is the coded language which, as Crompton shows, Byron regularly used to depict his homosexual relationships. (14) Nor is there any evidence that Tennyson's generation saw any evidence of homosexuality in his friendship with Hallam, a friendship whose dynamics neither Tennyson or Hallam saw any reason to conceal, either from close or distant friends, or from the public. (15) Hallam's analysis of Plato's sexuality refutes the deliberately naive argument that somehow Tennyson and Hallam might be gay without knowing what homosexuality entailed. Seemingly, then, either Tennyson and Hallam had a full sexual relationship, or Tennyson wrote about his relationship with Hallam with no consciousness of homosexual feelings--because there were no homosexual feelings.

Neither Sinfield nor Nunokawa nor Craft is quite willing to identify Tennyson and Hallam as genital lovers. This proposition is central, however, to the first chapter of Richard Dellamora's Masculine Desire ("Tennyson, the Apostles, and In Memoriam"):

Since we now know that Tennyson was familiar with possibilities of sex between men, that he joked about the subject, and that he even raised the possibility of sharing such adventures with Arthur--though in a humorous and dismissive vein--we see that Tennyson clearly was capable of perceiving that their strong emotional connection might have sexual implications.

Indeed, Dellamora insists,

to argue the opposite view is more problematic. To infer blithe ignorance on Tennyson's part in face of the complex realities of male friendship, love, and sexuality among members of the Apostles at Cambridge and afterwards suggests an innocence so self-enclosed as to appear to be self-deceptive in character. (19)

Dellamora doesn't offer any details in his "provocative" introduction: he simply notes that "Sedgwick has written well on the topic of false innocence in relation to lesbian sexuality in `Privilege of Unknowing'" (225n7).

Dellamora's suggestion about homosexuality, and specifically a homosexual relationship between Tennyson and Hallam, depends to a large extent upon his evaluation of the Apostles, the private Cambridge society in which Hallam actively participated throughout his time at Trinity (but from which Tennyson resigned after his failure to read his unfinished paper on ghosts [Martin 89-90]). According to Dellamora,

a sense of shared superiority ... might prompt the view, as it did in a later generation, that members of the Apostles possessed a higher or different morality from that binding ordinary men. Ideologically, the Apostles were liberals guided by the principle that one should be able to enter sympathetically into a wide range of views, including unconventional or unpopular ones. (19)

Here as elsewhere throughout his chapter, Dellamora refers to Peter Allen's 1978 Cambridge Apostles, a book which fails to mention homosexuality as one of the "unconventional or unpopular views" of the group. According to Dellamora, "there are signs ... that some members of the Apostles--before, during and after Tennyson's days at Cambridge--were attuned to the need to alter conventional gender norms" (19). These "signs" turn out to be the Apostles' support of women's rights, an issue hardly the exclusive cause of homosexuals. Likewise, Dellamora's assertion (20) that Tennyson "affirms" an "androgynous ideal of marriage" in Tennyson's Princess finds no support in the conclusion of the poem:
   For woman is not undevelopt man,
   But diverse: could we make her as the man,
   Sweet Love were slain: his dearest bond is this,
   Not like to like, but like in difference.

Even after the idealized development of both sexes to grow "liker," the differences are crucial:
   Self-reverent each, and reverencing each,
   Distinct in individualities,
   But like each other even as those who love.

   (Ricks 2:290-91)

Dellamora identifies a few Apostles, during the time of Tennyson's brief membership, as gay, or at least bisexual. He suggests (19ff) that their presence meant the entire group was subject to such temptations. (16)

Tennyson's circle at Cambridge fostered intimacy in ways that might lead to sexual experimentation, even to sexual involvement between members of the same sex. One factor was the group's closeness.... [Richard Monckton] Milnes's explorations of the Orient ... afforded opportunity for sexual adventures.... While in the East, Milnes gathered stories about pederasty. (19-20)

Dellamora argues that James Spedding, one of Tennyson's closest friends, and editor of an edition of Sir Francis Bacon, "was strongly, perhaps sexually, attracted to other men." (Dellamora's "evidence," drawn from Martin and Allen, is a letter to Spedding's brother, complimenting Hallam's abilities; and a reference to Spedding responding, "with depths of tenderness," to the death of a schoolfellow from Bury.) Likewise, Henry Lushington, whose brother Edmund's marriage to Tennyson's sister Cecilia is celebrated in the epilogue to In Memoriam, "remained unmarried" and "shared quarters" with another former Apostle, George Venables; for Dellamora this proximity becomes suspect. (17) On this "evidence," Dellamora "readily" suggests that some Apostolic "Victorian `bachelors'" are, "if one is to speak somewhat anachronistically ... `closeted homosexuals'" (21). Venables' avuncular pose "appears to" result from his "sexual and emotional deprivation." Spedding is naturally attracted to Bacon, "in view of Bacon's known sexual involvement with other males and in view of his disdain for the superstitions on the basis of which same-sex activities were stigmatized." Hence, by association, Spedding must be gay. (18)

I've cited these instances at length to give a sample of Dellamora's argumentative method. Granted, Dellamora doesn't suggest that Henry Lushington might have been intimate with his close friend Tennyson. But he does attempt to link Hallam with homosexuality through another Apostle, Arthur Buller. Allen characterizes Buller as a "handsome, flippant fellow whose lively personality and numerous sexual exploits made him the affectionately regarded clown of the group" (38), and mentions an explicitly homosexual letter from Buller to Richard Monckton Milnes. In support of his assertion that Arthur Buller seems to have had sexual relations with both men and women--and specifically with Milnes--Dellamora can offer only this letter. (19)

Dellamora labels Buller as "Tennyson's fellow Apostle," implying that the two were close friends, and that Tennyson would have been exposed to Bullet's sexual tastes. In fact, there's little evidence that the two had anything more than the slightest acquaintance. Buller was elected to the Apostles in February 1828 and, as usual, was made an honorary member when he resigned in March 1830. Tennyson was elected in October 1829 and resigned on 13 February 1830 after failing to present what would have been his first paper. The only Apostles' meeting at which Buller is recorded as giving a paper is that in which both Hallam and Tennyson were elected, 31 Oct. 1829. The admittedly incomplete Apostle records show no other meetings at which both Tennyson and Buller were present. (20) There is no mention of Buller in any of Tennyson's letters. And the sole allusion to Arthur Buller in Hallam's Letters (738-39) is in a list of Cambridge graduates, none close to Hallam, who, like Hallam, apparently could not attend an 1832 Cambridge reunion sponsored by John Mitchell Kemble. Even this reference is to the "Bullers," including Arthur's far more eminent brother, Charles Buller. Moreover, among the other Apostles during Hallam and Tennyson's membership were R. N. Barnes, Edward Horsman, and a Morrison, none of whom plays a role in the lives of either figure. In short, that Buller was an Apostle at the same time that Tennyson and Hallam were Apostles has little significance.

Nevertheless, Dellamora's argument persists: Arthur Buller, an active homosexual, was friends with Richard Monckton Milnes (a probable bisexual), who was friends with Hallam (ergo, another potential gay). Hence, according to Dellamora, Hallam was at least susceptible to a homosexual relationship, and acknowledged his inclination in one of his early letters to Milnes:

In a letter written to Milnes during the brief period of their close friendship in 1829, Hallam avers: "Though I have been the creature of impulse, though the basest passions have roused themselves in the deep caverns of my nature, and swept like storm-winds over me ... I will struggle yet, and have faith in God, that when I ask for bread, I shall not receive a stone." The statement may be taken as a veiled confession of genital attraction to other men.

According to Dellamora, when Apostles write about attraction to women, they employ a light tone: "Hallam's phrasing is considerably darker." Moreover, "Hallam's words remind one of possibly the best-known letter [sic] dealing with sexuality between men written in England during the century," Symonds' confession of his homosexuality (22-23). Dellamora ultimately abandons his suggestion that the situations of Hallam and Symonds are comparable. But he does assert that Hallam's subsequent letters to Milnes represent a withdrawal of (homosexual) affections, or at least enticements, earlier promised: "One writes as Hallam wrote to Milnes in 1829 only to one with whom one exchanges confidences" (26).

Richard Monckton Milnes was one of Hallam's earliest friends at Cambridge, at a time when Hallam was despondent over his separation from his Eton friends (all of whom went to Oxford). Milnes' letters testify to his admiration for his new acquaintance (see, for example, Letters 242n2: "Hallam is reserved, deep, & quiet"--the antithesis of Milnes). (21) It is not surprising, then, that Hallam might have confided intimate feelings to Milnes. Yet the larger context of Hallam's correspondence rebuts a homosexual reading. Here, for example, is more of the letter that Dellamora sees as Hallam's potential confession of "genital attraction":

My father found one day my little book of Poetry, and read several pieces that assuredly I never dreamt he should see: on which we had a long, but unsatisfactory conversation, full of kindness on his part, & exhortations to turn my mind vigorously from the high metaphysical speculations, & poetic enthusiasm that were sapping its very foundations. It cannot be: whither can I turn? Shall the river complain, that its channel is rocky? I must onward, and Le bon Dieu nous aide! I am seeking Truth--with my whole heart, with my whole being I pray God that he deny me not light. I am seeking Moral Strength too: and though I have been the creature of impulse, though the basest passions have roused themselves in the dark caverns of my nature, & swept like storm-winds over me, lest the glory of the majestic Imagination should make me free, I will struggle yet, and have faith in God, that when I ask for bread I shall not receive a stone. My Anathema, as you term it, of Metaphysics was but the whim of the moment: I thought more severely among the Scottish hills, than anywhere ever, and am now employed in committing to paper the result of my strivings in mind. I had many grapples with Atheism, but beat the monster back, taking my stand on strongholds of Reason. (Letters 312)

Clearly, Hallam is undergoing a spiritual, not a sexual, crisis. (22) As Hallam's subsequent letters make clear, the flighty Milnes was scarcely the person in whom to confide this fundamental transformation of character, and Hallam quickly distanced himself from his friend.

Dellamora's reading of Hallam's letters--as those of a spurning lover--are based upon two misconstructions. First, Dellamora argues (26) that James Pope-Hennessy's (1955) biography proves that a "special friendship" existed between Hallam and Milnes. Here is the passage in Pope-Hennessy (1:13) that Dellamora apparently has in mind:

Hallam, who came up to Trinity in June 1828 (when Alfred Tennyson had been there five months and Milnes nearly a year), was at first "unjust" and stand-offish with Milnes. They later became friends; and for a few months of 1829 intimate friends. "I am sorry I ever acted towards you with caprice," wrote Hallam in July 1831; "at the time I had reasons which seemed to justify my conduct but I intend to forget them, or to apply them differently."

And here is Pope-Hennessy's fuller discussion of the friendship:

Modern commentators on In Memoriam and students of the Cambridge phase of Tennyson's life have written of the relationship with Arthur Hallam as though it were, in its day, unique. This is mistaken. The unique quality of the friendship lay squarely in the fact that one of the two friends was a major English poet, who has immortalised it in his finest series of lyrics. Seen in the perspective of Cambridge at that day, and particularly of the Trinity set to which they both belonged, the relationship falls into place as one among many such close mutual affections. The letters which Richard Milnes kept from this period of his life are filled with references to such things: "Sir Jacob and I are inseparable, he is one of the dearest creatures I have ever seen. You would I am sure approve of our friendship, it is so unlike the routine of Cambridge arms-in-arms"; "Garden and Monteith have not cooled at all": "Cavendish's brother is a charming creature and so well fitted for Fitzroy." (Pope-Hennessy 1:17)

In other words, either homosexual relationships were rampant in Cambridge of the 1830s, or Milnes's attachment to Hallam was typical among undergraduates in the 1830s. As his 1831 letter makes clear, Hallam has an acute sense of Milnes' superficiality, and responds in kind:

Is your poem on "the wisdom of our ancestors," which you prefer calling "the Eld," about to exercise the wit of the learned, and the patience of courteous readers? Or have you thought better of it, and transferred that ingenious string of erudite fancies to [an] appropriate place in your forthcoming pamphlet on the Beer Bill? Pardon me, my dear Milnes--"to scoff is human, to forgive divine!" I was much pleased with your behavior towards me in London, for you had some right to complain, and yet you had tact enough, and good temper enough to take the proper course. 1 am sorry I ever acted towards you with caprice; at the time I had reasons which seemed to justify my conduct, but I intend to forget them, or to apply them differently. Pray have you been to Coleridge? ... What a hash of "shocking bad" opinions you will have served up--with sauce a la monologue from the old Gourmand, who was "fed with honeydew," & drunk the milk of Paradise! (Letters 443-44)

Second, Dellamora asserts that "[Peter] Allen informs me that Hallam, for his part, was aware that Milnes was sexually involved with males." (24) According to Dellamora's note, the information is based on "Private communication from Peter Allen, December 1987." (226 n29) Since this communication about Hallam was news to me, I wrote to Professor Allen. Here is part of his 17 October 1994 letter to me (printed with his permission):

So Milnes was bisexual (not hard to guess, from other hints that we have) and this may be one reason that he lost Hallam's friendship (p. 146), but we certainly can't say what you quote Dellamora as saying [above]. Much less attribute the idea to me, as he did.

As I've stated in my introduction to my edition of Hallam's Letters, Milnes' sexuality seems less important than the contrasting degree of friendship between Milnes and Hallam and Hallam and Tennyson:

To judge by Arthur's other relationships, Tennyson's independence may have been the strength of their bond. For despite his need for friends, Arthur's character seems to have invited closer and more intimate dependence than he desired, or knew how to handle. There is almost a noli me tangere quality in his rejection of Fart, his response to Gladstone's 1830 letter, his apparent treatment of Tennant, his 1831 letters to Milnes and even, initially, those to Brookfield. With Gaskell, Doyle, Frere, the Speddings, Kemble, and Trench, all secure in their own intents and pursuits, he could establish firmer bonds of mutual affection and trust. And Tennyson, perhaps because of the degree of self-interest necessary to survive in such a chaotic and troubled family, seems to have been akin to this second group. Whatever the idealized relation "of one on earth to one in the other & higher world" depicted in In Memoriam, their relationship here, as Alfred himself asserted, was one of mutual respect: "he certainly looked up to me fully as much as I to him." (Letters 32)

As I have noted above, all four critics discussed cite the Times 1851 review of In Memoriam. But this is not their only repetition: Hallam Tennyson's censorship of Jowett's remarks, Hallam's "Essay on Cicero," the Memoirs of J. A. Symonds, and the excerpt from Hallam's 31 July 1833 letter to Tennyson are sources that each draws upon. With the exception of Symonds, these are important historical data, but--as I've tried to demonstrate--they need to be placed in a larger context. And there are other pertinent data that these critics seldom--if ever--mention: for example, Hallam's engagement to Emily Tennyson, and his consistent attraction to women--beginning with Anna Wintour in 1828, during his adolescence--and the passionate language (given the standards of the time) in his letters to Emily Tennyson. These critics have also largely failed to distinguish between Tennyson's attitude towards his friend Hallam, and Hallam as Tennyson's poetic creation in In Memoriam. Perhaps most important, they have by and large failed to acknowledge the significance of religion--religious beliefs, religious language, religious metaphors--in the daily lives of these early nineteenth-century men. (23) These components are crucial to an accurate estimation of the relationship between Tennyson and Hallam.

Questionable scholarship begets questionable interpretations. Brian Reade's confident assertion of Tennyson's homosexuality--he prints sections of In Memoriam in his anthology of homosexual writings--is easy to dismiss. (24) But Thorn's presentation of one account of Hallam's death has led to groundless speculation:

At first reading, the cutting of Arthur's veins by the physician seems a most peculiar way of establishing death. Making the cut in the wrist and the hand at once prompts the speculating mind to wonder whether the cuts were already there, self-inflicted, and this part of the story concocted to disguise the real cause of death--suicide. (116)

Of course Thorn goes on to point out how unlikely it was that such wounds were self-inflicted, and that such reports came from people not in Vienna, where Hallam died. But his mere suggestion has led one critic to insinuate that Hallam might have killed himself--out of frustrated love for Tennyson? (Spencer 259). Fortunately, Hallam's body was autopsied, and there was no evidence of suicide, or even the cutting of Arthur's veins. Rather, the attending physician, as part of standard medical procedure, applied leeches to the dead body:

In the bend of the left elbow and on the back of the left hand were found small wounds caused by phlebotomy. (25)

Another example of unfounded assertion about Hallam's and Tennyson's homosexuality appears in the last paragraph of Paul Hammond's discussion of Tennyson and Hallam in Love Between Men in English Literature (1996):

Tennyson's strange ways of imagining union with Hallam found one still stranger expression. According to the diary of Sydney Waterlow, Edmund Gosse "professed to have heard Tennyson tell how he had been to re-visit old scenes & had been moved by familiar sights & associations. `And what do you think I saw,' he said in his booming voice; `I saw two boys copulating on Arthur Hallam's grave';" Whether this was Gosse's imagination, or Tennyson's, or sober truth, the anecdote seems to unfold the unrealized primal scene of Tennyson's imagination. (158)

Only an extraordinary imagination could conceive this "primal scene," since, as any visitor to Clevedon Church can ascertain, Hallam's body is interred in the wall of the Hallam family vault.

As the body of this article has sought to demonstrate, no critic cited--Sinfield, Nunokawa, Craft, nor Dellamora--has offered persuasive evidence that Tennyson and Hallam were homosexual lovers, or even thought of a homosexual relationship. Taken by itself, this shortcoming is inconsequential: their sexual nature should not affect our estimation of Tennyson's and Hallam's friendship and mutual affection. But by misrepresenting biographical and related material, these critics harm the cause of gay studies as exemplified by Crompton's book. Moreover, their potentially prejudiced and obviously flawed work plays into the hands of the worst foes of homosexual criticism. (26)


(1.) The Literary Gazette, 15 June 1850, was the only periodical to welcome "a female hand" to "the Muses' banquet," though it had previously listed Tennyson as the author of In Memoriam. Shannon (14143; 216n3)--who notes that the identities of Tennyson (author) and Hallam (subject) were well known before the poem was published--doubts that the reviewer, probably William Jerdan, was joking, since the review was quite favorable. And it was Hallam Tennyson's enshrining Memoir of his father which contains apparently the only mention of "another [early review of In Memoriam that] referred to the poem as follows: `These touching lines evidently come from the full heart of the widow of a military man" (1: 298). No one has been able to trace this review.

Shannon--who notes that Manley Hopkins may well have written the 1848 Times' review of Tennyson's work--suggests that the tone of the 1851 critique (largely devoted to Tennyson's style) may reflect the reviewer's irritation that Tennyson hadn't followed his previous advice (106-7; 156-58)

(2.) To the 1839 assertion of Arthur's father, Henry Hallam, in his Introduction to the Literature of Europe, that "It is impossible not to wish that Shakespeare had never written [his sonnets]," Tennyson responded, "Henry Hallam made a great mistake about them: they are noble" (Ricks, Tennyson 205).

(3.) See, for example, Dyson and Tennyson 71; Hunt 13-16.

(4.) Nicolson 88; see Letters 17 for Nicolson's later view.

(5.) And even the latter comparison is qualified: "If Baudelaire became the greater poet, it was not because his initial sensibility was any keener than Tennyson's, but because in addition he developed a first-rate critical intelligence which prevented him from writing an epic about Roland or a tragedy about Joan of Arc to escape from his vision of the abyss. On the other hand, it led him into an error which Tennyson escaped--the error of making a religion of the aesthetic (Auden xvi-xix)."

(6.) Sendry 106; Miller 143; see also Kolb, "Laureate."

(7.) Ricks, Tennyson 2034)9. See also 64: "What Tennyson gratefully loved in Hallam was not limited to the grandly platonic marriage of true minds, but included the shrewd and generous practicalities with which Hallam furthered the publication and promotion of Tennyson's poems. Moreover, what Hallam loved in Tennyson was partly the opportunity which all this provided for some energetically disinterested and honourable activity such as Hallam's life would otherwise have lacked."

(8.) 128. According to Sinfield, the Gay Liberation movement of the 1970s "made it more difficult to ignore the issue" (129). Yet in an earlier passage, devoted to a different approach and employing the deconstructive methodology of de Man, Sinfield seems to agree that all such speculation is pointless: "The proclaimed autobiography demonstrates that, as all texts are autobiographies, so none of them can be: there is no self-knowledge--no self--that can be reliably inferred from writing. (126)" In the same deconstructionist frame of mind, perhaps, Sinfield sees Hallam's consistent heterosexual orientation, in his poetry and prose, as somehow highlighting "the boldness of Tennyson's [supposedly homosexual?] move" (128).

(9.) As Thorn (113-114) notes, Tennyson "would have needed a post-chaise drawn by the Furies to reach London" for the putative final farewell meeting with his friend; see Letters 767-68n1.

(10.) Memoir 1:51; the fuller version in Letters (365-66) includes the phrase "and in parts morbidness of feeling" after "exceeding crudeness of style."

(11.) For their mutuality, see Levi 66--"He and Hallam hero-worshipped one another"--and Ricks, Tennyson 36: "So [Hallam] who declared in March 1830, "I am one of strong passions, irresolute purposes, vacillating opinions," was far from being a bright countercharm to Tennyson's gloom. Tennyson's melancholia (with its relationship to what he had seen of his father's melancholia) found in Hallam the deeper reassurance not of serenity but of similar suffering, doubts, and morbidities which yet were not ignoble. Such morbidity could thus be seen as something other than a uniquely personal weakness or shame; moreover it could be alleviated and humanized by friendship. It is easy to be misled by some of the metaphors which Tennyson was to use in mourning Hallam in In Memoriam, into thinking that it was a relationship in which Hallam gave and Tennyson was more blessed to receive. But Tennyson too was blessedly able to give. A draft of"Merlin and the Gleam" (1889) was to speak of Hallam as "The friend who loved me, / And heard my counsel." Whereas the despondency of Dr. Tennyson had apparently been inaccessible to anything that his son might try to do for him, the despondency of Hallam could be soothed and might even be healed by their deep friendship--and likewise Tennyson's despondency in the loving mutuality."

(12.) When a general admiration for Plato revived with the revival of arts and learning, the difference of social manners, which had been the gradual effect of Christianity, led men naturally to fix the reverential and ideal affection on the female character. The expressions of Petrarch and Dante have been accused as frigid and unnatural, because they flow from a state of feeling which belonged to very peculiar circumstances of knowledge and social position, and which are not easily comprehended by us who live at a different period. (Hallam's note; Writings 159n17)

(13.) The passage that Nunokawa alludes to in Martin's biography (69) discusses a number of apparent differences in the backgrounds of the two friends, including the degree of their devotion to politics and their common acquaintances. See also Kolb, "Portraits."

(14.) Shuter provides some worthy caveats: "The critics undertaking [the exposure of Pater's sexuality in his writings] apply to Pater's writings the assumptions and methods associated with gender discourse. The explicit topic of their discourse is Pater's understanding of his sexuality, and their method consists in reading Pater's texts as if they were written in "a hidden language or code" [quoted from Linda Dowling, "Ruskin's Pied Beauty and the Constitution of a `Homosexual' Code," The Victorian Newsletter 75 (1989): 1]. To a careful explication of Pater's sexual meaning no reasonable objection can be raised. If, however, we propose to accomplish this explication by breaking Pater's textual code, it will be necessary to observe certain precautions. Above all, we will need to recall that it is in the nature of a code to be able to transmit more than message and, therefore, that we have not necessarily deciphered an encoded message merely because we have broken the code in which it was written.... I do not wish to argue that Pater's texts are innocent of sexual content, but only that any decoding of their sexual implications should be complete and should employ a language capable of recording even messages that frustrate the decoder's expectations. As Dowling implies, such a language has still to be perfected by the practitioners of gender discourse (491; 501)."

(15.) See, for example, Hallam's language to William Bodham Donne, never a close friend: "Friendship certainly plays sad pranks with one's judgement in these matters; yet I think if I hated Alfred Tennyson as much as I love him, I could hardly help revering his imagination with just the same reverence" (letters 363). See also Tennyson's December 1861 letter--apparently unsent--to Princess Alice, on the death of her father, the Prince Consort: "I wished to say to your R. H. that when I was some three or four years older than yourself I suffered what seemed to me to shatter all my life so that I desired to die rather than to live. And the record of my grief I put into a book; and {of this book} I continually receive letters from those who suffer telling me how great a solace this book has been to them" (Tennyson, Letters 2:290; passage in curled brackets cancelled in ms). Of course, one must assume a certain degree of dramatic overstatement on the part of the Laureate addressing the surrogate for his Queen.

(16.) Dellamora's argument seems to typify the worst form of homophobia: if you associate with homosexuals, you'll pick up their (nasty) habits.

(17.) Dellamora 20-22; 225n 16-17, referring to Allen 166; 214-15, and Martin 75. Allen, whose documentation is always superb, suggests that Venables may have felt an unrequited love for Henry, but Dellamora acknowledges that another interpreter argues that "`the sole wish specified in the journals ... was for more constant comradeship and a more equitably reciprocated regard. The journals indicate a commitment to a conservative moral code for both himself and others'" (21, quoting Waller 100).

(18.) Here is a sample of Dellamora's argument: "Spedding may deliberately have translated into scholarship the affective and sexual preferences that his society otherwise denied licit expression" (22). Equally representative is his treatment of Tennyson's 7 February 1833 letter to James Spedding (Tennyson letters' 1: 86-87). Tennyson--in a playful mood--writes about beds at Somersby not shared with Hallam, and employs metaphors of gestation, which, as Tennyson's editors note, was a witty repartee to Spedding. This letter has indeed been censored, presumably by Hallam Tennyson, almost certainly in a clumsy and unsuccessful attempt to conceal the increasing addiction to laudanum of Tennyson's brother (]hades (Letters 1:87n4; see also Elliot 24). Dellamora's interpretation of Tennyson's letter reflects his preoccupations: "The letter is characterized by tropes of liquescence and assault in which sexual fantasy seems to drift just below a surface of explicit denial (Hallam does not sleep with me). The imagery suggests a far more sensate awareness of male relation than Hallam's letters to Milnes evince. One needs to distinguish this sort of rhetoric, however, from the rhetoric of Apostles who were far more knowing and experienced than was Tennyson. Other members of the Apostles, for instance, see the rhetoric of conception, with which Tennyson begins, to refer to both artistic creation by men and to anal intercourse" (Dellamora 29-30).

(19.) Dellamora 29-30. Buller's admission of apparent anal intercourse with a Cambridge fellow student--is couched in very playful language, almost as if Buller is testing Milnes' tolerance of reports of such activity: "Let not your tender heart be shocked--by the disclosure of female frailty & male vice--I am with child!! [i.e. presumably filled with semen]. I often told my dear dicky-bird St. Aubyn--that if he continued his addresses so violently he would seduce me to a state where I should be a burthen to my country to my God & to my own belly. Alas! last night, this fatal prediction was fulfilled." He continues to describe the physical sensations: "I was first seized with intermittent fits of the besoin de pisser--an erection of the penis ensued--the scrotum communicated its sympathies to my anus--and at the witching hour of midnight--my fundament developed its hollow beauties." The letter concludes with a request for Milnes to kiss his penis. Dellamora admits such description "takes us into another realm from Tennyson's--or from Hallam's," yet he pursues this guilt-by-association argument.

(20.) Tennyson seems to have been present at only the 21 and 28 November and 5 December 1829 meetings before resigning at the second meeting in 1830. Buller was absent from the 21 November and 5 December 1829 meetings, and probably from the 28 November 1829 meeting as well. Tennyson was made an honorary member much later. See Martin 89-90 (I have also drawn upon private sources for information about the Apostles).

(21.) My introduction to Letters provides some biographical background: "As Pope-Hennessy suggests, Arthur's correspondence with Monckton Milnes shows that their friendship was probably doomed to failure. Milnes had been attracted to Arthur from their first encounter, and Arthur, desperately lonely and depressed by his academic pursuits, responded to the light-humored disposition, kindly temperament, and extravagant wit of one of the leading speakers in the Cambridge Union. Although they shared political views, it was their literary and philosophical affinities and their dedication to poetry that drew them together.

Yet Arthur's spiritual crisis in 1829 probably hastened the end of their friendship. The same qualifies so initially attractive in Milnes may have seemed increasingly frivolous to Arthur's soberer perspective; certainly Cousin's pupil appears to have received the outpouring of thought and emotion from Scotland and Malvern too lightly. As his friendship with Alfred and love for Emily grew, Arthur had a clearer sense of the "exalted sentiment" that he could not feel for Milnes. Their disagreement in 1832 about the nature of religion confirmed that Milnes was too concerned with externals, too clearly the product of an era when "the imagination craves a constant stimulus with a morbid appetite, sometimes leading to delirium; when the prurient desire for novelties, arranged in system, is mistaken for the love of truth; and, because pleasure is the end of poetry, it is supposed indifferent what kind of pleasure a poem confers" (Letters 28).

(22.) Hallam's crisis of faith (as IM 96 testifies) makes him the essential spiritual companion to Tennyson:
   one indeed I knew
   In many a subtle question versed,
   Who touched a jarring lyre at first,
   But ever strove to make it true.

   Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,
   At last he beat his music out.
   There lives more faith in honest doubt,
   Believe me, than in half the creeds.

   He fought his doubts and gathered strength,
   He would not make his judgment blind,
   He faced the spectres of the mind
   And laid them: thus he came at length

   To find a stronger faith his own
   (IM 96: 5-17).

(23.) See John Rosenberg's "Stopping for Death: Tennyson's In Memoriam," in my opinion the best essay on the poem:

The recent discovery that In Memoriam is really a veiled tribute to homoerotic love marks, as I see it, a new parochialism, a kind of inverted prudery that finds it hard to recognize the legitimacy of any interests other than its own....

In the most impassioned lines of In Memoriam, the poet cries out to Hallam's ghost:
   Descend, and touch, and enter; hear
   The wish too strong for words to name;
   That in this blindness of the frame
   My ghost may feel that thine is near
   ... The modern reader cannot read the words "Descend, and touch, and enter"
   without sensing a plea for sexual penetration. Quite possibly Tennyson's
   fear of a homoerotic misconstruction now leads his reader to such a
   surmise. His first thought for the line was "Stoop soul & touch me: wed me:
   hear." "Wed me" must have awakened second thoughts, leading Tennyson to
   substitute, unintendedly, the more sexually charged "enter," a charge all
   the greater after his excision of the sanitizing "soul" in the manuscript
   version of line one. The late-twentieth-century reader, believing that
   reality wells up from within us, from the unconscious, feels the sexual
   force of the line and is struck by its explicitness. Tennyson's
   contemporaries, in touch with a more ancient tradition, and used to looking
   up rather than down or within for the sources of the real, would have been
   more aware of the Christian iconographic, than the phallic, allusion: the
   impregnating power of the Holy Ghost descending as a ray of light into the
   ear of the attendant Virgin; or of the still more ancient tradition,
   classical and Hebraic, of the inspiring force of the Muse or the Godhead
   entering the soul or mouth of his prophet-poet. (304-07)

(24.) See Ricks, Tennyson 205: "[Reade], anxious to enlist or if necessary to pressgang Tennyson, believes that "the fact that Tennyson evolved an emphatically heterosexual image in later life does nothing to disqualify him as homosexual when he wrote In Memoriam." Craft's interpretation of this rejection of Reade's statement speaks for itself: "Ricks's anxiety registers itself as a barely suppressed metaphor of homosexual rape by an editor `anxious to enlist or if necessary pressgang Tennyson' into a very dubious literary brotherhood. The rigors of such an enlistment are presumably unbearable, but for a poet laureate to be ganged upon and then pressed--perhaps im-pressed as well as em-pressed--is to suffer at editorial hands the additional indignity of a sodomitical intrusion. Better, obviously, to house In Memoriam in canonical--that is to say, heterosexual--anthologies" (51).

(25.) From the translation of Karl von Rokitansky's autopsy report by George Corner, to be found in the papers of T. H. Vail Motter, Princeton University Library. See Kolb, "Death" 50-52.

(26.) I am deeply indebted to a number of colleagues, friends and other cognoscenti for their generous assistance with this article. These include Peter Thorslev, Jeff Loucks, Peter Mien, Gwin and Alma Dean Kolb, Elisa Vandernoot, Susan Sloan, Katie Andrews, and especially Christopher Ricks. I'm also grateful to members of the VICTORIA online list for their helpful input.


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Author:Kolb, Jack
Publication:Philological Quarterly
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Date:Jun 22, 2000
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