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In the nineteenth century artists frequently took on projects so immense that they dominated the mature life of their creators. One has only to think of Balzac's Comédie Humaine, Wagner's Ring des Niebelungen, or, the subject of this study, Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Tennyson began thinking about his Arthurian "epic" when he was still a young man—we have notes for several different Arthurian projects sketched in the 1830s—and in 1833 he began with the end, composing his "Morte d'Arthur" which was later integrated into "The Passing of Arthur." "Morte d'Arthur" was published in 1842, but it took until 1885 for the last substantial portion of the poem to appear, the idyll "Balin and Balan." And even then Tennyson was not really finished with his Idylls, because in the last years of his life he continued to tinker at the punctuation of the poem, even instructing, as one of his last creative decisions, that a qualifying line be added to the "Epilogue."

Victorians who read the beginnings of this immense work in their childhood were still observing its growth in their old age. Such an extended evolution stirred a curiosity in those early readers which, even in our own time, has not been fully assuaged. They wanted to know, as we still do, how Tennyson carried out such an enormously taxing project. How did he build his poem over such a long period of time? Did he see the plan of the whole clearly, from his youth, or was he forced to cut and add in order to make everything fit together smoothly?

In seeking to investigate this problem of growth yet another problem rises up to block our progress. To analyze a poem's evolution one must first learn the full history of that poem. In what order were the several parts written? Do early manuscripts and proof sheets still


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survive? Those which do can help shed light on Tennyson's creative progress. Then, as new, longer versions of the poem appeared, were earlier versions altered, and if so, to what extent? To put it briefly, the student of the Idylls, in order to answer his critical questions, is forced to answer first a set of bibliographic questions.

Tennyson was scarcely dead before the professional studies seeking for answers began to appear. In 1895 Richard Jones published The Growth of The Idylls of the King,[1] based upon a careful collation of eight sets of printer's proof which were even at that early date available for public scrutiny. Subsequent investigation would show that Jones was only exploring the tip of the iceberg, but because his was the only close study to exist, it has remained of great interest until our own day.

Next came the bibliographers, attempting to clarify the history of the printed versions of the Idylls. Their progress was snarled by the machinations of the book-seller and forger T. J. Wise. He generously offered his advice to Luther D. Livingston, who was making a bibliography of Tennyson to accompany a sale by Dodd, Meade in 1901,[2] and again to J. C. Thomson who, in 1905, brought out another Tennyson bibliography.[3] In both cases Wise convinced these men that certain "rare trial issues" which were, in fact, Wise forgeries, were legitimate. So, when Wise published his own two volume bibliography in 1908 he had already built an entire bibliographic history for his forgeries, and it was only in the nineteen-thirties that Carter and Pollard, in their An Enquiry Into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets,[4] unmasked the Wise frauds. Still, the Wise bibliography, for all its faults, remains the most complete study to date of Tennyson bibliography, and when used with care can still serve the student.

There have been other bibliographic studies of the poem in recent years, the most important being the essay "Some MSS of the Idylls of the King . . ."[5] by the poet's grandson Sir Charles Tennyson. This was the first, and remains the only serious investigation of actual manuscripts. It offers long quotations of variant readings, and probes some of the knottiest questions of chronology.

Until now the student of Tennyson, consulting all of these studies,


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could put together a fairly accurate picture of the poem's history. From Sir Charles Tennyson he would have an insight into the appearance and the contents of a major manuscript collection. From Jones he could determine the extent of variation within a limited set of proof sheets. And from the bibliographers he could construct a fairly accurate chronology of the published editions of the poem. But such a student would be ignorant of the preponderance of the existing manuscripts and proof sheets, and, if confronted with them, would have no ready way of determining their chronological relationship to each other, and to the final poem.

But would Tennyson have wanted such problems investigated at all? It is difficult to tell. His oldest son, amanuensis, and biographer, Hallam Tennyson, thought he would not. Hallam, quoting his father, writes,

He 'gave the people his best,' and he usually wished that his best should remain without variorum readings, 'the chips of the workshop,' as he called them. The love of bibliomaniacs for the first editions filled him with horror, for the first editions are obviously in many cases the worst editions . . . (Mem. I, 118).[6]
Acting in accord with what he considered to be the wishes of his father Hallam burned "many" papers and put others in collections fenced round with an interdict which prohibited in perpetuity anyone copying or reproducing them in any way. They were to remain mere exhibits, safe from the hands of scholars.

But in a contradictory fashion Hallam himself did closely study the manuscripts in the family collection when he set about writing the official biography of his father, and he felt free to quote at length from "Manuscripts never meant for the public eye" (Ibid., pp. XV-XVI)—to cite his own words. And in later years the attitude of the Tennyson family has softened on this question. In 1956 Charles Tennyson sold a collection of manuscripts to Harvard imposing no restrictions on their use save that they might not be used to alter accepted readings of the poems. In 1964 the present Lord Tennyson loaned, on an indefinite basis, yet another collection of papers and books to the Tennyson Research Centre in Lincoln with the same minimal restriction. Finally in 1969 the family was able to lift the "perpetual" interdict on the manuscripts at Oxford and Cambridge, thus opening all the extant Tennyson papers to scholars.


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Thus the time has come for further serious study of Tennyson bibliography. What follows is as complete a list of manuscripts and printer's proofs as the author has been able to assemble. Those familiar with the poem and the questions it poses will recognize at once that this suddenly expanded Idylls bibliography presents a spate of new problems, problems which the textual history of the poem which follows this list will attempt to solve.