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It was on 25 October 1854, in the Battle of Balaclava, that the Light Cavalry Brigade suffered grievous casualties and made itself immortal, and to speak of the Charge of the Light Brigade is already to pay tribute to Alfred Tennyson. On 13 November 1854 a leader in The Times, telling the British public of 'the attack on Balaklava' and 'the terrible form of a splendid self-sacrifice', declared: 'The British soldier will do his duty, even to certain death, and is not paralyzed by feeling that he is the victim of some hideous blunder'. Those last three words moved Tennyson by their substance and their cadence to create the line which his son came to believe had actually figured in The Times: 'Some one had blunder'd' (12).


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The next day, 14 November, The Times carried both a further leader, on this 'fatal display of courage which all must admire while they lament', and their special correspondent's account for 19-28 October (headed as having 'appeared in our second edition of yesterday', so that Tennyson may have read this too in his copy of the paper for the previous day). William Howard Russell, the first war-correspondent and probably still the greatest, reported vividly and poignantly the Brigade's 'desperate valour'.

'On Dec. 2nd', Hallam Tennyson was to report, 'he wrote "The Charge of the Light Brigade" in a few minutes, after reading the description in the Times in which occurred the phrase "some one had blundered," and this was the origin of the metre of his poem.'[1] This statement gives the impression that Tennyson read the description in The Times on 2 December and wrote the poem forthwith, but his wife, Emily, is no doubt correct in saying that it was composed 'as a recollection of the first report in The Times'.[2] The earliest extant manuscript (MS1), which is in Tennyson's autograph, does not have the opening four lines, beginning 'Half a league, half a league,' or the final stanza.[3] The second manuscript (MS2) is largely in the hand of Emily Tennyson, though the title, some corrections, and the last six lines are in Tennyson's hand, as are the signature 'A. T.' and a footnote about the number of participants in the charge: 'Written after reading the first report of the Times correspondent where only 607 sabres are mentioned as having taken part in the charge'. This manuscript Tennyson and his wife sent to John Forster, the editor of the Examiner, on Wednesday 6 December, with the following letter:

Dec. 6/54 My dear Forster

If you like to put this into your paper put only A. T at the foot. Six is much better than seven hundred (as I think) metrically so keep it & put the note I have made at the bottom.

I have no time to add more. the post just going. only if you do not put it in this week let me know as I may alter it for the next

ever yours with our
A Tennyson


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[Postscript in Emily Tennyson's hand] If you think that Stanza crossed out "Half a league, half a league["] would begin the poem better than the present beginning will you put it [in] please? Make it begin "Half a league half a league["]—as a separate stanza if not omit the stanza altogether.[4]

Already Tennyson, with that conscience about accuracy which some critics have found ludicrous and some of us find not only personally honourable but the condition for certain kinds of poetic achievement, was perturbed about the discrepancy in numbers among the accounts in The Times.[5] His instruction to Forster, 'put only A. T at the foot', presumably arose from the paradox by which a passionately patriotic poem, of all things, might prove not to be decorous for a Poet Laureate.

On the next day, Thursday 7 December, Tennyson posted another manuscript (MS4) to supersede the one of the previous day:[6]

Farringford Freshwater I. W. Dec 7/54 My dear Forster

You will get this amended copy in time for your paper. If you print it print it exactly as written. I have only retained 'valley of Death' in one instance when the


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ear has got accustomed to the metre, & whatever other alterations there may be, believe that I have good reasons for them & print as I said exactly what is sent last. There is no objection to your keeping it another week if you have any suggestion to make.

You would have been amazed at our notes yesterday. They were written in such a scuffle. A caller came & sat talking in our last 10 minutes before the letters went. Our boy has to run a mile to the P. O. in the village & then the Postman has to walk 5 miles to the post-town & he won't wait for the boy.

ever yours
A Tennyson

[Postscript in Emily Tennyson's hand] Alfred has just bid me say he begs you will by no means put the ballad in if you do not think it good. Then the fact of the numbers We do not know what it is Would it be well to add a note & say this *ballad [interlined] was written on the computation first made by the Times? Forgive all this trouble we have given you. (TRC)

On the same day, 7 December, Forster—who had received the previous day's manuscript—had it set in type for the Examiner, made a few proofreader's marks on a proof (P1) to correct the compositor's errors, and sent the proof to Tennyson. This and MS4 crossed in the mail.

Another proof (P2) having been pulled from the same type as P1, Forster at first made on P2 the same few marks as he had made on P1, and then on Friday 8 December (after receiving Tennyson's letter of 7 December, with MS4), he corrected P2 to conform to MS4, presumably giving instructions by word of mouth to abolish the indenting of lines, since such instructions do not appear on the proof. On the morning of Saturday 9 December, Forster had the next proof (P3) before him in its clean, uncorrected state.

In the meantime, Tennyson had received P1, had deleted 'No man was there afraid' (between what were to become lines 53 and 54 of the final authoritative text), had made two other substantive corrections, and had returned this proof with his letter of 8 (misdated 9) December:

Freshwater I. W. Friday ['Nov' deleted] Dec. 9h/54 My dear F.

On receiving the printed ballad I wished that my 'order' (my last) had been 'blundered' & that the first edition had stood—never mind—I have corrected

Flash'd all their
Flash'd all at once—

wh you can adopt if you have Time, & if you approve it.

I send back the proof but I should like it back again.

ever yours affecly
A Tennyson (TRC)

When this letter arrived on Saturday morning, Forster revised P3 to return to the text of P1 as corrected by Tennyson, including making markings for re-indenting thirteen lines of the poem. The compositor accomplished all the changes in time for the printing of the Examiner


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that day, 9 December. Forster returned P3 to Tennyson and apparently sent a clean proof (which has not survived and presumably was identical with the text in the Examiner) from the finally corrected type. Forster's letter of 9 December reflects a justified pride:

58 Lincolns Inn Fields 9th Decr 1854 My dear Alfred Tennyson

That you may see how determined I was to carry out your order without a blunder—though I may say I disapproved of its suggestions, which, if you had persisted in them, I would not have said—I enclose you the proof which was before me this morning when your letter arrived.

But by a sharp effort there was time to try back again—and here you see it is done. I am particularly glad that Mrs. Tennyson thinks with you, with all of us, the original version the best.[7]

I will send her a dozen slips of the ballad printed on good paper either on Tuesday or Wednesday next. (It is not until one of those days that the types are 'released' from the forms of the paper, & available for separate working). By tonight's post I send you two Examiners.

How I value this noble ballad, I need not say—how proud I am to print it first, and that my old friend sent it to me, I must say. I hear little of you, but again & again I think of you, & never have I done it so often as of late—never, with a throbbing heart, have read of those fights of heroes at Alma, Balaklava, and Inkermann, that I have not been eager for you to celebrate them—the only man that can do it up to their own pitch—the only 'muse of fire' now left to us that can of right ascend to the level of such deeds. —And now you have done it—have at any rate begun![8] . . . (Yale)

No sooner had Tennyson received his copies of the Examiner than he began tinkering with 'The Charge'; for a short manuscript (MS5) survives, consisting of nine lines (represented by final lines 32-38), in which he rewrote three lines of the Examiner text and added four new lines to the poem. These alterations Emily Tennyson dutifully copied onto a copy of the Examiner (E1); and they were conveyed to Forster in time for him to incorporate them in the text of the slips that he printed from the Examiner type after the forms were unlocked. Three of these


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duplicate slips (P4, P5, and P6) are extant; one is clean, the second has several autograph revisions, and the third has extensive trial and rejected autograph emendations as well as others—in both the poet's and his wife's hand—that entered and remained in the text.

The next phase of the poem's story, which is embodied in a further proof (P7) and culminates in Tennyson's publishing an enfeebled version of the poem in Maud, and Other Poems (1855), may well have begun with a visit to Farringford of the American poet, Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, 12-15 January 1855. It has often been said that Tuckerman should be credited, or rather discredited, with Tennyson's weakening of the poem, especially as to the deletion of 'Some one had blunder'd'.[9] But Tuckerman's letter to Tennyson of 22 February 1855, soon after returning to the United States, clarifies his role:

One incident of my voyage which interested me greatly I must however recount. Do you remember my quoting some lines one evening from a newspaper and objecting to the rhymes "blunder'd" and ["]Hundred", thinking it should read "blundered"? I had then seen exactly three lines, and knew nothing of the connexion. Judge then of my surprise at discovering the whole poem in an American paper, with your name attached. I read it with a mixture of astonishment and delight and think it a most noble performance, the finest irregular Ode ever written upon the grandest subject. The repetitions too are wonderfully effective and I cannot help hoping that this poem will not receive any alterations. (Of course I refer to your general habit of retouching your poems and not to any remarks of mine). (Harvard)
That Tuckerman had not known that the three lines were Tennyson's when deploring them to their author has its tang. But what is more important, Tuckerman's reverting to the poem does amount to a retraction. For he now 'cannot help hoping that this poem will not receive any alterations', and the parenthetical courtesy which follows is a diffident disclaimer along the lines of 'Not of course that anything I said. . .'. Such courtesies often lend a cryptic tone to such exchanges, but a straightforward reading of Tuckerman's letter (unbiased by the tradition of blaming him) would suggest that, though Tuckerman had indeed (the previous month) expressed disapproval of the rhyme in those three lines, he was now—on reflection, and knowing the whole poem and its authorship—moved to oppose (studiedly, politely) what he knew would be Tennyson's intention to re-write. Feeling some responsibility for Tennyson's having become dissatisfied with the lines, Tuckerman does not want anything that he had said (based on inadequate knowledge of the poem) to be a contributing or reinforcing factor in any drive towards revision.


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But the Laureate did not heed Tuckerman's restraining plea—though a later letter to Tuckerman makes clear that Tennyson remembered it and came to wish that he had (see below, p. 10). He had a propensity to be discomposed by criticisms, and others had seconded Tuckerman's initial unease. When Tennyson collected the poem, under his full name now, in the Maud volume (published by Edward Moxon five months later, 28 July), not only was the final stanza re-written, but the eight lines which included the repeated 'Some one had blunder'd' were gone.

Tennyson had arranged for Moxon to send Tuckerman an advance copy of the book, and wrote him (?8 July 1855): "You will find in my little volume 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' with the 'blunder'd' that offended you and others, omitted. It is not a poem on which I pique myself but I cannot help fancying that, such as it is, I have improved it" (Harvard). Tennyson might more justly have spoken of 'the "blunder'd" that [had once] offended you'. And the turn of Tennyson's subsequent words—'but I cannot help fancying that [our italics], such as it is, I have improved it'—while acknowledging what might be felt on the other side, is itself an echo of the phraseology in which Tuckerman had expressed his resistance to Tennyson's predilection to revise: 'and I cannot help hoping that [our italics] this poem will not receive any alterations'.

Not piquing himself on the poem, the author, soon after he received copies of Maud, and Other Poems marked a copy (Historical Collation, 55a) in a way that manifests a decision (temporary, as it proved) to drop 'The Charge', by drawing a vertical line through each stanza of it. That he did so shortly after receiving copies is clear from his changing in this copy a colon to a semicolon — a correction sent by Emily Tennyson in a letter to Moxon on 1 August (Harvard); for, once Tennyson learnt of the Crimean soldiers' enthusiasm for the poem, he would not have contemplated dropping it.

Early in August 1855 began the ensuing phase of the development of the text, in which Tennyson promptly acknowledged that the poem should never have received the alterations in the Maud volume. On 6 August, acting upon an animating letter from Benedict Lawrence Chapman on 3 August,[10] Tennyson wrote to Forster and, it would seem, enclosed an autograph manuscript (MS6) that is essentially a fair copy of the third duplicate slip printed from the Examiner type (P6):

My friend Chapman of 3 Stone Buildings, Lincoln's Inn writes to me thus:

'An acquaintance of mine in the department of the S. P. G. as he calls it—Society for the Propagation of the Gospel—was saying how a chaplain in the Crimea sent by the Society writes to the Society (neither he nor the Society being suspected of any Tennysonian prejudices)


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"the * greatest service you can do just now is to send out on printed slips Mr A. T's Charge at Balaclava. It is the greatest favourite of the soldiers—half are singing it & all want to have on black & white—so as to read ['it' deleted]—what has so taken them"

Now my dear Forster you see I cannot possibly be deaf to such an appeal. I wish to send out about 1000 slips; but I don't at all want the S. P. G. or any one else to send out the version last printed: it would, I believe, quite disappoint the soldiers. don't you live quite close to the S. P. G.? Could you not send Henry over to say that I am sending over the soldier's version of my ballad & beg them not to stir in the matter? The soldiers are the best critics in what pleases them. I send you a copy wh retains 'the light Brigade' & the 'blunder'd' & I declare I believe it is the best of the two & that the criticism of two or three London friends (not yours) induced me to spoil it.[11] For Heaven's sake get this copy fairly printed at once at once [sic]—& sent out. I have sent it by this post likewise to Moxon but you are closer to your printer's. concoct with him how it is all to be managed; I am so sorry that I was not in town to have done it at once. I have written a little note to the soldiers which need not be sent — just as you like — it might be merely printed from A. Tennyson.

Please see to all this: & see that there are no mistakes; & I will be bound to you for evermore, & more than ever —

Yours in great haste
A Tennyson

* thus underscored in the original
P.S. I am convinced * now after writing it out [interlined] that this is the best version. I have told Moxon to call on you—(TRC)

At the same time, Tennyson sent to Moxon another fair copy, this one in his wife's hand, on which he had made two small corrections (MS7). The next proof (P8) was set from this manuscript, and both it and the quarto broadsheet that went to the Crimea (Historical Collation, C) were struck from Moxon's printers' (Bradbury and Evans) type and not from Forster's for the Examiner. The 'little note to the soldiers', after minor revisions (see Historical Collation), finally read on the Crimea broadsheet:

Having heard that the brave soldiers before Sebastopol, whom I am proud to call my countrymen, have a liking for my Ballad on the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, I have ordered a thousand copies of it to be printed for them. No writing of mine can add to the glory they have acquired in the Crimea; but if what I have heard be true, they will not be displeased to receive these copies of the Ballad from me, and to know that those who sit at home love and honour them.

ALFRED TENNYSON. 8th August, 1855.

All of this asked for tact; on the sheet which has a draft of this message, Emily Tennyson noted: 'It would be pleasant to write to the soldiers only one is afraid it looks too regal to do so—' (TRC). On 7 August, Chapman wrote to Emily Tennyson:

It will be but civil to acknowledge your two notes, though I have nothing to say that Moxon will not have said better than I can say it.—It was quite right to


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have the Newspaper version—or as near as may be—We were very much afraid that the 'blundered' would have been omitted in your copy—Moxon called on me today on the way to the printers. He seemed quite to go with the spirit of the thing and take it up quite hearty—would see that everything is done by Thursday. He is to send it to the SPG, and the SPG would send it on—why not 2000 says the sanguine and sanguinary Moxon? It is very kind of you and Mr A T to take so much trouble about these low fellows. (Yale)

The next day, wishing no time to be lost, Tennyson spurred Forster on:

Moxon reports that you are out but I suppose the duties of your Examinership have recalled you to town before this. I write to tell you that I think the letter should not go along with the Poem: let that be despatched by itself.

In case the letter be already printed on the same slip as the Poem then of course it had better go as time I think would be lost in rearranging the printed ['types' deleted] form; & my desire is that the soldiers should have it as soon as possible. (TRC)

On the same date, he prodded Moxon:

Chapman reports that you said 'why not 2000 slips?' another 1000 * or more [interlined] let be sent afterwards if the Secretary thinks they are wanted: they might be sent now if the printing another 1000 did not delay the sending of the first; but I am anxious that the soldiers should have it at once. (Mr. Richard Garnett)

Gerald Massey had written a favourable critique of Maud, and Other Poems in the Edinburgh News and Literary Chronicle on 28 July 1855,[12] and had sent a copy of it to the poet. In it Massey had applauded one of the revisions of 'The Charge' in the new volume and had deplored another:

The present version omits the "Down came an order which some one had blundered," which we are glad of, as it was neither true nor poetical. But we miss the last lines— "Oh, the wild charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade!
Noble six hundred!"
which, we submit to Mr. Tennyson's consideration, is a fine and necessary conclusion.[13]
On 11 August, Tennyson wrote to Massey and enclosed the latest text:

Many thanks for the Critique in the Edinburgh paper which I suppose you sent me. . . .

I trust that you got a copy of a Maud which I sent you, inscribed. I believe you are quite right as to the conclusion of the Charge. I send you a copy of that version of it which I have just transmitted to the Crimea. . . . The Chaplain of the Society wrote * to the Socy [interlined], 'You can do no greater service just now than to send out copies of the Charge on slips for the army to sing. Who could resist such an appeal? This is the soldier's version & I dare say they are the best critics. (Johns Hopkins)


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A letter from Charles Edward Hadow, Off. Chaplain to the Forces in the Crimea (received 14 October),[14] duly expressed fervid thanks, and gratefully accepted Tennyson's offer of a further 1000 copies.

Tennyson did not forget Tuckerman; on 17 October, Emily Tennyson wrote to him:

I enclose you the soldier's copy of 'The Charge.' I think you will like to hear two thousand of it have been printed for my husband and sent out by him to our Army in the East because the senior chaplain wrote that half the men were singing it and all wished to possess what they so much admired. (Harvard)
To his own part of this letter, Tennyson added a postscript: 'You are quite right about the Charge. I was overpersuaded to spoil it'.

The Laureate was now in no doubt about the damage that the revisions for the Maud volume had done to the poem and about the validity of his rectification. He used the same turn of phrase in a letter to William Johnson Fox, 25 October: 'The Charge I was overpersuaded to spoil. I send you a copy of that which I sent to the Crimean army at the soldiers' own request' (Harvard). Ruskin wrote Tennyson on 12 November, acutely lamenting the most important of the misguided revisions: 'I am very sorry you put the "some one had blundered" out of the "Light Brigade." It was precisely the most tragical line in the poem. It is as true to its history as essential to its tragedy.'[15] But by this time three months had elapsed since Tennyson had reinstated the line, though now with the value of a single instead of a double instance.

The text of the proof (P9) for the second edition of Maud, and Other Poems, like that of the second edition itself (1856),[16] corroborates Tennyson's


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satisfaction with the state to which he had now brought the poem, for they both in all instances (substantives and accidentals) follow the quarto broadsheet. After 1856, there were six changes in accidentals, and the final text (as in the Eversley edition) was reached in the single volume Works (Crown edition) published by C. Kegan Paul in 1878. Four occurred in this 1878 edition, one in Volume III of the Imperial Library edition, 1872, and one in the eighth edition of Maud, 1862.