Robert Bernard Martin

Robert Bernard Martin is an emeritus professor of Princeton University and currently teaches at the University of Hawaii. His most recent publication is Tennyson: The Unquiet Heart.


Robert Bernard Martin, 4 April 1985

When he first heard of William Morris’s death, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt wrote in his diary, ‘He is the most wonderful man I have known,’ then added more equivocally: ‘unique in this, that he had no thought for anything or person, including himself, but only for the work he had in hand.’ This handsome new edition of Morris’s letters does not entirely answer our natural question of how a man so often apparently unmoved by other persons should have had the explosive creative energy to become famous as poet, artist, decorator, printer, manufacturer and socialist. As Jane Morris’s former lover, Blunt was not unprejudiced about her husband’s paucity of feeling, but his judgment underlines the troubling mystification that Morris’s personality induces.

Lucky Moments

Robert Bernard Martin, 1 April 1983

For three centuries Rochester has been in and out of the pantheon of English poetry, but today we can see more clearly that the romantic image of the lyrical libertine who underwent a spectacular deathbed conversion has obscured a major poetic talent. Not that the old picture was wrong, but it was partial. The trouble has been that it is hard to fit his philosophical and religious beliefs, poetic practice and dissolute life into a whole. His death in 1680 seemed so aptly emblematic of the lack of cohesion in his character that it has claimed undue attention. The most notorious rake of his age spent the last few months of life in discussion of Christian doctrine. A poet who could not have been more urban in outlook lay dying in the depths of Oxfordshire; he had once said that he could behave only in the country, and that when he got as far as Brentford on his return to town, ‘the devill entred into him and never left him till he came into the country again.’ He had been surrounded by whores, ladies of the Court, and fellow rakes, but now his wife, children, his mother and her chaplain were by his bed. He was in the country, it is true, but there is an extra irony in the fact that instead of dying in the calm of his own family house a few miles away, he lay in the lodge of Woodstock Park, the scene of his sylvan debauchery, a kind of urbs in rure.

Ripping the pig

Robert Bernard Martin, 5 August 1982

Two months after Tennyson’s death Burne-Jones was reluctantly following the instructions of the poet’s widow and son in repainting the portrait of Tennyson as a young man which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Emily Tennyson had never liked the picture, perhaps in part because she also disliked Edward FitzGerald, who had originally commissioned it from Samuel Laurence. Earlier she had asked Watts to repaint it, but he refused, and during her husband’s lifetime she had not succeeded in finding another painter whom she trusted to touch it, so that it had hung unchanged for a long time on the walls of Farringford. We no longer know how much Burne-Jones altered the original, but apparently he softened the truculence of the expression and certainly he toned down the colours to make them gentler and more harmonious, just as the Tennysons were hurriedly changing the facts of his life and muting the background of the official biography of the Poet Laureate.

Pork Chops

John Bayley, 25 April 1991

On a walking tour in 1866, just before his conversion, Hopkins visited Tintern Abbey, and paid it the highest compliment he could think of by saying it reminded him of the architecture of...

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John Bayley, 4 April 1985

A book could be – perhaps already has been – written on art whose success is connected with getting outside the idiom and context of its age. Such art reassures by its apparent...

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Tennyson’s Nerves

Frank Kermode, 6 November 1980

Robert Martin’s book is not one of those literary biographies that reshuffle a familiar narrative and perhaps add a few bits of new information or conjecture. It is a full-scale life,...

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