Ripping the pig

Robert Bernard Martin

  • The Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson: Vol. 1 1821-1850 edited by Cecil Lang and Edgar Shannon
    Oxford, 366 pp, £17.50, February 1982, ISBN 0 19 812569 0
  • Tennyson: ‘In Memoriam’ edited by Susan Shatto and Marion Shaw
    Oxford, 397 pp, £25.00, March 1982, ISBN 0 19 812747 2

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.

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