Looking for a Laureate: The Difficulties of Three Prime Ministers

Peter Stansky & William Abrahams describe how, after Tennyson’s death, the problem of finding a new Poet Laureate perturbed successive British governments.

The death of Tennyson in October 1892, in his eighty-third year, deprived England not only of a Poet Laureate, but of a long-established National Monument—next to the Queen herself, he had come to represent in the public consciousness the embodiment of Victorianism, a poet “who held the proud honour of never uttering one single line which an English mother would once wish unwritten or an English girl unread.”

There was a magnificent state funeral in Westminster Abbey; outside, broadsheets of “Crossing the Bar” were sold and recited. Then the search for a successor was begun. “It is sad, but inevitable,” wrote Sir Algernon West, Gladstone’s chief secretary, “that on the death of a great man, the first thought that arises is, who is to fill, or try to fill, his place?”

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