The Last of the Light Brigade, by Rudyard Kipling refers to Alfred Tennyson and his poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade. Do we know if Alfred Tennyson ever read The Last of the Light Brigade? If so, what was his opinion of it?


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Did Alfred Tennyson ever read The Last of the Light Brigade?

In relation to this first question there is a paucity of direct evidence from documentary sources indicating that Tennyson ever read or commented on Kipling’s tragic poetic rejoinder. The absence of any answer to this question for almost 7 years bears witness to and highlights this lack of direct documentary evidence.

The absence of such evidence, however, is not evidence of absence. My aim is “To strive, to seek and not to yield”. I believe that on the basis of indirect evidence a compelling case can be made to support the proposition that Tennyson was aware of Kipling’s poem.

A chronology of events surrounding the publication of Kipling’s poem gives context to its publication.(1)

  1. 15th April 1890: Pall Mall Gazette reported on a past interview (with another publication) by Lt. James Wrightman of the 17th Lancers of the Balaclava Commemoration Society (BCS), which was a non-charitable organization for subscribers who were balaclava veterans to fund an annual dinner relaxing its rules to allow an appeal to charitable donations for its less fortunate members after an annual general meeting on 5th October 1889, and a fund for this purpose seeking donation was therefore established. The report from the Pall Mall gazette was shared with other papers. Ten days later the meagre sum of £24-00 had been raised.
  2. Kipling responded with his Last of the Light Brigade which first saw publication in the St. James Gazette on 28th April 1890.
  3. The Light Brigade Relief Committee was formed for the purposes of fundraising for the benefit of the indigent veterans as reported in the Pall Mall Gazette of 7th May1890 with £200-00 being collected.
  4. Membership of the Light brigade relief committee included most notably Alfred Lord Tennyson, and others including the Marquis of Hartington, Viscount Wolseley, the Earl of Airlie and the Secretary for War, Edward Stanhope.
  5. Further fund-raising activity by the relief committee included concerts, poetry readings and fetes. It is again notable that Tennyson took action with his recitation of the Charge of the Light Brigade and with Florence Nightingale’s welcome to the Crimean veterans recorded on Edison cylinders, the proceeds from the sales of which went towards the Light Brigade Relief Committee fund.
  6. The Light Brigade Relief Committee wound up its operations after amassing funds totalling £6,753 1s 4d in April 1891.

I believe that a chain of cause and effect is implied in the historic chronology of events as reported in the press.From this appropriate inferences may be drawn.

Given the antecedent cause of publication of Kipling's poem, the subsequent effects were reported as news events invovling Tennyson implying Tennyson's was aware of Kipling's poem.The specific actions that were reported on in the press included his membership of the Light Brigade Relief Committee so soon after publication of Kiplings poem and his fundraising through voice recording activitiess which again underline this point.

What was his opinion of it?

The answer to the second part of your question – what was Tennyson’s opinion of Kipling’s poem? – follows from and is implied by the answer to the first part of the question. He clearly considered it meaningful and was stirred to action in pursuit of its aims.

(1) THE SOLDIER SLIGHTED: THE LAST OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE – Glen Fischer, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 94 (2016), 198-207

Sadly, the newspaper references are barricaded by a paywall.

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