Alfred Austin (1835-1913)

English poet, novelist, critic and political journalist, born at Headingley, near Leeds, on 30 May 1835. Austin succeeded Alfred Tennyson as poet laureate in 1896.

Austin was trained as a lawyer and became a barrister in 1856, but he gave up his fledgling law career to dedicate himself to literature. He had already published Randolph: A Poem in Two Cantos in 1855, and three years later he published a novel, Five Years of It. Although his first works were not well received, he was a prolific author and continued to publish regularly during the next fifty years. Politically conservative, Austin acted as a leading writer for the London Standard from 1866 to 1896, specializing in foreign affairs. In 1883, he founded the National Review with William John Courthope and remained a joint-editor of the journal until 1887, and then continued to be the sole editor until 1895.

Inspired and influenced by Byron and Scott, Austin ranked epic, narrative and dramatic poems as the height of poetic expression and regarded the styles of Shakespeare and Milton as the models worthy of imitation. These were pronounced in The Poetry of the Period (1870), where he attacked Tennyson, Arnold, Browning, Swinburne and Whitman as “feminine” and “essentially childish”. However, Austin himself was often seen as a mediocre poet, and his appointment to poet laureate was probably due to his journalistic service to the conservative party rather than his poetic ability. Austin’s first official poem as poet laureate, “Jameson’s Raid”, appearing in The Times just ten days after his appointment, was widely lampooned and criticized. Subsequently, he became a standard target of ridicule in the journal Punch, appearing in one cartoon as ‘Alfred the Little’.

Austin’s literary fame rests mainly on his idyllic prose works which express his intimate love of nature and of English gardens, and prose idylls, The Garden that I Love (1894) and In Veronica’s Garden (1895), which proved to be two of his most popular works. (N. M.)

1.At San Giovanni del Lago
2.Ave Maria
3.The Death of Huss
4.The Last Redoubt