The Charge of the Light Brigade
Notice three sets of handwriting: the main body is in Emily Tennyson’s hand, Alfred’s wife; the title, alterations and note is in Alfred Tennyson’s hand and the note to the left of the title is in his publisher’s hand. This is the second version. P60 The Charge of the Light Brigade, 1854. 17.9cm. MS Single sheet folded. Copy in Emily, Lady Tennyson’s hand, with corrections and alterations in AT’s hand.
The Charge of the Light Brigade is one of the most famous poems of war in the English language.
The doomed Charge of the Light Brigade took place on 25th October 1854 during the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. About 600 lightly armed cavalry troops charged bravely to their death against 25,000 Russians because of a mistake of their commanders. Only 195 came back.
William Howard Russell was a journalist on The Times and one the earliest examples of an ‘embedded’ reporter. He despatched an article published in the second edition of The Times on 13th November, 1854 and then again the following day.
Alfred Tennyson read the report, saw the line ‘Someone had blundered,’ and was inspired to write the poem straight away. It was changed about twenty times and published in The Examiner on Saturday 9th December, 1854.
Alfred Tennyson was the Poet Laureate and so was meant to write about nationally significant events. It is interesting that he wrote a poem suggesting criticism of military leadership. The poem was published first in a national periodical, The Examiner, then in a book and then in single sheets. Many variants are in the Tennyson Research Centre and some are exhibited above.