Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Art Fueled by Madness and the Battle with Manic Depressive Illness.

Essay by inapanicCollege, UndergraduateA-, December 2009

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Alfred, Lord Tennyson"It is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all," is possibly one of the most famous quotes in the world, given to literature by Alfred, Lord Tennyson - commonly referred to as Lord Alfred Tennyson - whom was largely regarded as the representative of the Victorian Era. Lord Alfred Tennyson was born into a family with a rich history of documented mental instability, he himself suffering from what is commonly known as Bi-Polar (or Manic Depressive) disorder. In this paper, we will learn a little about Lord Tennyson and his family history of bi-polar disorder; some characteristics of the disorder and how it could have been both beneficial and detrimental to Lord Tennyson; and finally, what this writer would do for a treatment plan if Lord Tennyson were alive today.

Alfred Tennyson was born August 5th, 1809 , at Somersby, Lincolnshire, England.

He was the fourth of twelve children born to George and Elizabeth Tennyson. Despite his family's wealth, Tennyson grew up in a seemingly impoverished home due to the way his grandfather chose his heir. Tennyson's grandfather went against tradition of naming his oldest son heir of inheritance, instead choosing his younger son, Charles Tennyson, as heir so that George Tennyson could enter the Ministry, (Everett, Due to a lifestyle the church imposed, although being wealthy, Lord Tennyson grew up seeing his extended family living in castles and having money, which made Alfred feel insolvent by comparison, leading to a lifetime of worry about finances. Tennyson, however, became fairly successful in his own right - in academics and literature. Largely taught from childhood by his father, he showed mastery in the written word, composing poems. In 1827, following his two older brothers, Alfred entered Trinity College at Cambridge University. In 1828, Alfred Tennyson won the Chancellor's Gold Medal Award for his work, "Timbuctoo," gaining him an invitation into the undergraduate club The Apostles, in which he met his best and closest friend, Arthur Henry Hallam. (Everett.) It was upon Hallam's death in 1833 at the age of twenty-two that prompted the writing of "In Memoriam," -a eulogy that commemorates his beloved friend - which took Tennyson seventeen years to complete, in time for him to win Poet Laureate in 1850 over William Wordsworth prior to his death in October of 1892, (Jalic.) Of his collected works, none were so profound and captured the depressive mood of Bi-Polar disorder like "Maud, and Other Poems," published in 1855. "Maud" was hailed by critics as morbid and obscure; dealing with poems of a very depressed nature - as evident of his mental state while writing it.

Throughout his life, Alfred, Lord Tennyson struggled with unstable mood swings and the mental instabilities of many in his family. It has been documented in a plethora of sources that several of the men (and a few women) in the Tennyson family battled long, debilitating bouts of depression and episodes of manic madness and anger. His father and one of his brothers were noted to have been severely epileptic, which was made worse by alcoholism. Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry at John Hopkins School of Medicine published and article in which she illustrates the lineage of the Tennyson Family's mental illnesses:"Alfred, Lord Tennyson experienced recurrent, debilitating depressions and probable hypomanic spells, often expressed fear that he might inherit the madness, or "taint of blood," in his family. His father, grandfather, two of his great-grandfathers as well as five of his seven brothers suffered from insanity, melancholia, uncontrollable rage or what is today known as manic-depressive illness. His brother Edward was confined to an asylum for nearly 60 years before he died from manic exhaustion. Lionel Tennyson, one of Alfred's two sons, displayed a mercurial temperament, as did one of his three grandsons. Modern medicine has confirmed that manic-depression and creativity tend to run in certain families," (Jamison 46.)This confirms the publications and claims of mental illness in the Tennyson family, and reaffirms why in 1830 Alfred Tennyson checked himself into a sanitarium for observation from worry about being mentally unstable like his relatives.

We are aware now that Alfred, Lord Tennyson suffered from Bi-Polar Disorder, but what exactly is it? We know that it's extreme differences in mood, but now we will learn more in depth about this disorder and what specifically about it affected Lord Tennyson.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) , Bipolar disorder is a disorder that causes abnormal changes in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out daily tasks. The symptoms are far worse than the typical ups and downs of a normal, healthy person that result in damaged relationships, poor perfunctory skills, and possibly even suicide. Bi-Polar disorder CAN be treated, but like diabetes or heart disease, it's a lifetime of treatment that must be carefully monitored. Bi-polar disorder's symptoms aren't easy to distinguish early on, as they appear to be separate occurrences not part of a larger problem. Typically the disorder manifests in the teen and early adult years. Bipolar disorder often develops in a person's late teens or early adult years, but some have symptoms as early as young childhood. Many suffer for years before they are properly diagnosed. People experiencing a manic mood may be easily excited, very animated, jumpy, irritable, impulsive, and have a "wired" feeling resulting in little to no sleep during this phase. In a depressive state, people typically are worried or anxious, have little to no interest in activities they would normally enjoy, such as: eating, spending time with loved ones, or even sexual activity with his or her partner. They often suffer from insomnia or will sleep much more than normal. The depressive state is the one in which most will contemplate or even attempt suicide. In some cases, the states can occur simultaneously, this is what is referred to as a "mixed state." Mixed state symptoms can be comprised of agitation, major changes in appetite or sleeping habits, and suicidal thinking. People in a mixed state feel extremely active while being extremely sad and feeling a sense of hopelessness. The NIMH states that there are FOUR basic types of Bi-Polar disorder, classified by a DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders.) These types are:1.Bipolar I Disorder is mainly defined by manic or mixed episodes that last at least seven days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, the person also has depressive episodes, typically lasting at least two weeks. The symptoms of mania or depression must be a major change from the person's normal behavior.

2.Bipolar II Disorder is defined by a pattern of depressive episodes shifting back and forth with hypomanic episodes, but no full-blown manic or mixed episodes.

3.Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (BP-NOS) is diagnosed when a person has symptoms of the illness that do not meet diagnostic criteria for either bipolar I or II. The symptoms may not last long enough, or the person may have too few symptoms, to be diagnosed with bipolar I or II. However, the symptoms are clearly out of the person's normal range of behavior.

4.Cyclothymic Disorder, or Cyclothymia, is a mild form of bipolar disorder. People who have cyclothymia have episodes of hypomania that shift back and forth with mild depression for at least two years. However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for any other type of bipolar disorder.

By this standard and that it often aids in creativity, and given the description of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's history and behavior, I would classify him as having Bipolar II Disorder, because his episodes were always lengthy and very depressed states, and never (at least none were ever documented) having any full blown manic or mixed states. I would reaffirm this by my reading of PHARMACOTHERAPY: A Pathophysiologic Approach, it states: "Bipolar depression is often underdiagnosed and if frequently diagnosed as major depressive order. Compared to manic episodes, depressive episodes are more frequent, longer lasting, and occur more frequently in Bipolar II Disorder than Bipolar I Disorder," (DiPiro 1260.)I would say that ultimately this benefited him in his writing ability, because many of his works showed a melancholy that cannot easily be captured by one whom has not felt the feelings of depression. The NIMH also illustrates that genetics play a factor in a lot of Bi-polar illnesses. Generally, a person with a family history of bi-polar disorder is more likely to develop this disorder than one without. Lord Tennyson did not seem to have a chance with the severity of the disorder in his family.

If I were to treat Lord Tennyson - were he still alive today, I would not use a mood stabilizer, as he did not seem to vary much between highs and lows. I would most likely use an anti-depressant medication such as Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, or Zoloft to counteract his bouts of depression. In addition to the antidepressant, I would suggest psychotherapy - specifically Family-Focused Therapy, in which I could include his family members, teaching them to cope with the disorder and how to recognize the symptoms; thus aiding in communication and problem solving, building their relationships. I would do this specific treatment because:"Treatment for this disorder must be individualized because the clinical presentation, severity, and frequency of episodes vary widely among patients. Treatment strategies should be both pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic. Patients and family members should be educated about bipolar disorder and treatment options," (DiPiro 1263.)This would be beneficial to Lord Tennyson, as well as his family members who were also suffering from the illness.

Works CitedDiPiro, Joseph T., et al. . Pharmacotherapy: A Pathophysiological Approach. Ed. Joseph T. DiPiro. Sixth Edition. New York City: McGraw-Hill, 2005.

Everett, Glenn. "Alfred, Lord Tennyson: A Brief Biography." The Victorian Web. 30 November 2004. 10 November 2009.

Jamison, Kay Redfield. Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. New York City: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 1996.

"Lord Alfred Tennyson." The Literature Network. Jalic, Inc. 2009. 17 November 2009.

National Institute of Mental Health. "Bipolar Disorder." National Institutes of Health. 16 October 2009. 17 November 2009.