Jean Ingelow The Poet of Lincolnshire (March 17, 1820 - July 20, 1897)

Jean Ingelow by Camille Silvy,albumen print, July 1865

English poet and novelist born at Boston, Lincolnshire, she was the daughter of William Ingelow, a banker. As a girl she contributed verses and tales to magazines under the pseudonym of Orris, but her first (anonymous) volume, A Rhyming Chronicle of Incidents and Feelings, did not appear until her thirtieth year. This was called charming by Alfred Tennyson who declared he should like to know the author; they later became friends.

Jean Ingelow followed this book of verse in 1851 with a story, Allerton and Dreux, but it was the publication of her Poems in 1863 which suddenly made her a popular writer. They ran rapidly through numerous editions, were set to music, and sung in every drawing-room, and in America obtained even greater public acclaim. In 1867 she published The Story of Doom and other Poems, and then gave up verse for a while and became industrious as a novelist. Off the Skelligs appeared in 1872, Fated to be Free in 1873, Sarah de Berenger in 1880, and John Jerome in 1886. She also wrote Studies for Stories (1864), Stories told to a Child (1865), Mopsa the Fairy (1869), and other excellent stories for children. Her third series of Poems was published in 1885. The last years of her life were spent in Kensington, and she outlived her popularity as a poet.

Her poems, collected in one volume in 1898, have often the genuine ballad note, and her songs were exceedingly successful. "Sailing beyond Seas" and "When Sparrows build in Supper at the Mill" were deservedly among the most popular songs of the day; but they share, with the rest of her work, the faults of affectation and stilted phraseology. Her best-known poem was the "High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire". The blemishes of her style were cleverly indicated in a well-known parody by Charles Stuart Calverley; a false archaism and a deliberate assumption of unfamiliar and unnecessary synonyms for simple objects were among the worst of her mannerisms.

 Poem The High Tide On The Coast of Lincolnshire by Jean Ingelow from A Souvenir of Jean Ingelow, 1891

Christina Rossetti writing a letter to Miss Greenwell where she addresses popular poetess, Jean Ingelow,

5, Upper Albany St., London, N. W.
31 December, 1863.

What think you of Jean Ingelow, the wonderful poet?  I have not yet read the volume, but reviews with copious extracts have made me aware of a new eminent name having risen among us.  I want to know who she is, what she is like, where she lives.  All I have heard is an uncertain rumour that she is aged twenty-one, is one of three sisters resident with their mother.  A proud mother I should think.  If our dear Scotts move away altogether from the North, I fear my prospect of making your personal acquaintance must dwindle to the altogether vague.  Your kindness, however, has made us no strangers, even should we never meet—or, rather, never meet here; for one of the last days of the year the separations and meetings of time should not alone be thought of. Yours cordially,

Jean Ingelow writes a letter to Miss Grenwell two months later, 9th February, 1864,

6, Denmark Place, Hastings.

    My Dear Miss Greenwell,—I have for some time been anxious to write to you, both to thank you for your kind note and for the poems you sent me.  I like them much, and really think they are likely to reach the class for which they were written.  The poor men here are all of the seafaring class, or I should have given those verses away.  Do you know that I have finished a bag for you?  I shall send it, I think by railway, for my brother is coming to-morrow as usual, and he will convey it as far as London.  The pattern is of my own invention!  Is the kettle-holder worked yet?  I shall be proud of it.  When I next see Miss Rossetti I shall ask for proof that she can do hemming and sewing. . . . It is a pleasure to me that you like those little stories.  They have not much in them, but it is an amusement to me to write them; writing for children is so completely its own reward; it obliges one to be simple and straightforward, and clears away some of the mystical fancies in which one is apt to indulge, and which are a mere luxury.  They never do us any good, and I am often humiliated by meeting with sensible fellow creatures who ask me what some of them mean. . . .There has been so much leisure here that my new volume is all but finished.  It is, however, not to be printed yet. I am, believe me, Very affectionately yours,


Fellow Lincolnshire resident of the time and Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson, writes to a cousin of Jean Ingelow saying,  

To Miss Hollway (of Spilsby) my father wrote about her cousin Miss Jean Ingelow's poems, A Rhyming Chronicle of Incidents and Feelings.


Many thanks for your very kind note.  I have only just returned to town, and found the Rhyming Chronicle.  Your cousin must be worth knowing: there are some very charming things in her book, at least it seems so to me, tho' I do not pique myself on being much of a critic at first sight, and I have really only skimmed a few pages.  Yet I think I may venture to pronounce that she need not be ashamed of publishing them.  Certain things I saw which I count abominations, tho' I myself in younger days have been guilty of the same, and so was Keats.  I would sooner lose a pretty thought than enshrine it in such rhymes as '"Eudora" "before her," "vista" "Sister."  She will get to hate them herself as she grows older, and it would be a pity that she should let her book go forth with those cockneyisms.  If the book were not so good I should not care for these specs, but the critics will pounce upon them, and excite prejudice.  I declare I should like to know her.

    I have such a heap of correspondence to answer that I must bid you good-bye.  What the German lady says is very gratifying.  I shall perhaps see you again in the autumn.  My best remembrances to each and all of your circle.
Ever yours truly, A. TENNYSON.

    P.S. Strange! that I did not see it.  I turned to the title-page, and find that the book is published.  I fancied it had only been printed.  Forgive my hurry!  Well, your cousin will amend, perhaps, the errors I have mentioned, in her next edition.

From Alfred Lord Tennyson: a memoir by his son (Hallam Tennyson) Vol I.

During many years Jean enjoyed the friendship, and had occasional pleasant interviews with, the late Poet Laureate. It was after her book appeared in 1863, which, as we have before observed, was the beginning of her popularity, that Lord Tennyson meeting her, laughingly exclaimed:

‘I declare, you do the trick better than I do!’

Possibly the kindly reception Jean always met with at his hands may have been partly due to her having been of his own county, Lincolnshire. Be this as it may, the friendly regard of so celebrated a man must have been a great encouragement to a timid young author at a time when, a few personal friends excepted, no one took the slightest notice of her writings. Afterwards, when fame was suddenly accorded her, many other celebrated men of letters desired to show their admiration of her genius; but Alfred Tennyson spontaneously owned her talent long before, and I think that must have always been a pleasure to her.  (Some recollections of Jean Ingelow and her early friends)(1901)

Some beautiful illustrations based upon excerpts from her poems through the years


Jean Ingelow by Maull & Polyblank, albumen carte-de-visite, 1860-1865


WoofWoof said…
A fascinating account. It is strange the way that people who were popular in their time so quickly fall into obscurity. Sadly I think her sort of poetry very much fell out of fashion in the 20th century and even now "jars" the ear. The letter from Tennyson is very interesting. I think he hated being asked to look at people's poems and give an opinion (usually he would reply straightaway before he could be expected to have had an opportunity to form a judgement) so it's interesting that he clearly spent some time reading her book and commenting on it (perhaps because he knew the cousin). His critical comments are quite funny - especially that he would prefer to lose some thoughts/ideas rather than use some of the rhymes qupted! Thanks again...
Kimberly Eve said…
Yes, you're right about Tennyson hating being asked to look at people's poems. This wasn't him being nasty or full of himself, I believe it was just partly not having the physical time to be able to write back in a letter in response to what he's read. The man was busy!! Yes, he was funny, great sense of humor, loved to tease his dear friends and loved ones and he was quite silly really with his humor. Spot on as usual WoofWoof!!