Tennyson's motto "Y Gwir yn erbyn y byd"

tennyson bust.jpgPostridge,Tennyson, 1900. Carved marble. Museum Objects Sculpture Collection

The poet laureate Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson (1809-1892), was sixty years old before his friend, Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) started photographing him. In all, Tennyson sat for 19 portraits including the one on the right.

The portrait bust we hold in Firestone Library [above] appears to date from this period. Tennyson is even wearing the monk’s robe Cameron used when she dressed up her sitters.

More likely the sculptor (signed in stone “Postridge”) simply used a Cameron photograph as the basis for his portrait bust, which was completed in 1900.

tennysonkeep.jpgJulia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), Alfred Tennyson, albumen print from wet collodion-on-glass negative, 1869. Graphic Arts GAX 2011-00455

According to Tennyson’s son, Hallam Tennyson, around the same time Cameron was immortalizing his father, a letter arrived from the Tennyson Society of Philadelphia. The Society was asking permission to use the poet’s name and to give their organization a motto.

Tennyson replied, “You have done me honour in associating my name with your institution, and you have my hearty good wishes for its success. Will the following Welsh motto be of any service to you? I have it in encaustic tiles on the pavement of my entrance hall: “Y Gwir yn erbyn y byd” (The truth against the world). A very old British apophthegm, and I think a noble one, and which may serve your purpose either in Welsh or English.” —Alfred Lord Tennyson: a Memoir By His Son (1897)