In Memoriam: Reinvention of Faith for the Scientific Age? Essay

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In Memoriam is an elegy to Tennyson's friend Arthur Hallam, but bears the hallmark of its mid

nineteenth century context – "the locus classicus of the science-and-religion debate."

Upon reflection, Hallam's tragic death has proved to be an event that provoked Tennyson's

embarkation upon a much more ambitious poetic project than conventional Miltonian elegy,

involving meditation upon the profoundest questions faced by mankind. Scientific

advancements, most notably in the fields of geology and biology, challenged the beliefs that

form the foundation of Christianity: the belief in a beneficent God responsible for creation and

ensuing superintendence and the belief in man's immortal soul. By the mid nineteenth
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The uncaring Divine

Being is "so careful of the type" (species) but not of the individual. The use of parison found in

those lines is repeated within Nature's dramatised voice in line six of LVI: "I bring to life, I

bring to death." The parison demonstrates Nature's failure to distinguish between the

concepts of life and death, just as she refuses to pay the same care to individual as the

species. Life and death become meaningless. The use of dramatised voice personalises the

issues. Here Nature is not a scientific system of laws but a consciously cruel being with a cold

biological perception of man which is demonstrated by line seven of LVI: "the spirit does but

mean the breath" – rejecting any notion of spirit as a transcendent sacred entity, playing upon

the Latin translation of "spirit." The existence of eternal life separate from the body is denied.

Tennyson does not abolish faith in these passages, he reinvents his faith- one that is centred

upon depressing ditheistic belief.

Tennyson emerges from the spiritual desolation later in his journey in CXVIII. Here Tennyson

claims evolutionary theory for the faithful, using its scientific model to hypothesise a kind of

spiritual evolution. He applies the motif of constant physical development found in

evolutionary theory to a model
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