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The Independent Culture
From the late 1920s, the National Portrait Gallery invited leading writers to create 70-word biographies, of subjects whose portraits hang in the Gallery, for the backs of postcards. In this 12-week series, we present some of the most exceptional and unexpected of these unknown literary gems

9. Walter de la Mare (1873-1956) on Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Alfred Tennyson, the representative English poet and laureate of the Victorian age, spent his childhood in the Rectory at Somersby, Lincolnshire. His genius was already recognised by many gifted friends when "Poems" of 1842 established his reputation. Lover of England and diviner of nature, he was prolific yet fastidious, and famed from Court to cottage. A fine and various artist and a master of poetic craftsmanship. He died, an old man, when the moon was at the full, a copy of The Tempest open upon the bed.

Walter de la Mare

Generations of schoolchildren have giggled at Tennyson's lines, "'The Curse is come upon me,' / cried the Lady of Shallott", while De la Mare is probably best known for his supernatural poem, "The Listeners" ("'Is there anybody there?' said the Traveller / knocking on the moonlit door ..."). The last line of this mini-biography shares the spooky atmosphere of that famous piece; there is something, too, of the mood of De la Mare's much-anthologised ghost-story, "Seaton's Aunt", in which there is (possibly) no ghost, but plenty of dread.

! Portraits, drawings and letters from the "postcard biography" archives are on display at the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London WC2. Free.