Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Voyage of Maeldune’ adapts a well-known Irish legend in P.W. Joyce’s Old Celtic Romances (1879). It relates the adventures of a chieftain who seeks to revenge his father’s death, but who is blown off course on a Ulyssean voyage of enchantment and calamity. The journey brings him to magic islands that cast a frenzied spell on his crew, who fall to slaying each other. The spell is broken only on the Isle of a Saint where they encounter a hermit who admonishes forgiveness. Weary of strife and sin, the mariners return home. On seeing his father’s killer, the hero forsakes revenge and leaves him be.
Composed in 1879-80, the text of the manuscript is, besides relatively small variants, identical to the version published in Ballads, and Other Poems (1880). The poem is written in black ink with extensive revisions in Tennyson’s hand on thirteen leaves of ruled laid paper, torn with hurried force from a copybook now held at the Houghton Library (Harvard Notebook 47), which contains other early fragments of the poem. The ragged, dirty pages contain the final stages of creation as Tennyson fair-copied and further revised the poem. They significantly modify the well-known story that Tennyson composed in his head while walking up and down the garden before committing his poem to paper.
That Sir Louis Sterling liked Tennyson is clear from the fact that, in addition to two private press editions of Tennyson’s work presumably acquired for the publisher rather than the author, he owned 31 printed editions of his works, including some in more than one copy, some in trial copies, and The Princess in the first five editions. This is one of three Tennyson holograph manuscripts in the Sterling Library.