Arthur Henry Hallam is often known only as the source of the dark poetry by the famous English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, especially his magnum opus In Memoriam (1850), conceived after Hallam's early death. Yet, Hallam was a remarkable young intellectual in his own right, and he produced a small body of work of interest to scholars and lovers of Victorian poetry.
Hallam was born in Bedford Place, London, in 1811 to Julia Elton and Henry Hallam. His father was a renowned historian. In his youth he spent time in Germany and Switzerland and learned French and Latin. He wrote a few tragedies during this time. In the early 1820s he was educated by the Reverend W. Carmalt at Putney. After traveling abroad again, he became the pupil of Reverend E.C. Hawley, the Assistant Master of Eton College. At Eton he furthered his study of Latin and took up Greek. He read copiously, especially Shakespeare, Byron, Wordsworth, and Shelley. Also at the school he took part in the Eton Miscellany, contributing poems and prose on the Lady of Killarney.
The Hallam family moved to Italy in 1827. In Rome Hallam fell in love with the poetry of Dante and Petrarch. He also developed a passion for a young woman named Anna Wintour, but his father disapproved, as she was a few years older than his son. Thus, the poems concerned with Anna were left out of the volume of poems edited by his father after Arthur's death.
In 1830 Hallam began attending Trinity College. He met Tennyson and invited the young man to join the undergraduate club The Apostles. This friendship led to Hallam's engagement to Tennyson's sister Emily. While at Cambridge signs of ill health began to manifest themselves. His poor physical condition was mirrored by depressed spirits. Hallam and Tennyson traveled to the Pyrenees to witness the Spanish War of Independence in 1830 and tried to publish a volume of poems together, but once again Hallam's father disapproved.
In 1831 Hallam won the first college prize for English declamation; his work concerned the Independence Party from the Civil War. He also wrote a famous essay entitled "On Some of the Characteristics of Modern Poetry and On the Lyrical Poems of Alfred Tennyson." The next year he left Cambridge, his degree completed, and started to study law. He wrote on Petrarch, Rossetti, Voltaire, and Burke, but he eventually abandoned poetry as he shifted his concentration solely to law.
In 1833 his health worsened; his father wrote, "An attack of intermittent fever, during the prevalent influenza of the spring of 1833, may perhaps have disposed his constitution to the last fatal blow." A trip to Germany and Austria worsened his condition. On September 15th, 1833 his father went out for a walk in Vienna and returned to find his son deceased from a brain hemorrhage.
Hallam was buried at the chancel of St. Andrew's Church in Somersetshire. His father edited and printed the Remains in Verse and Prose of Arthur Henry Hallam in 1834, including essays and a biographical sketch he wrote of his son.