• Title: The Death of Oenone, Akbar’s Dream, and other Poems
  • Author: Alfred Lord Tennyson
  • Published October, 1892
  • Publisher: Macmillan and Co.
  • University of Victoria, McPherson Library call number: PR5555 D35 1892

The Death of Oenone, Akbar’s Dream, and Other Poems is a collection of Tennyson poems. Published posthumously, in 1892, by the prominent Macmillan and Co., the poems featured vary in length and genre. Sitting relatively unadorned, compared to other Victorian books of poetry, this collection seems to have been intended for use more than for display.

Alfred Lord Tennyson was a successful poet who was “appointed poet laureate” (Ricks) in “November 1850”. Tennyson maintained a successful and prolific career up until his death on October 6th, 1892. Further information on Alfred Tennyson can be found here, at the Victorian Poetry and Poetics and Context Wiki biography of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. As Harold Bloom explains, “The Death of Oenone, Akbar’s Dream, and Other Poems appeared posthumously in 1892, and in 1897, Tennyson’s son Hallam published a two-volume memoir.” (Bloom) Though published after his passing, it is likely that Tennyson had a major role in this book's production, as Tennyson and Alexander Macmillan had a tight working relationship.

Tennyson seemed to prefer short term partnerships with publishers, as he “rotated among such houses… on short, five year contracts” (Van Arsdel). However, “finally, in 1814”, Tennyson approached Macmillan with a steep but acceptable publishing deal. “The two old friends were together at last.” The closeness between the two men makes it likely that Tennyson had a prominent role in the development of The Death of Oenone, Akbar’s Dream, and Other Poems, even if he did not live to see its final publication. As Van Arsdel describes, “from earliest days Alexander Macmillan and Alfred Tennyson had known and respected each other.”

Also, of further note, though Macmillan and Co. was an English publishing company, they also had an American branch, where this particular copy of The Death of Oenone, Akbar’s Dream, and Other Poems was printed. The opening publishing pages include the “Macmillan and Co.” label, with “New York” written above it and “and London” written underneath. Moreover, on the next page, the book credits “Typography by J.S. Cushing & Co., Boston, U.S.A.” and “Presswork by Berwick & Smith, Boston, U.S.A.”, both are clear indicators that this particular book was printed in America, spreading Tennyson’s work over two continents.

The exact measurements for The Death of Oenone, Akbar’s Dream, and Other Poems is 5” by 7.2”, or 12.5 cm by 18.3 cm. The book features a dark green cover, with the only external text being on the spine of the book. On the spine, in gold, is the title. Specifically, the spine reads “The Death of Oenone – Akbar’s Dream, &C. with the single word “Tennyson” written underneath. At the very bottom of the spine reads “Macmillan and Co.”

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The spine of Death of Oneone, Akbar's Dream, and Other Poems
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The plain green cover of Tennyson's Death of Oenone, Akbar's Dream, and Other Poem's.

The book features a table of contents, and includes page numbers at the top corner of each page. Additionally, the title of any given poem is written at the top of the page, regardless of how many pages the poem runs on to. The end of the book also features advertisements for other Macmillan publications, which cover many authors, genres, and price ranges. It is interesting, too, to note that some poems include a formal “glossary”. For example, Tennyson’s “Church-Warden and Curate” has a glossary with terms that read as such “’Casselty,’ casualty, chance weather” and “’haafe down wi’ my haay,’ while my grass is only half-mown”. The unadorned cover, untrimmed or “deckle edges”, and lack of borders all seem to suggest that the book was not intended as a display prop. Instead, the utilitarian book, which features page numbers, a table of contents, and unabashed advertising in the back, seems to imply a book intended to be used and read.

The advertising at the back also appears noteworthy. Functioning like a catalog, the end of the book lists other works that Macmillan publishes, works by authors that include Shakespeare, Shelle, Wordsworth, and many others. The inclusion of this self-advertisement offers a fascinating glimpse at Victorian book culture. The implication seems to be that, though some books were gilded and aesthetically pleasing, others were just meant to be read, unafraid of pressing the consumer to buy more. I would argue that the advertising in the back illustrates the vast market of Victorian book selling, that includes the fancy elite books, but also a wealth of cheap, function focused books.

One of the pages of advertising found at the end of the book.

The deckle edges also provide an interesting flaw in the book. When book pages are non-uniform and uncut, the pages can sometimes be incorrectly made, such as the image provided below, where two pages attached at the top. Though not hugely important, the fact that this flaw was commonplace in Victorian printing brings an interesting historical commonality to light. Book culture for the Victorians meant that the average reader would have been accustomed to the connection of two pages, which is rather contrary to now, as one would likely find themselves confused by the printing imperfection. More on the subject can be seen ‘here’, an AbeBooks.com article on the subject.

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An example of an 'uncut page' or 'decal edge' featured in The Death of Oenone, Akbar's Dream, and Other Poems

The Death of Oenone, Akbar’s Dream, and Other Poems contains twenty-four poems. The longest being the titular “Akbar’s Dream” at twenty-four pages, and the shortest being “A Voice Spake out of the Skies” rounding out at a mere ten lines.

The Death of Oenone, Akbar’s Dream, and Other Poems is a fascinating text. Composed before Tennyson’s passing, but published after his death, the book is small and unassuming. Produced with function in mind, and not aesthetics, the book is filled with page numbers and, at the end, advertisements. Likely intended to be sold in masse, the book begs to be read, not revered.

Works Cited:
Christopher Ricks, 'Tennyson, Alfred, first Baron Tennyson (1809 - 1892)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006

Rosemary T. Van Arsdel, ‘Macmillan family (per. c.1840–1986)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2007

Bloom, Harold. Alfred, Lord Tennyson. New York City: Chelsea House, 2010. Print. Bloom’s Classic Critical Views.

Carswell,Beth. "Deckle Edges or Uncut Edges on a Book." AbeBooks. Web. 14 Feb. 2016. http://www.abebooks.com/blog/index.php/2012/07/16/deckle-edges-or-uncut-edges-on-a-book/comment-page-1/>.