“Alfred Austin was born in Headingley, near Leeds, on 30 May 1835, to a Roman Catholic family. His father, Joseph Austin, was a merchant in Leeds; his mother was a sister of Joseph Locke, the civil engineer and M.P. for Honiton. Austin was educated at Stonyhurst College (Clitheroe, Lancashire), St Mary’s College, Oscott, and University of London, from which he graduated in 1853. He became a barrister in 1857 but after inheriting a fortune from his uncle gave up his legal career for literature.
He unsuccessfully stood as a Conservative Party candidate for Taunton in 1865, finishing in fourth place, and at Dewsbury in 1880.
Politically conservative, between 1866 and 1896 Austin edited National Review and wrote leading articles for The Standard. He was Foreign Affairs Correspondent with the Standard, and served as a special correspondent to the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican in 1870; at the Headquarters of the King of Prussia during the Franco-Prussian War, 1870; at the Congress of Berlin, 1878 where he was granted an audience by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. An ardent imperialist and follower of Disraeli he became, in 1883, joint editor of the National Review with W. J. Courthope and was sole editor from 1887 until 1896.
On Tennyson’s death in 1892 it was felt that none of the then living poets, except Algernon Charles Swinburne or William Morris, who were outside consideration on other grounds, was of sufficient distinction to succeed to the laurel crown, and for several years no new poet-laureate was nominated. In the interval the claims of one writer and another were assessed, but eventually, in 1896, Austin was appointed to the post after Morris had declined it. As a poet Austin never ranked highly in the opinions of his peers, and was often derided as being a “Banjo Byron”. (Britannica: His acerbic criticism and jingoistic verse in the 1870s led Robert Browning to dismiss him as a “Banjo-Byron,” and his appointment to the laureateship in 1896 was much mocked.)
Broadus writes that the choice of Austin for poet-laureate had much to do with Austin’s friendship with Lord Salisbury, his position as an editor and leader writer, and his willingness to use his poetry to support the government. For example, shortly before his appointment was announced, Austin published a sonnet entitled “A Vindication of England”, written in response to a series of sonnets by William Watson, published in the Westminster Gazette, that had accused Salisbury’s government of betraying Armenia and abandoning its people to Turkish massacres.
Sir Owen Seaman (1861–1936) gave added currency to the supposed connection with Lord Salisbury in his poem, “To Mr Alfred Austin”, In Cap and Bells, London & New York, 1900, 9:
At length a callous Tory chief arose,
Master of caustic jest and cynic gibe,
Looked round the Carlton Club and lightly chose
Its leading scribe.
Austin served as Deputy-Lieutenant for Herefordshire. Austin died of unknown causes at Swinford Old Manor, Hothfield, near Ashford, Kent, England, where he had been ill for some time.”