Thursday, May 07, 2009

Emerson meets Tennyson

From the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson:
[ca. May 7 1848]        

I saw Tennyson, first, at the house of Coventry Patmore, where we dined together [on May 5]. His friend Brookfield was also of the party. I was contented with him, at once. He is tall, scholastic-looking, no dandy, but a great deal of plain strength about him, and though cultivated, quite unaffected; quiet, sluggish sense and strength, refined, as all English are, and good-humoured. The print of his head in Homes book is too rounded and handsome. There is in him an air of general superiority, that is very satisfactory. He lives very much with his college set, Spedding, Brookfield, Hallam, Rice, and the rest, and has the air of one who is accustomed to be petted and indulged by those he lives with, like George Bradford. Take away Hawthorne's bashfulness, and let him talk easily and fast, and you would have a pretty good Tennyson.

He has just come home from Ireland, where he had seen much vaporing of the Irish youth against England, and described a scene in some tavern, I think, where a hot young man was flourishing a drawn sword, and swearing that he would drive it to the hilt into the flesh and blood of Englishmen. Tennyson was disgusted, and going up to the young man, took out his penknife, and offered it to him. "I am an Englishman," he said, "and there is my penknife, and, you know, you will not so much as stick that into me." The youth was disconcerted and said he knew he was not an Englishman. "Yes, but I am." Hereupon the companions of the youth interfered, and apologized for him, he had been in drink and was excited, etc.

Tennyson talked of Carlyle, and said, "If Carlyle thinks the Christian religion has lost all vitality, he is wholly mistaken." Tennyson and all Carlyle's friends feel the caprice and incongruity of his opinions. He talked of London as a place to take the nonsense out of a man.

It is his brother, Tennyson Turner, who wrote the verses which Wordsworth praised.

When Festus was spoken of, I said that a poem must be made up of little poems, but that in Festus were no single good lines; you could not quote one line. Tennyson quoted
There came a hand between the sun and us, And its five fingers made five nights in air.
After dinner, Brookfield insisted that we should go to his house, so we stopped an omnibus, and, not finding room inside for all three, Tennyson rode on the box, and B. and I within. Brookfield, knowing that I was going to France, told me that, if I wanted him, Tennyson would go. "That is the way we do with him," he said. "We tell him he must go and he goes. But you will find him heavy to carry."

At Brookfield's house we found young Hallam, with Mrs. Brookfield, a very pleasing woman. I told Tennyson that I heard from his friends very good accounts of him, and I and they were persuaded that it was important to his health, an instant visit to Paris; and that I was to go on Monday, if he was ready. He was very good-humoured, and affected to think that I should never come back alive from France, it was death to go. But he had been looking for two years for somebody to go to Italy with, and was ready to set out at once, if I would go there. I was tempted, of course, to pronounce for Italy; but now I had agreed to give my course in London. He gave me a cordial invitation to his lodgings (in Buckingham Place), where I promised to visit him before I went away.

On [the next day?] I found him at home in his lodgings, but with him was a Church clergy man, whose name I did not know, and there was no conversation. He was sure, again, that he was taking a final farewell of me, as I was going among the French bullets, but promised to be in the same lodgings, if I should escape alive after my three weeks in Paris. So we parted. I spent a month in Paris, and, when I returned, he had left London.[added later]

Carlyle describes him as staying in London through a course of eight o'clock dinners every night for months until he is thoroughly fevered. Then, notice is given to one of his friends, as lately to Aubrey de Vere, who has a fine estate in Ireland (thirty miles from Limerick), to come and carry him off bodily. Tennyson had capitulated, on three conditions: first, that he should not hear anything about Irish distress; second, that he should not come downstairs to breakfast; third, that he might smoke in the house. I think these were the three. So poor Tennyson, who had been in the worst way, but had not force enough to choose where to go, and so sat still, was now disposed of.

Tennyson was in plain black suit and wears glasses. Carlyle thinks him the best man in England to smoke a pipe with, and used to see him much; had a place in his little garden, on the wall, where Tennyson's pipe was laid up. He has other brothers, I believe, besides Tennyson Turner, the elder; and, I remember, Carlyle told me with glee some story of one of them, who looked like Alfred, and whom some friend, coming in, found lying on the sofa and addressed him, "Ah, Alfred, I am glad to see you," and he said, "I am not Alfred, I am Septimus; I am the most morbid of all the Tennysons."

I suppose he is self-indulgent and a little spoiled and selfish by the warm and universal favor he has found. Lady Duff Gordon told me that the first day she saw him he lay his whole length on the carpet, and rolled himself to her feet and said, "Will you please to put your feet on me for a stool." Coventry Patmore described him as very capricious and as once spending the evening with a dozen friends, "not, to be sure, his equals, but as nearly his equals as any that could be collected." Yet Tennyson would not say a word, but sat with his pipe, silent, and at last said, "I am going to Cheltenham; I have had a glut of men." When he himself proposed, one day, to read Tennyson a poem which he had just finished, that Tennyson might tell him of anything which his taste would exclude, Tennyson replied, "Mr. Patmore,you have no idea how many applications of this sort are made to me."

Dr. T. P. Shepherd, of Providence, who travelled in the East with W. Stirling, told me that he met Tennyson at a hotel in Amsterdam, and lived there a fortnight with him, not knowing his name, but riding out with him to see the environs, and meeting at the table d'hote. He set his servant to ascertain from Tennyson's servant his master's name; but the man was only a valet de place, and did not know; for Tennyson scrupulously concealed his name, and got into trouble with the police about his passport. Dr. Shepherd thought he must be Carlyle, from the strength and brilliancy of his conversation, until he spoke of Carlyle. One day, however, he recited the "Moated Grange," and inquired of Dr. Shepherd if they liked such verses in America. Dr. Shepherd replied, yes, he knew the verses; they were by Tennyson, and, though he could not say they were widely known, yet they had a very cordial troop of admirers in the United States. "Well," replied the other, "I am Tennyson." And thereafter their acquaintance was intimate, and he made Dr. Shepherd promise to visit him in England. But when Dr. Shepherd was in England, and inquired for him, he found, he said, that he was in a kind of retreat for the sane, which they keep there, and so saw him not.

Mr. Sylvester told me that Mr. Farie could draw a model of any loom or machine after once seeing it, for Rees's Cyclopaedia, and did so in the Strutt's mills.

Mr. Hallam asked me, at Lord Ashburton's, "Whether Swedenborg were all mad, or partly knave?" He knew nothing of Thomas Taylor, nor did Milman, nor any Englishman.

{Tennyson as a young man; source: Twickenham Museum}

{Coventry Patmore; source:}

William Henry Brookfield entry in wikipedia

James Spedding entry in wikipedia

Arthur Hallam entry in wikipedia

{Henry Hallam; source: today in literature}

Festus, a poem by the English poet Philip James Bailey - wikipedia entry

Festus, by Philip James Bailey (text)

Aubrey Thomas De Vere, entry in the Britannica 11th ed.

Some sources:

Journals Of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1820-1872, with Annotations, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes; Vol. VII, 1845-1848 (London, Constable & Co.; Boston And New York Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913)

Journals Of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1820-1872, with Annotations, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes; Vol. VII, 1845-1848, (New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912)

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