DEAR MARY, Here is another place which seems interesting enough to be worthy of a few lines to you. Besides, it is the home of a brother poet of yours, for Tennyson is sleeping somewhere downstairs, and that will interest you. So, as they do not have any breakfast until half past nine, and I am up and dressed at eight, here goes for a little letter.
I came down here yesterday, a long three hours’ run from London, through a very pretty country, passing Winchester cathedral and other attractive things upon the way. At last we crossed the Channel in a little cockleshell of a steamboat, and landed at Yarmouth, where Hallam Tennyson was waiting for me with the carriage. Then a pretty drive over the Downs, with two or three small villages upon the way, brought us, in about three miles, to this house. Here the great poet lives. He is finer than his pictures, a man of good six feet and over, but stooping as he walks, for he is seventy-four years old, and we shall stoop if we ever live to that age. A big dome of a head, bald on the forehead and the top, and very fine to look at. His hair, where he is not bald, an iron-gray, with much whiter mustache and beard, a deep bright eye, a grand, eagle nose, a mouth which you cannot see, a black felt hat, and a loose tweed suit. These were what I noticed in the author of ” In Memoriam.”
The house is a delightful old rambling thing, whose geography one never learns, not elegant but very comfortable, covered with pictures inside and ivies outside, with superb ilexes and other trees about it, and lovely pieces of view over the Channel here and there.
He was just as good as he could be, and we all went to a place behind the house, where the trees leave a large circle, with beautiful grass, and tables and chairs scattered about. Here we sat down and talked. Tennyson was inclined to be misanthropic, talked about Socialism, Atheism, and another great catastrophe like the French Revolution coming on the world. He declared that if he were a Yankee, he would be ashamed to keep the Alabama money, but he let himself be contradicted about his gloomy views, and by and by became more cheerful. We had tea out of doors, took a walk for various views, then, having come to know me pretty well, he wanted to know if I smoked, and we went up to the study, a big, bright, crowded room, where he writes his Idyls, and there we stayed till dinner time.
Dinner was very lively. Mrs. Tennyson is a dear old lady, a great invalid, as sweet and pathetic as a picture. Then there are staying here Mr. Lushington, a great Greek scholar, a Miss B., who knows every-body and tells funny stories, and another Miss B., her pretty niece, with the loveliest smile. After dinner, Tennyson and I went up to the study again, and I had him to myself for two or three hours. We smoked, and he talked of metaphysics, and poetry, and religion, his own life, and Hallam, and all the poems. It was very delightful, for he was gentle, and reverent, and tender, and hopeful. Then we went down to the drawing-room, where the rest were, and he read his poetry to us till the clock said twelve. ” Locksley Hall,” ” Sir Galahad,” pieces of ” Maud,” (which he specially likes to read), and some of his dialect poems. He said, by the way, in reading ” Locks-ley Hall ” that the verse beginning
” Love took up the glass of time,” etc.,
was the best simile he ever made ; and that and a certain line in the ” Gardener’s Daughter,” were the ones on which he most piqued himself. Just after midnight we came up to bed. They had the prettiest way at dinner of getting up before the fruit came and going into the drawing-room, where there was a fresh table spread by the window, looking out on the lawn and Channel.
Well, so much about Tennyson. Thanks for your letter, which was very good to get.