Friday, September 27, 2013

The Writing of Emily Sellwood (nee Tennyson) Lady Tennyson (9 July 1813 – 10 August 1896)

Emily Sarah (née Sellwood), Lady Tennyson by William Jeffrey, NPG

During the Summer of 1849, one year to the day before she married Alfred Tennyson, still spinster, Emily Sellwood, wrote 'unfinished'stories she kept handwritten in blue colored notebooks, now archived at Tennyson Research Centre, Lincolnshire,County Offices, Lincoln, England.  I would like to share two excerpts with you here. One of the Tennyson grandchildren recalled how his grandmother Emily was staying at a place in Lincoln called Hale House and Tennyson was staying at an old inn  in Farnham and walked daily across the Market Place past the castle to visit her. For Emily, the appeal of Hale House was that it was a 'wild region with its heather-scented air.' These stories have no titles but deal with two different women. 

From the Madeline story:

For many a day, yes, many and many a month had she schooled her sadness and gone cheerfully about her daily tasks, making these as many and engrossing as could be, so that her father scarcely noticed anything weighed on her spirits or, if the thought crossed him, he would put it by, saying to himself, years make her graver and when the painful certainty that her tall graceful form was growing too slender and her cheek too pale would force itself upon him, as it had done of late, he attributed it to overwork in the school and parish ... He thought a little rest will soon restore her bloom and now Madeline addressed herself with characteristic energy to placing  geraniums, verbenas, nemophila, to best advantage...Then she took her book and went to one of the bowers of roses made in her own rose-hedge, the admiration of the neighbourhood...

She regretted the happy days that had been ... but she rose suddenly and said this must not be.  God has ordered it thus. All is certainly well, though I see it not and what right have I to feel so lonely and desolate with such a father? Her own movement had prevented her from hearing footsteps on the grass...
In a moment she was clasped in his arms, 'Madeline, dearest. You are not married then? I may yet, oh say I may, hope to call thee mine. Forgive me what I have done, agitating you thus,' he said, frightened by the dead pallor which came over her face. He bore her back to the seat and put her gently down. He spoke soothing words, and encouraged by the sight of a Dante in his hand, in a little while she regained her self-possession to listen to his explanation...
'How often I cursed my folly that not having spoken to you before I left England, thinking surely she would have had some pity on her early friend had she known all ... How absurd did my notions of fortune necessary for a married man seem ...' 

The second story:  From the Agnes story:

All I know is that suddenly your letters ceased. That you had forgotten me I would not belileve...I, poor groveller, was falling ever lower and lower, sinking deeper and deeper in utter selfishness. I lived all I could of my life among the talking-machines of London and joined in their hollow brilliant clatter until it seemed to me I had talked away my soul when  I awoke as I did, you will believe, sometimes to a sense of things as they were and had a glimpse of how they should be.  Well, I went on nevertheless in much the same course until I first met Agnes.  I will not attempt to describe the wild rush of passion that shook my whole being...You know how of old you would chide me for talking of Christianity as the religion of the  people...You know at the worst of times there must always have been a little grain of honesty in me.  This forbad me from disguising in any way my thoughts from Agnes on what I soon found was to her the supreme theme, the living life-giving cup of her existence. I knew she loved me, though all my wild prayers and most passionate entreaties could not prevail upon her to say she would be mine to the present state of my mind. 
Think not she assumed anything to herself so doing. No, none could be sweeter and meeker than she. She would ascribe all sorts of nobleness and goodness to me, say she knew well how much better I was than she, but that there could be no real highest union between us if I denied the master she most desired to serve, if, in fact, we were not one in Christ. I saw her sentence was irrevocable unless I changed, but whether it was pride or obstinacy or what it was I cannot say. I only hardened myself more and more in my own conceits and with frenzied impetuosity I rushed into all sorts of unnameable evils. I drank, I betted. I gambled, but I will not fill up the loathly list of my doings. Soon i found myself in the Fleet...Left to myself my wild feelings for her drove me almost to madness...And so days went on, I, raging within myself, until at length suddenly a voice seemed to say, more inwardly still: 'I will arise and go to my Father...' I told her of the voice. I entreated her to help me obey its call. She took up the Bible which had of late been my constant companion. A light dawned on me from the words she read and from that moment I felt she was mine...
We were married as privately as possible...When I asked her how she could marry one so soiled, she said: 'God loves the soul made new by repentance. Why would not I?'


6 comments:

Hermes said...

Never knew this, how really interesting, thanks

Kimberly Eve said...

Happy to share them and even happier to read them! I couldn't believe it when I found them. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Hermes.

Jeanne_Treat said...

Very interesting. Lots of emotion in her writing.

Kimberly Eve said...

Hi Jeanne,
Yes, I was struck by the emotion, as well. I didn't expect the religious undertones, though! Thanks so much for commenting!

Kevin Marsh said...

I agree with Jeanne, very emotionally written, I love the way she puts her words together in that wonderful Victorian way.

Kimberly Eve said...

I know isn't it wonderful, Kevin!

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