Part II of The Tennyson Sisters of Somersby: Matilda Tennyson and Cecilia Lushington nee Tennyson
September 15 1816- July 31 1913
The middle sister, Matilda Tennyson was a tall, olive skinned woman with a strong, rugged face, ‘A creature without gall or guile’ one of her friends would describe her to be. She was a natural observer, a female ‘my uncle Toby’ is how her nephew Lionel, Alfred’s second son, described her with infinite purity, innocence and cleverness. One of her chief characteristics was that she never married and kept a naivety that was remarkable even amongst the Tennyson family. To her brothers she was a favorite usually because she would pass many jokes about the goings on, alleged flirtations of The Empress Maud’ when travelling between Farringford House and Park House. It is recorded that she would put up her umbrella and sit under it without embarrassment for an entire church service when it was drafty. To really get an understanding of her strong and intense personality, the family would remember one specific occurrence when she got into an argument with a salesman in a crowded London shop when discussing the capacity of a hip-bath (bath tub) which he was trying to sell her. She gathered up her ample skirts, stepped into the bath tub and lay down in her black bonnet and veil, button boots, flowing cloak, umbrella, to the horror of the salesman but the delight of the crowded customers. ‘Tilly’ as she was nicknamed, had the ‘black-broodiness’ of her other siblings and descendants before her which led to her being somewhat of a religious obsessive. For instance, she was a strong Calvinist who would spend entire days sometimes weeping over the fate of her siblings, whom she believed to all be eternally damned. She had an intense and absorbing love of music which her family believed led to a passionate affection toward an opera singer she adored, Teresa Tietjens, who died in 1877. After Matilda’s death in 1913, were found amongst her papers some highly emotional fragments of verse about the singer, and a sheet of deep edged mourning paper enfolding a lock of hair, and written in Matilda’s handwriting. ‘This paper holds my beloved Teresa’s hair. I have kissed it many times. It is a great comfort to me to have it. Oh when shall I see her again! I shall never have another friend upon earth like her. I hope God will permit me to meet her again. This thought bears me up.’
After her mother’s death, Matilda went to stay at her brother Alfred’s house, Farringford but her complaints about the climate and surroundings of the house distressed Alfred’s wife, Lady Tennyson. Emily and Matilda never really got along very well. It was Hallam and Lionel, her nephews, aged fourteen and twelve, who took her to their hearts immediately. They made her join in all their games and adventures slowly pulling her out of her shell. Once acclimated to her surroundings she relaxed and was devoted to her brother, Alfred. It was after his death in 1892, she never could bring herself to visit Farringford again even though her sister-in-law and nephews still lived there. Emily and the boys were deeply attached by then and did write to each other over the years. If only Matilda could bring herself to visit Farringford again. It does my heart well to know that she would on occasion go to Aldworth located on Black Down near Haslemere on Surrey and later in fact lived out the rest of her days at her sister, Cecilia’s house Park House in Maidstone, Kent, England. She lived well into the twentieth century, passing away on July 31, 1913.
Cecilia Lushington nee Tennyson
October 10, 1817-March 18, 1909
Lincs website copyright photograph
Cecilia was in many ways the most attractive of the sisters. She was quite tall, beautiful face but the men found her body to be skinny and without curves. She was less serious than her sister Mary, less aggressive than Emily (Emilia), more sophisticated than Matilda. She was called the ‘eccentric’ of the family and rather unselfconscious to the horror of her siblings and the worry of her husband, Edmund Law Lushington, Fellow of Trinity and Professor of Latin at the University of Glasgow. She suffered from poor health and the winters in Glasgow didn’t help, ‘black and thick fog…made more hellish often by a red glow through it all proceeding from the numerous fires in this city of dirt and dumps’ Cecilia was devoted to Edmund and they were married on October 10th, 1842, in Boxley, Kent, England. In the 1850 edition of Alfred Tennyson’s poem, In Memoriam, you will read an epilogue written about his sister’s marriage to Edmund. (photo and painting below of Edmund Law Lushington)
In Memoriam, Epilogue, [O true and tried, so well and long] by Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1809 - 1892
O true and tried, so well and long,
Demand not thou a marriage lay;
In that it is thy marriage day
Is music more than any song.
Nor have I felt so much of bliss
Since first he told me that he loved
A daughter of our house; nor proved
Since that dark day a day like this;
Tho’ I since then have number’d o’er
Some thrice three years: they went and came,
Remade the blood and changed the frame,
And yet is love not less, but more;
No longer caring to embalm
In dying songs a dead regret,
But like a statue solid-set,
And moulded in colossal calm.
Regret is dead, but love is more
Than in the summers that are flown,
For I myself with these have grown
To something greater than before;
Which makes appear the songs I made
As echoes out of weaker times,
As half but idle brawling rhymes,
The sport of random sun and shade.
But where is she, the bridal flower,
That must be made a wife ere noon?
She enters, glowing like the moon
Of Eden on its bridal bower:
On me she bends her blissful eyes
And then on thee; they meet thy look
And brighten like the star that shook
Betwixt the palms of paradise.
O when her life was yet in bud,
He too foretold the perfect rose.
For thee she grew, for thee she grows
For ever, and as fair as good.
And thou art worthy; full of power;
As gentle; liberal-minded, great,
Consistent; wearing all that weight
Of learning lightly like a flower.
But now set out: the noon is near,
And I must give away the bride;
She fears not, or with thee beside
And me behind her, will not fear.
For I that danced her on my knee,
That watch’d her on her nurse’s arm,
That shielded all her life from harm
At last must part with her to thee;
Now waiting to be made a wife,
Her feet, my darling, on the dead
Their pensive tablets round her head,
And the most living words of life
Breathed in her ear. The ring is on,
The ‘wilt thou’ answer’d, and again
The ‘wilt thou’ ask’d, till out of twain
Her sweet ‘I will’ has made you one.
Now sign your names, which shall be read,
Mute symbols of a joyful morn,
By village eyes as yet unborn;
The names are sign’d, and overhead
Begins the clash and clang that tells
The joy to every wandering breeze;
The blind wall rocks, and on the trees
The dead leaf trembles to the bells.
O happy hour, and happier hours
Await them. Many a merry face
Salutes them?maidens of the place,
That pelt us in the porch with flowers.
O happy hour, behold the bride
With him to whom her hand I gave.
They leave the porch, they pass the grave
That has to-day its sunny side.
To-day the grave is bright for me,
For them the light of life increased,
Who stay to share the morning feast,
Who rest to-night beside the sea.
Let all my genial spirits advance
To meet and greet a whiter sun;
My drooping memory will not shun
The foaming grape of eastern France.
It circles round, and fancy plays,
And hearts are warm’d and faces bloom,
As drinking health to bride and groom
We wish them store of happy days.
Nor count me all to blame if I
Conjecture of a stiller guest,
Perchance, perchance, among the rest,
And, tho’ in silence, wishing joy.
But they must go, the time draws on,
And those white-favour’d horses wait;
They rise, but linger; it is late;
Farewell, we kiss, and they are gone.
A shade falls on us like the dark
From little cloudlets on the grass,
But sweeps away as out we pass
To range the woods, to roam the park,
Discussing how their courtship grew,
And talk of others that are wed,
And how she look’d, and what he said,
And back we come at fall of dew.
Again the feast, the speech, the glee,
The shade of passing thought, the wealth
Of words and wit, the double health,
The crowning cup, the three-times-three,
And last the dance;?till I retire:
Dumb is that tower which spake so loud,
And high in heaven the streaming cloud,
And on the downs a rising fire:
And rise, O moon, from yonder down,
Till over down and over dale
All night the shining vapour sail
And pass the silent-lighted town,
The white-faced halls, the glancing rills,
And catch at every mountain head,
And o’er the friths that branch and spread
Their sleeping silver thro’ the hills;
And touch with shade the bridal doors,
With tender gloom the roof, the wall;
And breaking let the splendour fall
To spangle all the happy shores
By which they rest, and ocean sounds,
And, star and system rolling past,
A soul shall draw from out the vast
And strike his being into bounds,
And, moved thro’ life of lower phase,
Result in man, be born and think,
And act and love, a closer link
Betwixt us and the crowning race
Of those that, eye to eye, shall look
On knowledge, under whose command
Is Earth and Earth’s, and in their hand
Is Nature like an open book;
No longer half-akin to brute,
For all we thought and loved and did,
And hoped, and suffer’d, is but seed
Of what in them is flower and fruit;
Whereof the man, that with me trod
This planet, was a noble type
Appearing ere the times were ripe,
That friend of mine who lives in God,
That God, which ever lives and loves,
One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves.
Cecilia Lushington nee Tennyson
Park House, Maidstone, became a haven for The Lushington’s. Friends and acquaintances describe Cecilia Lushington, as singing strange ballads with passion by standing behind the drawing room door then slowly entering into the room. Like the rest of The Tennyson’s she read verse beautifully, in a rich deep voice, especially, Alfred’s ‘Northern Farmers.’ She used to play charades by acting out the most unsuitable parts dressed in a rough jacket, neckerchief, and waistcoat. Her family hated it but she loved it! Cecilia gave birth to four children: only son, Edmund,(Eddy) born in 1843, had died in 1856. Emily,(Emmy) the eldest girl, died in 1868 at the age of nineteen, and Lucia Maria, (Lucy) died five years later at twenty-one. Only the second daughter, Cecilia (Zilly) named after her mother lived to grow up. All the children seemed to have considerable ability and charm and only one volume of Lucy’s verse, survives, privately published in 1880 by Frederick Bunyard, Maidstone.
O sweeter far the dying day
Than golden sunrise on the hills,
To watch the faint light fade away
Altho’ the evening shadow chills,
O sweeter far the falling leaves
Than verdant groves in summer’s prime,
Altho’ the heart grows faint and grieves
To watch the fair decay of time.
O sweeter far the close of life
Than youth in all its vain unrest,
The peace of death than earthly strife,
To love and grieve and die is best.
Mrs. Lushington herself published three books. The first, Fifty Years in Sandbourne, was issued by Griffith and Farran of St. Paul’s Church Yard in New York by E.P. Dutton and Co., in 1880. This story of only 105 pages, was considered her best work. The story focuses on an old fisherman of ninety, his daughter-in-law, Jane Knight, and her three year old granddaughter. It is a tragic tale. Jane lost her husband six months after her marriage; her only children, twin boys, have both been drowned as young men and the little boat in which Jack knight had taken his paralyzed brother Dick out for a row was overturned by a sudden storm. The shock was too much for Jack’s wife Mary who died, leaving their three year old daughter an orphan. In the end he is saved by the old parson with Cecilia explaining, ‘How should I make that poor boy resigned? If I were to go and tell him he ought to be resigned to a shock and a blight on his life such as this, wouldn’t he feel, if he didn’t say, “You talk of what you know nothing about,” and wouldn’t this be the truth?’ In the end he gives the poor boy strength in a touching scene where his true feelings come out.
Fifty Years in Sandbourne was followed a year later with Margaret the Moonbeam, A Story for the Young (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1881). This is a small volume of 180 pages, where we meet little Margaret, an orphan taken by her bachelor uncle to live with him in his house near ‘Ademstone’ an obvious rhyme for Maidstone, (their own home Park House). In this novel, Cecilia used it as a reason to include her love of poetry. Every chapter is introduced with poems that take up half the pages. Some by Wordsworth, Longfellow, Alfred Tennyson even! Sometimes you will find one of Cecilia’s own poems:
Why Master, good Master, why do you stop?
What can you be looking at there?
Did you never see water spin round like a top
That at it you stupidly stare?
It’s that new little girl who has made you so queer,
Why can’t she come on and make haste?
I would not for worlds disrespectful appear
But I’m really surprised at your taste.
I’m ready to swim or to race at your call,
Or to leap to and fro like a frog,
But to stand idly staring at nothing at all
Is too much for a sensible dog.
Margaret the Moonbeam had some success with the second edition published in 1883. Upon the favorable reviews of her first novel, Fifty Years in Sandbourne, her publishing company, Griffith and Farran, published Cecilia’s third book, Over the Seas and Far Away in 1882, a Victorian romance. You can quickly remember that this authoress is the sibling of the Poet Laureate just by reading the opening page with her description of the sea, ‘In front nothing but this boundless open plain of water; all silent, except for a soft, hushing hiss pressed on the sand by the tiniest ripple; all motionless except for the wavy tremor which told that in the midst of its calm the heart of the mighty sea was living’ (pg 22). (Copies of all three novels can be found in the British Museum and The Tennyson Research Centre in Lincoln).
Cecilia Lushington outlived her husband by sixteen years remaining at Park House with her spinster, sister Matilda. Cecilia lived on the east side of the house and Matilda on the west over the dining room. The late Mr. Godrey L. Lushington of Woodlawn Park, Loose, near Maidstone, remembered Cecilia as a very old woman, ‘always wearing a white knitted woolen cap, carrying a large black bag, and walking with a stick.’ She went out very little in summer or winter; sometimes after tea she would wander out through the hall, stopping on the way to stroke the bust of her long lost little son and talk to it affectionately for a few moments. After roaming around the lawn for twenty minutes or so she would come back into the drawing room, saying to her daughter, ‘Very dark tonight, Zilly,’ to which Zilly would reply, ‘Of course it is, dear, the sun has gone down.’ Cecilia Lushington passed away at Park House on March 18th, 1909. The Lushington’s along with their children are buried at St Mary the Virgin and All Saints Churchyard, Boxley, Maidstone Borough Kent, England.