A Moonlight Memoriam~Alfred, Lord Tennyson (August 6, 1809- October 6, 1892)

 Alfred Tennyson (1809–1892), 1st Baron Tennyson, Honorary Fellow (1869), Poet Laureate
by George Frederic Watts, Date painted: 1890, Oil on canvas, 64 x 51 cm, Collection: Trinity College, University of Cambridge

*Side Note:  In October of 1892, Lady Tennyson, Audrey Tennyson, was married to Alfred’s first born son, Hallam Tennyson. Hallam was his father’s companion during his illness and helped his aged mother care for him. They were living at ALDWORTH HOUSE, TENNYSON'S LANE, LURGASHALL, CHICHESTER, WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND. The home of Alfred and Emily Tennyson. Alfred Tennyson was in bed in his upstairs bedroom during the days leading to his death. Also, Tennyson's grandchildren Lionel, Alfred, Charlie, and Aubrey will be mentioned. Grandpa Alfred Tennyson was called, 'Baba' by them.
 Lady Audrey Tennyson
**I want to say, I hesitate upon whether or not to share any of Audrey Tennyson’s Diary solely because the details of Alfred’s illness, his symptoms, his behavior while in bed being so very ill are well extremely intimate. Knowing how Alfred Tennyson felt about his privacy, I know he would not be happy about the world being able to read such things before, during, and after his death. However, I also understand that as Poet Laureate and as admirers of his work and curiosity about his personal life, these excerpts should be shared.  I only hope you can forgive me, Alfred! 

Aldworth painted by Helen Allingham, 1880

Aldworth as it looks today.

Excerpts from ‘The Audrey Tennyson Death Bed Diary’ (Including the days leading to the funeral) :
Tuesday: 4 a.m. (October 4):  H. went down and found him sleeping quietly with less fever. 7:30: Dr. Dabbs fetched H. from bed and said he was better, and he must give him some Eno, as he had had no action since Friday morning. He also asked for salicilate of quinine pills, which I gave him 9a.m. His fever rose and he became excited again and told H.: “They are trying to give me a passage.” H. Said: “They are quite right; it will do you good.” “What, a passage in a fast train?It is awful. How will they carry me to it?” 9:30: Nurse Saunders fetched an enema, and at 10, H. ran down for some castor oil, and Nurse Rusell massaged him with it and caused a slight action. Dr. Dabbs then ordered him complete quiet for 20 minutes, after giving him a little soda water and brandy. I heard him shout in swallowing and say: “That’s because I was not raised”; and Dr. Dabbs raised him and offered him more, but he refused. 

10:30:  Dr. Dabbs told me there was no hope, but he would possibly rally a good many times before the end. He did not dare give him sulphonal. H. says he looks round every time any one goes in. His mother went in about 10:30 and thought him worse. Bulletin was: “Lord Tennyson is worse since early morning. Debility increases,” which we placed outside the gate. I went in to see my Mother-in-Law (Emily Tennyson) and asked her if she would like me to sit in the room with her; but she said, though grateful, she would rather be alone. He told H.: “You have all been deceiving me about the time. Why is that?” 

12 a.m.: H. just been to see him. He said: “Where’s my Shakespeare? I must have my Shakespeare.” But Hallam told him he must not read. He is much quieter, and is in a nice warm perspiration. He said: “I must have the blinds up. I want to see the sky.” Such a glorious morning with warm sunshine, and he was allowed his window open; but it is clouding over now, and H. has gone down again to have it shut. 2 p.m.: Has been sleeping very quietly but very deeply since about 12. Is going to have some food. Is very sensible about taking it, and says he will if it is to do him good, and says he can swallow much better. His pulse now 98, his temperature 98.2, his breathing 40.  3 p.m. : He asked Dr. Dabbs to sit down and not stand by his bed. Asked him whether it was better for him to sleep or not sleep, and when asked whether he would like to lie on his side, said “No”-he would do very well as he was. Shortly before, when H. went in, he told him he must not take him on his journey today; he could not bear it. 4:15 p.m.:  Dr. Dabbs came up saying he seemed better than he had seen him in two days. He asked what his temperature was and was told the truth 97.6 under the arm. Dr. Dabbs told him he had no fever, and he asked if he had had. Dr. D. said: “Yes, yesterday. And now you have none.” He said: “They never told me. Why don’t they tell me things?” A little later he asked the nurse how long he had been ill, and she told him 4 days. 5:15: He roused again after a quiet sleep. He was quite collected and sensible, and talked to Dr. Dabbs. Said he would take anything he ordered. Had cup of tea made with milk and brandy. He told Dr. Dabbs, as the nurse put the thermometer under his arm, she scraped a nerve, and the most beautiful vision of blue and colours passed across his eyes. 7:00: Hallam and Dr. Dabbs went down and came back, saying he had been wandering again, and that Gladstone had been walking with him in his garden this morning. 8:45: Just as we had finished dinner, Nurse Saunders sent down for Dr. Dabbs, as he had started up all of a sudden; but they found him quiet and himself. Only Hallam who felt a strong presentiment at dinner that he would pass away tomorrow, as if he heard a voice saying so, became hopeless for first time, though his breathing, pulse, temperature, all are better. Thinks he has a far away, unearthly look on his face. It is the first time he says he has felt hopeless about him.  11:00: He asked if his books had come (H. thinks his proof books), as they ought to have, he said; and H. said “Yes, they arrived yesterday.” H. kissed his hand, and he said Sir Andrew did that. H., Dr. Dabbs, and the nurses all stayed up, H. and Dr. Dabbs in sitting room till 1, then down to Dr. D.’s bedroom. I went down at 6 and found him very quietly sleeping, looking most peaceful and calm and comfortable. He asked for his Shakespeare again in the night, and was not happy till he had it on his bed. Continued taking nourishment every hour till 11, then merely barley water, which he asked often for, and lifted it himself to his lips. About 10:30, Dr. Dabbs was sent for, and he and I went down, and I fetched Hallam who had taken his Mother down, and he went in, then left the room, and he said “Hallam.” And I again fetched H., and we thought the end was near; and he fetched his Mother and she lay on the sofa, the nurses and I watching through the door. H. asked him in the early morning if he felt calm, and he said: “Quite…but I shan’t get better.” 12:00: They gave him some quieting dose. The first kind burnt his throat, and he could not swallow it. A few minutes later they gave him some blank), which quieted his restlessness, not very severe but constant. He asked for me once, and I kissed him and put eau de cologne on his head. He said: “That’s nice.” Later, he said: “I’m no better.” But his speech…it is difficult to catch what he says. I heard him say “I hope,” but could not understand anything else. Slept, or rather dozed, quietly, constantly opening his eyes and gazing round till nearly 2. 

[Tuesday, 5 October] 1:55 p.m.: Again asked for his Shakespeare during the morning, and lies with his hand resting on it open, he having opened it and attempted to put it up to read; but Hallam told him he must not read. He said, “This is the worst attack I have had” quite distinctly. 

5:15: They saw a change was coming on, and Hallam fetched his Mother in that he might recognize her, and she went out again.

5:30: He was quite unconscious, and never gained it again, not speaking again. Hallam fetched his Mother in, as the doctors thought the end might be near; and just then the most glorious moon rose from above the horizon, the landscape looking more beautiful than I had ever seen it, with wonderful colouring, and the distant downs beyond Brighton showing quite distinctly. The morning began very badly, much rain and mist, and then turned into the most glorious afternoon one could have wished for, not a movement, as if nature knew what was happening and was trying to look its best, and also to look as calm and peaceful as it could. I could not help standing and gazing at it thinking how he would have admired it all. Nurse Saunders told me he several times said to her: “There, I am quite certain there is nothing so beautiful as that in Jamaica,” she being a native of the West Indies.

6:00: The moon which had been straight in front of him from the moment of rising, suddenly lit up the whole of his face and bed, and he looked grand and peaceful in a golden light. Hallam always sent the nurses out of the room whenever his Mother came in; but Dr. Dabbs asked that they might just be allowed to see him thus for a minute, and they came in and went again. William and Andrews were allowed to go in in the morning just to look at him.

6:45:  The moon still lighting up his face and bed, and continued doing so till nearly 8. Sir Andrew Clark suggested that Hallam should take his Mother out for 15 minutes, she having been lying on the sofa all the time since 5:45, except to kiss him. And I then went and sat on the floor at the side of his bed, and put my hand in his right hand. He closed his fingers and thumb tightly over it, and held it thus quite tightly, lifting it in his whenever he moved his arm up or down, till 9 o’clock when I went down for some soup. When I returned, he no longer grasped it; but I lay on the bed by his side, holding his left hand till 11:15, and then Hallam begged me to go up to bed. We had not lighting in the room whatever till at this hour, the whole room lit up by the splendid moon, though no longer shining on his bed. The nurses now lit the fire, and except a dim light from that, we had no light absolutely in the room, and all was clear with a beautiful solemn light. Instead of going up to bed after having been up to the sitting room for a few minutes, I went down and sat outside in the passage; and Nurse Russell soon came out to fetch me at 11:45. He had then a spasm going on, and Dr. Dabbs was holding chloroform over his face, which instantly soothed him. He thought the end would probably come after the spasm, and Hallam fetched his Mother in, and we all kissed the dear face we all so truly loved, and, soon after, Hallam took his Mother out of the room for fear there should be anything to pain her. 

12: The spasm passed, and though very weak, the pulse beat on. I knelt at the side of his bed, occasionally feeling the pulse, Nurse Russell sitting on the other side of the bed, and Nurse Saunders standing with bowed head in prayer. And we waited and watched thus, Hallam kneeling on the sofa at the foot of the bed where he could watch him, and Dr. Dabbs sitting at his head with the chloroform whenever he felt any spasms. 

12:57[leading to Thursday, Oct 6th]:  We again thought the dear spirit was passing home, and Dr. Dabbs looked at his watch and said he thought his long journey must be near its end. But again the pulse revived, till 1:25 when several spasmodic gasps came, followed by long silences, and Dr. Dabbs could feel no more pulse, and Hallam said: “I can only say his own words: ‘God accept him. Christ receive him.” And both nurses fell on their knees in prayer; and I thought of his Lionel, my father, Mordie, Harry, and Eleanor all welcoming the one we so loved in their Heavenly Home, all in a solemn silence. And then Hallam asked: “Is it over?” and Dr. Dabbs said: “I think there is one more breath to come.” Then, after what seemed a long silence, came a little sharp short breath, at 1:35 a.m. by Dr. Dabbs’ watch. And our darling had entered his Eternal Home. And we rose and left him in the moonlit room.
 Lord Tennyson 1892 Death Bed Last Idyll Man by Forestier
Thursday, 11 o’clock.  Hallam took his mother in about 12; but I think the beautiful face has looked more and more beautiful each time I have been in, absolutely calm, happy, peaceful, and young. His hands crossed on his chest and his Shakespeare open on the bed. Hallam let all the servants and gardeners, etc, go in and look at him, and let me write to some of the neighbors, all of which came and were amazed at the beauty, calmness, and sleep-like appearance. Went in and looked at the dear figure before I went to bed, not knowing if I should see it again. Hallam took his mother in before dinner for the last time. 

 The Funeral of the Late Alfred Lord Tennyson, DCL, Poet Laureate. Illustration for The Graphic, 1892. Engraving by CJ Staniland

Monday [10th]:  Sent for Macklin the carpenter to close the lid after breakfast. Enclosed in the coffin, Hallam had a tin box sealed in which he put one of my little green Shakespeare with Cymbeline in it, and on the fly-leaf wrote:  “Placed here by me Hallam Tennyson in memory of my Father’s devotion to Shakespeare, which showed itself up to the hour of his death by his having a copy of Shakespeare on his bed, so as to feel it when he was too weak to read it. One of his last acts was to open it half consciously and the corner of the page was turned down by my wife where he had opened it. On looking at the page afterwards I found that he had opened it at one of the 3 passages which he used to call the tenderest in Shakespeare: ‘Hang there like fruit my soul/’Till the tree dies.’ One of the last things that he said was ‘I opened it.’ Hallam Tennyson. Buried with him Wednesday October 12th 1892.

Tuesday: 12 o’clock [Oct. 11]:  The plain unpolished oak coffin with plain brass slab, and on it: “Alfred Lord Tennyson. Born August 6th 1809. Died October 6th 1892,” and brass handles, was brought down from London and placed in the drawing room between the window and the door; and then the dear body was carried down without a sound, the men taking off their boots, and placed inside the outer coffin, and all the wreaths and crosses, and over it a lovely pall worked in the Keswick School and designed by Mrs. Rawnsley, with 42 pink roses as an emblem of his Laureateship and married life, the last verse in gold letters of “Crossing the Bar,” a coronet, and “A.T.” beautifully embroiderd. Mr. and Mrs. Rawnsely came for a short time. Graham Dakyns came up, and at 5 o’clock Maud Tennyson and Mr. Hichens arrived. At 5:45 William Knight brought the waggonette, which I had made the gardeners cover with ivy, stag moss, and red leaves, and line with moss, with “Firefly” in it. And the body was placed in it, and led by William. Close behind it Hallam and I walked, then Maud and Mr. Hichens, then Dumps and the children’s cart led by John with all the wreaths, then the two nurses, and all the servants and gardeners and villagers. All the shops were shut as we passed through Haslemere, the bell toll’d, and there was a great number of people to see it pass. A saloon carriage was there ready, and Graham Dakyns, William, the two nurses, and I went up in it attached to the 7 o’clock train. When we reached Waterloo, there were a good many people waiting, and Mr. Craik was there in his brougham and drove me to the Abbey. As we turned a corner, I saw that the wagon carrying the coffin was one with linen cover and linen curtains hung down at the back, so that nothing could be seen. I told Mr. Craik I did not think Hallam would like that; and he offered to stop, and his servant told them to raise the curtains at the back. And then was seen the coffin covered with the Union Jack which had met us at Waterloo (given by a brigade of guards and sent by Lord Metheun commanding the Home District.) When we got over Westminster, we heard the muffled peal of bells instead of tolling, and the moon was shining in the most glorious way. As soon as the coffin was lifted out of the van, we followed it Mr. Craik, Graham Daykns, and I, and the two nurses, and William to St. Faith’s Chapel; and there the Keswick pall was taken off, and the Union Jack replaced it. And then I laid on the coffin my mother-in-law’s cross of white roses, the wreath of red roses from Hallam and me, and the two small wreaths of scarlet Lobelia cardinalis one from our two boys and the other from Lionel’s boys, which I ordered as being his favourite flowers, the green of them all was the Alexandrian laurel. I made little Lionel write, with mother guiding his hand, on his: “To dear Baba in Heaven from his loving little Lionel and Aubrey.” Canon Duckworth then said a short prayer and I immediately left the beautiful little peaceful chapel, and all that was left to us of our darling, and caught the last train back to Haslemere with Graham Dakyns and Nurse Saunders. 

[Wednesday, Oct 12]:  Next morning Wednesday 12th, Hallam, Maud, I, and the servants went up by the 9:56, and we drove straight to the Headmaster of Westminster’s house, Dr. Rutherford, which we found quite empty and to ourselves. And there little Lionel and his nurse Francis with Alfred and Charlie joined us. And we waited there till we were fetched to the Abbey, where Hallam and I walked together behind the pall bearers: Duke of Argyll, Lord Dufferin, Lord Roseberry, Lord Selborne, Mr. Jowett, Mr. Lecky, Mr. Froude, Lord Salisbury, Dr. Butler, United States Minister’s Secretary, Sir James Paget, Lord Kelvin. Behind us Alfred and Charlie with little Lionel all in white, taking their hands. Behind him Francis carrying his hat, then Eleanor and Mr. Birrell and the two nurses next, then, etc. etc. Little Lionel sat perfectly still during the whole of the lesson, and after the singing of “Crossing the Bar,” Francis took him out, as I did not want him to see the last part, even though he had no idea that it had anything to do with his Baba, as I did not like all the black being connected with him in any way.

Source:  The Audrey Tennyson Death Bed Diary, Letters to a Tutor: The Tennyson Family Letters To Henry Graham Dakyns (1861-1911) by Robert Peters, 1988, The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Metuchen, N.J. & London


Debbie Jenner said…
A wonderful tribute to a great man.
Kris Hughes said…
Thank you for sharing this. I can understand your hesitation, and yet...

The moonlit room is an image that will always stay with me. As well as loving his poetry, I have always felt an odd kinship with Alfred Tennyson. This means a lot.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Debbie,
Oh, thanks Debbie. I tend to agree with you ;)

Hi Kris,
I feel the same way about the presence of the moonlight filling up his bedroom and shining down on him.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read and leave a comment. It makes me very happy to meet another lover of Alfred Tennyson.

WoofWoof said…
What a wonderful account! Thank you so much for researching and posting that. It is certainly a magical scene - the great old poet passing away bathed in moonligjt. I suppose it's a pity he could not have died at Farringford with the sound of the sea. I think I read somewhere they did think of moving down there but he was obviously too weak. "My Shakespeare I must have my Shakespeare" has I think gone down as his last words. It is touching to read of his wish to read it even when he was so weak.
WoofWoof said…
Just had another thought. In two years time it will be the 125th anniversary. We ought all to try and persuade google to make Tennyson the subject of the doodle for the day. I wonder if the UK Royal Mail would issue a set of stamps - they did some back in '92 for the death centenary - famous pre-raphaelite depictions (I am sure you will have seen them). For some reason they didn't do anything in 2009 for the bicentenary.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi WoofWoof,

Thank you for your kindness and generosity. The moonlight always gets me! It is not an overexaggeration either the mention by Audrey Tennyson of Alfred's bedroom and himself being lit up by the moonlight as it streamed in during those wee hours of the morning as the family and medical staff kept watch. Dr. Dabbs did have a room at Aldworth and was staying there during those days of Lord Tennyson's illness and death.
Also, I'm glad you mentioned him dieing at Farringford, that was Tennyson's wish however he was far too weak. Yes, I agree, that was what Hallam and Tennyson meant by their bedside conversation of 'the journey.' Alfred Tennyson never lost his mindset or keen observation; even under all that medication. Yes the Shakespeare was part of his last words as was his quote from Cymbeline to Emily Tennyson who if you read the diary entries was present during the last four to five days of her husband's illness, including his death, up to and before his funeral. She was far too fragile to attend so Hallam and Audrey went in her place which is why Audrey mentions placing a wreath of pink roses symbolizing his Laureateship and their 'marriage.'

Hopefully, for the 125th anniversary something better than stamps perhaps this time!