Monday, January 13, 2020

The Lion visits The Dirty Monk: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visits Alfred, Lord Tennyson: 15-18 July 1868

Home of Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Farringford House
Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom

American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow nicknamed 'The Lion' visited Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson at his home Farringford House on the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom during 15-18 July, 1868. He was accompanied by his two sisters, brother-in-law, 3 daughters, son, and daughter-in-law. The Longfellow clan stayed  at the Plumbly's Hotel and then Henry Ribbands' Bonchurch Hotel. 

On Thursday, July 16, 1868, Longfellow walked through the front entrance doors of Farringford House. Upon entering, the walls were lined with pictures including the length of the stairway. At the foot of the stairway was a bust of Dante on a table. Walking through a narrow passage that led to the breakfast room, you then continued on to The Drawing room filled with furniture; armchairs, sofa, desk in front of one oriel window. A small mask of Shakespeare hung  on the wall over the bookshelves. 
Lady Tennyson
wife of Lord Tennyson
Photograph by Oscar Rejlander

Mrs. Tennyson received Longfellow and family in the dining room. He describes Lady Tennyson:

A very lovely and attractive lady, exceedingly delicate looking in health - dressed in black silk deeply trimmed with crape - with a most simple bit of white lace edged with silk gimp falling from the front of her head back, and down to her shoulders - plain black hair tied behind at the neck with a broad black ribbon the ends trimmed with crape.

The Longfellow family had lunch with Alfred and Emily Tennyson. However, Alfred was the last to enter the room. As he passed each member of the Longfellow family, he shook each hand individually eventually making his way to take his seat at the head of the table next to his wife. They dined on mutton they raised themselves.

The following day, there was afternoon tea on the grounds of Farringford House with Longfellow and Tennyson seated next to Mrs. Tennyson. Around twenty women were invited to approach Longfellow to shake hands with him. Mrs. Tennyson held Longfellow's hand at one point thinking he was nervous but he was very agreeable and reportedly enjoyed the day. 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron
July, 1868, Isle of Wight, UK

A funny story was reported by Mrs. Tennyson how neighbor to Tennyson, photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron residing within walking distance at her home, Dimbola Lodge, Isle of Wight, heard that Longfellow was visiting Tennyson that July week and came bounding up the road to Farringford House to talk to Alfred about having the American poet sit for her so she could photograph him. Alfred warned I mean told Longfellow that she was a friend and neighbor and he basically had no choice. Needless to say, they visited Dimbola Lodge with Tennyson departing with these words...

Longfellow, you will have to do whatever she tells you. I'll come back soon and see what is left of you!

Below is one surviving stanza of a poem Longfellow wrote to Tennyson.

To Alfred Tennyson 
By Henry Wadsworth Longellow

Poet! I come to touch thy lance with mine;
  Not as a knight, who on the listed field
  Of tourney touched his adversary's shield
  In token of defiance, but in sign
Of homage to the mastery, which is thine,
  In English song; nor will I keep concealed,
  And voiceless as a rivulet frost-congealed,
  My admiration for thy verse divine.
Not of the howling dervishes of song,
  Who craze the brain with their delirious dance,
  Art thou, O sweet historian of the heart!
Therefore to thee the laurel-leaves belong,
  To thee our love and our allegiance,
  For thy allegiance to the poet's art. 

Anne Longfellow Pierce, 'A visit to Farringford,' Boston University Studies in English, (1955) 96-8.

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