[Cowes—Thursday, 14 July 1859]
Thursday July 14th Took a fly at 10 a.m. and drove 16 miles between perpetual hedges to Plumbly’s Hotel where we had already engaged rooms. The drive was delicious, cool and beautiful we were both so happy feeling the cup of life and love brimmed--
Rested a little, re-packed our small box and at the urgent request of Mr and Mrs Tennyson went there to pass a few days. Their house is very large rambling and irregular, full of comfort, beauty, quiet—peace I should say because Mrs Tennyson is a holy woman and diffuses her atmosphere throughout. There are lilies growing every where, ivory grottoes of sweet, shining in every garden plot, and there are hilly downs stretching far far away to the shining sea itself. The Italian ilex grows luxuriantly before and behind the house, while the rose and ivy peep in at every window. Human life assumes a new phase from the house of Tennyson. You are lifted to a higher plane of Truth. Practically, true to his ideal, the extremest simplicity and elegance are here combined, in conversation, in manners and the minutest household arrangements. Indeed there is a rare union of negligence and care found here which could not I fear be seen in the new world implying intelligence and a certain refinement in the very servants themselves. We came to the house punctually at 5 as Mr Tennyson had said that was the dinner hour. Finding no one in the drawing-room however we looked about at all the pictures &c. for a time. Presently Mrs Tennyson came in in her garden hat received us most kindly with a gentle smile but few words. Tennyson soon followed her and said he would be my chamberlain. He ran quickly up before me threw open a little door leading from the large bed-room and said “tell Mr Fields not to break his neck running down those stairs.” Then urging me to be comfortable he quickly departed. I heard soon a rustle, but no step, it was Mrs Tennyson. She came gently speaking a few words of welcome in a low faint voice and looking at me with weary eyes. She is slight and frail but intellectually and morally strong and with a direct personal influence about her such as Shakspeare has in some way continued to express most remarkably in his female delineations. Her step is long in walking full of native dignity yet perfect simplicity while you feel her sincerity in every movement and expression. She reminded me of Millais’s pictures perhaps because the colors she wears are subdued and her postures striking and graceful.
In half an hour we met at dinner. She wore white fastened with soft blue ribbon and a cashmere mantle because the evening was chill. Tennyson himself wore grey. We were but 4 just the right number we thought and the talk was pleasant. Napoleon haunts his thought. He believes him about to attack England. Will America help us? he cries, we are but 50,000 against 600,000. He told the story of Campbell’s Spanish parrot probably forgetting he had written it out. Just after the soup we heard tiny feet in the passage and two little boys with golden hair and dove-colored frocks and large white ruffles danced into the room. They ran quickly and without a word to kiss each one and then each put a chair by their mother’s side. By and bye they made fairy-like pages of themselves serving their mother and father to the delight of both.
After dinner Tennyson showed me his study. He said the view was beautiful as a dream sometimes when the rosy light shone through the white lilies and sifted down to the lawn through the emerald sky of leaves and lifted the distant sea as it were to a heaven of brilliance. Mrs Tennyson & myself retired early but Jamie and Tennyson walked together far into the night. He would push the boughs aside in the thick blackness and say see there! how exquisite that Magnolia is and there is jasmine! feel, these are laurel leaves, true laurel. Late, very late they came home tired yet refreshed.