[Farringford—Friday, 15 July 1859]
Friday July 15th At Tennyson’s. Ill in the morning Mrs Tennyson sent breakfast to me and Jamie went for a walk. The children came to ask a morning kiss, Hallam and Lionel, and I sat writing in my room. Presently Mrs Tennyson came so kindly and warmly to ask what she could send me, she had had no time before she said as if in apology.
Jamie came in an hour after, very warm from walk but wonderfully impressed with the grandeur of the Needles saying that nothing but Niagara could compare with it. It was late for lunch but I went down with Jamie and found Mrs Tennyson had freshly prepared it for us. Tennyson came in soon in a slouched hat to sit and chat with us.
As we sat there the little donkey chaise came to the door for those angel-looking boys. The nurse brought them each tiny whips then jumped in herself and quickly they disappeared behind the trees both belaboring the favorite donkey happy to be so treated. We soon strolled out among the “roses and lilies” near the house while Tennyson unfolded to our astonished minds the inexhaustible knowledge of his own. Over the fields and over the stile through the trees and through the woods we wandered stopping to listen to his delicious talk from time to time. Coming to a field of golden grain fast ripening in the summer sun he leaned upon the gate and looked lovingly upon it while the winds swayed and fluttered every drooping head. Then he would make us guess the names of flowers and trees innumberable laughing with us and at us if we made mistakes. He glories in the fertility of the soil upon the island. He says whatever growing thing may be transplanted here it seems always to flourish as well and often better than in its native soil. He told us how much he was pleased when his brother who had been 14 years in Italy praised the exceeding beauty of the Italian Ilex which grows before his house. No American could help praising the magnificent magnolia trained vine-like over the house nor the traveller from the East the Cedar of Lebanon. He said, as we sat resting under the trees “did you know if the daisy were pressed lightly under the foot it would turn red? That foolish fellow Ruskin said I had introduced an impossibility in my Maud when I say
“Her feet have touched the meadows
And left the daisies rosy.
Only a few people could read my Maud aloud. It requires immense strength of lungs. I will read it to you before you go.”
Now it was time to return home to prepare for dinner. Company was expected Mr and Mrs Bradley and Lady Grant with her niece Miss Cotton. Mr Bradley was intelligent and talked pleasantly. Tennyson would growl assent to what was said and now and then say some-thing quite worthy of remembrance. Mrs Tennyson in her floating dress with her sweet boys upon each hand seemed more like a new creation of some new Raphael than a loving woman serving in this world.
We adjourned early to the drawing-room for dessert as usual. Presently the bell rang and Tennyson fearing guests asked the gentlemen to follow him and was escaping to his eyrie to see the sun-set when he was way-laid in flight by the guests themselves. Nevertheless he kept his way in spite of Mrs Tennyson’s imploring voice that he should omit it for once. Soon he returned however with his friends and touched me gently on the shoulder saying “Come and I will show you a sad English sun-set.” With eager steps I followed in the darkness and he carried me quickly to the window saying look how sad it is how sad and still “do you see that cloud” pointing to a thin vapor in the West. Yes I said. Well that was a dark black streak when I called you the light only touched it on one edge, now it is perforated with light as all dark things will be one day. This view is like a Rembrandt tonight but we should hardly speak of a painter before such a scene as this. Is not the highest painter however, the exactest copyist? No I said it is he who can inform the picture with the largest expression of Deity. Well he says what I really think of this you will find in Elaine. I want you to see Watts’ picture of me in London. Then he repeated,
“As when a painter, poring on a face
Divinely thro’ all hindrance finds the man
Behind it, and so paints him that his face
The shape and color of a mind and life
Lives for his children ever at its best
Then we went below and all asked him to read Guinevere. He said I cant read here looking at the chair his wife had placed for him at the table. I must sit where no one can see me. He threw himself as he spoke upon a crimson couch asking his wife to sit before him which she did but her light ethereal form was only sufficient to bring into bolder relief the strong dark face of the reader. His voice breathed out a thrilling chant upon the air and as the hours faded he read on. Soon we separated for the night. I fell asleep remembering the sister-kiss of Emily Tennyson.