[London—Tuesday, 25 May 1869]
Tuesday went to the Isle of Wight—met W. Allingham on the boat at Lymington, a small town where he is revenue officer with small duty and no companion-ship. He is a sad man, disappointed, full of Bryan Boruer and Irish History at present which he intends to write; poetry having failed him as a resource. He accompanied us by invitation to Farringford talking agreeably all the way, showing us an old inn of the time of Charles 1st little altered, and an old Bridewell of desperate intention but small in size which stands exactly as in the old times before the Charles’s. He told us the roof was rather rotten now, and a man who was perpetually drunk in the village and who possessed a wooden leg, having been put into the loft of this prison to sleep he picked a hole in the roof with his wooden leg during the night & effected his escape. Let us hope this was the last prisoner for indeed it is a wretched place.
We arrived at Farringford before 5 in the afternoon, found Mrs Tennyson with her two little nieces in the drawing room, the same beautiful room as in the old days ten years ago; she rang at once for tea which it is the custom to serve immediately to travellers or callers in the afternoon before dinner. We were glad of the tea and bit of bread for we had tasted nothing since breakfast and we had been travelling nearly all that time.
At dinner by seven o’clock all things were conducted as in the old time but with somewhat more state. Mrs Tennyson wears deep mourning for her father, a long sweeping robe and a white lace cap, the whole costume most becoming to her manners and her years. Tennyson says “I never dress except for a parson, so you shall do as you choose” (to Mr. Fields). But he evidently likes to see ladies dressed and the old stately ways preserved so I put laburnum in my hair and we both did our best to look well. He frightened Mabel at first until she actually cried though I think no one discovered anything beyond her distressed and frightened manner. He asked her if her father was a letter writer referring to Bayard Taylor’s unfortunate half private epistle which leaked unhappily, most unhappily, into print. He cannot get that out of his head and harps bitterly upon it continually.
He seemed pleased with the delight we took in his beautiful place, in the turf and the daisies and all his own flowers which he has made immortal in art. He is full of rough play & banter in talk and hates a person to be thin-skinned which he thinks our people are much inclined to be. Allingham understood him well and parried his somewhat severe thrusts against the Irish with great skill. He is watchful of accent and pronunciation and will take you up at once in a fault or peculiarity of that nature. He likes downrightness above all things and Mabel was greatly liked and appreciated in the little circle.