This encounter shows a lighter side of the great man
|Harpers Monthly Magazine (New York) 1870
. . . I went to the door of Faringford with a letter from Robert Browning, and was received
with cordiality. After dinner he [Tennyson] took me up to his study, where he sat smoking and
talking in the frankest manner. Among other things, he told me of the people who
waylaid him, the incidents being sometimes very amusing. Two men, for example,
having got into his garden separately, one climbed a tree at the approach of the other.
The other, seeing him, called out, softly, "I twig!" and immediately climbed another
tree. And yet he declared that no man was more accessible than he to any one who
had any good reason for wishing to see him, or had any introduction to him. So I, for
one, certainly found it, the hospitalities of Faringford having been offered to me
beyond my willingness to accept them. It had been a stormy evening, and the night
was of pitchy darkness when I started out, against kind invitations to remain, to go to
the 'Albion' inn near by. Tennyson insisted on showing me a nearer way, but amidst
the darkness got off his bearings. Bidding me walk close behind him, we went
forward through the mud, when suddenly I found myself precipitated some eight or ten
feet downward. Sitting in the mud, I called on the poet to pause; but it was too late;
he was speedily seated beside me. This was seeing the Laureate of England in a new
light, or, rather, hearing him under a new darkness. Covered with mud, groping about
in the darkness, he improved the odd occasion with such an incessant run of witticisms
and anecdotes that I had to conclude that we had reached a condition which had
discovered treasures of fun and humor in him before unsuspected. His deep bass voice
came through the congenial darkness like a mirthful thunder, not without flashes of
light; and the shades of all whoever stumbled in the night seemed around him, and to
remind him of a whole literature of such emergencies. Vexation was at least not
among the shadows that encompassed us, though for a time we were wandering in a
muddy field, with no ohject, not even the sky, visible. "That this should have
happened after dinner!" he exclaimed. "Do not mention this to the temperance folk."
Tennyson's love of fun, his wealth of witty stories, were from the first a surprise to me.
But, indeed, he is personally very different in every way from the man I expected to
see. Tall, of dark complexion, with a deep and blunt voice and manner,
almost Quaker-like in its plainness, fired of the homeliest Saxon words, he seemed to
be the last person one would have picked out as the delicate and superartistic idylist.
In conversation he never rose into any thing like the heroic strain, except when
speaking of England. His pride in his country amounts to a passion. He had also a keen
interest in all scientific subjects, concerning which he has evidently read a great deal.
He spoke much of the philosophical questions of the day also, his interest in which has
led to the formation of the meetings for discussion between Huxley, Tyndall, Dr. Manning,
James Martineau, himself, and others. Next morning it was found that Mrs
Tennyson had directed the gardener to make some improvements at that point which
had not been completed. A walk was in existence there, however, at the close of the
next day, to which was given a name commemorative of the catastrophe, which was
happily without any unpleasant results.