The Pre-Eminent Victorian: A Study of Tennyson

By Joanna Richardson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY
GLORIA DEO IN EXCELSIS

IN 1867, frightened away from Farringford by the 'brick boxes' rising round, and 'by Hero-worshippers, etc.,' Tennyson had bought what FitzGerald called 'a Solitude': the Greenhill estate, on Blackdown, in Sussex. 'He is having a house built,' recorded W. M. Rossetti, 'and has taken a piece of waste land at one end, so as to serve as a gap or buffer between his grounds and the public.' The flight from the footlights, which seems today like an affectation, was then a quality of eminence. It not only suited a poet who needed to live in tranquillity, it suited a public who needed an oracle. On the summit of a lonely hill, with a broad, sleepy, hazy view across the Sussex Downs to the Channel, Aldworth was built for Tennyson. It was designed by his friend James Knowles, the architect and editor of The Nineteenth Century, and it was itself late nineteenth-century from the oriel windows and the text across the façade, Gloria Deo in Excelsis (chosen by Emily), to the delectable 'hot-water bathroom' where the Laureate would take three baths a day.

* * *

While Aldworth was rising among its rhododendrons and conifers in the summer of 1868, the usual tide of visitors flowed to Farringford; and, as Anne Thackeray noted, few but the Laureate could have stood the admiring, stimulating, exhausting stream of individuals, each demanding consideration. 'Mr Palgrave performs the Moslem service and the summons to prayer,' wrote Emily on June 8th. 'Very solemn and imposing. 9th. Mrs Cameron photographs him.' William Lecky arrived to worship his hero and receive congratulations on his imminent History of European Morals: 'A great book,' said Tennyson, 'for any man to have written.' The author of Hiawatha stalked in with his brother-in-law, Tom Appleton, 'full of the wonders of table-

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