Queen Victoria: A Personal History

By Christopher Hibbert | Go to book overview
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'It is impossible to imagine a politer little woman.'

HAVING READ AND GREATLY ADMIRED Lord Tennyson In Memoriam -- although his Holy Grail had left her 'quite bewildered' 1 -- the Queen asked to meet the poet who lived some fifteen miles from Osborne. Tennyson was reluctant to go, he was shy, he said, and would not know how to conduct himself. But on 14 April 1862, four months after the Prince Consort's death, he did go, taking his two sons and Benjamin Jowett, Fellow of Balliol, with him; and the visit was a success. The Queen described Tennyson as being 'very peculiar looking, tall, dark, with a fine head, long black flowing hair and a beard -- oddly dressed but there is no affectation about him.' They talked about Prince Albert, of course; and Tennyson said he would have made a great king. Tears, gratifyingly, came into his eyes. The Queen asked him if there was anything she could do for him. He said there was nothing; but he would be grateful if she would shake his sons by the hand: the gesture might 'keep them loyal in the troublous times to come'. 2

A meeting with the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was not so successful. The Queen made a few complimentary remarks to which Longfellow replied that he was surprised to find himself so well known in England. 'Oh, I assure you, Mr Longfellow,'the Queen said, according to the poet's own account,'you are very well known. All my servants read you. "Sometimes,' said Longfellow, 'I will wake up in the night and wonder if it was a deliberate slight.' Oscar Wilde, to whom Longfellow related this story, observed afterwards that it was 'the rebuke of Majesty to the vanity of the poet'. 3

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