THE most interesting thing about the vacancy left by the death of Tennyson is that it took four years to fill. England was full of poets, good and bad, but nothing happened. The interval gives me time to repeat an engaging little story.
At Tennyson's death, 'the whole nation mourned' -- but some people didn't allow this to interfere with business, as W. H. Mallock notes in his Memoirs of Life and Literature:
The scene was not in London but at ( Lady Marian Alford's) house in the country, where a few guests were staying with her for the inside of a week. Two of these guests were poets; we may call them Sir E. and Sir L. The visit co-incided with the time of Tennyson's last illness, the reports of which were daily more alarming. The two poets evinced much becoming anxiety, though this did not interfere with the zeal with which one day at luncheon they consumed a memorable plum tart. Next morning neither of them appeared at breakfast; and when both of them remained in their bedrooms for the larger part of the day I came to the prosaic conclusion that the plum tart had been too much for them. Next morning came the news of Tennyson's death. The two bards remained in their cells till noon, after which they both reappeared like men who had got rid of a burden. The true secret of their retirement revealed itself the morning after, when each of two great newspapers, with which they were severally connected, was found to contain long columns of elegy on the irreparable loss which the country had just suffered -- compositions implying a suggestion on the part of each of the elegists that a poet existed who was not unfit to repair it.
The rival bards departed the same day, Mallock records, 'waving independent adieux, one from a first, the other from a third class carriage.' I don't pretend to identify the two poets, but it cannot be a coincidence that Sir Lewis Morris has a poem called ' October 6th, 1892;' or that Sir Edwin Arnold in his last portraits looks so exactly like a man who would have been Laureate if invited. Indeed, when at length the appointment was made, he admitted as much in a generous telegram to the successful poet: