PEOPLE AND POEMS
IN April 1839, from the genteel seclusion of Torquay, Elizabeth Barrett had inquired of her bosom friend, Miss Mitford:
Is Alfred Tennyson among your personal acquaintances? I heard of him the other day as having an unduly large head, handsome features, and a fathoming eye -- and that they had all settled into a cottage in Devonshire where he smoked and composed poems all day, suffering many of the latter to escape him for lack of industry to write them down ... This was told to my brother by a friend of Mr Tennyson's, but may be very gossip, after all ...
While in her sick-room, hermetically sealed, at 50, Wimpole Street, Miss Barrett continued to muse over Mr Tennyson, this handsome, gifted, mysterious figure continued to lead a busy social life. Crabb Robinson, the diarist and conversationalist, recorded a pleasant breakfast with Monckton Milnes, at which the guests included ' Browning, author of unreadable books, and Alfred Tennyson, who looks like a bandit of genius' (so like a bandit, indeed, that Tom Taylor's parlourmaid mistook him for a burglar in disguise). Early in 1841, the future Mrs Brookfield reported the same alarming appearance; a friend of hers considered him 'very far from handsome, and his hair quite disturbed me -- but after the first sight I like him -- he is agreeable and clever.' 'I wouldn't cut his hair for worlds, would you?' added Mrs Brookfield-to-be. However wild his appearance, one had to marvel at him. 'He seems to me,' wrote Thackeray, 'to have the cachet of the great man ... Perhaps it is Alfred Tennyson's great big yellow face and growling voice that has had such an impression on me. Manliness and simplicity of character go a great way with me ...' Manly indeed he was: his tobacco-jar held two gallons, and (reported one observer) he drank his tea from a bowl,