The Pre-Eminent Victorian: A Study of Tennyson

By Joanna Richardson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE
LAUREATE AND LYCEUM

SINCE he intended to work intensely on Queen Mary that winter, Tennyson took his family to France in August. He seized the chance of admiring Got and the Coquelins at the Théâtre-français (from Mlle Reichemberg in L'École des Femmes he would take the idea of his Margery in Becket). Then, leaving Lionel and Emily at Pau where, wrote Hallam tersely, ' Lionel was engaged to Eleanor Locker with whom as children we had danced about the fields at Farringford', Tennyson and Hallam went on to the Pyrenees.

They were back at Farringford early in September; and 'I had,' wrote Emily, 'to answer many letters from unknown correspondents, asking advice from A. as to religious questions, and desiring criticism of poems, etc., and I became very ill, and could do but little, so my journal ends here.' It is almost impossible to diagnose her illness; but the facts that her hair remained auburn, her complexion perfect, and that she lived to the age of eighty-three, suggest that she did not suffer from any physical ailment. 'I do not think,' she had written to Hallam, 'that without prayer and the help it has brought I could have lived my life, for I am so made that what to many is but the prick of a straw to me is a dagger wound.' Perhaps, like the ailments of Mrs Browning and Miss Nightingale, Emily's frailty was largely due to her hypersensitive mind. Perhaps her final physical collapse had been brought about by years of emotional strain. Whatever the cause, henceforward, at Aldworth or Farringford, she was almost entirely confined to her sofa; and it was from here that she sympathized, encouraged, exercised her benign, strong influence. 'Your mother's life has been one of exceptional beauty and power,' wrote Montagu Butler to Hallam, when she died. 'How few will ever be able to estimate all she did, while lying for years on that sofa. It always seemed to me a kind of sanctuary, from which issued words of the "Sursum corda" order, words of patriotism, and fearlessness, and faith.'

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