The Pre-Eminent Victorian: A Study of Tennyson

By Joanna Richardson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN
TENNYSON v. GLADSTONE

THIS oracular dictum caused amusement at Aldworth, where the New Zealand politician and poet, Alfred Domett, found himself a guest soon after the Laureate's cruise. Domett recorded how they had talked of Wordsworth, and Tennyson said he had thought of writing an ode on his own intimations of immortality: 'The last time he saw the Queen, at Osborne, he had remarked that ... perhaps when we were mere naked spirits, we might not recognize each other; upon which the Queen quoted some lines from In Memoriam supporting the opposite opinion.' Then, turning to temporal immortality, Tennyson asked Domett to describe the New Zealand lake named after him: 'My lake', he called it. A huge natural pillar in the Arctic had long ago been christened "'Tennyson's Pillar'"; and Domett surely told him how, in 1856, as a Crown Lands Commissioner, he had laid out the town of Napier in New Zealand and named its main street after the poet. Tennyson had long been an immortal: in 1862 he had been offered three thousand pounds to read his poems in America; more recently, he had been offered twenty thousand pounds if he would merely go there to shake hands. But

after all [concluded Domett], our Tennyson is so revered, almost sacred a personality, that 'shewing him' to the not over-scrupulously delicate or unobtrusive, though generous and kindly Americans, seems a little like exposing consecrated plate or jewels -- hanging up, say, the Urim and Thummim for sale in a pawnbroker's shop.

And so, instead, the owner of Somersby Rectory welcomed the 'Yankees' who came to marvel at the Laureate's birthplace; and such was his prestige that once, when Hallam was out with him, a stranger asked: 'Do you know who you are walking with?' Hallam replied: 'My father.''Nonsense, man. You are walking with the Poet Tennyson.'

* * *

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