The Pre-Eminent Victorian: A Study of Tennyson

By Joanna Richardson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THIRTY
'MORE THAN COMMON MORTALITY'

'I THINK I don't want to read any more poems,' wrote Symonds early in 1890. ' Demeter and Asolando both bored me beyond words.' Others remained more appreciative of the ageing Laureate; and ' Hallam says,' Emily told her sister on December 30th, 'that the enthusiasm about his book among the "Big-wigs" (as he calls them) in London is wonderful. People used to shake him by the hand expressing their admiration and delight.'

The public sympathy roused by Tennyson's grave illness, and the celebration of his eightieth birthday, had lent a distinctive aura to his new book of poems. Demeter was dedicated to Lord Dufferin, in a poem that reflected Tennyson's utter sorrow at Lionel's death, and it took its name from Demeter and Persephone, a classical poem written for Richard Jebb with the old sustained visual strength of (Enone. In Merlin and the Gleam Tennyson indicated, somewhat cryptically, his own poetic development. His experiments in melodrama were, as usual, unfortunate. But any weaknesses in the book were redeemed by the final poem. Crossing the Bar was, of all his short poems, the one that touched his public most deeply. It gained immediate, universal acclaim, and he himself acknowledged its importance when he asked that it should end every collected edition of his work.

Admiration for the Laureate, overflowing in London, flowed down to Farringford, where Kate Greenaway arrived at Easter to 'take views of our Farm cottage'; and ' Ally enjoys his large tea-parties,' Emily added, in April, 'which are so large that they have to be held in the ballroom . . . There are so many people here that only seeing each a little time exhausts my strength.'

She sat alone in the drawing-room, as usual, 'except when a stray guest comes to look in upon me. More than enough for me!' 'I find a little pinch of quinine at the end of a tea-spoon handle in Champagne my best medicine,' she told her sister. 'I have not been at all well lately. No delicate person has, I think. I got cold

-245-

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