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I VENTURED to Send my first volume of verse (1850) to Tennyson from Ballyshannon. I don't think he wrote to me, but I heard indirectly that he thought well of it ; and during a visit to London in the summer of 1851 Coventry Patmore, to my boundless joy, let me know that I might call on the great Poet, then not long married, and living at Twickenham.
Saturday June 28, was the appointed day, and in the warm afternoon I walked from Twickenham Railway Station to Montpelier Row, quite away from the village. It proved to be a single row of about a dozen moderate-sized houses, that seemed dropped by accident among quiet fields and large trees, Chapel House ' where T. lived (so called I know not why) being the last at the south end of the terrace, where I think the byroad ended.
I was admitted, shown upstairs into a room with books lying about, and soon came in a tall, broad-shouldered swarthy man, slightly stooping, with loose dark hair and beard. He wore spectacles, and was obviously very near-sighted. Hollow cheeks and the dark pallor of his skin gave him an unhealthy appearance. He was a strange and almost spectral figure. The Great Man peered close at me, and then shook hands cordially, yet with a profound quietude of manner. He was then about forty-one, but looked much older, from his bulk, his short-sight, stooping shoulders, and loose careless dress. He looked tired, and said he had been asleep and was suffering from hay-fever. Mrs. Tennyson came in, very sweet and courteous, with low soft voice, and by and by when I rose to take leave she said, ' Won't you stay for dinner? ‘ which I was too happy to do. Mr. Tennyson went out, and returning took me upstairs to his study—a small room looking out to the back over gardens and trees. He took up my volume of poems, saying, ' You can see it is a good deal dirtier than most of the books.'
Then turning the pages, he made critical remarks, mostly laudatory. Of ' Cross Examination ' he said, ' I looked sharp at it to see if any of the rhymes were forced.' He objected to ' rose ' and ' clothes ' in ' The Touchstone ' (since corrected). Then he asked, ' Do you dislike to hear your own things read? ' and receiving a respectfully encouraging reply, read two of the ' iEolian Harps,' first, ' Is it all in vain? ‘ then, ' What saith the River. ' The rich, slow solemn chant of his voice glorified the little poems. In reading the last line of the second — ' For ever, ever, ever fled away! ‘he paused after the two ' evers ' and gave the third as by an afterthought, thus adding greatly to the impressiveness.
He especially admired — Night with her cold fingers/Sprinkles moonbeams on the dim sea-waste
I said, ' That was Donegal Bay.'
T. replied, ' I knew you took it direct from nature.'
The pieces never seemed to me so good before or since.
At dinner there was talk of Wordsworth, etc. T. spoke of George Meredith's poems, lately sent to him, author only twenty-three; ' I thanked him for it and praised it — “Love in the Valley " best.'
I said I also knew the book, and had bought it.
T. gets enough poetry without buying :
' They send me nothing but poetry !
'As if you lived on jam,' I said.