Tennyson, Alfred by Faye Huntington

The birthplace of Alfred Tennyson, Poet-Laureate, is described as an old white rectory, standing on the slope of a hill, the winding lanes shadowed by tall ashes and elms, with two brooks meeting at the bottom of the glebe field. One who has written of the poet says: "In the early beginning of this century the wind came sweeping through the garden of this old Lincolnshire rectory, and as the wind blew, a sturdy child of five years old, with shining locks, stood opening his arms upon the blast and letting himself be blown along, and as he travelled on he made his first line of poetry, and said, 'I hear a voice that's speaking in the wind;' and ever since that hour voices have been speaking to him and he has given to us the thoughts borne on winds and waves and by circumstances and surroundings, in language that we can understand. Through his poems we catch glimpses of babbling brooks, and gardens, and ivied walls; of Italian skies and summer mornings, of peaceful homes and of battle crash, and as we read we may take in the pure and grand sentiments which cannot fail to have an elevating and inspiring influence upon our hearts and lives."

Alfred Tennyson first saw the light in Lincolnshire, England, in the year 1809. His father was a clergyman, and a man of great abilities, who carefully educated his children, and from whom his sons may have inherited their poetical genius. Of their mother it has been said that "she was intensely and fervently religious, as a poet's mother should be."

The story of Alfred's first attempt at verse-making is this: one Sabbath all the elders of the family were going to church, leaving the child alone. An older brother gave him a slate and a subject, "The Flowers in the Garden," and when the family returned from service he handed the slate to his brother covered over with blank verse, then waited while the critic read! Imagine his satisfaction when the slate was handed back with, "Yes, you can write."

It is also said that the first money he earned by his pen was upon the occasion of his grandmother's death, when he wrote an elegy, at his grandfather's request, for which the old gentleman paid him ten shillings, saying, "There, that is the first money you have earned by your poetry, and, take my word for it, it will be the last."

That must have been rather discouraging. If the old grandfather could know of the honors and the money which have come to his grandson through his writings, he would doubtless be astonished.

He began to write for the press when quite young, and has written much, and I have no doubt his poems are familiar to you all. He was made Poet-Laureate in 1850.

A boy who lived in the neighborhood of Tennyson's home in the Isle of Wight, gave his definition of Poet-Laureate to a lady who asked him if he knew Mr. Tennyson.

"He makes moets for the Queen," was the boy's reply.

"What do you mean?" asked the lady.

"I don't know what they means," said the boy, "but p'licemen often seen him walking about a-making of 'em under the stars."

After Mr. Tennyson's marriage he settled at Freshwater, in the Isle of Wight. This home of the poet is described as "a charmed palace, with green walls without, and speaking walls within. There hung Dante with his solemn nose and wreath; Italy gleamed over the doorways; friends' faces lined the way, books filled the shelves, and a glow of crimson was everywhere; the great oriel drawing-room window was full of green and golden leaves, and the sound of birds and the distant sea. Beautiful in spring-time when all day the lark trills overhead, and when the lark has flown out of our hearing the thrushes begin and the air is sweet with scents from many fragrant shrubs.

"Later, when the health of Mrs. Tennyson required a more quiet place, for Freshwater had become a fashionable summer resort, the family made for themselves a new home on the summit of a high lonely hill in Surrey."

Now I might copy for you some bits out of the poems I like the best; or, I might gather here a cluster of bright gems, but I think you will enjoy the search if you each try this for yourselves instead.

Once I had occasion to select for a literary exercise "Gems from Tennyson," and I found it a delightful task, only it was hard to choose, and harder to find a stopping place. I will give the boys just one extract:

"Not once or twice in our fair island story,
The path of duty was the way to glory;
He that ever following her commands,
On with toil of heart and knees and hands,
Through the long gorge to the far light has won
His path upward and prevail'd,
Shall find the toppling crags of duty scaled
Are close upon the shining table-lands
To which our God himself is moon and sun."