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CHAPTER X

HOME LIFE AND "IDYLLS OF THE KING"

1856-1859

A thousand thanks for your charming letter from the Isle of Wight with suggestive date of Bonchurch (the only church you went to that day), and the spirited outline sketch of the Idyllic Poet serenely ploughing his windy acres. How must you have enjoyed!... The "Idylls [of the King]" are a brilliant success. Rich tapestries, wrought as only Tennyson could have done them, and worthy to hang by the Faerie Queen. I believe there is no discordant voice on this side of the water. (From H. W. Longfellow to James T. Fields, 1854.)

1856

My father went to the Grange (Lord Ashburton's) in January, and met the Carlyles, Venables, Brookfields, Tom Taylors, Goldwin Smith and Spedding. Brookfield wrote: "Alfred has been most cheerful and the life of the party." The note by my father is: "It seems a house not uneasy to live in, only I regret my little fumitory at Farringford. Here they smoke among the oranges, lemons, and camellias. I cannot see in Lady Ashburton a touch of the

haughtiness which fame attributes to her. She is most perfectly natural, tho' like enough she sometimes snubs her own grade now and then, when she sees presumption and folly. But as Brookfield said this morning, 'She is very loyal to her printers.""

During the winter evenings of 1855 my father would translate the Odyssey aloud into Biblical prose to my mother, who writes, "Thus I get as much as it is possible to have of the true spirit of the original."

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He had been evolving the main scheme of the Idylls of the King" at different periods during the last twenty years and more: the Morte d'Arthur episode had appeared in the volume of 1842. He resumed the plan with "Merlin and Nimuë" (called "Vivien ") in February; and in the "Forest of Broceliande " are many reminiscences of what was now the near scenery of the New Forest. This Idyll was finished by March 31st, and "Geraint and Enid" begun on April 16th.

Meantime for daily exercise he planted trees and shrubs; rolled the lawn and dug in the kitchen garden, taking all the while a loving note of Nature. Thus as he was digging one day a well-known line formed itself:

As careful robins eye the delver's toil.

1 On one occasion he stayed in the New Forest with his friend, the well-known ornithologist, Lord Lilford, in order to observe the bird-life there.

1856 VISIT OF PRINCE ALBERT

Farringford being now his property, the Twickenham furniture was brought over to the new home. As it was unpacked, my father's eye was struck by a certain crimson-covered sofa and some oak chairs grouped together in the farmyard in front of the old thatched farmstead and the ivy-covered wall through which the kitchen garden is entered. "What a picture it would make!" he said; repeating his new song in "Enid," that then for the first time came to him:

Turn, Fortune, turn thy wheel and lower the proud.

Presently, within doors, while the books were being sorted and rearranged, all imaginable things strewed over the drawing-room floor, and the chairs and tables in wild disarray, Prince Albert called. He had driven over suddenly from Osborne. The parlour-maid went to the front door, heard the Prince's name announced, and, being bewildered and not knowing into what room to show him, stood stock still; so the Equerry, I have been told, took her by the shoulders and turned her round, bidding her lead them in. The Prince expressed great admiration of the view from the drawing-room window, and one of the party gathered a bunch of cowslips which H.R.H. said he must take to the Queen.

From the first the Prince was very cordial, and impressed my father as being a man of strong and self-sacrificing nature.

In June news came that R.'s bank would probably break and that all my father's little savings might be lost. On July 2nd my mother wrote: "A. showed a noble disregard of money, much as the loss would affect us.' That evening, so as to give her courage, he asked her to play and sing the grand Welsh national air, "Come to battle" and afterwards, to divert themselves from dwelling on the possible loss, they hung their Michael Angelo engravings round the drawing-room.

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In July and August my father and mother took us children to Wales, and here "Enid" was all but finished. We stayed at Llangollen, then at Dolgelly, and at Barmouth. My father spoke of "the high rejoicing lines of Cader Idris.' My mother wrote: "Sept. 8th. climbed Cader Idris. Pouring rain came on. I and the children waited a long time for him. I heard the roar of waters, streams and cataracts, and I never saw anything more awful than that great veil of rain drawn straight over Cader Idris, pale light at the lower edge. It looked as if death were behind it, and made me shudder when I thought he was there. A message came from him by the guide that he had gone to Dolgelly."

It was near Festiniog that he heard the roar

1856

TOUR IN WALES

of a cataract above the roar of the torrent, and wrote that Virgilian simile:

For as one,

That listens near a torrent mountain-brook,
All thro' the crash of the near cataract hears
The drumming thunder of the huger fall
At distance, were the soldiers wont to hear
His voice in battle.

He particularly admired the still pools of the torrent in the "Torrent Walk" at Dolgelly, and the mysterious giant steps of Cwm Bychan. Harlech, Festiniog, Llanidloes, Builth, Caerleon were the next halting-places; and on September 16th he wrote: "The Usk murmurs by the windows, and I sit like King Arthur in Caerleon. This is a most quiet, half-ruined village of about 1500 inhabitants with a little museum of Roman tombstones and other things." From Caerleon he made expeditions to Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydvil, Raglan; and then we all returned by Brecon, Gloucester and Salisbury home. With the help of local schoolmasters in Wales my parents had learned some Welsh, and now read together the Hanes Cymru (Welsh History), the Mabinogion and Llywarch Hen.

On Dec. 31st a characteristic letter was sent to a stranger who had forwarded a volume of

verse:

I have as you desired considered your poem,

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