The Poet and the Queen – meetings between Victoria and Tennyson

14th May 2015
There are over 50 instances in the diaries of Queen Victoria that refer to the poet Alfred Tennyson (eventually to become Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate). Although some of these are quite fleeting, they do indicate the existence of an important relationship. And if Victoria herself embodied all the outward pomp and material might of the British Empire, then Tennyson was surely the introspective voice of the Victorian age. Its Zeitgeist.
elderly lady, Queen Victoria, seated at writing desk, in thought
Victoria (an enthusiastic and prolific diarist).

Tennyson as Neighbour

The two also shared many values, and both were intelligent and gifted individuals. They were also neighbours for much of their long lives, each having a residence on the Isle of Wight – the Queen being at Osborne House in the north, and Tennyson at his home Farringford in the south of the island.
Victorian gentleman, the poet Tennyson, with whiskers and large hat, half-profile
Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Although Victoria's husband, Albert, the Prince Consort, visited Tennyson on at least one occasion before his (Albert's) untimely death in 1861, the Queen - as far as we know - did not. The poet was received at Osborne, however, and these occasions are mentioned in the diary. It is clear that the Queen held Tennyson in very high regard, though whether it was entirely a meeting of minds is not perhaps so clear. Here, in chronological order, are most of those entries, omitting only those of little significance, so you can decide for yourself.

Osborne 14th Jul. 1860

The position of Freshwater, with its beautiful sands & splendid cliffs, is quite charming. We got out & walked up to the small Battery & Fort lately finished, which ought to command a most extensive view, but the fog thickened, & we could see but very little excepting the sea. Tennyson lives there & wrote his "Idylls" of the King in a summer house in a valley.

Osborne 5th Jan. 1862

Week after week passes & the days seem to vanish from my mind … Much soothed & pleased with Tennyson's "In Memoriam." Only those who have suffered, as I do, can understand these beautiful poems.
river landscape with large building, Oborne House, in distance high up
19th-Century Osborne House with the river Medina in the foreground.

Osborne 14th Jan. 1862

After luncheon received a most beautiful & touching "Idyll" from Tennyson, on my beloved Albert, truly worthy of him & so true.

Osborne 22nd Feb. 1862

Saw the Duke of Argyll, who has come to stay over Sunday. He was most kind & full of feeling, & most understanding. We spoke of Tennyson & his "In Memoriam" & the Duke was so pleased, that I admired it.

Osborne 14th Apr. 1862

Drove with Alice. — Arthur & Baby lunched with me. — Afterwards I went down to see Tennyson, who is very peculiar looking, tall, dark, with a fine head, long black flowing hair & a beard, — oddly dressed, but there is no affectation about him. I told him how much I admired his glorious lines to my precious Albert & how much comfort I found in his "In Memoriam". He was full of unbounded appreciation of beloved Albert. When he spoke of my own loss, of that to the Nation, his eyes quite filled with tears.
exterior of fine Victrorian country house, Farringford, home of Tennyson
Tennyson's home 'Farringford' by the watercolourist Helen Alingham.

Balmoral 15th May 1862

What happy, now sad recollections of last year & delightful expeditions came to my mind & heart. — After dinner read some of Tennyson's beautiful poems, & wrote.

Balmoral 17th May 1862

It was very hot. — Resting & then writing. — Lenchen & little Beatrice to luncheon. — Alice read me Tennyson's "Mariana" — Most sad & touching.
Balmoral, with expansive lawnBalmoral Castle - the Queen's Scottish retreat
Balmoral Castle – the Queen’s Scottish retreat.

Balmoral 19th May 1862

Alice read me Tennyson's "May Queen", which is very lovely, though sad.

Balmoral 22nd May 1862

A cold day. — Drove with Alice & the Dss of Atholl round Glen Beg, which was in the greatest beauty & full of deer. — After dinner Alice read to me & Lenchen Tennyson's "Two Voices"

Osborne 15th Jul. 1862

After luncheon sat with Feodore, & then saw DrStanley. Spoke to him of Tennyson, whom he so much admires.
middle-aged Victorian gentleman with long hair and beard, the poet Tennyson
Tennyson by Sir Francis Short - after a portrait by G.F.Watts.

Osborne 16th Jul. 1862

Drove out again with the young couple. — Feodore dined with me, the others coming up afterwards. Bertie & Affie soon went down to play Billiards & Alice read aloud to us the "Lady of Shalott."

Osborne 9th May 1863

Ernest & Marie came to luncheon. — Afterwards saw Mr & Mrs Tennyson & their 2 sons. Had some interesting conversation with him & was struck with the greatness & largeness of his mind, under a certainly rough exterior, Speaking of the immortality of the soul & of all the scientific discoveries in no way interfering with that.

Windsor 7th Apr. 1864

Out walking with Lenchen & going in the pony chair. — Saw a most beautiful painting of Mr Corbould's, taken from Tennyson's "La Mort D'Arthur"
river landscape with castle in background, Windsor
19th Century Windsor Castle - J.R.Allen.

Osborne 20th Jul. 1864

After luncheon Alice read to me part of a most beautiful new Poem by Tennyson "Enoch Arden"

Obsorne 21st Jul. 1864

Afterwards Alice continued reading Tennyson's Poem "Enoch Arden", which is most striking.

Osborne 2nd Aug. 1864

Bertie & Alix, & Ernest & Marie dined, also Augusta & the Dean. The former afterwards read some of Tennyson's new Poems to us.

Osborne 6th Feb. 1865

After dinner, at ¼ to 10, we went to the Council Room, where Mr Parks (former Miss Amy Sedgwick) read a fine selection:from "The gardener's Daughter" by Tennyson, the Balcony Scene & Juliet & Nurse, from Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet", The May Queen, by Tennyson, "Lady Clara Vere de Vere", also by him, "Julia Clifford" by S. Knowles, & "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Tennyson. The "Romeo & Juliet" & "May Queen" were quite beautiful, & Mrs Parks has such a fine voice, & reads with great feeling & pathos.
Victorian couple, Queen and Prince Albert, he seated reading
A young Victoria with husband Albert. His death in 1861 overshadowed the rest of her life.

Windsor 8th Jul. 1865

Ly Caroline B. & Ld Caithness dined, & Miss Heath read again extremely well afterwards, 2 Poems by Tennyson "Dora" & "Mariana", Then "Genevieve" by Coleridge & "The Wreck of the Hesperus" by Longfellow.

Osborne 20th Jul. 1865

Got back at ½ p. 8. — Only Fanny J., & Emma L. dined with us, & afterwards, Miss Heath, who has come down for a week, read part of Tennyson's "Elaine" to us.
old illustration of Victorian drawing room, with lady writing, the Queen
Contemporary illustration of the Queen at Osborne.

Osborne 4th May 1868

A fine evening. — The 2 Ladies (Horatia Stopped left today) Gen: Grey & Ld C Fitzroy dined. Afterwards Mrs Scott Siddons, (Great Gd; daughter of the celebrated Mrs Siddons a very pretty, talented young person) recited selections from Shakespeare, "As you like it", "The Death of Constance de Beverley" from "Marmion", Tennyson's "May Queen" & the sleep walking scene from "Macbeth". I particularly liked the "May Queen" the last parts, which were very touchingly given.

Osborne 5th Jan. 1870

Not able to go to dinner & feeling still rather unwell. — Louise & Lenchen came up to me & Augusta read to me one of Tennyson's newly published Pens "The Golden Supper", — very beautiful, but peculiar.

Osborne 7th Jan. 1870

The afternoon turned very wet. — Drove to the Rectory & called on the Protheros. — Ld Westminster & Constance, (in great beauty) Lilah C., the Den & Augusta dined. The latter afterwards read me Tennyson's new Poem "The Holy Grail."
large, Italianate house with tower, Osborne House, with visitors and lawns
Osborne close up, West Front.

Osborne 17th Jan. 1870

Have now read the 4 Poems belonging to Tennyson's "Holy Grail", viz: "The coming of Arthur", an account of his birth, — "Pileas & Ellarne", very fine, but not a very pleasing subject, & "The Passing of Arthur", which with the addition of a short introduction is the same as "The morte d'Arthur, — most beautiful & written long ago.

Osborne 1st Feb. 1870

Drove & walked with Louise, calling at some of the cottages. Rather a cold wind. — Lilah Clifden, the Greys & Martins dined. Both yesterday & today Mrs Martin read to us very beautifully Tennyson's "Dora" & Mrs Browning's "Ly Geraldine's Courtship".

Osborne 25th Jan. 1877

It cleared in the afternoon & I drove out with Beatrice. — Reading Tennyson's "Harold", just come out. — Only the Ladies dined.
head and shoulders sepia tone of Queen Victoria
Victoria in an informal mood.

Osborne 7th Aug. 1883

After luncheon, saw the great Poet Tennyson, who remained nearly an hour, & most interesting it was. He is grown very old, his eyesight, much impaired, & he is very shaky on his legs. But he was very kind, & his conversation was most agreeable. He spoke of the many friends he had lost, & what it would be, if we did not feel & know, that there was another world, where there would be no partings, — of his horror of unbelievers & philosophers, who would try to make one believe there was no other world, no immortality, — who tried to explain every-thing away, in a miserable manner. We agreed, that were such a thing possible, God, Who is Love, would be far more cruel than a human being. He quoted some well-known lives of Goethe, whom he so much admirers. He asked after my grandchildren, & spoke of the state of Ireland with abhorrence, & the wickedness of ill-using, & maiming poor animals. "I am afraid I think the world is darkened; but I dare say it will be brighter again."

I told him what a comfort "In memoriam" had always been to me, which seemed to please him; but he said, I could not believe the numbers of shameful letters of abuse he had received about it. — Incredible! When I took leave of him, I thanked him for his kindness, & said how much I appreciated it, for I had gone through much, to which he replied "You are so alone on that terrible height. I have only a year of two more, to live, but I am happy to do anything for you I can."
full-length portrait of elderly Victorian gentleman, the poet Tennyson, with cloak
Tennyson's portrait by John Everett Millais.

Balmoral 18th Sep. 1883

Went in the pony chair, Beatrice walking, to Dr Profeit's, walking part of the way down. Then sat at the Cottage, where I remained writing till 1. — Mr Gladstone, without saying a word to me, has gone on a cruise with a party, including Tennyson! in a large steamer of Sir D. Currie's, & has started for Norway & Denmark.

Windsor 25th Nov. 1883

Saw Mr Gladstone after tea. Talked on many subjects: — the alarming state of France, which was very low down in the scale of Govts, — of the very dangerous state of tension between France & China, though he hoped still, that it might come right, — of Mr Tennyson, & his accepting a Peerage. But Mr Gladstone does not know, what title he will take. Speaking of his strange shyness & eccentricity, Mr Gladstone said he was "a spoilt child", & that his shyness was much to be regretted as well as his fancifulness. He thought he ought not to continue writing, as he outwrote himself, & his plays were not successes.

Osborne 30th Jul. 1884

… how true are these beautiful words of Tennyson's
"But I remained. . .
To wander on a darkened earth
Where all around me breathes of Him"

Windsor 23rd Feb. 1889

After tea, we all, excepting Vicky, went to St. George's Hall, where the Eton Boys sang a Poem by Tennyson, "Revenge" set to music by Stamford, & accompanied by an orchestra of their own. It was extremely well sung & very fine.
interior of great chapel, Windsor castle, many people seated, ceremonial
Windsor, St Georges Chapel (on occasion of Prince of Wales Wedding).

Osborne 25th Jan. 1890

Saw Ld Cross after tea, & talked with him of many things. — Ismay S. Ly Sophia Mc Namara, Ld Cross. Sir J. Mc Neill, Mr Hallam Tennyson (Ld Tennyson's son) & Mr Muther dined. Mr Tennyson, who came yesterday, is very pleasing, but not at all like his father.

Osbone 10th Feb 1890

Dear Beatrice brought me in at breakfast a sweet little gold basket with lovely orange flowers & myrtles, & a large prayer book, given me by all my children. Tennyson wrote the following beautiful lines for it:
"Remembering him who waits thee far away
And with the mother taught us first to pray
Accept on this your golden bridal day
This book of Prayer."

Osborne 5th Oct. 1892

Saw Major Bigge. — Ld Tennyson has been very ill for some days, & alas! today heard he was sinking.

Balmoral 6th Oct. 1892

A fine morning. — Heard that dear old Ld Tennyson had breathed his last, a great national loss. He was a great poet, & his ideas were ever grand, noble & elevating. He was very loyal, & always very kind & sympathising to me, quite remarkably so. What beautiful lines he wrote for my darling Albert, & for my children, & Eddy! He died with his hand on his Shakespeare, & the moon shining full into the window, & over him. A worthy end to such a remarkable man. He died at his place in Surrey.

Balmoral 8th Oct. 1892

Painting after luncheon, while Harriet P. read me the accounts of Ld Tennyson's death.
illustration of young woman in a small boat on river, Lady of Shalott
Illustration from a collection of Tennyson's poems published in 1901, the year of Victoria's death. It shows The Lady of Shalott.

Balmoral 15th Oct. 1892

Received a letter from Ld Tennyson, of which I annex the copy. (this refers to the new Lord Tennyson, the poets son, Halam)

Windsor 18th Mar. 1893

Bertie arrived; he & Lorne dined with us 4, & afterwards Tennyson's play "Thomas A. Becket" was performed in the Waterloo Gallery. Everything was arranged as at the previous performances. The play of Becket, almost a tragedy, lately produced at the Lyceum, is very fine & was written by Tennyson 9 years ago. It has 4 acts with a Prologue, but the whole was somewhat curtailed. The staging is magnificent & Irving had all the scenery, (there were many scenes) painted on purpose. The dresses & every detail were so correct & exact. Irving acted well & with much dignity, but his enunciation is not very distinct, especially when he gets excited. Ellen Terry as "Rosamund" was perfect, so graceful & full of feeling & so young looking in her lovely light dress, — quite wonderfully so, for she is 46.!!
Victorian lady in dark coat and hat, half-profile, the actess Ellen Terry
Portrait of actress Dame Ellen Terry by J.F.Robertson.

And finally ...

It's worth remembering that the diaries were heavily edited after Victoria's death by her daughter Beatrice. The original journals were destroyed. Other than those entries quoted above, what remains after Tennyson's passing, are some brief lines from the final decade of the century referring to the poet’s son, Halam, or to driving out etc. in the company of Lady Tennyson (Halam's wife).

Clearly Victoria found the poet a little eccentric at moments. But the sentiments he represented came along at just the right time in her life, and reflected her sorrows upon the death of Albert in 1861.

There are a number of misconceptions surrounding Victoria, which reading her diaries can dispel. In particular she was not a recluse. Following the loss of her Albert, she seems to have been in almost constant company and to have been out and about most days. She adored her family. And she was also not as dour a personality as many of her official photographs would suggest.
Queen Victoria in carriage, smiling
Yes, it is Victoria. As well as being a great diarist, clearly she was often amused.
Authored by Robert Stephen Parry

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