Finding Tennyson

Crossing the Bar
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

The most interesting part of our stay on the Isle of Wight in August was our visit to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s home Farringford. Sold by the Tennyson family after the Second World War, Farringford was a hotel from 1946 until recently when it was bought by a couple with a plan to restore it to the Victorian splendour of Tennyson’s day.

I viisted Farringford a couple of times as a child. When I was about four my ballet class did a show there and later, when I was about 10,  some friends of my parents celebrated their Golden Wedding with a lunch there. I can’t say I remember too much about either event!

Tennyson came to Freshwater in 1853 and became the centre of what became known as the ‘Freshwater Circle’ comprising the Photographer Julia Margaret Cameron who live at nearby Dimbola Lodge, the portrait painter GF Watts and the poet Edward Lear among others.

We went on what was the second house tour of the first day it was open to the public and were impressed both by the quality of the restoration and the level of information provided. I felt we really got a feel for Tennyson as a person and he came across as extremely family orientated for a Victorian paterfamilias! Apparently every day he plucked a camellia flower from the tree growing outside his study window to give to his wife.

The grounds have also been included in the restoration, with the hotel golf course returned to a parkland walk where I found these treasures.

The walled garden is also being renovated using contemporary material to assist with the planting.

One thing I find amazing is that there is actually a recording of Tennyson reading the Charge of the Light Brigade in the library at Farringford. It was made on a wax cylinder and you could say the sound quality isn’t the best!  So in case you need a hand following it here is the text:

I
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!’ he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
II
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
III
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.
IV
Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.
V
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.
VI
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

According to the Poem Hunter website “The poem is one of the rare instances of a Poet Laureate producing a good poem while in office. It was inspired by one of the greatest calamities in British military history: on October 25, 1854, the British Light Cavalry Brigade, comprising some 670 men, charged disastrously against some 25,000 Russian soldiers. Tennyson wrote the poem on 2 December 1854 in response to an article in The Times about the event, and the poem was published”

Hope you enjoyed this trip back to the Victorian era – see you next time.

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