The Right Honourable Charles Tennyson d’Eyncourt
He was a man of powerful and cultivated intellect and of great political sagacity; a staunch adherent to old constitutional principles yet he knew how to promote the advance of popular liberties. The school in the parish erected by him and the additions to Bayons Manor bear record of his refined taste. Courteous and hospitable to his neighbours, to the poor, always considerate and kind.
Born July 20 1784 Died July 21 1861
Frances Mary wife of the right honourable Charles Tennyson d’Eyncourt
By nature diffident and with a humble sense of her own merits. The simplicity and modesty of her character attached to her many friends. The sorrows of life seemed to chasten her spirit and she bore them with meekness and resignation to the will of God.
Born Sept. 22nd 1787 Died Jan 26th 1878
These are extracts from the profiles of Charles Tennyson d’Eyncourt and his wife Frances Mary, uncle and aunt of Alfred Lord Tennyson. They are part of a combined memorial to the couple on the north wall of the chancel in Tealby’s parish church. The chancel, which from the outside clearly does not match the rest of the church, was enlarged by him to become a shrine to the d’Eyncourt wing of the Tennyson family with three generations remembered in it. The two plaques are side by side with Frances’s nicely spaced out but her husband’s is crowded with a number of abbreviations to cram in all his many roles and virtues which included MP for Lambeth, Magistrate, High Steward, Deputy Lieutenant of the County and Privy Councillor. Facing it on the other side of the chancel is the memorial to Charles’s father George Tennyson, which is almost as crowded with similar attributes to the man who built the family fortune and as we shall see was a stern and calculating father. Yet it is Frances’s memorial that exposes all of them to be part fiction. Diffident and meek would not be qualities you would expect from the wife of a successful politician and property owner. She would have had two large properties to run, the other in London, with many servants to instruct and organise. It thus becomes apparent that the two profiles are modelled on mere virtuous Victorian stereotypes.
Needless to say, the Tennyson d”Eyncourts were rich and powerful owning much land in the area. In the centre of his 360 acre Tealby estate was Bayons Manor which Charles had built between 1836-42 in flamboyant gothic style in an elevated position. Approached from the west there was a kilometre long drive that swept past the many bays of the west front to enter the building from the north over a lake and through a solid square towered entrance with a portcullis. All was in high Victorian gothic, which was so popular at the time.
As a member of the ruling elite he had covered all the bases except for a baronetcy, though he claimed descent from the Barons d’Eyncourt of old the description of which takes up the middle section of his memorial, this claim has never been substantiated. Regarding the description of his character on the memorial, it seems to describe a typical politician offering much but delivering little unless for himself or his peers. However, it is the last sentence on the memorial that is most damning referring to his generosity of spirit because as we know that this did not even extend to his own family.
His brother George Clayton was the eldest son but was passed over to inherit the family estate by his father in favour of Charles who was the youngest of four children. Dr. George Clayton Tennyson was Alfred’s father and he was a learned man who had done well at Cambridge but the fact that he had been passed over from inheriting the family fortune and estates by his more genial and popular younger brother could not have helped his mental state and neither would being forced by his father to become rector of the little parishes of Somersby and Bag Enderby hidden deep in the Lincolnshire Wolds. Even when George was young he was seen by his parents as a difficult, unruly child and his father was a cold calculating ambitious man who had little time for his eldest son sending him away to live with his grandparents in Yorkshire, which can not have helped George’s self-esteem. Yet despite this or maybe because of his parents coldness and distance towards him George invested much of his time and energy educating his own sons hoping they would be more successful than he. These efforts bore fruit because by the time Alfred went down to Cambridge he had two other brothers already there for company.
In 1831 Alfred’s father, who had been ill for some time, died and this brought Alfred’s time at Cambridge to a premature end. He must have loved and feared his father in equal measure, because of his violent mood swings in later life, but now that he was gone the family’s future was thrown into doubt as a new rector of the parish would have to take his place meaning they would lose their home. When Alfred returned to Somersby to live it helped that his close college friend Arthur Hallam continued to call. This was partly to court his sister Emily but when visiting for Christmas in 1832 he helped Alfred publish his poems. They came in for quite some criticism and put the young poet off from publishing any more for 10 years, but much worse was to come.
Arthur’s final visit to Somersby was in July 1833. He was from a wealthy family and Eton educated with influential friends and family and as such would have been able to open many doors for Alfred. Arthur’s father wondered if his son was doing the right thing marrying Emily, who was deemed to be of simple and humble background. Arthur’s father took him away to travel through central Europe but while in Vienna Arthur became ill and died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage. On hearing the news Emily was devastated but Alfred kept calm for the sake of the family though he must also have been grief-stricken and this grief lingered for years bottled up inside him.
By 1844 Alfred Tennyson had just lost his inheritance after investing in a failed business venture of an acquaintance and probably as a consequence was also suffering ill health. He was 35 years old, having two brothers who were settled and married and two others in mental asylums suffering from depression he must have wondered which way his life was going to go. Especially after his engagement to Emily Sellwood was broken off some years earlier by her family because of the lack of Alfred’s prospects. It was during these difficult years of his life that his uncle Charles, after inheriting his father’s estate in 1835, set to build his grand gothic folly of Bayons Manor. He must have been so busy that he could not have had time to enquire about the well being of his nieces and nephews and their widowed mother.
However, all this endeavour and expenditure failed to get Charles the baronetcy he so craved but Alfred’s fortunes did finally change for the better after the success of his poem In Memoriam A.H.H. in which he finally poured out his pent up grief for the tragic and premature death of his close friend Arthur Hallam. It took a great effort to write because once released the emotions came flooding out. It was of epic length and as was Alfred’s way rewritten many times until he was satisfied with it. In the end the work, because it was more than just a poem, was so personal that he had only a limited number of copies printed, which he handed out among close friends. They gave it an enthusiastic reception and encouraged him to publish it properly and it changed the course of his life.
In just one year (1850) he became the most celebrated poet in the land and was even made poet laureate, succeeding William Wordsworth whom he had long admired. His money worries were now a thing of the past, and he finally got to marry Emily and soon after they had two fine boys. His poem, In Memoriam A.H.H., dedicated to his great friend, still is one of the great works of English literature. The poem may not appeal today because of its length and melancholy mood but it is too important to be ignored because it deals with loss and depression, which will always be with us. More than 150 years later we still unwittingly use phrases from it such as “It is better to have loved and lost than never loved at all” and there are many other lines and verses that are small literary gems hidden within the greater work that can enrich our life and language.
Now that Alfred was finally at the centre of the literary world and having to deal with the clamour of fame, he could look back and appreciate his time stuck on the edge of polite society due to a lack of money and connections. This, however, had shown him who his true friends were and taught him true virtues like quiet persistence and self-belief and the joy of simple pleasures like long walks and long talks with those to whom he was close. The rector’s son who was baptised in his father’s tiny church almost directly opposite his home in a tiny hidden Wolds village, which even today over 200 years later has hardly changed, ended up having a state funeral and being buried in Westminster Abbey when he finally died in 1892 having served the longest tenure of any poet laureate. In 1884 he finally accepted a baronetcy, which he had declined previously, to make him Alfred Lord Tennyson. It was a pity his uncle had not survived long enough to see it and as for Bayons Manor it was dynamited in the mid-1960s. Empty since the war it had been declared unsafe yet Alfred’s poems live on and In Memoriam A.H.H. is a far more sincere and heartfelt epitaph to his close friend than any of the gold-lettered marble memorials in the chancel of Tealby parish church. In a way you could say it was poetic justice.
I climb the hill: from end to end
Of all the landscape underneath,
I find no place that does not breathe
Some gracious memory of my friend;
No gray old grange, or lonely fold,
Or low morass and whispering reed,
Or simple stile from mead to mead,
Or sheepwalk up the windy wold;
Nor hoary knoll of ash and hew
That hears the latest linnet trill,
Nor quarry trench’d along the hill
And haunted by the wrangling daw;
Nor runlet tinkling from the rock;
Nor pastoral rivulet that swerves
To left and right thro’ meadowy curves,
That feed the mothers of the flock;
But each has pleased a kindred eye,
And each reflects a kindlier day;
And, leaving these, to pass away,
I think once more he seems to die.
Extract from In Memoriam A.H.H.