The January entries in Emily Tennyson’s journal show that life was fairly quiet, though Alfred Tennyson seems to have often had to be away from home at this time of year. In the depths of winter, as at other times, she seems to have preferred life to centre on the family. Even on cold, wet winter days, Emily is clearly happy living at Farringford. For example, on 25 January 1856 she writes:
‘A peace comes to one from the quiet here and one feels it good to have one’s home & I hope feels thankful for the beautiful home’. (page 31)
She had just walked with Tennyson toward Swainston (he was on his way to visit friends at Ventnor) and she spoke to Merwood, ‘an idyllic sort of man’ (page 31) who helped with work on the grounds at Farringford, about ploughing the orchard.
Emily Tennyson was always sad for her husband to be away and in January 1856 he seems to have travelled quite a lot, for of the first week of that year, she writes the following entry:
A letter from [Alfred] written at Southampton & enclosing Mr. Jowett’s kind letter received just as he was starting. This makes my New Year’s day happy as I had been saying to myself “It is dreary without him”. Charles makes a kite for the children to their exceeding delight. Lionel asks if Hallam will go to the sky with a string. I try in vain to secure some pleasant companion for Charles. He leaves me on the 2nd & I am very sorry that he should have had so dull a visit.
My daily letter from A., even on the 8th when he returns. (page 31)
Charles Tennyson had been visiting for Christmas and clearly the boys delighted in having their uncle around. The idea that his brother could ‘go to the sky with’ the kite suggests Lionel inherited something of his father’s imagination. From reading the journals, it seems fairly typical of Emily to worry that anyone who visits when her husband is from home must have had a dull visit; I suspect Charles enjoyed his visit more than Emily thinks he did.
While she is delighted to receive letters from Alfred, it is clear that she is happiest when he is at home with her. Thus, it is understandable that she assumes her guests must be happiest when she is happiest: when Alfred is at home.
On 12 January 1855, Emily writes of a particularly idyllic evening at home with her husband: ‘A robin in the house so tame that it let me take it in my hand & when A. was reading to me it sat near us by the fire’ (page 19). It would seem that the peace she felt at home with Alfred was also evident to the local wildlife.
However, not all their evenings at home were so quiet. Emily’s entry for the 4th and 5th of January 1858 show that the couple were enthusiastic in their attempts to keep their children entertained on long winter evenings. She writes: ‘every evening we act fairy tales & nursery stories for the boys, being Mother Hubbard or her dog or the Frog Prince or the Bird & Mouse or even Sausage as may be’ (page 62).
These glimpses of family life are what make reading Emily’s journals so rewarding. Just imagine Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the sagacious poet laureate playing the part of the Frog Prince to entertain his little children.