Allingham’s Move to Lymington
According to his diary, Allingham tried, and failed, to settle in London twice between 1854 and 1862; first as a journalist and then as a London Customs officer. In 1863 he took the post of Customs Officer in Lymington in 1863; on his acceptance Carlyle noted that he would be near Tennyson, for by this time the Tennysons had settled at Farringford, but Allingham, perhaps still feeling a little melancholy over his most recent failure to settle in London doubted this (p 82).
Allingham’s First Visit to the Isle of Wight from Lymington
Allingham’s feelings of dejection are still with him in July of 1863. On the 3rd of July he crossed over from Lymington to Freshwater, ‘walked over the bridge, and after two or three miles of beautiful green-sided roads, spoilt here and there by Forts, reached the enchanted realm of Farringford, but coasting outside could not see the house and would not of course enter any gate’ (p 84). Clearly, Allingham had more respect for Tennyson’s privacy than the numerous fans and autograph seekers who were constantly bothering the poet.
While he was walking near Farringford Allingham says, ‘I was thinking all the while of Tennyson, and felt very doleful. Yet I had not the faintest thought of presenting myself to him or wish, even, to meet him by chance on his return’ (p 84). He seems to be afraid of meeting with Tennyson; in the years between their first meeting and Allingham’s move to Lymington the two poets met a few times and got on well each time. There’s no clear reason why he should be so apprehensive about meeting Tennyson at this point.
He tries to explain his feelings by saying, ‘I have lost the faith I used to have in people’s wishing to see me—perhaps it is merely one of the signs that youth has passed away’ (p 85). Allingham goes on to discuss his feelings for Tennyson and they are worth quoting at length:
But I feel a natural bond to him (I say it in humility) and to a very few others, and only in their company am better contented than to be with nature and books. With these persons I feel truly humble, yet at the same time easy. I understand and am understood, with words or without words. It is not fame that attracts me, it disgusts me rather. Fame has cooled many friendships for me, never made or increased one. Fame is a thing of the “World,” and the “World” is a dreadful separator. (p 85)
The easy friendship that spontaneously formed during their first meeting clearly stems from this ‘natural bond’. Allingham’s diary reveals his intense need to be understood and his feeling that he is understood by Tennyson explains their strong and long-lasting friendship. On Tennyson’s part, the friendship was surely helped along by their similar feelings about fame. Tennyson has a horror of autograph hounds and all who are attracted by his fame and I imagine he felt a sort of kinship with Allingham and his disgust for fame.
Allingham Visits the Tennysons at Last
On 3 October 1863, Allingham crossed to the Isle of Wight to visit Mrs Clough, the widow of the poet Arthur Hugh Clough. On his arrival she announced that he was invited with her to the Tennysons, which he marks in a parenthetical comment in his diary: ‘(Hurrah!)’ (p 87). The visit went well and Allingham notes that ‘In taking leave [Tennyson] said, “Come to-morrow!”’ (p 89). Such began a long string of visits between Allingham and the Tennysons.
Allingham’s Record of their Friendship
For much of his adult life Allingham wrote in his diary at least several times a week. In these entries he both recorded his daily activities and travels and recorded conversations he had with the various people he met. Some of his most detailed entries are those devoted to visits with Tennyson.
For example in his entry for 28 December 1863, during a post-Christmas visit to Farringford along with the publisher Palgrave, Allingham records the walks they took during the day, Tennyson’s criticism of Palgrave’s habit of ‘talking so fast and saying “of—of—of—of”’ and of Allingham’s pronunciation of the word dew (with Allingham’s Irish accent the word sounded like Jew to Tennyson), the poems they discussed, and what time they went home for Tennyson to take his bath (p 94). In addition to this he details who was invited to dinner, what the various parties discussed in the drawing-room after the meal, and the poems the men discussed after the guests departed (pp 94-95).
At the end of this visit Tennyson said to Allingham, ‘“Come whenever you like”’ (p 95); this put an end to his diffidence over whether or not the great poet really wanted to see him again.
Allingham’s entries were not, however, always detailed or regular. Sometimes this was owing to having too much to record, as he says of an Easter visit to Farringford: ‘Alas, I fear I have not set down anything of the conversations. This is usually the way when there is too much’ (p 97). At other times, all of Allingham’s entries are mere sketches and there are sometimes long gaps in between entries. When this is the case, he still frequently mentions Tennyson. For example in chapter six, which covers the year 1864, he notes his visits to Farringford and that Tennyson and his sons visited him, but he omits the details. Also he mentions discussions he has with other people, notably Robert Browning and Anthony Trollope, in which the topic of Tennyson arises (usually owing to Allingham broaching the subject). While these entries give us little detail about the friendship between the two men, they do much to cement the idea that it is still going strong.
I’ve already run on longer than I’d intended, so I’ll stop here. In my next blog, I’ll look at the rest of the ‘Farringford years’ of these two poets’ friendship.