Tennyson’s family – about which there was so much “gossip” : (from Marion – good buddy at Booker Prize Reading Group with her source noted. Thanks):
Father : George Tennyson born in 1778 was sent to live with an aunt because his mother couldn’t be bothered with him : ‘I never saw a child so rude and ungovernable.’ His father heartily disliked him calling him a ‘great awkward booby’. Much preferring his younger son Charles, he passed his property to him, sending George into the church for which he felt unsuited. Multi-talented, with a large library, he wrote poetry including one which starts :
‘I am mad Tom, I know it
And sometimes I am furious
But I am wise and rule the skies
Orion, Sol, Arcturus.’
George started to show serious mental health problems by 1820 and began to drink heavily.
Mother :Elizabeth Fytche, a vicar’s daughter. Seems totally to have spoiled her children. Moved to Beech Hill House, Epping with some of her adult children on her husband’s death at the instigation of Alfred.
They produced 12 children :
1. George 1806 died in infancy
2. Frederick, 1807-1898 refused to adopt a profession – went to live in Italy (latterly Jersey), married an Italian girl, became a Swedenborgian, a spiritualist and a ‘British Israelite’. Got to know the Brownings who liked him a lot. Poet and good amateur painter. Hypochondriac. Eccentric: ‘where are my trousers, where are my trousers? I have forty pairs and I can only find thirty five!’. Dr Allen tried to relieve him of some of his cash for his High Beech scheme, but failed.
3. Charles Tennyson-Turner. 1808- 79 Vicar of Grasby (and pub-owner), good to his parishioners, he built a school. He was described by a cousin as looking like a dog’s meat man’ and in wintertime his wife went around in clogs, a double cotton-wool petticoat and thick baize drawers and a waistcoat (they were childless ;0). He became a laudanum addict. Poet, mainly sonnets. Bird-lover. died 1879.
4. Alfred 1809- 1892 – poet laureate. melancholic. Educated Louth grammar school and by his driven, angry, sometimes drunken father. Great poet. Parts of Maud said to be based on Dr Allen’s establishment. Moved the family to Beech Hill House, Epping, Essex, on his father’s death. Married Emily Sellwood after a long, frustrated courtship; his wife-to-be’s father, a lawyer, helped a bit when Dr Allen’s business venture went belly up. Buried in Westminster Abbey, Poets’ Corner.
5. Mary 1810-1884 ‘Other-worldly’. She and Cecilia were dark, aquiline beauties. Lamed by an accident. Poet. Not at all interested in feminine pursuits such as knitting, embroidery or play acting… Engaged to a John Heath who broke the engagement, she became depressed. Lived with her mother and brothers for many years.
[She and her sisters became part of a group of blue-stockings called the ‘Husks’ devoted to the study of the Romantic poets : Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron. They created their own language and met at each others houses in order to ‘shuckle’ and to discuss ‘deadly’ (thrilling) poems.] Married aged 41.
6. Emilia (Emily) 1811 – 1887 engaged to Arthur Hallam (see Alfred’s famous poem written on his sudden death). Egocentric and assertive, a courageous horsewoman ‘with something of the tragedy queen both in manner and temperament’. Married aged 30.
7. *Edward 1813-1890. began to show poetic talent young. Became so mentally unstable he was committed to an asylum from which he never escaped.
8. *Arthur 1814- 1899 indolent, lived with mother in Beech Hill House and other later property. Drink problems by 1840 – took a cure at Critchton Institute, Dumfries Scotland – which was half a lunatic asylum for the treatment of nervous diseases. Lived there a year. Then went to Italy with Frederick and stayed for thirteen years, reputation for drunkenness. Then lived with brother Charles and ‘got religion’ and married – when his wife died he walked around carrying her gloves, inconsolable. Shortly afterwards he remarried a sensible, smart woman who tidied him up. He suffered from depression and would unburden himself with any one of a number of ladies.
9. *Septimus 1815-1866 In youth he promised well : tall, strong, handsome with great personal charm and undeniable poetic talent – loved by his elder borthers who remembered ‘chairing’ little Septimus between them as they bathed in the brook near their parsonage. His father died when he was 16 having been a severely psychologically damaged man for some time. Septimus was initially considered sharp and clever. He was intended for the law but dropped out; a letter written to their grandfather by brother Alfred says if he couldn’t escape the office ‘I have little doubt his mind will prove as deranged as Edward’s… he is subject to fits of the most gloomy despondency accompanied with tears – or rather he spends whole days in that manner’. He was then sent to study medicine under a local doctor but inherited a small sum from his grandfather which enabled him to escape – he went to live with his mum, and then with Frederick in Florence for two years.
Jane Carlyle, having visited High Beech asylum in 1831, recommended Dr Allen to Alfred Tennyson when they met. Septimus was admitted to Allen’s private asylum and was left there when the family moved away. Allen – and his wife – tried to get £1,000 out of this patient who described himself as ‘a poor bill-bound biped’ at the time. Dante Gabriel Rossetti described him, having been ushered into what he thought was an empty room as , ‘a huge untidy, shaggy figure rose up from the hearth rug on which it had been lying full length and advanced towards me with outstretched hand, saying, “I am Septimus the most morbid of the Tennysons.’
10. *Mathilda 1816 – 1913 family myth that she had been dropped on her head in a coal scuttle when six months old which caused some mental derangement. She had a GOSH and extreme naivety, even by Tennyson standards. She claimed to see ghosts. Unmarried.
11. *Cecilia 1817-1909 was an enthusiastic ‘Husk’. she travelled with a favourite Husk girl friend to Italy. She was a woman with a good sense of fun, she wrote a good deal about the family’s stay in Beech hill House showing that it was far from being a time of universal doom and gloom. She and her sisters narrowly avoided *total financial ruin in Dr Allen’s venture through the intervention of their rich relation Charles Tennyson d’Eyncourt who held their funds for them – and omitted to hand them over to Allen. Married aged 25, crucially, her husband paid £80 pa to insure Dr Allen’s life; he dying fairly soon after the crash, the sum realised saved her brother Alfred from financial ruin.
12. Horatio 1818 – 1899. ‘other-worldly’. Emigrated briefly to Tasmania, by 1843 back home, seeming, according to FitzGerald ‘rather unused to the planet.’ ‘One day he was to go to Cheltenham, another to Plymouth; then he waited for an umbrella he thought he had left somewhere, so where he is no I have no idea’ said FitzGerald illustratively. Lived with his mum in Cheltenham for fourteen years, occasionally visiting brothers. Married a girl near his brother Charles’ parish and was often seen with brother Arthur behaving peculiarly. He ‘got religion’ too and took to sick-visiting carrying parcels containing portions of his dinners wrapped up and hidden in his pockets. But sometimes he forgot to distribute his pocketed parcels and could be discovered smelling strongly of rotting fish.
All the Tennyson men were attractive, unconventional, ‘different’, universally liked and forgiven much -said Charles Tennyson.
* at home when their father was at his most unstable.
Source of information ‘The Tennysons’ by Charles Tennyson and Hope Dyson. 1974