A book by Tennyson, LMH library

Another mix of LMH history and great British poetry from the Library this week! Our 1865 copy of Alfred Tennyson’s Enoch Arden and Other Poems (or ENOCH ARDEN, ETC. as this early edition has it) tells a story all of its own, quite separate from the narrative poem which gives the book its title. Gummed to the yellowing endpaper – which elsewhere is decorated by a tiny bookseller’s sticker for Fletcher’s of Norwich, and a newspaper cut-out of Tennyson’s poem ‘A Welcome to the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh’  – is a folded scrap of paper bearing a letter by the great poet himself, addressed to the Reverend Allen:

Isle of Wight.
Oct. 15th, 1866
My dear Allen,
       Come when you like. I shall
always be glad to see you. I am
glad that you like E. A.
             Ever yours
            A    Tennyson

The ‘dear Allen’ of the letter was the grandfather of the book’s donor Lynda Grier (1880–1967), principal of this college from 1921–25: those crucial years during which LMH became a fully-fledged part of the University, women only having been given the right to full academic degrees in 1920. Before joining LMH, Grier had been a student, a lecturer and then a fellow at the women’s Newnham College, Cambridge; and her mother, who in turn gave this book to her, was one Grace Grier, née Allen, daughter of the Poet Laureate’s friend.

But the story doesn’t end there. Turning the page from the Tennyson letter, we find inscribed on the blank page opposite the title – alongside a small blue LMH Library sticker, probably from the book’s donation in 1967 – the words
Grace Allen
from her loving sisters
      & Octavia

Here we have not just a book, but a piece of family and college history. A vicar buys a copy of a poetry book by his friend – the greatest Victorian poet – Tennyson; he reads it, admires it, and writes to the Laureate offering his compliments and proposing the two of them meet again soon. He receives, by way of reply, a short, affectionate letter, which he or one of his daughters treasures enough to preserve for history, pasting it into the family’s copy of the poems. The book passes from the old man to his children, who in turn give it as a gift to their as-yet-unmarried sister. In turn, that daughter has a child of her own, who goes on to become a leading figure in the campaign for women’s higher education. And she, in turn, donates it to her college, where it now lives safely in our rare books room.

Just one of the many treasures available to students, staff and visitors at the library!

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Note on a book by Tennyson, LMH library