In my last letter to Miss S—— I have referred to some of my brother’s friends and their possible influence in determining his choice of the clerical profession in preference to that of the law, which my father had wished him to adopt, and for which, indeed, he had so far shown his own inclination as to have himself entered at the Inner Temple.
Among my brother’s contemporaries, his school and college mates who frequented my father’s house at this time, were Arthur Hallam, Alfred Tennyson and his brothers, Frederick Maurice, John Sterling, Richard Trench, William Donne, the Romillys, the Malkins, Edward Fitzgerald, James Spedding, William Thackeray, and Richard Monckton Milnes.
These names were those of “promising young men,” our friends and companions, whose various remarkable abilities we learned to estimate through my brother’s enthusiastic appreciation of them. How bright has been, in many instances, the full performance of that early promise, England has gratefully acknowledged; they have been among the jewels of their time, and some of their names will be famous and blessed for generations to come. It is not for me to praise those whom all English-speaking folk delight to honor; but in thinking of that bright band of very noble young spirits, of my brother’s love and admiration for them, of their affection for him, of our pleasant intercourse in those far-off early days,—in spite of the faithful, life-long regard which still subsists between myself and the few survivors of that goodly company, my heart sinks with a heavy sense of loss, and the world from which so much light has departed seems dark and dismal enough.
Alfred Tennyson had only just gathered his earliest laurels. My brother John gave me the first copy of his poems I ever possessed, with a prophecy of his future fame and excellence written on the fly-leaf of it. I have never ceased to exult in my possession of that copy of the first edition of those poems, which became the songs of our every day and every hour, almost; we delighted in them and knew them by heart, and read and said them over and over again incessantly; they were our pictures, our music, and infinite was the scorn and indignation with which we received the slightest word of adverse criticism upon them. I remember Mrs. Milman, one evening at my father’s house, challenging me laughingly about my enthusiasm for Tennyson, and asking me if I had read a certain severely caustic and condemnatory article in the Quarterly upon his poems. “Have you read it?” said she; “it is so amusing! Shall I send it to you?” “No, thank you,” said I; “have you read the poems, may I ask?” “I cannot say that I have,” said she, laughing. “Oh, then,” said I (not laughing), “perhaps it would be better that I should send you those?”