Had we been standing, in October of that year, 1850, at Miss Robson the milliner’s humble little door in Keswick, just where Greenhow’s shop stands out so conspicuously beside the Queen’s Hotel, I think we should have seen a very remarkable looking pair of lovers issuing from the house.  What did they look like?  Thomas Carlyle, a friend and for the past eight years a keen critic, who, in 1842, wrote, “Alfred Tennyson alone of this time has proved singing in our curt English language to be possible in some measure,” was climbing our Cumbrian hills in that same autumn.  “Mrs. Tennyson,” says Carlyle, “lights up bright glittering blue eyes when you speak to her, has wit; has sense:” (those blue-grey eyes she got from the Franklin stock down in Lincolnshire); she seems frail and delicate, but her carriage is that of a queen. (pp. 176-177)

The fine gipsy-looking man at her side, half-hidden by his great sombrero hat and the clouds of tobacco rolling from his pipe, has, so Carlyle tells us, “a great shock of rough dusty hair, bright laughing hazel eyes, massive aquiline face, most massive yet most delicate, of sallow brown complexion almost Indian-looking, clothes cynically loose, free and easy.  His voice musically metallic, fit for loud laughter and piercing wail and all that may lie between.” (p. 177)

Up comes an open carriage, and while the lady is having a talk in the little gossip-shop of that day, the handsome gipsy-looking man hears that this is the Mirehouse carriage.  The lady, who is Miss Spedding, returns, and at once the shaggy stranger bows, and makes tender inquiry after his bosom friend, James Spedding, and evidently knows and loves Mirehouse so well, that in a trice it is arranged for him and his wife to take seats in the carriage, and go out to Mirehouse to pay a call.  This, too, not without relief to Miss Robson, who, as I have been told, “thought the poet rather a formidable person for her little lodgings, but was charmed with Mrs. Tennyson, she was so sweet and gentle.” (pp. 177-178)

Much talk have they on the way, but never once does the stranger lend a clue as to his connections with the Mirehouse friends he seems to know so intimately, and for nigh upon four miles the lady of the carriage is kept in wonder as to who this “fine featured, dim-eyed, bronze-coloured, shaggy-headed man is; dusty, smoking, free and easy.” (p. 178)

It is not till the gates are reached, that he says with a grim humour, “I am Alfred Tennyson, James’ friend, and this, Madam, is my wife.”  There was no little flutter at Mirehouse that day, for, as I have heard from one who was then a little girl, Mr. Tom Spedding, the elder, was in delicate health, and it was a rare event for sudden visitors to come to the house. (p. 178)

But the visit of that afternoon meant a stay.  Nothing would serve but that the chance callers should be guests.  I have been told how those mild days of softest autumn sunshine went happily and memorably by; how in the morning Tennyson swam, as Carlyle would say, outwardly and inwardly with great composure, in an inarticulate element of tranquil chaos and tobacco smoke; how John Spedding, then in his eightieth year, would take the happy lovers on the lake in the “all-golden afternoons”; and how the young children would go off to bed not willingly, knowing that when they had retired the poet would read aloud in his sonorous chant, some of his latest published poem, In Memoriam. (p. 178)

This was the last visit that Tennyson paid to Keswick, for though he came again to Westmoreland four or five years later, and saw the long lights shake across the Coniston Lake from Trent Lodge, and heard far up the Tilberthwaite Gorge “the quarry thunders flap from left to right,” he never more saw our Cumbrian cataracts at “the Dash,” or “at Lodore,” “leap in glory,” never so far as can be ascertained, crossed Dunmail Raise again. (p. 179)

(Literary Associations of the English Lakes, Vol. I, pp. 176-9)