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Tennyson Barnett - Biography

Overview


Charles Tennyson Barnett was born August 29, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York.  Over his long life and career, erudite Tennyson closely investigated, then recorded, his take on countless topics.  Whether fascinating or bland, current or past, popular or obscure, important or mundane, he rarely let an issue escape his unabashed and unsolicited opinion.

Only recently have his varied and prolific thoughts and commentary come gradually, but surely, to public recognition.  Those who know his work agree that no one else has compiled such a grand collection of disconnected writings and pronouncements.  A close friend once said of him, “Tennyson is always thinking about things… things other people wouldn’t bother with, even for money.  That's Tenny.”

Tennyson Barnett currently lives comfortably at his home in the Adirondacks and is still at work.  He has recently been occupied with work on thoughts regarding his own death.  He's been in hopes that this will prove to be one of his greatest comments, but has not been making the good progress he has always expected of himself.

He has let his thoughts be distracted for some time, during which, he has come up with his pithy and well-known, ‘On the Subject of Making Progress’ and ‘On Getting Sidetracked’.  He expects to soon restart his work on the subject of his eventual death, but to date has only produced this entry in his Thoughtful Man’s Journal:  ‘On the topic of my death’, “I guess I don’t want to think about it.”

 

Early Childhood


Looking back, it must have been a difficult early childhood for Tennyson Barnett.  Certainly, from what we know of his later childhood, he must have begun his contemplative life well before he was able to write or verbally express himself with effective cogency.  How frustrating this must have been, trapped and thinking.

Tennyson’s elder brother, Elliot once found baby Tennyson on the veranda, stubbornly pointing first at the railing, then at the family dog, Haddy, then back to the railing.  Who could fathom, save the tot himself, what he was driving at?

 

Photo at left: A very young Tennyson, not long before the dog and railing incident. 1918

 

Early Teens


 

Photo at left: Tennyson, aged 11, and youngest of three boys, with his grandmother, Ruth Barnett.  Eldest brother, William Hadwen stands behind. 1928

 

 

 

  

From the memoir of Charlotte Westin Barnett, Tennyson's mother

 

“One day, Tennyson walked up to me in the garden.  It was such a lovely summer day.  He said,  Mum, I have, for some time, suspected that girls eventually lose or abandon their cooties.  Although I am not yet sure by what means they do this, I do now know at what age it happens.  It is during the eleventh year.  I replied to him, ‘Tenny, that’s odd… you’re eleven.’  ‘Inconsequential, Mum,' he said, 'I’m a boy.  Cootie immune.’"

Then she continued, "It was about that time, we realized Tennyson was no ordinary thinker.  Steady and determined in his studies, he was unburdened by the need for what he called, ‘excessive external input' in order to come to a solid finding.  ‘It’s as clear as it needs to be, and that’s how I like it,’ was a favorite saying of his.  It was, all in all, a lovely summer.”  Charlotte Barnett

 

Photo at left: Charlotte Westin Barnett, with son, Elliot, middle boy of the three brothers. 1930

 

Early Career


Tennyson's first job as a young adult was as a self-employed fisherman on the Hudson River.  Under-capitalized, and perhaps over-dressed considering the occupation, he did however present a striking figure as he floated about through the long summer days.

Unfortunately, he was often so distracted by his musings he became unmindful of his work.  Regularly, even smallish fish would pull his pole cleanly away from his wandering concentration and drooping hand.  He always made it back to shore with many new contemplations to take down, but usually empty handed of product for market.

Photo at right: A young Tennyson in his first adult career, as a lone fisherman on the Hudson River, 1937

Major Career Change


Later career decisions proved equally inauspicious.  By way of example, during his carpentry days, he nearly lost several fingers on a table saw, as his thoughts were lost in the consideration of the best three sizes of note paper.

Other close calls, with their resultant poor proceeds, prompted Tennyson to see the logic of focusing solely on his pursuit of thought.  Once released from the humdrum of making a living, thoughts of every kind soon started pouring into and out of him.  He proceeded with hardy contemplation of, and comment on, items and topics too un-extraordinary for others to consider.  But Tennyson did.  He would cast and recast until he reeled in and made something of even the most innocuous items.  Whether a topic be high-flying or bottom-feeding, he lured in and finally netted them all.  He was a fisher of bits and maker of thoughts.

Awarded Master Thinker Title


Although a career in musing and commentary offers little financial security, Tennyson’s success, though unpaid, produced in him new zeal and redoubled effort.  Tennyson’ eye was now set on a larger prize.  That of Master Thinker, a title so rarified and difficult to achieve, it is virtually unknown by most and so infrequently earned, the endowment committee only meets sporadically to review its guidelines.

But in time the committee could not refuse to see the one in a million thinker Tennyson indeed was.  He regularly sent in submissions so diverse and disjointed, they were soon won over.  Shortly, he was granted their highest honor, Master Thinker, at the age of 32.  He always suspected his work drove him prematurely gray, but never offered an essay on it... which he was perturbed by, and mentioned regularly at parties.  He did actually write a short comment on the topic of Being Perturbed, but nothing about the early gray hair.

It was long time friend, Ben Wagstaff who first gave Tennyson Barnett his now-famous moniker.  During some dinner and award presentation, as Tennyson excused himself to the restroom, Ben was heard to say, “Now there goes a thoughtful man.”

Photo above: Tennyson, on his steam yacht, Tillie, enjoying a long run of success and contemplation.  Shown here, smiling, after achieving popular acclaim for his commentary, "The Single Hair."

Personal Life


After earning the prestigious title, Master Thinker, Tennyson Barnett settled into a long and productive career of contemplative thought and commentary.  Earlier, at age 27, he met Eloise Mitchell, a young and vivacious teacher, recently moved upstate, near Tennyson’ summer home in Westport on Lake Champlain, in the Adirondacks.

Although somewhat dry, that summer was especially pleasant with boating, biking, and other pastimes.  Unfortunately, an incident in the cabin at week’s end, caused a terrible argument between the couple.  During an after-croquet wash up, a strand of Eloise’s ringletted blond hair became imbedded in the bar of soap in the shower.  Later, when Tennyson discovered it, that hair inspired one of his most powerful early commentaries, ‘The Single Hair’. 

Apparently, Eloise did not appreciate the attention Tennyson focused on the matter and a misunderstanding arose that ultimately drew their infatuation to an end.  Tennyson was so upset by her unsympathetic reaction, and moreover, lack of enthusiasm toward his work in general, that he grew distant from her.  He later became suspicious of all women he met who paid even the slightest attention to their hair, regardless of color.  It is generally accepted that Tennyson believed he would never again find someone sufficiently compatible to date.

It may be added that the rigors of his work, combined with the unrelenting low income associated with it, continued to contribute to a difficult personal life.  Tennyson Barnett never married.