WILLIAM WORDSWORTH was born at Cockermouth on the 7th of April, 1770. He was educated at Hawkeshead school, in High Furness, and at St. John's college, Cambridge. He had several brothers. One was lost at sea, as commemorated in his poems in various places, as in Vol. III. p. 96, in the sixth poem on the naming of places; and in Vol. IV. p. 332, in Elegiac Stanzas; and again in the very next poem — To the Daisy. He was, as we learn from a note, commander of the East India Company's vessel, the Earl of Abergavenny. Another brother was the late Master of Trinity college, Cambridge; and a third, a solicitor in Staples inn. On quitting college, he lived some time in the west of England, and then travelled abroad; resided a year and a half in France, at Orleans, Nantes, Paris, etc. He then went into Germany. In these countries he travelled much on foot, and often quite alone; passing through the solitary forests, and penetrating into the most obscure villages. I have heard him relate that coming late, accompanied by his sister and Coleridge, into a desolate German hamlet, in Hesse Cassel, — and wretched places they are often, as every one knows who has had to seek rest or refreshment in them, — they were refused admittance, and thought they must have to pass the night in the open street. Knocking, however, pretty determinedly at the door of the village inn, the landlord, as if provoked by being disturbed, suddenly rushed out upon them, and fell upon them with a huge cudgel, so that they considered themselves in great personal danger, as well they might at that time of day, when the visits of foreigners were not very common; and not only were the common village publicans very boorish, but, if we are to believe the hand-books of the travelling handicrafts, many a foul murder was committed in those obscure places for the stranger's purse and knapsack. Neither Wordsworth nor Coleridge, however, were destined to be extinguished in that manner. They succeeded in defending themselves, in making their way into the house, and by appealing to them as Christian people, whose duty it was to entertain, and not abuse strangers, they secured a night's lodging, such as it was. Coleridge relates the anecdote somewhat differently in his Biographia Literaria. He says, the rudeness of the landlord within, was seconded by a rabble without. That the travellers could get neither supper, coffee, nor beds; and finally, asking for some bundles of straw to sleep upon, these possibly might have been granted, but that he, Coleridge, happened to ask impatiently, if there were no Christians left in Hesse Cassel; which so incensed them, that being reported in the street, the rabble rushed in and expelled them from the house, by hurling the burning brands from the hearth at them; and that they bivouaced where they could; Coleridge passing his night under a furze bush, well punctured by its thorns. You may find many traces of Wordsworth's wanderings thus in his poems, particularly in Vol. III, and also in Vol. IV, where he very characteristically narrates the adventures of a fly on a cold winter's day, as it traverses the stove before which he sate warming himself.
Before going abroad he lived some time in Dorsetshire and Somersetshire. It is probable that he made the acquaintance of Coleridge at Cambridge. Coleridge had now become connected with Southey and Lovell, two Bristol men, and was in a great measure located there. The spirit of poetry had revived again after a long period of mere imitation; and by these circumstances three of the chief leaders of literary reform were thus brought together. Southey was a Bristol man, Coleridge was a Devonshire man, Wordsworth a Cumberland man; but here they were drawn together, and Bristol for a time seemed as though it were to have the honour of becoming a sort of western Athens. But Bristol itself had no sympathy with any literary spirit. It is one of those places that have the singular fortune to produce great men, though it never cherishes them. It produced Chatterton, and let him perish; it produced Southey, and let him go away to rear the fabric of his fame where he pleased. The spirit of trade, and that not in its most adventurous or liberal character, was and is the spirit of Bristol. By a wretched and penny-wise policy, even of trade, it has allowed Gloucester, at many miles distance from the sea, to become a great port at its expense; by the same spirit it has created Liverpool; and whoever now sees its wretched docks coming up into the middle of the town, instead of stretching, business-like and compactly, along the banks of the Avon, its dusty and unwatered streets, and altogether dingy and sluggish appearance, feels at once, that not even the poetry of trade can flourish there. Yet Bristol had the honour thrust upon it, of issuing to the world the first productions of Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge. Joseph Cottle, the author of Alfred, an epic poem, whom Byron so mercilessly handled, grafting upon him the name of his brother Amos, for the sake of more ludicrous effect, — Joseph Cottle was a bookseller here, and became the patron of those three young, aspiring, but far from wealthy young men.
Coleridge had made the acquaintance of a Mr. Thomas Poole, of Nether Stowey, a gentleman of some Properly, and a magistrate. Mr. Poole was a friend of the two great brother potters, Josiah and Thomas Wedgewood, of Staffordshire; he introduced Coleridge to them, and eventually they settled on him an annuity of £130 a-year. Poole invited Coleridge to come down to Stowey to see him, and after his marriage prevailed on hint to go and live in Stowey. The Wedgewoods were accustomed also to visit Mr. Poole; and the same causes drew Wordsworth and Southey occasionally down there. Thus Bristol ceased to be the general rendezvous of this new literary coterie, and the solitudes of Somersetshire received them. People have often wondered what induced this poetical brotherhood to select a scene so far out of the usual haunts of literary men, so inferior to Wordsworth's own neighbourhood, as Stowey and its vicinity. These are the circumstances. It was Mr. Poole and cheapness which had a deal to do with it. Poole drew Coleridge, Coleridge and the dreams of Pantisocracy drew most of the others. Wordsworth, I believe, never speculated on the exclusive happiness of following the plough on the banks of the Susquehannah; but the whole of the corps had made the discovery that true poetry was based on nature, and that it was to be found only by looking into their own minds, and into the world of nature around them. They therefore sought, not cities, but solitude, where they could at once read, reflect, and store up that treasury of imagery, full of beauty and truth, which should be reproduced, woven into the living tissue of their own thought and passion, as poetry of a new, startling, and high order. To this life of country seclusion Wordsworth and Southey adhered, from choice, all their after lives.
Wordsworth first resided at Racedown in Dorsetshire, where Coleridge visited him. When Coleridge went to settle at Stowey, Wordsworth also removed to Allfoxden, about five miles further down, near the Bristol channel. Here his secluded habits gave rise to some ludicrous circumstances, annoying enough, however, to drive him out of the neighbourhood. He was deep in the composition of poetry. He had a Tragedy on the anvil, a poem called Salisbury Plain, never yet published, and Peter Bell, besides his Lyrical Ballads, which last Cottle brought out while he was here. He sought the deepest solitude, and here, if anywhere, he could find it. Allfoxden house is situated at the very extremity of the Quantock hills, and within about a mile and a quarter of the Bristol channel. As you advance from Stowey, the Quantock hills run along at some little distance on your left hand. They are of the character of downs, open and moorland on the top, and with great masses of wood here and there on their slopes. The country on your right is level, rich, and well wooded. On arriving near Allfoxden, you turn abruptly to the left, and winding about through a woody lane, and passing through a little hamlet, you begin to feel as if you were going quite out of the world of mankind. You are at the foot of the hills, and a thick wood terminates your way. But through this wood you have to pass to find the house where Wordsworth had hidden himself. Passing into this wood at a gate, you find yourself in a most Druidical gloom. The wood is of well-grown, tall, and thickly growing oak; filled still closer with hollies, which were once underwood, but which have shot up, and emulated the very oaks themselves in altitude. They are unquestionably amongst the loftiest hollies in England. Altogether the mass of wood is dense, the scene is shadowy, the ground is strewn with its brown carpet of fallen leaves. As you advance, on your right hand you catch a sound of water, and pursuing it you find it issues from the bottom of a deep narrow glen or dean, which no doubt gives the name to the place — All fox den, or glen of all the foxes. This glen is a very poetical feature of the place, and especially attractive to a man in Wordsworth's then turn of mind, which led him to the deepest seclusion for the sake of abstraction. Tall trees soar up from its sides, and meet above; some of them have fallen across, dashed down by the wind. Wild plants grow luxuriantly below; woodbines and other creepers climb and cling from bough to bough; and the pure and crystal water hurries along over its gravelly bed, beneath this mass of shade and overhanging banks, with a merry music to the neighbouring sea.
Leaving this glen, you hold on through the wood to the left, and soon emerge into a park, enclosed by hills and woods, where a good country house looks out towards the sea. It is one of the most secluded, and yet pleasantly secluded, houses in England. Around it sweep the hills, scattered with fine timber, beneath which reposes a herd of deer, and before it stretches the sea at a little distance. The house is somewhat raised above the level of the valley, so as to catch the charming view of the lands, woods, and outspread waters below. To the left, near the coast, you catch a view of the walls of St. Audrey, the seat of Sir Peregrine Ackland, pleasingly assuring you that you are not quite cut off from humanity. Below the house lies a sunny flower garden, and behind, the ascending lawn is enriched by finely disposed masses of trees; amongst them some enormous old oaks, and elms of noblest growth. There are two elms, growing close together, of remarkable size and height, beneath which a seat is placed, commanding a view of the park and sea; and just below it a fine, well-grown larch, which used to be a very favourite tree of the poet's. Under these trees he used to sit and read and compose; and no man could have coveted a more congenial study. Here originated or took form many of his lyrical ballads.
If you ascend the park, you find yourself, after a good stout climb, on the open hills. One summit after another, covered with clumps of Scotch firs, allures you to ascend, till at length you find yourself far from any abode, on the high moorland hills, amidst a profound, but a glorious solitude. Fine glens, with glittering streams, and here and there a lonely cottage sending up its quiet smoke, run amongst these hills, and extensive tracts of woodland offer you all the charms of forest seclusion. The hills which range along behind Stowey cease here, and were the great haunt of Coleridge and Wordsworth. They might, if they pleased, extend their rambles over them, from the abode of the one to that of the other. We find numerous evidences of their haunting of these hills amongst their poems. The ballad of The Thorn is said to be derived hence. Coleridge mentions their name occasionally. He has a poem to a brook amongst the Quantock hills; and the opening of his Fears in Solitude, written in 1798, when he was at Stowey, is most descriptive of their scenery:—
A green and silent spot amid the hills,
A small and silent dell! O'er stiller place
No singing skylark ever poised herself.
The hills are hearty, save that swelling slope,
Which bath a gay and gorgeous covering on,
All golden with the never bloomless furze,
Which now blooms most profusely; but the dell,
Bathed by the mist, is fresh and delicate
As vernal corn-field, or the unripe flax,
When, through its half-transparent stalks at eve,
The level sunshine glimmers with green light.
Oh! 'tis a quiet, spirit-healing nook!
Which all, methinks, would love; but chiefly he,
The humble man, who in his youthful years
Knew just so much of folly as had made
His early manhood more securely wise!
Here he might lie on fern or withered heath,
While from the singing lark, that sings unseen
The minstrelsy that solitude loves best,
And from the sun, and from the breezy air,
Sweet influences trembled o'er his frame.
And he with many feelings, many thoughts,
Made up a meditative joy, and found
Religious musings in the forms of nature!
And so, his senses gradually wrapt
In a half-sleep, he dreams of better worlds,
And dreaming hears thee still, O singing lark,
That singest like in angel in the clouds!
But the views from the Quantock hills are as charming as the hills themselves. From above Allfoxden you look down directly on the Bristol channel, the little island of Steepholms lying in the liquid foreground, and the Welsh hills stretching along in the back. On your right you see the whole level hut rich country stretching away to Bridgewater, and on towards Bristol.
In this pleasant but solitary region we must recollect, however, that the young poets were not left entirely to their solitary rambles and cogitations. Coleridge had his wife and one or two young children with him. Wordsworth had his sister and great companion in his many wanderings through various parts of the kingdom, Dorothy. Then there was Mr. Poole, their common friend at Stowey; Charles Lloyd, the son of the quaker banker of Birmingham, a poet, with the usual fate of a poet, sorrow and an early death, was there part of the time, as a great admirer of and boarder at Coleridge's. Southey, Cottle, Charles Lamb, and the two Wedgewoods, and others, visited them. We may well believe that this knot of friends, young, full of enthusiasm, of the love of nature, and the dreams of poetry, became a source of the strangest wonder to the simple and very ignorant of that part of the country. People, whose children at the present hour, as will be seen by the account of Coleridge, do not know what a poet means, were not very likely to comprehend what could bring such a number of strange young men all at once into their neighbourhood. What they could be after there? The honest people had no idea of persons frequenting a place but in pursuit of some honest or dishonest calling. They could not see what calling these young gentlemen were following there, and they very naturally set down their business to be of the latter description. They were neither lawyers, doctors, nor parsons. They were neither farmers, merchants, nor, according to their notions, thorough gentlefolks, i.e. people who lived in large houses, kept large numbers of servants, and drove about in fine carriages. On the contrary, they went wandering about amongst the hills and woods, and by the sea. They were out, it was said, more by night than by day; and I have heard people of rank and education, which ought to have informed them better, assert, and who still do assert, that they led a very dissolute life! The grave and moral Wordsworth, the respectable Wedgewoods, correct Robert Southey, and Coleridge dreaming of glories and intellectualities beyond the moon, were set down for a very disreputable gang! Innocent Mrs. Coleridge, and poor Dolly Wordsworth, were seen strolling about with them, and were pronounced no better than they should he Such was the character which they unconsciously acquired, that Wordsworth was at length actually driven out of the country.
Coleridge, writing to Cottle, says, "Wordsworth has been caballed against so long and so loudly, that he has found it impossible to prevail on the tenant of time Allfoxden estate to let him the house, after their first agreement is expired, so he must quit it at Midsummer. Whether we shall be able to procure him a house and furniture near Stowey, we know not, and yet we must; for the hills, and the woods, and the streams, and the sea, and the shores, would break forth into reproaches against us, if we did not strain every nerve to keep their poet amongst them. Without joking, and in serious sadness, Poole and I cannot endure to think of losing him.
"At all events, come down, Cottle, as soon as you can, but before Midsummer; and we will procure a horse, easy as thy own soul, and we will go on a roam to Linton and Limouth, which, if thou comest in May, will be in all their pride of woods and water-falls, not to speak of its august cliffs, and the green ocean, and the vast valley of stones, all which live disdainful of the seasons, or accept new honours only from the winter's snows."
This poetic trip, in company with another strange man, would, of course, he considered by the neighbours to be another smuggling or spy excursion. What else could they be going all that way for, to look at "the green sea," and at great "valleys of stones?" I remember the knowing laughter with which a country innkeeper in Cornwall once broke out, when, on his asking me what was my business in that part of the country, I replied, "to look about me."
"To look about! Oh, yes, the gentleman knows very well! To look about! Yes, indeed, make me believe that people go a great way off, into strange neighhourhoods, merely to look about them!" The people of Somersetshire were equally sagacious in finding a mare's nest. Wordsworth, always a solemn-looking mortal, even in his youth, was particularly obnoxious to their suspicions, especially as he lived in that large house, in that very solitary place. Hear Cottle's account of the affair.
"Mr. Wordsworth had taken the Allfoxden house, near Stowey, for one year, during the minority of the heir; and the reason why he was refused a continuance by the ignorant man who had the letting of it, arose, as Mr. Coleridge informed me, from a whimsical cause, or rather a series of causes. The wise-acres of the village it seems, made Mr. Wordsworth the object of their serious conversation. One said, that 'he had seen him wander about by night, and look rather strangely at the moon! And then, he roamed over the hills like a partridge.' Another said, he had him mutter, as he walked, in some outlandish, brogue, that nobody could understand!' Another said, 'It's useless to talk, Thomas, I think he what people call "a wise man" (a conjurer!). Another said, 'You are every one of you wrong. I know what he is. We have all met him tramping away towards the sea. Would any man in his senses take all that trouble to look at a parcel of water! I think he carries on a snug business in the smuggling line, and, in these journeys, is on the look out for some wet cargo!' Another very significantly said, 'I know that he has got a private still in his cellar; for I once passed his house at a little better than a hundred yards distance, and I could smell the spirits as plain as an ashen faggot at Christmas.' Another said, 'However that was, he is surely a desperd French jacobin; for he is so silent and dark that nobody ever beard him say one word about politics.' And thus these ignoramuses drove from their village a greater ornament than will ever again be found amongst them."
Southey once thought of settling near Neath instead of the Lakes, and had pitched on a house which was to let, but the owner refused to receive him as tenant, because he had heard a rumour of his being a jacobin.
Cottle gives an amusing adventure at Allfoxden, which must not be omitted.
"A visit to Mr. Coleridge at Stowey, in the year 1797, had been the means of my introduction to Mr. Wordsworth. Soon after our acquaintance had commenced, Mr. Wordsworth happened to he in Bristol, and asked me to spend a day or two with him at Allfoxden. I consented, and drove him down in a gig. We called for Mr. Coleridge, Miss Wordsworth, and the servant at Stowey; and they walked, while we rode to Mr. Wordsworth's house, distant two or three miles, where we purposed to dine. A London alderman would smile at our bill of fare. It consisted of philosopher's viands; namely, a bottle of brandy, a noble loaf, and a stout piece of cheese; and, as there was plenty of lettuces in the garden, with all these comforts we calculated on doing very well.
"Our fond hopes, however, were somewhat damped, by finding that our stout piece of cheese had vanished! A sturdy rat of a beggar, whom we had relieved on the road, with his olfactories all alive, no doubt, smelt our cheese; and, while we were gazing at the magnificent clouds, contrived to abstract our treasure! Cruel tramp! an ill return for our pence! We both wished the rind might not choke him. The mournful fact was ascertained a little before we drove into the court-yard of the house. Mr. Coleridge bore the loss with great fortitude, observing that we should never starve with a loaf of bread and a bottle of brandy. He now, with the dexterity of an adept, admired by his friends around, unbuckled the horse, and putting down the shafts with a jerk, as a triumphant conclusion of his work, — lo! the bottle of brandy that had been placed most carefully behind us on the seat, from the inevitable law of gravity, suddenly rolled down, and, before we could arrest the spirituous avalanche, pitching right on the stones, was dashed to pieces! We all beheld the spectacle, silent and petrified! We might have collected the broken fragments of glass; but the brandy, that was gone! clean gone!
"One little untoward thing often follows another, and while the rest stood musing, chained to the place, regaling themselves with the Cogniac effluvium, and all miserably chagrined, I led the horse to the stable, where a fresh perplexity arose. I removed the harness without difficulty, but after many strenuous attempts, I could not get off the collar. In despair, I called for assistance, when aid soon drew near. Mr. Wordsworth first brought his ingenuity into exercise, but, after several unsuccessful efforts, he relinquished the achievement as altogether impracticable. Mr. Coleridge now tried his hand, but showed no more grooming skill than his predecessors; for after twisting the poor horse's neck, almost to strangulation, and to the great danger of his eyes, he gave up the useless task, pronouncing that the horse's head must have grown — gout or dropsy! since the collar was put on! 'For,' said he, 'it is a downright impossibility for such a huge os frontis to pass through so narrow a collar!' Just at this instant, the servant girl came near, and understanding the cause of our consternation, 'La, master,' said she, 'you do not go about the work in the right way. You should do like this;' when, turning the collar completely upside down, she slipped it off in a moment, to our great humiliation and wonderment; each satisfied, afresh, that there were heights of knowledge in the world, to which he had not attained.
"We were now summoned to dinner; and a dinner it was, such as every blind and starving man in the three kingdoms would have rejoiced to behold. At the top of the table stood a superb brown loaf. The centre dish presented a pile of the true cos lettuces, and at the bottom appeared an empty plate, where the stout piece of cheese ought to have stood! — cruel mendicant! and though the brandy was clean gone, yet its place was well, if not better supplied by a superabundance of fine sparkling Castilian champagne! A happy thought at this time started into one of our minds, that some sauce would render the lettuces a little more acceptable, when an individual in the company recollected a question once propounded by the most patient of men — 'How can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt?' and asked for a little of that valuable culinary article. 'Indeed, Sir,' said Betty, 'I quite forgot to buy salt.' A general laugh followed the announcement, in which our host heartily joined. This was nothing. We had plenty of other good things, and while crunching our succulents, and munching our crusts, we pitied the far worse condition of those, perchance as hungry as ourselves, who were forced to dine alone, off ether. For our next meal, the mile-off village furnished all that could be desired, and these trifling incidents present the sum and the result of half the little passing disasters of life."
The Lyrical Ballads having been brought out about Midsummer, 1798; in September of that year Wordsworth and Coleridge set out for Germany. On his return to England he settled at Grasmere, about the beginning of this century. At Grasmere, he resided in two or three different houses; one was Town-end, where his friends, the Cooksons, now reside; another at Allen-bank, at a white house on the hill-side, conspicuous in our vignette. He continued to live at Grasmere fifteen years, and has since resided at his present abode, Rydal Mount, about thirty years.
Mr. Wordsworth, after finishing his education, seems to have made choice of no profession but that of poetry. His patrimony could not have been large, as I have heard Mrs. Wordsworth say, that, at the time of their marriage, they had in joint income about one hundred pounds a-year. This, however, would go a good way with a young couple, of simple habits, in a place like Grasmere at that time of day. Mrs. Wordsworth was a Miss Hutchinson of Cockermouth. Poetry was Wordsworth's real business from the first, as it has been the great and continued business of his life. His sister Dorothy, also gifted with considerable poetic power, as may be seen in the Address to a Child during a boisterous winter evening, and The Mother's Return, at pp. 9 and 12 of the first volume of his poems, as well as in the Journal of their Wanderings together, was his great and congenial companion. She had a passion for nature, not less ardent than his own; and went on at his side, fearless of rain, or cold, or tempest, nor shrinking from heat. She was ready to climb the mountain, to cross the torrent, or slide down the slippery steep with equal boldness and skill, derived from long practice. With him she traversed a great part of Scotland, Wales, and parts of England. He describes their thus setting out from Grasmere:—
To cull contentment upon wildest shores,
And luxuries extract from bleakest moors:
With prompt embrace all beauty to infold,
And having rights in all that we behold.
To this ramble, chiefly on foot, we are indebted for some of the most vigorous and characteristic lyrics that Wordsworth ever wrote. He was young, ardent, and overflowing with enthusiasm; and the soil of Scotland, on which so many deeds of martial fame had been done, or where Ossian had sung in the misty years of far-off times, or other bards whose names had for centuries been embalmed in the strains which the spirit of the people had perpetuated, kindled in him a fervent sympathy.
We can imagine the delighted brother and sister marching on, over the beautiful hills, the dark heaths, and down the enchanting vales of the Highlands, conversing eagerly of the scenes they had seen, and the incidents they had heard, till the glowing thoughts had formed themselves, in the poet's mind, into almost instant song. These poems have all the character of having been cast, hot from the furnace of inspiration, into their present mould. There is a life, an original freshness, and a native music about them. Such are Ellen Irvine, or the Braes of Kirtle; To a Highland Girl; Glen Almain, or the Solitary Glen; Stepping Westward; The Solitary Reaper; Rob Roy's Grave; Yarrow Revisited; In the Pass of Killicranky; The Jolly Matron of Jedburgh and her Husband; The Blind Highland Boy; The Brownie's Cell; Cora Linn, etc.
It was to this beloved companion of his wanderings that he, the year afterwards, addressed these beautiful verses, on revisiting Tintern. — Vol. II. p. 179.
Thou art with me, here, upon the banks
Of this fair river; thou, my dearest friend,
My dear, dear friend, and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes. Oh yet a little while
May I behold in thee what I was once,
My dear, dear sister! and this prayer I make,
Knowing that nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, or the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk:
And let the misty mountain winds be free
To blow against thee; and, in after years,
When these wild ecstacies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure, when thy mind
Shall be a mansion of all lovely forms,
Thy memory be a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain or grief
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations. Nor, perchance,
If I should be where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes those gleams
Of past existence, wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; and that I, so long
A worshipper of nature, hither came,
Unwearied in that service rather say
With warmer love, oh! with far deeper zeal
Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods, and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear both for themselves and for thy sake!
Was there something in "the shooting gleams of those wild eyes," which foretold that, like the lights of a fitful sky, they should flash and quickly disappear? The mind of that beloved sister has for many years gone, as it were, before her, and she lives on in a second infancy, carefully cherished in the poet's home.
Wordsworth, as I have observed, devoted himself to no profession but that of poetry. He followed the stream of life as it led him down the retired vale of poetic meditation, but not without, at times, being visited by fears of what the end might be. Of this he gives a graphic description in his poem of Resolution and Independence, the hero of which is the old leech gatherer.
I hoard the skylark warbling in the sky;
And I bethought me of the playful hare:
Even such a happy child of earth am I;
Even as these blissful creatures do I fare:
Far from the world I walk and from all care,
But there may come another day to me—
Solitude, lain of heart, distress and poverty.
My whole life I have lived in pleasant thought,
As if life's business were a summer mood,
As if all needful things would come unsought
To genial faith, still rich in genial good.
But how can he expect that others should
Build for him, sow for him, and at his call
Love him, who for himself will take no care at all?
I thought of Chatterton, the marvellous boy,
The sleepless soul that perished in his pride;
Of him who walked in glory and in joy
Following his plough along the mountain side.
By our own spirits are we deified:
We poets in our youth begin in gladness,
But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness.
But this sad and common fate of poets, was not to visit Wordsworth. The devotion he had vowed to nature was to remain hallowed, happy, and unbroken to the end. His lot was to be the very ideal of the poetic lot. He was to live amid his native mountains, guaranteed against care and poverty; at liberty to roam at will amid beauty and solitude; to work out his deepest thoughts in stately verse, find in his old age to receive there the reverence of his countrymen. He had the interest of the Lowther family. By that he was appointed distributor of stamps for the counties of Cumberland and Westmoreland in his case a mere sinecure, for the business of the office is easily executed by one or more experienced clerks. Since then, two out of his three children have married well. His son, a clergyman, to a daughter of Mr. Curwen, formerly M.P., and his daughter, to Mr. Quillinan. His second son has succeeded him in his stamp-distributorship. He has succeeded Southey in the laureateship, and has had superadded, a pension of three or four hundred a-year. Perhaps none of the purely poetic tribe have laboured less for fortune, and few have been more fortunate. The early experience of himself and his poetic cotemporaries is very instructive to all who seek to realize a reputation it is, to have faith, to persevere, and believe nature and not critics. Never was a fiercer onslaught made than by the Edinburgh Review on the whole race of poets who then arose. With the same fatality which has since led that journal to declare that no steamer would be able to cross the Atlantic, and that Grey, the author of the railway system, was a madman and ought to he put into Bedlam, it denounced the whole class of young poets, who were destined to revive real poetry in the land, as it afterwards did Lord Byron, as drivellers and fools. Scotland, having stoned to death its own Burns, made a determined attempt to annihilate all the rising poetry of England. It commenced the review of Wordsworth's Excursion with the ludicrous words, — "This will never do!" and declared that there was not a line of poetry, or scarcely of common sense, in it. "From the hour that the driveller squatted himself down in the sun, to the end of his preaching." Let every youthful aspirant remember this history and that if criticism could prevail over genius, we should not at this moment have one great established poet on our list of fame.
Wordsworth's poetical philosophy is now thought to be too well known to need much explanation. He has indeed expounded it himself in almost every page. Yet, after all the brilliant and profound criticism which has been expended upon it, by almost every review in these kingdoms, and by every writer on poetry and poets, the simple truth remains to be told. The fact lay too much on the surface for very deep and metaphysical divers to perceive. It was too obvious to be seen by those who profess to see farther into a mill-stone than anybody else. And what, then, is the fundamental philosophy of Wordsworth?
It is, what he, perhaps, would himself start to hear, simply a poetic Quakerism. The Quaker's religious faith is in immediate inspiration, He believes that if he "centres down," as he calls it, into his own mind, and puts to rest all his natural faculties and thoughts, he will receive the impulses and intimations of the Divine Spirit. He is not to seek, to strive, to inquire, but to he passive, and receive. This is precisely the great doctrine of Wordsworth, as it regards poetry. He believes the Divine Spirit which fills the universe, to have so moulded all the forms of visible nature, as to make them to us perpetual monitors and instructors:—
The mind that is within us; to impress
With quietness and beauty, and to feed
With lofty thoughts.
Thus, in Expostulation and Reply, this doctrine is most distinctly pronounced:—
"Why, William, on that old grey stone.
Thus for the length of half a day,
Why, William, sit you thus alone,
And dream your time away?
"Where are your books? that light bequeathed
To beings else forlorn and blind!
Up! up! and drink the spirit breathed
From dead men to their kind.
"You look round on your mother earth,
As if she for no purpose bore you;
As if you were her first-born birth,
And none had lived before you!"
One morning thus by Esthwaite lake,
When life was sweet,
I knew not why,
To me my good friend Mathew spake,
And thus I made reply:—
"The eye it cannot choose but see;
We cannot bid the ear be still;
Our bodies feel, where'er they be,
Against, or with our will.
"Nor less I deem that there are powers
Which of themselves our minds impress;
That we can feel, this mind of ours
In a wise passiveness.
"Think you, mid all this mighty sum
Of things for ever speaking,
That nothing of itself will come,
But we must still be seeking?
"Then ask not wherefore, here, alone,
Conversing as I may,
I sit upon this old grey stone,
And dream my time away."
The same doctrine is inculcated in the very next poem, The Tables Turned. Here the poet calls his friend from his books, as full of toil and trouble, adding:—
And hark how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let nature be your teacher.
She has a world of ready wealth
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
Sweet is the lore which nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things;
We murder to dissect.
Enough of science and of art;
Close up their barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
Now, if George Fox had written poetry, that is exactly what he would have written. So completely does it embody the grand Quaker doctrine, that Clarkson, in his Portraiture of Quakerism, has quoted it, without however perceiving that the grand and complete fabric of Wordsworth's poetry is built on this foundation: that this dogma of quitting men, hooks, and theories, and sitting down quietly to receive the unerring intimations and influences of the spirit of the universe, is identical in Fox and Wordsworth; is the very same in the poetry of the one as in the religion of the other. The two reformers acquired their faith by the same process, and in the same manner. They went out into solitude, into night, and into woods, to seek the oracle of truth. Fox retired to a hollow oak, as he tells us, and with prayers and tears sought after the truth, and came at length to see that it lay not in schools, colleges, and pulpits, but in the teaching in a passive spirit of the great Father of Spirits. Wordsworth retired to the
Mountains, to the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lovely streams,
Wherever nature led.
And he tells its that to this practice he owed
Of aspect must sublime; that blessed mood
In which the burden of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world
Is lightened that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,
Until the breath of this corporeal frame,
And even the motion of our human blood,
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul.
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things — Vol. II. p. 181.
This is perfect Quakerism; the grand demand of which is, that you shall put down "this meddling intellect, which misshapes the beauteous forms of things;" shall lay at rest the actions and motions of your own minds, and subdue the impatience of the body, till, as Wordsworth has most clearly stated it,
The breath of this corporeal frame,
And even the motion of our human blood,
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul.
It was this very doctrine of the non-necessity of human interference between us and all knowledge, of the all-sufficiency of this invisible and "great teacher," as Wordsworth calls him, which led George Fox and the Quakers to abandon all forms of worship, to strip divine service of all music, singing, formal prayers, written sermons, and to sit down in a perfectly passive state of silence, to gather some of
All this mighty sum
Of things for ever speaking,
That watches and receives.
Whoever sees a Friends' meeting, sees a body of men and women sitting in the full and abstract practice of this very doctrine, by which Wordsworth, in the very words of George Fox, says we come to "See into the life of things." "Come out," says Fox, "from all your vain learning and philosophy, from your schools and colleges, from all your teachings and preachings of human instruction, from all your will-worship and your man-made-ministers, and sit down in the presence of Him who made all things, and lives through all things; who made the ear, the eye, and the heart of man, and lives in and through them, and can and will inform them. Put down every high and airy imagination, every carnal willing and doing; cease to strive in your own strength, and learn to depend on the teaching and strength of the Holy Spirit that filleth heaven and earth; and the light given to enlighten every man that cometh into the world will soon shine in upon you, and the truth in all its fulness will be made known to you far beyond the teaching of all bishops, archbishops, professors, or other swelling men, puffed with the vain wind of human learning. Come out from among them; be not of them; leave the dead to bury the dead. He that sits at the king's table needeth not the dry crumbs and the waste offal of hireling servitors; he that hath the sun itself shining on his head, needeth no lesser, much less artificial lights."
In this state he regards man as restored to the original privilege of his nature, and admitted to communion with the spirit of the Creator, and into contact with all knowledge. "He sees into the life of things." So duly did Fox consider that he saw into the life of things, that he believed that the knowledge of the quality of all plants, minerals, and physical substances was imparted to him, and that had he not had a still higher vocation assigned him, as a discerner and comforter of spirits, he could have practised most successfully as a physician. He believed and taught, and Barclay, his great disciple, in his famous Apology, teaches the same thing, that in this state of communion with the Spirit of all knowledge, a man needs no interpreter of' the Scriptures; that without any knowledge of the original languages, he can instinctively tell where they are erroneously rendered, and what is the true meaning. He has penetrated to the fountain of truth, and not only of truth, but, to use Wordsworth's words again, of "the deep power of joy." He is raised above all earthly evil and anxiety, and breathes in the invisible presence, the pure air of heaven. He is in a kind restored to the unity of his nature, of power, intelligence, and felicity. How exactly is thus the language of our poet!
I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round a ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows, and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye and ear, both what they half create,
And what perceive well pleased to recognise,
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being." — Vol. II. pp. 183-4.
But this great Quaker doctrine is not the casual doctrine of one or two casual or isolated poems; it is the foundation and fabric of the whole. It is the great theme everywhere pursued. Of his principal and noblest production, The Excursion, it is the brain, the very backbone, the vitals, and the moving sinews. Take away that, and you take all. Take that, and you reduce the poet to a level with a hundred others. His hero, the wanderer, is a shepherd boy grown into a pedlar, or pack-merchant, who has been educated and baptized into this sublime knowledge of God speaking through nature. In his sixth year he tended cattle on the hills.
He, many an evening, to his distant home
In solitude returning, saw the hills
Grow larger in the darkness, all alone
Beheld the stars come out above his head,
And travelled through the wood, with no one near
To whom he might confess the things he saw.
So the foundations of his mind were laid.
In such communion, not from terror free,
While yet a child, and long before his time,
He had perceived the presence and the power
"He had received a precious gift," the poet tells us, that gift of spiritual perception which the poet himself tells he also has received.
Thus informed, he had small need of books
In the fixed lineaments of nature, rocks and caves,
Even in their fixed and steady lineaments,
He traced an ebbing and a flowing mind,
Expression ever varied.
There "was wanting yet the pure delight of love" in his inspiration, but that came also, and—
Such was the boy but for the growing youth
What soul was his, when, from the naked top
Of some bold headland, he beheld the sun
Rise up, and bathe the world in light! He looked—
Ocean and earth, the solid frame of earth
And ocean's liquid mass, beneath him lay
In gladness and deep joy. The clouds were touched,
And in their silent faces did he read
Unutterable love. Sound needed none,
Nor any voice of joy; his spirit drank
The spectacle sensation, soul, and form
All melted into him: they swallowed up
His animal being; in them did he live,
And by them did he live: they were his life.
In such access of mind, in such high hour
Of visitation from the living God,
Thought was not; in enjoyment it expired.
No thanks he breathed, he proffered no request,
Rapt into still communion that transcends
The imperfect offices of prayer and praise,
His mind was a thanksgiving to the Power
That mode him; it was blessedness and love!
That is one of the finest pieces of Quakerism that ever was written; there is nothing in George Fox himself more perfect. It is a description of that state to which every true Quaker aspires; which he believes attainable without the mediation of any priest, or the presence of any church; which Fox and the early Friends so often describe as having been accorded to them in the midst of their public meetings, or in the solitude of the closet, or the journey. It is that state of exaltation, the very flower and glorious moment of a religious life, which is the privilege of lam who draws near to and walks with God. That
Access of mind,
Of visitation from the living God,
Thought is not; in enjoyment it expires.
It is an eloquent exposition of the genuine worship to which, according to the Friends, every sincere seeker may and will be admitted, when
Rapt into still communion that transcends
The imperfect offices of prayer and praise,
His mind is a thanksgiving to the Power
That made him; it is blessedness and love.
But to show how completely Wordsworth's system is a system of poetical Quakerism, I should be obliged to take his Excursion, and collate the whole with passages from the writings of the early Friends, Fox, Penn, Barclay, Pennington, and others. The Excursion is a very bible of Quakerism. Every page abounds with it. It is, in fact, wholly and fervently permeated by the soul of Quaker theology. The Friends teach that the great guide of life is "the light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world;" hence they were originally termed "children of light," till the nickname of Quakers superseded it. They declare this light to be "the infallible guide" of all men who will follow it. What says Wordsworth?
Early he perceives
Within himself a measure and a rule,
Which to the Sun of Truth he can apply,
That shines for him, and shines for all mankind.
* * * he refers
His notions to this standard; on this rock
Rest his desires; and hence in after life,
Soul strengthening patience, and sublime content.
The whole of the fourth book, from which this extract is made, is no other than a luminous and vivid exposition of pure Quakerism. The Wanderer is its apostle. He shows how in all ages and countries men have been influenced by this voice of God in nature; and, not comprehending it fully, have mixed it up with the forms and phenomena of nature itself, and shaped religions out of it. Hence the Chaldean faith; hence the Grecian mythology.
A spiritual Presence, ofttimes misconceived,
But still a high dependence, a divine
Beauty and government, that filled their hearts
With joy and gratitude, and fear and love;
And from their fervent lips drew hymns of praise,
That through the desert rang. Though favoured less,
Far less than these, yet rich in their degree,
Were those bewildered pagans of old time. — P. 169.
The Friends; and to such a pitch do they carry their "universal and saving light," that they contend that to the most savage nations, "having not law, it becomes a law," and that through it the spirit, if not the history of the Saviour is revealed and made operative, and that thus the voice of salvation is preached in the heart where never outward gospel has been heard. The Friends contend that science and mere human wisdom most commonly tend to darken and weigh down this divine principle, to cloud this eternal lustre in the soul. So says the eloquent Wanderer, the preacher of the Quakerism of poetry. He asks, Shall our great discoverers obtain less from sense and reason than these obtained?
Shall men for whom our age
Unbaffled powers of vision hath prepared.
To explore the world without, and world within,
Be joyless as the blind Ambitions souls,
Whom earth, at this late season, hath produced
To regulate the moving ant! weigh
The planets in the hollow of their hand
And they who rather dive than soar, whose pains
Have solved the elements, or analyzed
The thinking principle; — shall they in fact
Prove a degraded race? And what avails
Renown, if their presumption makes them such?
O there is laughter at their work in heaven!
Inquire of ancient wisdom; go, demand
Of mighty nature, if 'twas ever meant
That we should pray far off, yet be unraised:
That we should pore, and dwindle as we pore....
That this magnificent effect of power,
The earth we tread the sky that we behold
By day, and all the pomp which night reveal,—
That those, and that superior mystery,
Our vital frame, so fearfully devised,
And the dread soul within it, should exist
Only to be examined, pondered, searched,
Probed, vexed, and criticised! — Accuse me not
Of arrogance, unknown Wanderer as I am,
If, having walked with nature threescore years,
And offered, far as frailty would allow,
My heart a daily sacrifice to Truth,
I now affirm of Nature and of Truth,
Whom I have served, that their DIVINITY
Revolts, offended at the ways of men,
Swayed by such motives, to such ends employed. — Pp. 170-1.
This divine principle, which can thus outsoar and put to shame the vanity and conceit of science, can also baffle and repulse all the sophistries of metaphysics.
Within the soul a faculty abides,
That with interpositions which would hide
And darken, so can deal, that they become
Contingencies of pomp, and serve to exalt
Her native brightness. — P. 174.
There, too, Wordsworth and the Friends are entirely agreed, and yet further. This faculty exists in and operates for all; and whoever trusts in it shall, like the Friends, pursue their way careless of all the changes of fashions or opinions.
Access for you
Is yet preserved to principles of truth,
Which the Imaginative Will upholds
In seats of wisdom, not to be approached
By the inferior faculty that moulds,
With her minute and speculative pains,
Opinion, ever changing.
He illustrates the operation of this inward and primeval faculty by the simile of the child listening to a shell, and hearing, as it were, the murmurs of its native sea. Such a shell, he says, is
The universe itself
Unto the ear of faith;
and in this you have a sanctuary to retire to at will, where you will become victorious over every delusive power and principle. The Friends consider this the glory of our mortal state, and Wordsworth says,—
Yes, you have felt, and may not cease to feel,
The estate of man would be indeed forlorn,
If false conclusions of the reasoning power
Made the eye blind, and closed the passages
Through which the ear converses with the heart. — P. 178.
But the poet and the Friends agree that there is a power seated in the human soul, superior to the understanding, superior to the reasoning faculty, the sure test of truth, to which every man may confidently appeal in all cases, for it is the voice of God himself. With the poet and the Friends the result of this divine philosophy is the same; — the most perfect patience, the most holy confidence in the ever-present divinity; connected with no forms, no creeds, no particular conditions of men; not confined by, not approachable only in temples and churches, but free as his own winds, boundless as his own seas, universal as his own sunshine over all his varied lands and people whispering peace in the lonely forest, courage on the seas, adoration on the mountain tops, hope under the burning tropics and the blistering lash of the savage white man, joy in the dungeon, and glory on the death-bed.
Religion tells of amity sublime,
Which no condition can preclude of One
Who sees all suffering, comprehends all wants,
All weakness fathoms, can supply all needs. — P. 175.
Perhaps this perfected spirit, this divine patience, this God-pervaded soul of man, gentle, loving, yet stronger than death or evil, never were more beautifully expressed than by the repentant and dying Quaker, James Naylor.
"There is a spirit which I feel, that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong; but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thought to any other; if it be betrayed, it bears it, for its ground and spring are the mercies and forgiveness of God. Its course is meekness; its life is everlasting love unfeigned; it takes its kingdom with entreaty, and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind. In God alone it can rejoice, though none else regard it, or can own its life. It is conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it; nor doth it murmur at grief and oppression. It rejoiceth, but through sufferings, for with the world's joy it is murdered. I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with those who live in dens and desolate places of the earth, who through death obtained this resurrection, and eternal holy life."
There is an illumination for the critics! For these thirty years have they been astounding themselves at the originality of Wordsworth's philosophy, and expounding it by all imaginable aids of metaphysics. We have heard endless lectures on the ideality, the psychological profundity, the abstract doctrines of the poet; his new views, his spiritual communion with and exposition of the mysteries of nature, and of the soul in harmony with nature, etc. etc. That is the simple solution; it is Quakerism in poetry, neither more nor less. The question is, how Wordsworth stumbled on this doctrine; a doctrine on which his great poetical reputation is, in fact, built. Possibly, like George Fox, he found it in his solitary wanderings and cogitations; but more probably he drew it direct from his Journal itself. It is a curious, but a well-known fact, that all that knot of young and enthusiastic writers at Bristol, and afterwards at Stowey and Allfoxden, Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge, were deeply read and imbued with the old Quaker worthies. Probably they were made acquainted with them by their two Quaker friends Lovell and Lloyd. Coleridge was so impressed with their principles that, though he preached, he did it in a blue coat and white waistcoat, that, as he said, "he might not have a rag of the woman of Babylon on him." He imbibed and proclaimed all the Quaker hatred of slavery and war. He declares in his Biographia Literaria his admiration of Fox. "One assertion I will venture to make, as suggested by my own experience, that there exist folios on the human understanding, and the nature of man, which would have a far juster claim to their high rank and celebrity, if, in the whole huge volume, there could be found as much fulness of heart and intellect, as bursts forth in many a simple page of George Fox." Southey always cherished the idea of writing the life of George Fox, but never accomplished it. Charles Lamb, another visitor of Stowey, at the time of this youthful effervescence, has recorded his visit to a Friends' meeting, and says, that in it he soon began to ask himself far more questions than he could quickly answer. He declares Sewell's History of the Quakers worth all ecclesiastical history put together. Wordsworth was not only as deeply read in these books as any of them, but is still, to my knowledge, remarkably well acquainted with the history and opinions of Friends; he has immortalized the very spade of one of them, Thomas Wilkinson, and — Ecce signum — has perfected the development of this great poetical system.
Whence Wordsworth, however, gathered his philosophy, whether from the books of the Friends, or from his own meditations, it is, nevertheless, a great truth. Jacob Behmen, Emanuel Swedenborg, Kant, Justinus Kerner, and many another philosopher and poet, proclaim and maintain the same. That the Spirit of God lives throughout the universe and in the soul of man; that the more we commune with his Spirit, the more our ears and eyes, or, in better phrase, our spiritual sense, becomes open to perceive it. The closer we draw to it, and live in it, the more we become strengthened, purified, and enriched by it; the more we are able to walk amid all the fascinations, glories, and deceptions of the world, as the men of God walked in the midst of the fiery furnace, so scathless that the very smell of fire passed not on their garments. It is called by the Friends THE TRUTH, as superior to and including all other truths. Wordsworth gives it the same magnificent title. Standing by this central light of the universe, man learns to see how fur all other offered lights, whether of books or spoken doctrines, are lights, or are actually darkness — are great or small. Holding fast by this true substance, he learns to feel how far all other things are substance or shadow; and, if he hold on, at length walks the highway of life free, invincible, and rejoicing; all nature yielding him aliment and peace.
As the ample moon,
In the deep stillmess of a summer even
Rising behind a thick and lofty grove,
Burns, like an unconsuming fire of light,
In the green trees; and kindling on all sides
Their leafy umbrage, turns the dusky veil
Into a substance glorious as her own,
Yea, with her own incorporate, by power
Capacious and serene: like power abides
In man's celestial spirit: virtue thus
Sets forth and magnifies herself; thus feeds
A calm, a beautiful, and silent fire,
From the incumbrances of mortal life,
From even disappointment — nay, from guilt:
And sometimes, so relenting justice wills,
From palpable oppressions of despair. — P. 174-5.
As this is a curious subject, and particularly curious as it has escaped the research of those who have thought themselves the most profound, I have gone the more fully into it. But to compare all such passages in Wordsworth and the writings of the early Friends, as would amply prove the fact here introduced, would make a very large volume. The writings of these old worthies are one mass of Wordsworthisms. In some particulars, he has not reached the sublime moral elevation of his masters, as in regard to war; he is martial, and thinks Slaughter, God's daughter. They very sensibly set Slaughter down as the daughter of a very opposite personage. In fact, had not the Friends overshadowed their great doctrines by broad brims, and disguised them in collarless coats; had they not put forward the outward signs of their community, formality and singularity, the great doctrines which they hold of the great and immutable truth, more than any other people, would have made them far greater than any other people; the high and universally acknowledged instructors of the world in the principles of freedom, moral greatness, and social happiness. As it is, they have made them the most sturdy and efficient agents of peace, right notions of church government, and liberty to the enslaved; and, not the less certainly, the greatest of modern reformers in poetical philosophy. As Fox and his disciples were fiercely attacked as innovators in religion, so Wordsworth was as fiercely attacked as an innovator in literature. Little did the cold and material spirit of Scotch sceptical criticism dream that it was running its head against the old sturdy spirit of Quakerism, in the new heresy, of what they were pleased to term the Lake school.
There is perhaps no residence in England better known than that of William Wordsworth. Rydal Mount, where he has now lived for more than thirty years, is as perfectly poetical in its location and environs as any poet could possibly conceive in his brightest moment of inspiration. As you advance a mile or more on the road from Ambleside towards Grasmere, a lane overhung with trees turns up to the right, and there, at some few hundred yards from the highway, stands the modest cottage of the poet, elevated on Rydal mount, so as to look out over the surrounding sea of foliage, and to take in a glorious view. Before it, at some distance across the valley, stretches a high screen of bold and picturesque mountains; behind, it is over-towered by a precipitous hill, called Nab-scar; but to the left, you look down over the broad waters of Windermere, and to the right over the still and more embosomed flood of Grasmere. Whichever way the poet pleases to advance from his house, it must be into scenery of that beauty for mountain, stream, wood, and lake, which has made Cumberland so famous over all England. He may steal away up backward from his gate, and ascend into the solitary hills, or diverging into the grounds of Lady Mary Fleming, his near neighbour, may traverse the deep shades of the woodland, wander along the banks of the rocky rivulet, and finally stand before the well-known waterfall there. If he descend into the highway, objects of beauty still present themselves. Cottages and quiet houses here and there glance from their little spots of Paradise, through the richest boughs of trees; Windermere, with its wide expanse of waters, its fairy islands, its noble hills, allures his steps in one direction; while the sweet little lake of Rydal, with its heronry and its fine background of rocks, invites him in another. In this direction the vale of Grasmere, the scene of his early married life, opens before him, and Dunmail-raise and Langdale-pikes lift their naked rocky summits, as hailing him to the pleasures of old companionship. Into no quarter of this region of lakes, and mountains, and vales of primitive life, can he penetrate without coming upon ground celebrated by his muse. He is truly "sole king of rocky Cumberland."
The immediate grounds in which his house stands are worthy of the country and the man. It is, as its name implies, a mount. Before the house opens a considerable platform, and around and beneath lie various terraces and descend various walks, winding on amid a profusion of trees and luxuriant evergreens. Beyond the house, you ascend various terraces, planted with trees now completely overshadowing them; and these terraces conduct you to a level above the house top, and extend your view of the enchanting scenery on all sides. Above you tower the rocks and precipitous slopes of Nab-scar; and below you, embosomed in its trees, lies the richly ornate villa of Mr. William Ball, a Friend, whose family and the poet's are on such social terms, that a little gate between their premises opens them both to each family alike. This cottage and grounds were formerly the property of Charles Lloyd, also a Friend, and one of the Bristol and Stowey coterie. Both he and Lovell have long been dead; Lovell, indeed, was drowned, on a voyage to Ireland, in the very heyday of the dreams of Pantisocracy, in which he was an eager participant.
The poet's house itself is a proper poet's abode. It is at once modest, plain, yet tasteful and elegant. An ordinary dining-room, a breakfast-room in the centre, and a library beyond, form the chief apartments. There are a few pictures and bust, especially those of Scott and himself, a good engraving of Burns, and the like, with a good collection of books, few of them very modern. In the dining-room there stands an old cabinet, which is a sort of genealogical piece of furniture, bearing this inscription:—
Hoc op' fiebat Ao Dni MoCCCCCoXXVo ex suptu Will'mi Wordsworth, filii W. fil. Joh. fil. W. fil. Nich. viri Elizabeth filia et hered W. P'ctor do Pengsto qoru aneabus p' picietur De'!
A great part of the labour of laying out the garden, raising the terraces at Rydal, and planting the trees, has been that of the poet himself. The property belongs to Lady Fleming, but Wordsworth has bought a piece of land lying just below, with the fatherly intent, that should his daughter at any time incline to live there, she may, if she choose, erect a house for herself in the old and endeared situation.
The trees display a prodigality of growth, that make what are meant for walks almost a wilderness. On observing to the poet that he really should have his laurels pruned a little, the old man smiled, paused, and said, with a pardonable self-complacency, — "Ay, I will tell you an anecdote about that. A certain general was going round the place attended by the gardener, when he suddenly remarked, as you do, the flourishing growth of the trees, especially of the evergreens, and said, 'Which of all your trees do you think flourishes most here?'
"'I don't know, Sir,' said James; 'but I think the laurel.'
"'Well, that is as it should be, you know,' added the general.
"Why it should be so, James could not tell, and made the remark.
"'Don't you know,' continued the general, 'that the laurel is the symbol of distinction for some achievement, and especially in that art of which Mr. Wordsworth is so eminent a master? therefore it is quite right that it should flourish so conspicuously here.'
"By this," continued the poet, "James acquired two new pieces of intelligence; first, that the laurel was a symbol of eminence, and, that his master was an eminent man, of both which facts he had been before very innocently ignorant."
It may be supposed that, during the summer, Wordsworth being in the very centre of a region swarming with tourists and hunters of the picturesque, and in the very highway of their route, is regularly beset by them. Day after day brings up whole troops of them from every quarter of these kingdoms, and no few from America. The worthy old man professes a good deal of annoyance at being thus lionized, but it is an annoyance which obviously has its agreeable side. No one can doubt that it would be a far greater annoyance if, after a life devoted to poetry, people, all in quest of "the sublime and beautiful," hurried past, scoured over all the hills and dales, and passed unnoticed the poet's gate. As it is, he has an ever-swinging censor of the flattery of public curiosity tossing at his door. Note after note is sent in, the long levee continues from day to day — the aged minstrel votes it a bore, and quietly enjoys it. If not, how easy it would be, just, during the laking season, to vanish from the spot to another equally pleasant, and yet more retired. Yet why should he? It is not as if the visitor interrupted the progress of a life's great labour. That labour is done; competence and fame are acquired; the laurel and the larder have equally flourished at Rydal Mount; and what is more agreeable than to receive the respect of his fellow-men, and diffuse the pleasure of having seen and conversed with one of the lights of the age?
Some years ago, spending a few days there with Mrs. Howitt, we witnessed a curious scene. The servant came in, announcing that a gentleman and a large party of ladies wished to see the place. "Very well, they can see it," said Mr. Wordsworth.
"But the gentleman wished to see you, Sir."
"Who is it? — Did he give his name?"
"Then ask him for it."
The servant went, and returned, saying, "The gentleman said that he knew Mr. Wordsworth's name very well, as everybody did, but that Mr. Wordsworth would not know his if he sent him his card."
"Then say, I am sorry, but I cannot see him."
The servant once more disappeared, and the poet broke forth into a declamation on the bore of these continual and importunate, not to say impudent, visits. In the midst of it the servant entered.
"Well, what did the man say?"
"That he had had the honour to shake hands with the Duke of Wellington, and that his last remaining wish in life was to shake hands with Mr. Wordsworth."
This was too good. An universal scream of merriment burst from us. The poet rose, laughing heartily. Mrs. and Miss Dora Wordsworth, laughing as heartily, gently seized him, each by an arm, and thus merrily pushed him out of the room. In another minute, we beheld the worthy host bowing to the man who possessed such irresistible rhetoric, and to his large accompaniment of ladies, and doing the amiable, by pointing out to them the prominent beauties of the view. The cunning fellow was a Manchester manufacturer.
It is well known that the dread of a railroad into the lake country has alarmed Wordsworth into the firing off a sonnet against it, and that his annoyance has been increased by the launch of a steam-boat on Windermere. There is some mitigation of our surprise, that the poet who knows and has so well described the nuisances of cities and manufacturing towns, should thus see with disgust the beautiful and breezy region of the lakes laid open to them, when we know that this railroad is proposed to be carried close under his beloved retirement; but still it is befitting the generosity of the man, who has, in so many forms, given us an interest in the toil-worn and the lowly, to be prepared to make some sacrifice of that quiet which he has so long and so richly enjoyed, to the spread of truth and rational pleasure amongst the humble workers of the mill; remembering his own impressive words:—
Turn to private life
And social neighbourhood look we to ourselves;
A light of duty shines on every day
For all, and yet how few are warmed or cheered!