1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Wordsworth

George Ticknor; Journal Entry, 21 March 1819; Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor (1876) 1:287-88.



March 21. — An extremely pleasant drive of sixteen miles brought me to Wordsworth's door, on a little elevation, commanding a view of Rydal water.... It is claimed to he the most beautiful spot and the finest prospect in the lake country, and, even if there be finer, it would be an ungrateful thing to remember them here, where, if anywhere, the eye and the heart ought to be satisfied. Wordsworth knew from Southey that I was coming, and therefore met me at the door and received me heartily. He is about fifty three or four, with a tall, ample, well-proportioned frame, a grave and tranquil manner, a Roman cast of appearance, and Roman dignity and simplicity. He presented me to his wife, a good, very plain woman, who seems to regard him with reverence and affection, and to his sister, not much younger than himself, with a good deal of spirit and, I should think, more than common talent and knowledge. I was at home with them at once, and we went out like friends together to scramble up the mountains, and enjoy the prospects and scenery.... We returned to dinner, which was very simple, for, though he has an office under the government and a patrimony besides, yet each is inconsiderable....

His conversation surprised me by being so different from all I had anticipated. It was exceedingly simple, strictly confined to subjects he understood familiarly, and more marked by plain good-sense than by anything else. When, however, he came upon poetry and reviews, he was the Khan of Tartary again, and talked as metaphysically and extravagantly as ever Coleridge wrote; but, excepting this, it was really a consolation to hear him. It was best of all, though, to see how he is loved and respected in his family and neighborhood.... The peasantry treated him with marked respect, the children took off their hats to him, and a poor widow in the neighborhood sent to him to come and talk to her son, who had been behaving ill....

In the evening he showed me his manuscripts, the longest a kind of poetical history of his life, which, in the course of about two octavo volumes of manuscript, he has brought to his twenty-eighth year, and of which the "Excursion" is a fragment. It is in blank-verse, and, as far as I read, what has been published is a fair specimen of what remains in manuscript. He read me "Peter Bell, the Potter," a long tale, with many beauties but much greater defects; and another similar story, "The Waggoner."... The whole amused me a good deal; it was a specimen of the lake life, doctrines, and manners, more perfect than I had found at Southey's, and, as such, was very curious. We sat up, therefore, late, and talked a great deal about the living poets. Of Scott he spoke with much respect as a man, and of his works with judicious and sufficient praise. For Campbell he did not seem to have so much regard; and for Lord Byron none at all, since, though he admired his talent, he seemed to have a deep-rooted abhorrence of his character, and besides, I thought, felt a little bitterness against him for having taken something of his own "lakish" manner lately, and, what is worse, borrowed some of his thoughts. On the whole, however, he seemed fairly disposed to do justice to his contemporaries and rivals.... In the morning early I recommenced my journey....