1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Washington Allston

William Wordsworth to Richard Henry Dana, 1843; Jared B. Flagg, Life and Letters of Washington Allston (1892) 369-70.



I had heard much of Mr. Allston from Mr. Coleridge, and I should have thought it a high privilege to cultivate his friendship had opportunity allowed. Mr. Coleridge had lived on terms of intimacy with him at Rome; they returned from Italy about the same time, and it was in London, there only, that I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Allston at his own lodgings. He was well known, both through Coleridge and his own genius, to one of my most intimate friends, Sir George Beaumont, who always passed the spring season in London. Coleridge and he took great delight in referring to Mr. Allston's observations upon art and the works of the great masters they had seen together in Rome, and the admiration was no doubt mutual from the commencement of their acquaintance.

By such reports of his conversation and corresponding accounts of his noble qualities of heart and temper, I was led to admire, and with truth I may say to love, Mr. Allston, before I had seen him or any of his works. But opportunities did not favor me. His short stay in London occasioned me much regret, less on account of being cut off from his society (though to that I was anything but indifferent) than that I felt strongly that his works would surely be duly appreciated in England.

His own country had a strong claim upon his talents, as it had upon his affections; nevertheless carefully as he had observed the works of the old masters, and deeply as he had studied them, and vivid as were his impressions of their excellence, I could not but entertain some fear, that when by residence in America he was removed from the sight of them, his genius, great as it was, might suffer, and his works fall more or less into mannerism. For my part there was such high promise in the few works of his pencil which I had the opportunity of seeing, that they stood high in my estimation, much above any artist of his day. They indicated a decided power of higher conceptions, and his skill in dealing with the material of art struck me as far beyond that of any other painter of his time. It was truly as Coleridge used to say, "coloring, and not color."

Since Mr. Allston went back home I have had short letters from him frequently, introducing his American acquaintances; and friendly messages have often passed between us, which I am certain were mutually acceptable. Your account of his last moments affected me deeply. I thank you sincerely for it. Much do I regret that it is not in my power to dwell more upon particulars, but after such a lapse of time I could not venture to attempt it, and I beg of you to take in good part the scanty tribute to the memory of a great man whom I highly honored.

Sincerely yours,

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH.

RYDAL MOUNT, AMBLESIDE, October, 1843.