Page images
PDF
EPUB

tertained a conviction that Tennyson did not heartily sympathize with what he himself most valued in his works, namely the spirituality with which he had endeavoured to invest the material universe, and the moral relations under which it was his aim to exhibit the most ordinary appearances, yet it could not but be gratifying to receive, from the rising poet, an assurance expressed in the warmest terms, of the debt of gratitude which he owed to his works.

If it be the privilege of age to enjoy 'honour, love, obedience, and troops of friends', it is its penalty to witness the thinning of those friendly ranks, and to deplore the loss of those more tenderly allied ; and Wordsworth now began to realize this. Lord Lonsdale, so great a benefactor to himself and to his children, was

Enet to pass away; then, after a short interval, he lost his only surviving brother, Dr. Wordsworth, for whom he had the warmest regard, and to whose disin

od conduct in resigning the mastership of Trinity ce Cambridge, he delighted to refer. Dr. Wordsnhad, with honour to himself and great benefit to

College, filled that post for twenty years, and relinCuished it when in full vigour of mind, lest with ad

ncing years his judgment might become impaired and unfit him for its important duties, without his being aware of it. In the copy of the poet's works which Dr. Wordsworth possessed, he wrote, - 'In diction, in nature, in truth, in morals, in piety, does he not surpass all our writers'? .

The only literary labour in which Wordsworth engaged at this time, was a futile endeavour to correct and improve some portions of the 'Excursion' with the execution of which he was not satisfied. The cloud was now impending which cast its shadow over the

ter

IVO

va

otherwise serene eventide of his life. The state of Mrs. Quillinan's health had of late been a frequent source of anxiety to the family, but it was hoped that a voyage, in which she had accompanied her husband to Lisbon, and subsequent travel in Portugal, had restored her strength : especially as her journal of this excursion, published anonymously, indicated nothing but health, high spirits, and enjoyment. The Reviews observing this, and recognizing the authoress, spoke in terms of welcome so high-flown as probably to cause pain where the reverse was intended. We quote a passage from the Quarterly.

'In a recent No. we paid our homage to the drama of Lusitania ; we now invite the attention of our readers to its scenery and social life, as sketched for us in the journal of an accomplished artist : her pen light and ready, her pencil true and facile, and both equally obedient to the mistress mind. For the poetical and picturesque features of Portugal, our fair tourist came well prepared, a keen perception of the beautiful could not but be hereditary in the blood which rumour assigns to her ; cradled in the bosom of beauty at Grasmere, reared at the knees of the genius loci, her memory ever recurs to the scenes of her youth ; and whether she climbs the wild sierra, or fords the arrowy torrents of a foreign land, the scars and streams of Cumberland reappear clad in a southern garb : thus the enjoyment of the present is heightened by the poetry of the past, and Cintra itself becomes doubly delicious, because associated with the sweetest of English homes. ... An unclouded ray of her own surshine within, gilds every discomfort, which, trying on such a tour to the iron frame of man, is borne with unrepining patience by a woman — and this too, as she

134 DEATH OF THE POET'S DAUGHTER.

gracefully says, “an invalid who had only left her native hills for a warmer climate, as a rain-vexed bird comes out from the wood to dry its feathers and take a strong flight home again”. The balmy south has, we rejoice to infer, strengthened the plumage of this stricken dove; she has happily winged her way back to her Cumbrian nest, and cut down her feathers into excellent pens, as her lord, tired of war’s alarms, seems to have previously moulded his sword into ploughshares. He too must accept our congratulations on his partner's convalescence'.

But these fond hopes were disappointed, as, shortly after the return to her native air, she rapidly declined ; but her fine understanding retained its strength and refinement to the last. Her afflicted father, in reference to his bereavement, writes that “towards the last she had much bodily suffering, under which she supported herself by prayer and gratitude to her heavenly Father for granting her to the last so many blessings'. “We bear up’, he adds, “under our affliction, as well as God enables us to do. But oh ! my dear friend, our loss is immeasurable. Our sorrow I feel is for life ; but God's will be done'. She died on the 9th July, 1847, and was buried in Grasmere church-yard : the spot being marked by one of the simple memorials, grouped in that portion of the ground sacred to the poet and his relatives.

The father's sorrow was indeed 'for life’; his spirits never rallied after his great loss, the weakness of his bodily frame depriving him of the power of tranquil endurance ; but bowed down by the weight of years he had not strength to bear this further burden, grief for a much-loved child. When himself in health and happiness, with what gentle sympathy he wrote of those in sorrow:

“And if there be whose tender frames have drooped
Even to the dust, apparently through weight
Of anguish unrelieved, and lack of power
An agonizing sorrow to transmute,
Deem not that proof is here of hope withheld
When wanted most'.

A neighbour pictures him as spending the long winter evenings in grief and tears, neither he nor his wife being able to read by night, nor would his habit of mind allow of his finding any alleviation from the ordinary amusements in which other men engage. One who witnessed this extreme depression of the poet, expressed his regret to James Dixon, the faithful servant whom Wordsworth did not hesitate to call his friend. James replied, “Its very sad, sir; he was moaning about her, and said, “Oh! but she was such a bright creature”; and then I said, “but don't you think, sir, she is brighter now than ever she was "? and then master burst into tears'.

Amongst the throng of tourists who visited Rydal Mount, whether impelled by reverence for genius, or by mere curiosity, or fashion, not a few would enquire for the small cottage on the banks of Rydal Water where De Quincey dwelt for awhile, drugged with opium, and nightly shuddering at the expectation of what those dread, dim hours might bring forth, yet so fascinated by habit that he continued to court the approach of those marvellous and bewildering dreams. Here Hartley Coleridge afterwards resided, a fortunate retreat for one so thriftless, as it enabled his kind friends, the Wordsworths, to watch over him, and often with unseen hand to minister to his comfort. His habits were most singular and erratic, and he maintained through life the simplicity of a child, and all the freshness of sympathy pertaining to childhood. When he was only six years old, Wordsworth addressed to him these prescient lines —

"Nature will either end thee quite
Or lengthening out thy season of delight,
Preserve for thee, by individual right,
A young lamb's heart, amid the full-grown flocks'.

His exquisite sensibility was tempered by a refined taste, a cultivated judgment, and a chaste imagination. He shone as poet, critic, and humourist. But while his great talents and aniable qualities secured for him the regard of all with whom he associated, his weaknesses and irregularities were a source of anxiety to those who loved him most. Widespread was the sorrow when the news of his dangerous illness was speedily followed by that of his death. Wordsworth, who admired while he reproved him, followed him to the spot he had selected for him, saying, 'let him lie near us: he would have wished it'; and then, contemplating the recently-opened graves at his feet, he added, “keep the ground for us, we are old and it cannot be for long’. Melancholy, but natural presage, soon to be fulfilled.

In the month of March, 1850, the poet, still maintaining much of his wonted activity, took some lengthened walks. He was too lightly clad to resist the chill of the unruly winds, so proverbially keen at that season of the year. The friends on whom he called during these rambles observed with regret that he seemed unusually feeble. But this did not prevent him from taking a long round on the following day, and towards evening he imprudently sat in the stone porch of a cottage at White Moss to observe the setting sun,

« PreviousContinue »