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Among the earliest to recognize the genius of Wordsworth was Sir George Beaumont, a descendant of the celebrated dramatist, Francis Beaumont, a gentleman of refined taste and fond of the society of literary men and artists, whom he assembled around him at his seat at Coleorton, in Leicestershire. In his youth he was acquainted with Richard Wilson, and from that accomplished artist he inbibed a taste for landscape painting, in which he afterwards attained considerable skill. He aided in establishing the National Gallery, and enriched it by the gift of some very valuable pictures. In 1803, during a temporary residence at Greta Hall, he became aware of the friendship of the two poets, and of their mutual wish to live near to each other. Desirous of bringing this about, he purchased a beautiful glen at Applethwaite, near Keswick, and presented it to Wordsworth, (whom he had never seen,) hoping that it might be the site of a residence for him.
Wordsworth's strange procrastination in acknowledging this act of generosity has already been mentioned ; but it is only an extreme instance of the dislike which he always shewed to the use of the pen, frequent proofs of which occur throughout his meagre published correspondence; in the course of which we meet with the statement that, except during absence from his family, he had not written five letters of friendship during five years.
The facility with which Southey often dispatched fifty or sixty letters, currente calamo, as a mere morning prelude to the serious literary work of the day, must have appeared to Wordsworth as little less than miraculous. Great was the labour entailed on his wife and sister when they had to transcribe his scarcely decipherable scrawls. In replying to one of these hieroglyphics, Charles Lamb writes to him :
'Tell Mrs. W. her postscripts are always agreeable : they are so legible too. Your manual-graphy is terrible, — dark as Leucophron. “ Likelihood”, for instance, is thus typified : [Here Lamb inserted a most inimitable scrawl.] I should not wonder if the constant making out of such paragraphs is the cause of the weakness of Mrs. W's eyes, as she is tenderly pleased to express it. Dorothy, I hear, has mounted spectacles, so you have deoculated two of your dearest relations in life. Well, God bless you, and continue to give you power to write with a finger of power upon our hearts, what you fail to express, in corresponding lucidness, upon our outward eyesight.'
Most fortunate then was it that he was able to enlist in his service such willing amanuenses as his sister, his wife, and his wife's sister, without whose assistance, probably, many of his most popular compositions would have remained unrecorded. But it was not as mere secretaries that he felt their value ; for, when writing to Professor Hamilton, the poet states that Coleridge and his beloved sister were the two beings to whom his intellect was most indebted. Miss Wordsworth possessed moreover quick sympathy for all that he said or quoted, and the pages of her own · Diary' evince a keen sensibility for all things beautiful, and have in them the very essence of poetry. Take, for instance, this picture of a birch tree :-'Nov, 24. We walked by Gell's Cottage : as we were going along we were stopped at once, at the distance perhaps of fifty yards from our favourite birch tree : it was yielding to the gust of wind, with all its tender twigs : the sun shone upon it, and it gleamed in the wind like a flying sunshiny shower : it was a tree in shape, with stem and branches, but it was a spirit of water'. But her description of the daffodils
is more to our purpose, as showing the community of thought which existed between herself and her brother. April 15. We set off after dinner for Eusemere ; wind furious; - Lake (Ullswater) rough. When we were in the woods below Gowbarrow Park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side. As we went along we saw there were more and yet more ; and at last, under the boughs of the trees, we saw there was a long belt of them along the shore. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about them ; some rested their heads on these stones as on a pillow; the rest tossed, and reeled, and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, they looked so gay and glancing'. On comparing this extract with the poem of the 'Daffodils', and calling to mind that the two best lines in it
(“They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude ;')
are by Mrs. Wordsworth, we perceive what kindred spirits animated the poet's home. We may here quote, as an instance of the graceful deference which Wordsworth paid to the suggestions of his wife, some remarks communicated to his nephew when referring to the lines on ‘Humanity'. He says, “ These verses, and the preceding ones, entitled “Liberty”, were composed as one piece, which Mrs. Wordsworth complained of as unwieldly and ill-proportioned ; and, accordingly, it was divided into two on her judicious recommendation'.
Having brought our narrative down to the year 1803, we may here remark that about this time two youths, who were afterwards to make some figure in the literary world, started on their academical career,- the one at life,
Oxford, the other at Glasgow. They were De Quincey and Wilson. Though scarcely emerged from boyhood, each had discernment to perceive the power and beauty which gleamed in the poems of Coleridge and Wordsworth, and, singularly enough, each of them ventured to address Wordsworth by letter.
Wilson, after an assurance that the Lyrical Ballads constituted the book which he valued next to the Bible, proceeds, with that manliness which was his characteristic through
“There are a thousand occurrences happening every day which do not in the least interest an unconcerned spectator, though they occasion various emotions in the breasts of those to whom they immediately relate.
To describe these in poetry would be improper. Now Sir, I think, in several cases you have fallen into this error : you have described feelings with which I cannot sympathize, and situations in which I take no interest'. To these strictures the young critic received a lengthy and courteous reply. The answer to De Quincey conveyed a standing invitation to the poet's house, and, much as he coveted this privilege, he held the bard in such reverence that though he twice proceeded as far as Coniston, within eight miles of his residence, with intent to call, on each occasion his heart misgave him. Advancing years even, did not diminish this feeling of awe; for when, on a third occasion, he made the attempt and walked as far as the gorge of Hamerscar, whence he could look down on the cottage where dwelt the object of his admiration, as soon as he saw it he shrunk back as if trespassing on some forbidden ground. A like feeling of reverence for exalted character and genius would seem to have influenced the poet Rogers, who relates in his Table Talk that, in early life, he and his friend Maltby felt a strong desire to see Dr. Johnson, and determined to call upon him and introduce themselves. They accordingly proceeded to his house in Bolt Court; Rogers lifted his hand to the knocker, when the courage of the young men failed them and they retreated. Many years afterwards, when this was mentioned to Boswell, he said, “What a pity you did not go boldly in, he would have received you with all kindness'.
In the autumn of 1803, Wordsworth and his sister having planned a tour in Scotland, and persuaded Coleridge to accompany them, the trio started from Keswick on their walk. They happened to pass through Carlisle at assize time, and on the day, August 16, when the notorious Hatfield was condemned for forgery. This, it will be remembered, was the man who, passing himself off as the honorable Augustus Hope, had deceived and married Mary, the noted beauty of Buttermere, his previous wife being then living. Either Wordsworth or Coleridge, entered the gaoler's house, and saw the unhappy man, and at a later period Coleridge had an opportunity of examining his papers. These were chiefly letters from women whom he had injured in the same way; by the same impostures as he had practised in Cumberland. Coleridge asserted that among these letters were some of the most agonizing appeals that he had ever read to human justice and pity. Yet the travellers on their homeward journey, heard this Hatfield constantly spoken of as an injured man! One of the crowd observed to Miss Wordsworth that 'he was far over learned' and another man told her brother that he might learn from Hatfield's fate,'not to meddle with pen and ink'. The poet, however, does not appear to have taken the warning to heart, for we soon find him penning verses as he advances on his tour.