« PreviousContinue »
He and his companion visited the grave of Burns, which they found in a corner of the churchyard without a stone to mark the spot. And now, seven years after he had gone to rest, his sorrowing widow had just laid their second son, Wallace, beside him. Filled with painful and melancholy reflections, Wordsworth composed some tender and appreciative lines, from which we quote a few stanzas
Fresh as the flower, whose modest worth
For so it seems,
With matchless beams.
The piercing eye, the thoughtful brow,
The prompt, the brave,
And silent grave.
And showed my youth
On humble truth.
Sighing I turned away ; but ere
A ritual hymn
Continuing their route the travellers passed by Ellesland, Burns's farm-house, and noticing that within half a-mile of that spot they saw the Cumberland moun
MR. SCOTT, THE SHERIFF.
tains, Miss Wordsworth notes in her diary 'while we were talking of Burns and the prospect he must have had, perhaps from his own door, of Skiddaw and his companions, we indulged ourselves in fancying that we might have been personally known to each other, and he have looked upon those objects with more pleasure for our sakes'. Caledonia was literallyóstern and wild' to our poetic travellers, who seem to have been constantly exposed to storm and rain, so much so, that when they arrived at Loch Lomond and found that three weeks more of broken weather might still be looked for, Coleridge, of less robust constitution than his companions, became faint-hearted and returned home. But neither cold nor storm depressed the ardour of Miss Wordsworth or her brother, and the poems published under the title of 'Memorials of a Tour in Scotland' show how many valuable hints were suggested during this excursion for the after exercise of his genius; amongst which that favourite little poem, 'The Solitary Reaper', and the lines on ‘Rob Roy's Grave', may be noted.
But what renders this tour especially memorable, is the first meeting between Wordsworth and Sir Walter, then plain Mr. Scott, who hospitably entertained the travellers at Lasswade, upon the banks of the Esk, where he was then living : subsequently they met him at Melrose, and were conducted by him over the Abbey. Scott was thus far on his way to the Circuit Court, at Jedburgh, in his capacity of Sheriff, and there his new friends again joined him, but he begged they would not enter the court, saying, 'that he would not like them to see the sort of figure he cut there'. They did, however, catch a glimpse of him in his cocked hat and sword, marching in the judge's procession, to the sound of one cracked trumpet, and were then not surprised that he should have been a little ashamed of the whole ceremonial. Miss Wordsworth said wherever they went with him, he seemed to know everybody, and everybody to know and to like him. But though they found the Sheriff's name a passport which procured them a civil reception when they reached the town, weary, wet, and cold, yet they could only obtain shelter on condition of vacating the room when the judges came out of court to dinner; at which important crisis poor Miss Wordsworth was doomed to shiver in a dull fireless bedroom, while the people of the inn sought lodgings for them in the town.
Returning sunshine cheered their homeward journey, and, on a delightful autumnal evening, they again reached the peaceful Grasmere cottage, where, in the words of the ever interesting Diary, 'we found Mary in perfect health, — Joanna Hutchinson with her, and little John asleep in the clothes basket by the fire'. Poets are proverbially an exacting race, and we are therefore not surprised to find the happy father on his return, making such demands as the following from his first-born.
And from that Infant's face let joy appear ;
In the following year, 1804, on the 16th of August, a daughter was born : his beloved Dora, to whom he was so tenderly attached, and who was the object of several of his sweetest poetic effusions.
Writing soon after to Scott, Wordsworth mentions having again met Coleridge and Southey at Keswick, and adds, “Southey whom I never saw much of before, I liked much : he is very pleasant in his manner, and a man of great reading in old books, poetry, chronicles, memoirs, &c., particularly Spanish and Portuguese. Farewell ! God prosper you. Your sincere friend, for such I will call myself, though slow to use a word of such solemn meaning to anyone, W. W'.
The conclusion of this letter is noteworthy as showing how scrupulously he weighed his expressions and with what caution he meted out his friendship. Good, sincere, and kind, and yet he was not a genial man.
He is retired as noontide dew
Only on rare occasions do we find him expressing hearty admiration of other bards, contemporary or otherwise, - but we hear of many austere judgments on them and their work.
He always spoke of Burns’ ‘Scots wha hae' as poor, as a Lyric composition. Mrs. Hemans thus narrates how he gave vent to his contempt of it :- 'How much was I amused yesterday by a sudden burst of indignation in Mr. Wordsworth : we were sitting on a bank overlooking Rydal Water and speaking of Burns. I said, 'Mr. Wordsworth, do you not think his war ode, “Scots wha hae, &c." has been a good deal overrated, especially by Mr. Carlyle, who calls it the noblest lyric in the language'? 'I am delighted to hear you ask the question was his reply : 'overrated !-- trash,stuff, — miserable inanity! without a thought, — without an image'?— &c., &c., &c., &c. Then he recited the piece in a tone of unutterable scorn, and concluded with a da capo of 'wretched stuff".
Let us contrast with this Wordsworthian caricature, the flattering sketch given by Carlyle in his Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, Vol. I, p. 213. “Why should we speak of 'Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled'; since all know of it, from the king to the meanest of his subjccts ? This dithyrambic was composed on horseback; in riding in the middle of tempests, over the wildest Galloway moor, in company with a Mr. Syme, who, observing the poet's looks, forebore to speak, – judiciously enough, for a man composing Bruce's Address might be unsafe to trifle with. Doubtless this stern hymn was singing itself, as he formed it, through the soul of Burns; but to the external ear, it should be sung with the throat of the whirlwind. So long as there is warm blood in the heart of Scotchmen or man, it will move in fierce thrills under this war-ode - the best, we believe, that was ever written by any pen’.
Eastern travellers tell us that, when ascending the Pyramids, it is pleasant enough so long as your Arab guides, one on each side, pull in the same direction, but when, as sometimes occurs, they move with unequal step, there occurs an unpleasant feeling as of dislocation. Now the student, diffident of his own powers, having sought the guiding hand of these eminent critics, is mentally dislocated when he finds himself drawn so diversely, but, if perturbed by this or any particular adverse judgment, let him assure his faith in the general pre-eminence of Scotia's Bard, and solace himself with tributes to his genius such as these lines, by so good a man and charming poet as James Montgomery.