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ILLNESS AND LAST YEARS.
DEFERENCE must now be made, however relucN tantly, to the sad illness with which Miss Wordsworth was more or less afflicted for over twenty years. At this distance of time particulars as to the commencement and progress of this affliction are not easily procurable. It appears, however, to have been about the year 1826 that her splendid physical energies began to show signs of decay. In October of that year Mr. Crabb Robinson, after mentioning a visit to Southey at Keswick, wrote in his diary : “Miss D. Wordsworth's illness prevented me going to Rydal Mount.” From this illness it is, however, evident she successfully rallied. I am indebted to Notes and Queries for the following extract from a letter by Miss Dora Wordsworth, dated 1st February, 1827: “Aunt Wordsworth has not yet walked herself to death, which I often tell her she will do, though she still continues the same tremendous pedestrian.” Here we have the key to the cause of her subsequent prostration. From her ardent and impassioned nature her career had been what may be termed singularly intense. De Quincey, who knew her well, speaks of there being clearly observable in her “a self-consuming style of thought.” Both as regards her mental and physical nature, she appears to have run a race with time. As her brother's companion, she had indeed been so exclusively and passionately devoted to him as to identify herself not only with his mental pursuits, but also, probably more than wisely, with his long pedestrian and mountain rambles. If it were not that the great work of her life was so signally achieved, and her satisfaction therein abundant, we should be inclined to regret that she thus drew an over-draft on the fountains of her life. It could not be expected that her frailer frame could sustain, without any mischievous effects, the physical fatigues and labors of her more robust brother; for with him she was ever ready to explore the mountain force, to climb the rocky heights, or walk over moor and fell apparently almost regardless of distance. Within due limits, no doubt all this is as healthful as it is delightful. But Nature's powers are limited; and Nature in Miss Wordsworth eventually gave way. And her spirits suffered in sympathy with her physical nature.
As an illustration of Miss Wordsworth's home rambles and adventures, I may here mention a reminiscence which is given by Mr. Justice Coleridge, of an excursion made with Wordsworth into Easedale. The poet, pointing to a precipitous and rocky mountain above the tarn, told of an incident which befell him and his sister on one occasion on their coming over the mountains from Langdale. From some cause they had become a little parted, when a heavy fog came on
and Miss Wordsworth became bewildered. After wandering about for some time she sat down and waited. When the fog cleared away and she could see the valley before her, she found that she had stopped very providentially, as she was standing almost on the verge of the precipice.
It is not, however, to be supposed that Miss Wordsworth accompanied her brother over the 200,000 miles which De Quincey calculated the poet must have walked, nor is it stated by what means the figures are arrived at ! A twenty or thirty miles walk was not an uncommon thing. As an instance, I find it stated that one summer afternoon, as the Keswick coach was approaching Grasmere, it met Wordsworth, and stopped. A lady, who was going on a visit to the poet, put out her head to speak to him, whereupon he said to her : “How d'ye do? Mrs. Wordsworth will be delighted to see you. I shall be back in the evening. I'm only going to tea with Southey," who, it will be remembered, lived at a distance of about fifteen miles, and the road by no means a good one.
It is stated by Principal Shairp, in the introduction to the “ Tour in Scotland,” that in the year 1829 Miss Wordsworth“ was seized with a severe illness, which so prostrated her, body and mind, that she never recovered from it.” This can, however, hardly be the fact, as is evidenced by the following letter to Mr. Crabb Robinson, which certainly shows no indication of mental prostration, and contains no allusion to a physical one:
“Friday, Dec. ist, 1831. “Had a rumor of your arrival in England reached us before your letter of yesterday's post you would ere this have received a welcome from me, in the name of each member of this family; and, further, would have been reminded of your promise to come to Rydal as soon as possible after again setting foot on English ground. When Dora heard of your return, and of my intention to write, she exclaimed after a charge that I would recall to your mind your written promise: 'He must come and spend Christmas with us. I wish he would!' Thus you see, notwithstanding your petty jarrings, Dora was always, and now is, a loving friend of yours. I am sure I need not add that if you can come at the time mentioned, so much the more agreeable to us all, for it is fast approaching; but that whenever it suits you (for you may have Christmas engagements with your own family) to travel so far northward, we shall be rejoiced to see you; and whatever other visitors we may chance to have, we shall always be able to find a corner for you. We are thankful that you are returned with health unimpaired – I may say, indeed, amended — for you were not perfectly well when you left England. You do not mention rheumatic pains, so I trust they have entirely left you. As to your being grown older - if you mean feebler in mind — my brother says, ' No such thing; your judgment has only attained autumnal ripeness. Indeed, my dear friend, I wonder not at your alarms, or those of any good man, whatever may have been his politics from youth to middle age, and onward to the decline of life. But I will not enter upon this sad and perplexing subject. I find it much more easy to look with patience on the approach of pestilence, or any affliction which it may please God to cast upon us without the intervention of man, than on the dreadful results of sudden and rash changes, whether arising from ambition, or ignorance, or brute force. I am, however, getting into the subject without intending it, so will conclude with a prayer that God may enlighten the heads and hearts of our men of power, whether Whigs or Tories, and that the madness of the deluded people may settle. This last effect can only