« PreviousContinue »
chitis, and her spirit left the worn-out frame on the 25th of January, in her eighty-third year.
Her remains were deposited in the peaceful churchyard of Grasmere, by the murmuring waters of a mountain stream, the same sacred spot of earth which contained those of her beloved brother, overshadowed by the same yew trees.
It was from her own choice — a choice decided and happy — that Miss Wordsworth was never married. De Quincey (who seems, by the way, to have had a pretty universal knowledge) informs us that she had several offers of marriage, and amongst them, to his knowledge, one from Hazlitt, all of which she decisively rejected. Although he speaks so confidently, it is probable that, with regard to Hazlitt, he was mistaken. With the exception of a visit to Nether Stowey, and a short stay in the Lake district some few years later, it does not appear that Hazlitt was brought into contact with the Wordsworths, or that the relations between them were at all familiar; and Hazlitt's grandson and biographer does not attach much importance to the statement. Miss Wordsworth had a far higher vocation. Her sacrifice, if it can be so called, to her brother was complete ; but her lot was not, therefore, less happy. Doubtless the duties of marriage and maternity, had the poet's prophecy concerning her been fulfilled, would have filled her life, in its maturity and decline, with cares and interests which would have contributed to the keeping of her mind in a condition of more continuous mental vigor and equipoise. But the one great object of her life had been
accomplished. She had lived to know all slander and rancor, the effect of all spiteful reviews, lived down; and — if not able fully to appreciate and rejoice in the fact — to see her brother, whom she had helped so much to perfect, universally acknowledged as a master of English song, occupying a foremost niche in the Temple of Fame — the greatest poet since Milton.
And, although her old age was somewhat overclouded, it cannot be considered altogether sad ; and it is not with thoughts of sadness that our reflections on such a beneficent career as hers should be closed.
If the latter portion of her life was overshadowed with gloom and sickness; if the brightness of the morning and the serenity of noonday too early gave place to a long twilight upon which the shadows fell heavily, her bright and lucid intervals give abundant hope that gleams of gladness revisited the mind which, for so long, had been a “mansion for all lovely forms” treasured and garnered in her early years.
It is more befitting that we should turn away our thoughts from the intervening period of age and decay ; and that Dorothy Wordsworth should live in our minds as she was in her eager-spirited and ardent youth, when in company with her beloved companion, she bounded over the familiar hills and roamed by the mountain streams, or by the household fire scanned the classic page - a youth of bearity, and buoyancy, and joy, because so full of love and goodness, of generous sympathy and unselfish devotion - a youth which she has since renewed, unclouded by any shade, in the same old society, and with the familiar love re-linked-in Paradiso. CHAPTER XVII.
A QUIET RESTING-PLACE.
FEW words only are desirable to be added in A reference to the surviving inmate of the home of which Miss Wordsworth was so long a cherished member. The poet's aged widow survived her husband and sister-in-law for some years. She was not solitary in her widowhood, but tenderly loved by devoted friends. Miss Joanna Baillie, writing to Mrs. Fletcher in the June succeeding the death of Wordsworth, says: “Many thanks to you for sending to us a copy of these lines” (the lines upon the companionship of Wordsworth and his sister, before mentioned), “ and for letting us know how his excellent wife, Mrs. Wordsworth, bears up under her severe affliction. She was a mate worthy of him or any man, and his sister too, such a devoted noble being as scarcely any other man ever possessed.”
Mrs. Fletcher's diary, under date, Sunday, the 7th May, 1854, contains the following entry : “Yesterday, Mrs. Davy brought Mrs. Wordsworth to dinner. It is always a pleasure to see the placid old age of dear Mrs. Wordsworth. Hers has been a life of duty, and it is now an old age of repose, while her affections are kept in constant exercise by the tender interest she takes in her grand-children.”
During the last three years of her life Mrs. Wordsworth was blind; and it is deeply pathetic to read how, in her last days, when her sightless eyes could no longer peruse the sacred page, she loved to feel with her trembling fingers a cross which she kept in her room, and which seemed to remind her of the Christian's hope. Her life of calm devotion and disinterested love, succeeded by an old age of resignation and peace, was brought to a serene close on the 17th of January, 1859.
Among the quiet resting-places of the dead, few, if any, are of deeper interest than the peaceful churchyard of Grasmere. Under the shadow of the everlasting hills “ girded with joy,” and by the banks of the murmuring stream singing in its onward course of hopes beyond the grave, it is a spot which affection would choose for its most tenderly loved. As “the Churchyard among the mountains,” many of the annals of which are recorded in that grand philosophic poem, “The Excursion,” it could not fail to draw thither the footsteps of the thoughtful. But there is one corner on approaching which we seem to feel more solemnized, to breathe more gently — where the footstep falls lighter and lingers longer. To us it is as sacred a nook as the shadowy corner of the famous Abbey where are laid England's greatest sons. The group of graves gathered there are not glorified by the “religious light” of storied windows, but they are warmed by summer suns, and covered with a garment of purity by winter snows, and over-shadowed by aged yews, which gently shower around them their peaceful and slumberous undersong.
In the south-east corner of this quiet God's Acre is to be found this cluster of graves, surrounded by an iron palisade, to each of which a history of more than common interest is attached. Behind the principal group are three short graves, two of which, being the first formed of the group, attract attention. These are the graves of little Catherine and Thomas Wordsworth, the children of the poet, whose early and sudden deaths have been mentioned. The stone indicating the resting-place of the “ loving, and tractable, though wild,” Catherine bears the inscription, “Suffer little children to come unto Me.” That of her brother contains a few memorial lines recording at once his age and loving disposition :
“Six months to six years added he remained
What we possessed, and now is wholly Thine!” The next green mound, in point of date, is that which covers the remains of the first Mrs. Quillinan, who died on the 25th May, 1822, at the early age of twenty-seven years, six months after the birth of her second daughter. She was a daughter of the late Sir Egerton Brydges, Bart., of Denton Court, near Dover. There is in Grasmere Church a monument to her designed by Sir F. Chantrey.