Page images
PDF
EPUB

which serve to illustrate at once something of the political attitude of the times, and also of the mental condition of their rustic neighbors in Somersetshire. Coleridge tells an amusing story how he and Wordsworth were followed and watched in their rambles by a person who was suspected to be a spy on their proceedings employed by the Government of the day. Whether this be well founded or not, the mere fact of two men living in their midst, without any apparent object, appears to have rather discomposed their neighbors. Why should they be continually spending their time in taking long and apparently purposeless rambles, engaged in earnest conversation? It was inconceivable that any one should walk a few miles in the light of the moon merely to look at the sea! They must be engaged in smuggling, or have other nefarious designs. In connection with this subject, there is one good story told. Some country gentlemen of the neighborhood happened to be in the company of a party who were discussing the question whether Wordsworth and Coleridge might be traitors, and in correspondence with the French Administration, when one of them answered : “Oh ! as to that Coleridge, he is a rattlebrain that will say more in a week than he will stand to in a twelvemonth. But Wordsworth, he is the traitor. Why, bless you ! he is so close that you'll never hear him open his lips on the subject from year's end to year's end." The public belief in the absurd theory of Wordsworth's traitorous designs was, however, sufficient to induce the owner of the mansion in which he lived to put an end to the occupation.

The reputation of his friends and visitors suffered with his. In allusion to this, Mr. Howitt says: “The grave and moral Wordsworth, the respectable Wedgewoods, the correct Robert Southey, and Coleridge, dreaming of glorious intellectualities beyond the moon, were set down for a very disreputable gang. Innocent Mrs. Coleridge and poor Dolly Wordsworth were seen strolling about with them, and were pronounced no better than they should be. Such was the character that they unconsciously acquired that Wordsworth was at length actually driven out of the country.”

It may not be out of place to repeat here Mr. Cottle's version of the affair. He says: “Mr. Wordsworth had taken the Alfoxden housę, near Stowey, for one year (during the minority of the heir), and the reason why he was refused a continuance by the ignorant man who had the letting of it arose, as Mr. Coleridge informed me, from a whimsical cause, or rather a series of causes. The wiseacres of the village had, it seemed, made Mr. Wordsworth the subject of their serious conversation. One said that he had seen him wandering about by night and look rather strange at the moon ! And then he roamed over the hills like a partridge ! Another said he had heard him mutter, as he walked, in some outlandish brogue that nobody could understand! Another said: 'It is useless to talk, Thomas. I think he is what people call a wise man (a conjurer).' Another said : “You are every one of you wrong. I know what he is. We have all met him tramping away toward the sea. Would any man in his senses take all that trouble to look at a parcel of water? I think he carries on a snug business in the smuggling line, and in these journeys is on the look-out for some wet cargo !' Another very significantly said: “I know that he has got a private still in his cellar; for I once passed his house at a little better than a hundred yards' distance, and I could smell the spirits as plain as an ashen faggot at Christmas !' Another said : “However that was, he was surely a desperd (desperate) French Jacobin; for he is so silent and dark that nobody ever heard him say one word about politics !' And thus these ignoramuses drove from their village a greater ornament than will ever again be found amongst them.”

After leaving Alfoxden, in the autumn of 1798, Miss Wordsworth accompanied her brother during a residence of six months in Germany, their chief object being the attainment of a knowledge of the language. Although, from the absence of society at Goslar, where they were, they do not seem to have been fortunately circumstanced in this respect, Wordsworth was, according to his sister, very industrious, and here composed several poenis.

Their life in Germany was not altogether without adventure. Mr. Howitt gives an account of an incident related to him by the poet of his arriving late one evening, accompanied by Miss Wordsworth and Coleridge, at a hamlet in Hesse Cassel, where they were unable to gain admittance to the inn, and feared having to pass the night in the open street. A continued knocking at the inhospitable doors only brought out the landlord armed with a huge cudgel, with which he began to beat them. Regardless of their personal danger, and thinking of their female companion, to whom the prospect of an inclement night in the open air was by no means cheering, Wordsworth and his friend managed, after warding off the blows of the cudgel, to force their way into the house, and by reasoning with the surly landlord, and appealing to his better feelings, induced him to afford them a scanty lodging for the night. It appears that strangers travelling in these remote parts at this time received scant courtesy, even from those professing to provide them with entertainment, and that personal violence and plunder were not unfrequently resorted to.

On returning to England in the spring of 1799, Wordsworth, after spending some months with friends at Sockburn-on-Tees, wisely determined to have a fixed place of abode for himself, and, of course, his sister; eventually selecting that spot which is more than all others associated with his name and memory. A walking tour in company with his friend Coleridge in Westmoreland and Cumberland, resulted in his fixing upon Grasmere as the future home of himself and his faithful sister. To this place they accordingly repaired, walking a considerable part of the way — that from Wensleydale to Kendal — “accomplishing as much as twenty miles in a day over uneven roads, frozen into rocks, in the teeth of a keen wind and a driving snow," amid the crisp and biting blasts of a winter day, arriving at Grasmere — so long the scene of their future labors and rambles — on the shortest day of the last year in the last century.

CHAPTER V.

THE LAKE DISTRICT.

THE lake and mountain district of England, which

I has now become so famous, was happily chosen by these children of Nature as their residence. Born as they both were on its outskirts, they had long been familiar with its beauties, and the only matter for surprise is that they had not earlier turned their faces to their native hills instead of spending some intervening years elsewhere.

No region could have been more in harmony with their sympathies and pursuits. The hardy inhabitants of these dales, and the simplicity of their lives and manners, formed fitting objects of study and reflection for the single-minded poet of Nature, who came to live and die amongst them. It is quite unnecessary, in these days of travel and of guide-books, which have done so much to make the district familiar ground, to give any description of it. It may not, however, be out of place to quote an extract or two from Woodsworth's own Description of the lakes. Referring to the aspect of the district at different seasons of the year, he says :—“ It has been said that in human life there are moments worth ages. In a more subdued

« PreviousContinue »