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Owing to the incompetence of a pilot, the ship struck off the Bill of Portland on the 5th February, 1805. Captain Wordsworth died, as he had lived, cheerfully doing his duty. Though he might have saved his own life, he bravely remained at his post to the last, and perished with most of the crew.
Writing of the sad occurrence to Sir George Beaumont shortly after, Wordsworth says : — “My poor sister and my wife, who loved him almost as we did (for he was one of the most amiable of men) are in miserable affliction, which I do all in my power to alleviate; but, Heaven knows, I want consolation myself. I can say nothing higher of my ever-dear brother than that he was worthy of his sister, who is now weeping beside me, and of the friendship of Coleridge; meek, affectionate, silently enthusiastic, loving all quiet things, and a poet in every thing but words.” In a postscript he adds :-“I shall do all in my power to sustain my sister under her sorrow, which is, and long will be, bitter and poignant. We did not love him as a brother merely, but as a man of original mind, and an honor to all about him. Oh! dear friend, forgive me for talking thus. We have had no tidings from Coleridge. I tremble for the moment when he is to hear of my brother's death ; it will distress him to the heart, — and his poor body cannot bear sorrow. He loved my brother, and he knows how we at Grasmere loved him.”
The friendship between the Wordsworths and Charles and Mary Lamb, formed during the Nether Stowey period, had continued, and they had been regular correspondents. Shortly after the sad death of her brother Miss Wordsworth had, in the fulness of her heart, written to Miss Lamb. Although the response to the communication is well known it should find a place here. Miss Lamb's reply shows how well qualified she was to sympathize in her friend's sufferings. She had, indeed, been taught in the same school. She says :-“I thank you, my kind friend, for your most comfortable letter ; till I saw your own handwriting I could not persuade myself that I should do well to write to you, though I have often attempted it; but I always left off dissatisfied with what I had written, and feeling that I was doing an improper thing to intrude upon your sorrow. I wished to tell you that you would one day feel the kind of peaceful state of mind, and sweet memory of the dead, which you so happily describe as now almost begun; but I felt that it was improper and most grating to the feelings of the afflicted to say to them that the memory of their affliction would in time become a constant part, not only of their dream, but of their most wakeful sense of happiness. That you would see every object with and through your lost brother, and that that would at last become a real and everlasting source of comfort to you I felt, and well knew from my own experience in sorrrow; but till you yourself began to feel this I didn't dare tell you so; but I send you some poor lines, which I wrote under this conviction of mind, and before I heard Coleridge was returning home. I will transcribe them now before I finish my letter, lest a false shame prevent me then, for I know they are much worse than they ought to be, written as they were with strong feeling and on such a subject; every line seems to me to be borrowed; but I had no better way of expressing my thoughts, and I never have the power of altering or amending any thing I have once laid aside with dissatisfaction:
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Miss Wordsworth's reply to this letter has not been preserved. It came to the hands of Charles Lamb when his sister was undergoing one of her temporary but most sad confinements, in the asylum she periodically visited. On the 14th of June, 1805, Charles wrote for her to acknowledge the letter, one from which the following extract may be given : _“Your long, kind letter has not been thrown away (for it has given me great pleasure to find you are all resuming your old occupations and are better); but poor Mary,
to whom it is addressed, cannot yet relish it. She has been attacked by one of her severe illnesses, and is at present from home. Last Monday week was the day she left me, and I hope I may calculate upon having her again in a month or little more. I am rather afraid late hours have, in this case, contributed to her indisposition. I have every reason to suppose that this illness, like all the former ones, will be but temporary ; but I cannot always feel so. Meantime she is dead to me, and I miss a prop. All my strength is gone, and I am like a fool, bereft of her co-operation. I dare not think lest I should think wrong, so used am I to look up to her in the least as in the biggest perplexity. To say all that I know of her would be more than I think anybody could believe, or even understand; and when I hope to have her well again with me, it would be sinning against her feelings to go about to praise her, for I can conceal nothing that I do from her. She is older and wiser and better than I, and all my wretched imperfections I cover to myself by resolutely thinking on her goodness. She would share life and death, heaven and hell with me. She lives but for me ; and I know I have been wasting and teasing her life for five years past incessantly with my cursed drinking and ways of going on. But even in this upbraiding of myself I am offending against her, for I know that she has clung to me for better for worse ; and if the balance has been against her hitherto it was a noble trade."
The following letter of Charles Lamb, addressed “ to Mr. and Miss Wordsworth,” on the 28th of Sep
tember, 1805, enclosing his “ Farewell to Tobacco " may also find a place here :
“I wish you may think this a handsome farewell to my 'Friendly Traitress.' Tobacco has been my evening comfort and my morning curse for nearly five years; and you know how difficult it is from refraining to pick one's lips even, when it has become a habit. This poem is the only one which I have finished since so long as when I wrote “Hester Savory. I have had it in my head to do this two years, but tobacco stood in its own light when it gave me headaches that prevented my singing its praises. Now you have got it, you have got all my store, for I have absolutely not another line. No more has Mary. We have nobody about us that cares for poetry; and who will rear grapes when he shall be the sole eater? Perhaps if you encourage us to show you what we may write, we may do something now and then before we absolutely forget the quantity of an English line for want of practice. The “Tobacco’ being a little in the way in Withers (whom Southey so much likes) perhaps you will somehow convey it to him with my kind remembrances. Then, everybody will have seen it that I wish to see it, I having sent it to Malta. “I remain, dear W. and D., “ Yours truly,