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DE QUINCEY. — HIS DESCRIPTION OF MISS WORDSWORTH.
- ALLAN BANK.
TT was in the year 1807 that De Quincey was added I to the number of the literary friends of the Wordsworths. He has given an interesting account of the way in which the acquaintanceship was first formed. He had, indeed, been for some years an ardent admirer of the poet, and had had some correspondence with him in 1803. The characteristic timidity - of this wayward genius is illustrated by the fact, that although De Quincey had conceived an eager longing to form the personal acquaintance of Wordsworth, and had been favored with a standing invitation to visit him, he allowed upwards of four years to pass without availing himself of the privilege of the meeting, "for which, beyond all things under heaven, he longed.”
He has recorded how he had on two occasions taken a long journey with no other object. On one of these occasions he had proceeded as far only as Coniston-a distance from Grasmere of eight miles — when, his courage failing him, he returned.
The second time he actually so far kept up his courage as to traverse the distance between Coniston
and the Vale of Grasmere, and came in sight of the “ little white cottage gleaming among trees,” which was the goal of his desire. After, however, he had caught “one hasty glimpse of this loveliest of landscapes,” he “retreated like a guilty thing." This was in 1806. During the following year circumstances combined to bring about the much desired meeting.
A short time after an introduction to Coleridge, in the summer of this year, De Quincey learnt that Coleridge, who was engaged to lecture in town, desired to send his family to Keswick, and he was glad to accept De Quincey's offer to escort them. As Grasmere lay in their route, and Mrs. Coleridge was a cherished friend of the Wordsworths, a call upon them was the most natural thing, as was also an invitation to spend the night, and resume their journey on the following day.
Describing the cottage, De Quincey says: “A little semi-vestibule between two doors prefaces the entrance into what may be considered the principal room. It was an oblong square, not above eight and a-half feet high, sixteen feet long, and twelve feet broad; very prettily wainscotted from the floor to the ceiling with dark-polished oak, slightly embellished with carving. One window there was, a perfect and unpretending cottage window, with little diamond panes, embowered at almost every season of the year with roses, and, in the summer and autumn, with a profusion of jasmine, and other fragrant shrubs."
After a description of Mrs. Wordsworth, as before alluded to, he follows with a most interesting account of the appearance of Miss Wordsworth : "Immediately
behind her moved a lady shorter, slighter, and, perhaps, in all other respects, as different from her in personal characteristics, as could have been wished for the most effective contrast. Her face was of Egyptian brown ; rarely in a woman of English birth had I seen a more determinate Gypsy tan. Her eyes were not soft, as Mrs. Wordsworth's, nor were they fierce or bold; but they were wild and startling, and hurried in their motion. Her manner was warm, and even ardent; her sensibility seemed constitutionally deep; and some subtle fire of impassioned intellect apparently burned within her, which, being alternately pushed forward into a conspicuous expression, by the irrepressible instincts of her temperament, and then immediately checked, in obedience to the decorum of her sex and age, and her maidenly condition, gave to her whole demeanor, and to her conversation, an air of embarrassment, and even of self-conflict, that was almost distressing to witness. Even her very utterance and enunciation often suffered in point of clearness and steadiness from the agitation of her excessive organic sensibility. At times the self-counteraction and selfbaffling of her feelings caused her even to stammer, and so determinately to stammer, that a stranger who should have seen her, and quitted her in that state of feeling, would certainly have set her down for one plagued with that infirmity of speech as distressingly as Charles Lamb himself. This was Miss Wordsworth, the only sister of the poet — his · Dorothy,' who naturally owed so much to the life-long intercourse with her great brother, in his most solitary and sequestered
years; but, on the other hand, to whom he has acknowledged obligations of the profoundest nature ; and, in particular, this mighty one, through which we also, the admirers and worshippers of this great poet, are become equally her debtors — that whereas the intellect of Wordsworth was, by its original tendency, too stern, too austere, too much enamoured of an ascetic harsh sublimity, she it was, – the lady who paced by his side continually through sylvan and mountain tracts — in Highland glens and in the dim recesses of German charcoal burners — that first couched his eye to the sense of beauty, humanized him by the gentler charities, and ingrafted with her delicate female touch those graces upon the ruder growths of his nature, which have since clothed the forest of his genius with a foliage corresponding in loveliness and beauty to the strength of its boughs and the massiness of its trunks. The greatest deductions from Miss Wordsworth's attractions, and from the exceeding interest which surrounded her in right of her character, of her history, and of the relation which she fulfilled towards her brother, were the glancing quickness of her motions, and other circumstances in her deportment (such as her stooping attitude when walking) which gave an ungraceful, and even unsexual, character to her appearance when out of doors. She did not cultivate the graces which preside over the person and its carriage. But, on the other hand,' she was a person of very remarkable endowments, intellectually; and, in addition to the other great services which she rendered to her brother, this I may mention as greater than all the rest, and it was one which equally operated to the benefit of every casual companion in a walk — viz., the exceeding sympathy, always ready and always profound, by which she made all that one could tell her, all that one could describe, all that one could quote from a foreign author, reverberate, as it were, à plusieurs reprises, to one's own feelings, by the manifest impression it made upon hers. The pulses of light are not more quick or more inevitable in their flow and undulation than were the answering and echoing movements of her sympathizing attention. Her knowledge of literature was irregular and thoroughly unsystematic. She was content to be ignorant of many things; but what she knew and had really mastered lay where it could not be disturbed — in the temple of her own most fervid heart."
Proceeding to compare his impressions of the two ladies he adds :—“Miss Wordsworth had seen more of life, and even of good company; for she had lived, when quite a girl, under the protection of Dr. Cookson, a near relative, Canon of Windsor, and a personal favorite of the Royal family, especially of George III. Consequently she ought to have been the more polished of the two; and yet, from greater natural aptitudes for refinement of manner in her sister-in-law, and partly, perhaps, from her more quiet and subdued manner, Mrs. Wordsworth would have been pronounced very much the more lady-like person.”
De Quincey excuses the large latitude used in his descriptions on the ground of “the interest which attaches to any one so nearly connected with a great