Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 7, No. 43, May, 1861
Part 2 out of 5
first to last. With the carelessness of the popular mind in such cases,
the British public had already almost confounded the two men and their
works, as it soon after mixed up Southey with both; whereas they were
all as unlike each other as any three poets could well be.
Coleridge and Wordsworth were both contemplative, it is true, while
Southey was not: but the remarkable thing about Coleridge was the
exclusiveness of his contemplative tendencies, by which one set of
faculties ran riot in his mind and life, making havoc among his powers,
and a dismal wreck of his existence. The charm and marvel of his
discourse upset all judgments during his life, and for as long as his
voice remained in the ear of his enchanted hearers; but, apart from the
spell, it is clear to all sober and trained thinkers that Coleridge
wandered away from truth and reality in the midst of his vaticinations,
as the _clairvoyant_ does in the midst of his previsions, so as to
mislead and bewilder, while inspiring and intoxicating the hearer or
reader. He recorded, in regard to himself, that "history and particular
facts lost all interest" in his mind after his first launch into
metaphysics; and he remained through life incapable of discerning
reality from inborn images. Wordsworth took alarm at the first
experience of such a tendency in himself, and relates that he used to
catch at the trees and palings by the roadside to satisfy himself of
existences out of himself; but Coleridge encouraged this subjective
exclusiveness, to the destruction of the balance of his mind and the
_morale_ of his nature. He was himself a wild poem; and he discoursed
wild poems to us,--musical romances from Dreamland; but the luxury to
himself and us was bought by injury to others which was altogether
irreparable, and pardonable only on the ground that the balance of his
mind was destroyed by a fatal intellectual, in addition to physical
intemperance. In him we see an extreme case of a life of contemplation
uncontrolled by will and unchecked by action. His faculty of will
perished, and his prerogative of action died out. His contemplations
must necessarily be worth just so much the less to us as his mental
structure was deformed,--extravagantly developed in one direction, and
dwarfed in another.
The singularity in Wordsworth's case, on the other hand, is that his
contemplative tendencies not only coexisted with, but were implicated
with, the most precise and vivid apprehension of small realities. There
was no proportion in his mind; and vaticination and twaddle rolled
off his eloquent tongue as chance would have it. At one time he would
discourse like a seer, on the slightest instigation, by the hour
together; and next, he would hold forth with equal solemnity, on the
pettiest matter of domestic economy. I have known him take up some
casual notice of a "beck" (brook) in the neighborhood, and discourse
of brooks for two hours, till his hearers felt as if they were by the
rivers of waters in heaven; and next, he would talk on and on, till
stopped by some accident, on his doubt whether Mrs. Wordsworth gave a
penny apiece or a half-penny apiece for trapped mice to a little girl
who had undertaken to clear the house of them. It has been common to
regret that he held the office of Stamp-Distributor in the District; but
it was probably a great benefit to his mind as well as his fortunes. It
was something that it gave him security and ease as to the maintenance
of his family; but that is less important than its necessitating a
certain amount of absence from home, and intercourse with men on
business. He was no reader in mature life; and the concentration of his
mind on his own views, and his own genius, and the interests of his home
and neighborhood, caused some foibles, as it was; and it might have been
almost fatal, but for some office which allowed him to gratify his love
of out-door life at the same time that it led him into intercourse
with men in another capacity than as listeners to himself, or peasants
engrossed in their own small concerns.
Southey was not contemplative or speculative, and it could only have
been because he lived at the Lakes and was Coleridge's brother-in-law
that he was implicated with the two speculative poets at all. It has
been carelessly reported by Lake tourists that Southey was not beloved
among his neighbors, while Wordsworth was; and that therefore the latter
was the better man, in a social sense. It should be remembered that
Southey was a working man, and that the other two were not; and,
moreover, it should never be for a moment forgotten that Southey worked
double-tides to make up for Coleridge's idleness. While Coleridge was
dreaming and discoursing, Southey was toiling to maintain Coleridge's
wife and children. He had no time and no attention to spare for
wandering about and making himself at home with the neighbors. This
practice came naturally to Wordsworth; and a kind and valued neighbor he
was to all the peasants round. Many a time I have seen him in the road,
in Scotch bonnet and green spectacles, with a dozen children at his
heels and holding his cloak, while he cut ash-sticks for them from the
hedge, hearing all they had to say or talking to them. Southey, on the
other hand, took his constitutional walk at a fixed hour, often reading
as he went. Two families depended on him; and his duty of daily labor
was not only distinctive, but exclusive. He was always at work at home,
while Coleridge was doing nothing but talking, and Wordsworth was
abroad, without thinking whether he was at work or play. Seen from the
stand-point of conscience and of moral generosity, Southey's was the
noblest life of the three; and Coleridge's was, of course, nought.
I own, however, that, considering the tendency of the time to make
literature a trade, or at least a profession, I cannot help feeling
Wordsworth's to have been the most privileged life of them all. He had
not work enough to do; and his mode of life encouraged an excess of
egoism: but he bore all the necessary retribution of this in his latter
years; and the whole career leaves an impression of an airy freedom and
a natural course of contemplation, combined with social interest and
action, more healthy than the existence of either the delinquent or the
exemplary comrade with whom he was associated in the public view.
I have left my neighbors waiting long on the margin of Grasmere. That
was before I was born; but I could almost fancy I had seen them there.
I observed that Wordsworth's report of their trip was very unlike
Coleridge's. When his sister had left them, he wrote to her, describing
scenes by brief precise touches which draw the picture that Coleridge
blurs with grand phrases. Moreover, Wordsworth tells sister Dorothy that
John will give him forty pounds to buy a bit of land by the lake, where
they may build a cottage to live in henceforth. He says, also, that
there is a small house vacant near the spot.--They took that house;
and thus the Wordsworths became "Lakers." They entered that well-known
cottage at Grasmere on the shortest day (St. Thomas's) of 1799. Many
years afterwards, Dorothy wrote of the aspect of Grasmere on her arrival
that winter evening,--the pale orange lights on the lake, and the
reflection of the mountains and the island in the still waters. She
had wandered about the world in an unsettled way; and now she had cast
anchor for life,--not in that house, but within view of that valley.
All readers of Wordsworth, on either side the Atlantic, believe
that they know that cottage, (described in the fifth book of the
"Excursion,") with its little orchard, and the moss house, and the
tiny terrace behind, with its fine view of the lake and the basin of
mountains. There the brother and sister lived for some years in a very
humble way, making their feast of the beauty about them. Wordsworth was
fond of telling how they had meat only two or three times a week; and he
was eager to impress on new-comers--on me among others--the prudence of
warning visitors that they must make up their minds to the scantiest
fare. He was as emphatic about this, laying his finger on one's arm to
enforce it, as about catching mice or educating the people. It was vain
to say that one would rather not invite guests than fail to provide for
them; he insisted that the expense would be awful, and assumed that his
sister's and his own example settled the matter. I suppose they were
poor in those days; but it was not for long. A devoted sister Dorothy
was. Too late it appeared that she had sacrificed herself to aid and
indulge her brother. When her mind was gone, and she was dying by
inches, Mrs. Wordsworth offered me the serious warning that she gave
whenever occasion allowed, against overwalking. She told me that Dorothy
had, not occasionally only, but often, walked forty miles in a day to
give her brother her presence. To repair the ravages thus caused she
took opium; and the effect on her exhausted frame was to overthrow her
mind. This was when she was elderly. For a long course of years, she
was a rich household blessing to all connected with her. She shared her
brother's peculiarity of investing trifles with solemnity, or rather,
of treating all occasions alike (at least in writing) with pedantic
elaboration; but she had the true poet's, combined with the true woman's
nature; and the fortunate man had, in wife and sister, the two best
friends of his life.
The Wordsworths were the originals of the Lake _coterie,_ as we have
seen. Born at Cockermouth, and a pupil at the Hawkeshead school,
Wordsworth was looking homewards when he settled in the District. The
others came in consequence. Coleridge brought his family to Greta Hall,
near Keswick; and with them came Mrs. Lovell, one of the three Misses
Fricker, of whom Coleridge and Southey had married two. Southey was
invited to visit Greta Hall, the year after the Wordsworths settled at
Grasmere; and thus they became acquainted. They had just met before, in
the South; but they had yet to learn to know each other; and there was
sufficient unlikeness between them to render this a work of some time
and pains. It was not long before Southey, instead of Coleridge, was
the lessee of Greta Hall; and soon after Coleridge took his departure,
leaving his wife and children, and also the Lovells, a charge upon
Southey, who had no more fortune than Coleridge, except in the
inexhaustible wealth of a heart, a will, and a conscience. Wordsworth
married in 1802; and then the two poets passed through their share of
the experience of human life, a few miles apart, meeting occasionally on
some mountain ridge or hidden dale, and in one another's houses, drawn
closer by their common joys and sorrows, but never approximating in
the quality of their genius, or in the stand-points from which they
respectively looked out upon human affairs. They had children, loved
them, and each lost some of them; and they felt tenderly for each other
when each little grave was opened. Southey, the most amiable of men in
domestic life, gentle, generous, serene, and playful, grew absolutely
ferocious about politics, as his articles in the "Quarterly Review"
showed all the world. Wordsworth, who had some of the irritability and
pettishness, mildly described by himself as "gentle stirrings of the
mind," which occasionally render great men ludicrously like children,
and who was, moreover, highly conservative after his early democratic
fever had passed off, grew more and more liberal with advancing years.
I do not mean that he verged towards the Reformers,--but that he became
more enlarged, tolerant, and generally sympathetic in his political
views and temper. It thus happened that society at a distance took up
a wholly wrong impression of the two men,--supposing Southey to be an
ill-conditioned bigot, and Wordsworth a serene philosopher, far above
being disturbed by troubles in daily life, or paying any attention to
party-politics. He showed some of his ever-growing liberality, by the
way, in speaking of this matter of temper. In old age, he said that the
world certainly does get on in minor morals: that when he was young
"everybody had a temper"; whereas now no such thing is allowed;
amiability is the rule; and an imperfect temper is an offence and a
misfortune of a distinctive character.
Among the letters which now and then arrived from strangers, in the
early days of Wordsworth's fame, was one which might have come from
Coleridge, if they had never met. It was full of admiration and
sympathy, expressed as such feelings would be by a man whose analytical
and speculative faculties predominated over all the rest. The writer
was, indeed, in those days, marvellously like Coleridge,--subtile in
analysis to excess, of gorgeous imagination, bewitching discourse, fine
scholarship, with a magnificent power of promising and utter incapacity
in performing, and with the same habit of intemperance in opium. By
his own account, his "disease was to meditate too much and observe too
little." I need hardly explain that this was De Quincey; and when I have
said that, I need hardly explain further that advancing time and closer
acquaintance made the likeness to Coleridge bear a smaller and smaller
proportion to the whole character of the man.
In return for his letter of admiration and sympathy, he received an
invitation to the Grasmere valley. More than once he set forth to avail
himself of it; but when within a few miles, the shyness under which in
those days he suffered overpowered his purpose, and he turned back.
After having achieved the meeting, however, he soon announced his
intention of settling in the valley; and he did so, putting his wife
and children eventually into the cottage which the Wordsworths had now
outgrown and left. There was little in him to interest or attach a
family of regular domestic habits, like the Wordsworths, given to active
employment, sensible thrift, and neighborly sympathy. It was universally
known that a great poem of Wordsworth's was reserved for posthumous
publication, and kept under lock and key meantime. De Quincey had so
remarkable a memory that he carried off by means of it the finest
passage of the poem,--or that which the author considered so; and
he published that passage in a magazine article, in which he gave
a detailed account of the Wordsworths' household, connections, and
friends, with an analysis of their characters and an exhibition of their
faults. This was in 1838, a dozen years before the poet's death. The
point of interest is,--How did the wronged family endure the wrong? They
were quiet about it,--that is, sensible and dignified; but Wordsworth
was more. A friend of his and mine was talking with him over the fire,
just when De Quincey's disclosures were making the most noise, and
mentioned the subject. Wordsworth begged to be spared hearing anything
about them, saying that the man had long passed away from the family
life and mind, and he did not wish to disturb himself about what could
not be remedied. My friend acquiesced, saying, "Well, I will tell you
only one thing that he says, and then we will talk of something else. He
says your wife is too good for you." The old man's dim eyes lighted up
instantly, and he started from his seat, and flung himself against
the mantel-piece, with his back to the fire, as he cried with loud
enthusiasm, "And that's _true! There_ he is right!"
It was by his written disclosures only that De Quincey could do much
mischief; for it was scarcely possible to be prejudiced by anything he
could say. The whole man was grotesque; and it must have been a singular
image that his neighbors in the valley preserved in their memory. A
frail-looking, diminutive man, with narrow chest and round shoulders and
features like those of a dying patient, walking with his hands behind
him, his hat on the back of his head, and his broad lower lip projected,
as if he had something on his tongue that wanted listening to,--such was
his aspect; and if one joined company with him, the strangeness grew
from moment to moment. His voice and its modulations were a perfect
treat. As for what he had to say, it was everything from odd comment on
a passing trifle, eloquent enunciation of some truth, or pregnant
remark on some lofty subject, down to petty gossip, so delivered as to
authorize a doubt whether it might not possibly be an awkward effort
at observing something outside of himself, or at getting a grasp of
something that he supposed actual. That he should have so supposed was
his weakness, and the retribution for the peculiar intemperance which
depraved his nature and alienated from their proper use powers which
should have made him one of the first philosophers of his age. His
singular organization was fatally deranged in its action before it could
show its best quality, and his is one of the cases in which we cannot be
wrong in attributing moral disease directly to physical disturbance; and
it would no doubt have been dropped out of notice, if he had been able
to abstain from comment on the characters and lives of other people.
Justice to them compels us to accept and use the exposures he offers us
About the time of De Quincey's settlement at Grasmere, Wilson, the
future CHRISTOPHER NORTH, bought the Elleray estate, on the banks of
Windermere. He was then just of age,--supreme in all manly sports,
physically a model man, and intellectually, brimming with philosophy and
poetry. He came hither a rather spoiled child of fortune, perhaps; but
he was soon sobered by a loss of property which sent him to his studies
for the bar. Scott was an excellent friend to him at that time; and so
strong and prophetic was Wilson's admiration of his patron, that he
publicly gave him the name of "The Great Magician" before the first
"Waverley Novel" was published. Within ten years from his getting a
foothold on Windermere banks, he had raised periodical literature to a
height unknown before in our time, by his contributions to "Blackwood's
Magazine"; and he seemed to step naturally into the Moral Philosophy
Chair in Edinburgh in 1820. Christopher North has perhaps conveyed to
foreign, and untravelled English, readers as true a conception of our
Lake scenery and its influences in one way as Wordsworth in another.
The very spirit of the moorland, lake, brook, tarn, ghyll, and ridge
breathes from his prose poetry: and well it might. He wandered alone for
a week together beside the trout-streams and among the highest tarns. He
spent whole days in his boat, coasting the bays of the lake, or floating
in the centre, or lying reading in the shade of the trees on the
islands. He led with a glorious pride the famous regatta on Windermere,
when Canning was the guest of the Boltons at Storrs, and when Scott,
Wordsworth, and Southey were of the company; and he liked almost as well
steering the packet-boat from Waterhead to Bowness, till the steamer
drove out the old-fashioned conveyance. He sat at the stern,
immovable, with his hand on the rudder, looking beyond the company of
journeymen-carpenters, fish- and butter-women, and tourists, with a
gaze on the water-and-sky-line which never shifted. Sometimes a learned
professor or a brother sportsman was with him; but he spoke no word, and
kept his mouth peremptorily shut under his beard. It was a sight worth
taking the voyage for; and it was worth going a long round to see him
standing on the shore,--"reminding one of the first man, Adam," (as was
said of him,) in his best estate,--the tall, broad frame, large head,
marked features, and long hair; and the tread which shook the ground,
and the voice which roused the echoes afar and made one's heart-strings
vibrate within. These attributes made strangers turn to look at him on
the road, and fixed all eyes on him in the ball-room at Ambleside, when
any local object induced him to be a steward. Every old boatman and
young angler, every hoary shepherd and primitive housewife in the
uplands and dales, had an enthusiasm for him. He could enter into the
solemnity of speculation with Wordsworth while floating at sunset on the
lake; and not the less gamesomely could he collect a set of good fellows
under the lamp at his supper-table, and take off Wordsworth's or
Coleridge's monologues to the life. There was that between them which
must always have precluded a close sympathy; and their faults were just
what each could least allow for in another. Of Wilson's it is enough to
say that Scott's injunction to him to "leave off sack, purge, and live
cleanly," if he wished for the Moral Philosophy Chair, was precisely
what was needed. It was still needed some time after, when, though a
Professor of Moral Philosophy, he was seen, with poor Campbell, leaving
a tavern one morning, in Edinburgh, haggard and red-eyed, hoarse and
exhausted,--not only the feeble Campbell, but the mighty Wilson,--they
having sat together twenty-four hours, discussing poetry and wine with
all their united energies. This sort of thing was not to the taste of
Wordsworth or Southey, any more than their special complacencies were
venerable to the humor of Christopher North. Yet they could cordially
admire one another; and when sorrows came over them, in dreary
impartiality, they could feel reverently and deeply for each other. When
Southey lost his idolized boy, Herbert, and had to watch over his insane
wife, always his dearest friend, and all the dearer for her helpless
and patient suffering under an impenetrable gloom,--when Wordsworth was
bereaved of the daughter who made the brightness of his life in his old
age,--and when Wilson was shaken to the centre by the loss of his wife,
and mourned alone in the damp shades of Elleray, where he would allow
not a twig to be cut from the trees she loved,--the sorrow of each moved
them all. Elleray was a gloomy place then, and Wilson never surmounted
the melancholy which beset him there; and he wisely parted with it
some years before his death. The later depression in his case was in
proportion to the earlier exhilaration. His love of Nature and of genial
human intercourse had been too exuberant; and he became incapable of
enjoyment from either, in his last years. He never recovered from an
attack of pressure on the brain, and died paralyzed in the spring of
1854. He had before gone from among us with his joy; and then we heard
that he had dropped out of life with his griefs; and our beautiful
region, and the region of life, were so much the darker in a thousand
While speaking of Elleray, we should pay a passing tribute of gratitude
to an older worthy of that neighborhood,--the well-known Bishop of
Llandaff, Richard Watson, who did more for the beauty of Windermere than
any other person. There is nothing to praise in the damp old mansion
at Calgarth, set down in low ground, and actually with its back to the
lake, and its front windows commanding no view; but the woods are the
glory of Bishop Watson. He was not a happy prelate, believing himself
undervalued and neglected, and fretting his heart over his want of
promotion; but be must have had many a blessed hour while planting
those woods for which many generations will be grateful to him. Let
the traveller remember him, when looking abroad from Miller Brow, near
Bowness. Below lies the whole length of Windermere, from the white
houses of Clappersgate, nestling under Loughrigg at the head, to the
Beacon at the foot. The whole range of both shores, with their bays
and coves and promontories, can be traced; and the green islands are
clustered in the centre; and the whole gradation of edifices is seen,
from Wray Castle, on its rising ground, to the tiny boat-houses, each
on its creek. All these features are enhanced in beauty by the Calgarth
woods, which cover the undulations of hill and margin beneath and
around, rising and falling, spreading and contracting, with green
meadows interposed, down to the white pebbly strand. To my eye, this
view is unsurpassed by any in the District.
Bishop Watson's two daughters were living in the neighborhood till two
years ago,--antique spinsters, presenting us with a most vivid specimen
of the literary female life of the last century. They were excellent
women, differing from the rest of society chiefly in their notion that
superior people should show their superiority in all the acts of their
lives,--that literary people should talk literature, and scientific
people science, and so on; and they felt affronted, as if set down among
common people, when an author talked about common things in a common
way. They did their best to treat their friends to wit and polite
letters; and they expected to be ministered to in the same fashion. This
was rather embarrassing to visitors to whom it had never occurred to
talk for any other purpose than to say what presented itself at the
moment; but it is a privilege to have known those faithful sisters, and
to have seen in them a good specimen of the literary society of the last
There is another spot in that neighborhood which strangers look up to
with interest from the lake itself,--Dovenest, the abode of Mrs. Hemans
for the short time of her residence at the Lakes. She saw it for the
first time from the lake, as her published correspondence tells, and
fell in love with it; and as it was vacant at the time, she went into it
at once. Many of my readers will remember her description of the garden
and the view from it, the terrace, the circular grass-plot with its one
tall white rose-tree. "You cannot imagine," she wrote, in 1830, "how I
delight in that fair, solitary, neglected-looking tree." The tree is not
neglected now. Dovenest is inhabited by Mrs. Hemans's then young friend,
the Rev. R.P. Graves; and it has recovered from the wildness and
desolation of thirty years ago, while looking as secluded as ever among
the woods on the side of Wansfell.
All this time, illustrious strangers were coming, year by year, to visit
residents, or to live among the mountains for a few weeks. There was
Wilberforce, spending part of a summer at Rayrigg, on the lake shore.
One of his boys asked him, "Why should you not buy a house here? and
then we could come every year." The reply was characteristic:--that it
would be very delightful; but that the world is lying, in a manner,
under the curse of God; that we have something else to do than to enjoy
fine prospects; and that, though it may be allowable to taste the
pleasure now and then, we ought to wait till the other life to enjoy
ourselves. Such was the strait-lacing in which the good man was forever
trying to compress his genial, buoyant, and grateful nature.--Scott came
again and again; and Wordsworth and Southey met to do him honor. The
tourist must remember the Swan Inn,--the white house beyond Grasmere,
under the skirts of Helvellyn. There Scott went daily for a glass of
something good, while Wordsworth's guest, and treated with the homely
fare of the Grasmere cottage. One morning, his host, himself, and
Southey went up to the Swan, to start thence with ponies for the ascent
of Helvellyn. The innkeeper saw them coming, and accosted Scott with
"Eh, Sir! ye're come early for your draught to-day!"--a disclosure which
was not likely to embarrass his host at all. Wordsworth was probably the
least-discomposed member of the party.--Charles Lamb and his sister once
popped in unannounced on Coleridge at Keswick, and spent three weeks in
the neighborhood. We can all fancy the little man on the top of Skiddaw,
with his mind full as usual of quips and pranks, and struggling with the
emotions of mountain-land, so new and strange to a Cockney, such as he
truly described himself. His loving readers do not forget his statement
of the comparative charms of Skiddaw and Fleet Street; and on the spot
we quote his exclamations about the peak, and the keen air there, and
the look over into Scotland, and down upon a sea of mountains which made
him giddy. We are glad he came and enjoyed a day, which, as he said,
would stand out like a mountain in his life; but we feel that he could
never have followed his friends hither,--Coleridge and Wordsworth,--and
have made himself at home. The warmth of a city and the hum of human
voices all day long were necessary to his spirits. As to his passage at
arms with Southey,--everybody's sympathies are with Lamb; and he
only vexes us by his humility and gratitude at being pardoned by the
aggressor, whom he had in fact humiliated in all eyes but his own. It
was one of Southey's spurts of insolent bigotry; and Lamb's plea for
tolerance and fair play was so sound as to make it a poor affectation in
Southey to assume a pardoning air; but, if Lamb's kindly and sensitive
nature could not sustain him in so virtuous an opposition, it is well
that the two men did not meet on the top of Skiddaw.--Canning's visit to
Storrs, on Windermere, was a great event in its day; and Lockhart tells
us, in his "Life of Scott," what the regatta was like, when Wilson
played Admiral, and the group of local poets, and Scott, were in the
train of the statesman. Since that day, it has been a common thing for
illustrious persons to appear in our valleys. Statesmen, churchmen,
university-men, princes, peers, bishops, authors, artists, flock hither;
and during the latter years of Wordsworth's life, the average number
of strangers who called at Rydal Mount in the course of the season was
During the growth of the District from its wildness to this thronged
state, a minor light of the region was kindling, flickering, failing,
gleaming, and at last going out,--anxiously watched and tended, but to
little purpose. The life of Hartley Coleridge has been published by his
family; and there can, therefore, be no scruple in speaking of him here.
The remembrance of him haunts us all,--almost as his ghost haunts his
kind landlady. Long after his death, she used to "hear him at night
laughing in his room," as he used to do when he lived there. A peculiar
laugh it was, which broke out when fancies crossed him, whether he was
alone or in company. Travellers used to look after him on the road, and
guides and drivers were always willing to tell about him; and still
his old friends almost expect to see Hartley at any turn,--the little
figure, with the round face, marked by the blackest eyebrows and
eyelashes, and by a smile and expression of great eccentricity. As we
passed, he would make a full stop in the road, face about, take off his
black-and-white straw hat, and bow down to the ground. The first glance
in return was always to see whether he was sober. The Hutchinsons must
remember him. He was one of the audience, when they held their concert
under the sycamores in Mr. Harrison's grounds at Ambleside; and he
thereupon wrote a sonnet,[A] doubtless well known in America. When I
wanted his leave to publish that sonnet, in an account of "Frolics with
the Hutchinsons," it was necessary to hunt him up, from public-house
to public-house, early in the morning. It is because these things are
universally known,--because he was seen staggering in the road, and
spoken of by drivers and lax artisans as an alehouse comrade, that I
speak of him here, in order that I may testify how he was beloved and
cherished by the best people in his neighborhood. I can hardly speak
of him myself as a personal acquaintance; for I could not venture on
inviting him to my house. I saw what it was to others to be subject to
day-long visits from him, when he would ask for wine, and talk from
morning to night,--and a woman, solitary and busy, could not undertake
that sort of hospitality; but I saw how forbearing his friends were, and
why,--and I could sympathize in their regrets when he died. I met him
in company occasionally, and never saw him sober; but I have heard from
several common friends of the charm of his conversation, and the beauty
of his gentle and affectionate nature. He was brought into the District
when four years old; and it does not appear that he ever had a chance
allowed him of growing into a sane man. Wordsworth used to say that
Hartley's life's failure arose mainly from his having grown up "wild
as the breeze,"--delivered over, without help or guardianship, to the
vagaries of an imagination which overwhelmed all the rest of him. There
was a strong constitutional likeness to his father, evident enough to
all; but no pains seem to have been taken on any hand to guard him from
the snare, or to invigorate his will, and aid him in self-discipline.
The great catastrophe, the ruinous blow, which rendered him hopeless, is
told in the Memoir; but there are particulars which help to account for
it. Hartley had spent his school-days under a master as eccentric as he
himself ever became. The Rev. John Dawes of Ambleside was one of the
oddities that may be found in the remote places of modern England. He
had no idea of restraint, for himself or his pupils; and when they
arrived, punctually or not, for morning school, they sometimes found the
door shut, and chalked with "Gone a-hunting," or "Gone a-fishing," or
gone away somewhere or other. Then Hartley would sit down under the
bridge, or in the shadow of the wood, or lie on the grass on the
hill-side, and tell tales to his schoolfellows for hours. His mind was
developed by the conversation of his father and his father's friends;
and he himself had a great friendship with Professor Wilson, who always
stood by him with a pitying love. He had this kind of discursive
education, but no discipline; and when he went to college, he was at the
mercy of any who courted his affection, intoxicated his imagination, and
then led him into vice. His Memoir shows how he lost his fellowship at
Oriel College, Oxford, at the end of his probationary year. He had been
warned by the authorities against his sin of intemperance; and he bent
his whole soul to get through that probationary year. For eleven months,
and many days of the twelfth, he lived soberly and studied well. Then
the old tempters agreed in London to go down to Oxford and get hold of
Hartley. They went down on the top of the coach, got access to his room,
made him drunk, and carried him with them to London; and he was not to
be found when he should have passed. The story of his death is but too
TO TENNYSON, AFTER HEARING ABBY HUTCHINSON SING "THE MAY-QUEEN" AT
I would, my friend, indeed, thou hadst been
Last night, beneath the shadowy sycamore,
To hear the lines, to me well known before,
Embalmed in music so translucent clear.
Each word of thine came singly to the ear,
Yet all was blended in a flowing stream.
It had the rich repose of summer dream,
The light distinct of frosty atmosphere.
Still have I loved thy verse, yet never knew
How sweet it was, till woman's voice invested
The pencilled outline with the living hue,
And every note of feeling proved and tested.
What might old Pindar be, if once again
The harp and voice were trembling with his
His fellowship lost, he came, ruinously humbled, to live in this
District, at first under compulsion to take pupils, whom, of course, he
could not manage. On the death of his mother, an annuity was purchased
for him, and paid quarterly, to keep him out of debt, if possible. He
could not take care of money, and he was often hungry, and often begged
the loan of a sixpence; and when the publicans made him welcome to what
he pleased to have, in consideration of the company he brought together,
to hear his wonderful talk, his wit, and his dreams, he was helpless in
the snare. We must remember that he was a fine scholar, as well as a
dreamer and a humorist; and there was no order of intellect, from the
sage to the peasant, which could resist the charm of his discourse. He
had taken his degree with high distinction at Oxford; and yet the old
Westmoreland "statesman," who, offered whiskey and water, accepts the
one and says the other can be had anywhere, would sit long to hear what
Hartley had to tell of what he had seen or dreamed. At gentlemen's
tables, it was a chance how he might talk,--sublimely, sweetly, or with
a want of tact which made sad confusion. In the midst of the great
black-frost at the close of 1848, he was at a small dinner-party at
the house of a widow lady, about four miles from his lodgings. During
dinner, some scandal was talked about some friends of his to whom he
was warmly attached. He became excited on their behalf,--took Champagne
before he had eaten enough, and, before the ladies left the table, was
no longer master of himself. His host, a very young man, permitted some
practical joking: brandy was ordered, and given to the unconscious
Hartley; and by eleven o'clock he was clearly unfit to walk home alone.
His hostess sent her footman with him, to see him home. The man took him
through Ambleside, and then left him to find his way for the other two
miles. The cold was as severe as any ever known in this climate; and it
was six in the morning when his landlady heard some noise in the porch,
and found Hartley stumbling in. She put him to bed, put hot bricks to
his feet, and tried all the proper means; and in the middle of the day
he insisted on getting up and going out. He called at the house of a
friend, Dr. S----, near Ambleside. The kind physician scolded him for
coming out, sent for a carriage, took him home, and put him to bed. He
never rose again, but died on the 6th of January, 1849. The young host
and the old hostess have followed him, after deeply deploring that
It was sweet, as well as sorrowful, to see how he was mourned.
Everybody, from his old landlady, who cared for him like a mother, to
the infant-school children, missed Hartley Coleridge. I went to his
funeral at Grasmere. The rapid Rotha rippled and dashed over the stones
beside the churchyard; the yews rose dark from the faded grass of the
graves; and in mighty contrast to both, Helvellyn stood, in wintry
silence, and sheeted with spotless snow. Among the mourners Wordsworth
was conspicuous, with his white hair and patriarchal aspect. He had
no cause for painful emotions on his own account; for he had been a
faithful friend to the doomed victim who was now beyond the reach of his
tempters. While there was any hope that stern remonstrance might rouse
the feeble will and strengthen the suffering conscience to relieve
itself, such remonstrance was pressed; and when the case was past hope,
Wordsworth's door was ever open to his old friend's son. Wordsworth
could stand by that open grave without a misgiving about his own share
in the scene which was here closing; and calm and simply grave he
looked. He might mourn over the life; but he could scarcely grieve at
the death. The grave was close behind the family group of the Wordsworth
tombs. It shows, above the name and dates, a sculptured crown of thorns
and Greek cross, with the legend, "By thy Cross and Passion, Good Lord,
One had come and gone meantime who was as express a contrast to Hartley
Coleridge as could be imagined,--a man of energy, activity, stern
self-discipline, and singular strength of will. Such a cast of character
was an inexplicable puzzle to poor Hartley. He showed this by giving his
impression of another person of the same general mode of life,--that
A.B. was "a monomaniac about everything." It was to rest a hard-worked
mind and body, and to satisfy a genuine need of his nature, that Dr.
Arnold came here from Rugby with his family,--first, to lodgings for an
occasional holiday, and afterwards to a house of his own, at Christmas
and Midsummer, and with the intention of living permanently at Fox How,
when he should give up his work at Rugby.
He was first at a house at the foot of Rydal Mount, at Christmas, 1831,
"with the road on one side of the garden, and the Rotha on the other,
which goes brawling away under our windows with its perpetual music. The
higher mountains that bound our view are all snow-capped; but it is all
snug, and warm, and green in the valley. Nowhere on earth have I ever
seen a spot of more perfect and enjoyable beauty, with not a single
object out of tune with it, look which way I will." He built Fox How,
two or three years later, and at once began his course of hospitality by
having lads of the sixth form as his guests,--not for purposes of study,
but of recreation, and, yet more, to give them that element of education
which consists in familiarity with the noblest natural scenery. The hue
and cry which arose when he showed himself a reformer, in Church matters
as in politics, followed him here, as we see by his letters; and it was
not till his "Life and Correspondence" appeared that his neighbors here
understood him. It has always been difficult, perhaps, for them to
understand anything modern, or at all vivacious. Everybody respected Dr.
Arnold for his energy and industry, his services to education, and his
devotedness to human welfare; but they were afraid of his supposed
opinions. Not the less heartily did he honor everything that was
admirable in them; and when he was gone, they remembered his ways, and
cherished every trace of him, in a manner which showed how they would
have made much of him, if their own timid prejudices had not stood in
the way. They point out to this day the spot where they saw him stand,
without his hat, on Rotha bridge, watching the gush of the river
under the wooded bank, or gazing into the basin of vapors within the
_cul-de-sac_ of Fairfield,--the same view which he looked on from his
study, as he sat on his sofa, surrounded by books. The neighbors show
the little pier at Waterhead whence he watched the morning or the
evening light on the lake, the place where he bathed, and the tracks in
the mountains which led to his favorite ridges. Everybody has read his
"Life and Correspondence," and therefore knows what his mode of life was
here, and how great was his enjoyment of it. We have all read of the
mountain-trips in summer, and the skating on Rydal Lake in winter,--and
how his train of children enjoyed everything with him, as far as they
could. It was but for a few years; and the time never came for him to
retire hither from Rugby. In June, 1842, he had completed his fourteenth
year at Rugby, and was particularly in need, under some harassing cares,
of the solace and repose which a few hours more would have brought him,
when he was cut off by an illness of two hours. On the day when he was
to have been returning to Fox How, some of his children were travelling
thence to his funeral. His biographer tells us how strong was the
consternation at Rugby, when the tidings spread on that Sunday morning,
"Dr. Arnold is dead." Not slight was the emotion throughout this valley,
when the news passed from house to house, the next day. As I write, I
see the windows which were closed that day, and the trees round the
house,--so grown up since he walked among them!--and the course of the
Rotha, which winds and ripples at the foot of his garden. I never saw
him, for I did not come here till two years after; but I have seen his
widow pass on into her honored old age, and his children part off into
their various homes, and their several callings in life,--to meet in
the beloved house at Fox How, at Christmas, and at many another time.
This leaves only Southey and the Wordsworths; and their ending was not
far off. The old poet had seen almost too much of these endings. One
day, when I found a stoppage in the road at the foot of Rydal Mount,
from a sale of furniture, such as is common in this neighborhood every
spring and autumn, I met Mr. Wordsworth,--not looking observant and
amused, but in his blackest mood of melancholy, and evidently wanting to
get out of the way. He said he did not like the sight: he had seen so
many of these sales; he had seen Southey's, not long before; and these
things reminded him how soon there must be a sale at Rydal Mount. It was
remarked by a third person that this was rather a wilful way of being
miserable; but I never saw a stronger love of life than there was in
them all, even so late in their day as this. Mrs. Wordsworth, then past
her three-score years and ten, observed to me that the worst of living
here was that it made one so unwilling to go. It seems but lately that
she said so; yet she nursed to their graves her daughter and her husband
and his sister, and she herself became blind; so that it was not hard
"to go," when the time came.
Southey's decline was painful to witness,--even as his beloved wife's
had been to himself. He never got over her loss; and his mind was
decidedly shaken before he made the second marriage which has been so
much talked over. One most touching scene there was when he had become
unconscious of all that was said and done around him. Mrs. Southey had
been careless of her own interests about money when she married him, and
had sought no protection for her own property. When there was manifestly
no hope of her husband's mind ever recovering, his brother assembled the
family and other witnesses, and showed them a kind of will which he had
drawn up, by which Mrs. Southey's property was returned to herself,
intact. He said they were all aware that their relative could not, in
his condition, make a will, and that he was even unaware of what they
were doing; but that it was right that they should, pledge themselves by
some overt act to fulfil what would certainly have been his wish. The
bowed head could not be raised, but the nerveless hand was guided to
sign the instrument; and all present agreed to respect it as if it
were a veritable will,--as of course they did. The decline was full of
painful circumstances; and it must have been with a heart full of sorrow
that Wordsworth walked over the hills to attend the funeral.
The next funeral was that of his own daughter Dora,--Mrs. Quillinan. A
story has got about, as untrue as it is disagreeable, that Dora lost
her health from her father's opposition to her marriage, and that
Wordsworth's excessive grief after her death was owing to remorse. I can
myself testify to her health having been very good for a considerable
interval between that difficulty and her last illness; and this is
enough, of itself, to dispose of the story. Her parents considered
the marriage an imprudent one; but after securing sufficient time for
consideration, they said that she must judge for herself; and there were
fine qualities in Mr. Quillinan which could not but win their affection
and substantial regard. His first wife, a friend of Dora Wordsworth's,
was carried out of the house in which she had just been confined, from
fire in the middle of the night; she died from the shock; and she died
recommending her husband and her friend to marry. Such is the understood
history of the case. After much delay they did marry, and lived near
Rydal Mount, where Dora was, as always, the light of the house, as long
as she could go to it. But, after a long and painful decline, she died
in 1847. Her husband followed soon after Wordsworth's death. He lies in
the family corner of Grasmere churchyard, between his two wives. This
appeared to be the place reserved for Mrs. Wordsworth, so that Dora
would lie between her parents. There seemed now to be no room left for
the solitary survivor, and many wondered what would be done; but all had
been thought of. Wordsworth's grave had been made deep enough for two;
and there his widow now rests.
There was much vivid life in them, however clearly the end was
approaching, when I first knew them in 1845. The day after my arrival at
a friend's house, they called on me, excited by two kinds of interest.
Wordsworth had been extremely gratified by hearing, through a book of
mine, how his works were estimated by certain classes of readers in the
United States; and he and Mrs. Wordsworth were eager to learn facts and
opinions about mesmerism, by which I had just recovered from a
long illness, and which they hoped might avail in the case of a
daughter-in-law, then in a dying state abroad. After that day, I met
them frequently, and was at their house, when I could go. On occasion of
my first visit, I was struck by an incident which explained the ridicule
we have all heard thrown on the old poet for a self-esteem which he was
merely too simple to hide. Nothing could be easier than to make a quiz
of what he said to me; but to me it seemed delightful. As he at once
talked of his poems, I thought I might; and I observed that he might
be interested in knowing which of his poems had been Dr. Channing's
favorite. Seeing him really interested, I told him that I had not been
many hours under Dr. Channing's roof before he brought me "The Happy
Warrior," which, he said, moved him more than any other in the
whole series. Wordsworth remarked,--and repeated the remark very
earnestly,--that this was evidently applicable to the piece, "not as
a poem, not as fulfilling the conditions of poetry, but as a chain of
extremely valuable _thoughts_." Then he repeated emphatically,--"a chain
of extremely _valuable_ thoughts!" This was so true that it seemed as
natural for him to say it as Dr. Channing, or any one else.
It is indisputable that his mind and manners were hurt by the prominence
which his life at the Lakes--a life very public, under the name of
seclusion--gave, in his own eyes; to his own works and conversation; but
he was less absorbed in his own objects, less solemn, less severed from
ordinary men than is supposed, and has been given out by strangers, who,
to the number of eight hundred in a year, have been received by him with
a bow, asked to see the garden-terraces where he had meditated this and
that work, and dismissed with another bow, and good wishes for their
health and pleasure,--the host having, for the most part, not heard, or
not attended to, the name of his visitor. I have seen him receive in
that way a friend, a Commissioner of Education, whom I ventured to take
with me, (a thing I very rarely did,) and in the evening have had a
message asking if I knew how Mr. Wordsworth could obtain an interview
with this very gentleman, who was said to be in the neighborhood. All
this must be very bad for anybody; and so was the distinction of having
early chosen this District for a home. When I first came, I told my
friends here that I was alarmed for myself, when I saw the spirit of
insolence which seemed to possess the cultivated residents, who really
did virtually assume that the mountains and vales were somehow their
property, or at least a privilege appropriate to superior people
like themselves. Wordsworth's sonnets about the railway were a mild
expression of his feelings in this direction; and Mrs. Wordsworth,
in spite of her excellent sense, took up his song, and declared with
unusual warmth that green fields, with daisies and buttercups, were as
good for Lancashire operatives as our lakes and valleys. I proposed that
the people should judge of this for themselves; but there was no end to
ridicule of "the people from Birthwaite" (the end of the railway, five
miles off). Some had been seen getting their dinner in the churchyard,
and others inquiring how best to get up Loughrigg,--"evidently, quite
puzzled, and not knowing where to go." My reply, "that they would know
next time," was not at all sympathized in. The effect of this exclusive
temper was pernicious in the neighborhood. A petition to Parliament
against the railway was not brought to me, as it was well known that
I would not sign it; but some little girls undertook my case; and the
effect of their parroting of Mr. Wordsworth, about "ourselves" and "the
common people" who intrude upon us, was as sad as it was absurd. The
whole matter ended rather remarkably. When all were gone but Mrs.
Wordsworth, and she was blind, a friend who was as a daughter to her
remarked, one summer day, that there were some boys on the Mount in
the garden. "Ah!" said Mrs. Wordsworth, "there is no end to those
people;--boys from Birthwaite!--boys from Birthwaite!" It was the Prince
of Wales, with a companion or two.
The notion of Wordsworth's solemnity and sublimity, as something
unremitting, was a total mistake. It probably arose from the want of
proportion in his mind, as in his sister's, before referred to. But he
relished the common business of life, and not only could take in, but
originate a joke. I remember his quizzing a common friend of ours,--one
much esteemed by us all,--who had a wonderful ability of falling asleep
in an instant, when not talking. Mr. Wordsworth told me of the extreme
eagerness of this gentleman, Mrs. Wordsworth, and himself, to see the
view over Switzerland from the ridge of the Jura. Mrs. Wordsworth could
not walk so fast as the gentlemen, and her husband let the friend go on
by himself. When they arrived, a minute or two after him, they found him
sitting on a stone in face of all Switzerland, fast asleep. When Mr.
Wordsworth mimicked the sleep, with his head on one side, anybody
could have told whom he was quizzing.--He and Mrs. Wordsworth, but too
naturally impressed with the mischief of overwalking in the case of
women, took up a wholly mistaken notion that I walked too much. One day
I was returning from a circuit of ten miles with a guest, when we
met the Wordsworths. They asked where we had been. "By Red Bank to
Grasmere." Whereupon Mr. Wordsworth laid his hand on my guest's arm,
saying, "There, there! take care what you are about! don't let her lead
you about! I can tell you, she has killed off half the gentlemen in the
county!"--Mrs. Hemans tells us, that, before she had known him many
hours, she was saying to him, "Dear me, Mr. Wordsworth! how can you be
His interest in common things never failed. It has been observed that
he and Mrs. Wordsworth did incalculable good by the example they
unconsciously set the neighborhood of respectable thrift. There are no
really poor people at Rydal, because the great lady at the Hall, Lady Le
Fleming, takes care that there shall be none,--at the expense of great
moral mischief. But there is a prevalent recklessness, grossness, and
mingled extravagance and discomfort in the family management, which, I
am told, was far worse when the Wordsworths came than it is now. Going
freely among the neighbors, and welcoming and helping them familiarly,
the Wordsworths laid their own lives open to observation; and the
mingled carefulness and comfort--the good thrift, in short--wrought as
a powerful lesson all around. As for what I myself saw,--they took a
practical interest in my small purchase of land for my abode; and Mr.
Wordsworth often came to consult upon the plan and progress of the
house. He used to lie on the grass, beside the young oaks, before the
foundations were dug; and he referred me to Mrs. Wordsworth as the best
possible authority about the placing of windows and beds. He climbed to
the upper rooms before there was a staircase; and we had to set Mrs.
Wordsworth as a watch over him, when there was a staircase, but no
balustrade. When the garden was laid out, he planted a stone-pine
(which is flourishing) under the terrace-wall, washed his hands in the
watering-pot, and gave the place and me at once his blessing and some
thrifty counsel. When I began farming, he told me an immense deal about
his cow; and both of them came to see my first calf, and ascertain
whether she had the proper marks of the handsome short-horn of the
region. The distinctive impression which the family made on the minds
of the people about them was that of practical ability; and it was
thoroughly well conveyed by the remark of a man at Rydal, on hearing
some talk of Mrs. Wordsworth, a few days after the poet's death:
--"She's a gay [rare] clever body, who will carry on the business as
well as any of 'em."
Nothing could be more affecting than to watch the silent changes in Mrs.
Wordsworth's spirits during the ten years which followed the death of
her daughter. For many months her husband's gloom was terrible, in the
evenings, or in dull weather. Neither of them could see to read much;
and the poet was not one who ever pretended to restrain his emotions,
or assume a cheerfulness which he did not feel. We all knew that the
mother's heart was the bereaved one, however impressed the father's
imagination might be by the picture of his own desolation; and we saw
her mute about her own trial, and growing whiter in the face and smaller
from month to month, while he put no restraint upon his tears and
lamentations. The winter evenings were dreary; and in hot summer days
the aged wife had to follow him, when he was missed for any time, lest
he should be sitting in the sun without his hat. Often she found him
asleep on the heated rock. His final illness was wearing and dreary to
her; but there her part was clear, and she was adequate to it. "You
are going to Dora," she whispered to him, when the issue was no longer
doubtful. She thought he did not hear or heed; but some hours after,
when some one opened the curtain, he said, "Are you Dora?" Composed and
cheerful in the prospect of his approaching rest, and absolutely without
solicitude for herself, the wife was everything to him till the last
moment; and when he was gone, the anxieties of the self-forgetting woman
were over. She attended his funeral, and afterwards chose to fill her
accustomed place among the guests who filled the house. She made tea
that evening as usual; and the lightening of her spirits from that time
forward was evident. It was a lovely April day, the 23d, (Shakspeare's
birth--and death-day,) when her task of nursing closed. The news spread
fast that the old poet was gone; and we all naturally turned our eyes up
to the roof under which he lay. There, above and amidst the young green
of the woods, the modest dwelling shone in the sunlight. The smoke went
up thin and straight into the air; but the closed windows gave the place
a look of death. There he was lying whom we should see no more.
The poor sister remained for five years longer. Travellers, American
and others, must remember having found the garden-gate locked at Rydal
Mount, and perceiving the reason why, in seeing a little garden-chair,
with an emaciated old lady in it, drawn by a nurse round and round the
gravelled space before the house. That was Miss Wordsworth, taking her
daily exercise. It was a great trouble, at times, that she could not be
placed in some safe privacy; and Wordsworth's feudal loyalty was put to
a severe test in the matter. It had been settled that a cottage should
be built for his sister, in a field of his, beyond the garden. The plan
was made, and the turf marked out, and the digging about to begin,
when the great lady at the Hall, Lady Le Fleming, interfered with a
prohibition. She assumed the feudal prerogative of determining what
should or should not be built on all the lands over which the Le
Flemings have borne sway; and her extraordinary determination was, that
no dwelling should be built, except on the site of a former one! We
could scarcely believe we had not been carried back into the Middle
Ages, when we heard it; but the old poet, whom any sovereign in Europe
would have been delighted to gratify, submitted with a good grace, and
thenceforth robbed his sister's feet, and coaxed and humored her at
home,--trusting his guests to put up with the inconveniences of her
state, as he could not remove them from sight and hearing. After she was
gone also, Mrs. Wordsworth, entirely blind, and above eighty years of
age, seemed to have no cares, except when the errors and troubles of
others touched her judgment or sympathy. She was well cared for by
nieces and friends. Her plain common sense and cheerfulness appeared
in one of the last things she said, a few hours before her death. She
remarked on the character of the old hymns, practical and familiar,
which people liked when she was young, and which answered some purposes
better than the sublimer modern sort. She repeated part of a child's
hymn,--very homely, about going straight to school, and taking care of
the books, and learning the lesson well,--and broke off, saying, "There!
if you want to hear the rest, ask the Bishop o' London. _He_ knows it."
Then, all were gone; and there remained only the melancholy breaking up
of the old home which had been interesting to the world for forty-six
years. Mrs. Wordsworth died in January, 1859. In the May following, the
sale took place which Wordsworth had gloomily foreseen so many years
before. Everything of value was reserved, and the few articles desired
by strangers were bought by commission; and thus the throng at the sale
was composed of the ordinary elements. The spectacle was sufficiently
painful to make it natural for old friends to stay away. Doors and
windows stood wide. The sofa and tea-table where the wisest and best
from all parts of the world had held converse were turned out to be
examined and bid for. Anybody who chose passed the sacred threshold; the
auctioneer's hammer was heard on the terrace; and the hospitable parlor
and kitchen were crowded with people swallowing tea in the intervals of
their business. One farmer rode six-and-thirty miles that morning to
carry home something that had belonged to Wordsworth; and, in default of
anything better, he took a patched old table-cover. There was a bed
of anemones under the windows, at one end of the house; and a bed of
anemones is a treasure in our climate. It was in full bloom in the
morning; and before sunset, every blossom was gone, and the bed was
trampled into ruin. It was dreary work! The two sons live at a distance;
and the house is let to tenants of another name.
I perceive that I have not noticed the poet's laureateship. The truth
is, the office never seemed to belong to him; and we forgot it, when
not specially reminded of it. We did not like to think of him in
court-dress, going through the ceremonies of levee or ball, in his
old age. His white hair and dim eyes were better at home among the
There stand the mountains, from age to age; and there run the rivers,
with their full and never-pausing tide, while those who came to live and
grow wise beside them are all gone! One after another, they have lain
down to their everlasting rest in the valleys where their step and their
voices were as familiar as the points of the scenery. The region has
changed much since they came as to a retreat. It was they who caused the
change, for the most part; and it was not for them to complain of it;
but the consequence is, that with them has passed away a peculiar
phase of life in England. It is one which can neither be continued
nor repeated. The Lake District is no longer a retreat; and any other
retreat must have different characteristics, and be illumined by some
different order of lights. The case being so, I have felt no scruple in
asking the attention of my readers to a long story, and to full details
of some of the latest Lights of the Lake District.
PINK AND BLUE.
Everybody knows that a _departing_ guest has the most to say. The touch
of the door-knob sends to his lips a thousand things which _must_ be
told. Is it strange, then, that old people, knowing they have "made out
their visit," and feeling themselves brimful of wisdom and experience,
should wish to speak from the fulness of their hearts to those whom they
must so shortly leave?
Nobody thinks it strange. The world expects it, and, as a general thing,
bears it patiently. Knowing how universal is this spirit of forbearance,
I should, perhaps, have forever held my peace, lest I might abuse
good-nature, had it not been for some circumstances which will be
related a little farther on.
My little place of business (I am the goldsmith of our village) has long
been the daily resort of several of my particular cronies. They are men
of good minds,--some of them quite literary; for we count, as belonging
to our set, the lawyer, the schoolmaster, the doctor, men of business,
men of no business, and sometimes even the minister. As may be supposed,
our discussions take a wide range: I can give no better notion of _how_
wide than to say that we discuss everything in the papers. Yesterday
was a snow-storm, but the meeting was held just the same. It was in the
afternoon. The schoolmaster came in late with a new magazine, from which
he read, now and then, for the general edification.
"Ah!" said he, "if this be true, we can all write for the papers."
"How's that?" we asked.
"Why, it says here, that, if the true experience of any human heart were
written, it would be worth more than the best tale ever invented."
It was a terribly stormy day. The snow came whirling against the two
windows of my shop, clinging to the outside, making it twilight within.
I had given up work; for my eyes are not what they were, and I have to
favor them. Nobody spoke for a while; all had been set to thinking.
Those few words had sent us all back, back, back, thirty, forty, fifty
years, to call up the past. We were gazing upon forms long since
perished, listening to voices long ago hushed forever. Could those forms
have been summoned before us, how crowded would have been my little
shop! Could those voices have been heard, how terrible the discord, the
cries of the wretched mingling with the shouts of the happy ones! There
was a dead silence. The past was being questioned. Would it reply?
At last some one said,--
"But," said another, "it would fill a whole book."
"Take up one branch, then; for instance, our--well, our courting-days.
Let each one tell how he won his wife."
"But shall we get any money by it?"
"To be sure we shall. Do you think people write for nothing? '_Worth
more_' are the very words used; 'worth more' _what?_ Money, of course."
"But what shall we do with all our money?"
"Buy a library for the use of us all. We will draw lots to see who shall
write first; and if he succeeds, the others can follow in order."
And thus we agreed.
I was rather sorry the lot fell upon me; for I was always bashful, and
never thought much of myself but once. I think my bashfulness was mostly
owing to my knowing myself to be not very good-looking. I believe that I
am not considered a bad-looking old man; indeed, people who remember me
at twenty-five say that I have grown handsome every year since.
I do not intend giving a description of myself at that age, but shall
confine myself principally to what was suggested by my friend, as above
mentioned,--namely, how I won my wife.
It is astonishing how a man may be deluded. Knowing, as I did, just the
facts in the case, regarding my face and figure, yet the last day of the
year 1817 found me in the full belief that I was quite a good-looking
and every way a desirable young man. This was the third article in my
creed. The second was, that Eleanor Sherman loved me; and the first,
that I loved her. It is curious how I became settled in the third
article by means of the second.
I had spent hours before my looking-glass, trying to make it give in
that I was good-looking. But never was a glass so set in its way. In
vain I used my best arguments, pleaded before it hour after hour,
re-brushed my hair, re-tied my cravat, smiled, bowed, and so forth, and
so forth. "Ill-looking and awkward!" was my only response. At last it
went so far as to intimate that I had, with all the rest, a _conceited_
look. This was not to be borne, and I withdrew in disgust. The
argument should be carried on in my own heart. Pure reasoning only was
trustworthy. Philosophers assured us that our senses were not to be
trusted. How easy and straightforward the mental process! "Eleanor loves
me; therefore I cannot look ill!"
It was on the last day of the year I have mentioned, that, just having,
for the fortieth time, arrived at the above conclusion, I prepared to go
forth upon the most delightful of all possible errands. All day I had
been dwelling upon it, wondering at what hour it would be most proper to
go. At three o'clock, I arrayed myself in my Sunday-clothes. I gave a
parting glance of triumph at my glass, and stepped briskly forth upon
the crispy snow. I met people well wrapped up, with mouth and nose
covered, and saw men leave working to thrash their hands. It must have
been cold, therefore; but I felt none of it.
Her house was half a mile distant. 'T was on a high bank a little back
from the road, of one story in front, and two at the sides. It was what
was called a single house; the front showed only two windows, with a
door near the corner. The sides were painted yellow, the front white,
with a green door. There was an orchard behind, and two poplar-trees
before it. The pathway up the bank was sprinkled with ashes. I had
frequently been as far as the door with her, evenings when I waited upon
her home; but I had never before approached the house by daylight,--that
is, any nearer than the road. I had never _said_ anything; it wasn't
time; but I had given her several little things, and had tried to be her
beau every way that I knew.
Before I began to notice her, I had never been about much with the
young folks,--partly because I was bashful, and partly because I was so
clumsy-looking. I was more in earnest, therefore, than if I had been
in the habit of running after the girls. After I began to like her,
I watched every motion,--at church, at evening meetings, at
singing-school; and a glance from her eye seemed to fall right upon my
heart. She had been very friendly and sociable with me, always thanked
me very prettily for what little trifles I gave her, and never refused
my company home. She would put her hand within my arm without a moment's
hesitation, chatting all the while, never seeming in the least to
suspect the shiver of joy which shot through my whole frame from the
little hand upon my coat-sleeve.
I had long been pondering in my mind, in my walks by day and my
lyings-down at night, what should be the next step, what _overt act_
I might commit; for something told me it was not yet time to _say_
What could have been more fortunate for my wishes, then, than the
project set on foot by the young people, of a grand sleighing-party on
New-Year's evening? They were mostly younger than myself, especially the
girls. Eleanor was but seventeen, I was twenty-three. But I determined
to join this party, and it was to invite Eleanor that I arrayed myself
and set forth, as above mentioned. It was a bold step for a bashful
man,--I mean now the _inviting_ part.
I had thought over, coming along, just what words I should use; but, as
I mounted the bank, I felt the words, ideas, and all, slipping out at
the ends of my fingers. If it had been a thickly settled place, I should
not have thought much about being watched; but, as there was only
one house in sight, I was sure that not a motion was lost, that my
proceedings would be duly reported, and discussed by the whole village.
All these considerations rendered my situation upon the stone step at
the front-door very peculiar.
I knew the family were in the back part of the house; for the shutters
of the front-room were tightly closed, as, indeed, they always were,
except on grand occasions. Nevertheless, knocking at the front-door
seemed the right thing to do, and I did it. With a terrible choking in
my throat, and wondering all the while _who_ would come to open, I did
it. I knocked three times. Nobody came. Peddlers, I had observed in like
cases, opened the outside door and knocked at the inner. I tried this
with no better result. I then ventured to open the inner door softly,
and with feelings of awe I stood alone in the spare-room.
By the light which streamed in through the holes in the tops of the
shutters I distinguished the green painted chairs backed up stiffly
against the wall, the striped homespun carpet, andirons crossed in the
fireplace, with shovel and tongs to match, the big Bible on the table
under the glass, a _waxwork_ on the high mahogany desk in the corner,
and a few shells and other ornaments upon the mantelshelf.
The terrible order and gloom oppressed me. I felt that it was no slight
thing to venture thus unbidden into the spare-room,--the room set apart
from common uses, and opened only on great occasions: evening-meetings,
weddings, or funerals. But, in the midst of all my tribulation, one
other thought would come,--I don't exactly like to tell it, but then
I believe I promised to keep nothing back;--well, then, if I must,--I
thought that this spare-room was the place where Eleanor would make up
the fire, when--when I was far enough along to come regularly every
Sunday night. With that thought my courage revived. I heard voices in
the next room, the pounding of a flat-iron, and a frequent step across
the floor. I gave a loud rap. The door opened, and Eleanor herself
appeared. She had on a spotted calico gown, with a string of gold beads
around her neck. She held in her hand a piece of fan coral. I felt
myself turning all colors, stammered, hesitated, and believed in my
heart that she would think me a fool. Very likely she did; for I really
suppose that she never, till then, thought that I _meant anything_.
She contrived, however, to pick out my meaning from the midst of the odd
words and parts of sentences offered her, and replied that she would let
me know that evening. As she did not invite me to the kitchen, the only
thing left me to do was to say good-afternoon and depart. I don't know
which were the queerest,--my feelings in going up or in coming down the
When fairly in the road, happening to glance back at the house, I saw
that one half of a shutter was open, and that a man was watching me. He
drew back before I could recognize him. That evening was singing-school.
That was why I went to invite Eleanor in the afternoon. I was afraid
some other fellow would ask her before school was out.
When I got there, I found all the young folks gathered about the stove.
Something was going on. I pressed in, and found Harry Harlow. He had
been gone a year at sea, and had arrived that forenoon in the stage from
Boston. They were all listening to his wonderful stories.
When school was over, I stepped up close to Eleanor and offered my arm.
She drew back a little, and handed me a small package. Harry stepped up
on the other side. She took his arm, and they went off slowly together.
I stood still a moment to watch them. When they turned the corner, I
went off alone. Confounded, wonder-struck, I plunged on through the
snow-drifts, seeing, feeling, knowing nothing but the package in my
hand. I found mother sitting by the fire. She and I lived together,--she
and I, and that was all. I knew I should find her with her little round
table drawn up to the fire, her work laid aside, and the Bible open. She
never went to bed with me out.
I didn't want to tell her. I wouldn't for the world, if I could have had
the opening of my package all to myself. She asked me if I had fastened
the back-door. I sat down by the fire and slowly undid the string. A
silver thimble fell on the bricks. There was also an artificial flower
made of feathers, a copy of verses headed "To a Pair of Bright Eyes,"
cut from the county newspaper, a cherry-colored neck-ribbon, a
smelling-bottle, and, at the bottom, a note. I knew well enough what was
in the note.
"I must decline your invitation to the sleigh-ride; and I hope you will
not be offended, if I ask you not to go about with me any more. I think
you are a very good young man, and, as an acquaintance, I like you very
"P.S.--With this note you will find the things you have given me."
I took the iron tongs which stood near, picked up the thimble and
dropped it into the midst of the hot coals, then the flower, then the
verses, then the ribbon, then the smelling-bottle, and would gladly have
My mother and I were everything to each other. We two were all that
remained of a large family. I had always confided in her; but still I
was sorry that I had opened the package there. I might have taken it to
my chamber. But then she would have known, she _must_ have known from my
manner, that something was wrong with me. I think, on the whole, I was
glad to have her know the worst. I knew that my mother worshipped me;
but she was not one of those who let their feelings be seen on common
occasions. I gave her the note, and no more was needed. She tried to
comfort me, as mothers will; but I would not be comforted. It was my
first great heart-trouble, and I was weighed down beneath it. She drew
me towards her, I leaned my head upon her shoulder, and was not ashamed
that she knew of the hot tears upon my cheeks. At last I heard her
"Oh, what shall I do? He is all I have, and he is so miserable! How can
I bear his sorrow?"
I think it was the recollection of these words which induced me
afterwards to hide my feelings, that she might not suffer on my account.
The next day was clear and bright. The sleighing was perfect. I was
miserable. I had not slept. I could not eat. I dared not go into the
village to encounter the jokes which I was certain awaited me there.
Early in the evening, just as the moon rose, I took my stand behind a
clump of trees, half-way up a hill, where I knew the sleighs must pass.
There I stood, feeling neither cold nor weariness, waiting, watching,
listening for the sleigh-bells. At last I heard them, first faintly,
then louder and louder, until they reached the bottom of the hill.
Slowly they came up, passing, one after another, by my hiding-place.
There were ten sleighs in all. She and Harry were in the fourth. The
moon shone full in their faces, and his looked just as I had often felt;
but I had never dared to show it as Harry did. I felt sure that he would
kiss her. A blue coverlet was wrapped around them, and he was tucking it
in on her side. The hill was steep just there, so that they were obliged
to move quite slowly. They were talking earnestly, and I heard my name.
I was not sure at first; but afterwards I knew.
"I never thought of his being in earnest before. He is a great deal
older than I, and I never thought that anybody so homely and awkward as
he could suppose"--
"Jingle, jingle, jingle," and that was all I heard. I held myself still,
watched the sleighs disappear, one after another, over the brow of the
hill, listened till the last note of the last bell was lost in the
distance, then turned and ran.
I ran as if I had left my misery behind, and every step were taking me
farther from it. But when I reached home, there it was, aching, aching
in my heart, just the same as before. And there it stayed. Even now, I
can hardly bear to think of those terrible days and nights. But for my
mother's sake I tried to seem cheerful, though I no longer went about
with the young folks. I applied myself closely to my business, sawed my
mother's wood for exercise, learned to paint, and read novels and poetry
Thus time passed on. The little boys began to call themselves young men,
and me an old _bach_; and into this character I contentedly settled
down. My wild oats, of which I had had but scant measure, I considered
sown. My sense of my own ill-looks became morbid. I hardly looked at a
female except my mother, lest she'd think that I "_could suppose_."
The old set were mostly married off. Eleanor married the young sailor.
People spoke of her as being high-tempered, as being extravagant,
spending in fine clothes the money he earned at the risk of his life. I
don't know that it made any difference to my feelings. It might. At the
time she turned me off, I think I should have married her, knowing she
had those faults. But she removed to the city, and by degrees time and
absence wore off the edge of my grief. My mother lost part of her little
property, and I was obliged to exert myself that she might miss none of
her accustomed comforts. She was a good mother, thoughtful and tender,
sympathizing not only in my troubles, but in my every-day pursuits, my
work, my books, my paintings.
When I was about thirty, Jane Wood came to live near us. Her mother and
young sister came with her. They rented a small house just across the
next field from us. Although ours, therefore, might have been considered
an infected neighborhood, yet I never supposed myself in the slightest
danger, because I had had the disease. Nevertheless, having an abiding
sense of my own ugliness, I should not have ventured into the immediate
presence of the Woods, _except_ on works of necessity and mercy.
The younger sister was taken very ill with the typhus fever. It was
customary, in our village, for the neighbors, in such cases, to be very
helpful. Mother was with them day and night, and, when she could not go
herself, used to send me to see if they wanted anything, for they had no
I seldom saw Jane, and when I did, I never looked at her. I mean, I did
not look her full in the face. It was to her mother that I made all my
offers of assistance.
This habit of shunning the society of all young females, and
particularly of the Wood girls, was by no means occasioned by any fears
in regard to my own safety. Far from it. I considered myself as one set
apart from all mankind,--set apart, and fenced in, by my own personal
disadvantages. The thought of my caring for a girl, or of being cared
for by a girl, never even occurred to me. "Taboo," so far as I was
concerned, was written upon them all. The marriage state I saw from afar
off. Beautiful and bright it looked in the distance, like the Promised
Land to true believers. Some visions I beheld of its beautiful angels
walking in shining robes; strains of its sweet melody were sometimes
wafted across the distance; but I might never enter there. It was no
land of promise to me. A gulf, dark and impassable, lay between. And
beside all this, as I have already intimated, I considered myself out of
danger. My life's lesson had been learned. I knew it by heart. What more
could be expected of me?
But, after all, we can't go right against our natures; and it is not the
nature of man to look upon the youthful and the elderly female exactly
in the same light. The feelings with which they are approached are
essentially different, whether he who approaches be seventeen or
seventy. Thus, in conversing with the old lady Wood, I was quite at
my ease. When the invalid began to get well, I often carried her nice
little messes, which my mother prepared, and was generally lucky enough
to find Mrs. Wood,--for I always went in at the back-door. She asked me,
one day, if I could lend Ellen something to read,--for she was then just
about well enough to amuse herself with a book, but not strong enough to
work. Now I always had (so my mother said) a kind and obliging way with
me, and had, besides, a great pride in my library. I was delighted that
anybody wanted to read my books, and hurried home to make a selection.
That very afternoon, I took over an armful. Nobody was in the kitchen;
so I sat down to wait. The door of the little keeping-room was open, and
I knew by their voices that some great discussion was going on. I tipped
over a cricket to make them aware of my presence. The door was opened
wide, and Mrs. Wood appeared.
"Now here is Mr. Allen," she exclaimed. "Let us get his opinion."
Then she took me in, where they were holding solemn council over a straw
bonnet and various colored ribbons. She introduced me to Ellen, whom I
had never before met. She was a merry-looking, black-eyed maiden, and
the roses were already blooming out again upon her cheeks. She was very
young,--not more than fifteen or sixteen.
"Now, Mr. Allen," said Jane, (she was not so bashful to me as I was to
her,) "let us have your opinion upon these trimmings. Remember, though,
that pink and blue can't go together."
She turned her face full upon me, and I looked straight into her eyes.
I really believe it was the first time I had done so. They were
beautifully blue, with long dark lashes. She had been a little excited
by the discussion, and her cheeks were like two roses. A strange
boldness came over me.
"How can I remember that," I answered, "when I see in your face that
pink and blue _do_ go together?"
Never, till within a few years, could I account for this sudden
boldness. I have now no doubt that I spoke by what spiritualists call
"impression." We were all surprised, and I most of all. Jane laughed,
and looked pinker than before. She would as soon have expected a
compliment from the town pump, and I felt it.
I knew nothing of bonnets, but I had studied painting, and was a judge
of colors. I made a selection, and could see that they were again
surprised at my good taste. I then offered my books, spoke of the
different authors, turned to what I thought might particularly please
them, and, before I knew it, was all aglow with the unusual excitement
of conversation. I saw that they were not without cultivation, and that
they had a quick appreciation of literary merit.
And thus an acquaintance commenced. I called often, for it seemed a
pleasant thing to do. As my excuse, I took with me my books, papers,
and all the new publications which reached me. I always thought they
appeared very glad to see me.
Being strangers in the place, they saw but little company, and it seemed
to be nothing more than my duty to call in now and then in a neighborly
way. I talked quite easily; for among books I felt at home. They talked
easily, too; for they (I say it in no ill-natured way) were women. They
began to consider my frequent calling as a matter of course, and always
smiled upon me when I entered. I felt that they congratulated themselves
upon finding me out. They had penetrated the ice, and found open sea
beyond. I speak of it in this way, because I afterwards overheard Ellen
joking her sister about discovering the Northwest Passage to my heart.
This was in the fall of the year, when the evenings were getting quite
long. They were fond of reading, but had not much time for it. I was
fond of reading, and had many long evenings at my disposal. It followed,
therefore, that I read aloud, while they worked. With the "Pink and
Blue" just opposite, I read evening after evening. At first I used to
look up frequently, to see how such and such a passage would strike her;
but one evening Ellen asked me, in a laughing, half-saucy sort of way,
why I didn't look at _her_ sometimes to see how _she_ liked things. This
made me color up; and Jane colored up, too. After that I kept my eyes on
my book; but I always knew when she stopped her work and raised her
head at the interesting parts, and always hoped she didn't see the red
flushes spreading over my face, and always wished, too, that she would
look away,--for, somehow, my voice would not go on smoothly.
Those red flushes were to myself most mysterious. Nevertheless, they
continued, and even appeared to be on the increase. At first, I felt
them only while reading; then, upon entering the room; and at last
they began to come before I got across the field. Still I felt no real
uneasiness, but, on the contrary, was glad I could be of so much use to
the family. Never before was the want of men-folks felt so little by a
family of women-folks. I did errands, split kindling, dug "tracks," (_i.
e._, paths in the snow,) and glued broken furniture.
I always thought of Jane as "Pink and Blue." Sometimes I thought from
her manner that she would a little rather I wouldn't come so often. I
thought she didn't look up at me so pleasantly as she used to at first,
and seemed a little stiff; but, as I had a majority in my favor, I
continued my visits. I always had one good look at her when I said
good-night; but it made the red come, so that I had to hurry out before
she saw. It seemed to me that her cheeks then looked pinker than ever,
and the two colors, pink and blue, seemed to mingle and float before my
eyes all the way home. "Pink and blue," "pink and blue." How those two
little words kept running in my head, and, I began to fear, in my heart
too!--for no sooner would I close my eyes at night than those delicate
pink cheeks and blue eyes would appear before me. They haunted my
dreams, and were all ready to greet me at waking.
I was completely puzzled. It reminded me of old times. Seemed just like
being in love again. Could it be possible that I was liable to a second
One night I took a new book and hurried across the field to the Woods',
for I never was easy till I saw "Pink and Blue" face to face; and
then,--why, then, I was not at all easy. I felt the red flushes coming
long before I reached the house. As soon as I entered the room, I felt
that she was missing. I must have looked blank; for Mrs. Wood began
to explain immediately, that Jane was not well, and had gone to
bed;--nothing serious; but she had thought it better for her not to
sit up. I remained and read as usual, but, as it seemed to me, to bare
walls. I had become so accustomed to reading with "Pink and Blue" just
opposite, to watching for the dropping of her work and the raising of
her eyes to my face, that I really seemed on this occasion to be reading
to no purpose whatever. I went home earlier than usual, very sober and
very full of thought. My mother noticed it, and inquired if they were
well at Mrs. Wood's. So I told her about Jane.
That night my eyes were fully opened. I was in love. Yes, the old
disease was upon me, and my last state was worse than my first,--just as
much so as Jane was superior to Eleanor. The discovery threw me into
the greatest distress. Hour after hour I walked the floor, in my own
chamber, trying to reason the love from my heart,--but in vain; and at
length, tossing myself on the bed, I almost cursed the hour in which I
first saw the Woods. I called myself fool, dolt, idiot, for thus running
my head a second time into the noose. It may seem strange, but the
thought that she might possibly care for me never once occurred to my
mind. Eleanor's words in the sleigh still rang in my ears: "I never
thought that anybody so homely and awkward could suppose"--No, I must
not "suppose." Once, in the midst of it all, I calmed down, took a
light, and, very deliberately walking to the glass, took a complete view
of my face and figure,--but with no other effect than to settle me more
firmly in my wretchedness. Towards morning I grew calmer, and resolved
to look composedly upon my condition, and decide what should be done.
While I was considering whether or not to continue my visits at the
Woods', I fell asleep just where I had thrown myself, outside the bed,
in overcoat and boots. I dreamed of seeing "Pink and Blue" carried off
by some horrid monster,--which, upon examination, proved to be myself.
The sun shining in my face woke me, and I remembered that I had decided
upon nothing. The best thing seemed to be to snap off the acquaintance
and quit the place. But then I could not leave my mother. No, I must
keep where I was,--and if I kept where I was, I must keep on at the
Woods',--and if I kept on at the Woods', I should keep on feeling just
as I did, and perhaps--more so. I resolved, finally, to remain where
I was, and to take no abrupt step, (which might cause remark,) but
to break off my visits gradually. The first week, I could skip one
night,--the next, two,--and so on,--using my own judgment about tapering
off the acquaintance gradually and gracefully to an imperceptible point.
The way appearing plain at last, how that _unloving_ might be made easy,
I assumed a cheerful air, and went down to breakfast. My mother looked
up rather anxiously at my entrance; but her anxiety evidently vanished
at sight of my face.
It did not seem to me quite right to forsake the Woods that morning; for
some snow had fallen during the night, and I felt it incumbent upon me
to dig somewhat about the doors. With my trousers tucked into my boots,
I trod a new path across the field. It would have seemed strange not to
go in; so I went in and warmed my feet at the kitchen-fire. Only Mrs.
Wood was there; but I made no inquiries. Not knowing what to say, I rose
to go; but, just at that minute, the mischievous Ellen came running out
of the keeping-room and wanted to know where I was going. Why didn't I
come in and see Jane? So I went in to see Jane, saying my prayers, as I
went,--that is, praying that I might not grow foolish again. But I did.
I don't believe any man could have helped it. She was reclining upon
a couch which was drawn towards the fire. I sat down as far from that
couch as the size of the room would allow. She looked pale and really
ill, but raised her blue eyes when she said good-morning; and then--the
hot flushes began to come. She looked red, too, and I thought she had
a settled fever. I wanted to say something, but didn't know what. Some
things seemed too warm, others too cold. At last I thought,--"Why,
_anybody_ can say to anybody, 'How do you do?'" So I said,--
"Miss Wood, how do you do, this morning?"
She looked up, surprised; for I tried hard to stiffen my words, and had
"Not very unwell, I thank you, Sir," she replied; but I knew she was
worse than the night before. My situation grew unbearable, and I rose to
"Mr. Allen, what do you think about Jane?" said Ellen. "You know about
sickness, don't you? Come, feel her pulse, and see if she will have a
fever." And she drew me towards the lounge.
My heart was in my throat, and my face was on fire. Jane flushed up, and
I thought she was offended at my presumption. What could I do? Ellen
held out to me the little soft hand; but I dared not touch it, unless I
asked her first.
"Miss Wood," I asked, "shall I mind Ellen?"
"Of course you will," exclaimed Ellen. "Tell him yes, Jane."
Then Jane smiled and said,--
"Yes, if he is willing."
And I took her wrist in my thumb and finger. The pulse was quick and the
skin dry and hot. I think I would have given a year's existence to clasp
that hand between my own, and to stroke down her hair. I hardly knew how
I didn't do it; and the fear that I should made me drop her arm in
a hurry, as if it had burned my fingers. Ellen stared. I bade them
good-morning abruptly, and left the room and the house. "This, then," I
thought, as I strode along towards the village, "is the beginning of the
That evening, I felt in duty bound to go, as a neighbor, to inquire for
the sick. I went, but found no one below. When Ellen came down, she said
that Jane was quite ill. I remained in the keeping-room all the evening,
mostly alone, asked if I could do anything for them, and obtained some
commissions for the next day at the village.
Jane's illness, though long, was not dangerous,--at least, not to her.
To me it was most perilous, particularly the convalescence; for then I
could be of so much use to her! The days were long and spring-like. Wild
flowers appeared. She liked them, and I managed that she should never be
without a bunch of them. She liked paintings, and I brought over my own
portfolio. She must have wondered at the number of violets and roses
therein. The readings went on and seemed more delicious than ever. I
owned a horse and chaise, and for a whole week debated whether it would
be safe for me to take her to drive. But I didn't; for I should have
been obliged to hand her in, to help her out, and to sit close beside
her all alone. All that could never be done without my betraying myself.
But she got well without any drives; and by the latter part of April,
when the evenings had become very short, I thought it high time to begin
to skip one. I began on Monday. I kept away all day, all the evening,
and all the next day. Tuesday evening, just before dark, I took the path
across the field. The two girls were at work making a flower-garden.
"Pink and Blue" had a spade, and was actually spading up the ground. I
caught it from her hand so quickly that she looked up almost frightened.
Her face was flushed with exercise; but her blue eyes looked tired. How
I reproached myself for not coming sooner! At dark, I went in with them.
We took our accustomed seats, and I read. "Paradise regained" was what I
kept thinking of. Once, when I moved my seat, that I might be directly
opposite Jane, who was lying on the coach, I thought I saw Ellen and her
mother exchange glances. I was suspected, then,--and with all the pains
I had taken, too. This rather upset me; and what with my joy at being
with Jane, my exertions to hide it, and my mortification at being
discovered, my reading, I fear, was far from satisfactory.
The next morning I went early to the flower-garden, and, before anybody
was stirring, had it all hoed and raked over, so that no more hard work
could be done there. I didn't go in. Thursday night I went again, and
again Saturday night. The next week I skipped two evenings, and the
next, three, and flattered myself I was doing bravely. Jane never asked
me why I came so seldom, but Ellen did frequently; and I always replied
that I was very busy. Those were truly days of suffering. Nevertheless,
having formed my resolution, I determined to abide by it. God only knew
what it cost me. On the beautiful May mornings, and during the long
"after tea," which always comes into country-life, I could watch them,
watch her, from my window, while the planting, watering, and weeding
went on in the flower-garden. I saw them go in at dark, saw the light
appear in the keeping-room, and fancied them sitting at their work,
wondering, perhaps, that nobody came to read to them.
One day, when I had not been there for three days and nights, I
received, while at work in my shop, a sudden summons from home. My
mother, the little boy said, was very sick. I hurried home in great
agitation. I could not bear the thought that sickness or death should
reach my dear mother. Mrs. Wood met me at the door, to say that a
physician had been sent for, but that my mother was relieved and there
was no immediate danger. I hurried to her chamber and found--Jane by
her bedside. For all my anxiety about my mother, I felt the hot flush
spreading over my face. It seemed so good to see her taking care of my
mother! In my agitation, I caught hold of her hand and spoke before I
"Oh, Jane," I whispered, "I am so glad you are here!"
Her face turned as red as fire. I thought she was angry at my boldness,
or, perhaps, because I called her Jane.
"Excuse me," said I. "I am so agitated about mother that I hardly know
what I am about."
When the doctor came, he gave hopes that my mother would recover; but
she never did. She suffered little, but grew weaker and weaker every
day. Jane was with her day and night; for my mother liked her about her
bed better than anybody. Oh, what a strange two weeks were those! My
mother was so much to me, how could I give her up? She was the only
person on earth who cared for me, and she must die! Yet side by side in
my heart with this great grief was the great joy of living, day after
day, night after night, under the same roof with Jane. By necessity
thrown constantly with her, feeling bound to see that she, too, did not
get sick, with watching and weariness,--yet feeling myself obliged to
measure my words, to keep up an unnatural stiffness, lest I should break
down, and she know all my weakness!
At last all was over,--my mother was dead. It is of no use,--I never can
put into words the frenzied state of my feelings at that time. I had not
even the poor comfort of grieving like other people. I ground my teeth
and almost cursed myself, when the feeling would come that sorrow for
my mother's death was mingled with regrets that there was no longer any
excuse for my remaining in the same neighborhood with Jane. I reproached
myself with having made my mother's death-bed a place of happiness; for
my conscience told me that those two weeks had been, in one sense, the
happiest of my life.
By what I then experienced I knew that our connection must be broken off
entirely. Half-way work had already been tried too long. Sitting by the
dead body of my mother, gazing upon that face which, ever since I could
remember, had reflected my own joys and sorrows, I resolved to decide
once for all upon my future course. I was without a single tie. In all
the wide world, not a person cared whether I lived or died. One part of
the wide world, then, was as good for me as another. There was but one
little spot where I must not remain; all the rest was free to me. I took
the map of the world. I was a little past thirty, healthy, and should
probably, accidents excepted, live out the time allotted to man. I
divided the land mapped out before me into fifteen portions. I would
live two years in each; then, being an old man, I would gradually draw
nearer to this forbidden "little spot," inquire what had become of the
Woods, and settle down in the same little house, patiently to await my
summons. My future life being thus all mapped out, I arose with calmness
to perform various little duties which yet remained to be done before
the funeral could take place.
Beautiful flowers were in the room; a few white ones were at my mother's
breast. Jane brought them. She had done everything, and I had not even
thanked her. How could I, in that stiff way I had adopted towards her?
My father was buried beneath an elm-tree, at the farthest corner of the
garden. I had my mother laid by his side. When the funeral was over,
Mrs. Wood and her daughters remained at the house to arrange matters
somewhat, and to give directions to the young servant, who was now my
only housekeeper. At one time I was left alone with Jane; the others
were up stairs. Feeling that any emotion on my part might reasonably be
attributed to my affliction, I resolved to thank her for her kindness. I
rushed suddenly up to her, and, seizing her hand, pressed it between my
"I want to thank you, Jane," I began, "but--I cannot."
And I could not, for I trembled all over, and something choked me so
that I could not speak more.
"Oh, don't, Mr. Allen!" she said; and the tone in which she uttered the
words startled me.
It seemed as if they came from the very depths of her being. Feeling
that I could not control myself, I rushed out and gained my own chamber.
What passed there between myself and my great affliction can never be
In a week's time all was ready for my departure. I gave away part of the
furniture to some poor relations of my father's. My mother's clothing
and the silver spoons, which were marked with her maiden name, I locked
up in a trunk, and asked Mrs. Wood to take care of it. She inquired
where I was going, and I said I didn't know. I didn't, for I was not to
decide until I reached Boston. I think she thought my mind was impaired
by grief, and it was. I spent the last evening there. They knew I was to
start the next forenoon in the stage, and they really seemed very sober.
No reading was thought of. Jane had her knitting-work, and Mrs. Wood
busied herself about her mending. The witchy little Ellen was quite
serious. She sat in a low chair by the fire, sometimes stirring up the
coals and sometimes the conversation. Jane appeared restless. I feared
she was overwearied with watching and her long attendance on my mother,
for her face was pale and she had a headache. She left the room several
times. I felt uneasy while she was out; but no less so when she came
back,--for there was a strange look about her eyes.
At last I summoned all my courage and rose to depart.
"I will not say good-bye," I said, in a strange, hollow voice; "I will
only shake hands, and bid you good-night."
I shook hands with them all,--Jane last. Her hand was as cold as clay. I
dared not try to speak, but rushed abruptly from the house. Another long
night of misery!
When I judged, from the sounds below stairs, that my little servant had
breakfast ready, I went down and forced myself to eat; for I was feeling
deathly faint, and knew I needed food. I gave directions for the
disposition of some remaining articles, and for closing the house, then
walked rapidly towards the public-house in the village, where my trunks
had already been carried. I was very glad that I should not have to pass
the Woods'. I saw the girls out in their garden just before I left, and
took a last long look, but was sorry I did; it did me no good.
I was to go to Boston in the stage, and then take a vessel to New York,
whence I might sail for any part of the world. When I arrived at the
tavern, the Boston stage was just in, and the driver handed me a letter.
It was from the mate of the vessel, saying that his sailing would be
delayed two days, and requesting me to take a message from him to his
family, who lived in a small village six miles back from what was called
the stage-road. I went on horseback, performed my errand, dined with the
family, and returned at dark to the inn. After supper, it occurred to me
to go to the Woods' and surprise them. I wanted to see just what they
were doing, and just how they looked,--just how _she_ looked. But a
moment's reflection convinced me that I had much better not. But be
quiet I could not, and I strolled out of the back-door of the inn, and
so into a wide field behind. There was a moon, but swift dark clouds
were flying across it, causing alternate light and shadow. I strayed
on through field and meadow, hardly knowing whither I went, yet with a
half-consciousness that I should find myself at the end by my mother's
grave. I felt, therefore, no surprise when I saw that I was approaching,
through a field at the back of my garden, the old elm-tree. As I drew
near the grave, the moon, appearing from behind a cloud, showed me the
form of a woman leaning against the tree. She wore no bonnet,--nothing
but a shawl thrown over her head. Her face was turned from me, but I
knew those features, even in the indistinct moonlight, and my heart gave
a sudden leap, as I pressed eagerly forward. She turned in affright,
half screamed, half ran, then, recognizing me, remained still as a
"Mr. Allen, you here? I thought you were gone," she said, at last.
"Jane, you here?" said I. "You ought not; the night is damp; you will
Nevertheless, I went on talking, told what had detained me, described
my journey and visit, and inquired after her family, as if I had been a
month absent. I never talked so easily before; for I knew she was not
looking in my face, and forgot how my voice might betray me. I spoke of
my mother, of how much she was to me, of my utter loneliness, and even
of my plans for the future.
"But I am keeping you too long," I exclaimed, at last; "this evening air
is bad; you must go home."
I walked along with her, up through the garden, and along the road
towards her house. I did not offer my arm, for I dared not trust myself
so near. The evening wind was cool, and I took off my hat to let it blow
upon my forehead, for my head was hot and my brain in a whirl. We came
to a stop at the gate, beneath an apple-tree, then in full bloom. I
think now that my mind at that time was not--exactly sound. The severe
mental discipline which I had forced upon myself, the long striving to
subdue the strongest feelings of a man's heart, together with my real
heart-grief at my mother's death, were enough, certainly, to craze any
one. I _was_ crazy; for I only meant to say "Good-bye," but I said,
"Good-bye, Jane; I would give the world to stay, but I must go." I
thought I was going to take her hand; but, instead of that, I took her
face between my own two hands, and turned it up towards mine. First I
kissed her cheeks. "That is for the pink," I said. Then her eyes. "And
that is for the blue. And now I go. You won't care, will you, Jane, that
I kissed you? I shall never trouble you any more; you know you will
never see me again. Good-bye, Jane!"
I grasped her hand tightly and turned away. I thought I was off, but she
did not let go my hand. I paused, as if to hear what she had to say. She
had hitherto spoken but little; she had no need, for I had talked with
all the rapidity of insanity. She tried to speak now, but her voice was
husky, and she almost whispered.
"Why do you go?" she asked.
"Because I _must_, Jane," I replied. "I _must_ go."
"And _why_ must you go?" she asked.
"Oh, Jane, don't ask me why I must go; you wouldn't, if you knew"--
There I stopped. She spoke again. There was a strange tone in her voice,
and I could feel that she was trembling all over.
"_Don't_ go, Henry."
Never before had she called me Henry, and this, together with her strong
emotion and the desire she expressed for me to stay, shot a bright
thought of joy through my soul. It was the very first moment that I
had entertained the possibility of her caring for me. I seemed another
being. Strange thoughts flashed like lightning across my mind. My
resolve was taken.
"Who cares whether I go or stay?" I asked.
"_I_ care," said she.
I took both her hands in mine, and, looking full in her face, said, in a
"Jane, _how much_ do you care?"
"A whole heart full," she replied, in a voice as low and as earnest as
She was leaning on the fence; I leaned back beside her, for I grew sick
and faint, thinking of the great joy that might be coming.
"Jane," said I, solemnly, "you wouldn't _marry me_, would you?"
"Certainly not," she replied. "How can I, when you have never asked me?"
"Jane," said I, and my voice sounded strange even to myself, "I hope you
are not trifling;--you never would dare, did you know the state I am in,
that I _have_ been in for--oh, so long! But I can't have hidden all my
love. Can't you see how my life almost is hanging upon your answer?
Jane, do you love me, and will you be my wife?"
"Henry," she replied, softly, but firmly, "I _do_ love you. I have loved
you a long, long time, and I shall be proud to be your wife, if--you
think me worthy."
It was more than I could bear. The sleepless nights, the days of almost
entire fasting, together with all my troubles, had been too much for me.
I was weak in body and in mind.
"Oh, Jane!" was all I could say. Then, leaning my head upon her
shoulder, I cried like a child. It didn't seem childish then.
"Oh, but, Henry, I won't, then, if you feel so badly about it," said
she, half laughing. Then, changing her tone, she begged me to become
calm. But in vain. The barriers were broken down, and the tide of
emotion, long suppressed, must gush forth. She evidently came to this
conclusion. She stood quiet and silent, and at last began timidly
stroking my hair. I shall never forget the first touch of her hand upon
my forehead. It soothed me, or else my emotion was spent; for, after a
while, I became quite still.
"Oh, Jane," I whispered, "my sorrow I could bear; but this strange
happiness overwhelms me. Can it be true? Oh, it is a fearful thing to be
so happy! How came you to love me, Jane? You are so beautiful, and I--I
"You are so good, Henry!" she exclaimed, earnestly,--"too good for me!
You are a true-hearted, noble soul, worthy the love of any woman. If you
weren't so bashful," she continued, in a lower tone, "I should not say
so much; but--do you suppose nobody is happy but yourself? There is
somebody who scarcely more than an hour ago was weeping bitter tears,
feeling that the greatest joy of her life was gone forever. But now her
joy has returned to her, her heart is glad, she trembles with happiness.
Oh, Henry, 'it is a fearful thing to be so happy!'"
I could not answer; so I drew her close up to me. She was mine now, and
why should I not press her closely to my heart,--that heart so brimful
of love for her? There was a little bench at the foot of the apple-tree,
and there I made her sit down by me and answer the many eager questions
I had to ask. I forgot all about the dampness and the evening air.
She told how her mother had liked me from the first,--how they were
informed, by some few acquaintances they had made in the village, of my
early disappointment, and also of the peculiar state of mind into which
I was thrown by those early troubles; but when she began to love me she
couldn't tell. She had often thought I cared for her,--mentioned the day
when I found her at my mother's bedside, also the day of the funeral;
but so well had I controlled my feelings that she was never sure until
"I trust you will not think me unmaidenly, Henry," said she, looking
timidly up in my face. "You won't think worse of me, will you, for--for
almost offering myself to you?"
There was but one answer to this, and I failed not to give it. 'Twas a
very earnest answer, and she drew back a little. Her voice grew lower
and lower, while she told how, at my shaking hands the night before, she
almost fainted,--how she longed to say "Stay," but dared not, for I was
so stiff and cold: how could she say, "Don't go, Mr. Allen; please stay
and marry me"?--how she passed a wretched night and day, and walked out
at evening to be alone,--how she felt that she could go nowhere but to
my mother's grave,--and, finally, how overwhelmed with joy she was when
I came upon her so suddenly.
All this she told me, speaking softly and slowly, for which I was
thankful; for I liked to feel the sweet words of healing, dropping one
by one upon my heart.
In the midst of our talk, we heard the front-door of the house open.
"They are coming to look for me," said Jane. "You will go in?"
Hand in hand we walked up the pathway. We met Ellen half-way down. She
started with surprise at seeing me.
"Why, Mr. Allen!" she exclaimed, "I thought you a hundred miles off.
Why, Jane, mother was afraid you had fallen down the well."
She tripped gayly into the house.
"Mother!" she called out,--"you sent me for one, and I have brought you
Jane and I walked in hand in hand; for I would not let her go. Her
mother looked surprised, but well pleased.
"Mrs. Wood," said I, "Jane has asked me to stay, and I am going to."
Nothing more was needed; our faces told the rest.
"Now Heaven be praised," she replied, "that we are still to have you
with us! I could not help thinking, that, if you only knew how much we
cared for you, you would not have been in such a hurry to leave us." And
she glanced significantly towards Jane.
The rest of the evening was spent in the most interesting explanations.
I passed the night at the village inn, as I had intended,--passed it,
not in sleep, but in planning and replanning, and in trying to persuade
myself that "Pink and Blue" was my own to keep.
The next day I spent at the Woods'. It was the first really happy day of
my life. In the afternoon, I took a long walk with Jane, through green
lanes, and orchards white and fragrant with blossoms. In the evening,
the family assembled, and we held sweet council together. It was decided
unanimously, that, situated as I was, there was no reason for delaying
the wedding,--that I should repossess myself of the furniture I had
given away, by giving new in exchange, the old being dearer to both Jane
and myself,--and, finally, that our wedding should be very quiet, and
should take place as soon as Jane could be got ready. Through it all I
sat like one in a dream, assenting to everything, for everything seemed
As soon as possible, I reopened my house, and established myself there
with the same little servant. It took Jane about a month to get ready,
and it took me some years to feel wholly my own happiness.
The old house is still standing; but after Mrs. Wood died, and Ellen was
married, we moved into the village; for the railroad came very near us,
cutting right through the path "across the field." I had the bodies of
my father and mother removed to the new cemetery.
My wife has been to me a lifelong blessing, my heart's joy and comfort.
They who have not tried it can never know how much love there is in a
woman's heart. The pink still lingers on her cheek, and her blue eye has
that same expression which so bewitched me in my younger days. The spell
has never been broken. I am an old man and she is an old woman, and,
though I don't do it before folks, lest they call us two old fools, yet,
when I come in and find her all alone, I am free to own that I do hug
and kiss her, and always mean to. If anybody is inclined to laugh, let
him just come and see how beautiful she is.
Our sons are away now, and all our daughters are married but one. I'm
glad they haven't taken her,--she looks so much as her mother did when I
first knew her. Her name is Jane Wood Allen. She goes in the village by
the name of Jennie Allen; but I like Jane better,--Jane Wood.
That is a true account of "How I won my wife."
The street was narrow, close, and dark,
And flanked with antique masonry,
The shelving eaves left for an ark
But one long strip of summer sky.
But one long line to bless the eye--
The thin white cloud lay not so high,
Only some brown bird, skimming nigh,
From wings whence all the dew was dry
Shook down a dream of forest scents,
Of odorous blooms and sweet contents,
Upon the weary passers-by.
Ah, few but haggard brows had part
Below that street's uneven crown,
And there the murmurs of the mart
Swarmed faint as hums of drowsy noon.
With voices chiming in quaint tune
From sun-soaked hulls long wharves adown,
The singing sailors rough and brown
Won far melodious renown,
Here, listening children ceasing play,
And mothers sad their well-a-way,
In this old breezy sea-board town.
Ablaze on distant banks she knew,
Spreading their bowls to catch the sun,
Magnificent Dutch tulips grew
With pompous color overrun.
By light and snow from heaven won
Their misty web azaleas spun;
Low lilies pale as any nun,
Their pensile bells rang one by one;
And spicing all the summer air
Gold honeysuckles everywhere
Their trumpets blew in unison.
Than where blood-cored carnations stood
She fancied richer hues might be,
Scents rarer than the purple hood
Curled over in the fleur-de-lis.
Small skill in learned names had she,
Yet whatso wealth of land or sea
Had ever stored her memory,
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