William Wordsworth

Alan G. Hill (ed.), The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. 8: A Supplement of New Letters (Revised Edition)

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W. W. to CHARLES LAMB1

  • MS. WL.
  • Letters of William Wordsworth, ed. Alan G. Hill, 1984, p. 195.

Rydal Mount 21st Novr [1816]

Dear Lamb,

Miss H. writes that you may read.2—W. H.3 is much such a drawer of characters, as, judging from the specimens of art which he has left in this country, he is a portrait painter. He tried his hand upon me. My brother Richard happened to come into the room where his work was suspended, saw, stopt, I believe recoiled, and exclaimed God Zoundsl a criticism as emphatic as it was concise. He was literally struck with the strength of the signboard likeness; but never, till that moment, had he conceived that so much of the diabolical lurked under the innocent features of his quondam playmate, and respected Friend and dear Brother. Devils may be divided into two large classes, first, the malignant and mischievous,—those who are bent upon all of evil-doing that is prayed against in the Litany; and secondly those which have so thorough a sense of their own damnation, and the misery consequent upon it, as to be incapable of labouring a thought injurious to the tranquility of others. The pencil of W. H. is potent in delineating both kinds of physiognomy. My Portrait was an example of the one; and a Picture of Coleridge, now in existence at Keswick (mine has been burnt) is of the other. This piece of art is not producable for fear of fatal consequences to married pg 162Ladies, but is kept in a private room, as a special treat to those who may wish to sup upon horrors. As H. served the person of Coleridge, fifteen1 years ago, now has he served his mind;2 a likeness, it must be acknowledged there is, but one takes refuge from the spectacle in detestation (in this latter instance) of the malevolence by which the montrous caricature was elaborated.

By the bye, an event has lately occured in our neighbourhood which would raise the character of its population in the estimation of that roving God Pan, who some years ago made his appearance among us.3 You will recollect, and Mr Henry Robinson will more easily recollect, that a little Friend of our's was profuse in praises of the 'more than beauty'—'the angelic sweetness'—that pervaded the features of a fair young Cottager dwelling upon the banks of Rydal mere.4 To be brief, Love and opportunity have wrought so much upon the tender frame of this terrestrial angel, that, to the surprize of Gods, Men, and Matrons, she has lately brought forth a Man child to be known, and honored, by the name of William, and so called for a deceased Brother5 of its acknowledging Father Thomas de Q—. Such, in these later times, are the fruits of philosophy ripening under the shelter of our Arcadian mountains. A marriage is expected by some; but, from the known procrastination of one of the parties, it is not looked for by others till the commencement of the millenium. In the meanwhile he has a proud employment in nursing the new-born.

Let me hear that the Shoemaker has not bullied you out of your intention of completing the meditated Essays.6 Southey, of pg 163whom H. affects to talk contemptuously, beats us all hollow in interesting and productive power.1 If he reads, if he talks, if he is talked to, he turns it all to account: behold! it is upon paper, it is in print; and the whole world reads, or many read it, sure of being always entertained, and often instructed. If the attainment of just notions be an evidence of ability, Southey will be cherished by posterity when the reputation of those, who now so insolently decry him, will be rotted away and dispersed upon the winds. I wish to hear from you, and not unfrequently. You are better off than we—inasmuch as London contains one person whose conversation is worth listening to—whereas here we are in an utter desert, notwithstanding we have a very amiable and edifying Parson; an intelligent Doctor; an honest Attorney (for he is without practice), a Lady of the Manor, who has a Spice of the romantic; Landscape Painters who are fraught with admiration, at least of their own walls; Irish Refugees, and Liverpool Bankrupts, without number.—Have you seen a thing advertized called the Poetic Mirror?2 a parody which selects, as a Subject for my Muse, 'The flying Taylor'. You will call to mind that I told you there was a person, in this neighbourhood, who from his agility, had acquired this name—hence a thought crossed my mind that the Author of this Skit3 might be of your acquaintance; but as he has pg 164selected three Scotish Poets—Hogg, Scott, and Wilson—to the exclusion of English ones of near equal eminence and more merit, I conclude that he is some Sawney ayont the Tweed, who has been resident in this Country and probably about the time when the annual sports1 bring the flying Taylor into notice. To conclude—I remain, in good health, and not bad spirits notwithstanding the bad weather and hard times,

  • Your friend to command,       
  • [signed] Wm Wordsworth  

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
1 This letter follows MY pt. ii, L. 426. See also Winifred Courtney, 'Lamb and Hazlitt, 1816–1826; Some Notes to a Relationship', Charles Lamb Bulletin, July 1988.
Editor’s Note
2 Lamb had recently complained about W. W.'s handwriting: 'Your manual graphy is terrible, dark as Lycophron … Well, God bless you and continue to give you power to write with a finger of power upon our hearts what you fail to impress in corresponding lucidness upon our outward eyesight.' (Lamb, ii. 187–8).
Editor’s Note
3 William Hazlitt, who had painted portraits of W. W. and S. T. C. for Sir George Beaumont in 1803. See LY pt. ii, L. 612a, and Griggs, ii. 957–8, 960.
Editor’s Note
1 In fact, thirteen.
Editor’s Note
2 In the Examiner of 8 Sept. 1816, Hazlitt had anticipated the forthcoming publication of the Statesman's Manual by launching an abusive personal attack on S. T. C. as 'the Dog in the Manger of literature'. Earlier, in the Examiner of 2 June, 1816, he had denigrated the Christabel volume. See Griggs, iv. 669, 685, 700; Lamb, ii. 195–6.
Editor’s Note
3 A jocular reference, apparently, to Hazlitt's escapades at Grasmere in autumn 1803, for which see HCR i. 169.
Editor’s Note
4 Margaret Simpson of the Nab, whom De Quincey married the following Feb. H. C. R., who had paid his first visit to Rydal the previous Sept., noted that 'though Wordsworth was reserved on the subject,' De Quincey 'has entangled himself in an unfortunate acquaintance with a woman.' See HCR i. 187, 195–6.
Editor’s Note
5 William, De Quincey's domineering eldest brother, who died at the age of 15, is recalled in his Autobiography (Works, ed. Masson, i. 58 ff.).
Editor’s Note
6 Lamb had written on 23 Sept.: 'Gifford (whom God curse) has persuaded squinting Murray (whom may God not bless) not to accede to an offer Field made for me to print 2 vols, of essays, to include the one on Hogarth, and 1 or 2 more, but most of the matter to be new, but I dare say I should never have found time to make them … ' (Lamb, ii. 197). The essays were published, with poems, as The Works of Charles Lamb in 2 vols, by Charles and James Oilier in 1818.
Editor’s Note
1 'How is Southey?—' Lamb had asked, 'I hope his pen will continue to move many years smoothly and continuously for all the rubs of the rogue Examiner. A pertinacious foul-mouthed villain it is!' Southey had recently published The Poet's Pilgrimage to Waterloo, and was about to bring out the 2nd vol. of his History of Brazil, as well as his regular contributions to the Quarterly. See also MY pt. ii, L. 447.
Editor’s Note
2 By James Hogg (see L. 333), a series of parodies of Byron, Scott, Wordsworth, Southey, Coleridge, John Wilson, and Hogg himself. W. W. was represented by three blank verse pieces, The Stranger, The Flying Tailor, and James Rigg, each described as 'a further portion of The Recluse'. Hogg thought he had been slighted by W. W. during his visit to Rydal Mount in Sept. 1814 (see LY pt. ii, L. 693), but he later came to believe that De Quincey's account of the alleged affront was less than trustworthy, and W. W. himself later dismissed it as 'silly'. His lasting admiration for Hogg was recorded in his Extempore Effusion upon the Death of James Hogg (see LY pt. iii, Ls. 947–8).
Editor’s Note
3 A new colloquialism (the first recorded instance in this sense in the O.E.D. is 1820).
Editor’s Note
1 The Grasmere sports in September.
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