W. J. B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser (eds), The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, Vol. 3
pg 340KENDAL AND WINDERMERE RAILWAY. __________________
Critical ApparatusNo. I.TO THE EDITOR OF THE MORNING POST.
33Sir—Some little time ago you did me the favour of inserting a 34sonnet expressive of the regret and indignation which, in common with 35others all over these Islands, I felt at the proposal of a railway to 36extend from Kendal to Low Wood, near the head of Windermere. Editor’s Note37The project was so offensive to a large majority of the proprietors 38through whose lands the line, after it came in view of the Lake, was to 39pass, that, for this reason, and the avowed one of the heavy expense 40without which the difficulties in the way could not be overcome, it has Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus41been partially abandoned, and the terminus is now announced to be at Editor’s Note42a spot within a mile of Bowness. But as no guarantee can be given that 43the project will not hereafter be revived, and an attempt made to Critical Apparatus44carry the line forward through the vales of Ambleside and Grasmere, 45and as in one main particular the case remains essentially the same, 46allow me to address you upon certain points which merit more 47consideration than the favourers of the scheme have yet given them. 48The matter, though seemingly local, is really one in which all persons 49of taste must be interested, and, therefore, I hope to be excused if I 50venture to treat it at some length.
Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus51I shall barely touch upon the statistics of the question, leaving these 52to the two adverse parties, who will lay their several statements before 53the Board of Trade, which may possibly be induced to refer the matter 54to the House of Commons; and, contemplating that possibility, I hope 55that the observations I have to make may not be altogether without 56influence upon the public, and upon individuals whose duty it may be to 57decide in their place whether the proposed measure shall be referred to 58a Committee of the House. Were the case before us an ordinary one, I 59should reject such an attempt as presumptuous and futile; but it is not 60only different from all others, but, in truth, peculiar.
Editor’s Note61In this district the manufactures are trifling; mines it has none, and Critical Apparatus62its quarries are either wrought out or superseded; the soil is light, 63and the cultivateable parts of the country are very limited; so that it pg 341Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus64has little to send out, and little has it also to receive. Summer tour-65ists, (and the very word precludes the notion of a railway) it has 66in abundance; but the inhabitants are so few and their intercourse with 67other places so infrequent, that one daily coach, which could not be 68kept going but through its connection with the Post-office, suffices for 69three-fourths of the year along the line of country as far as Keswick. Editor’s Note70The staple of the district is, in fact, its beauty and its character of 71seclusion and retirement; and to these topics and to others connected 72with them my remarks shall be confined.
73The projectors have induced many to favour their schemes by 74declaring that one of their main objects is to place the beauties of the 75Lake district within easier reach of those who cannot afford to pay for Editor’s Note76ordinary conveyances. Look at the facts. Railways are completed, 77which, joined with others in rapid progress, will bring travellers who Critical Apparatus78prefer approaching by Ullswater to within four miles of that lake. Critical Apparatus79The Lancaster and Carlisle Railway will approach the town of Kendal, Critical Apparatus80about eight or nine miles from eminences that command the whole vale 81of Windermere. The Lakes are therefore at present of very easy 82access for all persons; but if they be not made still more so, the poor it 83is said, will be wronged. Before this be admitted let the question be 84fairly looked into, and its different bearings examined. No one can 85assert that, if this intended mode of approach be not effected, anything 86will be taken away that is actually possessed. The wrong, if any, must 87lie in the unwarrantable obstruction of an attainable benefit. First, then, 88let us consider the probable amount of that benefit.
Editor’s Note89Elaborate gardens, with topiary works, were in high request, even 90among our remote ancestors, but the relish for choice and picturesque Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus91natural scenery (a poor and mean word which requires an apology, but 92will be generally understood), is quite of recent origin. Our earlier Editor’s Note93travellers—Ray, the naturalist, one of the first men of his age—Bishop Critical Apparatus94Burnet, and others who had crossed the Alps, or lived some time 95in Switzerland, are silent upon the sublimity and beauty of those Critical Apparatus96regions; and Burnet even uses these words, speaking of the Grisons—97"When they have made up estates elsewhere they are glad to leave 98Italy and the best parts of Germany, and to come and live among those 99mountains of which the very sight is enough to fill a man with horror." Editor’s Note100The accomplished Evelyn, giving an account of his journey from Italy 101through the Alps, dilates upon the terrible, the melancholy, and 102the uncomfortable; but, till he comes to the fruitful country in the pg 342Editor’s Note103neighbourhood of Geneva, not a syllable of delight or praise. In the Critical Apparatus104Sacra Telluris Theoria of the other Burnet there is a passage—omitted, 105however, in his own English translation of the work—in which he 106gives utterance to his sensations, when, from a particular spot he 107beheld a tract of the Alps rising before him on the one hand, and on the 108other the Mediterranean Sea spread beneath him. Nothing can be 109worthier of the magnificent appearances he describes than his language. Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus110In a noble strain also does the Poet Gray address, in a Latin Ode, the Critical Apparatus111Religio loci at the Grande Chartruise. But before his time, with the 112exception of the passage from Thomas Burnet just alluded to, there is 113not, I believe, a single English traveller whose published writings Critical Apparatus114would disprove the assertion, that, where precipitous rocks and 115mountains are mentioned at all, they are spoken of as objects of dislike Editor’s Note116and fear, and not of admiration. Even Gray himself, describing, in his 117Journal, the steeps at the entrance of Borrowdale, expresses his 118terror in the language of Dante:—"Let us not speak of them, but look Editor’s Note119and pass on." In my youth, I lived some time in the vale of Keswick, 120under the roof of a shrewd and sensible woman, who more than once 121exclaimed in my hearing, "Bless me! folk are always talking about 122prospects: when I was young there was never sic a thing neamed." Editor’s Note123In fact, our ancestors, as every where appears, in choosing the site of 124their houses, looked only at shelter and convenience, especially of 125water, and often would place a barn or any other out-house directly 126in front of their habitations, however beautiful the landscape which Editor’s Note127their windows might otherwise have commanded. The first house that 128was built in the Lake district for the sake of the beauty of the country 129was the work of a Mr. English, who had travelled in Italy, and chose 130for his site, some eighty years ago, the great island of Windermere; 131but it was sold before his building was finished, and he showed how 132little he was capable of appreciating the character of the situation by 133setting up a length of high garden-wall, as exclusive as it was ugly, 134almost close to the house. The nuisance was swept away when the 135late Mr. Curwen became the owner of this favoured spot. Mr. English 136was followed by Mr. Pocklington, a native of Nottinghamshire, who 137played strange pranks by his buildings and plantations upon Vicar's 138Island, in Derwentwater, which his admiration, such as it was, of the 139country, and probably a wish to be a leader in a new fashion, had 140tempted him to purchase. But what has all this to do with the subject? Editor’s Note141—Why, to show that a vivid perception of romantic scenery is pg 343142neither inherent in mankind, nor a necessary consequence of even a 143comprehensive education. It is benignly ordained that green fields, 144clear blue skies, running streams of pure water, rich groves and woods, 145orchards, and all the ordinary varieties of rural nature, should find an 146easy way to the affections of all men, and more or less so from early 147childhood till the senses are impaired by old age and the sources of 148mere earthly enjoyment have in a great measure failed. But a taste 149beyond this, however desirable it may be that every one should possess 150it, is not to be implanted at once; it must be gradually developed both Editor’s Note151in nations and individuals. Rocks and mountains, torrents and wide 152spread waters, and all those features of nature which go to the com 153position of such scenes as this part of England is distinguished for, 154cannot, in their finer relations to the human mind, be comprehended, 155or even very imperfectly conceived, without processes of culture or 156opportunities of observation in some degree habitual. In the eye of Critical Apparatus157thousands and tens of thousands, a rich meadow, with fat cattle 158grazing upon it, or the sight of what they would call a heavy crop of 159corn, is worth all that the Alps and Pyrenees in their utmost grandeur 160and beauty could show to them; and, notwithstanding the grateful 161influence, as we have observed, of ordinary nature and the productions 162of the fields, it is noticeable what trifling conventional prepossessions 163will, in common minds, not only preclude pleasure from the sight of Editor’s Note164natural beauty, but will even turn it into an object of disgust. "If I had 165to do with this garden," said a respectable person, one of my neigh 166bours, "I would sweep away all the black and dirty stuff from that wall." 167The wall was backed by a bank of earth, and was exquisitely decorated 168with ivy, flowers, moss, and ferns, such as grow of themselves in like 169places; but the mere notion of fitness associated with a trim garden 170wall prevented, in this instance, all sense of the spontaneous bounty 171and delicate care of nature. In the midst of a small pleasure-ground, 172immediately below my house, rises a detached rock, equally remarkable 173for the beauty of its form, the ancient oaks that grow out of it, and the 174flowers and shrubs which adorn it. "What a nice place would this be," 175said a Manchester tradesman, pointing to the rock, "if that ugly lump 176were but out of the way." Men as little advanced in the pleasure which Critical Apparatus177such objects give to others are so far from being rare, that they may be Critical Apparatus178said fairly to represent a large majority of mankind. This is a fact, 179and none but the deceiver and the willingly deceived can be offended 180by its being stated. But as a more susceptible taste is undoubtedly a 181great acquisition, and has been spreading among us for some years, the pg 344182question is, what means are most likely to be beneficial in extending Critical Apparatus183its operation? Surely that good is not to be obtained by transferring at 184once uneducated persons in large bodies to particular spots, where the 185combinations of natural objects are such as would afford the greatest 186pleasure to those who have been in the habit of observing and studying 187the peculiar character of such scenes, and how they differ one from Critical Apparatus188another. Instead of tempting artisans and labourers, and the humbler 189classes of shopkeepers, to ramble to a distance, let us rather look with 190lively sympathy upon persons in that condition, when, upon a holiday, Critical Apparatus191or on the Sunday, after having attended divine worship, they make 192little excursions with their wives and children among neighbouring 193fields, whither the whole of each family might stroll, or be conveyed at 194much less cost than would be required to take a single individual of the 195number to the shores of Windermere by the cheapest conveyance. 196It is in some such way as this only, that persons who must labour daily 197with their hands for bread in large towns, or are subject to confinement 198through the week, can be trained to a profitable intercourse with 199nature where she is the most distinguished by the majesty and Critical Apparatus200sublimity of her forms.
Editor’s Note201For further illustration of the subject, turn to what we know of a 202man of extraordinary genius, who was bred to hard labour in agricul-203tural employments, Burns, the poet. When he had become distinguished 204by the publication of a volume of verses, and was enabled to travel by 205the profit his poems brought him, he made a tour, in the course of 206which, as his companion, Dr. Adair, tells us, he visited scenes inferior 207to none in Scotland in beauty, sublimity, and romantic interest; and 208the Doctor having noticed, with other companions, that he seemed 209little moved upon one occasion by the sight of such a scene, says—"I 210doubt if he had much taste for the picturesque." The personal testimony, 211however, upon this point is conflicting; but when Dr. Currie refers to 212certain local poems as decisive proofs that Burns' fellow-traveller 213was mistaken, the biographer is surely unfortunate. How vague and 214tame are the poet's expressions in those few local poems, compared 215with his language when he is describing objects with which his Editor’s Note216position in life allowed him to be familiar! It appears, both from what pg 345217his works contain, and from what is not to be found in them, that, Critical Apparatus218sensitive as they abundantly prove his mind to have been in its inter 219course with common rural images, and with the general powers of 220nature exhibited in storm and in stillness, in light or darkness, and 221in the various aspects of the seasons, he was little affected by the sight 222of one spot in preference to another, unless where it derived an interest Editor’s Note223from history, tradition, or local associations. He lived many years in 224Nithsdale, where he was in daily sight of Skiddaw, yet he never Critical Apparatus225crossed the Solway for a better acquaintance with that mountain; 226and I am persuaded that, if he had been induced to ramble among our 227Lakes, by that time sufficiently celebrated, he would have seldom been 228more excited than by some ordinary Scottish stream or hill with a 229tradition attached to it, or which had been the scene of a favourite Critical Apparatus230ballad or love song. If all this be truly said of such a man, and the like 231cannot be denied of the eminent individuals before named, who to 232great natural talents added the accomplishments of scholarship or 233science, then what ground is there for maintaining that the poor are 234treated with disrespect, or wrong done to them or any class of visi 235tants, if we be reluctant to introduce a railway into this country for the 236sake of lessening, by eight or nine miles only, the fatigue or expense of Critical Apparatus237their journey to Windermere?—And wherever any one among the 238labouring classes has made even an approach to the sensibility which Editor’s Note239drew a lamentation from Burns when he had uprooted a daisy with his 240plough, and caused him to turn the "weeder-clips aside" from the 241thistle, and spare "the symbol dear" of his country, then surely such a 242one, could he afford by any means to travel as far as Kendal, would not Critical Apparatus243grudge a two hours' walk across the skirts of the beautiful country 244that he was desirous of visiting.
245The wide-spread waters of these regions are in their nature peace-246ful; so are the steep mountains and the rocky glens; nor can they be 247profitably enjoyed but by a mind disposed to peace. Go to a panto-248mime, a farce, or a puppet-show, if you want noisy pleasure—the 249crowd of spectators who partake your enjoyment will, by their 250presence and acclamations, enhance it; but may those who have given 251proof that they prefer other gratifications continue to be safe from the 252molestation of cheap trains pouring out their hundreds at a time along pg 346Critical Apparatus253the margin of Windermere; nor let any one be liable to the charge of 254being selfishly disregardful of the poor, and their innocent and salutary 255enjoyments, if he does not congratulate himself upon the especial 256benefit which would thus be conferred on such a concourse.
259So exclaimed the Ayrshire ploughman, speaking of ordinary rural 260nature under the varying influences of the seasons, and the sentiment Critical Apparatus261has found an echo in the bosoms of thousands in as humble a condition 262as he himself was when he gave vent to it. But then they were feeling, 263pensive hearts; men who would be among the first to lament the 264facility with which they had approached this region, by a sacrifice of so 265much of its quiet and beauty, as, from the intrusion of a railway, 266would be inseparable. What can, in truth, be more absurd, than that 267either rich or poor should be spared the trouble of travelling by the 268high roads over so short a space, according to their respective means, 269if the unavoidable consequence must be a great disturbance of the 270retirement, and in many places a destruction of the beauty of the 271country, which the parties are come in search of? Would not this be 272pretty much like the child's cutting up his drum to learn where the 273sound came from?
- Editor’s Note257"O, Nature, a' thy shows an' forms,
- 258To feeling pensive hearts hae charms!"
274Having, I trust, given sufficient reason for the belief that the 275imperfectly educated classes are not likely to draw much good from Editor’s Note276rare visits to the Lakes performed in this way, and surely on their Editor’s Note277own account it is not desirable that the visits should be frequent, let 278us glance at the mischief which such facilities would certainly produce. 279The directors of railway companies are always ready to devise or 280encourage entertainments for tempting the humbler classes to leave 281their homes. Accordingly, for the profit of the shareholders and that 282of the lower class of innkeepers, we should have wrestling matches, 283horse and boat races without number, and pot-houses and beer-shops 284would keep pace with these excitements and recreations, most of 285which might too easily be had elsewhere. The injury which would thus 286be done to morals, both among this influx of strangers and the lower 287class of inhabitants, is obvious; and, supposing such extraordinary 288temptations not to be held out, there cannot be a doubt that the 289Sabbath day in the towns of Bowness and Ambleside, and other parts 290of the district, would be subject to much additional desecration.
Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus291Whatever comes of the scheme which we have endeavoured to pg 347292discountenance, the charge against its opponents of being selfishly 293regardless of the poor, ought to cease. The cry has been raised and kept 294up by three classes of persons—they who wish to bring into discredit Editor’s Note295all such as stand in the way of their gains or gambling speculations; 296they who are dazzled by the application of physical science to the 297useful arts, and indiscriminately applaud what they call the spirit of 298the age as manifested in this way; and, lastly, those persons who are 299ever ready to step forward in what appears to them to be the cause of 300the poor, but not always with becoming attention to particulars. I am 301well aware that upon the first class what has been said will be of no Critical Apparatus302avail, but upon the two latter some impression will, I trust, be made.
303To conclude. The railway power, we know well, will not admit of 304being materially counteracted by sentiment; and who would wish it 305where large towns are connected, and the interests of trade and Critical Apparatus306agriculture are substantially promoted, by such mode of intercom Editor’s Note307munication? But be it remembered, that this case is, as has been said 308before, a peculiar one, and that the staple of the country is its beauty 309and its character of retirement. Let then the beauty be undisfigured and 310the retirement unviolated, unless there be reason for believing that 311rights and interests of a higher kind and more apparent than those pg 348312which have been urged in behalf of the projected intrusion will 313compensate the sacrifice. Thanking you for the judicious observations 314that have appeared in your paper upon the subject of railways, I remain, 315Sir, your obliged,
317Rydal Mount, Dec. 9, 1844.
Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus318Note.—To the instances named in this letter of the indifference 319even of men of genius to the sublime forms of nature in mountainous 320districts, the author of the interesting Essays, in the Morning Post, 321entitled Table Talk has justly added Goldsmith, and I give the passage 322in his own words.
323"The simple and gentle-hearted Goldsmith, who had an exquisite 324sense of rural beauty in the familiar forms of hill and dale, and 325meadows with their hawthorn-scented hedges, does not seem to have 326dreamt of any such thing as beauty in the Swiss Alps, though he 327traversed them on foot, and had therefore the best opportunities of 328observing them. In his poem "The Traveller," he describes the Swiss 329as loving their mountain homes, not by reason of the romantic beauty 330of the situation, but in spite of the miserable character of the soil, and 331the stormy horrors of their mountain steeps—
- 332 "Turn we to survey
- 333 Where rougher climes a nobler race display,
- 334 Where the bleak Swiss their stormy mansion tread,
- 335 And force a churlish soil for scanty bread.
- 336 No produce here the barren hills afford,
- 337 But man and steel, the soldier and his sword:
- 338 No vernal blooms their torpid rocks array,
- 339 But winter lingering chills the lap of May;
- 340 No Zephyr fondly sues the mountain's breast,
- 341 But meteors glare and stormy glooms invest.
- 342 Yet still, even here, content can spread a charm,
- 343 Redress the clime, and all its rage disarm."
344In the same Essay, (December 18th, 1844,) are many observations 345judiciously bearing upon the true character of this and similar projects.
They [critics of his sonnet 'On the Projected Kendal and Windermere Railway'] actually accuse me of desiring to interfere with the innocent enjoyments of the poor, by preventing this district becoming accessible to them by a railway. Now I deny that it is to that class that this kind of scenery is either the most improving or the most attractive. For the very poor the great God of Nature has mercifully spread out His Bible everywhere; the common sunshine, green fields, the blue sky, the shining river, are everywhere to be met with in this country; and it is only an individual here and there among the uneducated classes who feels very deeply the poetry of lakes and mountains; and such persons would rather wander about where they like, than rush through the country in a railway. It is not, therefore, the poor, as a class, that would benefit morally or mentally by a railway conveyance; while to the educated classes, to whom such scenes as these give enjoyment of the purest kind, the effect would be almost entirely destroyed.
By the new edition of his poems, Burns acquired a sum of money, that enabled him … to gratify a desire he had long entertained, of visiting those parts of his native country most attractive by their beauty or their grandeur [i. 162]…. he undertook another journey towards the middle of this month [August 1787], in company with Mr. M. Adair, now Dr. Adair, of Harrowgate, of which this gentleman has favoured us with the following account [i. 168–9]…. "During a residence of about ten days at Harvieston, we made excursions to visit various parts of the surrounding scenery, inferior to none in Scotland, in beauty, sublimity, and romantic interest…. I am surprised that none of these scenes should have called forth an exertion of Burns's muse. But I doubt if he had much taste for the picturesque" [i. 170–1].
It is indeed a very curious and noticeable circumstance, though unobserved upon, so far as I know, until Mr. Wordsworth's letter of the other day, that the appreciation of beauty and loveliness in the wild sublime scenery of nature is but a modern delight among us, and was not known even to cultivated men, and to the poets of a century ago. Of this fact he offers some striking instances. May I venture to add another, and, as it seems to me, rather an important one. The simple and gentle-hearted Goldsmith, [etc.,]
as in Wordsworth's text, except for minor differences in punctuation, the omission of a preposition ('poem of', 328), and the substitution of 'the' ('of the situation', 330) for the author's 'their'.
In the paragraph immediately following, the author of Table Talk introduces another reason for excluding a railway from the Lake District:
Not one word does [Goldsmith] say of the exquisite beauties of Alpine scenery, which are now the delight of perhaps two or three out of every hundred of the crowds of English who make the Swiss tour…. And that so many of us at the present day have escaped from this insensibility to the more secluded and awful forms of natural beauty we in a great measure owe to Wordsworth and his writings. Bearing this in mind, and giving him the honour which is his due, the public ought, on his account alone, to spare the land he loves so well from that violent intrusion against which he protests.