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William Wordsworth

Ernest De Selincourt and Chester L. Shaver (eds), The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. 1: The Early Years: 1787–1805 (Second Revised Edition)

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10. W. W. to D. W.

  • Address: Miss Wordsworth | Revd W. Cookson's | Long Stratton | Norfolk | L'Angleterre
  • Postmark: 28 September 1790.
  • MS. WL. M(—), i. 57. P(—), iii. 224. L(—), i. 11. EL, 30.

  • Sept. 6th [and 16, 1790] Keswi (a small
  • village on the lake of Constance)

My dear Sister

My last letter was addressed to you from St Valier and the Grande Chartreuse. I have since that period gone over a very considerable tract of country and I will give you a sketch of my route, as far as relates to mentioning the places where I have been, after I have assured you that I am in excellent Health and Spirits, and have had no reason to complain of the contrary during our1 whole tour. My Spirits have been kept in a perpetual hurry of delight by the almost uninterrupted succession of sublime and beautiful objects which have passed before my eyes during the course of the last month, and you will be surprized when I assure you that our united expenses since we quitted Calais which was on the evening of the 14th of July have not amounted to more than twelve pounds. Never was there a more excellent school for frugality than that in which we are receiving instructions at present. I am half afraid of getting a slight touch of avarice from it. It is the end of travelling by communicating Ideas to enlarge the mind; God forbid that I should stamp upon mine the strongest proof of a contracted spirit. But I will resume the intent of this letter by endeavouring to give you some Idea of our route; it will be utterly impossible for me to dwell upon particular scenes, as my paper would be exhausted before I had done with the journey of two or pg 33three days. On quitting the Grande Chartreuse where we remained two days contemplating, with encreased pleasure its wonderful scenery, we passed thro' Savoy to Geneva, and thence, along the Pays de Vaud side of the lake, to Ville-neuve a small town seated at its head. The lower part of the lake did not afford us a pleasure equal to what might have been expected from its celebrity. This was owing partly to its width, and partly to the weather, which was one of those hot glaring days in which all distant objects are veiled in a species of bright obscurity. But the higher part of the lake made us ample amends, 'tis true we had the same disagreeable weather but the banks of the water are infinitely more picturesque, and as it is much narrower, the landscape suffered proportionally less from that pale steam which before almost entirely hid the opposite shore. From Villeneuve we proceeded up the Rhone to Martigny where we left our bundles and struck over the mountains to Chamouny to visit the glaciers of Savoy. You have undoubtedly heard of these celebrated s[c]enes, but if you have not read of them any description which I have here room to give you must be altogether inadequate. After passing two days in the environs of Chamouny we returned to Martigny, and pursued our Route up the Valais along the Rhone to Brig. At Brig we quitted the Valais and passed the Alps at the Semplon in order to visit part of Italy. The impressions of three hours of our walk among the Alps will never be effaced.1 From Duomo d'Ossola a town of Italy which lay in our Route we proceeded to the lake of Locarno, to visit the Boromaean Islands there, and thence to Como. A more charming path was scarce ever travelled than we had along the lake of Como. The banks of many of the Italian and Swiss lakes are so steep and rocky as not to admit of roads; that of Como is partly of this character. A small footpath is all the communication by land between one village and another on the side along which we passed for upwards of thirty miles. We entered upon this path about noon, and owing to the steepness of the banks, were soon unmolested by the sun, which illuminated the woods rocks and villages of the opposite shore. The lake is narrow and the shadows of the mountains were early thrown across it. It was beautiful to watch them travelling up the sides of the hills for several hours, to remark one half of a village covered with shade, and the other bright with the strongest sunshine. pg 34It was with regret that we passed every turn of this charming path, where every new picture was purchased by the loss of another which we would never have been tired of gazing at. The shores of the lake consist of steeps covered with large sweeping woods of chestnut spotted with villages, some clinging from the summits of the advancing rocks, and others hiding themselves within their recesses. Nor was the surface of the lake less interesting than its shores; part of it glowing with the richest green and gold the reflexion of the illuminated woods and part shaded with a soft blue tint. The picture was still further diversified by the number of sails which stole lazily by us, as we paused in the woods above them. After all this we had the moon. It was impossible not to contrast that repose that complacency of Spirit, produced by these lovely scenes, with the sensations I had experienced two or three days before, in passing the Alps. At the lake of Como my mind ran thro a thousand dreams of happiness which might be enjoyed upon its banks, if heightened by conversation and the exercise of the social affections. Among the more awful scenes of the Alps, I had not a thought of man, or a single created being; my whole soul was turned to him who produced the terrible majesty before me. But I am too particular for the limits of my paper. We followed the lake of Como to its head, and thence proceeded to Chiavenna, where we began to pass a range of the Alps, which brought us into the Country of the Grisons at Sovaza. From Sovaza we pursued the valley of Missox1 in which it is situated to its head, passed Mount Adel to Hinter Rhine a small village near one of the sources of the Rhine. We pursued this branch of the Rhine downwards thro' the Grisons to Richene, where we turned up the other Branch of the same River, and followed it to Cimut a small village near its source. Here we quitted the Grisons and entered Switzerland at the valley of Urseren, and pursued the course of the Russ down to Altorf. Thence we proceede[d,] partly upon the lake, and partly behind the mountains on its banks, to Lucerne, and thence to Zurich. From Zurich along the banks of the lake we continued our route to Richlesweel. Here we left the lake to visit the famous church and convent of Enseilden, and thence to Glarus. But this Catalougue must be shockingly tedious. Suffice it to say that after passing a day in visiting the romantic valley of Glarus, we proceeded by the lake of Wallestadt and the Canton of Appenzell to the lake of Constance where this pg 35letter was begun nine days ago. From Constance we proceeded along the banks of the Rhine to Schaffhouse to view the fall of the Rhine there. Magnificent as this fall certainly is I must confess I was disappointed in it. I had raised my ideas too high. We followed the Rhine downwards about eight leagues from Shaffouze, where we crossed it and proceeded by Baden to Lucerne. I am at this present moment (14th of Septbr) writing at a small village in the road from Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen. By consulting your maps, you will find these villages in the southeast part of the Canton of Berne not far from the lakes of Thun and Brientz. After viewing the valley of Lauterbrunnen we shall have concluded our tour of the more Alpine parts of Swisserland. We proceed thence to Berne, and propose after making two or three small excursions about the lake of Neuchatel to go to Basle a town of Swisserland, upon the Rhine, whence we shall if we find we can afford it take advantage of the River down to Cologn, and so cross to Ostend, where we shall take the pacquet for Margate. Today is the 14th of Septbr and I hope we shall be in England by the 10th of Ocbr. I have had during the course of this delightful tour a great deal of uneasiness from an apprehension of your anxiety on my account. I have thought of you perpetually and never have my eyes burst upon a scene of particular loveliness but I have almost instantly wished that you could for a moment be transported to the place where I stood to enjoy it. I have been more particularly induced to form those wishes because the scenes of Swisserland have no resemblance to any I have found in England, and consequently it may probably never be in your power to form any idea of them. We are now as I observed above upon the point of quitting the most sublime and beautiful parts and you cannot imagine the melancholy regret which I feel at the Idea. I am a perfect Enthusiast in my admiration of Nature in all her various forms; and I have looked upon and as it were conversed with the objects which this country has presented to my view so long, and with such encreasing pleasure, that the idea of parting from them oppresses me with a sadness similar to what I have always felt in quitting a beloved friend. There is no reason to be surprized at the strong attachment which the Swiss have always shewn to their native country. Much of it must undoubtedly have been owing to those charms which have already produced so powerful an effect upon me, and to which the rudest minds cannot possibly be indifferent. Ten thousand times in the course of this tour have I regretted the inability of my memory to retain a more strong impression of the beautiful forms before me, and again and again in pg 36quitting a fortunate station have I returned to it with the most eager avidity, with the hope of bearing away a more lively picture. At this moment when many of these landscapes are floating before my mind, I feel a high [enjoyment] in reflecting that perhaps scarce a day of my life will pass [in] which I shall not derive some happiness from these images. With regard to the manners of the inhabitants of this singular country, the impression which we have had often occasion to receive has been unfavourable. But it must be remembered that we have had little to do but with innkeepers and those corrupted by perpetual intercourse with strangers. Had we been able to speak the language, which is German, and had time to insinuate ourselves into their cottages, we should probably have had as much occasion to admire the simplicity of their lives as the beauties of their country. My partiality to Swisserland excited by its natural charms induces me to hope that the manners of it's inhabitants are aimiable, but at the same time I cannot help frequently contrasting them with those of the French, and as far as I have had opportunity to observe they lose very much by the comparison. We not only found the French a much less imposing people, but that politeness diffused thro the lowest ranks had an air so engaging, that you could scarce attribute it to any other cause than real benevolence. During the time which was near a month which we were in France, we had not once to complain of the smallest deficiency in civility in any person, much less of any positive rudeness. We had also perpetual occasion to observe that chearfulness and sprightliness for which the French have always been remarkable. But I must remind you that we crossed it at the time when the whole nation was mad with joy, in consequence of the revolution. It was a most interesting period to be in France, and we had many delightful scenes where the interest of the picture was owing solely to this cause. I was also much pleased with what I saw of the Italians during the short time we were amongst them. We had several times occasion to observe a softness and elegance which contrasted strongly with the severity and austereness of their neighbours on the other side of the Alps. It was with pleasure I observed at a small Inn on the lake of Como, the master of it playing upon his harpsicord, with a large collection of Italian music about him. The outside of the instrument was such that it would not have much graced an English drawingroom, but the tones that he drew from it were by no means contemptible.

But it is time to talk a little about England. When you write to my Brothers, I must beg of you to give my love, and tell them I am pg 37sorry it has not been in my power to write to them. Kit will be surprized he has not heard from me, as we were almost upon terms of regular correspondence. I had not heard from Richard for some time before I set out; I did not call on him when I was in London; not so much because we were determined to hurry through London, but because he, as many of our friends at Cambridge did, would look upon our scheme as mad and impracticable. I expect great pleasure on my return to Cambridge, in exulting over those of my friends who threathned us with such an accumulation of difficulties as must undoubtedly render it impossible for us to perform the tour. Every thing however has succeeded with us far beyond my most sanguine expectations. We have it is true met with little disasters occasionally, but far from depressing us they rather gave us additional resolution and Spirits. We have both enjoyed most excellent health, and we have been this some time so inured to walking, that we are become almost insensible of fatigue. We have several times performed a journey of thirteen leagues over the most mountainous parts of Swisserland, without any more weariness, than if we had been walking an hour in the groves of Cambridge. Our appearance is singular, and we have often observed that, in passing thro' a village, we have excited a general smile. Our coats which we had made light on purpose for our journey are of the same piece; and our manner of bearing our bundles, which is upon our heads, with each an oak stick in our hands, contributes not a little to that general curiosity which we seem to excite. But I find I have again relapsed into Egotism, and must here entreat y[ou, not only] to pardon this fault, but also to make allowance for [the] illegible hand and desultory stile of this Letter. It has been written as you will see by it's different shades at many sittings and is in fact the produce of most of the leisure which I have had since it was begun and is now finally drawing to a conclusion, Berne on the 16th of Septbr. I flatter myself still with the hopes of seeing you for a forthnight or three weeks, if it be agreeable to My Uncle, as there will be no necessity for me to be in Cambridge before the 10th of Novbr, but I shall be better able to judge whether I am likely to enjoy this pleasure in about three weeks. I shall probably write to you again before I quit France, if not most certainly, immediately on my landing in England. You will remember me affectionately to my Uncle and Aunt—as he was acquainted with my having given up all thoughts of a fellowship, he may perhaps not be so much displeased at this journey. I should be sorry if I have offended him by it. I hope my little cousin is well. I must now pg 38bid you adieu, with assuring you that you are perpetually in my thoughts, and that I remain, Most affectionately yours,

W. Wordsworth.  

Septb 12th

Upon looking over this letter, I am afraid you will not be able to [read] half of it I must again beg you would excuse me.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 W. W.'s companion was Robert Jones (bapt. 24 Oct. 1769–bur. 10 Apr. 1835), second son of Edward Jones (1737-d. 11 Oct. 1799), attorney, of Plas Yn Llan, Llangynhafal, Denbigh, and his wife Margaret (1740-bur. 30 May 1820). He entered St. John's College, Cambridge, in the same year as W. W., received his B.A. in 1791, and was a Fellow from 1791 to 1808. W. W.'s Descriptive Sketches (1793), which covers the tour, was dedicated to him.
Editor’s Note
1 Why these impressions were memorable and how they shaped W. W.'s account of the experience in Prel. vi are well explained in Professor Max Wildi's illustrated article 'Wordsworth and the Simplon Pass', English Studies, xl (Aug. 1959), 2–9.
Editor’s Note
1 Mesocco. W. W.'s Richene is Reichenau; Cimut, Tschamut; Russ, Reuss; Richlesweel, Richterswil; Enseilden, Einsiedeln; Wallestadt, Walenstadt; and Schaffhouse, Schaffhausen.
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