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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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194.W. W. to WALTER SCOTT3

  • Address: Walter Scott Esqr. | North Castle Street | Edinburgh
  • Readdressed: Laswade.
  • Postmark: 17 October 1803.
  • Stamp: Keswick.
  • MS. National Lib. of Scotland. Lockhart (—), ii.18. M(—), i.256. P(—), iii. 243. L(—), iii.378. EL, 342.

Grasmere near Keswick Cumberland. October 16th, 1803.

My dear Sir,

I am a wretched Sinner in Letter writing, and have taken off the pg 412whole grace from the present letter by my procrastination. A petty alteration which I wished to make in the sonnet1 prevented me from writing immediately on our arrival, and the first step being made in transgression the rest followed of course.

We had a delightful journey home, delightful weather, and a sweet country to travel through. We reached our little cottage in high spirits and thankful to God for all his bounties. My Wife and Child were both well, and as I need not say, we had all of us a happy meeting.

We past Branxholme, your Branxholme we supposed, about 4 miles on this side of Hawick, it looks better in your Poem than in its present realities:2 the situation however is delightful, and makes amends for an ordinary mansion. The whole of the Teviot, and the pastoral steeps about Mosspaul3 pleased us exceedingly. The Esk below Langholm is a delicious River, and we saw it to great advantage. We did not omit noticing Johnnie Armstrongs Keep, but his hanging place we miss'd, to our great regret.4 We were indeed most truly sorry that we could not have you along with us into Westmoreland. The country was in its full glory, the verdure of the valleys, in which we are so much superior to you in Scotland, was but little tarnished by the season, and the trees were putting on their most beautiful looks. My Sister was quite enchanted, and we often said to each other what a pity Mr Scott is not with us!

I had the pleasure of seeing both Coleridge and Southey at Keswick last Sunday. Southey whom I never saw much of before I liked much better than I expected; he is very pleasant in his pg 413manners, and a man of great reading, in old books, poetry, Chronicles, memoirs, &c., particularly Spanish and Portuguese. By the Bye, he occasionally reviews and he has at present, among other things, a Poem to review of that very Tytler who made the illiberal attack upon him and Coleridge in the Edinburgh Magazine which I showed you at Liswaide, so no mercy for poor Tytler.1 He has also to review a Vol. of Poems by a somebody Bayley2 Esqr which contains a long dull Poem in ridicule of the Idiot Boy, and in which Squire Bayley has mentioned by name "Mr Wordsworth that most simple of all simple Poets", so no mercy for Squire Bayley. But enough of this nonsense. My sister and I often talk of the happy days which we passed in your Company, such things do not occur often in life. If we live, we shall meet again that is my consolation when I think of these things. Do write to me and promise you will come and see us here, and bring Mrs Scott if you can. At all events we shall look for you certainly. Scotland and England sound like division, do what you can, but we really are but neighbours; if you were no farther off and in Yorkshire, we should think so. Farewell. My Sister joins with me in best remembrances to you and Mrs Scott. God prosper you and all that belongs to you. Your sincere pg 414Friend, for such I will call myself, though slow to use a word of such solemn meaning to any one,

W. Wordsworth.

Poor Coleridge was prevented by ill health from walking over to Leswaide.1

[D. W. writes]

  •           Now, as I live, I pity that great Lord
  •           Whom pure despite of heart could so far please
  •           And love of havoc (for with such disease
  •           Fame taxes him) that he could send forth word
  •           To level with the dust a noble horde,
  •           A brotherhood of venerable trees,
  •           Leaving an ancient dome, and towers like these
  •           eggar'd and outraged. Many hearts deplor'd
  •           The fate of those old trees; and oft with pain
  •           The Traveller, at this day, will stop and gaze
  •           On wrongs which Nature scarcely seems to heed;
  •           For shelter'd places, bosoms, nooks, and bays,
  •           And the pure mountains, and the gentle Tweed
  •           And the green silent pastures yet remain.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
3 Born 15 Aug. 1771; died 21 Sept. 1832. He had been admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1792 and in 1799 had been appointed sheriff-depute of Selkirkshire. Since his marriage to Charlotte Charpentier (d. 1826) in 1797 he had been living mainly at Lasswade, about six miles south-east of Edinburgh. There on 17 Sept. W. W. and D. W. had called on him and his wife, introduced probably through the kindness of John Stoddart, a mutual acquaintance. Scott showed them Melrose Abbey on 19 Sept. The next day they met at Jedburgh after the assizes, and he recited part of his Lay of the Last Minstrel (pub. in Jan. 1805). On 21 Sept. they tramped with him along the Jed; on 22 Sept. all three travelled from Jedburgh to Hawick in the jaunting car; and on 23 Sept. W. W. and D. W. set out for Grasmere.
Editor’s Note
1 The one headed 'Written at Needpath' in Letter 193.
Editor’s Note
2 Branxholm or Branksome Tower, the residence of the Scotts, barons of Buccleuch, since the fifteenth century and the chief scene of The Lay of the Last Minstrel. The castle, excepting the square tower, had been destroyed in 1570 and the present house begun in the year following.
Editor’s Note
3 Between Hawick and Langholm (EL).
Editor’s Note
4 The celebrated freebooter, hanged in 1530 at Caerlanrig, about four miles north of Mosspaul. His 'Keep' was Hollows Tower on the west bank of the Esk about three miles south of Langholm on the road to Canonbie. Scott had printed the ballad Johnie Armstrang in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (2 vols., Kelso, 1802).
Editor’s Note
1 Henry William Tytler, M.D. (1752–22 July 1808). In the Scots Magazine (previously the Edinburgh Magazine) for Aug. 1803 (pp. 530–3) there appeared 'Extract of a Letter on Literary Subjects, Particularly Poetry, to Eaglesfield Smith, Esq. from Dr. H. W. Tytler.' In this Tytler scored Southey's Joan of Arc and, quoting a passage from An Essay on Criticism, remarked: 'When Southey, Coleridge, or any other modern Imaginationist has equalled these six lines, I may perhaps incline to give up my long continued admiration, and imitation of Pope, and the ancients.' The same issue contained (p. 552) lines by Eaglesfield Smith 'To H. W. Tytler, M.D. on reading his manuscript translation of the Punies of Caius Silius Italicus, into English verse; and his Poem, just published, entitled the Voyage Home from the Cape of Good Hope.' It was almost certainly the latter which Southey was about to cudgel. An unknown writer gave it short shrift in the Monthly Review for May 1804.
Editor’s Note
2 Poems by Peter Bayley, Jun. Esq., London, 1803. The poem here referred to is The Fisherman's Wife, dedicated to all admirers of the familiar style of tale writing, so popular in 1800. In that poem occurs the stanza:
  •                         Mother, dear Mother, cease to weep!
  •                         My father will return anon.
  •                         At eve he'll come: beyond the lake
  •                         He waits secure, or else to take
  •                         His fish to market he is gone.
A note is appended: 'The simplicity of that most simple of all poets, Mr. W. himself, is scarcely more simple than the language of this stanza. Absit invidia dictu' (EL). Southey's article was published about May 1804 in the Annual Review for 1803, p. 546. He had finished it by 31 Jan., and on 16 May, writing to his wife from London, he said: 'The whole article upon Peter Bayley is in [the issue], in all its strength.'
Editor’s Note
1 S. T. C. arrived in Edinburgh on 12 Sept. and left by coach on 14 Sept. He found that Scott was at Lasswade, but wrote to Southey on 13 Sept.: 'his House in Edinburgh is divinely situated—it looks up … a new magnificent Street, full upon the Rock and the Castle.'
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