Part 10 out of 13
genius, and sharing their miseries.
But if Johnson starved he never cringed, and once when a
bookseller spoke rudely to him he knocked him down with one of
his own books. A beggar or not, Johnson demanded the respect due
to a man. At school and college he had dominated his fellows, he
dominated now. But the need of fighting for respect made him
rough. And ever after his manner with friend and foe alike was
rude and brusque.
The misery of this time was such that long years after Johnson
burst into tears at the memory of it. But it did not conquer
him, he conquered it. He got work to do at last, and became one
of the first newspaper reporters.
Nowadays, during the debates in Parliament there are numbers of
newspaper reporters who take down all that is said in shorthand,
and who afterwards write out the debates for their various
newspapers. In Johnson's day no such thing had been thought of.
He did not hear the debates, but wrote his accounts of them from
a few notes given to him by some one who had heard them. The
speeches which appeared in the paper were thus really Johnson's,
and had very little resemblance to what had been said in the
House. And being a Tory, Johnson took good care, as he
afterwards confessed, "that the Whig dogs should not have the
best of it." After a time, however, Johnson began to think this
so-called reporting was not quite honest, and gave it up. He
found other literary work to do, and soon, although he was still
poor, he had enough money to make it possible for his wife to
join him in London.
Among other things he wrote one or two poems and the life of
Richard Savage, a strange, wild genius with whom he had wandered
the streets in the days of his worst poverty. The tragedy called
Irene which Johnson had brought with him to London was at length
after twelve years produced by Garrick, who had by that time
become a famous actor. Johnson had, however, no dramatic genius.
"When Johnson writes tragedy," said Garrick, "'declamation roars
and passion sleeps':* when Shakespeare wrote, he dipped the pen
in his own heart." Garrick did what he could with the play, but
it was a failure, and although Johnson continued to believe that
it was good, he wrote no more tragedies.
*Garrick is here quoting from one of Johnson's own poems in which
he describes the decline of the drama at the Restoration.
The story of Irene is one of the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
After Mahomet had taken Constantinople he fell in love with a
fair Greek maiden whose name was Irene. The Sultan begged her to
become a Mohammedan so that he might marry her. To this Irene
consented, but when his soldiers heard of it they were so angry
that they formed a conspiracy to dethrone their ruler.
Hearing of this Mahomet resolved to make an end of the conspiracy
and rescue his throne from danger. Calling all his nobles
together he bade Irene appear before him. Then catching her by
the hair with one hand and drawing his sword with the other he at
one blow struck off her head. This deed filled all who saw it
with terror and wonder. But turning to his nobles Mahomet cried,
"Now by this, judge if your Emperor is able to bridle his
affections or not."
It seems as if there were here a story which might be made to
stir our hearts, but Johnson makes it merely dull. In his long
words and fine-sounding sentences we catch no thrill of real
life. The play is artificial and cold, and moves us neither to
wonder nor sorrow.
Johnson's play was a failure, but by that time he had begun the
great work which was to name him and single him out from the rest
of the world as Dictionary Johnson. To make a complete
dictionary of a language is a tremendous work. Johnson thought
that it would take three years. It took, instead, seven.
But during these seven years he also wrote other things and
steadily added to his fame. He started a paper after the model
of the Spectator, called the Rambler. This paper was continued
for about two years, Johnson writing all but five of the essays.
After that he wrote many essays in a paper called the Adventurer,
and, later still, for two years he wrote for another paper a
series of articles called the Idler.
But none of these can we compare with the Spectator. Johnson
never for a moment loses sight of "a grand moral end." There is
in his essays much sound common sense, but they are lumbering and
heavy. We get from them no such picture of the times as we get
from the Spectator, and, although they are not altogether without
humor, it is a humor that not seldom reminds us of the dancing of
an elephant. This is partly because, as Johnson said himself, he
is inclined to "use too big words and too many of them."
In the days when Johnson wrote, this style was greatly admired,
but now we have come back to thinking that the simplest words are
best, or, at least, that we must suit our words to our subject.
And if we tell a fairy tale (as Johnson once did) we must not use
words of five syllables when words of two will better give the
feeling of the tale. Yet there are many pleasant half-hours to
be spent in dipping here and there into the volumes of the
Rambler or the Idler. I will give you in the next chapter, as a
specimen of Johnson's prose, part of one of the essays from the
Idler. It is the story of a man who sets forth upon a very
ordinary journey and who makes as great a tale of it as he had
been upon a voyage of discovery in some untraveled land.
Chapter LXIX JOHNSON--THE END OF THE JOURNEY
"I SUPPED three nights ago with my friend Will Marvel. His
affairs obliged him lately to take a journey into Devonshire,
from which he has just returned. He knows me to be a very
patient hearer, and was glad of my company, as it gave him an
opportunity of disburdening himself, by a minute relation of the
casualties of his expedition.
"Will is not one of those who go out and return with nothing to
tell. He has a story of his travels, which will strike a home-
bred citizen with horror, and has in ten days suffered so often
the extremes of terror and joy, that he is in doubt whether he
shall ever again expose either his body or his mind to such
danger and fatigue.
"When he left London the morning was bright, and a fair day was
promised. But Will is born to struggle with difficulties. That
happened to him, which has sometimes, perhaps, happened to
others. Before he had gone more than ten miles, it began to
rain. What course was to be taken? His soul disdained to turn
back. He did what the King of Prussia might have done; he
flapped his hat, buttoned up his cape, and went forwards,
fortifying his mind by the stoical consolation, that whatever is
violent will be short."
So, with such adventures, the first day passes, and reaching his
inn, after a good supper, Will Marvel goes to bed and sleeps
soundly. But during the night he is wakened "by a shower beating
against his windows with such violence as to threaten the
dissolution of nature." Thus he knows that the next day will
have its troubles. "He joined himself, however, to a company
that was travelling the same way, and came safely to the place of
dinner, though every step of his horse dashed the mud in the
In the afternoon he went on alone, passing "collections of
water," puddles doubtless, the depth of which it was impossible
to guess, and looking back upon the ride he marvels at his rash
daring. "But what a man undertakes he must perform, and Marvel
hates a coward at his heart.
"Few that lie warm in their beds think what others undergo, who
have, perhaps, been as tenderly educated, and have as acute
sensations as themselves. My friend was now to lodge the second
night almost fifty miles from home, in a house which he never had
seen before, among people to whom he was totally a stranger, not
knowing whether the next man he should meet would prove good or
bad; but seeing an inn of a good appearance, he rode resolutely
into the yard; and knowing that respect is often paid in
proportion as it is claimed, delivered his injunctions to the
ostler with spirit, and, entering the house, called vigorously
"On the third day up rose the sun and Mr. Marvel. His troubles
and dangers were now such as he wishes no other man ever to
encounter." The way was lonely, often for two miles together he
met not a single soul with whom he could speak, and, looking at
the bleak fields and naked trees, he wished himself safe home
again. His only consolation was that he suffered these terrors
of the way alone. Had, for instance, his friend the "Idler" been
there he could have done nothing but lie down and die.
"At last the sun set and all the horrors of darkness came upon
him. . . . Yet he went forward along a path which he could no
longer see, sometimes rushing suddenly into water, and sometimes
encumbered with stiff clay, ignorant whither he was going, and
uncertain whether his next step might not be the last.
"In this dismal gloom of nocturnal peregrination his horse
unexpectedly stood still. Marvel had heard many relations of the
instinct of horses, and was in doubt what danger might be at
hand. Sometimes he fancied that he was on the bank of a river
still and deep, and sometimes that a dead body lay across the
track. He sat still awhile to recollect his thoughts; and as he
was about to alight and explore the darkness, out stepped a man
with a lantern, and opened the turnpike. He hired a guide to the
town, arrived in safety, and slept in quiet.
"The rest of his journey was nothing but danger. He climbed and
descended precipices on which vulgar mortals tremble to look; he
passed marshes like the Serbonian bog,* where armies whole have
sunk; he forded rivers where the current roared like the Egre or
the Severn; or ventured himself on bridges that trembled under
him, from which he looked down on foaming whirlpools, or dreadful
abysses; he wandered over houseless heaths, amidst all the rage
of the elements, with the snow driving in his face, and the
tempest howling in his ears.
*Lake Serbonis in Egypt. Sand being blown over it by the winds
gave it the appearance of solid ground, whereas it was a bog.
"A gulf profound as the Serbonian bog. . . .
Where armies whole have sunk." -- MILTON.
"Such are the colours in which Marvel paints his adventures. He
has accustomed himself to sounding words and hyperbolical images,
till he has lost the power of true description. In a road,
through which the heaviest carriages pass without difficulty, and
the post-boy every day and night goes and returns, he meets with
hardships like those which are endured in Siberian deserts, and
missed nothing of romantic danger but a giant and a dragon. When
his dreadful story is told in proper terms, it is only that the
way was dirty in winter, and that he experienced the common
vicissitudes of rain and sunshine."
I am afraid you will find a good many "too big" words in that.
But if I changed them to others more simple you would get no idea
of the way in which Johnson wrote, and I hope those you do not
understand you will look up in the dictionary. It will not be
Johnson's own dictionary, however, for that has grown old-
fashioned, and its place has been taken by later ones. For some
of Johnson's meanings were not correct, and when these mistakes
were pointed out to him he was not in the least ashamed. Once a
lady asked him how he came to say that the pastern was the knee
of a horse, and he calmly replied, "Ignorance, madam, pure
ignorance." "Dictionaries are like watches," he said, "the worst
is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite
With some words, instead of giving the original meaning, he gave
a personal meaning, that is he allowed his own sense of humor,
feelings or politics, to color the meaning. For instance, he
disliked the Scots, so for the meaning of Oats he gave, "A grain
which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland
supports the people." He disliked the Excise duty, so he called
it "A hateful tax levied by wretches hired by those to whom
excise is paid." For this last meaning he came very near being
punished for libel.
When Johnson thought of beginning the dictionary he wrote about
it to Lord Chesterfield, a great man and fine gentleman of the
day. As the fashion was, Johnson had chosen this great man for
his patron. But Lord Chesterfield, although his vanity was
flattered at the idea of having a book dedicated to him, was too
delicate a fine gentleman to wish to have anything to do with a
man he considered poor. "He throws anywhere but down his
throat," he said, "whatever he means to drink, and mangles what
he means to carve. . . . The utmost I can do for him is to
consider him a respectable Hottentot." So, when Johnson had
called several times and been told that his lordship was not at
home, or had been kept waiting for hours before he was received,
he grew angry, and marched away never to return, vowing that he
had done with patrons for ever.
The years went on, and Johnson saw nothing of his patron. When,
however, the dictionary was nearly done, Lord Chesterfield let it
be known that he would be pleased to have it dedicated to him.
But Johnson would have none of it. He wrote a letter which was
the "Blast of Doom, proclaiming into the ear of Lord
Chesterfield, and, through him, of the listening world, that
patronage would be no more!"*
"Seven years, my Lord, have now passed," wrote Johnson, "since I
waited in your outward rooms and was repulsed from your door;
during which time I have been pushing on my work through
difficulties of which it is useless to complain, and have brought
it at last to the verge of publication without one act of
assistance, one word of encouragement, and one smile of favour.
Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before.
. . .
"Is not a patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man
struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached the
ground cumbers him with help? The notice which you have been
pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind;
but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy
it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known,
and do not want it."
There was an end of patronage so far as Johnson was concerned,
and it was the beginning of the end of it with others. Great Sam
had roared, he had asserted himself, and with the publication of
his dictionary he became "The Great Cham* of literature."**
*A Tartar word for prince or chief.
He had by this time founded a club of literary men which met at
"a famous beef-steak house," and here he lorded it over his
fellows as his bulky namesake had done more than a hundred years
before. In many ways there was a great likeness between these
two. They were both big and stout (for Sam was now stout). They
were loud-voiced and dictatorial. They both drank a great deal,
but Ben, alas, drank wine overmuch, as was common in his day,
while Sam drank endless cups of tea, seventeen or eighteen it
might be at a sitting, indeed he called himself a hardened and
shameless tea-drinker. But, above all, their likeness lies in
the fact that they both dominated the literary men of their
period; they were kings and rulers. They laid down the law and
settled who was great and who little among the writers of the
day. And it was not merely the friends around Johnson who heard
him talk, who listened to his judgments about books and writers.
The world outside listened, too, to what he had to say, and you
will remember that it was he who utterly condemned Macpherson's
pretended poems of Ossian, "that pious three-quarters fraud"* of
which you have already read in chapter IV.
Johnson had always spent much of his time in taverns, and was now
more than ever free to do so. For while he was still working at
his dictionary he suffered a great grief in the death of his
wife. He had loved her truly and never ceased to mourn her loss.
But though he had lost his wife, he did not remain solitary in
his home, for he opened his doors to a queer collection of waifs
and strays--three women and a man, upon whom he took pity because
no one else would. They were ungrateful and undeserving, and
quarreled constantly among themselves, so that his home could
have been no peaceful spot. "Williams hates everybody," he
writes; "Levett hates Desmoulins and does not love Williams;
Desmoulins hates them both; Poll loves none of them." It does
not sound peaceful or happy.
Some years after the death of Johnson's wife his mother died at
the age of ninety, and although he had not been with her for many
years, that too was a grief. The poor lady had had very little
to live on, and she left some debts. Johnson himself was still
struggling with poverty. He had no money, so to pay his mother's
few debts, and also the expenses of her funeral, he sat down to
write a story. In a week he had finished Rasselas, Prince of
The story of Rasselas is that of a prince who is shut up in the
Happy Valley until the time shall come for him to ascent the
throne of his father. Everything was done to make life in the
Happy Valley peaceful and joyful, but Rasselas grew weary of it;
to him it became but a prison of pleasure, and at last, with his
favorite sister, he escaped out into the world. The story tells
then of their search for happiness. But perfect happiness they
cannot find, and discovering this, they decide to return to the
There is a vein of sadness throughout the book. It ends as it
were with a big question mark, with a "conclusion in which
nothing is concluded." For the position of the prince and his
sister was unchanged, and they had not found what they sought.
Is it to be found at all? The story is a revelation of Johnson
himself. He never saw life joyously, and at times he had fits of
deep melancholy which he fought against as against a madness. "I
inherited," he said, "a vile melancholy from my father, which has
made me mad all my life, at least not sober," and his long
struggle with poverty helped to deepen this melancholy.
But a year or two after Rasselas was written, a great change came
in Johnson's life, which gave him comfort and security for the
rest of his days. George III had come to the throne. He thought
that he would like to do something for literature, and offered
Johnson a pension of three hundred pounds a year.
Johnson was now a man of fifty-four. He was acknowledged as the
greatest man of letters of his day, yet he was still poor. Three
hundred pounds seemed to him wealth, but he hesitated to accept
it. He was an ardent Tory and hated the House of Hanover. In
his dictionary he had called a pension "an allowance made to any
one without an equivalent. In England it is generally understood
to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his
country." A pensioner he had said was "A slave of state hired by
a stipend to obey his master." Was he then to become a traitor
to his country and a slave of state?
But after a little persuasion Johnson yielded, as the pension
would be given to him, he was told, not for anything that he
would do, but for what he had done. "It is true," he said
afterwards, with a smile, "that I cannot now curse the House of
Hanover; nor would it be decent for me to drink King James's
health in the wine that King George gives me money to pay for.
But, sir, I think that the pleasure of cursing the House of
Hanover, and drinking King James's health, are amply overbalanced
by three hundred pounds a year."
Johnson had always been indolent. It was perhaps only poverty
that had forced him to write, and now that he was comfortably
provided for he became more indolent still. He reproached
himself, made good resolutions, and prayed over this fault, but
still he remained slothful and idle. He would lie abed till two
o'clock, and sit up half the night talking, and an edition of
Shakespeare which he had promised years before got no further on.
An edition of another man's works often means a great deal of
labor in making notes and comments. This is especially so if
hundreds of years have passed since the book was first written
and the language has had time to change, and Johnson felt little
inclined for this labor. But at length he was goaded into
working upon his Shakespeare by some spiteful verses on his
idleness, written by a political enemy, and after long delay it
Just a little before this a young Scotsman named James Boswell
got to know the great man. He worshiped Johnson and spent as
much time with him as he could. It was a strange friendship
which grew up between these two. The great man bullied and
insulted yet loved the little man, and the little man accepted
all the insults gladly, happy to be allowed to be near his hero
on any conditions whatever. He treasured every word that Johnson
spoke and noted his every action. Nothing was too small or
trivial for his loving observation. He asked Johnson questions
and made remarks, foolish or otherwise, in order to draw him out
and make him talk, and afterwards he set down everything in a
And when Johnson was dead Boswell wrote his life. It is one of
the most wonderful lives ever written--perhaps the most
wonderful. And when we have read it we seem to know Johnson as
well as if we had lived with him. We see and know him in all his
greatness and all his littleness, in all his weakness and all his
It was with Boswell that Johnson made his most famous journey,
his tour to Scotland. For, like his namesake, Ben, he too
visited Scotland. But he traveled in a more comfortable manner,
and his journey was a much longer one, for he went as far as the
Hebrides. It was a wonderful expedition for a man of sixty-four,
especially in those days when there were no trains and little
ease in the way of traveling, and when much of it had to be done
on rough ponies or in open boats.
On his return Johnson wrote an account of this journey which did
not altogether please some of the Scots. But indeed, although
Johnson did not love the Scots, there is little in his book at
which to take offense.
Johnson's last work was a series of short lives of some of the
English poets from the seventeenth century onwards. It is
generally looked upon as his best. And although some of the
poets of whom he wrote are almost forgotten, and although we may
think that he was wrong in his criticisms of many of the others,
this is the book of Johnson's which is still most read. For it
must be owned that the great Sam is not much read now, although
he is such an important figure in the history of our literature.
It is as a person that we remember him, not as a writer. He
stamped his personality, as it is called, upon his age. Boswell
caught that personality and preserved it for us, so that, for
generation after generation, Johnson lives as no other character
in English literature lives. Boswell gave a new meaning to the
word biographer, that is the writer of a life, and now when a
great man has had no one to write his life well, we say "He lacks
Boswell after a time joined the famous club at which Johnson and
his friends met together and talked. Johnson loved to argue, and
he made a point of always getting the best of an argument. If he
could not do so by reason, he simply roared his opponent down and
silenced him by sheer rudeness. "There is no arguing with
Johnson," said one of his friends, Oliver Goldsmith, "for when
his pistol misses fire he knocks you down with the butt end of
it." And perhaps Goldy, as Johnson called him, had to suffer
more rudeness from him than any of his friends to save Bozzy.
Yet the three were often to be found together, and it was
Goldsmith who said of Johnson, "No man alive has a more tender
heart. He has nothing of the bear but his skin."
And indeed in Johnson's outward appearance there was much of the
bear. He was a sloven in dress. His clothes were shabby and
thrown on anyhow. "I have no passion for clean linen," he said
himself. At table he made strange noises and ate greedily, yet
in spite of all that, added to his noted temper and rude manners,
men loved him and sought his company more than that of any other
writer of his day, for "within that shaggy exterior of his there
beat a heart warm as a mother's, soft as a little child's."*
After Johnson received his pension we may look upon him as a
lumbering vessel which has weathered many a strong sea and has
now safely come to port. His life was henceforth easy. He
received honorary degrees, first from Dublin and then from
Oxford, so that he became Dr. Johnson. For two-and-twenty years
he enjoyed his pension, his freedom and his honors; then, in
1784, surrounded by his friends, he died in London, and was
buried in Westminster Abbey.
BOOKS TO READ
Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. A Journey to the Western Islands
Chapter LXX GOLDSMITH--THE VAGABOND
THE kind of book which is most written and read nowadays is
called a novel. But we have not yet spoken much about this kind
of book for until now there were no novels in our meaning of the
word. There were romances such as Havelok the Dane and Morte
d'Arthur, later still tales such as those of Defoe, and the
modern novel is the outcome of such tales and romances. But it
is usually supposed to be more like real life than a romance. In
a romance we may have giants and fairies, things beyond nature
and above nature. A novel is supposed to tell only of what could
happen, without the help of anything outside everyday life. This
is a kind of writing in which the English have become very
clever, and now, as I said, more novels than any other kinds of
book are written. But only a few of these are good enough to
take a place in our literature, and very many are not worth
reading or remembering at all.
The first real novel in the modern sense was written by Samuel
Richardson, and published in 1740. Quickly after that there
arose several other novel writers whose books became famous.
These still stand high in the literature of our land, but as
nothing in them would be interesting to you for many years to
come we need not trouble about them now. There is, however, one
novel of this early time which I feel sure you would like, and of
it and its author I shall tell you something. The book I mean is
called The Vicar of Wakefield, and it was written by Oliver
Oliver Goldsmith was born in 1728 in Pallas, a little out-of-the-
way Irish village. His father was a clergyman and farmer, with a
large family and very little money. He was a dear, simple,
"A man he was to all the country dear,
And passing rich with forty pounds a year."
Two years after Oliver was born his father moved to Lissoy,
another and better parish. Little Oliver began to learn very
early, but his first teacher thought him stupid: "Never was
there such a dull boy," she said. She managed, however, to teach
him the alphabet, and at six he went to the village school of
Lissoy. Paddy Byrne, the master there, was an old soldier. He
had fought under Marlborough, he had wandered the world seeking
and finding adventures. His head was full of tales of wild
exploits, of battles, of ghosts and fairies too, for he was an
Irishman and knew and loved the Celtic lore. Besides all this he
To his schoolmaster's stories little Oliver listened eagerly. He
listened, too, to the ballads sung by Peggy, the dairymaid, and
to the wild music of the blind harper, Turlogh O'Carolan, the
last Irish minstrel. All these things sank into the heart of the
shy, little, ugly boy who seemed so stupid to his schoolfellows.
He learned to read, and devoured all the romances and tales of
adventure upon which he could lay hands, and in imitation of his
schoolmaster he began to write poetry.
For three years Oliver remained under the care of his vagabond
teacher. He looked up to him with a kind of awed wonder, and
many years afterwards he drew a picture of him in his poem The
"There, in his noisy mansion, skilled to rule,
The village master taught his little school.
A man severe he was, and stern to view;
I knew him well, and every truant knew:
Well had the boding tremblers learn'd to trace
The day's disasters in his morning face;
Full well they laugh'd, with counterfeited glee
At all his jokes, for many a joke had he;
Full well the busy whisper circlin round
Convey'd the dismal tidings when he frown'd.
Yet he was kind, or, if severe in aught,
The love he bore to learning was in fault;
The village all declared how much he knew:
'Twas certain he could write, and cypher too;
Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage,
And ev'n the story ran--that he could gauge:
In arguing, too, the parson own'd his skill;
For ev'n though vanquish'd, he could argue still;
While words of learned length and thund'ring sound,
Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around;
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew,
That one small head should carry all he knew."
But after three years of school under wonderful Paddy Byrne,
Goldsmith became very ill with smallpox. He nearly died of it,
and when he grew better he was plainer than ever, for his face
was scarred and pitted by the disease. Goldsmith had been shy
before his illness, and now when people laughed at his pock-
marked face he grew more shy and sensitive still. For the next
seven years he was moved about from school to school, always
looked upon by his fellows as dull of wit, but good at games, and
always in the forefront in mischief.
At length, when Goldsmith was nearly seventeen, he went to
Trinity College, Dublin, as a sizar. As you know, in those days
sizars had to wear a different dress from the commoners.
Oliver's elder brother had gone as a commoner and Oliver had
hoped to do the same. But as his father could not afford the
money he was obliged, much against his will, to go as a sizar.
Indeed had it not been for the kindness of an uncle he could not
have gone to college at all.
Awkward and shy, keen to feel insults whether intended or not,
Goldsmith hated his position as sizar. He did not like his tutor
either, who was a coarse, rough man, so his life at college was
not altogether happy. He was constantly in want of money, for
when he had any his purse was always open to others. At times
when he was much in need he wrote street ballads for five
shillings each, and would steal out at night to have the joy of
hearing them sung in the street.
Goldsmith was idle and wild, and at the end of two years he
quarreled with his tutor, sold his books, and ran away to Cork.
He meant to go on board a ship, and sail away for ever from a
land where he had been so unhappy. But he had little money, and
what he had was soon spent, and at last, almost starving, having
lived for three days on a shilling, he turned homewards again.
Peace was made with his tutor, and Goldsmith went back to
college, and stayed there until two years later when he took his
His father was now dead and it was necessary for Oliver to earn
his own living. All his family wished him to be a clergyman, but
he "did not deem himself good enough for it." However, he
yielded to their persuasions, and presented himself to his
bishop. But the bishop would not ordain him--why is not known,
but it was said that he was offended with Goldsmith for coming to
be ordained dressed in scarlet breeches.
After this failure Oliver tried teaching and became a tutor, but
in a very short time he gave that up. Next his uncle, thinking
that he would make a lawyer of him, gave him 50 pounds and sent
him off to London to study law there. Goldsmith lost the money
in Dublin, and came home penniless. Some time after this a
gentleman remarked that he would make an excellent medical man,
and again his uncle gave him money and sent him off to Edinburgh,
this time as a medical student. So he said his last good-by to
home and Ireland and set out.
In Scotland Goldsmith lived for a year and a half traveling
about, enjoying life, and, it may be, studying. Then, in his
happy-go-lucky way, he decided it would be well to go to Holland
to finish his medical studies there. Off he started with little
money in his pocket, and many debts behind him. After not a few
adventures he arrived at length in Leyden. Here passing a
florist's shop he saw some bulbs which he knew his uncle wanted.
So in he ran to the shop, bought them, and sent them off to
Ireland. The money with which he bought the bulbs was borrowed,
and now he left Leyden to make the tour of Europe burdened
already with debt, with one guinea in his pocket, and one clean
shirt and a flute as his luggage.
Thus on foot he wandered through Belgium, Germany, Switzerland,
Italy, and France. In the villages he played upon his flute to
pay for his food and his night's lodging.
"Yet would the village praise my wondrous power,
And dance, forgetful of the noon-tide hour.
Alike all ages. Dames of ancient days
Have led their children through the mirthful maze,
And the gay grandsire, skill'd in gestic lore,
Has frisk'd beneath the burthen of threescore."*
In the towns where no one listened to his flute, and in Italy
where almost every peasant played better than he, he entered the
colleges and disputed. For in those days many of the colleges
and monasteries on the Continent kept certain days for arguments
upon subjects of philosophy "for which, if the champion opposes
with any dexterity, he can gain a gratuity in money, a dinner,
and a bed for one night."
Thus, from town to town, from village to village, Goldsmith
wandered, until at the end of a year he found himself back among
his countrymen, penniless and alone in London streets.
Here we have glimpses of him, a sorry figure in rusty black and
tarnished gold, his pockets stuffed with papers, now assisting in
a chemist's shop, now practicing as a doctor among those as poor
as himself, now struggling to get a footing in the realm of
literature, now passing his days miserably as an usher in a
school. At length he gained more or less constant work in
writing magazine articles, reviews, and children's books. By
slow degrees his name became known. He met Johnson and became a
member of his famous club. It is said that the first time those
two great men met Johnson took special care in dressing himself.
He put on a new suit of clothes and a newly powdered wig. When
asked by a friend why he was so particular he replied, "Why, sir,
I hear that Goldsmith is a very great sloven, and justifies his
disregard for cleanliness and decency by quoting my example. I
wish this night to show him a better example." But although
Goldsmith was now beginning to be well known, he still lived in
poor lodgings. He had only one chair, and when a visitor came he
was given the chair while Oliver sat on the window ledge. When
he had money he led an idle, easy life until it was spent. He
was always generous. His hand was always open to help others,
but he often forgot to pay his just debts. At length one day his
landlady, finding he could not pay his rent, arrested him for
In great distress Goldsmith wrote to Johnson begging him to come
to his aid. Johnson sent him a guinea, promising to come to him
as soon as possible. When Johnson arrived at Goldsmith's
lodging, "I perceived," he says, "that he had already changed my
guinea, and had got a bottle of Madeira and a glass before him.
I put the cork into the bottle, desired him to be calm, and began
to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He
then told me that he had a novel ready for the press, which he
produced to me. I looked into it, and saw its merits, told the
landlady I should soon return, and having gone to a bookseller
sold it for sixty pounds. I brought Goldsmith the money, and he
discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in high tone
for having used him so ill."
The novel which thus set Goldsmith free for the moment was the
famous Vicar of Wakefield. "There are an hundred faults in this
thing," says Goldsmith himself, and if we agree with him there we
also agree with him when he goes on to say, "and an hundred
things might be said to prove them beauties. But it is needless.
A book may be amusing with numerous errors, or it may be very
dull without a single absurdity. The hero of this piece unites
in himself the three greatest characters upon earth: he is a
priest, an husbandman, and the father of a family. He is drawn
as ready to teach, and ready to obey: as simple in affluence,
and majestic in adversity." When we have made the acquaintance
of the Vicar we find ourselves the richer for a lifelong friend.
His gentle dignity, his simple faith, his sly and tender humor,
all make us love him.
In the Vicar of Wakefield Goldsmith drew for us a picture of
quiet, fireside family life such as no one before, or perhaps
since, has drawn. Yet he himself was a homeless man. Since a
boy of sixteen he had been a wanderer, a lonely vagabond,
dwelling beneath strange roofs. But it was the memory of his
childish days that made it possible for him to write such a book,
and in learning to know and love gentle Dr. Primrose we learn to
know Oliver's father, Charles Goldsmith.
Chapter LXXI GOLDSMITH--"THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD"
"I CHOSE my wife," says Dr. Primrose in the beginning of the
book, "as she did her wedding gown, not for a fine, glossy
surface, but such qualities as would wear well. To do her
justice, she was a good-natured, notable woman; and as for
breeding, there were few county ladies who could show more. She
could read any English book without much spelling; but for
pickling, preserving, and cooking, none could excel her. She
prided herself also upon being an excellent contriver in
housekeeping; though I could never find that we grew richer with
Of his children he says, "Our eldest son was named George, after
his uncle, who left us ten thousand pounds. Our second child, a
girl, I intended to call, after her aunt, Grissel; but my wife,
who had been reading romances, insisted upon her being called
Olivia. In less than another year we had another daughter, and
now I was determined that Grissel should be her name; but a rich
relation taking a fancy to stand god-mother, the girl was by her
direction called Sophia; so that we had two romantic names in the
family; but I solemnly protest I had no hand in it. Moses was
our next; and, after an interval of twelve years, we had two sons
more." These two youngest boys were called Dick and Bill.
This is the family we learn to know in the "Vicar." When the
story opens Olivia is just eighteen, Sophia seventeen, and they
are both very beautiful girls. At first Dr. Primrose is well off
and lives comfortably in a fine house, but before the story goes
far he loses all his money, and is obliged to go with his family
to a poor living in another part of the country. Here, instead
of their handsome house, they have a tiny four-roomed cottage,
with whitewashed walls and thatched roof, for a home. It is a
very quiet country life which they have now to live, and yet when
you come to read the book you will find that quite a number of
exciting things happen to them.
The dear doctor soon settles down to his changed life, but his
wife and her beautiful daughters try hard to be as fine as they
were before, and as grand, if not grander, than their neighbors.
This desire leads to not a few of their adventures. Among other
things they decide to have their portraits painted. This is how
Dr. Primrose tells of it: "My wife and daughters happening to
return a visit to neighbour Flamborough's, found that family had
lately got their pictures drawn by a limner, who travelled the
country, and took likenesses for fifteen shillings a-head. As
this family and ours had long a sort of rivalry in point of
taste, our spirit took the alarm at this stolen march upon us;
and, notwithstanding all I could say, and I said much, it was
resolved that we should have our pictures done too.
"Having therefore engaged the limner (for what could I do?) our
next deliberation was, to show the superiority of our taste in
the attitudes. As for our neighbour's family, there were seven
of them; and they were drawn with seven oranges, a thing quite
out of taste, no variety in life, no composition in the world.
We desired to have something in a higher style, and after many
debates, at length came to a unanimous resolution, of being drawn
together, in one large historical familypiece. This would be
cheaper, since one frame would serve for all, and it would be
infinitely more genteel; for all families of any taste were now
drawn in the same manner.
"As we did not immediately recollect an historical subject to hit
us, we were contented each with being drawn as independent
historical figures. My wife desired to be represented as Venus,
and the painter was instructed not to be too frugal of his
diamonds in her stomacher and hair. Her two little ones were to
be as cupids by her side; while I in my gown and band, was to
present her with my books on the Whistonian controversy. Olivia
would be drawn as an amazon, sitting upon a bank of flowers,
dressed in a green Joseph,* richly laced with gold, and a whip in
her hand. Sophia was to be a shepherdess, with as many sheep as
the painter could put in for nothing; and Moses was to be dressed
out with a hat and white feather.
*A coat with capes worn by ladies in the eighteenth century for
"Our taste so much pleased the Squire that he insisted on being
put in as one of the family, in the character of Alexander the
Great, at Olivia's feet. This was considered by us all as an
indication of his desire to be introduced into the family; nor
could we refuse his request. The painter was therefore set to
work; and as he wrought with assiduity and expedition, in less
than four days the whole was completed. The piece was large; and
it must be owned he did not spare his colours; for which my wife
gave him great encomiums.
"We were all perfectly satisfied with his performance; but an
unfortunate circumstance had not occurred until the picture was
finished, which now struck us with dismay. It was so very large,
that we had no place in the house to fix it. How we all came to
disregard so material a point is inconceivable; but certain it
is, we had been all greatly remiss. The picture, therefore,
instead of gratifying our vanity, as we hoped, leaned, in a most
mortifying manner, against the kitchen wall, where the canvas was
stretched and painted, much too large to be got through any of
the doors, and the jest of all our neighbours. One compared it
to Robinson Crusoe's long-boat, too large to be removed; another
thought it more resembled a reel in a bottle; some wondered how
it could be got out, but still more were amazed how it ever got
For the rest of the troubles and adventures of the good Vicar and
his family you must go to the book itself. In the end all comes
right, and we leave the Vicar surrounded by his family with Dick
and Bill sitting on his knee. "I had nothing now this side the
grave to wait for," he says; "all my cares were over; my pleasure
was unspeakable." Even if you do not at first understand all of
this book I think it will repay you to read it, for on almost
every page you will find touches of gentle humor. We feel that
no one but a man of simple childlike heart could have written
such a book, and when we have closed it we feel better and
happier for having read it.
But delightful though we find the Vicar of Wakefield, the
bookseller who bought it did not think highly enough of it to
publish it at once. Meanwhile Goldsmith published a poem called
The Traveller. His own wanderings on the Continent gave him the
subject for this poem, for Goldsmith, like Milton, put something
of himself into all his best works. The Traveller was such a
success that the bookseller though it worth while to publish the
Vicar of Wakefield.
Goldsmith was now famous, but he was still poor. He lived in a
miserable garret doing all manner of literary work for bread.
Among the things he wrote was a play called The Good Natured Man.
It was a success, and brought him in 500 pounds.
Goldsmith now left his garret, took a fine set of rooms,
furnished them grandly, and gave dinner-parties and card-parties
to his friends. These were the days of Goldy's splendor. He no
longer footed it in the great world in rust black and tarnished
gold, but in blue silk breeches, and coat with silken linings and
golden buttons. He dined with great people; he strutted in
innocent vanity, delighted to shine in the world, to see and be
seen, although in Johnson's company he could never really shine.
Sam was a great talker, and it was said Goldsmith "wrote like an
angel and spoke like poor Poll." His friends called him Doctor,
although where he took his medical degree no one knows, and he
certainly had no other degree given to him as an honor as Johnson
had. So Johnson was Dr. major, Goldsmith only Dr. minor.
But soon these days of wealth were over; soon Goldsmith's money
was all spent, and once again he had to sit down to grinding
work. He wrote many things, but the next great work he published
was another poem, The Deserted Village.
The Deserted Village, like The Traveller, is written in the
heroic couplet which, since the days of Dryden, had held its
ground as the best form of English poetry. In these poems the
couplet has reached its very highest level, for although his
rimes are smooth and polished Goldsmith has wrought into them
something of tender grace and pathos which sets them above the
diamond-like glitter of Pope's lines. His couplets are
transformed by the Celtic touch.
The poem tells the story of a village which had once been happy
and flourishing, but which is now quite deserted and fallen to
ruins. The village is thought by some people to have been
Lissoy, where Oliver had lived as a boy, but others think this
cannot be, for they say no Irish village was ever so peaceful and
industrious as Goldsmith pictures his village to have been. But
we must remember that the poet had not seen his home since
childhood, and that he looked back upon it through the golden
haze of memory. It is in this poem that we have the picture of
Oliver's old schoolmaster which I have already given you. Here,
too, we have a picture of the kindly village parson who may be
taken both from Oliver's father and from his brother Henry.
Probably he had his brother most in mind, for Henry Goldsmith had
but lately died, "and I loved him better than most other men,"
said the poet sadly in the dedication of this poem--
"Near yonder copse, where once the garden smiled,
And still where many a garden flower grows wild;
There, where a few torn shrubs the place disclose,
The village preacher's modest mansion rose.
A man he was to all the country dear,
And passing rich with forty pounds a year;
Remote from towns he ran his godly race,
Nor e'er had changed, nor wish'd to change, his place:
Unpractis'd he to fawn, or seek for power,
By doctrines fashion'd to the varying hour;
Far other aims his heart had learn'd to prize,
More skill'd to raise the wretched than to rise.
His house was known to all the vagrant train;
He chid their wand'rings, but relieved their pain:
The long-remember'd beggar was his guest,
Whose beard descending swept his aged breast;
The ruin'd spendthrift, now no longer proud,
Claim'd kindred there, and had his claims allow'd;
The broken soldier, kindly bade to stay,
Sat by his fire, and talk'd the night away,
Wept o'er his wounds, or, tales of sorrow done,
Shoulder'd his crutch, and shoed how fields were won.
Pleased with his guests, the good man learn'd to glow,
And quite forgot their vices in their woe;
Careless their merits or their faults to scan,
His pity gave ere charity began.
Thus to relieve the wretched was his pride,
And ev'n his failings lean'd to virtue's side;
But in his duty prompt, at every call,
He watch'd and wept, he pray'd and felt for all;
At church, with meek and unaffected grace,
His looks adorn'd the venerable place;
Truth from his lips prevail'd with double sway,
And fools, who came to scoff, remain'd to pray.
The service past, around the pious man,
With steady zeal, each honest rustic ran;
Ev'n children followed with endearing wile,
And pluck'd his gown, to share the good man's smile.
His ready smile a parent's warmth exprest;
Their welfare pleased him, and their cares distrest:
To them his heart, his love, his griefs were given,
But all his serious thoughts had rest in heaven.
As some tall cliff that lifts its awful form,
Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm,
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head."
Goldsmith's last great work was a comedy named She Stoops to
Conquer. It is said that the idea for this play was given to him
by something which happened to himself when a boy.
The last time that Goldsmith returned home from school he made
his journey on horseback. The horse was borrowed or hired, but
he had a guinea in his pocket, and he felt very grown up and
grand. He had to spend one night on the way, and as evening came
on he asked a passing stranger to direct him to the best house,
meaning the best in the neighborhood. The stranger happened to
be the village wag, and seeing the schoolboy swagger, and the
manly airs of sixteen, he, in fun, directed him to the squire's
house. There the boy arrived, handed over his horse with a
lordly air to a groom, marched into the house and ordered supper
and a bottle of wine. In the manner of the times in drinking his
wine he invited his landlord to join him as a real grown-up man
might have done. The squire saw the joke and fell in with it,
and not until next morning did the boy discover his mistake. The
comedy founded on this adventure was a great success, and no
wonder, for it bubbles over with fun and laughter. Some day you
will read the play, perhaps too, you may see it acted, for it is
still sometimes acted. In any case it makes very good reading.
But Goldsmith did not long enjoy the new fame this comedy brought
him. In the spring of 1774, less than a year after it appeared,
the kindly spendthrift author lay dead. He was only forty-five.
The beginning of Goldsmith's life had been a struggle with
poverty; the end was a struggle with debt. By his writing he
made what was in those days a good deal of money, but he could
not keep it. To give him money was like pouring water into a
sieve. "Is your mind at ease," asked his doctor as he lay dying.
"No, it is not," answered Goldsmith. Those were his last words.
"Of poor dear Dr. Goldsmith," wrote Johnson, "there is little to
be told more than the papers have made public. He died of a
fever, made, I am afraid, more violent by uneasiness of mind.
His debts began to be heavy, and all his resources were
exhausted. Sir Joshua* is of opinion that he owed not less than
two thousand pounds. Was ever poet so trusted before?"
*Sir Joshua Reynolds, the famous painter.
Goldsmith was buried in the graveyard of the Temple church, but
his tomb is unmarked, and where he lies no one knows. His
sorrowing friends, however, placed a tablet to his memory in
Westminster, so that his name at least is recorded upon the roll
of the great dead who lie gathered there.
BOOK TO READ
The Vicar of Wakefield (Everyman's Library).
Chapter LXXII BURNS--THE PLOWMAN POET
SHOULD auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min'?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o' lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd mony a weary foot,
Sin auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, etc.
We twa hae paidl't i' the burn,
Frae mornin' sun til dine:*
But seas between us braid hae roar'd,
Sin auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, etc.
And here's a hand, my trusty fiere,**
And gie's a hand o' thine;
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,***
For auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, etc.
And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,****
And surely I'll be mine;
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
NO song, perhaps, is so familiar to English-speaking people as
that with which this chapter begins. In the back woods of
Canada, in far Australia, on the wide South African veldt,
wherever English-speaking people meet and gather, they join hands
to sing that song. To the merriest gathering it comes as a
fitting close. It is the hymn of home, of treasured friendships,
and of old memories, just as "God save the King" is the hymn of
loyalty, and yet it is written in Scots, which English tongues
can hardly pronounce, and many words of which to English ears
hardly carry a meaning. But the plaintive melody and the
pathetic force of the rhythm grip the heart. There is no need to
understand every word of this "glad kind greeting"* any more than
there is need to understand what some great musician means by
every note which his violin sings forth.
The writer of that song was, like Caedmon long ago, a son of the
soil, he, too, was a "heaven-taught ploughman."*
While Goldsmith lay a-dying in London, in the breezy Scottish
Lowlands a big rough lad of fifteen called Robert Burns was
following his father's plow by day, poring over Shakespeare, the
Spectator, and Pope's Homer, of nights, not knowing that in years
to come he was to be remembered as our greatest song writer.
Robert was the son of a small farmer. The Burns had been farmer
folk for generations, but William Burns had fallen on evil days.
From his northern home he drifted to Ayrshire, and settled down
in the village of Alloway as a gardener. Here with his own hands
he built himself a mud cottage. It consisted only of a "room"
and a kitchen, whitewashed within and without. In the kitchen
there was a fireplace, a bed, and a small cupboard, and little
else beyond the table and chairs.
And in this poor cottage, in the wild January weather of 1759,
wee Robert was born. Scarcely a week later, one windy night, a
gable of his frail home was blown in. So fierce was the gale
that it seemed as if the whole wall might fall, so, through the
darkness, and the storm, the baby and his mother were carried to
a neighbor's house. There they remained for a week until their
own cottage was again made fit to live in. It was a rough entry
into the world for the wee lad.
For some time William Burns went on working as a gardener, then
when Robert was about seven he took a small farm called Mount
Oliphant, and removed there with his wife and family.
He had a hard struggle to make his farm pay, to feed and clothe
little Robert and his brothers and sisters, who were growing up
fast about him. But, poor though he was, William Burns made up
his mind that his children should be well taught. At six Robert
went daily to school, and when the master was sent away somewhere
else, and the village of Alloway was left without any teacher,
William Burns and four neighbors joined together to pay for one.
But as they could not pay enough to give him a house in which to
live, he used to stay with each family in turn for a few weeks at
Robert in those days was a grave-faced, serious, small boy, and
he and his brother Gilbert were the cleverest scholars in the
little school. Chief among their school books was the Bible and
a collection of English prose and verse. It was from the last
that Burns first came to know Addison's works for in this book he
found the "Vision of Mirza" and other Spectator tales, and loved
Robert had a splendid memory. In school hours he stored his mind
with the grand grave tales of the Bible, and with the stately
English of Addison; out of school hours he listened to the tales
and songs of an old woman who sang to him, or told him stories of
fairies and brownies, of witches and warlocks, of giants,
enchanted towns, dragons, and what not. The first books he read
out of school were a Life of Hannibal, the great Carthagenian
general, and a Life of Wallace, the great Scottish hero; this
last being lent him by the blacksmith. These books excited
little Robert so much that if ever a recruiting sergeant came to
his village, he would strut up and down in raptures after the
drum and bagpipe, and long to be tall enough to be a soldier.
The story of Wallace, too, awoke in his heart a love of Scotland
and all things Scottish, which remained with him his whole life
through. At times he would steal away by himself to read the
brave, sad story, and weep over the hard fate of his hero. And
as he was in the Wallace country he wandered near and far
exploring every spot where his hero might have been.
After a year of two the second schoolmaster went away as the
other had done. Then all the schooling the Burns children had
was from their father in the long winter evenings after the farm
work for the day was over.
And so the years went on, the family at Mount Oliphant living a
hard and sparing life. For years they never knew what it was to
have meat for dinner, yet when Robert was thirteen his father
managed to send him and Gilbert week about to a school two or
three miles away. He could not send them both together, for he
could neither afford to pay two fees, nor could he spare both
boys at once, as already the children helped with the farm work.
At fifteen Robert was his father's chief laborer. He was a very
good plowman, and no one in all the countryside could wield the
scythe or the threshing-flail with so much skill and vigor. He
worked hard, yet he found time to read, borrowing books from
whoever would lend them. Thus, before he was fifteen, he had
read Shakespeare, and Pope, and the Spectator, besides a good
many other books which would seem to most boys of to-day very
dull indeed. But the book he liked best was a collection of
songs. He carried it about with him. "I pored over them," he
says, "driving in my cart, or walking to labour, song by song,
verse by verse."
Thus the years passed, as Burns himself says, in the "cheerless
gloom of a hermit, with the unceasing toil of a galley-slave."
Then when Robert was about nineteen his father made another move
to the farm of Lochlea, about ten miles off. It was a larger and
better farm, and for three or four years the family lived in
comfort. In one of Burns's own poems, The Cotter's Saturday
Night, we get some idea of the simple home life these kindly God-
fearing peasants led--
"November chill blaws loud wi' angry sugh;*
The short'ning winter-day is near a close;
The miry bests retreating frae the pleugh;
The black'ning trains o' craws to their repose;
The toil-worn Cotter Frae his labour goes,
This night his weekly moil is at an end,
Collects his spades, his mattocks, and his hoes,
Hoping the morn in ease and rest to spend,
And weary, o'er the moor, his course does hameward bend.
"At length his lonely cot appears in view,
Beneath the shelter of an aged tree;
Th' expectant wee-things, toddlin, stacher* through
To meet their dad, wi' flichterin** noise and glee.
His wee bit ingle, blinkin bonnily,
His clean hearth-stane, his thriftie wifie's smile,
The lisping infant prattling on his knee,
Does a' his weary carking care beguile,
An' makes him quite forget his labour and his toil.
**To run with outspread arms.
Belyve,* the elder bairns come drapping in,
At service out, amang the farmers roun';
Some ca' the pleugh, some herd, some tentie** rin
A cannie*** errand to a neebor town:
Their eldest hope, their Jenny, woman grown,
In youthfu' bloom, love sparkling in her e'e
Comes hame, perhaps, to show a braw new gown,
Or deposite her sair-won penny-fee,****
To help her parents dear, if they in hardship be.
*In a little.
****Wages paid in money.
"With joy unfeign'd, brothers and sisters meet,
An' each for other's weelfare kindly spiers:*
The social hours, swift-wing'd, unnotic'd, fleet;
Each tells the uncos** that he sees or hears;
The parents, partial, eye their hopeful years;
Anticipation forward points the view.
The mother, wi' her needle and her sheers,
Gars auld claes look amaist as weel's the new:***
The father mixes a' wi' admonition due.
***Makes old clothes look almost as good as new.
. . . . . . .
"The cheerfu' supper done,, wi' serious face,
They, round the ingle, form a circle wide;
The sire turns o'er, wi' patriarchal grace,
The big ha'-Bible, ance his father's pride:
His bonnet rev'rently is laid aside,
His layart haffets* wearing thin an' bare;
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
He wales** a portion with judicious care;
And "Let us worship God!" he says, with solemn air.
*The gray hair on his temples.
. . . . . . .
"Then homeward all take off their sev'ral way;
The youngling cottagers retire to rest:
The parent-pair their secret homage pay,
And proffer up to Heaven the warm request,
That He who stills the raven's clam'rous nest,
And decks the lily fair in flow'ry pride,
Would, in the way His wisdom sees the best,
For them and for their little ones provide;
But, chiefly, in their hearts with grace divine preside."
As Robert grew to be a man the changes in his somber life were
few. But once he spent a summer on the coast learning how to
measure and survey land. In this he made good progress. "But,"
he says, "I made a greater progress in the knowledge of mankind."
For it was a smuggling district. Robert came to know the men who
carried on the unlawful trade, and so was present at many a wild
and riotous scene, and saw men in new lights. He had already
begun to write poetry, now he began to write letters too. He did
not write with the idea alone of giving his friends news of him.
He wrote to improve his power of language. He came across a book
of letters of the wits of Queen Anne's reign, and these he pored
over, eager to make his own style good.
When Robert was twenty-two he again left home. This time he went
to the little seaport town of Irvine to learn flax dressing. For
on the farm the father and brothers had begun to grow flax, and
it was thought well that one of them should know how to prepare
it for spinning.
Here Robert got into evil company and trouble. He sinned and
repented and sinned again. We find him writing to his father,
"As for this world, I despair of ever making a figure in it. I
am not formed for the bustle of the busy, nor the flutter of the
gay. I shall never again be capable of entering into such
scenes." Burns knew himself to be a man of faults. The
knowledge of his own weakness, perhaps, made him kindly to other.
In one of his poems he wrote--
"Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Tho' they may gang a kennin wrang,*
To step aside is human:
One point must still be greatly dark,
The moving why they do it;
And just as lamely can ye mark
How far perhaps they rue it.
*A very little wrong.
"Who made the heart, 'tis He alone
Decidedly can try us:
He knows each chord, its various tone,
Each spring its various bias:
Then at the balance let's be mute,
We never can adjust it;
What's done we partly may compute,
But know not what's resisted."
Bad fortune, too, followed Burns. The shop in which he was
engaged was set on fire, and he was left "like a true poet, not
worth a sixpence."
So leaving the troubles and temptations of Irvine behind, he
carried home a smirched name to his father's house.
Here, too, troubles were gathering. Bad harvests were followed
by money difficulties, and, weighed down with all his cares,
William Burns died. The brothers had already taken another farm
named Mossgiel. Soon after the father's death the whole family
went to live there.
Robert meant to settle down and be a regular farmer. "Come, go
to, I will be wise," he said. He read farming books and bought a
little diary in which he meant to write down farming notes. But
the farming notes often turned out to be scraps of poetry.
The next four years of Burns's life were eventful years, for
though he worked hard as he guided the plow or swung the scythe,
he wove songs in his head. And as he followed his trade year in
year out, from summer to winter, from winter to summer, he
learned all the secrets of the earth and sky, of the hedgerow and
How everything that was beautiful and tender and helpless in
nature appealed to him we know from his poems. There is the
field mouse--the "wee sleekit,* cow'rin', tim'rous beastie,"
whose nest he turned up and destroyed in his November plowing.
"Poor little mouse, I would not hurt you," he says--
"Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin;
Its silly wa's the win's are strewin'!"
And thou poor mousie art turned out into the cold, bleak, winter
"But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In providing foresight may be vain;
Gang aft agley,*
An' lea'e us nought but grief and pain
For promised joy."
*Go often wrong.
It goes to his heart to destroy the early daisies with the plow--
"Wee, modest, crimson-tipped flow'r,
Thou's met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stoure
Thy slender stem.
To spare thee now is past my pow'r,
Thou bonnie gem.
"Alas! it's no thy neebor sweet,
The bonnie lark, companion meet,
Bending thee 'mang the dewy weet,
Wi' spreckl'd breast,
When upward springing, blythe, to greet
The purpling east.
"Cauld blew the bitter-biting North
Upon thy early, humble birth;
Yet cheerfully thou glinted forth
Amid the storm,
Scarce rear'd above the parent earth
Thy tender form.
"The flaunting flow'rs our gardens yield,
High shelt'ring woods and wa's maun shield;
But thou, beneath the random bield*
O' clod or stane,
Adorns the histie stibble-field,**
"There, in thy scanty mantle cauld,
Thy snawie bosom sunward spread,
Thou lifts thy unassuming head
In humble guise;
But now the share uptears thy bed,
And low thou lies!"
**Bare stubble field.
Burns wrote love songs too, for he was constantly in love--often
to his discredit, and at length he married Jean Armour, Scots
fashion, by writing a paper saying that they were man and wife
and giving it to her. This was enough in those days to make a
marriage. But Burns had no money; the brothers' farm had not
prospered, and Jean's father, a stern old Scotsman, would have
nothing to say to Robert, who was in his opinion a bad man, and a
wild, unstable, penniless rimester. He made his daughter burn
her "lines," thus in his idea putting an end to the marriage.
Robert at this was both hurt and angry, and made up his mind to
leave Scotland for ever and never see his wife and children more.
He got a post as overseer on an estate in Jamaica, but money to
pay for his passage he had none. In order to get money some
friends proposed that he should publish his poems. This he did,
and the book was such a success that instead of going to Jamaica
as an unknown exile Burns went to Edinburgh to be entertained,
fêted, and flattered by the greatest men of the day.
All the fine ladies and gentlemen were eager to see the plowman
poet. The fuss they made over him was enough to turn the head of
a lesser man. But in spite of all the flattery, Burns, though
pleased and glad, remained as simple as before. He moved among
the grand people in their silks and velvets clad in homespun
clothes "like a farmer dressed in his best to dine with the
laird"* as easily as he had moved among his humble friends. He
held himself with that proud independence which later made him
"Is there for honest poverty
That hangs his head, and a' that?
The coward slave, we pass him by,
We dare to be poor for a' that!
For a' that, and a' that,
Our toils obscure, and a' that,
The rank is but the guinea stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that.
"What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hodden grey, and a' that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man's a man for a' that:
For a' that and a' that,
Their tinsel show, and a' that;
The honest man, though e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that."
After spending a brilliant winter in Edinburgh, Burns set off on
several tours through his native land, visiting many of the
places famous in Scottish history. But, as the months went on,
he began to be restless in his seeming idleness. The smiles of
the great world would not keep hunger from the door; he feared
that his fame might be only a nine days' wonder, so he decided to
return to his farming. He took a farm a few miles from Dumfries,
and although since he had been parted from his Jean he had
forgotten her time and again and made love to many another, he
and she were now married, this time in good truth. From now
onward it was that Burns wrote some of his most beautiful songs,
and it is for his songs that we remember him. Some of them are
his own entirely, and some are founded upon old songs that had
been handed on for generations by the people from father to son,
but had never been written down until Burns heard them and saved
them from being forgotten. But in every case he left the song a
far more beautiful thing than he found it. None of them perhaps
is more beautiful than that he now wrote to his Jean--
"Of a' the airts* the wind can blaw,
I dearly like the wet,
For there the bonnie lassie lives,
The lassie I lo'e best:
The wild-woods grow and rivers row,**
And mony a hill between;
But day and night my fancy's flight
Is ever wi' my Jean.
"I see her in the dewy flowers,
I see her sweet and fair:
I hear her in the tunefu' birds,
I hear her charm the air;
There's not a bonnie flower that springs
By fountain, shaw,*** or green,
There's not a bonnie bird that sings
But minds me o' my Jean."
But farming and song-making did not seem to go together, and on
his new farm Burns succeeded little better than on any that he
had tried before. He thought to add to his livelihood by turning
an excise man, that is, an officer whose work is to put down
smuggling, to collect the duty on whisky, and to see that none
upon which duty has not been paid is sold. One of his fine
Edinburgh friends got an appointment for him, and he began his
duties, and it would seem fulfilled them well. But this mode of
life was for Burns a failure. In discharge of his duties he had
to ride hundreds of miles in all kinds of weathers. He became
worn out by the fatigue of it, and it brought him into the
temptation of drinking too much. Things went with him from bad
to worse, and at length he died at the age of thirty-six, worn
out by toil and sin and suffering.
In many ways his was a misspent life "at once unfinished and a
ruin."* His was the poet's soul bound in the body of clay. He
was an unhappy man, and we cannot but pity him, and yet remember
him with gratitude for the beautiful songs he gave us. In his
own words we may say--
"Is there a man, whose judgment clear,
Can others teach the course to steer,
Yet runs, himself, life's mad career,
Wild as the wave?
Here pause--and, through the starting tear,
Survey this grave."
Burns was a true son of the soil. There is no art in his songs
but only nature. Apart form his melody what strikes us most is
his truth; he sang of what he saw, of what he felt and knew. He
knew the Scottish peasant through and through. Grave and
humorous, simple and cunning, honest and hypocritical, proud and
independent--every phase of him is to be found in Burns's poems.
He knew love too; and in every phase--happy and unhappy, worthy
and unworthy--he sings of it. But it is of love in truth that he
sings. Here we have no more the make-believe of the Elizabethan
age, no longer the stilted measure of the Georgian. The day of
the heroic couplet is done; with Burns we come back to nature.
BOOK TO READ
Selected Works of Robert Burns, edited by R. Sutherland. (This
is probably the best selection for juvenile readers.)
Chapter LXXIII COWPER--"THE TASK"
WHILE Burns was weaving his wonderful songs among the Lowland
hills of Scotland, another lover of nature was telling of placid
English life, of simple everyday doings, in a quiet little
country town in England. This man was William Cowper.
Cowper was the son of a clergyman. He was born in 1731 and
became a barrister, but it seemed a profession for which he was
little fitted. He was shy and morbidly religious, and he also
liked literature much better than law. Still he continued his
way of life until, when he was thirty-two, he was offered a post
as Clerk of the Journals of the House of Lords. He wished to
accept the post, but was told he must stand an examination at the
bar of the House of Lords.
This was more than his nervous sensitive nature could bear.
Rather than face the trial he decided to die. Three times he
tried to kill himself. Three times he failed. Then the darkness
of madness closed in upon him. Religious terrors seized him, and
for many months he suffered agonies of mind. But at length his
tortured brain found rest, and he became once more a sane man.
Then he made up his mind to leave London, and all the excitements
of a life for which he was not fit, and after a few changes here
and there he settled down to a peaceful life with a clergyman and
his wife, named Unwin. And when after two years Mr. Unwin died,
Cowper still lived with his widow. With her he moved to Olney in
Buckinghamshire. It was here that, together with the curate,
John Newton, Cowper wrote the Olney hymns, many of which are
still well loved to-day. Perhaps one of the best is that
"God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm."
It was written when Cowper felt again the darkness of insanity
closing in upon him. Once again he tried to end his life, but
again the storm passed.
Cowper was already a man of nearly fifty when these hymns first
appeared. Shortly afterwards he published another volume of
poems in the style of Pope.
It was after this that Cowper found another friend who brought
some brightness into his life. Lady Austen, a widow, took a
house near Cowper and Mrs. Unwin, and became a third in their
friendship. It was she who told Cowper the story of John Gilpin.
The story tickled his fancy so that he woke in the night with
laughter over it. He decided to make a ballad of the story, and
the next day the ballad was finished. I think I need hardly give
you any quotation here. You all know that--
"John Gilpin was a citizen
Of credit and reknown,
A train-band captain eke was he
Of famous London town."
And you have heard his adventures on the anniversary of his
John Gilpin was first published in a magazine, and there it was
seen by an actor famous in his day, who took it for a recitation.
It at once became a success, and thousands of copies were sold.
It was Lady Austen, too, who urged Cowper to his greatest work,
The Task. She wanted him to try blank verse, but he objected
that he had nothing to write about. "You can write upon any
subject," replied Lady Austen, "write upon the sofa."
So Cowper accepted the task thus set for him, and began to write.
The first book of The Task is called The Sofa, and through all
the six books we follow the course of his simple country life.
It is the epic of simplicity, at once pathetic and playful. Its
tuneful, easy blank verse never rises to the grandeur of
Milton's, yet there are fine passages in it. Though Cowper lived
a retired and uneventful life, the great questions of his day
found an echo in his heart. Canada had been won and the American
States lost when he wrote--
"England, with all thy faults, I love thee still--
My Country! and, while yet a nook is left
Where English minds and manners may be found,
Shall be constrained to love thee.
. . . . . .
Time was when it was praise and boast enough
In every clime, and travel where we might,
That we were born her children; praise enough
To fill the ambition of a private man,
That Chatham's language was his mother tongue,
And Wolfe's great name compatriot with his own.
Farewell those honours, and farewell with them
The hope of such hereafter! they have fallen
Each in his field of glory: one in arms,
And one in council--Wolfe upon the lap
Of smiling Victory that moment won,
And Chatham heart-sick of his country's shame
They made us many soldiers. Chatham, still
Consulting England's happiness at home,
Secured it by an unforgiving frown,
If any wronged her. Wolfe, where'er he fought,
Put so much of his heart into his act,
That his example had a magnet's force,
And all were swift to follow where all loved."
These lines are from the second book of The Task called The
Timepiece. The third is called The Garden, the fourth The Winter
Evening. There we have the well-known picture of a quiet evening
by the cozy fireside. The post boy has come "with spattered
boots, strapped waist, and frozen locks." He has brought letters
and the newspaper--
"Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in."
The poem ends with two books called The Winter Morning Walk and
The Winter Walk at Noon. Though not grand, The Task is worth
reading. It is, too, an easily read, and easily understood poem,
and through it all we feel the love of nature, the return to
romance and simplicity. In the last book we see Cowper's love of
animals. There he sings, "If not the virtues, yet the worth, of
Cowper loved animals tenderly and understood them in a wonderful
manner. He tamed some hares and made them famous in his verse.
And when he felt madness coming upon him he often found relief in
his interest in these pets. One of his poems tells how Cowper
scolded his spaniel Beau for killing a little baby bird "not
because you were hungry," says the poet, "but out of
naughtiness." Here is Beau's reply--
"Sir, when I flew to seize the bird
In spite of your command,
A louder voice than yours I heard,
And harder to withstand.
"You cried 'Forbear!;--but in my breast
A mightier cried 'Proceed!'--
'Twas nature, sir, whose strong behest
Impelled me to the deed.
"Yet much as nature I respect,
I ventured once to break
(As you perhaps may recollect)
Her precept for your sake;
"And when your linnet on a day,
Passing his prison door,
Had fluttered all his strength away
And panting pressed the floor,
"Well knowing him a sacred thing
Not destined to my tooth,
I only kissed his ruffled wing
And licked the feathers smooth.
"Let my obedience then excuse
My disobedience now,
Nor some reproof yourself refuse
From your aggrieved Bow-wow;
"If killing birds be such a crime
(Which I can hardly see),
What think you, sir, of killing Time
With verse addressed to me?"
As Cowper's life went on, the terrible lapses into insanity
became more frequent, but his sweet and kindly temper won him
many friends, and he still wrote a great deal. And among the
many things he wrote, his letters to his friends were not the
least interesting. They are among the best letters in our
Perhaps Cowper's greatest accomplishment, though not his greatest
work, was a translation of Homer. He had never considered Pope's
Homer good, and he wished to leave to the world a better.
Cowper's version was published in 1791, and he fondly believed
that it would take the place of Pope's. But although Cowper's
may be more correct, it is plain and dry, and while Pope's is
still read and remembered, Cowper's is forgotten.
Indeed, that Cowper is remembered at all is due more to his
shorter poems such as Boadicea and The Wreck of the Royal George,
and chiefly, perhaps, to John Gilpin, which in its own way is a
treasure that we would not be without. Other of his shorter
poems are full of a simple pathos and gentle humor. The last he
wrote was called The Castaway, and the verse with which it ends
describes not unfittingly the close of his own life. For his
mind sank ever deeper into the shadow of madness until he died in
"No voice divine the storm allayed,
No light propitious shone;
When, snatched from all effectual aid,
We perished, each alone:
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelmed in deeper gulfs than he."
Cowper was never a power in our literature, but he was a
forerunner, "the forerunner of the great Restoration of our
literature."* And unlike most forerunners he was popular in his
own day. And although it is faint, like the scent of forgotten
rose leaves, his poetry still keeps a charm and sweetness for
those who will look for it.
Chapter LXXIV WORDSWORTH--THE POET OF NATURE
COWPER was as a straw blown along the path; he had no force in
himself, he showed the direction of the wind. Now we come to one
who was not only a far greater poet, but who was a force in our
literature. This man was William Wordsworth. He was the apostle
of simplicity, the prophet of nature. He sang of the simplest
things, of the common happenings of everyday life, and that too a
His desire was to choose words only which were really used by men
in everyday talk, "and, at the same time, to throw over them a
certain colouring of the imagination."
He chose to sing of humble life because there men's thoughts and
feelings were more free from art and restraint, there they spoke
a plainer, more forceful language, there they were in touch with
all that was lasting and true in Nature. Here then, you will
say, is the poet for us, the poet who tells of simple things in
simple words, such as we can understand. And yet, perhaps,
strange as it may seem, there is no poet who makes less appeal to
young minds than does Wordsworth.
In reading poetry, though we may not always understand every word
of it, we want to feel the thrill and glamour of it. And when
Wordsworth remembers his own rules and keeps to them there is no
glamour, and his simplicity is apt to seem to us mere silliness.
When we are very young we cannot walk alone, and are glad of a
kindly helping hand to guide our footsteps. In learning to read,
as in learning to walk, it is at first well to trust to a guiding
hand. And in learning to read poetry it is at first well to use
selections chosen for us by those wiser than ourselves. Later,
when we can go alone, we take a man's whole work, and choose for
ourselves what we will most love in it. And it is only by making
use of this power of choice that we can really enjoy what is
best. But of all our great writers Wordsworth is perhaps the
last in the reading of whose works we willingly go alone. He is
perhaps the writer who gains most by being read in selections.
Indeed, for some of us there never comes a time when we care to
read his whole works.
For if we take his whole works, at times we plow through pages of
dry-as-dust argument where there is never a glimmer of that
beauty which makes poetry a joy, till we grow weary of it. Then
suddenly there springs to our eye a line of truest beauty which
sets our senses atingle with delight, and all our labor is more
than paid. And if our great poets were to be judged by single
lines or single stanzas we may safely say that Wordsworth would
be placed high among them. He is so placed, but it is rather by
the love of the few than by the voice of the many.
I am not trying to make you afraid of reading Wordsworth, I am
only warning you that you must not go to him expecting to gather
flowers. You must go expecting to and willing to dig for gold.
Yet although Wordsworth gives us broad deserts of prose in his
poetry, he himself knew the joy of words in lovely sequence.
He tells us that when he was ten years old, or less, already his
"With conscious pleasure opened to the charm
Of words in tuneful order, found them sweet
For their own sakes, a passion, and a power;
And phrases pleased me chosen for delight,
For pomp, or love."*
*Prelude, book v.
When Wordsworth first published his poems they were received with
scorn, and he was treated with neglect greater even than most
great poets have had to endure. But in time the tide turned and
people came at last to acknowledge that Wordsworth was not only a
poet, but a great one. He showed men a new way of poetry; he
proved to them that nightingale was as poetical a word as
Philomel, that it was possible to speak of the sun and the moon
as the sun and the moon, and not as Phoebus and Diana. Phoebus,
Diana, and Philomel are, with the thoughts they convey, beautiful
in their right places, but so are the sun, moon, and nightingale.
Wordsworth tried to make men see with new eyes the little
everyday things that they had looked upon week by week and year
by year until they had grown common. He tried to make them see
these things again with "the glory and the freshness of a
*Ode, Intimations of Immortality.
Wordsworth fought the battle of the simple word, and phrase, and
thought, and won it. And the poets who came after him, and not
the poets only, but the prose writer too, whether they
acknowledged it or not, whether they knew it or now, entered as
by right into the possession of the kingdom which he had won for
And now let me tell you a little of the life of this nature poet.
William Wordsworth was born at Cockermouth in Cumberland in 1770.
He was the second son of John Wordsworth, a lawyer, and law agent
for the Earl of Lonsdale. William's mother died when he was
still a very small boy, and he remembered little about her. He
remembered dimly that one day as he was going to church, she
pinned some flowers into his coat. He remembered seeing her once
lying in an easy chair when she was ill, and that was nearly all.
Before Wordsworth lost his mother he had a happy out-door
childhood. He spent long days playing about in garden and
orchard, or on the banks of the Derwent, with his friends and
brothers and his sister Dorothy. In one of his long poems called
The Prelude, which is a history of his own young life, he tells
of these happy childish hours. In other of his poems he tells of
the love and comradeship that there was between himself and his
sister, though she was two years younger--
"Oh! pleasant, pleasant were the days,
The time, when, in our childish plays,
My sister Emmeline and I
Together chased the butterfly!
A very hunter did I rush
Upon the prey:--with leaps and springs
I followed on from brake to bush;
But she, God love her! feared to brush
The dust from off its wings."*
*To a Butterfly.
Together they spied out the sparrows' nests and watched the tiny
nestlings as they grew, the big rough boy learning much from his
tender-hearted, gentle sister. In after years he said--
"She gave me eyes, she gave me ears;
And humble cares, and delicate fears;
A heart, the fountain of sweet tears;
And love, and thought, and joy."*
*The Sparrow's Nest.
When the mother died these happy days for brother and sister
together were done, for Willie went to school at Hawkshead with
his brothers, and Dorothy was sent to live with her grandfather
But Wordsworth's school-time was happy too. Hawkshead was among
the beautiful lake and mountain scenery that he loved. He had a
great deal of freedom, and out of school hours could take long
rambles, day and night too. When moon and stars were shining he
would wander among the hills until the spirit of the place laid
hold of him, and he says--
"I heard among the solitary hills
Low breathings coming after me, and sounds
Of undistinguishable motion, steps
Almost as silent as the turf they trod."*
*Prelude, book i.
Wordsworth fished and bird-nested, climbing perilous crags and
slippery rocks to find rare eggs. In summer he and his
companions rowed upon the lake, in winter they skated.
"And in the frosty season, when the sun
Was set, and visible for many a mile
The cottage windows blazed through twilight gloom,
I heeded not their summons: happy time
It was indeed for all of us--for me
A time of rapture! Clear and loud
The village clock tolled six,--I wheeled about,
Proud and exulting like an untired horse
That cares not for his home. All shod with steel,
We hissed along the polished ice in games.
. . . . . .
We were a noisy crew; the sun in heaven
Beheld not vales more beautiful than ours;
Nor saw a band in happiness and joy
Richer, or worthier of the ground they trod."*
*Prelude, book i.
Yet among all this noisy boyish fun and laughter, Wordsworth's
strange, keen love of nature took root and grew. At times he
"Even then I felt
Gleams like the flashing of a shield:--the earth
And common face of nature spake to me
*Prelude, book i.
He read, too, what he liked, spending many happy hours over
Gulliver's Travels, and the Tale of a Tub, Don Quixote, and the
While Wordsworth was still at school his father died. His uncles
then took charge of him, and after he left school sent him to
Cambridge. Wordsworth did nothing great at college. He took his
degree without honors, and left Cambridge still undecided what
his career in life was to be. He did not feel himself good
enough for the Church. He did not care for law, but rather liked
the idea of being a soldier. That idea, however, he also gave
up, and for a time he drifted.
In those days one of the world's great dramas was being enacted.
The French Revolution had begun. With the great struggle the
poet's heart was stirred, his imagination fired. It seemed to
him that a new dawn of freedom and joy and peace was breaking on
the world, and "France lured him forth." He crossed the Channel,
and for two years he lived through all the storm and stress of
the Revolution. He might have ended his life in the fearful
Reign of Terror which was coming on, had not his friends in
England called him home. He left France full of pity, and
sorrow, and disappointment, for no reign of peace had come, and
the desire for Liberty had been swallowed up in the desire for
In spite of his years of travel, in spite of the fact that it was
necessary for him to earn his living, Wordsworth was still
unsettled as to what his work in life was to be, when a friend
dying left him nine hundred pounds. With Wordworth's simple
tastes this sum was enough to live upon for several years, so he
asked his dearly loved sister Dorothy to make her home with him,
and together they settled down to a simple cottage life in
Dorsetshire. It was a happy thing for Wordsworth that he found
such a comrade in his sister. From first to last she was his
friend and helper, cheering and soothing him when need be--
"Her voice was like a hidden bird that sang,
The thought of her was like a flash of light,
Or an unseen companionship, a breath
Of fragrance independent of the wind."