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  • 05/1861
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first to last. With the carelessness of the popular mind in such cases, the British public had already almost confounded the two men and their works, as it soon after mixed up Southey with both; whereas they were all as unlike each other as any three poets could well be.

Coleridge and Wordsworth were both contemplative, it is true, while Southey was not: but the remarkable thing about Coleridge was the exclusiveness of his contemplative tendencies, by which one set of faculties ran riot in his mind and life, making havoc among his powers, and a dismal wreck of his existence. The charm and marvel of his discourse upset all judgments during his life, and for as long as his voice remained in the ear of his enchanted hearers; but, apart from the spell, it is clear to all sober and trained thinkers that Coleridge wandered away from truth and reality in the midst of his vaticinations, as the _clairvoyant_ does in the midst of his previsions, so as to mislead and bewilder, while inspiring and intoxicating the hearer or reader. He recorded, in regard to himself, that “history and particular facts lost all interest” in his mind after his first launch into metaphysics; and he remained through life incapable of discerning reality from inborn images. Wordsworth took alarm at the first experience of such a tendency in himself, and relates that he used to catch at the trees and palings by the roadside to satisfy himself of existences out of himself; but Coleridge encouraged this subjective exclusiveness, to the destruction of the balance of his mind and the _morale_ of his nature. He was himself a wild poem; and he discoursed wild poems to us,–musical romances from Dreamland; but the luxury to himself and us was bought by injury to others which was altogether irreparable, and pardonable only on the ground that the balance of his mind was destroyed by a fatal intellectual, in addition to physical intemperance. In him we see an extreme case of a life of contemplation uncontrolled by will and unchecked by action. His faculty of will perished, and his prerogative of action died out. His contemplations must necessarily be worth just so much the less to us as his mental structure was deformed,–extravagantly developed in one direction, and dwarfed in another.

The singularity in Wordsworth’s case, on the other hand, is that his contemplative tendencies not only coexisted with, but were implicated with, the most precise and vivid apprehension of small realities. There was no proportion in his mind; and vaticination and twaddle rolled off his eloquent tongue as chance would have it. At one time he would discourse like a seer, on the slightest instigation, by the hour together; and next, he would hold forth with equal solemnity, on the pettiest matter of domestic economy. I have known him take up some casual notice of a “beck” (brook) in the neighborhood, and discourse of brooks for two hours, till his hearers felt as if they were by the rivers of waters in heaven; and next, he would talk on and on, till stopped by some accident, on his doubt whether Mrs. Wordsworth gave a penny apiece or a half-penny apiece for trapped mice to a little girl who had undertaken to clear the house of them. It has been common to regret that he held the office of Stamp-Distributor in the District; but it was probably a great benefit to his mind as well as his fortunes. It was something that it gave him security and ease as to the maintenance of his family; but that is less important than its necessitating a certain amount of absence from home, and intercourse with men on business. He was no reader in mature life; and the concentration of his mind on his own views, and his own genius, and the interests of his home and neighborhood, caused some foibles, as it was; and it might have been almost fatal, but for some office which allowed him to gratify his love of out-door life at the same time that it led him into intercourse with men in another capacity than as listeners to himself, or peasants engrossed in their own small concerns.

Southey was not contemplative or speculative, and it could only have been because he lived at the Lakes and was Coleridge’s brother-in-law that he was implicated with the two speculative poets at all. It has been carelessly reported by Lake tourists that Southey was not beloved among his neighbors, while Wordsworth was; and that therefore the latter was the better man, in a social sense. It should be remembered that Southey was a working man, and that the other two were not; and, moreover, it should never be for a moment forgotten that Southey worked double-tides to make up for Coleridge’s idleness. While Coleridge was dreaming and discoursing, Southey was toiling to maintain Coleridge’s wife and children. He had no time and no attention to spare for wandering about and making himself at home with the neighbors. This practice came naturally to Wordsworth; and a kind and valued neighbor he was to all the peasants round. Many a time I have seen him in the road, in Scotch bonnet and green spectacles, with a dozen children at his heels and holding his cloak, while he cut ash-sticks for them from the hedge, hearing all they had to say or talking to them. Southey, on the other hand, took his constitutional walk at a fixed hour, often reading as he went. Two families depended on him; and his duty of daily labor was not only distinctive, but exclusive. He was always at work at home, while Coleridge was doing nothing but talking, and Wordsworth was abroad, without thinking whether he was at work or play. Seen from the stand-point of conscience and of moral generosity, Southey’s was the noblest life of the three; and Coleridge’s was, of course, nought. I own, however, that, considering the tendency of the time to make literature a trade, or at least a profession, I cannot help feeling Wordsworth’s to have been the most privileged life of them all. He had not work enough to do; and his mode of life encouraged an excess of egoism: but he bore all the necessary retribution of this in his latter years; and the whole career leaves an impression of an airy freedom and a natural course of contemplation, combined with social interest and action, more healthy than the existence of either the delinquent or the exemplary comrade with whom he was associated in the public view.

I have left my neighbors waiting long on the margin of Grasmere. That was before I was born; but I could almost fancy I had seen them there.

I observed that Wordsworth’s report of their trip was very unlike Coleridge’s. When his sister had left them, he wrote to her, describing scenes by brief precise touches which draw the picture that Coleridge blurs with grand phrases. Moreover, Wordsworth tells sister Dorothy that John will give him forty pounds to buy a bit of land by the lake, where they may build a cottage to live in henceforth. He says, also, that there is a small house vacant near the spot.–They took that house; and thus the Wordsworths became “Lakers.” They entered that well-known cottage at Grasmere on the shortest day (St. Thomas’s) of 1799. Many years afterwards, Dorothy wrote of the aspect of Grasmere on her arrival that winter evening,–the pale orange lights on the lake, and the reflection of the mountains and the island in the still waters. She had wandered about the world in an unsettled way; and now she had cast anchor for life,–not in that house, but within view of that valley.

All readers of Wordsworth, on either side the Atlantic, believe that they know that cottage, (described in the fifth book of the “Excursion,”) with its little orchard, and the moss house, and the tiny terrace behind, with its fine view of the lake and the basin of mountains. There the brother and sister lived for some years in a very humble way, making their feast of the beauty about them. Wordsworth was fond of telling how they had meat only two or three times a week; and he was eager to impress on new-comers–on me among others–the prudence of warning visitors that they must make up their minds to the scantiest fare. He was as emphatic about this, laying his finger on one’s arm to enforce it, as about catching mice or educating the people. It was vain to say that one would rather not invite guests than fail to provide for them; he insisted that the expense would be awful, and assumed that his sister’s and his own example settled the matter. I suppose they were poor in those days; but it was not for long. A devoted sister Dorothy was. Too late it appeared that she had sacrificed herself to aid and indulge her brother. When her mind was gone, and she was dying by inches, Mrs. Wordsworth offered me the serious warning that she gave whenever occasion allowed, against overwalking. She told me that Dorothy had, not occasionally only, but often, walked forty miles in a day to give her brother her presence. To repair the ravages thus caused she took opium; and the effect on her exhausted frame was to overthrow her mind. This was when she was elderly. For a long course of years, she was a rich household blessing to all connected with her. She shared her brother’s peculiarity of investing trifles with solemnity, or rather, of treating all occasions alike (at least in writing) with pedantic elaboration; but she had the true poet’s, combined with the true woman’s nature; and the fortunate man had, in wife and sister, the two best friends of his life.

The Wordsworths were the originals of the Lake _coterie,_ as we have seen. Born at Cockermouth, and a pupil at the Hawkeshead school, Wordsworth was looking homewards when he settled in the District. The others came in consequence. Coleridge brought his family to Greta Hall, near Keswick; and with them came Mrs. Lovell, one of the three Misses Fricker, of whom Coleridge and Southey had married two. Southey was invited to visit Greta Hall, the year after the Wordsworths settled at Grasmere; and thus they became acquainted. They had just met before, in the South; but they had yet to learn to know each other; and there was sufficient unlikeness between them to render this a work of some time and pains. It was not long before Southey, instead of Coleridge, was the lessee of Greta Hall; and soon after Coleridge took his departure, leaving his wife and children, and also the Lovells, a charge upon Southey, who had no more fortune than Coleridge, except in the inexhaustible wealth of a heart, a will, and a conscience. Wordsworth married in 1802; and then the two poets passed through their share of the experience of human life, a few miles apart, meeting occasionally on some mountain ridge or hidden dale, and in one another’s houses, drawn closer by their common joys and sorrows, but never approximating in the quality of their genius, or in the stand-points from which they respectively looked out upon human affairs. They had children, loved them, and each lost some of them; and they felt tenderly for each other when each little grave was opened. Southey, the most amiable of men in domestic life, gentle, generous, serene, and playful, grew absolutely ferocious about politics, as his articles in the “Quarterly Review” showed all the world. Wordsworth, who had some of the irritability and pettishness, mildly described by himself as “gentle stirrings of the mind,” which occasionally render great men ludicrously like children, and who was, moreover, highly conservative after his early democratic fever had passed off, grew more and more liberal with advancing years. I do not mean that he verged towards the Reformers,–but that he became more enlarged, tolerant, and generally sympathetic in his political views and temper. It thus happened that society at a distance took up a wholly wrong impression of the two men,–supposing Southey to be an ill-conditioned bigot, and Wordsworth a serene philosopher, far above being disturbed by troubles in daily life, or paying any attention to party-politics. He showed some of his ever-growing liberality, by the way, in speaking of this matter of temper. In old age, he said that the world certainly does get on in minor morals: that when he was young “everybody had a temper”; whereas now no such thing is allowed; amiability is the rule; and an imperfect temper is an offence and a misfortune of a distinctive character.

Among the letters which now and then arrived from strangers, in the early days of Wordsworth’s fame, was one which might have come from Coleridge, if they had never met. It was full of admiration and sympathy, expressed as such feelings would be by a man whose analytical and speculative faculties predominated over all the rest. The writer was, indeed, in those days, marvellously like Coleridge,–subtile in analysis to excess, of gorgeous imagination, bewitching discourse, fine scholarship, with a magnificent power of promising and utter incapacity in performing, and with the same habit of intemperance in opium. By his own account, his “disease was to meditate too much and observe too little.” I need hardly explain that this was De Quincey; and when I have said that, I need hardly explain further that advancing time and closer acquaintance made the likeness to Coleridge bear a smaller and smaller proportion to the whole character of the man.

In return for his letter of admiration and sympathy, he received an invitation to the Grasmere valley. More than once he set forth to avail himself of it; but when within a few miles, the shyness under which in those days he suffered overpowered his purpose, and he turned back. After having achieved the meeting, however, he soon announced his intention of settling in the valley; and he did so, putting his wife and children eventually into the cottage which the Wordsworths had now outgrown and left. There was little in him to interest or attach a family of regular domestic habits, like the Wordsworths, given to active employment, sensible thrift, and neighborly sympathy. It was universally known that a great poem of Wordsworth’s was reserved for posthumous publication, and kept under lock and key meantime. De Quincey had so remarkable a memory that he carried off by means of it the finest passage of the poem,–or that which the author considered so; and he published that passage in a magazine article, in which he gave a detailed account of the Wordsworths’ household, connections, and friends, with an analysis of their characters and an exhibition of their faults. This was in 1838, a dozen years before the poet’s death. The point of interest is,–How did the wronged family endure the wrong? They were quiet about it,–that is, sensible and dignified; but Wordsworth was more. A friend of his and mine was talking with him over the fire, just when De Quincey’s disclosures were making the most noise, and mentioned the subject. Wordsworth begged to be spared hearing anything about them, saying that the man had long passed away from the family life and mind, and he did not wish to disturb himself about what could not be remedied. My friend acquiesced, saying, “Well, I will tell you only one thing that he says, and then we will talk of something else. He says your wife is too good for you.” The old man’s dim eyes lighted up instantly, and he started from his seat, and flung himself against the mantel-piece, with his back to the fire, as he cried with loud enthusiasm, “And that’s _true! There_ he is right!”

It was by his written disclosures only that De Quincey could do much mischief; for it was scarcely possible to be prejudiced by anything he could say. The whole man was grotesque; and it must have been a singular image that his neighbors in the valley preserved in their memory. A frail-looking, diminutive man, with narrow chest and round shoulders and features like those of a dying patient, walking with his hands behind him, his hat on the back of his head, and his broad lower lip projected, as if he had something on his tongue that wanted listening to,–such was his aspect; and if one joined company with him, the strangeness grew from moment to moment. His voice and its modulations were a perfect treat. As for what he had to say, it was everything from odd comment on a passing trifle, eloquent enunciation of some truth, or pregnant remark on some lofty subject, down to petty gossip, so delivered as to authorize a doubt whether it might not possibly be an awkward effort at observing something outside of himself, or at getting a grasp of something that he supposed actual. That he should have so supposed was his weakness, and the retribution for the peculiar intemperance which depraved his nature and alienated from their proper use powers which should have made him one of the first philosophers of his age. His singular organization was fatally deranged in its action before it could show its best quality, and his is one of the cases in which we cannot be wrong in attributing moral disease directly to physical disturbance; and it would no doubt have been dropped out of notice, if he had been able to abstain from comment on the characters and lives of other people. Justice to them compels us to accept and use the exposures he offers us of himself.

About the time of De Quincey’s settlement at Grasmere, Wilson, the future CHRISTOPHER NORTH, bought the Elleray estate, on the banks of Windermere. He was then just of age,–supreme in all manly sports, physically a model man, and intellectually, brimming with philosophy and poetry. He came hither a rather spoiled child of fortune, perhaps; but he was soon sobered by a loss of property which sent him to his studies for the bar. Scott was an excellent friend to him at that time; and so strong and prophetic was Wilson’s admiration of his patron, that he publicly gave him the name of “The Great Magician” before the first “Waverley Novel” was published. Within ten years from his getting a foothold on Windermere banks, he had raised periodical literature to a height unknown before in our time, by his contributions to “Blackwood’s Magazine”; and he seemed to step naturally into the Moral Philosophy Chair in Edinburgh in 1820. Christopher North has perhaps conveyed to foreign, and untravelled English, readers as true a conception of our Lake scenery and its influences in one way as Wordsworth in another. The very spirit of the moorland, lake, brook, tarn, ghyll, and ridge breathes from his prose poetry: and well it might. He wandered alone for a week together beside the trout-streams and among the highest tarns. He spent whole days in his boat, coasting the bays of the lake, or floating in the centre, or lying reading in the shade of the trees on the islands. He led with a glorious pride the famous regatta on Windermere, when Canning was the guest of the Boltons at Storrs, and when Scott, Wordsworth, and Southey were of the company; and he liked almost as well steering the packet-boat from Waterhead to Bowness, till the steamer drove out the old-fashioned conveyance. He sat at the stern, immovable, with his hand on the rudder, looking beyond the company of journeymen-carpenters, fish- and butter-women, and tourists, with a gaze on the water-and-sky-line which never shifted. Sometimes a learned professor or a brother sportsman was with him; but he spoke no word, and kept his mouth peremptorily shut under his beard. It was a sight worth taking the voyage for; and it was worth going a long round to see him standing on the shore,–“reminding one of the first man, Adam,” (as was said of him,) in his best estate,–the tall, broad frame, large head, marked features, and long hair; and the tread which shook the ground, and the voice which roused the echoes afar and made one’s heart-strings vibrate within. These attributes made strangers turn to look at him on the road, and fixed all eyes on him in the ball-room at Ambleside, when any local object induced him to be a steward. Every old boatman and young angler, every hoary shepherd and primitive housewife in the uplands and dales, had an enthusiasm for him. He could enter into the solemnity of speculation with Wordsworth while floating at sunset on the lake; and not the less gamesomely could he collect a set of good fellows under the lamp at his supper-table, and take off Wordsworth’s or Coleridge’s monologues to the life. There was that between them which must always have precluded a close sympathy; and their faults were just what each could least allow for in another. Of Wilson’s it is enough to say that Scott’s injunction to him to “leave off sack, purge, and live cleanly,” if he wished for the Moral Philosophy Chair, was precisely what was needed. It was still needed some time after, when, though a Professor of Moral Philosophy, he was seen, with poor Campbell, leaving a tavern one morning, in Edinburgh, haggard and red-eyed, hoarse and exhausted,–not only the feeble Campbell, but the mighty Wilson,–they having sat together twenty-four hours, discussing poetry and wine with all their united energies. This sort of thing was not to the taste of Wordsworth or Southey, any more than their special complacencies were venerable to the humor of Christopher North. Yet they could cordially admire one another; and when sorrows came over them, in dreary impartiality, they could feel reverently and deeply for each other. When Southey lost his idolized boy, Herbert, and had to watch over his insane wife, always his dearest friend, and all the dearer for her helpless and patient suffering under an impenetrable gloom,–when Wordsworth was bereaved of the daughter who made the brightness of his life in his old age,–and when Wilson was shaken to the centre by the loss of his wife, and mourned alone in the damp shades of Elleray, where he would allow not a twig to be cut from the trees she loved,–the sorrow of each moved them all. Elleray was a gloomy place then, and Wilson never surmounted the melancholy which beset him there; and he wisely parted with it some years before his death. The later depression in his case was in proportion to the earlier exhilaration. His love of Nature and of genial human intercourse had been too exuberant; and he became incapable of enjoyment from either, in his last years. He never recovered from an attack of pressure on the brain, and died paralyzed in the spring of 1854. He had before gone from among us with his joy; and then we heard that he had dropped out of life with his griefs; and our beautiful region, and the region of life, were so much the darker in a thousand eyes.

While speaking of Elleray, we should pay a passing tribute of gratitude to an older worthy of that neighborhood,–the well-known Bishop of Llandaff, Richard Watson, who did more for the beauty of Windermere than any other person. There is nothing to praise in the damp old mansion at Calgarth, set down in low ground, and actually with its back to the lake, and its front windows commanding no view; but the woods are the glory of Bishop Watson. He was not a happy prelate, believing himself undervalued and neglected, and fretting his heart over his want of promotion; but be must have had many a blessed hour while planting those woods for which many generations will be grateful to him. Let the traveller remember him, when looking abroad from Miller Brow, near Bowness. Below lies the whole length of Windermere, from the white houses of Clappersgate, nestling under Loughrigg at the head, to the Beacon at the foot. The whole range of both shores, with their bays and coves and promontories, can be traced; and the green islands are clustered in the centre; and the whole gradation of edifices is seen, from Wray Castle, on its rising ground, to the tiny boat-houses, each on its creek. All these features are enhanced in beauty by the Calgarth woods, which cover the undulations of hill and margin beneath and around, rising and falling, spreading and contracting, with green meadows interposed, down to the white pebbly strand. To my eye, this view is unsurpassed by any in the District.

Bishop Watson’s two daughters were living in the neighborhood till two years ago,–antique spinsters, presenting us with a most vivid specimen of the literary female life of the last century. They were excellent women, differing from the rest of society chiefly in their notion that superior people should show their superiority in all the acts of their lives,–that literary people should talk literature, and scientific people science, and so on; and they felt affronted, as if set down among common people, when an author talked about common things in a common way. They did their best to treat their friends to wit and polite letters; and they expected to be ministered to in the same fashion. This was rather embarrassing to visitors to whom it had never occurred to talk for any other purpose than to say what presented itself at the moment; but it is a privilege to have known those faithful sisters, and to have seen in them a good specimen of the literary society of the last century.

There is another spot in that neighborhood which strangers look up to with interest from the lake itself,–Dovenest, the abode of Mrs. Hemans for the short time of her residence at the Lakes. She saw it for the first time from the lake, as her published correspondence tells, and fell in love with it; and as it was vacant at the time, she went into it at once. Many of my readers will remember her description of the garden and the view from it, the terrace, the circular grass-plot with its one tall white rose-tree. “You cannot imagine,” she wrote, in 1830, “how I delight in that fair, solitary, neglected-looking tree.” The tree is not neglected now. Dovenest is inhabited by Mrs. Hemans’s then young friend, the Rev. R.P. Graves; and it has recovered from the wildness and desolation of thirty years ago, while looking as secluded as ever among the woods on the side of Wansfell.

All this time, illustrious strangers were coming, year by year, to visit residents, or to live among the mountains for a few weeks. There was Wilberforce, spending part of a summer at Rayrigg, on the lake shore. One of his boys asked him, “Why should you not buy a house here? and then we could come every year.” The reply was characteristic:–that it would be very delightful; but that the world is lying, in a manner, under the curse of God; that we have something else to do than to enjoy fine prospects; and that, though it may be allowable to taste the pleasure now and then, we ought to wait till the other life to enjoy ourselves. Such was the strait-lacing in which the good man was forever trying to compress his genial, buoyant, and grateful nature.–Scott came again and again; and Wordsworth and Southey met to do him honor. The tourist must remember the Swan Inn,–the white house beyond Grasmere, under the skirts of Helvellyn. There Scott went daily for a glass of something good, while Wordsworth’s guest, and treated with the homely fare of the Grasmere cottage. One morning, his host, himself, and Southey went up to the Swan, to start thence with ponies for the ascent of Helvellyn. The innkeeper saw them coming, and accosted Scott with “Eh, Sir! ye’re come early for your draught to-day!”–a disclosure which was not likely to embarrass his host at all. Wordsworth was probably the least-discomposed member of the party.–Charles Lamb and his sister once popped in unannounced on Coleridge at Keswick, and spent three weeks in the neighborhood. We can all fancy the little man on the top of Skiddaw, with his mind full as usual of quips and pranks, and struggling with the emotions of mountain-land, so new and strange to a Cockney, such as he truly described himself. His loving readers do not forget his statement of the comparative charms of Skiddaw and Fleet Street; and on the spot we quote his exclamations about the peak, and the keen air there, and the look over into Scotland, and down upon a sea of mountains which made him giddy. We are glad he came and enjoyed a day, which, as he said, would stand out like a mountain in his life; but we feel that he could never have followed his friends hither,–Coleridge and Wordsworth,–and have made himself at home. The warmth of a city and the hum of human voices all day long were necessary to his spirits. As to his passage at arms with Southey,–everybody’s sympathies are with Lamb; and he only vexes us by his humility and gratitude at being pardoned by the aggressor, whom he had in fact humiliated in all eyes but his own. It was one of Southey’s spurts of insolent bigotry; and Lamb’s plea for tolerance and fair play was so sound as to make it a poor affectation in Southey to assume a pardoning air; but, if Lamb’s kindly and sensitive nature could not sustain him in so virtuous an opposition, it is well that the two men did not meet on the top of Skiddaw.–Canning’s visit to Storrs, on Windermere, was a great event in its day; and Lockhart tells us, in his “Life of Scott,” what the regatta was like, when Wilson played Admiral, and the group of local poets, and Scott, were in the train of the statesman. Since that day, it has been a common thing for illustrious persons to appear in our valleys. Statesmen, churchmen, university-men, princes, peers, bishops, authors, artists, flock hither; and during the latter years of Wordsworth’s life, the average number of strangers who called at Rydal Mount in the course of the season was eight hundred.

During the growth of the District from its wildness to this thronged state, a minor light of the region was kindling, flickering, failing, gleaming, and at last going out,–anxiously watched and tended, but to little purpose. The life of Hartley Coleridge has been published by his family; and there can, therefore, be no scruple in speaking of him here. The remembrance of him haunts us all,–almost as his ghost haunts his kind landlady. Long after his death, she used to “hear him at night laughing in his room,” as he used to do when he lived there. A peculiar laugh it was, which broke out when fancies crossed him, whether he was alone or in company. Travellers used to look after him on the road, and guides and drivers were always willing to tell about him; and still his old friends almost expect to see Hartley at any turn,–the little figure, with the round face, marked by the blackest eyebrows and eyelashes, and by a smile and expression of great eccentricity. As we passed, he would make a full stop in the road, face about, take off his black-and-white straw hat, and bow down to the ground. The first glance in return was always to see whether he was sober. The Hutchinsons must remember him. He was one of the audience, when they held their concert under the sycamores in Mr. Harrison’s grounds at Ambleside; and he thereupon wrote a sonnet,[A] doubtless well known in America. When I wanted his leave to publish that sonnet, in an account of “Frolics with the Hutchinsons,” it was necessary to hunt him up, from public-house to public-house, early in the morning. It is because these things are universally known,–because he was seen staggering in the road, and spoken of by drivers and lax artisans as an alehouse comrade, that I speak of him here, in order that I may testify how he was beloved and cherished by the best people in his neighborhood. I can hardly speak of him myself as a personal acquaintance; for I could not venture on inviting him to my house. I saw what it was to others to be subject to day-long visits from him, when he would ask for wine, and talk from morning to night,–and a woman, solitary and busy, could not undertake that sort of hospitality; but I saw how forbearing his friends were, and why,–and I could sympathize in their regrets when he died. I met him in company occasionally, and never saw him sober; but I have heard from several common friends of the charm of his conversation, and the beauty of his gentle and affectionate nature. He was brought into the District when four years old; and it does not appear that he ever had a chance allowed him of growing into a sane man. Wordsworth used to say that Hartley’s life’s failure arose mainly from his having grown up “wild as the breeze,”–delivered over, without help or guardianship, to the vagaries of an imagination which overwhelmed all the rest of him. There was a strong constitutional likeness to his father, evident enough to all; but no pains seem to have been taken on any hand to guard him from the snare, or to invigorate his will, and aid him in self-discipline. The great catastrophe, the ruinous blow, which rendered him hopeless, is told in the Memoir; but there are particulars which help to account for it. Hartley had spent his school-days under a master as eccentric as he himself ever became. The Rev. John Dawes of Ambleside was one of the oddities that may be found in the remote places of modern England. He had no idea of restraint, for himself or his pupils; and when they arrived, punctually or not, for morning school, they sometimes found the door shut, and chalked with “Gone a-hunting,” or “Gone a-fishing,” or gone away somewhere or other. Then Hartley would sit down under the bridge, or in the shadow of the wood, or lie on the grass on the hill-side, and tell tales to his schoolfellows for hours. His mind was developed by the conversation of his father and his father’s friends; and he himself had a great friendship with Professor Wilson, who always stood by him with a pitying love. He had this kind of discursive education, but no discipline; and when he went to college, he was at the mercy of any who courted his affection, intoxicated his imagination, and then led him into vice. His Memoir shows how he lost his fellowship at Oriel College, Oxford, at the end of his probationary year. He had been warned by the authorities against his sin of intemperance; and he bent his whole soul to get through that probationary year. For eleven months, and many days of the twelfth, he lived soberly and studied well. Then the old tempters agreed in London to go down to Oxford and get hold of Hartley. They went down on the top of the coach, got access to his room, made him drunk, and carried him with them to London; and he was not to be found when he should have passed. The story of his death is but too like this.

[Footnote A:



I would, my friend, indeed, thou hadst been here
Last night, beneath the shadowy sycamore, To hear the lines, to me well known before, Embalmed in music so translucent clear. Each word of thine came singly to the ear, Yet all was blended in a flowing stream. It had the rich repose of summer dream, The light distinct of frosty atmosphere. Still have I loved thy verse, yet never knew How sweet it was, till woman’s voice invested The pencilled outline with the living hue, And every note of feeling proved and tested. What might old Pindar be, if once again The harp and voice were trembling with his strain!

His fellowship lost, he came, ruinously humbled, to live in this District, at first under compulsion to take pupils, whom, of course, he could not manage. On the death of his mother, an annuity was purchased for him, and paid quarterly, to keep him out of debt, if possible. He could not take care of money, and he was often hungry, and often begged the loan of a sixpence; and when the publicans made him welcome to what he pleased to have, in consideration of the company he brought together, to hear his wonderful talk, his wit, and his dreams, he was helpless in the snare. We must remember that he was a fine scholar, as well as a dreamer and a humorist; and there was no order of intellect, from the sage to the peasant, which could resist the charm of his discourse. He had taken his degree with high distinction at Oxford; and yet the old Westmoreland “statesman,” who, offered whiskey and water, accepts the one and says the other can be had anywhere, would sit long to hear what Hartley had to tell of what he had seen or dreamed. At gentlemen’s tables, it was a chance how he might talk,–sublimely, sweetly, or with a want of tact which made sad confusion. In the midst of the great black-frost at the close of 1848, he was at a small dinner-party at the house of a widow lady, about four miles from his lodgings. During dinner, some scandal was talked about some friends of his to whom he was warmly attached. He became excited on their behalf,–took Champagne before he had eaten enough, and, before the ladies left the table, was no longer master of himself. His host, a very young man, permitted some practical joking: brandy was ordered, and given to the unconscious Hartley; and by eleven o’clock he was clearly unfit to walk home alone. His hostess sent her footman with him, to see him home. The man took him through Ambleside, and then left him to find his way for the other two miles. The cold was as severe as any ever known in this climate; and it was six in the morning when his landlady heard some noise in the porch, and found Hartley stumbling in. She put him to bed, put hot bricks to his feet, and tried all the proper means; and in the middle of the day he insisted on getting up and going out. He called at the house of a friend, Dr. S—-, near Ambleside. The kind physician scolded him for coming out, sent for a carriage, took him home, and put him to bed. He never rose again, but died on the 6th of January, 1849. The young host and the old hostess have followed him, after deeply deploring that unhappy day.

It was sweet, as well as sorrowful, to see how he was mourned. Everybody, from his old landlady, who cared for him like a mother, to the infant-school children, missed Hartley Coleridge. I went to his funeral at Grasmere. The rapid Rotha rippled and dashed over the stones beside the churchyard; the yews rose dark from the faded grass of the graves; and in mighty contrast to both, Helvellyn stood, in wintry silence, and sheeted with spotless snow. Among the mourners Wordsworth was conspicuous, with his white hair and patriarchal aspect. He had no cause for painful emotions on his own account; for he had been a faithful friend to the doomed victim who was now beyond the reach of his tempters. While there was any hope that stern remonstrance might rouse the feeble will and strengthen the suffering conscience to relieve itself, such remonstrance was pressed; and when the case was past hope, Wordsworth’s door was ever open to his old friend’s son. Wordsworth could stand by that open grave without a misgiving about his own share in the scene which was here closing; and calm and simply grave he looked. He might mourn over the life; but he could scarcely grieve at the death. The grave was close behind the family group of the Wordsworth tombs. It shows, above the name and dates, a sculptured crown of thorns and Greek cross, with the legend, “By thy Cross and Passion, Good Lord, deliver me!”

One had come and gone meantime who was as express a contrast to Hartley Coleridge as could be imagined,–a man of energy, activity, stern self-discipline, and singular strength of will. Such a cast of character was an inexplicable puzzle to poor Hartley. He showed this by giving his impression of another person of the same general mode of life,–that A.B. was “a monomaniac about everything.” It was to rest a hard-worked mind and body, and to satisfy a genuine need of his nature, that Dr. Arnold came here from Rugby with his family,–first, to lodgings for an occasional holiday, and afterwards to a house of his own, at Christmas and Midsummer, and with the intention of living permanently at Fox How, when he should give up his work at Rugby.

He was first at a house at the foot of Rydal Mount, at Christmas, 1831, “with the road on one side of the garden, and the Rotha on the other, which goes brawling away under our windows with its perpetual music. The higher mountains that bound our view are all snow-capped; but it is all snug, and warm, and green in the valley. Nowhere on earth have I ever seen a spot of more perfect and enjoyable beauty, with not a single object out of tune with it, look which way I will.” He built Fox How, two or three years later, and at once began his course of hospitality by having lads of the sixth form as his guests,–not for purposes of study, but of recreation, and, yet more, to give them that element of education which consists in familiarity with the noblest natural scenery. The hue and cry which arose when he showed himself a reformer, in Church matters as in politics, followed him here, as we see by his letters; and it was not till his “Life and Correspondence” appeared that his neighbors here understood him. It has always been difficult, perhaps, for them to understand anything modern, or at all vivacious. Everybody respected Dr. Arnold for his energy and industry, his services to education, and his devotedness to human welfare; but they were afraid of his supposed opinions. Not the less heartily did he honor everything that was admirable in them; and when he was gone, they remembered his ways, and cherished every trace of him, in a manner which showed how they would have made much of him, if their own timid prejudices had not stood in the way. They point out to this day the spot where they saw him stand, without his hat, on Rotha bridge, watching the gush of the river under the wooded bank, or gazing into the basin of vapors within the _cul-de-sac_ of Fairfield,–the same view which he looked on from his study, as he sat on his sofa, surrounded by books. The neighbors show the little pier at Waterhead whence he watched the morning or the evening light on the lake, the place where he bathed, and the tracks in the mountains which led to his favorite ridges. Everybody has read his “Life and Correspondence,” and therefore knows what his mode of life was here, and how great was his enjoyment of it. We have all read of the mountain-trips in summer, and the skating on Rydal Lake in winter,–and how his train of children enjoyed everything with him, as far as they could. It was but for a few years; and the time never came for him to retire hither from Rugby. In June, 1842, he had completed his fourteenth year at Rugby, and was particularly in need, under some harassing cares, of the solace and repose which a few hours more would have brought him, when he was cut off by an illness of two hours. On the day when he was to have been returning to Fox How, some of his children were travelling thence to his funeral. His biographer tells us how strong was the consternation at Rugby, when the tidings spread on that Sunday morning, “Dr. Arnold is dead.” Not slight was the emotion throughout this valley, when the news passed from house to house, the next day. As I write, I see the windows which were closed that day, and the trees round the house,–so grown up since he walked among them!–and the course of the Rotha, which winds and ripples at the foot of his garden. I never saw him, for I did not come here till two years after; but I have seen his widow pass on into her honored old age, and his children part off into their various homes, and their several callings in life,–to meet in the beloved house at Fox How, at Christmas, and at many another time.

This leaves only Southey and the Wordsworths; and their ending was not far off. The old poet had seen almost too much of these endings. One day, when I found a stoppage in the road at the foot of Rydal Mount, from a sale of furniture, such as is common in this neighborhood every spring and autumn, I met Mr. Wordsworth,–not looking observant and amused, but in his blackest mood of melancholy, and evidently wanting to get out of the way. He said he did not like the sight: he had seen so many of these sales; he had seen Southey’s, not long before; and these things reminded him how soon there must be a sale at Rydal Mount. It was remarked by a third person that this was rather a wilful way of being miserable; but I never saw a stronger love of life than there was in them all, even so late in their day as this. Mrs. Wordsworth, then past her three-score years and ten, observed to me that the worst of living here was that it made one so unwilling to go. It seems but lately that she said so; yet she nursed to their graves her daughter and her husband and his sister, and she herself became blind; so that it was not hard “to go,” when the time came.

Southey’s decline was painful to witness,–even as his beloved wife’s had been to himself. He never got over her loss; and his mind was decidedly shaken before he made the second marriage which has been so much talked over. One most touching scene there was when he had become unconscious of all that was said and done around him. Mrs. Southey had been careless of her own interests about money when she married him, and had sought no protection for her own property. When there was manifestly no hope of her husband’s mind ever recovering, his brother assembled the family and other witnesses, and showed them a kind of will which he had drawn up, by which Mrs. Southey’s property was returned to herself, intact. He said they were all aware that their relative could not, in his condition, make a will, and that he was even unaware of what they were doing; but that it was right that they should, pledge themselves by some overt act to fulfil what would certainly have been his wish. The bowed head could not be raised, but the nerveless hand was guided to sign the instrument; and all present agreed to respect it as if it were a veritable will,–as of course they did. The decline was full of painful circumstances; and it must have been with a heart full of sorrow that Wordsworth walked over the hills to attend the funeral.

The next funeral was that of his own daughter Dora,–Mrs. Quillinan. A story has got about, as untrue as it is disagreeable, that Dora lost her health from her father’s opposition to her marriage, and that Wordsworth’s excessive grief after her death was owing to remorse. I can myself testify to her health having been very good for a considerable interval between that difficulty and her last illness; and this is enough, of itself, to dispose of the story. Her parents considered the marriage an imprudent one; but after securing sufficient time for consideration, they said that she must judge for herself; and there were fine qualities in Mr. Quillinan which could not but win their affection and substantial regard. His first wife, a friend of Dora Wordsworth’s, was carried out of the house in which she had just been confined, from fire in the middle of the night; she died from the shock; and she died recommending her husband and her friend to marry. Such is the understood history of the case. After much delay they did marry, and lived near Rydal Mount, where Dora was, as always, the light of the house, as long as she could go to it. But, after a long and painful decline, she died in 1847. Her husband followed soon after Wordsworth’s death. He lies in the family corner of Grasmere churchyard, between his two wives. This appeared to be the place reserved for Mrs. Wordsworth, so that Dora would lie between her parents. There seemed now to be no room left for the solitary survivor, and many wondered what would be done; but all had been thought of. Wordsworth’s grave had been made deep enough for two; and there his widow now rests.

There was much vivid life in them, however clearly the end was approaching, when I first knew them in 1845. The day after my arrival at a friend’s house, they called on me, excited by two kinds of interest. Wordsworth had been extremely gratified by hearing, through a book of mine, how his works were estimated by certain classes of readers in the United States; and he and Mrs. Wordsworth were eager to learn facts and opinions about mesmerism, by which I had just recovered from a long illness, and which they hoped might avail in the case of a daughter-in-law, then in a dying state abroad. After that day, I met them frequently, and was at their house, when I could go. On occasion of my first visit, I was struck by an incident which explained the ridicule we have all heard thrown on the old poet for a self-esteem which he was merely too simple to hide. Nothing could be easier than to make a quiz of what he said to me; but to me it seemed delightful. As he at once talked of his poems, I thought I might; and I observed that he might be interested in knowing which of his poems had been Dr. Channing’s favorite. Seeing him really interested, I told him that I had not been many hours under Dr. Channing’s roof before he brought me “The Happy Warrior,” which, he said, moved him more than any other in the whole series. Wordsworth remarked,–and repeated the remark very earnestly,–that this was evidently applicable to the piece, “not as a poem, not as fulfilling the conditions of poetry, but as a chain of extremely valuable _thoughts_.” Then he repeated emphatically,–“a chain of extremely _valuable_ thoughts!” This was so true that it seemed as natural for him to say it as Dr. Channing, or any one else.

It is indisputable that his mind and manners were hurt by the prominence which his life at the Lakes–a life very public, under the name of seclusion–gave, in his own eyes; to his own works and conversation; but he was less absorbed in his own objects, less solemn, less severed from ordinary men than is supposed, and has been given out by strangers, who, to the number of eight hundred in a year, have been received by him with a bow, asked to see the garden-terraces where he had meditated this and that work, and dismissed with another bow, and good wishes for their health and pleasure,–the host having, for the most part, not heard, or not attended to, the name of his visitor. I have seen him receive in that way a friend, a Commissioner of Education, whom I ventured to take with me, (a thing I very rarely did,) and in the evening have had a message asking if I knew how Mr. Wordsworth could obtain an interview with this very gentleman, who was said to be in the neighborhood. All this must be very bad for anybody; and so was the distinction of having early chosen this District for a home. When I first came, I told my friends here that I was alarmed for myself, when I saw the spirit of insolence which seemed to possess the cultivated residents, who really did virtually assume that the mountains and vales were somehow their property, or at least a privilege appropriate to superior people like themselves. Wordsworth’s sonnets about the railway were a mild expression of his feelings in this direction; and Mrs. Wordsworth, in spite of her excellent sense, took up his song, and declared with unusual warmth that green fields, with daisies and buttercups, were as good for Lancashire operatives as our lakes and valleys. I proposed that the people should judge of this for themselves; but there was no end to ridicule of “the people from Birthwaite” (the end of the railway, five miles off). Some had been seen getting their dinner in the churchyard, and others inquiring how best to get up Loughrigg,–“evidently, quite puzzled, and not knowing where to go.” My reply, “that they would know next time,” was not at all sympathized in. The effect of this exclusive temper was pernicious in the neighborhood. A petition to Parliament against the railway was not brought to me, as it was well known that I would not sign it; but some little girls undertook my case; and the effect of their parroting of Mr. Wordsworth, about “ourselves” and “the common people” who intrude upon us, was as sad as it was absurd. The whole matter ended rather remarkably. When all were gone but Mrs. Wordsworth, and she was blind, a friend who was as a daughter to her remarked, one summer day, that there were some boys on the Mount in the garden. “Ah!” said Mrs. Wordsworth, “there is no end to those people;–boys from Birthwaite!–boys from Birthwaite!” It was the Prince of Wales, with a companion or two.

The notion of Wordsworth’s solemnity and sublimity, as something unremitting, was a total mistake. It probably arose from the want of proportion in his mind, as in his sister’s, before referred to. But he relished the common business of life, and not only could take in, but originate a joke. I remember his quizzing a common friend of ours,–one much esteemed by us all,–who had a wonderful ability of falling asleep in an instant, when not talking. Mr. Wordsworth told me of the extreme eagerness of this gentleman, Mrs. Wordsworth, and himself, to see the view over Switzerland from the ridge of the Jura. Mrs. Wordsworth could not walk so fast as the gentlemen, and her husband let the friend go on by himself. When they arrived, a minute or two after him, they found him sitting on a stone in face of all Switzerland, fast asleep. When Mr. Wordsworth mimicked the sleep, with his head on one side, anybody could have told whom he was quizzing.–He and Mrs. Wordsworth, but too naturally impressed with the mischief of overwalking in the case of women, took up a wholly mistaken notion that I walked too much. One day I was returning from a circuit of ten miles with a guest, when we met the Wordsworths. They asked where we had been. “By Red Bank to Grasmere.” Whereupon Mr. Wordsworth laid his hand on my guest’s arm, saying, “There, there! take care what you are about! don’t let her lead you about! I can tell you, she has killed off half the gentlemen in the county!”–Mrs. Hemans tells us, that, before she had known him many hours, she was saying to him, “Dear me, Mr. Wordsworth! how can you be so giddy?”

His interest in common things never failed. It has been observed that he and Mrs. Wordsworth did incalculable good by the example they unconsciously set the neighborhood of respectable thrift. There are no really poor people at Rydal, because the great lady at the Hall, Lady Le Fleming, takes care that there shall be none,–at the expense of great moral mischief. But there is a prevalent recklessness, grossness, and mingled extravagance and discomfort in the family management, which, I am told, was far worse when the Wordsworths came than it is now. Going freely among the neighbors, and welcoming and helping them familiarly, the Wordsworths laid their own lives open to observation; and the mingled carefulness and comfort–the good thrift, in short–wrought as a powerful lesson all around. As for what I myself saw,–they took a practical interest in my small purchase of land for my abode; and Mr. Wordsworth often came to consult upon the plan and progress of the house. He used to lie on the grass, beside the young oaks, before the foundations were dug; and he referred me to Mrs. Wordsworth as the best possible authority about the placing of windows and beds. He climbed to the upper rooms before there was a staircase; and we had to set Mrs. Wordsworth as a watch over him, when there was a staircase, but no balustrade. When the garden was laid out, he planted a stone-pine (which is flourishing) under the terrace-wall, washed his hands in the watering-pot, and gave the place and me at once his blessing and some thrifty counsel. When I began farming, he told me an immense deal about his cow; and both of them came to see my first calf, and ascertain whether she had the proper marks of the handsome short-horn of the region. The distinctive impression which the family made on the minds of the people about them was that of practical ability; and it was thoroughly well conveyed by the remark of a man at Rydal, on hearing some talk of Mrs. Wordsworth, a few days after the poet’s death: –“She’s a gay [rare] clever body, who will carry on the business as well as any of ’em.”

Nothing could be more affecting than to watch the silent changes in Mrs. Wordsworth’s spirits during the ten years which followed the death of her daughter. For many months her husband’s gloom was terrible, in the evenings, or in dull weather. Neither of them could see to read much; and the poet was not one who ever pretended to restrain his emotions, or assume a cheerfulness which he did not feel. We all knew that the mother’s heart was the bereaved one, however impressed the father’s imagination might be by the picture of his own desolation; and we saw her mute about her own trial, and growing whiter in the face and smaller from month to month, while he put no restraint upon his tears and lamentations. The winter evenings were dreary; and in hot summer days the aged wife had to follow him, when he was missed for any time, lest he should be sitting in the sun without his hat. Often she found him asleep on the heated rock. His final illness was wearing and dreary to her; but there her part was clear, and she was adequate to it. “You are going to Dora,” she whispered to him, when the issue was no longer doubtful. She thought he did not hear or heed; but some hours after, when some one opened the curtain, he said, “Are you Dora?” Composed and cheerful in the prospect of his approaching rest, and absolutely without solicitude for herself, the wife was everything to him till the last moment; and when he was gone, the anxieties of the self-forgetting woman were over. She attended his funeral, and afterwards chose to fill her accustomed place among the guests who filled the house. She made tea that evening as usual; and the lightening of her spirits from that time forward was evident. It was a lovely April day, the 23d, (Shakspeare’s birth–and death-day,) when her task of nursing closed. The news spread fast that the old poet was gone; and we all naturally turned our eyes up to the roof under which he lay. There, above and amidst the young green of the woods, the modest dwelling shone in the sunlight. The smoke went up thin and straight into the air; but the closed windows gave the place a look of death. There he was lying whom we should see no more.

The poor sister remained for five years longer. Travellers, American and others, must remember having found the garden-gate locked at Rydal Mount, and perceiving the reason why, in seeing a little garden-chair, with an emaciated old lady in it, drawn by a nurse round and round the gravelled space before the house. That was Miss Wordsworth, taking her daily exercise. It was a great trouble, at times, that she could not be placed in some safe privacy; and Wordsworth’s feudal loyalty was put to a severe test in the matter. It had been settled that a cottage should be built for his sister, in a field of his, beyond the garden. The plan was made, and the turf marked out, and the digging about to begin, when the great lady at the Hall, Lady Le Fleming, interfered with a prohibition. She assumed the feudal prerogative of determining what should or should not be built on all the lands over which the Le Flemings have borne sway; and her extraordinary determination was, that no dwelling should be built, except on the site of a former one! We could scarcely believe we had not been carried back into the Middle Ages, when we heard it; but the old poet, whom any sovereign in Europe would have been delighted to gratify, submitted with a good grace, and thenceforth robbed his sister’s feet, and coaxed and humored her at home,–trusting his guests to put up with the inconveniences of her state, as he could not remove them from sight and hearing. After she was gone also, Mrs. Wordsworth, entirely blind, and above eighty years of age, seemed to have no cares, except when the errors and troubles of others touched her judgment or sympathy. She was well cared for by nieces and friends. Her plain common sense and cheerfulness appeared in one of the last things she said, a few hours before her death. She remarked on the character of the old hymns, practical and familiar, which people liked when she was young, and which answered some purposes better than the sublimer modern sort. She repeated part of a child’s hymn,–very homely, about going straight to school, and taking care of the books, and learning the lesson well,–and broke off, saying, “There! if you want to hear the rest, ask the Bishop o’ London. _He_ knows it.”

Then, all were gone; and there remained only the melancholy breaking up of the old home which had been interesting to the world for forty-six years. Mrs. Wordsworth died in January, 1859. In the May following, the sale took place which Wordsworth had gloomily foreseen so many years before. Everything of value was reserved, and the few articles desired by strangers were bought by commission; and thus the throng at the sale was composed of the ordinary elements. The spectacle was sufficiently painful to make it natural for old friends to stay away. Doors and windows stood wide. The sofa and tea-table where the wisest and best from all parts of the world had held converse were turned out to be examined and bid for. Anybody who chose passed the sacred threshold; the auctioneer’s hammer was heard on the terrace; and the hospitable parlor and kitchen were crowded with people swallowing tea in the intervals of their business. One farmer rode six-and-thirty miles that morning to carry home something that had belonged to Wordsworth; and, in default of anything better, he took a patched old table-cover. There was a bed of anemones under the windows, at one end of the house; and a bed of anemones is a treasure in our climate. It was in full bloom in the morning; and before sunset, every blossom was gone, and the bed was trampled into ruin. It was dreary work! The two sons live at a distance; and the house is let to tenants of another name.

I perceive that I have not noticed the poet’s laureateship. The truth is, the office never seemed to belong to him; and we forgot it, when not specially reminded of it. We did not like to think of him in court-dress, going through the ceremonies of levee or ball, in his old age. His white hair and dim eyes were better at home among the mountains.

There stand the mountains, from age to age; and there run the rivers, with their full and never-pausing tide, while those who came to live and grow wise beside them are all gone! One after another, they have lain down to their everlasting rest in the valleys where their step and their voices were as familiar as the points of the scenery. The region has changed much since they came as to a retreat. It was they who caused the change, for the most part; and it was not for them to complain of it; but the consequence is, that with them has passed away a peculiar phase of life in England. It is one which can neither be continued nor repeated. The Lake District is no longer a retreat; and any other retreat must have different characteristics, and be illumined by some different order of lights. The case being so, I have felt no scruple in asking the attention of my readers to a long story, and to full details of some of the latest Lights of the Lake District.


Everybody knows that a _departing_ guest has the most to say. The touch of the door-knob sends to his lips a thousand things which _must_ be told. Is it strange, then, that old people, knowing they have “made out their visit,” and feeling themselves brimful of wisdom and experience, should wish to speak from the fulness of their hearts to those whom they must so shortly leave?

Nobody thinks it strange. The world expects it, and, as a general thing, bears it patiently. Knowing how universal is this spirit of forbearance, I should, perhaps, have forever held my peace, lest I might abuse good-nature, had it not been for some circumstances which will be related a little farther on.

My little place of business (I am the goldsmith of our village) has long been the daily resort of several of my particular cronies. They are men of good minds,–some of them quite literary; for we count, as belonging to our set, the lawyer, the schoolmaster, the doctor, men of business, men of no business, and sometimes even the minister. As may be supposed, our discussions take a wide range: I can give no better notion of _how_ wide than to say that we discuss everything in the papers. Yesterday was a snow-storm, but the meeting was held just the same. It was in the afternoon. The schoolmaster came in late with a new magazine, from which he read, now and then, for the general edification.

“Ah!” said he, “if this be true, we can all write for the papers.”

“How’s that?” we asked.

“Why, it says here, that, if the true experience of any human heart were written, it would be worth more than the best tale ever invented.”

It was a terribly stormy day. The snow came whirling against the two windows of my shop, clinging to the outside, making it twilight within. I had given up work; for my eyes are not what they were, and I have to favor them. Nobody spoke for a while; all had been set to thinking. Those few words had sent us all back, back, back, thirty, forty, fifty years, to call up the past. We were gazing upon forms long since perished, listening to voices long ago hushed forever. Could those forms have been summoned before us, how crowded would have been my little shop! Could those voices have been heard, how terrible the discord, the cries of the wretched mingling with the shouts of the happy ones! There was a dead silence. The past was being questioned. Would it reply?

At last some one said,–

“Try it.”

“But,” said another, “it would fill a whole book.”

“Take up one branch, then; for instance, our–well, our courting-days. Let each one tell how he won his wife.”

“But shall we get any money by it?”

“To be sure we shall. Do you think people write for nothing? ‘_Worth more_’ are the very words used; ‘worth more’ _what?_ Money, of course.”

“But what shall we do with all our money?”

“Buy a library for the use of us all. We will draw lots to see who shall write first; and if he succeeds, the others can follow in order.”

And thus we agreed.

I was rather sorry the lot fell upon me; for I was always bashful, and never thought much of myself but once. I think my bashfulness was mostly owing to my knowing myself to be not very good-looking. I believe that I am not considered a bad-looking old man; indeed, people who remember me at twenty-five say that I have grown handsome every year since.

I do not intend giving a description of myself at that age, but shall confine myself principally to what was suggested by my friend, as above mentioned,–namely, how I won my wife.

It is astonishing how a man may be deluded. Knowing, as I did, just the facts in the case, regarding my face and figure, yet the last day of the year 1817 found me in the full belief that I was quite a good-looking and every way a desirable young man. This was the third article in my creed. The second was, that Eleanor Sherman loved me; and the first, that I loved her. It is curious how I became settled in the third article by means of the second.

I had spent hours before my looking-glass, trying to make it give in that I was good-looking. But never was a glass so set in its way. In vain I used my best arguments, pleaded before it hour after hour, re-brushed my hair, re-tied my cravat, smiled, bowed, and so forth, and so forth. “Ill-looking and awkward!” was my only response. At last it went so far as to intimate that I had, with all the rest, a _conceited_ look. This was not to be borne, and I withdrew in disgust. The argument should be carried on in my own heart. Pure reasoning only was trustworthy. Philosophers assured us that our senses were not to be trusted. How easy and straightforward the mental process! “Eleanor loves me; therefore I cannot look ill!”

It was on the last day of the year I have mentioned, that, just having, for the fortieth time, arrived at the above conclusion, I prepared to go forth upon the most delightful of all possible errands. All day I had been dwelling upon it, wondering at what hour it would be most proper to go. At three o’clock, I arrayed myself in my Sunday-clothes. I gave a parting glance of triumph at my glass, and stepped briskly forth upon the crispy snow. I met people well wrapped up, with mouth and nose covered, and saw men leave working to thrash their hands. It must have been cold, therefore; but I felt none of it.

Her house was half a mile distant. ‘T was on a high bank a little back from the road, of one story in front, and two at the sides. It was what was called a single house; the front showed only two windows, with a door near the corner. The sides were painted yellow, the front white, with a green door. There was an orchard behind, and two poplar-trees before it. The pathway up the bank was sprinkled with ashes. I had frequently been as far as the door with her, evenings when I waited upon her home; but I had never before approached the house by daylight,–that is, any nearer than the road. I had never _said_ anything; it wasn’t time; but I had given her several little things, and had tried to be her beau every way that I knew.

Before I began to notice her, I had never been about much with the young folks,–partly because I was bashful, and partly because I was so clumsy-looking. I was more in earnest, therefore, than if I had been in the habit of running after the girls. After I began to like her, I watched every motion,–at church, at evening meetings, at singing-school; and a glance from her eye seemed to fall right upon my heart. She had been very friendly and sociable with me, always thanked me very prettily for what little trifles I gave her, and never refused my company home. She would put her hand within my arm without a moment’s hesitation, chatting all the while, never seeming in the least to suspect the shiver of joy which shot through my whole frame from the little hand upon my coat-sleeve.

I had long been pondering in my mind, in my walks by day and my lyings-down at night, what should be the next step, what _overt act_ I might commit; for something told me it was not yet time to _say_ anything.

What could have been more fortunate for my wishes, then, than the project set on foot by the young people, of a grand sleighing-party on New-Year’s evening? They were mostly younger than myself, especially the girls. Eleanor was but seventeen, I was twenty-three. But I determined to join this party, and it was to invite Eleanor that I arrayed myself and set forth, as above mentioned. It was a bold step for a bashful man,–I mean now the _inviting_ part.

I had thought over, coming along, just what words I should use; but, as I mounted the bank, I felt the words, ideas, and all, slipping out at the ends of my fingers. If it had been a thickly settled place, I should not have thought much about being watched; but, as there was only one house in sight, I was sure that not a motion was lost, that my proceedings would be duly reported, and discussed by the whole village. All these considerations rendered my situation upon the stone step at the front-door very peculiar.

I knew the family were in the back part of the house; for the shutters of the front-room were tightly closed, as, indeed, they always were, except on grand occasions. Nevertheless, knocking at the front-door seemed the right thing to do, and I did it. With a terrible choking in my throat, and wondering all the while _who_ would come to open, I did it. I knocked three times. Nobody came. Peddlers, I had observed in like cases, opened the outside door and knocked at the inner. I tried this with no better result. I then ventured to open the inner door softly, and with feelings of awe I stood alone in the spare-room.

By the light which streamed in through the holes in the tops of the shutters I distinguished the green painted chairs backed up stiffly against the wall, the striped homespun carpet, andirons crossed in the fireplace, with shovel and tongs to match, the big Bible on the table under the glass, a _waxwork_ on the high mahogany desk in the corner, and a few shells and other ornaments upon the mantelshelf.

The terrible order and gloom oppressed me. I felt that it was no slight thing to venture thus unbidden into the spare-room,–the room set apart from common uses, and opened only on great occasions: evening-meetings, weddings, or funerals. But, in the midst of all my tribulation, one other thought would come,–I don’t exactly like to tell it, but then I believe I promised to keep nothing back;–well, then, if I must,–I thought that this spare-room was the place where Eleanor would make up the fire, when–when I was far enough along to come regularly every Sunday night. With that thought my courage revived. I heard voices in the next room, the pounding of a flat-iron, and a frequent step across the floor. I gave a loud rap. The door opened, and Eleanor herself appeared. She had on a spotted calico gown, with a string of gold beads around her neck. She held in her hand a piece of fan coral. I felt myself turning all colors, stammered, hesitated, and believed in my heart that she would think me a fool. Very likely she did; for I really suppose that she never, till then, thought that I _meant anything_.

She contrived, however, to pick out my meaning from the midst of the odd words and parts of sentences offered her, and replied that she would let me know that evening. As she did not invite me to the kitchen, the only thing left me to do was to say good-afternoon and depart. I don’t know which were the queerest,–my feelings in going up or in coming down the bank.

When fairly in the road, happening to glance back at the house, I saw that one half of a shutter was open, and that a man was watching me. He drew back before I could recognize him. That evening was singing-school. That was why I went to invite Eleanor in the afternoon. I was afraid some other fellow would ask her before school was out.

When I got there, I found all the young folks gathered about the stove. Something was going on. I pressed in, and found Harry Harlow. He had been gone a year at sea, and had arrived that forenoon in the stage from Boston. They were all listening to his wonderful stories.

When school was over, I stepped up close to Eleanor and offered my arm. She drew back a little, and handed me a small package. Harry stepped up on the other side. She took his arm, and they went off slowly together. I stood still a moment to watch them. When they turned the corner, I went off alone. Confounded, wonder-struck, I plunged on through the snow-drifts, seeing, feeling, knowing nothing but the package in my hand. I found mother sitting by the fire. She and I lived together,–she and I, and that was all. I knew I should find her with her little round table drawn up to the fire, her work laid aside, and the Bible open. She never went to bed with me out.

I didn’t want to tell her. I wouldn’t for the world, if I could have had the opening of my package all to myself. She asked me if I had fastened the back-door. I sat down by the fire and slowly undid the string. A silver thimble fell on the bricks. There was also an artificial flower made of feathers, a copy of verses headed “To a Pair of Bright Eyes,” cut from the county newspaper, a cherry-colored neck-ribbon, a smelling-bottle, and, at the bottom, a note. I knew well enough what was in the note.


“I must decline your invitation to the sleigh-ride; and I hope you will not be offended, if I ask you not to go about with me any more. I think you are a very good young man, and, as an acquaintance, I like you very much.

“Respectfully yours,


“P.S.–With this note you will find the things you have given me.”

I took the iron tongs which stood near, picked up the thimble and dropped it into the midst of the hot coals, then the flower, then the verses, then the ribbon, then the smelling-bottle, and would gladly have added myself.

My mother and I were everything to each other. We two were all that remained of a large family. I had always confided in her; but still I was sorry that I had opened the package there. I might have taken it to my chamber. But then she would have known, she _must_ have known from my manner, that something was wrong with me. I think, on the whole, I was glad to have her know the worst. I knew that my mother worshipped me; but she was not one of those who let their feelings be seen on common occasions. I gave her the note, and no more was needed. She tried to comfort me, as mothers will; but I would not be comforted. It was my first great heart-trouble, and I was weighed down beneath it. She drew me towards her, I leaned my head upon her shoulder, and was not ashamed that she knew of the hot tears upon my cheeks. At last I heard her murmuring softly,–

“Oh, what shall I do? He is all I have, and he is so miserable! How can I bear his sorrow?”

I think it was the recollection of these words which induced me afterwards to hide my feelings, that she might not suffer on my account.

The next day was clear and bright. The sleighing was perfect. I was miserable. I had not slept. I could not eat. I dared not go into the village to encounter the jokes which I was certain awaited me there. Early in the evening, just as the moon rose, I took my stand behind a clump of trees, half-way up a hill, where I knew the sleighs must pass.

There I stood, feeling neither cold nor weariness, waiting, watching, listening for the sleigh-bells. At last I heard them, first faintly, then louder and louder, until they reached the bottom of the hill. Slowly they came up, passing, one after another, by my hiding-place. There were ten sleighs in all. She and Harry were in the fourth. The moon shone full in their faces, and his looked just as I had often felt; but I had never dared to show it as Harry did. I felt sure that he would kiss her. A blue coverlet was wrapped around them, and he was tucking it in on her side. The hill was steep just there, so that they were obliged to move quite slowly. They were talking earnestly, and I heard my name. I was not sure at first; but afterwards I knew.

“I never thought of his being in earnest before. He is a great deal older than I, and I never thought that anybody so homely and awkward as he could suppose”–

“Jingle, jingle, jingle,” and that was all I heard. I held myself still, watched the sleighs disappear, one after another, over the brow of the hill, listened till the last note of the last bell was lost in the distance, then turned and ran.

I ran as if I had left my misery behind, and every step were taking me farther from it. But when I reached home, there it was, aching, aching in my heart, just the same as before. And there it stayed. Even now, I can hardly bear to think of those terrible days and nights. But for my mother’s sake I tried to seem cheerful, though I no longer went about with the young folks. I applied myself closely to my business, sawed my mother’s wood for exercise, learned to paint, and read novels and poetry for amusement.

Thus time passed on. The little boys began to call themselves young men, and me an old _bach_; and into this character I contentedly settled down. My wild oats, of which I had had but scant measure, I considered sown. My sense of my own ill-looks became morbid. I hardly looked at a female except my mother, lest she’d think that I “_could suppose_.” The old set were mostly married off. Eleanor married the young sailor. People spoke of her as being high-tempered, as being extravagant, spending in fine clothes the money he earned at the risk of his life. I don’t know that it made any difference to my feelings. It might. At the time she turned me off, I think I should have married her, knowing she had those faults. But she removed to the city, and by degrees time and absence wore off the edge of my grief. My mother lost part of her little property, and I was obliged to exert myself that she might miss none of her accustomed comforts. She was a good mother, thoughtful and tender, sympathizing not only in my troubles, but in my every-day pursuits, my work, my books, my paintings.

When I was about thirty, Jane Wood came to live near us. Her mother and young sister came with her. They rented a small house just across the next field from us. Although ours, therefore, might have been considered an infected neighborhood, yet I never supposed myself in the slightest danger, because I had had the disease. Nevertheless, having an abiding sense of my own ugliness, I should not have ventured into the immediate presence of the Woods, _except_ on works of necessity and mercy.

The younger sister was taken very ill with the typhus fever. It was customary, in our village, for the neighbors, in such cases, to be very helpful. Mother was with them day and night, and, when she could not go herself, used to send me to see if they wanted anything, for they had no men-folks.

I seldom saw Jane, and when I did, I never looked at her. I mean, I did not look her full in the face. It was to her mother that I made all my offers of assistance.

This habit of shunning the society of all young females, and particularly of the Wood girls, was by no means occasioned by any fears in regard to my own safety. Far from it. I considered myself as one set apart from all mankind,–set apart, and fenced in, by my own personal disadvantages. The thought of my caring for a girl, or of being cared for by a girl, never even occurred to me. “Taboo,” so far as I was concerned, was written upon them all. The marriage state I saw from afar off. Beautiful and bright it looked in the distance, like the Promised Land to true believers. Some visions I beheld of its beautiful angels walking in shining robes; strains of its sweet melody were sometimes wafted across the distance; but I might never enter there. It was no land of promise to me. A gulf, dark and impassable, lay between. And beside all this, as I have already intimated, I considered myself out of danger. My life’s lesson had been learned. I knew it by heart. What more could be expected of me?

But, after all, we can’t go right against our natures; and it is not the nature of man to look upon the youthful and the elderly female exactly in the same light. The feelings with which they are approached are essentially different, whether he who approaches be seventeen or seventy. Thus, in conversing with the old lady Wood, I was quite at my ease. When the invalid began to get well, I often carried her nice little messes, which my mother prepared, and was generally lucky enough to find Mrs. Wood,–for I always went in at the back-door. She asked me, one day, if I could lend Ellen something to read,–for she was then just about well enough to amuse herself with a book, but not strong enough to work. Now I always had (so my mother said) a kind and obliging way with me, and had, besides, a great pride in my library. I was delighted that anybody wanted to read my books, and hurried home to make a selection.

That very afternoon, I took over an armful. Nobody was in the kitchen; so I sat down to wait. The door of the little keeping-room was open, and I knew by their voices that some great discussion was going on. I tipped over a cricket to make them aware of my presence. The door was opened wide, and Mrs. Wood appeared.

“Now here is Mr. Allen,” she exclaimed. “Let us get his opinion.”

Then she took me in, where they were holding solemn council over a straw bonnet and various colored ribbons. She introduced me to Ellen, whom I had never before met. She was a merry-looking, black-eyed maiden, and the roses were already blooming out again upon her cheeks. She was very young,–not more than fifteen or sixteen.

“Now, Mr. Allen,” said Jane, (she was not so bashful to me as I was to her,) “let us have your opinion upon these trimmings. Remember, though, that pink and blue can’t go together.”

She turned her face full upon me, and I looked straight into her eyes. I really believe it was the first time I had done so. They were beautifully blue, with long dark lashes. She had been a little excited by the discussion, and her cheeks were like two roses. A strange boldness came over me.

“How can I remember that,” I answered, “when I see in your face that pink and blue _do_ go together?”

Never, till within a few years, could I account for this sudden boldness. I have now no doubt that I spoke by what spiritualists call “impression.” We were all surprised, and I most of all. Jane laughed, and looked pinker than before. She would as soon have expected a compliment from the town pump, and I felt it.

I knew nothing of bonnets, but I had studied painting, and was a judge of colors. I made a selection, and could see that they were again surprised at my good taste. I then offered my books, spoke of the different authors, turned to what I thought might particularly please them, and, before I knew it, was all aglow with the unusual excitement of conversation. I saw that they were not without cultivation, and that they had a quick appreciation of literary merit.

And thus an acquaintance commenced. I called often, for it seemed a pleasant thing to do. As my excuse, I took with me my books, papers, and all the new publications which reached me. I always thought they appeared very glad to see me.

Being strangers in the place, they saw but little company, and it seemed to be nothing more than my duty to call in now and then in a neighborly way. I talked quite easily; for among books I felt at home. They talked easily, too; for they (I say it in no ill-natured way) were women. They began to consider my frequent calling as a matter of course, and always smiled upon me when I entered. I felt that they congratulated themselves upon finding me out. They had penetrated the ice, and found open sea beyond. I speak of it in this way, because I afterwards overheard Ellen joking her sister about discovering the Northwest Passage to my heart.

This was in the fall of the year, when the evenings were getting quite long. They were fond of reading, but had not much time for it. I was fond of reading, and had many long evenings at my disposal. It followed, therefore, that I read aloud, while they worked. With the “Pink and Blue” just opposite, I read evening after evening. At first I used to look up frequently, to see how such and such a passage would strike her; but one evening Ellen asked me, in a laughing, half-saucy sort of way, why I didn’t look at _her_ sometimes to see how _she_ liked things. This made me color up; and Jane colored up, too. After that I kept my eyes on my book; but I always knew when she stopped her work and raised her head at the interesting parts, and always hoped she didn’t see the red flushes spreading over my face, and always wished, too, that she would look away,–for, somehow, my voice would not go on smoothly.

Those red flushes were to myself most mysterious. Nevertheless, they continued, and even appeared to be on the increase. At first, I felt them only while reading; then, upon entering the room; and at last they began to come before I got across the field. Still I felt no real uneasiness, but, on the contrary, was glad I could be of so much use to the family. Never before was the want of men-folks felt so little by a family of women-folks. I did errands, split kindling, dug “tracks,” (_i. e._, paths in the snow,) and glued broken furniture.

I always thought of Jane as “Pink and Blue.” Sometimes I thought from her manner that she would a little rather I wouldn’t come so often. I thought she didn’t look up at me so pleasantly as she used to at first, and seemed a little stiff; but, as I had a majority in my favor, I continued my visits. I always had one good look at her when I said good-night; but it made the red come, so that I had to hurry out before she saw. It seemed to me that her cheeks then looked pinker than ever, and the two colors, pink and blue, seemed to mingle and float before my eyes all the way home. “Pink and blue,” “pink and blue.” How those two little words kept running in my head, and, I began to fear, in my heart too!–for no sooner would I close my eyes at night than those delicate pink cheeks and blue eyes would appear before me. They haunted my dreams, and were all ready to greet me at waking.

I was completely puzzled. It reminded me of old times. Seemed just like being in love again. Could it be possible that I was liable to a second attack?

One night I took a new book and hurried across the field to the Woods’, for I never was easy till I saw “Pink and Blue” face to face; and then,–why, then, I was not at all easy. I felt the red flushes coming long before I reached the house. As soon as I entered the room, I felt that she was missing. I must have looked blank; for Mrs. Wood began to explain immediately, that Jane was not well, and had gone to bed;–nothing serious; but she had thought it better for her not to sit up. I remained and read as usual, but, as it seemed to me, to bare walls. I had become so accustomed to reading with “Pink and Blue” just opposite, to watching for the dropping of her work and the raising of her eyes to my face, that I really seemed on this occasion to be reading to no purpose whatever. I went home earlier than usual, very sober and very full of thought. My mother noticed it, and inquired if they were well at Mrs. Wood’s. So I told her about Jane.

That night my eyes were fully opened. I was in love. Yes, the old disease was upon me, and my last state was worse than my first,–just as much so as Jane was superior to Eleanor. The discovery threw me into the greatest distress. Hour after hour I walked the floor, in my own chamber, trying to reason the love from my heart,–but in vain; and at length, tossing myself on the bed, I almost cursed the hour in which I first saw the Woods. I called myself fool, dolt, idiot, for thus running my head a second time into the noose. It may seem strange, but the thought that she might possibly care for me never once occurred to my mind. Eleanor’s words in the sleigh still rang in my ears: “I never thought that anybody so homely and awkward could suppose”–No, I must not “suppose.” Once, in the midst of it all, I calmed down, took a light, and, very deliberately walking to the glass, took a complete view of my face and figure,–but with no other effect than to settle me more firmly in my wretchedness. Towards morning I grew calmer, and resolved to look composedly upon my condition, and decide what should be done.

While I was considering whether or not to continue my visits at the Woods’, I fell asleep just where I had thrown myself, outside the bed, in overcoat and boots. I dreamed of seeing “Pink and Blue” carried off by some horrid monster,–which, upon examination, proved to be myself. The sun shining in my face woke me, and I remembered that I had decided upon nothing. The best thing seemed to be to snap off the acquaintance and quit the place. But then I could not leave my mother. No, I must keep where I was,–and if I kept where I was, I must keep on at the Woods’,–and if I kept on at the Woods’, I should keep on feeling just as I did, and perhaps–more so. I resolved, finally, to remain where I was, and to take no abrupt step, (which might cause remark,) but to break off my visits gradually. The first week, I could skip one night,–the next, two,–and so on,–using my own judgment about tapering off the acquaintance gradually and gracefully to an imperceptible point. The way appearing plain at last, how that _unloving_ might be made easy, I assumed a cheerful air, and went down to breakfast. My mother looked up rather anxiously at my entrance; but her anxiety evidently vanished at sight of my face.

It did not seem to me quite right to forsake the Woods that morning; for some snow had fallen during the night, and I felt it incumbent upon me to dig somewhat about the doors. With my trousers tucked into my boots, I trod a new path across the field. It would have seemed strange not to go in; so I went in and warmed my feet at the kitchen-fire. Only Mrs. Wood was there; but I made no inquiries. Not knowing what to say, I rose to go; but, just at that minute, the mischievous Ellen came running out of the keeping-room and wanted to know where I was going. Why didn’t I come in and see Jane? So I went in to see Jane, saying my prayers, as I went,–that is, praying that I might not grow foolish again. But I did. I don’t believe any man could have helped it. She was reclining upon a couch which was drawn towards the fire. I sat down as far from that couch as the size of the room would allow. She looked pale and really ill, but raised her blue eyes when she said good-morning; and then–the hot flushes began to come. She looked red, too, and I thought she had a settled fever. I wanted to say something, but didn’t know what. Some things seemed too warm, others too cold. At last I thought,–“Why, _anybody_ can say to anybody, ‘How do you do?'” So I said,–

“Miss Wood, how do you do, this morning?”

She looked up, surprised; for I tried hard to stiffen my words, and had succeeded admirably.

“Not very unwell, I thank you, Sir,” she replied; but I knew she was worse than the night before. My situation grew unbearable, and I rose to go.

“Mr. Allen, what do you think about Jane?” said Ellen. “You know about sickness, don’t you? Come, feel her pulse, and see if she will have a fever.” And she drew me towards the lounge.

My heart was in my throat, and my face was on fire. Jane flushed up, and I thought she was offended at my presumption. What could I do? Ellen held out to me the little soft hand; but I dared not touch it, unless I asked her first.

“Miss Wood,” I asked, “shall I mind Ellen?”

“Of course you will,” exclaimed Ellen. “Tell him yes, Jane.”

Then Jane smiled and said,–

“Yes, if he is willing.”

And I took her wrist in my thumb and finger. The pulse was quick and the skin dry and hot. I think I would have given a year’s existence to clasp that hand between my own, and to stroke down her hair. I hardly knew how I didn’t do it; and the fear that I should made me drop her arm in a hurry, as if it had burned my fingers. Ellen stared. I bade them good-morning abruptly, and left the room and the house. “This, then,” I thought, as I strode along towards the village, “is the beginning of the ending!”

That evening, I felt in duty bound to go, as a neighbor, to inquire for the sick. I went, but found no one below. When Ellen came down, she said that Jane was quite ill. I remained in the keeping-room all the evening, mostly alone, asked if I could do anything for them, and obtained some commissions for the next day at the village.

Jane’s illness, though long, was not dangerous,–at least, not to her. To me it was most perilous, particularly the convalescence; for then I could be of so much use to her! The days were long and spring-like. Wild flowers appeared. She liked them, and I managed that she should never be without a bunch of them. She liked paintings, and I brought over my own portfolio. She must have wondered at the number of violets and roses therein. The readings went on and seemed more delicious than ever. I owned a horse and chaise, and for a whole week debated whether it would be safe for me to take her to drive. But I didn’t; for I should have been obliged to hand her in, to help her out, and to sit close beside her all alone. All that could never be done without my betraying myself. But she got well without any drives; and by the latter part of April, when the evenings had become very short, I thought it high time to begin to skip one. I began on Monday. I kept away all day, all the evening, and all the next day. Tuesday evening, just before dark, I took the path across the field. The two girls were at work making a flower-garden. “Pink and Blue” had a spade, and was actually spading up the ground. I caught it from her hand so quickly that she looked up almost frightened. Her face was flushed with exercise; but her blue eyes looked tired. How I reproached myself for not coming sooner! At dark, I went in with them. We took our accustomed seats, and I read. “Paradise regained” was what I kept thinking of. Once, when I moved my seat, that I might be directly opposite Jane, who was lying on the coach, I thought I saw Ellen and her mother exchange glances. I was suspected, then,–and with all the pains I had taken, too. This rather upset me; and what with my joy at being with Jane, my exertions to hide it, and my mortification at being discovered, my reading, I fear, was far from satisfactory.

The next morning I went early to the flower-garden, and, before anybody was stirring, had it all hoed and raked over, so that no more hard work could be done there. I didn’t go in. Thursday night I went again, and again Saturday night. The next week I skipped two evenings, and the next, three, and flattered myself I was doing bravely. Jane never asked me why I came so seldom, but Ellen did frequently; and I always replied that I was very busy. Those were truly days of suffering. Nevertheless, having formed my resolution, I determined to abide by it. God only knew what it cost me. On the beautiful May mornings, and during the long “after tea,” which always comes into country-life, I could watch them, watch her, from my window, while the planting, watering, and weeding went on in the flower-garden. I saw them go in at dark, saw the light appear in the keeping-room, and fancied them sitting at their work, wondering, perhaps, that nobody came to read to them.

One day, when I had not been there for three days and nights, I received, while at work in my shop, a sudden summons from home. My mother, the little boy said, was very sick. I hurried home in great agitation. I could not bear the thought that sickness or death should reach my dear mother. Mrs. Wood met me at the door, to say that a physician had been sent for, but that my mother was relieved and there was no immediate danger. I hurried to her chamber and found–Jane by her bedside. For all my anxiety about my mother, I felt the hot flush spreading over my face. It seemed so good to see her taking care of my mother! In my agitation, I caught hold of her hand and spoke before I thought.

“Oh, Jane,” I whispered, “I am so glad you are here!”

Her face turned as red as fire. I thought she was angry at my boldness, or, perhaps, because I called her Jane.

“Excuse me,” said I. “I am so agitated about mother that I hardly know what I am about.”

When the doctor came, he gave hopes that my mother would recover; but she never did. She suffered little, but grew weaker and weaker every day. Jane was with her day and night; for my mother liked her about her bed better than anybody. Oh, what a strange two weeks were those! My mother was so much to me, how could I give her up? She was the only person on earth who cared for me, and she must die! Yet side by side in my heart with this great grief was the great joy of living, day after day, night after night, under the same roof with Jane. By necessity thrown constantly with her, feeling bound to see that she, too, did not get sick, with watching and weariness,–yet feeling myself obliged to measure my words, to keep up an unnatural stiffness, lest I should break down, and she know all my weakness!

At last all was over,–my mother was dead. It is of no use,–I never can put into words the frenzied state of my feelings at that time. I had not even the poor comfort of grieving like other people. I ground my teeth and almost cursed myself, when the feeling would come that sorrow for my mother’s death was mingled with regrets that there was no longer any excuse for my remaining in the same neighborhood with Jane. I reproached myself with having made my mother’s death-bed a place of happiness; for my conscience told me that those two weeks had been, in one sense, the happiest of my life.

By what I then experienced I knew that our connection must be broken off entirely. Half-way work had already been tried too long. Sitting by the dead body of my mother, gazing upon that face which, ever since I could remember, had reflected my own joys and sorrows, I resolved to decide once for all upon my future course. I was without a single tie. In all the wide world, not a person cared whether I lived or died. One part of the wide world, then, was as good for me as another. There was but one little spot where I must not remain; all the rest was free to me. I took the map of the world. I was a little past thirty, healthy, and should probably, accidents excepted, live out the time allotted to man. I divided the land mapped out before me into fifteen portions. I would live two years in each; then, being an old man, I would gradually draw nearer to this forbidden “little spot,” inquire what had become of the Woods, and settle down in the same little house, patiently to await my summons. My future life being thus all mapped out, I arose with calmness to perform various little duties which yet remained to be done before the funeral could take place.

Beautiful flowers were in the room; a few white ones were at my mother’s breast. Jane brought them. She had done everything, and I had not even thanked her. How could I, in that stiff way I had adopted towards her?

My father was buried beneath an elm-tree, at the farthest corner of the garden. I had my mother laid by his side. When the funeral was over, Mrs. Wood and her daughters remained at the house to arrange matters somewhat, and to give directions to the young servant, who was now my only housekeeper. At one time I was left alone with Jane; the others were up stairs. Feeling that any emotion on my part might reasonably be attributed to my affliction, I resolved to thank her for her kindness. I rushed suddenly up to her, and, seizing her hand, pressed it between my own.

“I want to thank you, Jane,” I began, “but–I cannot.”

And I could not, for I trembled all over, and something choked me so that I could not speak more.

“Oh, don’t, Mr. Allen!” she said; and the tone in which she uttered the words startled me.

It seemed as if they came from the very depths of her being. Feeling that I could not control myself, I rushed out and gained my own chamber. What passed there between myself and my great affliction can never be told.

In a week’s time all was ready for my departure. I gave away part of the furniture to some poor relations of my father’s. My mother’s clothing and the silver spoons, which were marked with her maiden name, I locked up in a trunk, and asked Mrs. Wood to take care of it. She inquired where I was going, and I said I didn’t know. I didn’t, for I was not to decide until I reached Boston. I think she thought my mind was impaired by grief, and it was. I spent the last evening there. They knew I was to start the next forenoon in the stage, and they really seemed very sober. No reading was thought of. Jane had her knitting-work, and Mrs. Wood busied herself about her mending. The witchy little Ellen was quite serious. She sat in a low chair by the fire, sometimes stirring up the coals and sometimes the conversation. Jane appeared restless. I feared she was overwearied with watching and her long attendance on my mother, for her face was pale and she had a headache. She left the room several times. I felt uneasy while she was out; but no less so when she came back,–for there was a strange look about her eyes.

At last I summoned all my courage and rose to depart.

“I will not say good-bye,” I said, in a strange, hollow voice; “I will only shake hands, and bid you good-night.”

I shook hands with them all,–Jane last. Her hand was as cold as clay. I dared not try to speak, but rushed abruptly from the house. Another long night of misery!

When I judged, from the sounds below stairs, that my little servant had breakfast ready, I went down and forced myself to eat; for I was feeling deathly faint, and knew I needed food. I gave directions for the disposition of some remaining articles, and for closing the house, then walked rapidly towards the public-house in the village, where my trunks had already been carried. I was very glad that I should not have to pass the Woods’. I saw the girls out in their garden just before I left, and took a last long look, but was sorry I did; it did me no good.

I was to go to Boston in the stage, and then take a vessel to New York, whence I might sail for any part of the world. When I arrived at the tavern, the Boston stage was just in, and the driver handed me a letter. It was from the mate of the vessel, saying that his sailing would be delayed two days, and requesting me to take a message from him to his family, who lived in a small village six miles back from what was called the stage-road. I went on horseback, performed my errand, dined with the family, and returned at dark to the inn. After supper, it occurred to me to go to the Woods’ and surprise them. I wanted to see just what they were doing, and just how they looked,–just how _she_ looked. But a moment’s reflection convinced me that I had much better not. But be quiet I could not, and I strolled out of the back-door of the inn, and so into a wide field behind. There was a moon, but swift dark clouds were flying across it, causing alternate light and shadow. I strayed on through field and meadow, hardly knowing whither I went, yet with a half-consciousness that I should find myself at the end by my mother’s grave. I felt, therefore, no surprise when I saw that I was approaching, through a field at the back of my garden, the old elm-tree. As I drew near the grave, the moon, appearing from behind a cloud, showed me the form of a woman leaning against the tree. She wore no bonnet,–nothing but a shawl thrown over her head. Her face was turned from me, but I knew those features, even in the indistinct moonlight, and my heart gave a sudden leap, as I pressed eagerly forward. She turned in affright, half screamed, half ran, then, recognizing me, remained still as a statue.

“Mr. Allen, you here? I thought you were gone,” she said, at last.

“Jane, you here?” said I. “You ought not; the night is damp; you will get sick.”

Nevertheless, I went on talking, told what had detained me, described my journey and visit, and inquired after her family, as if I had been a month absent. I never talked so easily before; for I knew she was not looking in my face, and forgot how my voice might betray me. I spoke of my mother, of how much she was to me, of my utter loneliness, and even of my plans for the future.

“But I am keeping you too long,” I exclaimed, at last; “this evening air is bad; you must go home.”

I walked along with her, up through the garden, and along the road towards her house. I did not offer my arm, for I dared not trust myself so near. The evening wind was cool, and I took off my hat to let it blow upon my forehead, for my head was hot and my brain in a whirl. We came to a stop at the gate, beneath an apple-tree, then in full bloom. I think now that my mind at that time was not–exactly sound. The severe mental discipline which I had forced upon myself, the long striving to subdue the strongest feelings of a man’s heart, together with my real heart-grief at my mother’s death, were enough, certainly, to craze any one. I _was_ crazy; for I only meant to say “Good-bye,” but I said, “Good-bye, Jane; I would give the world to stay, but I must go.” I thought I was going to take her hand; but, instead of that, I took her face between my own two hands, and turned it up towards mine. First I kissed her cheeks. “That is for the pink,” I said. Then her eyes. “And that is for the blue. And now I go. You won’t care, will you, Jane, that I kissed you? I shall never trouble you any more; you know you will never see me again. Good-bye, Jane!”

I grasped her hand tightly and turned away. I thought I was off, but she did not let go my hand. I paused, as if to hear what she had to say. She had hitherto spoken but little; she had no need, for I had talked with all the rapidity of insanity. She tried to speak now, but her voice was husky, and she almost whispered.

“Why do you go?” she asked.

“Because I _must_, Jane,” I replied. “I _must_ go.”

“And _why_ must you go?” she asked.

“Oh, Jane, don’t ask me why I must go; you wouldn’t, if you knew”–

There I stopped. She spoke again. There was a strange tone in her voice, and I could feel that she was trembling all over.

“_Don’t_ go, Henry.”

Never before had she called me Henry, and this, together with her strong emotion and the desire she expressed for me to stay, shot a bright thought of joy through my soul. It was the very first moment that I had entertained the possibility of her caring for me. I seemed another being. Strange thoughts flashed like lightning across my mind. My resolve was taken.

“Who cares whether I go or stay?” I asked.

“_I_ care,” said she.

I took both her hands in mine, and, looking full in her face, said, in a low voice,–

“Jane, _how much_ do you care?”

“A whole heart full,” she replied, in a voice as low and as earnest as my own.

She was leaning on the fence; I leaned back beside her, for I grew sick and faint, thinking of the great joy that might be coming.

“Jane,” said I, solemnly, “you wouldn’t _marry me_, would you?”

“Certainly not,” she replied. “How can I, when you have never asked me?”

“Jane,” said I, and my voice sounded strange even to myself, “I hope you are not trifling;–you never would dare, did you know the state I am in, that I _have_ been in for–oh, so long! But I can’t have hidden all my love. Can’t you see how my life almost is hanging upon your answer? Jane, do you love me, and will you be my wife?”

“Henry,” she replied, softly, but firmly, “I _do_ love you. I have loved you a long, long time, and I shall be proud to be your wife, if–you think me worthy.”

It was more than I could bear. The sleepless nights, the days of almost entire fasting, together with all my troubles, had been too much for me. I was weak in body and in mind.

“Oh, Jane!” was all I could say. Then, leaning my head upon her shoulder, I cried like a child. It didn’t seem childish then.

“Oh, but, Henry, I won’t, then, if you feel so badly about it,” said she, half laughing. Then, changing her tone, she begged me to become calm. But in vain. The barriers were broken down, and the tide of emotion, long suppressed, must gush forth. She evidently came to this conclusion. She stood quiet and silent, and at last began timidly stroking my hair. I shall never forget the first touch of her hand upon my forehead. It soothed me, or else my emotion was spent; for, after a while, I became quite still.

“Oh, Jane,” I whispered, “my sorrow I could bear; but this strange happiness overwhelms me. Can it be true? Oh, it is a fearful thing to be so happy! How came you to love me, Jane? You are so beautiful, and I–I am so”—-

“You are so good, Henry!” she exclaimed, earnestly,–“too good for me! You are a true-hearted, noble soul, worthy the love of any woman. If you weren’t so bashful,” she continued, in a lower tone, “I should not say so much; but–do you suppose nobody is happy but yourself? There is somebody who scarcely more than an hour ago was weeping bitter tears, feeling that the greatest joy of her life was gone forever. But now her joy has returned to her, her heart is glad, she trembles with happiness. Oh, Henry, ‘it is a fearful thing to be so happy!'”

I could not answer; so I drew her close up to me. She was mine now, and why should I not press her closely to my heart,–that heart so brimful of love for her? There was a little bench at the foot of the apple-tree, and there I made her sit down by me and answer the many eager questions I had to ask. I forgot all about the dampness and the evening air. She told how her mother had liked me from the first,–how they were informed, by some few acquaintances they had made in the village, of my early disappointment, and also of the peculiar state of mind into which I was thrown by those early troubles; but when she began to love me she couldn’t tell. She had often thought I cared for her,–mentioned the day when I found her at my mother’s bedside, also the day of the funeral; but so well had I controlled my feelings that she was never sure until that night.

“I trust you will not think me unmaidenly, Henry,” said she, looking timidly up in my face. “You won’t think worse of me, will you, for–for almost offering myself to you?”

There was but one answer to this, and I failed not to give it. ‘Twas a very earnest answer, and she drew back a little. Her voice grew lower and lower, while she told how, at my shaking hands the night before, she almost fainted,–how she longed to say “Stay,” but dared not, for I was so stiff and cold: how could she say, “Don’t go, Mr. Allen; please stay and marry me”?–how she passed a wretched night and day, and walked out at evening to be alone,–how she felt that she could go nowhere but to my mother’s grave,–and, finally, how overwhelmed with joy she was when I came upon her so suddenly.

All this she told me, speaking softly and slowly, for which I was thankful; for I liked to feel the sweet words of healing, dropping one by one upon my heart.

In the midst of our talk, we heard the front-door of the house open.

“They are coming to look for me,” said Jane. “You will go in?”

Hand in hand we walked up the pathway. We met Ellen half-way down. She started with surprise at seeing me.

“Why, Mr. Allen!” she exclaimed, “I thought you a hundred miles off. Why, Jane, mother was afraid you had fallen down the well.”

She tripped gayly into the house.

“Mother!” she called out,–“you sent me for one, and I have brought you two.”

Jane and I walked in hand in hand; for I would not let her go. Her mother looked surprised, but well pleased.

“Mrs. Wood,” said I, “Jane has asked me to stay, and I am going to.”

Nothing more was needed; our faces told the rest.

“Now Heaven be praised,” she replied, “that we are still to have you with us! I could not help thinking, that, if you only knew how much we cared for you, you would not have been in such a hurry to leave us.” And she glanced significantly towards Jane.

The rest of the evening was spent in the most interesting explanations. I passed the night at the village inn, as I had intended,–passed it, not in sleep, but in planning and replanning, and in trying to persuade myself that “Pink and Blue” was my own to keep.

The next day I spent at the Woods’. It was the first really happy day of my life. In the afternoon, I took a long walk with Jane, through green lanes, and orchards white and fragrant with blossoms. In the evening, the family assembled, and we held sweet council together. It was decided unanimously, that, situated as I was, there was no reason for delaying the wedding,–that I should repossess myself of the furniture I had given away, by giving new in exchange, the old being dearer to both Jane and myself,–and, finally, that our wedding should be very quiet, and should take place as soon as Jane could be got ready. Through it all I sat like one in a dream, assenting to everything, for everything seemed very desirable.

As soon as possible, I reopened my house, and established myself there with the same little servant. It took Jane about a month to get ready, and it took me some years to feel wholly my own happiness.

The old house is still standing; but after Mrs. Wood died, and Ellen was married, we moved into the village; for the railroad came very near us, cutting right through the path “across the field.” I had the bodies of my father and mother removed to the new cemetery.

My wife has been to me a lifelong blessing, my heart’s joy and comfort. They who have not tried it can never know how much love there is in a woman’s heart. The pink still lingers on her cheek, and her blue eye has that same expression which so bewitched me in my younger days. The spell has never been broken. I am an old man and she is an old woman, and, though I don’t do it before folks, lest they call us two old fools, yet, when I come in and find her all alone, I am free to own that I do hug and kiss her, and always mean to. If anybody is inclined to laugh, let him just come and see how beautiful she is.

Our sons are away now, and all our daughters are married but one. I’m glad they haven’t taken her,–she looks so much as her mother did when I first knew her. Her name is Jane Wood Allen. She goes in the village by the name of Jennie Allen; but I like Jane better,–Jane Wood.

That is a true account of “How I won my wife.”


The street was narrow, close, and dark, And flanked with antique masonry,
The shelving eaves left for an ark But one long strip of summer sky.
But one long line to bless the eye– The thin white cloud lay not so high,
Only some brown bird, skimming nigh, From wings whence all the dew was dry
Shook down a dream of forest scents, Of odorous blooms and sweet contents,
Upon the weary passers-by.

Ah, few but haggard brows had part
Below that street’s uneven crown,
And there the murmurs of the mart
Swarmed faint as hums of drowsy noon. With voices chiming in quaint tune
From sun-soaked hulls long wharves adown, The singing sailors rough and brown
Won far melodious renown,
Here, listening children ceasing play, And mothers sad their well-a-way,
In this old breezy sea-board town.

Ablaze on distant banks she knew,
Spreading their bowls to catch the sun, Magnificent Dutch tulips grew
With pompous color overrun.
By light and snow from heaven won
Their misty web azaleas spun;
Low lilies pale as any nun,
Their pensile bells rang one by one; And spicing all the summer air
Gold honeysuckles everywhere
Their trumpets blew in unison.

Than where blood-cored carnations stood She fancied richer hues might be,
Scents rarer than the purple hood
Curled over in the fleur-de-lis.
Small skill in learned names had she, Yet whatso wealth of land or sea
Had ever stored her memory,