From: At Home and Abroad, or Things and Thoughts in Europe (1856)
Author: Margaret Fuller Ossoli
Published: and Company 1856 Boston
I HAVE too long delayed writing up my journal.—Many interesting observations slip from recollection if one waits so many days; yet, while travelling, it is almost impossible to find an hour when something of value to be seen will not be lost while writing.
I said, in closing my last, that I would write a little more about Westmoreland; but so much has happened since that I must now dismiss that region with all possible brevity.
The first day of which I wished to speak was passed in visiting Langdale, the scene of Wordsworth’s “Excursion.” Our party of eight went in two of the vehicles called cars or droskas,—open carriages, each drawn by one horse. They are rather fatiguing to ride in, but good to see from. In steep and stony places all alight, and the driver leads the horse; so many of these there are, that we were four or five hours in going ten miles, including the pauses when we wished to look.
The scenes through which we passed are, indeed, of the most wild and noble character. The wildness is not savage, but very calm. Without recurring to details, I recognized the tone and atmosphere of that noble poem, which was to me, at a feverish period in my life, as pure waters, free breezes, and cold blue sky, bringing a sense of eternity that gave an aspect of composure to the rudest volcanic wrecks of time.
We dined at a farm-house of the vale, with its stone floors, old carved cabinet (the pride of a house of this sort), and ready provision of oaten cakes. We then ascended a near hill to the waterfall called Dungeon-Ghyll Force, also a subject touched by Wordsworth’s Muse. You wind along a path for a long time, hearing the sound of the falling water, but you do not see it till, descending by a ladder the side of a ravine, you come to its very foot. You find yourself then in a deep chasm, bridged over by a narrow arch of rock; the water falls at the farther end in a narrow column. Looking up, you see the sky through a fissure so narrow as to make it look very pure and distant. One of our party, passing in, stood some time at the foot of the waterfall, and added much to its effect, as his height gave a measure by which to appreciate that of surrounding objects, and his look, by that light so pale and statuesque, seemed to inform the place with the presence of its genius.
Our circuit homeward from this grand scene led us through some lovely places, and to an outlook upon the most beautiful part of Westmoreland. Passing over to Keswick we saw Derwentwater, and near it the Fall of Lodore. It was from Keswick that we made the excursion of a day through Borrowdale to Buttermere and Crummock Water, which I meant to speak of, but I find it impossible at this moment. The mind does not now furnish congenial colors with which to represent the vision of that day; it must still wait in the mind and bide its time, again to emerge to outer air.
At Keswick we went to see a model of the Lake country which gives an excellent idea of the relative positions of all objects. Its maker had given six years to the necessary surveys and drawings. He said that he had first become acquainted with the country from his taste for fishing, but had learned to love its beauty, till the thought arose of making this model; that while engaged in it, he visited almost every spot amid the hills and commonly saw both sunrise and sunset upon them; that he was happy all the time, but almost too happy when he saw one section of his model coming out quite right, and felt sure at last that he should be quite successful in representing to others the home of his thoughts. I looked upon him as indeed an enviable man, to have a profession so congenial with his feelings, in which he had been so naturally led to do what he would be useful and pleasant for others.
Passing from Keswick through a pleasant and cultivated country, we paused at “fair Carlisle,” not voluntarily, but because we could not get the means of proceeding farther that day. So, as it was one in which
we visited its Cathedral and Castle, and trod, for the first time, in some of the footsteps of the unfortunate Queen of Scots.
Passing the next day the Border, we found the mosses all drained, and the very existence of sometime moss-troopers would have seemed problematical, but for the remains of Gilnockie,—the tower of Johnnie Armstrong, so pathetically recalled in one of the finest Scottish ballads. Its size, as well as that of other keeps, towers and castles where ruins are reverentially preserved in Scotland, give a lively sense of the time when population was so scanty, and individual manhood grew to such force. Ten men in Gilnockie were stronger then in proportion to the whole, and, probably had in them more of intelligence, resource, and genuine manly power than ten regiments now of red-coats drilled to act out manœuvres they do not understand, and use artillery which needs of them no more than the match to go off and do its hideous message.
Farther on we saw Branxholm, and the water in crossing which the Goblin Page was obliged to resume his proper shape and fly, crying, “Lost, lost, lost!” Verily, these things seem more like home than one’s own nursery, whose toys and furniture could not in actual presence engage the thoughts like these pictures made familiar as household words by the most generous, kindly genius that ever blessed this earth.
On the coach with us was a gentleman coming from London to make his yearly visit to the neighborhood of Burns, in which he was born. “I can now,” said he, “go but once a year; when a boy I never let a week pass, without visiting the house of Burns.” He afterward observed, as every step woke us to fresh recollections of Walter Scott, that Scott, with all his vast range of talent, knowledge, and activity, was a poet of the past only, and in his inmost heart wedded to the habits of a feudal aristocracy, while Burns is the poet of the present and the future, the man of the people, and throughout a genuine man. This is true enough; but for my part I cannot endure such comparison by which a breath of coolness depreciates either. Both were wanted; each acted the important part assigned him by destiny with a wonderful thoroughness and completeness. Scott breathed the breath just fleeting from the forms of ancient Scottish heroism and poesy into new,—he made for us the bridge by which we have gone into the old Ossianic hall and caught the meaning just as it was about to pass from us forever. Burns is full of the noble, genuine democracy which seeks not to destroy royalty, but to make all men kings, as he himself was, in nature and in action. They belong to the same world; they are pillars of the same church, though they uphold its starry roof from opposite sides. Burns was much the rarer man; precisely because he had most of common nature on a grand scale; his humor, his passion, his sweetness, are all his own; they need no picturesque or romantic accessories to give them due relief; looked at by all lights they are the same. Since Adam, there has been none that approached nearer fitness to stand up before God and angels in the naked majesty of manhood than Robert Burns;—but there was a serpent in his field also! Yet, but for his fault we could never have seen brought out the brave and patriotic modesty with which he owned it. Shame on him who could bear to think of fault in his rich jewel, unless reminded by such confession.
We passed Abbotsford without stopping, intending to go there on our return. Last year five hundred Americans inscribed their names in its porter’s book. A raw-boned Scotsman, who gathered his weary length into our coach on return from a pilgrimage thither, did us the favor to inform us that “Sir Walter was a vara intelligent mon,” and the guide-book mentions “the American Washington” as “a worthy old patriot.” Lord safe us, cummers, what news be there!
This letter, meant to go by the Great Britain, many interruptions force me to close, unflavored by one whiff from the smoke of Auld Reekie. More and better matter shall my next contain, for here and in the Highlands I have passed three not unproductive weeks, of which more anon.
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