Things and Thoughts in Europe . . . II.

Things and Thoughts in Europe*

Correspondence of The Tribune.[No. II.

Chester . . . Its Museum . . . Traveling Companions . . .A Bengalese . . . Westmoreland . . . Ambleside . . . Cobden and Bright . . . A Scotch Lady . . . Wordsworth . . . His Flowers . . . Miss Martineau, &c. &c.

AMBLESIDE, Westmoreland, 27 Aug. 1846.

  I forgot to mention in writing of Chester, an object which gave me pleasure. I mentioned that the wall which enclosed the old town was two miles in circumference; far beyond this stretches the modern part of Chester, and the old gateways now overarch the middle of long streets. This wall is now a walk for the inhabitants, commanding a wide prospect, and three persons could walk abreast on its smooth flags. We passed one of its picturesque towers, from whose top Charles I, poor, weak, unhappy king, looked down and saw his troops defeated by the Parliamentary army on the adjacent plain. A little farther on, one of these picturesque towers is turned to the use of a Museum whose stock, though scanty, I examined with singular pleasure, for it had been made up by truly filial contributions from all who had derived benefit from Chester, from the Marquis of Westminster, whose magnificent abode, Eton Hall, lies not far off, down to the merchant’s clerk, who had furnished it in his leisure hours with a geological chart, the soldier and sailor who sent back shells, insects, and petrifactions from their distant wanderings, and a boy of thirteen, who had made, in wood, a model of its Cathedral and even furnished it with a bell to ring out the evening chimes. Many women had been busy in filling these magazines for the instruction and pleasure of their fellow towns[illegible] Lady —, the wife of Captain of the garrison, grateful for the gratuitous admission of the soldiers once a month—a privilege of which the keeper of the Museum (a woman, also, who took an intelligent pleasure in her task) assured me that they were eager to avail themselves—had given a fine collection of butterflies, and a ship.—W. had shown an untiring diligence in adding whatever might stimulate or gratify imperfectly educated minds. I like to see women perceive that there are other ways of doing good beside making clothes for the poor or teaching Sunday-school; these are well, if well-directed, but there are many other ways, some as sure and surer, and which benefit the giver no less than the receiver.

  I was waked from sleep at the Chester Inn by a loud dispute between the chambermaid and an unhappy gentleman, who insisted that he had engaged the room in which I was, had returned to sleep in it, and consequently must do so. To her assurances that the lady was long since in possession, he was deaf; but the lock, fortunately for me, proved a stronger defence. With all a chambermaid’s morality, the maiden boasted to me, “He said he had engaged 44, and would not believe me when I assured him it was 46; indeed, how could he? I did not believe myself.” To my assurance that if I had known the room was his I should not have wished for it, but preferred taking a worse, I found her a polite but incredulous listener.

  Passing from Liverpool to Lancaster by railroad, that convenient but most unprofitable and stupid way of traveling, we there took the canal-boat to Kendal, and passed pleasantly through a country of that soft, that refined and cultivated loveliness, which, however and forever we have heard of it, feeds the American eye—accustomed to so much wildness, so much rudeness, such a corrosive action of man upon nature—wholly unprepared. I feel all the time as if in a sweet dream, and dread to be presently awakened by some rude jar or glare, but none comes, and here in Westmoreland—but wait a moment, before we speak of that.

  In the canal-boat we found two well-bred English gentlemen, apparently belonging to the “hupper hairy-stokracy,” and two well-informed German gentlemen, with whom we had some agreeable talk. With one of the former was a beautiful youth about eighteen, whom I supposed, at the first glance, to be a type of that pure East-Indian race whose beauty I had never seen represented before except in pictures; and he made a picture, from which I could scarcely take my eyes a moment, and could as ill endure to part. He was dressed in a broadcloth robe richly embroidered, leaving his throat and the upper part of his neck bare, except that he wore a heavy gold chain. A rich shawl was thrown gracefully around him, the sleeves of his robe were loose, with white sleeves below. He wore a black satin cap. The whole effect of this dress was very fine yet simple, setting off to the utmost advantage the distinguished beauty of his features, in which there was a mingling of national pride, voluptuous sweetness in that unconscious state of reverie when it affects us as it does in the flower, and intelligence in its newly awakened purity. As he turned his head, his profile was like one I used to have of Love asleep, while Psyche leans over him with the lamp, but his front face, with the full summery look of the eye, was unlike that. He was a Bengalese living in England for his education, as several others are at present. He spoke English well and conversed on several subjects, literary and political, with grace, fluency, and delicacy of thought. Passing from Kendal to Ambleside, we found a charming abode furnished us by the care of a friend in one of the stone cottages of this region, almost the only one not ivy-wreathed, but commanding a beautiful view of the mountains, and truly an English home in its neatness, quiet, and delicate, noiseless attention to the wants of all within its walls. Here we have passed eight happy days, varied by many drives, boating excursions on Grasmere and Winandermere, and the society of general agreeable persons. As the Lake district at this season draws together all kinds of people, and a great variety beside come from all quarters to inhabit the charming dwellings that adorn its hillsides and shores, I met and saw a good deal of the representations of various classes at once. I found here two landed proprietors from other parts of England, both “traveled English,” one owning a property in Greece, where he frequently resides, both warmly engaged in Reform measures, anti-Corn Law, anti-Capital Punishment—one of them an earnest student of Emerson’s Essays. Both of them had wives, who kept pace with their projects and their thoughts, active and intelligent women, true ladies, skillful in drawing and music; all the better wives for the development of every power. One of them told me, with a glow of pride, that it was not long since her husband had been “cut” by — all his neighbors among the gentry for the part he took against the Corn-Laws, but, she added, he was now a favorite with them all. Verily, faith will remove mountains, if only you do join with it any fair portion of the dove and serpent attributes.

  I found here, too, a wealthy Manufacturer, who has written many valuable pamphlets on popular subjects. He said: “Now that the progress of public opinion was beginning to make the Church and the Army narrower fields for the younger sons of ‘noble’ families, they sometimes wished to enter into trade, but, beside the aversion which had been instilled into them for many centuries, they had rarely patience and energy for the apprenticeship needed to give the needed knowledge of the world and habits of labor.” Of Cobden he said: “He is inferior in acquirements to very many of his class, as he is self-educated and had every thing to learn after he was grown up, but in clear insight there is none like him.” —A man of very little education, whom I met a day or two after in the stage-coach, observed to me: “Bright is far the more eloquent of the two, but Cobden is more felt, just because his speeches are so plain, so merely matter-of-fact and to the point.”

  We became acquainted also with Dr. Gregory, Professor of Chemistry at Edinburgh, a very enlightened and benevolent man, who was in many ways of instruction and other benefit to us. He is the friend of Liebig, and one of his chief representatives here. A pamphlet, lately translated by him from the German, was noticed in the “Evening Post” a short time before I left New-York, and the same extracts should have appeared in “The Tribune.” I will here give the name of the pamphlet, as it is calculated to instruct so many in the United States, and will be sent for if known to exist. It is “Abstract of Researches on Magnetism, and on certain allied subjects, including a supposed new Imponderable, by Baron Von Reichenbach, translated and abridged from the German by William Gregory, M.D., F.R.S.E., M.R.I.A., Professor of Chemistry.” (I give all these letters of the alphabet, because I have observed that with many persons they lend a charm to a work.)

  We also met a fine specimen of the noble, intelligent Scotch woman, such as Walter Scott and Burns knew how to prize. Seventy-six years have passed over her head, only to prove in her the truth of my theory that we need never grow old. She was “brought up” in the animated and intellectual circle of Edinburgh, in youth an apt disciple, in her prime a bright ornament of that society. She had been an only child, a cherished wife, an adored mother, unspoiled by love in any of these relations, because that love was founded on knowledge. I childhood she had warmly sympathized in the spirit that animated the American Revolution, and Washington had been her hero; later the interest of her husband in every struggle for freedom had cherished her own; she had known in the course of her long life many eminent men, knew minutely the history of efforts in that direction, and sympathized now in the triumph of the people over the Corn-Laws, as she had in the American victories with as much ardor as when a girl, though with a wiser mind. Her eye was full of light, her manner and gesture of dignity; her voice rich, sonorous, and finely modulated; her tide of talk marked by candor, justice, —showing in every sentence her ripe experience and her noble, genial nature. Dear to memory will be the sight of her in the beautiful seclusion of her home among the mountains, a picturesque, flower-wreathed dwelling, where affection, tranquility and wisdom were the gods of the hearth, to whom was offered no vain oblation. Grant us more such women, Time! Grant to men the power to reverence, to seek for such!

  Our visit to Mr. Wordsworth was very pleasant. He, also, is seventy-six, but his is a florid, fair old age. He walked with us to all his haunts about the house. Its situation is beautiful, and the “Rydalian Laurels” are magnificent. Still I saw abodes among the hills that I should have preferred for Wordsworth; more wild and still, more romantic—the fresh and lovely Rydal Mount seems merely the retirement of a gentleman rather than the haunt of a Poet. He showed his benignity of disposition in several little things, especially in his attentions to a young boy we had with us. This boy had left the Circus, exhibiting its feats of horsemanship in Ambleside “for that day only,” at his own desire to see Wordsworth, and I feared he would be disappointed, as I know I should have been at his age if, when called to see a Poet, I had found no Apollo, flaming with youthful glory, laurel-crowned and lyre in hand, but, instead, a reverend old man clothed in black, and walking with cautious step along the level garden path; however, he was not disappointed, but seemed in timid reverence to recognize the spirit that had dictated “Laodamia” and “Dein,”—and Wordsworth, in his turn, seemed to feel and prize a congenial nature in this child.

  Taking us into the house, he showed us the picture of his sister, repeating with much expression some lines of hers, and those so famous of his about her, beginning “Five years,” &c.; also his own picture by Inman, of whom he spoke with esteem. I had asked to see a picture in that room, which has been described in one of the finest of his later poems.

  There cannot be a better occasion to re-present, or, in many case, present for the first time, to the love of the reading world, a part of one of the finest descriptive poems extant:

Suggested by a Portrait from the Pencil of F. Stone.
BEGUILED into forgetfulness of care
Due to the day’s unfinished task, of pen
Or book regardless, and of that fair scene
In Nature’s prodigality displayed
Before my window, oftentimes and long
I gaze upon a portrait whose mild gleam
Of beauty never ceases to enrich
The common light; whose stillness charms the air
Or seem to charm it into like repose;
Whose silence for the pleasure of the ear
Surpasses sweetest music. There she sits
With emblematic purity attired
In a white vest, white as her marble neck
Is, and the pillar of the throat would be
But for the shadow by the drooping chin
Cast into that recess—the tender shade,
The shade and light, both there and every where,
And through the very atmosphere she breathes,
Broad, clear, and toned harmoniously, with skill
That might from Nature have been learnt in the hour
When the lone shepherd sees the morning spread
Upon the mountains. Look at her, whoe’er
Thou be, that kindling with a Poet’s soul
Hast loved the Painter’s true Promethean craft
Intensely—from imagination take
The treasure, what mine eyes behold see thou,
Even though the Atlantic Ocean roll between.
A silver line, that from brow to crown,
And in the middle parts the braided hair,
Just serves to show how delicate a soil
The golden harvest grows in; and those eyes,
Soft and capacious as a cloudless sky
Whose azure depth their color emulates,
Must needs be conversant with upward looks,
Prayer’s voiceless service; but now, seeking nought
And shunning nought, their own peculiar life
Of motion, they renounce, and with the head
Partake its inclination toward earth
In humble grace, and quiet pensiveness
Caught at the point where it stops short of sadness.
Offspring of soul-bewitching art, make me
Thy confidant! say, whence derived that air
Of calm abstraction? Can the ruling thought
Be with some lover far away, or one
Crossed by misfortune, or of doubted faith?
Inapt conjecture! Childhood here, a moon
Crescent in simple loveliness serene,
Has but approached the gates of womanhood,
Not entered them; her heart is yet unpierced
By the blind archer god, her fancy free;
The fount of feeling, if unsought elsewhere,
Will not be found.
                      Her right hand, as it lies
Across the slender wrist of the left arm
Upon her lap reposing, holds—but mark
How slackly, for the absent mind permits
No firmer grasp—a little wild-flower, joined
As in raposy, with a few pale ears
Of yellowing corn, the same that overtopped
And in their common birthplace sheltered it
‘Till they were plucked together; a blue flower
Called by the thrifty husbandman a weed;
But Ceres, in her garland, might have worn
That ornament unblamed. The floweret, held
In scarcely conscious fingers, was, she knows,
(Her father told her so) in youth’s gay dawn
Her mother’s favorite; and the orphan girl,
In her own dawn—a dawn less gay and bright,
Loves it while there in solitary peace
She sits, for that departed mother’s sake
—Not from a source less sacred is derived
(Surely I do not err) that pensive air
Of calm abstraction through the face diffused
And the whole person.
                   Words have something told,
More than the pencil can, and verily
More than is needed, but for the precious art
Forgives their interference—art divine,
Of death and time, the marvels it hath wrought.
Strange contrasts have we in this world of ours!
That posture and the look of filial love
Thinking of the past and gone, with what is left
Dearly united, might be swept away
From this fair portrait’s fleshy archetype
Even by an innocent fancy’s slightest freak
Banished, nor ever, haply, be restored
To their lost place, or meet in harmony
So exquisite; but here do they abide,
Enshrined for ages. Is not then the art
Godlike, a humble branch of the divine,
In visible quest of immortality,       [realm,
Stretched forth with trembling hope? In every
From high Gibraltar to Siberian plains,
Thousands, in each variety of tongue
That Europe knows, would echo this appeal.

  A hundred times had I wished to see this picture, yet when seen was not disappointed by it. The light was unfavorable, but it had a light of its own,

“whose mild gleam
Of beauty never ceases to enrich
The common light.”

  Mr. Wordsworth is fond of the Hollyhock, a partiality scarcely deserved by the flower, but which marks the simplicity of his tastes. He had made a long avenue of them of all colors, from the crimson brown to rose, straw-color and white, and pleased himself with having made proselytes to a liking for them among his neighbors.

  I have never seen such magnificent Fuchsias as at Ambleside, and there was one to be seen in every cottage-yard. They are no longer here under the shelter of the green-house, as with us, and as they used to be in England. The plant, from its grace and finished elegance, being a great favorite of mine, I should like to see it as frequently and of as luxuriant a growth at home, and asked their mode of culture, which I here mark down, for the benefit of all who may be interested. Make a bed of bog-earth and sand, put down slips of the Fuchsia and give them a great deal of water—this is all they need. People have them out here in winter, but perhaps they would not bear the cold of our Januaries.

  Mr. Wordsworth spoke with more liberality than we expected of the recent measures about the Corn-Laws, saying that “the principle was certainly right, though as to whether existing interests had been as carefully attended to as was right, he was not prepared to say,” &c. His neighbors were pleased to hear of his speaking thus mildly, and hailed it as a sign that he was opening his mind to more light on these subjects. They lament that his habits of seclusion keep him much ignorant of the real wants of England and the world, living in this region, which is cultivated by small proprietors; where there is little poverty, vice or misery, he hears not the voice which cries so loudly from other parts of England, and will not be stilled by sweet poetic suasion or philosophy, for it is the cry of men in the jaws of destruction.

  It was pleasant to find the reverence inspired by this great and pure mind warmest nearest home. Our landlady, in heaping praises upon him, added, constantly, “And Mrs. Wordsworth, too.” “Do the people here,” said I, “value Mr. Wordsworth most because he is a celebrated writer?” “Truly, Madam,” said she, “I think it is because he is so kind a neighbor.”

“True to the kindred points of Heaven and Home.”

  Dr. Arnold, too,—who lived as his family still live, here—diffused the same ennobling and animating spirit among those who knew him in private, as through the sphere of his public labors.

  Miss Martineau has here a charming residence; it has been finished only a few months, but all about it is in unexpectedly fair order and promises much beauty after a year or two of growth. Here we found her restored to full health and activity, looking indeed, far better than she did when in the United States. It was pleasant to see her in this home, presented to her by the gratitude of England for her course of energetic and benevolent effort, and adorned by the tributes of affection and esteem from many quarters. From the testimony of those who were with her in and since her illness, her recovery would seem to be of as magical quickness and sure progress as had been represented. At the house of Miss M. I saw Milman, the author, I must not say Poet—a specimen of the polished, scholarly man of the world.

  I am here reminded that I have not spoken of James Martineau, whom I heard at Liverpool. I will do so after I have heard other preachers of this land.

  We passed one most delightful day in a visit to Langdale—the scene of the Excursion—and to Dungeon Gill Foree. I am finishing my letter at Carlisle on my way to Scotland, and will give a slight sketch of that excursion and one which occupied another day from Keswick to Battermere and Cromak Water in my next.*

*As these letters reached us unnamed, we have preferred the above to ‘Letters from England’ affixed in our absence to the first of the series. We have several correspondents in England. For any adjudged inaptitude in this title, the reader will, of course, hold us, and not our correspondent, responsible.Ed.

“Things and Thoughts in Europe,” New-York Daily Tribune, 29 September 1846, p. 1.