The traveller to the Lake District, if he will let the imagination have its way, can never be unsolaced and alone. He is in company not only with mountains, but with men. For the wanderer from vale to vale there is added to what Matthew Arnold called “the cheerful silence of the fells,” the great cheer of silent fellowship with those whose spirits still move and have their being in realms of thought and living effort, and whose footsteps are still found on cloudy upland or in sunny dale. (p. 1)
There is perhaps in the world no bit of mountain ground twenty miles in diameter, so crowded with lofty memories of men, who lived and loved and helped their own times, and added for all time to the world’s store of thought and music, as this little bit of the three northern English counties, that meet at the Shire stones on Wraynose Pass. There is hardly a valley or a hill down which, or on which, one does not meet great ghostly presences. And fortunately for us, these for the most part have had such faithful chronicling, as to be recognisable even to the cut of their woodland dress, their gait, their glance, the very sound of their voice, when in our fancy we see them approaching. (pp. 1-2)
There, for example, gaunt and awkwardly made, with face so solemn, when wrapped in thought, that country folks said, “It was a feace wi’out a bit of plesser in it”; in blue-black cape, a Jem-Crow cap or “bit of an owd boxer hat,” frilled shirt and cut-away tail-coat; umbrella under his arm, perhaps a green shade over his eyes, comes Wordsworth to the post at Ambleside. Here, with shirt loose at the throat, in his white ducks and hatless, stands ‘Christopher North’ by the rudder of the Windermere Boat, and when he leaps to land the earth seems to shake beneath him. Here, brown-eyed De Quincey starts and trembles, and talks to himself and hurries on. That little, shuffling-gaited person, “untimely old, irreverendly grey,” who shoulders his stick as if it were a gun, then stops dead, then runs, then pauses again, is Hartley Coleridge—'Lile Hartley,’ as they call him hereabout. There again, with ‘nebbed’ cap on head and wooden clogs on feet, book in hand, the tall, slenderly-built, dark-eyed man, who, if you pass him takes little notice, then pauses, looks up with a queer puzzled face, as if he were short-sighted and wanted to look over his spectacles at something or somebody in the sky, and then returns the salutation with abstracted air, is Robert Southey. (pp. 2-3)
And here, in this old market cart with bracken in the bottom for cushion, slow-winding down the vale, are Mrs. Wordsworth and Dorothy; Dorothy, the wild-eyed, Dorothy, with a face as brown and tanned as a gipsy’s, going to meet the walkers of their party at Dungeon Ghyll. A man with grey eyes Dorothy meets there; broadly-built, and a little above middle-height, pallid in complexion, and rather heavy of face, but of brow magnificent; he and Dorothy are soon rapt in deepest talk. This is the “dear, dear Coleridge” of Dorothy’s Journal. (p. 3)
But there are less easily recognisable forms from further days of old, that meet us in our journey towards the Lake District, whether we come from Lancaster across the sands, or take train straight to Windermere. (p. 3)
If we choose the latter course we see the little form of Catherine Parr—one day to be queenly Kate who dared to argue with bluff King Hal—walking in the castle meadow of Kendal, composing, perhaps, as she walks one or other of her simple prayers; or we may imagine young Romney between 1756 and ’62, working away at his first portraits in the house of his master, Steele, down in the grey town of the Dale of Kent. Away to the north-east Kentmere vale opens, and Gilpin, quaint Gilpin in grey hosen and brown coat, maker of many sermons, publisher but of one, yet by his life preacher always of three—good faith, true courage, and sweet sincerity—comes riding down on mission-journey bent. He was born at Kentmere Hall in the year 1517. (pp. 3-4)….
As the traveller to the English Lakes, by the branch line from Oxenholme to Windermere, passes the mouth of Kentmere vale, let him remember Edward Irving’s testimony to Bernard Gilpin’s worth. “He is a model soul, he, of the student, of the preacher, of the pastor, and of the wise and worthy member of society. (p. 5)….
If, on the other hand, one ‘crosses the sands,’ and leaving the main line at Carnforth, goes by Ulverston, and so to Coniston or to Lakeside and enters the Lake District as it ought to be entered, through the portal of the hills, or over the shining water-flood, one cannot help being reminded that while Turner painted here, there amongst the mosses and coppice land the painter Romney, the son of the Dublin cabinet-maker, grew to fame. (p. 6)
Again, as we look out to Swarthmoor Hall, beyond Ulverston, we remember one who put all art from him for love of God and his fellows. In that ancient hall George Fox found refuge, and a helpmeet for life, in 1669. Nor must we forget when at the gates of Lakeland, that Furness Abbey—in the vale of Deadly Nightshade—kept alive the lamp of literature through dark times. There, in the year 1180, lived and wrote Jocelyn the Monk, the biographer of good St. Kentigern, or St. Mungo, as the Scotch call him—the first great bishop of our diocese, he who set up the Cross in the Thwaite near Keswick, in 553. (p. 6)
If, however, the traveller will not enter the English Lake District from the south, but prefers to come from north and west, or north and east, he will find himself again in goodly company. Say he comes by some coast packet, and lands at Whitehaven. Here, in fancy, he may meet upon the quay young Shelley with his child-wife Harriet and his sister-in-law, Eliza Westbrook, in excellent spirits, waiting in what he called that “miserable manufacturing seaport town” for the winds to support the sails of “the packet” to bear him and his poems (in MSS.) and his “Address to the Irish People” away at midnight to Dublin via the Isle of Man; or we may find him in the inn penning his letter under date Feb. 3, 1812, to Miss Hitchener, in which he details his leaving Keswick, and expresses his satisfaction at the prospect of escape from the “filthy town and horrible inn” where he was the writing. (pp. 6-7)….
If, interested in the literature of our Saxon and Norse forefathers, we go to St. Bees, we may see the door-impost, which with its quaint carving serves as illustration to that part of Beowulfs’s poem that tells of the dragon that guards the mound of sacred treasures. Or again, if we venture a little inland from Whitehaven, we may see written clear upon the Gosforth Cross a Christianised version of the Saga of the Voluspa which was carved thereon, so Dr. Stephens of Copenhagen, thinks, not later than the end of the seventh century. (p. 8)
But the traveller who cares for Christian missal and mediæval letters and art, as he takes train from Whitehaven to Keswick, look out at the boulder-strewn shore of Harrington, and remember that St. Aedfrith’s wondrously illuminated copy of the Gospels which was wrought for Cuthbert the Saint, was rescued from the sea by the bearers of St. Cuthbert’s body, at low tide here; and if at the British Museum he ask for sight of it, he may see, still sticking to its vellum pages, the salt that our Solway gave it on that eventful day so many hundred years ago. (pp. 8-9)….
Still bound for Keswick and the heart of the Lakeland hills, let the traveller, as he passes Workington or ‘Derwent Muth’ as it was called, remember how St. Cuthbert’s body, borne by the monks from Lorton Vale, once came thither; or let him feel the “shuddering presage” of “that ensanguined block of Fotheringay” which a fair Queen may once have felt, as her “boat there touched the strand.” On towards the Lakeland hills we speed, and as the train runs into the Cockermouth station, thoughts of our greatest poet banish other memories. Here was born William Wordsworth, April 17, in the year 1770. (pp. 9-10)….
There is as yet one other gateway to the Lake District, and he who journeys from Penrith to Pooley Bridge can never forget that at Penrith the worthy mercer, William Cookson dwelt, whose only daughter, Ann, became the mother of our great Cumberland bard; that it was at Penrith Wordsworth got his earliest schooling, and had for fellow-scholar his future wife, Mary Hutchinson. He will remember also, that to Brougham Hall beyond Mayborough Mound and the Tournay field close by—with their memories of primeval parliaments and old-time trials of strength—often came a gladiator of later parliamentary times, eccentric statesman, orator, and writer, Lord Brougham. (pp. 10-11)
Journeying on by coach from Penrith towards Ullswater, one sees at Yanwath, the farm-house home of the bard of Eamont Vale, Wordsworth’s friend, the garden-loving Wilkinson. Further on we pass Eusemere, so well known by Dorothy Wordsworth, visited by De Quincey, and often sojourned at by Wordsworth. There, between the years 1795 and 1806, lived Thomas Clarkson, the distinguished advocate and historian of the Abolition of Slavery, the author too of the Portraiture of Quakerism, and the writer of the Memoirs of William Penn. (p. 11)
These are some of the literary associations with the minds of other days, that meet us as we enter the portals of the English Lakes. Let us pass within the mountain sanctuary, and speak with these presences and summon other spirits from the past, in their native haunts, beloved of old. (p. 11)
(Literary Associations of the English Lakes, Vol. 1, pp. 1-11)