But we are at Wythburn; and it is Sunday, October 8, 1769. And the same figure we met [Thomas Gray], Claude glass in hand, beyond the Raise, is watching the Sunday congregation issuing out of, what he called, the little chapel of Wi’burn. There was no “Horsehead Inn”; the “Cherry Tree,” as famous as the “Famous Swan,” was their halfway house. (p. 214)
But here is another little shuffling-gaited man, “untimely old, irreverendly grey,” who pays for his pint of beer by scribbling a bit of doggerel, or telling a good story. He is “Lile Hartley,” well-met again, as before at the Lowwood Inn. Here, “beneath this little portion of the skies,” holy and happy thoughts have risen heavenward from his soul, for with all his faults, there is about him just the meekness and humility which he saw bodied forth by the little chapel across the way, and which he described thus:
Humble it is and meek and very low,
And speaks its purpose with a single bell,
But God Himself, and He alone doth know
If spiry temples please Him half as well.
I sometimes think that Hartley must have written this after a visit to Keswick. The only spiry temple in this part—the church of St. John’s, of which Frederick Myers was the minister—had just been built, and this may have been in his mind. But Hartley is in a fine vein of humour to-day, and he is recounting that excellent story of how, when Wilson of Elleray had come into the Nag’s Head one day with a posse of sportsmen, and was just sitting down to table, he had slyly taken his neighbour’s gun, and putting the barrel up the chimney, fired at imaginary game with such effect, as to fill the hearts of all at the Nag’s Head with alarm, and their eyes and their dinner table with soot, and of how, e’er the smother had passed away, the pealing laugh of Christopher North had made anger impossible. (pp. 214-215)
The folk at Wythburn are rather proverbial for firing up the chimney. Old Dan Birkett, away across the dale, near “the city,” was once found with his hand half blown away, because feeling that the fire was getting rather low, and thinking that it wanted a bit fettling up, he took a powder horn and emptied a charge on the smouldering embers, and was not a little astonished at the result. (pp. 215-216)
But with the presence of Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy and Brother John, come for a day’s fishing in the beck and lake, other reminiscences arise of singers who have here sought rest as they journeyed through the country. Here in June of 1818, Keats, writing to his brother Tom, after telling him that he had called on Wordsworth and found him not at home, says, “I wrote a note and left it on his mantelpiece.” Thence, on we came to the foot of Helvellyn, where we slept, but could not ascend it for the mist.” There is another poet who halted here; he gazes at us from fine eagle face with genial gentle eyes, son of the “Old Eagle” as the name may mean, Arnold, the Poet. Hither he came in July of 1830, a lad of eleven summers. He, and with him his sister the “Fausta” of his poem, of whom he used to speak as “his first and last best critic,” his brother Tom, his father, Dr. Arnold, and Captain Hamilton. What a merry party they were! And how they rested, and cracked on with old John Hawkrigg the crippled landlord,—John the giant, for since he lost the use of his limbs by getting overheated in the hayfield and then going as guide without a coat, and overdoing himself on Helvellyn, he had waxed in all his members. (p. 216)
There are those living still, “ghosts of that boisterous company,” who remember that walk from Allan Bank, by Wythburn and Armboth, to Watendlath, sixty years ago, who still speak of the fun of it, and the sun of it, the hard task it was to drag young limbs through the high heather upon the Armboth Fells. The impressions of Wythburn that day; the “open lying stores under their burnished sycamores”—of the farm in mid-valley; of the low stone bridge across the narrows at Armboth, now submerged beneath the dammed up water flood; of “the cheerful silence of the fells” as they passed across to Watendlath, were to win immortality of verse. And we who to-day read Matthew Arnold’s tender poem, Resignation, which he published in the Strayed Reveller in 1849, and pause beside the Nag’s Head at Wythburn, can mount the bank which the Highway Authorities of the Cumberland Council have carefully preserved by the old seat, can survey the scene which the Arnolds saw—or so much of it as is not blocked out by the lodging house hard by—can, in fancy, hear again the cheery voice of jovial John Hawkrigg—and be in heart with that happy band of mountaineers, whose family name England will not soon forget. (pp. 216-217)
The wayside stone, by the rude bench, lately erected to the memory of Matthew Arnold, may remind us of the words of the poem:
We left, just ten years since, you say,
That wayside inn we left to-day.
Our jovial host, as forth we fare,
Shouts greeting from his easy chair.
High on a bank our leader stands,
Reviews and ranks his motley bands,
Makes clear our goal to every eye—
The valley’s western boundary.
One almost sees Dr. Arnold, with all his headmaster’s power to direct and guide, in business-like manner pointing out the way:
And now, in front, behold outspread
Those upper regions we must tread!
Mild hollows, and clear healthy swells,
The cheerful silence of the fells.
It was well for us that the mother of the Poet kept a journal in those days, otherwise we should never have known so certainly that the brave walkers not only crossed the Fells to Watendlath and thence passed to Keswick, but that they put the best leg forward and got as far as Cockermouth. There they must surely have hired some conveyance, and so actually got to Whitehaven on that night, but wearied and foredone with the long journey across the littoral plain “parched and road-worn,” with the “many a mile of dusty way,” they still had heart to go down to the sea shore. (pp. 217-218)
(Literary Associations of the English Lakes, Vol. II, pp. 214-241)
- Hits: 506
Wrestling, or, as it is pronounced in the north, ‘warstlin’,’ ‘worstlin’,’ or ‘wrustlin’,’ has a very ancient pedigree. (p. 133)….
Grasmere is to-day the Olympia for wrestling in the North. There was a time when it was ten chances to one that Keswick would be the centre. The ring on the Swifts, at Carlisle, was closed for four years, and the wrestling was removed to Crow Park in 1818, by the banks of Derwentwater. Then and for a few subsequent years, largely owing to the exertions of Mr. Pocklington of Barrow, Keswick became the gathering ground of the most important wrestling in the North. (p. 135)
It may be safely said that the Grasmere sports to-day, in so far as they are a popular gathering for the gentlefolk of the county, owe their popularity to Christopher Wilson. He not only made a practice of trying a fall with the winner at the Ambleside or Ferry Ring, but, backed up by the son of the Bishop of Llandaff, of Calgarth, Richard Watson, he got all his friends amongst the resident gentry to take an interest in the wrestling and to attend meetings. Still in the farm houses may be seen the simple challenge belt presented by the steward of the Windermere Regatta, and still men speak of the “girt professor wha was a varra bad un to lick.” (p. 135)
But Christopher Wilson’s personal example has not been followed, and it is a thousand pities that we never see in the wrestling ring at Grasmere the gentleman amateur as opposed to the professional wrestler. This is mainly owing to the fact that this grandest of games of skill has never been fostered at any of our public schools, and the sport has been left to the fellside shepherd and the farmer or miner of the countryside. (pp. 135-136)
It is a good thing for the nobility and gentry to be interested in this noble athletic sport. It is a better thing for England that the love of wrestling is not dependent upon their patronage. The really interested spectators at Grasmere are not the carriage folk who come together largely to see one another, but the fellsiders who sit on the grass or the wooden seats round the ring. (p. 136)….
It is true that football and cricket have tended to oust wrestling from the towns, but in the far-off fellside farms the barn floor still sees twinkle of legs and feet, and echoes to the result of ‘hype’ and ‘buttock’ in spare times after work. And though the thirst for money prizes and the gambling craze has brought in ‘barneying’ and the buying and selling of falls in professional rings, there is still, as may be witnessed at Grasmere, a large number of the breeches and flannel-shirt order who have no wish to be promoted to singlet and drawers, and who love the sport for the sport’s sake, and wrestle for pure joy in the skill of the game. (p. 137)….
We are all just now a little Japanese-mad, and one of the things our allies are teaching us is the worth of self-mastery. We cannot learn this better than in the wrestling ring. To be able to meet your man with a smile, and after tremendous exertion to be thrown right over his shoulder or clean off the breast, and then to rise and shake hands, as if one felt one’s friendship was the stronger for the fall:—this is fine discipline; and to know that the least loss of temper during the agony of struggle means loss of victory is in every way a gain to character (p. 139)
It is true that the old Viking power to endure all things, makes for the self-mastery necessary in this sport of their sons in Cumberland and Westmoreland, but if the gambling instinct is kept out of the ring the fellside farms can be trusted to go on giving us just the stuff in bone and sinew, in mind and temper, which has made famous the name of Cumberland and Westmoreland for the past two centuries, and the nation will be the gainer. In no other trial of actual bodily skill does art have such chance against mere brute force. A little man, whose arms are so short that he actually cannot make fingers meet round the girth of the vast back of his opponent, will grass his man as if by magic. It is a day when this gospel needs preaching. We must not leave it to Japan to be the only gospeller. The Grasmere ring may have the message for us all, that science and not bulk, spirit and not force, shall have the mastery. (p. 139)
(Months at the Lakes, pp. 133-139)
- Hits: 469
Plain is the stone that made the Poet’s rest:
Not marble worked beneath Italian skies—
A grey slate head-stone tells where Wordsworth lies,
Cleft from the native hills he loved the best.
No heavier thing upon his gentle breast
Than turf starred o’er in Spring with daisy eyes,
Nor richer music makes him lullabies
Than Rotha fresh from yonder mountain crest.
His name, his date, the years he lived to sing,
Are deep incised and eloquently terse;
But Fancy hears the graver’s hammer ring,
And sees, ’mid lines of much remembered verse,
These words in gold beneath his title wrought—
“Singer of Humble Themes and Noble Thoughts.”
(Sonnets at the English Lakes, p. 62)
- Hits: 473
Work is a religious act…. But while I lay stress on this need of you all buckling to [whether it be in school, at games, in the office or on the farm] doing twice as much as you have hitherto done in this, we are in the throes of a great war which we see already that the nation that has learnt to work and not to shirk has proved that the domination of the whole civilised world was very nearly within its grasp, because amongst other things, while other nations were at play, and only half in earnest, they were solidly engaged in work. Anyone who knows the power behind the gigantic efforts of Germany in this cruel war which they so deliberately planned and have so consistently worked for for the past 30 years knows that the secret of that power was just this—dogged determination to work. And if we emerge from this conflict, as I pray God that we and the Allies may do, victoriously, and this, not for ourselves only, but for the happiness and freedom of all the civilised world, we shall emerge from it with this certainty staring us in the face, that unless we all of us, boys and girls and grown-ups, are willing to work harder and live simpler lives than we have in the past, we shall not be able to meet our liabilities nor to withstand the competition in other fields of labour, nor will it be possible for us to hold our own in the markets of the world which will then be thrown open irrespective of nationality to the hardest workers and the best producers. I do not underrate the sterling capacity for work of our own British hands when they choose to put their backs into it and will keep off the drink…. But of this I am sure is the lesson of the war will be lost upon us if now and here before the war ends we do not begin to realise our chance of recovering from the awful losses, and the bankruptcies that threaten all Europe is just this, that we all register a vow, whether we are boys and girls at school, or whether we are grown-up men and women, to do a better “darrock,” work harder, not for ourselves only, but for God and King and country and find as we work joy’s soul is in the doing of it.
(Carlisle Journal, 17 December 1915, p. 7)
- Hits: 462
Sir,—It is hardly conceivable, but I am credibly informed that the War Office contemplates the drainage of Wolmer Pond in order to grow wheat on its sandy bottom. I say nothing of the expense of preparing a seed bed. The War Office might as well undertake the draining of Rydal Water and Easdale Tarn to grow rye and oats. But those who know how all naturalists since Gilbert White of Selborne have cared and do care for that pond, and those who look upon it as one of the fair beauties of the Forest, both in summer and in winter, must share with all lovers of natural beauty the devout hope that such an experiment of expensive agriculture will not be persisted in.
(Times, 28 June 1918, p. 7)
- Hits: 511