Having grown up in the neighbourhood of Alfred Tennyson’s old home at Lincolnshire, I had been struck with the swiftness with which,
As year by year the labourer tills
His wonted glebe, or lops the glades,
the memories of the poet of the Somersby Wold had faded ‘from off the circle of the hills.’ I had been astonished to note how little interest was taken in him or his fame, and how seldom his works were met with in the houses of the rich or poor in the very neighbourhood. (p. 10)
It was natural that, coming to reside in the Lake country, I should endeavour to find out what of Wordsworth’s memory among the men of the Dales still lingered on,—how far he was still a moving presence among them,—how far his works had made their way into the cottages and farm-houses of the valleys. (p. 10)….
The testimony of the witnesses I have been fortunate enough to bring before you seems to agree in depicting Wordsworth as he painted himself, a plain man, continually murmuring his undersong as he passed along by brook and woodland, pacing the ground with unuplifted eye, but so retired, that even the North country peasant, who does even yet recognise the social differences of class and caste that separate and divide ‘the unknown little from the unknowing great,’ was unable to feel at home with him. ‘Not a very companionable man at the best of times’ was their verdict. But I think all the while these dalesmen seem to have felt that if the poet was not of much count as a worldly-wise farm or shepherd authority, nor very convivial and free and easy as li’le Hartley was, nor very athletic and hearty as Professor Wilson, there was a something in the severe-faced, simply habited man ‘as said nowt to neabody’ that made him head and shoulders above the people, and bade them listen and remember when he spoke, if it was only on the lopping of a tree or the building of a chimney-stack. ‘He was a man of a very practical eye, and seemed to see everything,’ was the feeling. (p. 40)
And turning from the poet to his wife, whilst one can see how the household need of economy in early Town End days have her to the last the practical power of household management that had almost passed into a proverb, one can see also how true was that picture of the
Being breathing thoughtful breath,
. . . . .
A perfect woman, nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort, and command.
‘He never knawed, they say, what he was wuth, nor what he hed i’ t’ house.’ She did it all. Then, too, it is touching to notice how deep and true the constant love between man and wife was seen to be, how truly companions for life they were, and that, too, in the eyes of a class of people who never saw that
Beauty born of murmuring sound
Had passed into her face,
and half marvelled that the spirit wed with spirit was so marvellously close than fleshly bond to flesh. (pp. 40-41)
Upright, the soul of honour, and for that reason standing high with all; just to their servants; well meaning and quiet in their public life; full of affection in their simple home life; so it seems the poet and his wife lived and died. Thought a deal of for the fact that accounts were strictly met at the tradesmen’s shops, they were thought more of because they were ever ready to hear the cry of the suffering, and to enter the doors of those ready to perish. (p. 41)
I do not think I have been able to tell the world anything new about the poet or his surroundings. But the man ‘who hedn’t a bit of fish in him, and was no mountaineer,’ seems to have been in the eyes of the people always at his studies; ‘and that because he couldn’t help it, because it was his hobby,’ for sheer love, and not for money. This astonished the industrious money-loving folk, who could not understand the doing work for ‘nowt,’ and perhaps held the poet’s occupation in somewhat lighter esteem, just because it did not bring in ‘a deal o’ brass to the pocket.’ I think it is very interesting, however, to notice how the woman part of the Rydal Mount family seemed to the simple neighbourhood to have the talent and mental ability; and there must have been, both about Dorothy Wordsworth and the poet’s daughter Dora, a quite remarkable power of inspiring the minds of the poor with whom they came in contact, with a belief in their intellectual faculties and brightness and cleverness. If Hartley Coleridge was held by some to be Wordsworth’s helper, it was to Dorothy he was supposed by all to turn if ‘ivver he was puzzelt.’ The women had ‘the wits, or best part of ’em.’—this was proverbial among the peasantry, and, as having been an article of rural faith, it has been established out of the mouths of all the witnesses it has been my lot to call. (pp. 41-2)
(Reminiscences of Wordsworth among the Peasantry of Westmoreland)