Wordsworth’s country lies all before us. Let us then, in imagination, enter Lakeland from the south, en route for Keswick and Southey-land, by way of Windermere, Ambleside, Rydal, and Grasmere. Not by the “causeways,” no longer “bad,” that so jolted Scott and Lockhart when they made their pilgrimage to Windermere in 1825, not by the railway, that moved Wordsworth to such passionate protest in 1844, but by the smooth water-way of Lake Windermere. Whoever refuses to enter by that water-gate misses much of the joy of a first impression of Westmoreland scenery. We have left the town of Ulph the Dane, with its lighthouse monument to the local worthy, Sir John Barrow, the naval hydrographer. We have gained Lakeside. If we care to know how Wordsworth’s poetry influenced and refined the life of a simple yeoman’s son and filled it with perpetual benison, we shall be tempted to make an expedition hence into the beautiful Winster valley, and visit Borderside where between 1848 and ’56 dwelt the tender-hearted naturalist, philosopher, and poet William Pearson. If we are interested in the painters of the English Lakes, we shall go aside to visit the grave of young Talbot, one of John Ruskin’s most devoted and most promising pupils, who perished by cold caught in the act of putting on record some of the wondrous snow effects of our fair winter land. He lies in the Finsthwaite churchyard. (pp. 72-73)
Why is it we are so deaf to the call of artist and poet alike, to come hither at the time of year which is the best for mountain beauty? “Come in winter!” Southey would say. “Come in autumn!” Wordsworth would cry. “The months of September and October (particularly October),” writes the Rydal poet, “are generally attended with much finer weather; and the scenery is then beyond comparison more diversified, more splendid, more beautiful.” (p. 73)
But we would say, let the traveller come hither in January, when the roads and lanes run between russet hedges of the red beech leaf, or between walls that are mottled green and silver from ground to coping with lichen and rich moss. Let him come in February, when the purple bloom is on the alder-bud, and the tassels of the hazel are first out-hung, and the copses are still warm with the ruddy leafage of the oak. Let him wander into Westmoreland in March and April, when the blood of the new life is flushing the birch bark, or the lemon glow of the first awakening to spring is seen in the larchen grove, and he will feel that green summer is, with all its beauty, less fair upon our hills and vales than autumn gold or winter whiteness, than spring clad in February russet or in March purple. (pp. 73-4)….
But all dinners come to an end, and away to Bowness, late in the evening, rowed the Professor of Elleray [John Wilson, aka Christopher North] and his distinguished guests, the former with determination to be up with the lark. For to-morrow, Monday, is to be the regatta in honour of the “great unknown,” the Wizard of the North; “Christopher North,” as Lord High Admiral of Windermere, has determined that all the rowing boats on the lake—then thirty-five or forty in number—shall be dressed in bunting, and shall assemble after luncheon in Bowness Bay. There, with all the available music in the district, two scratch bands, headed by the Elleray barge full of Wilsons, Pennys, and Watsons, and presided over by Mrs. Wilson, in “grand turban and flying streamers,” the procession will pass down to Storrs. There Mr. Bolton will bring off his boat-load of Poetry and Statesmanship. (pp. 79-80)
Three cheers will be given as Scott and Canning and Wordsworth join the flotilla, and away under the Admiral’s command will go the whole gay water-party snaking in and out of the bays, and rowing round the islands for the space of three hours or more, with cheerings of spectators from various points of the shore and “fluffings off” of small cannon by way of salute. And as for the bands, they are to play whatever they can and like, so only that they cease not from their lilting. The Professor is determined that the great Singer of the North shall have music wherever he goes. That the programme was carried out to the letter on this eventful 22nd of August, 1825, we know. The day was calm and sunny, and “the sight,” says Sir Walter, “was altogether really a beautiful one, gay and elegant, and very new to us.” (p. 80)
Distance lent enchantment to the memorable scene, for Lockhart in less bilious mood thus described it afterwards:—"There was a ‘high discourse,’” says he, “intermingled with as gay flashings of courtly wit as ever Canning displayed; and a plentiful allowance, on all sides, of those airy transient pleasantries, in which the fancy of poets, however wise and grave, delights to run riot when they are sure not to be misunderstood. The weather was as Elysian as the scenery. There were brilliant cavalcades through the woods in the mornings, and delicious boatings on the lake by moonlight; and the last day the ‘Admiral of the Lake’ presided over one of the most splendid regattas that ever enlivened Windermere. Perhaps there were not fewer than fifty barges following in the Professor’s radiant procession, when it paused at the point of Storrs to admit into the place of honour the vessel that carried Mr. Bolton and his guests. The bards of the Lakes” (Wordsworth and Wilson, for Southey had erysipelas of the foot, and could not leave Greta Hall) “led the cheers that hailed Scott and Canning; and music and sunshine, flags, streamers, and gay dresses, the merry hum of voices, and the rapid splashing of innumerable oars, made up a dazzling mixture of sensations as the flotilla wound its way among the richly foliaged islands, and along bays and promontories peopled with enthusiastic spectators.” (pp. 80-81)
(Literary Associations of the English Lakes, Vol. II, pp. 72-92)