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The village clock tolled six - I wheeled about,
In October, 1787, Wordsworth entered St. John's College, Cambridge. Like Carlyle and Ruskin he has little to say in commendation of what he received at the University. His life had been too free and unrestrained to adapt itself readily to the circumscribed limits of a narrow curriculum. He cared not for "the timid course of our scholastic studies." He also was grieved to note the unworthy passions stimulating those who persevered in the field of contest for prizes. Perhaps, with the
natural presumption of youth, he criticised, when he might have reaped a richer harvest by adapting himself to his environment. It is even possible that to some of his teachers he appeared “a headstrong, disagreeably independent lad," but, as he himself tells us, he was not devoid of social goodness:
Come forth, perhaps without one quiet thought.” In this social intercourse Wordsworth may have been acquiring information and insight more useful than that usually given by books. There was another influence at Cambridge that must have subtly wrought upon the susceptibilities of this impressionable youth - the memories of the great poets who once had been students at Cambridge - preeminently Spenser and Milton, each of whom had great influences in the making of Wordsworth. In Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal we run across passages like this, “We sate by the fire without work for some time. ... Wm. read Spenser, now and then, a little aloud to us.” And again, “ Read Milton to William.”
“Yea, our blind poet, .
I seemed to see him here
And conscious step of purity and pride.” Further Biographical Facts. The stress of poverty was lessened by a fortunate bequest of £900 from Raisley Calvert, a friend who died in 1795, and £1000 from his father's estate. As Wordsworth's wants were few, he now felt that he could
dedicate his life to the pursuit of poetry. He and his sister spent a winter in Germany, and then later, in 1799, they took permanent residence at the Lakes. A little cottage just outside the village of Grasmere became his home for eight years. “Dove Cottage” today is the shrine of many a Wordsworthian.
“The cottage looks best from the little garden in the rear. The ivy and the roses soften all the harsh angles of the eaves and convert even the chimney-pots into things of beauty. ... At the farthest end is the little summer-house, the poet's favorite retreat. How well he loved this garden is shown in the poem written when he left Grasmere to bring home his bride in 1802:
"Sweet garden orchard, eminently fair,
The loveliest spot that man has ever found.” In 1813 he removed to Rydal Mount, a beautiful place commanding a view of Windermere in the distance.
His home life was very serene and satisfactory. Coleridge said, “His is the happiest family I ever saw” Mary Hutchinson, who became his wife, was an excellent woman whose fame has been overshadowed slightly by the more expressive Dorothy. She was a noble woman and meet to be the wife of a great poet. In some of his best poetry he has expressed his abiding joy and unchanging love, notably in She Was a Phantom of Delight. Wordsworth was never a producer of wealth, for his poetry brought him but little income, but he was fortunate in receiving bequests which helped him greatly. In 1802 he received £1,800 as his share of a debt long due to his father's estate; in 1812 he was appointed distributor of stamps for Westmoreland, a position paying him £400 until he resigned it, after years of service; and in 1844, Southey having died the previous year,
he was made poet laureate, and was placed upon the civil list with a pension of £300. In 1827 Sir George Beaumont died, leaving Wordsworth an annuity of £100 to be spent in a yearly tour. In 1828 he and Coleridge visited Belgium and the Rhine; the next year he visited Ireland; he was almost seventy years old, however, before he saw Florence and Rome.
He died April 23, 1850, at a ripe old age. His last resting
place is, as it should be, in Grasmere churchyard, below the hills he loved with the passionate fervor of a lover.
Dorothy Wordsworth. - One of the most beautiful companionships in the history of English literature is that between Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy. It is she who in his early years of despondency encouraged him to follow the bent of his genius. They lived together in a rare comradeship; sometimes wandering into the unfrequented parts of England, stopping here and there to talk and eat with cottagers and peddlers; going to Germany for a winter; settling at Grasmere to enjoy “plain living and high thinking.” In 1904 Professor Knight published the Journal of Dorothy Wordsworth, a book giving the most intimate revelation of the life of our poet and his sister at Alfoxden, Grasmere, and while on their tours in Scotland and the Continent.
In a poem To My Sister Wordsworth sings:
“It is the first mild day of March;
My sister! ('tis a wish of mine,)
It is pleasant to reflect that Dorothy was usually ready to go forth to feel the sun, for she had the soul of a poet, as can be seen in this extract from the Alfoxden Journal:
February 17th.-A deep snow upon the ground. Wm. and Coleridge walked to ... Stowey. Wm. returned, and we walked into the Coombe to fetch some eggs. The sun shone bright and clear. A deep stillness in the thickest part of the wood, undisturbed except by the occasional dropping of the snow from the holly boughs; no other sound but that of the water, and the slender notes of a redbreast, which sang at intervals on the outskirts of the southern side of the wood. There the bright green moss was bare at the roots of the trees, and the little birds were upon it. The whole appearance of the wood was enchanting; and each tree, taken
singly, was beautiful. The branches of the hollies pendent with their white burden, but still showing their bright berries, and their glossy green leaves. The bare branches of the oaks thickened by the snow.”
De Quincey has given us an excellent estimate of the value of Dorothy's affectionate interest in her brother's work:
Whereas the intellect of Wordsworth was, by its original tendency, too stern, too austere, too much enamored of an ascetic harsh sublimity, she it was — the lady who paced by his side continually through sylvan and mountain tracks, in highland glens, and in the dim recesses of German charcoal burners that first couched his eyes to the sense of beauty, humanized him by the gentler charities, and engrafted with her delicate female touch those graces upon the ruder growths of nature which have since clothed the forest of his genius with a foliage corresponding in loveliness and beauty to the strength of its boughs and the massiveness of its trunks."
The Daffodils poem, one of the most widely quoted of all Wordsworth's poems, may owe its origin to Dorothy. In this description of their walk together from Eusemere, by the side of Ullswater, to Grasmere, Dorothy shows a sensibility to beauty as keen as her brother's. Her very phrasing is incorporated in the poem:
“When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow Park, we saw a few daffodils close to the water-side. We fancied that the sea had floated the seeds ashore and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more; and at last under the boughs of the trees we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and above them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness, and the rest tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them from the lake, they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing. The wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot, and a few stragglers higher up, but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity, unity, and life of the one busy highway."
It is pleasant to remember that Wordsworth acknowledged his indebtedness to this sister of rare insight and imagination,