I had not the readiness to reply, that in truth the world had abundance of testimony that the bay could flourish in those latitudes! But I think, had I done so it might have made my peace—for the remainder of that evening’s experiences led me to imagine that the great poet was not insensible to incense from very small and humble worshippers.
The evening, I think I may say the entire evening, was occupied by a monologue addressed by the poet to my mother, who was of course extremely well pleased to listen to it. I was chiefly occupied in talking to my old schoolfellow, Herbert Hill, Southey’s nephew, who also passed the evening there, and with whom I had a delightful walk the next day. But I did listen with much pleasure when Wordsworth recited his own lines descriptive of Little Langdale. He gave them really exquisitely. But his manner in conversation was not impressive. He sat continuously looking down with a green shade over his eyes even though it was twilight; and his mode of speech and delivery suggested to me the epithet “maundering,” though I was ashamed of myself for the thought with reference to such a man. As we came away I cross-examined my mother much as to the subjects of his talk. She said it had been all about himself and his works, and that she had been interested. But I could not extract from her a word that had passed worth recording.
I do not think that he was popular with his neighbours generally. There were stories current, at Lowther among other places, which imputed to him a tendency to outstay his welcome when invited to visit in a house. I suspect there was a little bit of a feud between him and my brother-in-law, Mr. Tilley, who was the Post Office surveyor of the district. Wordsworth as receiver of taxes, or issuer of licenses or whatever it was, would have increased the profits of his place if the mail coach had paid its dues, whether for taxes or license, at his end of the journey instead of at Kendal, as had been the practice. But of course any such change would have been as much to the detriment of the man at Kendal as to Wordsworth’s advantage. And my brother-in-law, thinking such a change unjust, would not permit it.
I cannot say that on the whole the impression made on me by the poet on that occasion (always with the notable exception of his recital of his own poetry) was a pleasant one. There was something in the manner in which he almost perfunctorily, as it seemed, uttered his long monologue, that suggested the idea of the performance of a part got up to order, and repeated without much modification as often as lion-hunters, duly authorised for the sport in those localities, might call upon him for it. I dare say the case is analogous to that of the hero and the valet, but such was my impression.
I had been for some time past, as has been said, trying my hand, not without success, at a great variety of articles in all sorts of reviews, magazines, and newspapers. I already considered myself a member of the guild of professional writers. I had done much business with publishers on behalf of my mother, and some for other persons, and talked glibly of copyrights, editions, and tokens.