and I quoted the lines. My recollection of the words pleased the old man; and as we stood there in front of the figure he began to recite the whole passage from “The Excursion,” and it sounded very grand from the poet’s own lips. He repeated some fifty lines, and I could not help thinking afterwards, when I came to hear Tennyson read his own poetry, that the younger Laureate had caught something of the strange, mysterious tone of the elder bard. It was a sort of chant, deep and earnest, which conveyed the impression that the reciter had the highest opinion of the poetry.
Although it was raining still, Wordsworth proposed to show me Lady Fleming’s grounds, and some other spots of interest near his cottage. Our walk was a wet one; but as he did not seem incommoded by it, I was only too glad to hold the umbrella over his venerable head. As we went on, he added now and then a sonnet to the scenery, telling me precisely the circumstances under which it had been composed. It is many years since my memorable walk with the author of “The Excursion,” but I can call up his figure and the very tones of his voice so vividly that I enjoy my interview over again any time I choose. He was then nearly eighty, but he seemed hale and quite as able to walk up and down the hills as ever. He always led back the conversation that day to his own writings, and it seemed the most natural thing in the world for him to do so. All his most celebrated poems seemed to live in his memory, and it was easy to start him off by quoting the first line of any of his pieces. Speaking of the vastness of London, he quoted the whole of his sonnet describing the great city, as seen in the morning from Westminster Bridge. When I parted with him at the foot of Rydal Hill, he gave me messages to Rogers and other friends of his whom I was to see in London. As we were shaking hands I said, “How glad your many readers in America would be to see you on our side of the water!” “Ah,” he replied, “I shall never see your country,—that is impossible now; but” (laying his hand on his son’s shoulder) “John shall go, please God, some day.” I watched the aged man as he went slowly up the hill, and saw him disappear through the little gate that led to his cottage door. The ode on “Intimations of Immortality” kept sounding in my brain as I came down the road, long after he had left me.
Since I sat, a little child, in “a woman’s school,” Wordsworth’s poems had been familiar to me. Here is my first school-book, with a name written on the cover by dear old “Marm Sloper,” setting forth that the owner thereof is “aged 5.” As I went musing along in Westmoreland that rainy morning, so many years ago, little figures seemed to accompany me, and childish voices filled the air as I trudged through the wet grass. My small ghostly companions seemed to carry in their little hands quaint-looking dog’s-eared books, some of them covered with cloth of various colors. None of these phantom children looked to be over six years old, and all were bareheaded, and some of the girls wore old-fashioned pinafores. They were the schoolmates of my childhood, and many of them must have come out of their graves to run by my side that morning in Rydal. I had not thought of them for years. Little Emily R—— read from her book with a chirping lisp:—