The Literary Shrines of England
The localities loved and inhabited by great men, during their career on earth, have always appeared the most striking and most truthful relics of themselves; material embodiments of their genius-undying commentaries of their thoughts, passions, lives."
Thus Lamartine, and year by year his sentiments find practical approval in visits to those places endeared to us by their associations with the great masters of English literature. Shakespeare, Wordsworth, the Brontes, Blackmore, Hardy and Dickens have countries almost to themselves and scenes made famous by their genius. Thus one could spend a whole lifetime in the Lake District and not exhaust the memories of famous writers there. Far away on the northernmost point of Lake Coniston is Brant-wood, which Ruskin, wearied and worn with his long crusade in the cause of art, transformed from the ramshackle shed where Linton the wood-engraver had lived into a comfortable home. Still farther north is Greta Hall, where Southey pursued his indefatigable toil, turning out poetry, histories and "Quarterly" articles with the regularity of a clock. Half way between Coniston and Windermere, in a fastness of the hills, lies the little town of Hawks-head, as queer a collection of houses as any in the kingdom, in one of which Wordsworth spent the early years of his boyhood.
But the real literary heart of lakeland is Grasmere village, at the head of the lake of that name. Here is Dove Cottage, the little nest where Wordsworth and his kindred lived in their poorest years, now a national possession, as tenderly cared for as Shakespeare's famous birthplace, and as freely open for all to see.
The cottage stands practically as Wordsworth left it, close to the road, and set a little behind a low stone wall. A small entry leads us into a low room, panelled with oak. Fourteen stairs lead us into the sitting-room, about the size of the kitchen. The ceiling is not more than seven-and-a-half feet from the floor. Wordsworth lived at Dove Cottage from 1799 tm" ^808. At first only his sister Dorothy was with him, but there came a day when William went off to the neighbouring church, hard by the purling Rother, and brought back his bride, a girl by whose side he had learned his letters at Penrith. During the marriage ceremony Dorothy remained at home. The years passed in sweet content, the lives of all being of plain living and high thinking, and then they moved out of Dove Cottage, which for the next twenty years was occupied by Thomas De Quincey.
Wordsworth sleeps his last sleep in Grasmere churchyard, by the side of the babbling Rother, and in the shade of one of the yew trees which he planted. His wife rests with him, and in the next grave lies their daughter Dora, wife of Edward Quillinan, and the next but one is that of the poet's sister Dorothy. In death they were not divided.
Away across the Pennines, the backbone of Northern England, and the pilgrim finds himself at Haworth. High up on the hill, on the edge of a beautiful moorland, stands Haworth parsonage, the shrine of the Bronte cult, the Mecca to which admirers of the three famous sisters turn in ever-increasing number. Up its long stone-flagged main street the Rev. Patrick Bronte moved in, bringing his few belongings and his family in carts across the hills from Thornton. Few who saw them come had any inkling that at least two geniuses- Charlotte and Emily-were among the little brood. The Bronte family settled in the bleak, cold parsonage hard by the church which, for all its ugliness, one could have wished preserved, for it was there that the Rev. Patrick carried on his faithful ministrations and his daughters worshipped. At the back of the house you may see the path along which the little children went hand in hand to the moors, and far away at the end of it the (now-named) Bronte waterfall where they loved to sit and ponder. The parsonage stands much as it did in their time, save that a wing has been added, and you may still see the little room where the stern father took his meals alone and the unpretentious parlour where the celebrated sisters wrote their stories.
The old tower stands as it did, but the rest of the church has been rebuilt since the Rev. Patrick himself was laid there to rest. Under the tower is a memorial tablet to them all, a sad commentary on the shortness, of life in the Victorian era. The holy spot however, for the Bronte pilgrim is that near the chancel arch, covered by a brass plate which indicates the burial-place of Charlotte and Emily Bronte. A wreath is always there, indicating the enduring fame which will be theirs so long as English literature is read. Hard on the churchyard stands the Black Bull inn, where the brilliant, worthless Patrick Bran well Bronte posed as a genius and squandered his life.
If the Bronte sisters could revisit Haworth to-day nothing perhaps would surprise them more than the Bronte Museum, set opposite the church. There are locks of Charlotte's hair, the silver-framed spectacles worn by her father, the temperance pledge card which Branwell signed, Emily's toy smoothing-iron, and a host of manuscripts, letters, and books. To-day, in their cramped cases, they are not displayed to advantage, but now that the Bronte Society has, through the generosity of Sir James Roberts, acquired the parsonage, there is some hope that in course of time the old home will become the Bronte Museum, and that pilgrims to Haworth will be able to worship at the very shrine where the three sisters passed their troubled lives.
One cannot quit Yorkshire without paying a visit to the little village of Coxwold, a few miles from Thirsk, and in close proximity to Byland Abbey. Here for several years, from 1760 to 1768, Laurence Sterne, the traveller on "The Sentimental Journey" and the creator of "Tristram Shandy," was perpetual curate, and wrote the greater part of both books in the house now called Shandy Hall. Fame came to Sterne, it has been said, as he alighted from the York mail in London, in consequence of the first two volumes of "Tristram Shandy." Some substantial gains fell from the hands of Lord Falconberg, a Yorkshire peer, in the shape of the curacy of Coxwold, "a sweet retirement," as Sterne described it. About the middle of 1760 we find him happy in his new home at work on the further records of Mr. Shandy.
Proceeding south, though in a somewhat easterly direction, one comes to the quiet Lincolnshire village of Somersby, where the first twenty-eight years of Tennyson's life were spent. To the end of his days he cherished a warm affection for his childhood's home. "Th' owd doctor," as his father, the rector, was called, was much given to learning, and insisted on his children having a grounding in the classics before they went into the world. The mother, a gentle soul, regarded the rectory as a "nest of singing birds."
The poplars four
have vanished, but high up at the northern end of the rectory you may still see the attic window of the little room where the future laureate and his brother Charles slept or studied. "Poems by Two Brothers," written here, netted a profit of £20 (of which £10 was paid in books) for the happy young authors. No one then dreamed of a day when the manuscript alone would realize £480 at auction.
If Tennyson's life at Somersby was happy in the main it was not untouched by grief. His father died suddenly in his study chair one day. The boy left Cambridge, and found his eyesight so bad that the dread horror of blindness seized on his mind. To Somersby Arthur Henry Hallam, whose death inspired that magnificent monody "In Memoriam," came, not only as Alfred's friend, but as the accepted lover of Alfred's sister. There was a wedding, too, of Alfred's brother Charles, at which the future laureate promptly fell in love with Emily Selwood, the bride's sister. Tennyson took up his home at Farringford in
Where, far from noise and smoke of town
The noble down is now marked by a noble beacon to the poet's memory. In this quiet home of reverie and seclusion he wrote " Maud " and the Arthurian cycle, and was visited by the most distinguished men of his day. By others, too, for as his fame rose the larger crowd of curious burst on his seclusion until he was compelled to leave, and for four months of the summer at least to live at Aid-worth, whence he could regard
He lived there many years, until his sturdy frame was bowed and the old vigour departed, and then early one October morning, with the moonlight shining on his bed, where a volume of Shakespeare lay, he passed "To where beyond these voices there is peace."
In the opinion of Samuel Johnson, Lichfield's greatest son, that little cathedral city in the Midlands was the soberest, genteelest, and best-spoken of any town in England, although he admitted that the better class of persons got drunk every night, and were thought none the worse of it. The future "Cham of Literature" was born in a house nearly 300 years old, described by Nathaniel Hawthorne as "tall and thin, of three stories, with a square front and a roof rising steep and high." Here Michael Johnson carried on the trade of bookseller and stationer, varying the monotony of life behind the counter by weekly visits to Birmingham, Uttoxeter, and Ashby-de-la-Zouch. There took place that memorable scene in which Michael Johnson, being ill, asked Samuel to keep his bookstall for him in Uttoxeter Market, and Samuel, being proud, refused. The spirit of the great and gloomy lexicographer broods over Lichfield to-day. The birthplace is a museum, full of the tenderest relics to his memory. Hard by is the Johnson monument, with scenes from his life depicted on the pedestal. Johnson loved Lichfield. He saluted her in his Dictionary, "Salve Magna Parens" (Hail, Great Mother). But when the pilgrim has sought the city round, it is to the birthplace that he returns, the shrine where of all other places he may pay homage to a man who has been ranked with Falstaff and Pickwick as one of the three most popular figures in English literature.
The pilgrim who would worship at the shrine of Izaak Walton, author of "The Compleat Angler," has not far to go from Lichfield. In the brisk little town of Stafford he may take choice of two houses, one in Greengate Street and the other in East-gate Street, as the birthplace of young Izaak, or, adopting the latest but slenderest theory, he may choose the little cottage at the village of Shallowford, six miles away.
Certain it is that Izaak was born on August 9, 1593, the son of Jervis Walton. There were walls round Stafford in those days, but a placid country beyond, intersected by the waters of the slow-moving Penk and other streams in which the boy could pursue his contemplative art. In the Norman font of S. Mary's parish church he was baptized, and Stafford has honoured his memory by erecting there a bust inscribed "Piscator."
One cannot leave Stafford without visiting Shallow-ford, six miles away on the north-west, and the half-timbered cottage with roof of thatch which has long been associated with the Father of Angling. It was partly destroyed by fire in 1927, and there was a fear that the old homestead was gone for ever, but sufficient of it remained to warrant its rebuilding.
One must hark back north awhile, to make pil-grimage to Norwich, the home of George Borrow. Though born in East Dereham, where the gentle Cowper sleeps his last sleep, and buried in West Brompton, amid the turmoil of London, Borrow, for the pilgrim, is to be identified most with the cathedral city. The walking lord of gipsy lore placed the city high in his affections.
To Norwich came Thomas Borrow, the father of George, when his wanderings as a captain of militia were ended. He took a small two-storied house, now the Borrow House Museum, off Willow Lane, approached by a narrow arched opening known as "Sorrow's Court." The boy George would wander through the country with the gipsies; he would spend a couple of years in St. Petersburg superintending the printing of the New Testament in Manchu, or he would travel in Spain and Portugal distributing the Scriptures and writing home such unconventional letters as the Bible Society who employed him had never before received; but his heart lay in the little cottage in Willow Lane where his mother lived.
In the evening of his life Borrow could never allow a long period to elapse without visiting the old spot, and if he could have been brought to approve such a scheme, nothing probably would have pleased him better than the "Borrow House Museum," which, by the generosity of Rt. Hon. Arthur Michael Samuel, then Lord Mayor of Norwich, who bought the freehold, and other friends, has been turned to its present purpose, and adequate honour done to the city's most famous son. Inside are many treasures which the eye of the true Borrovian must delight to look upon-the title deed of the house, his articles of clerkship and the desk at which he sat, his marriage certificate, fragments of manuscripts, a copy of St. John's Gospel in Manchu, and his Prayer Book.
But the room of all is Borrow's own bedroom. You go up a narrow winding staircase, and find yourself in a small chamber with boarded floor, low slanting roof, and an odd misshapen window from which an excellent view of the western part of the city is obtained. And in this little holy of holies the pious pilgrim may take leave of the Scholar-Gipsy.
The churchyard of Stoke Poges, identified as the scene of Gray's "Elegy," is of a sweetly retiring disposition, and hidden by trees at the end of a narrow leafy lane that might easily be missed unless the pilgrim be on foot. Gray's mother and aunt lived at West End Farm, now enlarged into Stoke Court, and there the poet often visited them, staying for long periods. His was not a hurried life, nor is the "Elegy" a hurried poem, and one is not surprised to learn that it was many years in the labour of composition. There came a day when the devoted mother died, and was laid to rest in a red-brick, stone-capped tomb opposite the east window of the Hastings Chapel, where the poet's aunt also sleeps.
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