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MUST begin by saying that I felt much
hesitation as to whether I was warranted ZA6 in complying with the invitation to address you which I had the honour to receive from the Committee of “ The Afternoon Lectures.” When appealed to by them, I recognised the duty which lies upon every member of society to contribute according to his powers to the common stock of elevating pleasure, and I felt for the difficulty in which they were placed by the withdrawal of a lecture which had been announced : on the other hand, I knew myself to be unpractised in such addresses, and to be without the advantage of note as author or critic; and I feared that from these causes, and from the shortness of time allowed for preparation, I should fall below the standard which has been in this place so worthily maintained. The subject which was suggested to me was one, however, which enabled me on special grounds to decide on undertaking the task; for I saw that what must have been looked for from me was not profound or elaborate
criticism, but rather such testimony as a man of average intelligence might feel at liberty to give respecting the personality, as illustrating his works, of at least one distinguished author, whom he had enjoyed a favourable opportunity of knowing. It is with this understanding that I address myself to my task. I feel secure against the danger of ministering to an appetite for gossip on points with which the public has no concern ; but I ask indulgence, as for other defects, so especially for the air of egotism which I fear must pervade my lecture : in excuse for which I may plead that it is essentially involved in the giving of testimony. I am here to impart to you my impressions : it is for you, accepting them, I trust, as truthfully uttered, to assign to them their due modicum of value, and to draw from them such help as they may afford towards a right understanding and appreciation of the writings of the poet I am to speak of.
It was in the year 1833 that, through the introduction of a friend never to be thought of by me without reverence and gratitude, I first became acquainted with the Lake District of England, and the distinguished persons who then inhabited it. The charms which I there enjoyed of lakes of many characters in all their moods-of mountains of bold and noble features, bathed in purple light or “spiritualised by mists”--of streams, not large, but remarkable for their wayward animation and their pure transparence-of native woods, not grand, but yet rich from the variety of their tints, embracing a wide range of the gamut
of colour, from the dark tone of the yew and holly, through oak, and sycamore, and alder, and hazel, to the silver birch and the ash with its leaves of palest gold seemingly on the point of melting into the autumnal air-of wild flowers, exquisite in beauty, and scattered all around with a lavish prodigality ;these charms of nature, in combination with the highest intellectual pleasures, induced in me a strong desire to be myself a denizen of the favoured region; and in the year 1835, partly though the intervention of Mr. Wordsworth, I became the resident clergyman of the parish of Windermere. A residence there of nearly thirty years, which it gave me deep pain to terminate, enabled me to know the people as well as the country, and I joyfully and gratefully bear my testimony to their sterling character. The class of "'statesmen," or estatesmen, so-called because owners of the ground they occupy, have many of the qualities of an aristocracy. Tall in general and of finely formed features, which have a certain hardness of expression, derived from constant conflict with an ungenial climate, they are independent in their feelings and bearing ; but this independence is usually free from rudeness, and is oftener allied to a proud and sensitive shyness. Completely devoid of hypocrisy, they are honest and truthful, save, it may be, for a certain slackness in the exercise of judicial condemnation, arising, in large part at least, from the kindness of heart which makes them unwilling permanently to depress a neighbour's character or fortunes. A recent number of the Quarterly Review, in an
excellent article on Westmorland, supplies some amusing examples, which I can fully endorse, of their more than Attic moderation in speech ;—their describing, for instance, a bad man as “a vara moderate chap," while on a thorough reprobate the remark was made that "there were a deal of folks mair particler in dooin reet nar him;"—but the good Westmorland woman's reference to the time of the French Revolution as that in which “there was sic a dee-al of uneasiness i' France,” is perhaps a typical example that cannot be surpassed. They are apt to be keen and tenacious in regard to their rights to property, so that litigation has been with some 'statesmen a favourite pastime; but in times of sickness or trial they are excellent neighbours, helping freely with personal tendance as well as with the contents of their household stores. They are calm in judgment, and their affections are slowly kindled, but when once kindled, though sparing of outward expression, they burn with a steady enduring warmth ; and when their blood is up, they will, with as unflinching a spirit and as decisive energy as any men in England, do yeoman's service in behalf of person or cause that is dear to them. A fine specimen of this character is drawn, evidently from the life, by Mrs. Lynn Linton, in her recent novel, “ Lizzie Lorton.” I have known and honoured more than one Jobby Dowthwaite. It is on many grounds to be lamented that from various causes the class is surely tending to extinction ; and it is to be feared that the high qualities derived from them, which pervaded the whole population, will soon lose much of their distinctive prominence : for now, year by year increasingly, a promiscuous flood of tourists surges up into the remotest valleys, emigration thins the old families, capital buys them out, new settlers of all ranks seem to start from the ground in every quarter, and an assimilating process is perpetually at work. It may be that it brings with it some amount of compensation; but no one who remembers, as I do, the time when doors and windows were left unfastened at night, when neighbours took almost a domestic interest in everything that befel a neighbour, whether rich or poor, can feel a very confident trust that the change will give things as precious as those it takes away. At all events it may be said without doubt, that Wordsworth was happy in being born in a region of which the natural features were so noble and beautiful, and among a peasantry so simple and manly, and especially that his time was before either of these suffered to any great extent from the sophistication which they are now undergoing.
In speaking of Wordsworth to an audience of my countrymen and country-women, I may not unfitly commence by saying that he always manifested a lively and tender interest in the history, the difficulties, and the prospects of Ireland. As he was in advance of his countrymen in his views of many most important subjects respecting themselves, (I may instance his conviction of the obligation of the State to secure the instruction of the children of the poor,) so, it struck me, he was in his feeling towards Ireland and the Irish.