[From Letters from IoM 1846]
NOTES ON THE ROAD-ENGLISH LAKES - A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.
" I am not afraid of asserting that, in many points of view, our lakes are much more interesting than those of the Alps." WORDSWORTH.
" We penetrate'tbe glaciers, traverse the Rhone and the Rhine, whilst our domestic lakes of Ullswater, Keswick, and Windermere, exhibit scenes in so sublime a style, with such beautiful colourings of rock, wood, and water, backed with so tremendous a disposition of mountain, that if they do not fairly take the lead of all the views of Europe, yet they are indisputably such as no English traveller should leave behind." CUMBERLAND'S DEDICATION TO ROMNEY.
HAVING only just arrived in "Mona's Isle," I shall in this letter merely extract for your edification a few notes from my journal on my road hither through the English lakes. " It may not be amiss," says some writer, "to instigate an inquiry why foreign scenery should be sought out with such eagerness, and the (at least not less) lively pictures presented to our notice in our native land disregarded. Is the former visited with less inconvenience ? Are the facilities for enjoyment greater abroad ? Is continental scenery so ' beautiful exceedingly,' that all natural loveliness besides must fade before it? The mountains of the Apennines are less varied and romantic than some of our mountains in North Wales. The almost interminable levels and marshes in Italy may find a parallel in Lincolnshire ; but their plantations, their palaces, and villas jutting out from open fields, unadorned by the graceful investiture of pleasure grounds, are not to be compared with the rich, verdant, and various scenery of England. Let the tourist, then, assure himself of this : he will meet in his own country with picturesque beauty yet more magnificent than that of Italy. While, in the articles of cleanliness, domestic comfort, excellent provisions, moderate charges, and all the inter alia requisite for convenience and enjoyment, Italy will bear no comparison with England." It is, indeed, astonishing, as I have frequently remarked to you, how little English travellers know, and, therefore, how little they appreciate, the beauties of their native country, to say nothing of Scotland and Ireland.
To see Windermere (the largest of our English lakes) to advantage, you should begin at the extremity, and will then find every prospect improved until you open upon the Rydal mountains. But I do not here propose giving a description of any of the lakes, which have been so repeatedly described (and in many instances most minutely and tediously) by tourist, male and female. I shall merely extract a few random records from my note book.
" May 1 st. Spent two days at Windermere; rowed about the lake in a mizzling rain with an umbrella over my head; went on to the little village of Bowness ; visited Bishop Watson'sfi tomb in the churchyard, formed of black stone, very neat, with a simple inscription in Latin. What a contrast to the ' lying, spooney epitaphs,'* (as some writer terms them) around one. They manage these things better in Scotland. The church is a neat, but small edifice containing several sepulchral memorials of families resident in the neighbourhood. There are the remains of a painted window, which is supposed to have been executed in the reign of Edward III. The most perfect part represents the Crucifixion. Near the altar is a marble monument, by Flaxman, to the memory of Bishop Watson."
* * *
The following will show the superstition of the country people in this neighbourhood. A guide who, some years ago, had his finger bitten by an adder, said, " I should have lost my loife if I'd naw found an Irishmon to lay bond of it and strouk it, an' during the time he did it, I fealt no peau." He was asked, " whether an Englishman would not have done as well? and if he was not indebted to his good habit of body for the cure." "Not I," said he, " an Englishman cu'd naw chearm away the sting;" and he then told a story of a fealt that he saw when a boy.
" An old Irishwoman mead a ring round an adder, and it cu'd naw geet out of it; hua then repeated some gibberish, weet her finger wi' her spittle, stroaked it cross its back, an' it deed." What an accommodating adder!
An old shepherd, named Nicholas Hill, who for years tended some sheep in the neighbourhood of the lakes, and was at length forced, from old age and violent rheumatism, to give in, was found by a gentleman (who conversed with him) to be very ignorant on religious subjects. After some time, having listened to the gentleman's exhortations with great attention, he thus addressed him:
"Sir, I bin trying to think an' pull out of my head all the bad and wicked things I ha' said and done since I was a man. I never rightly thought on 'um before, or that 'um were half so many. I am meonly sorry an grift for 'um. I hope God will forgive me. Do you think he will, measter ?"
It would be well if many of us who pride ourselves on our religious knowledge would take a lesson fiom poor Nicholas Hill. If we would now and then try to think an' pull out of our heads all the bad and wicked things we "ha' said an' done,"* and like him feel "meonly sorry an' grift for urn."
This morning visited Buttermere, celebrated for being the birth-place of Mary Robinson, " the beauty of Buttermere," as she was styled by her friends and admirers; with the following slight sketch of whom I shall conclude this letter:
Mary Robinson, the beauty of Buttermere had been long the admiration of the whole neighbourhood for her personal charms and agreeable manners, and the object of affection of many lovers, for she possessed the " fatal gift of beauty." Among the numerous gay lake-tourists to Buttermere, was one who, to a graceful exterior, added an insinuating address, and travelled with all the splendour of a man of quality, though, in reality, a proscribed fugitive.* As he lodged at the inn, and lived expensively, he frequently saw, and at length became enamoured, of the fair Mary. The appearance he made was maintained by his numerous public depredations, and success in gambling, and he assumed the name and relationship of brother to a nobleman, and, although a married man, soon paid his addresses to her with all the apparent sincerity and tenderness of an ardent lover. She for some time resisted his offers of marriage, from the great seeming disparity between their situations in life, but at length consented to become his wife. The marriage was celebrated at Lorton church (six miles from Buttermere), in 1802, and for some time afterwards Mary lived in happiness, grateful to the man who had thus, as she imagined, raised her to a superior station in life. She was, however, soon undeceived. All her hopes were blasted, and the quietude of the peaceful vale disturbed. It happened that among the visitors to Buttermere was one who knew the gentleman whom Hatfield personated,* who was at that time in Germany. Upon his return home, he mentioned the circumstance, described Hatfield's person, and the situation where he was. Numberless fraudulent transactions and forgeries were then laid to his charge, and warrants issued for arresting him. These, however, for some time, he found means to evade, but was at length taken into custody, and shortly afterwards removed to Carlisle, tried there upon a charge of forgery, (on the prosecution of the Post-office,) convicted, and executed in the year 1803. Some years afterwards, his wife married Mr. R. Starmer, ,yeoman, of Todd Crofts, Caldbeck, (fourteen miles from Penrith,) by whom she had two sons and three daughters. She died 7th February, 1837..* Her husband now possesses the large inn at Buttermere, behind the old one where she was born.
A few years ago, a novel founded on her history appeared, which has now sunk into merited oblivion. " Hatfield," observes the reviewer," is drawn as a most accomplished gentleman, draughtsman, botanist, &c., purely and faithfully in love with the Beauty of Buttermere, who is in turn painted as a model of virtue, fine sense, and devotedness to her elegant swindler and captivating forger. There is an excellent clergyman, who turns out to be Hatfield's father, and there are ColeridgeSoutheyandWordsworth,atlength; GeorgeIV., the Duchess of Devonshire, and Lord Camelford, appear towards the end, in an endeavour to procure a pardon for the convict. There is one great drawback upon the interest of all such compositions-viz., that the fate of the principal character, and consequently the denoument of all the machinery, is certain from the first."
The author of " A Fortnight's Ramble" to the Lakes, mentions having first seen Mary in 179?, then a girl of fifteen, and thus describes her" Her hair was thick and long, of a dark brown -her face was a fine oval, with full eyes-her cheeks had more of the lily than the rose,-and although she had never been out of the village, she had a manner about her which seemed better calculated to set off dress, than dress her. She was a very Lavinia,
"Seeming when unadorned-adorned the most."'
On his second visit to Buttermere, some years afterwards, he again describes her.
" My dinner, being cold sirloin of marbledbeef, was soon ready, and a fire in the small room prepared for me, I was waited upon by Mary, and contrived to joke away famously, and the dirtiness of the walls gave me a fine opportunity, for I observed writing, in Greek, in Latin, French, and English upon them, all about her, and which, I gave her to understand, were the probable reasons of the walls not having been lately whitewashed.
" Her denial too much crimsoned her face for me to believe her, and the next morning I saw the compliments in English were rubbed out. Mary's hair, so ornamental when we before saw her, was folded under her cap. She went out to prepare for the dance-the dance was never long, and the moment the fiddler ceased, another set that were ready called a fresh tune, and began. I honestly say, I never saw more graceful dancing, or a woman of finer figure to set it off, than in Mary of Buttermere.
" I told them I had somewhere read of a 'Sally of Buttermere,' and asked, `which was her?' One of her friends replied, 'My name is Sally, but this Mary here is the Sally the South-countryman wrote about, and I love her above all the world.'
"Mary Robinson has really a heavenly countenance, yet she is far from a perfect beauty. She is nineteen, and very tall; her voice is sweetly modulated, and in every point of manners she appeared such as might be fitted
" To shine in courts with unaffected ease." Having slept at the inn, he narrates, the next morning, the good advice he gave to Mary " The weather was lowering, and I did not wish to be entombed in Buttermere; therefore, taking the opportunity of our being alone, I said, ' Mary, I rejoice in having such an opportunity of minutely observing the propriety of your behaviour. You may remember, I advised you, in my book,* never to leave your native valley. Your age and situation require the utmost care-strangers will come, and have come purposely, to see you, and some of them with very bad intentions. We hope you will never suffer from them, but never cease to be upon your guard. You really are not so handsome as you promised to be, and I have long wished, by conversation like this, to do away what mischief the flattering character I gave of you may expose you to. Be merry and wise.*
She told me, she sincerely thanked me, and said, ' I hope, Sir, I ever have, and trust I always shall take care of myself."'
Her monitor declared, in a note to one of the editions of his work, he regretted that he ever wrote in commendation of any young living creature: "As vanity," he observes, "is, alas! the most intoxicating of human plants, and too apt to spread when unfortunately introduced to public approval. Few minds are proof against it, and happy would it be for many flowers, were they
" Born to blush unseen."
1 This lake is famous for its charr, a fish resembling a trout in shape and colour, and very delicate when potted. The circumference of Windermere is about twenty-six miles and the area comprising between four and five thousand acres.
2 The bishop resided at Calgarth Park, in the vicinity, which be built in 1789, and expired here in 1816, in his seventy-ninth year.
3 "' It might well astonish those who do not consider the levity with which man deals with the most solemn subjects, to observe the rarity of appropriate or just inscriptions upon tombstones. The vanity and falsehood of ordinary language, are found to desecrate monumental marble, as commonly as they vulgarize familiar conversation, and we have to turn to anything rather than to epitaphs, to be edified or enlightened. There is scarcely a mistake or an absurdity that disgusts in the living, which is not perpetrated over the dead; and we are shocked every day, by seeing the mask which has been worn through life, either held on by the dying hand of the wearer himself, or replaced upon the empty skull by the injudicious and impious flattery of survivors . . . It were well, then, that men, before they died, bad the modesty to impose a penalty on posthumous adulation, lest they should feel shame when it is too late for remedy; and if they do not take the composition into their own bands, at least restrict their friends to the truth, which would dictate nearly one form for all. All must be described as by nature lost children of Adam. . . . . The simplest and justest patterns are, perhaps, those found in the humblest churcbyards ; the name and date, and some text, such as ` Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord,' which is a solemn truth, either applicable to the dust beneath, or not. . . . . Most of those elegiac effusions which delight and affect us in the works of the greatest of the poets of ancient and modern times, are only offensive when they become part of the sepulchral decoration. Let us, if we will, wreathe the busts of those we have loved with the flattering garlands of poetry and affection, at least leave the tomb, with its worms and its dust, to the solemn and sacred sincerity of truth."CHRISTIANITY AND EPITAPHS.
4 J. J. Rousseau seemed to imply, in his last illness, from his address to the Deity, that he was about to deliver his soul to him " as pure as when he received it." It is to be hoped, before be made this rather startling declaration, he had pulled out of his head the bad and wicked things he had said and done, &c.
5 His real name was Hatfield.
6 The Honourable Augustus Hope.
7 "There is a scarce portrait of her, published in 1803 by Vernor and Hood, engraved by Mackenzie, after a drawing by W. Bennet, representing her with luxuriant hair and a cottage bonnet put carelessly on her head, with the hind part in front. The countenance, and particularly the eyes; give a fair idea of rustic loveliness."-LITERARY GAZETTE.
8 " A Fortnight's Ramb!e," written some years previously, and published in the Gentleman's Magazine, vol. lxx., page 18, Jan. 1800, a considerable time before this young person became the subject of general commiseration from her unfortunate marriage.
9 I am surprised that Dr. Mackay, in his recent publication on the " English Lakes," has made no allusion to the celebrated Beauty of Buttermere.