Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/A group of graves

Illustrated by Henry George Hine


It is but a short walk from the former dwelling of the living to the last home of the dead poet Wordsworth. In the little garth of S. Oswald’s, Grasmere (“the lake of the wild boar”), the Churchyard of the Excursion, and the subject of Wilson’s verse, there are three lych-gates, according to the country folk one for each of the parishes of Ambleside, Grasmere, and Langdale. To the east of the church, hung with a screen of larches, the Rotha glides not far off, and under the gloom of yews which he saw planted, are the graves of Wordsworth and his household. The turf is washed green by summer dew and winter rain, and in early spring is beautifully dappled with lichens and golden moss. The graves are in a line, and a pathway has been worn to them from the wicket-gate on the bridge. Dorothy Wordsworth is the name we read on the first grave—that of the poet’s favourite sister; then an interval filled by the grave of Mrs. Wordsworth, near William Wordsworth; then the grave of Dora Wordsworth, with the Agnus Dei, and the text, “Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out;” then the grave of her husband, Mr. Quillinan, the translator of the “Lusiad;” and behind them, marked by two little head stones, the graves of Wordsworth’s two infant children. The inscription upon the stone, written by Wordsworth, is:

Six weeks to six years added he remained
Upon this sinful earth, by sin unstained.
O blessed Lord, whose goodness then removed
A child which every eye that looked on loved,
Support us, help us calmly to resign
What Thou once gavest, now is wholly Thine.

Hartley Coleridge’s grave is behind, with the inscription, graven round a cross entwined with thorn, “By Thy passion, good Lord, deliver me.” At the foot of the cross we read: “The stones which mark the grave of Hartley Coleridge, eldest son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, were erected by his surviving brother and sister towards the close of the year 1850.” There Hartley Coleridge was laid on a snowy day in January, the white-haired Wordsworth following the bier, which was light as that of a child, and a crowd of country people filling up the procession. Before spring gave way to summer, Wordsworth himself was borne along the same path by others to his rest. “I have no particular choice,” Hartley Coleridge wrote, “of a churchyard; but I would repose, if possible, where there are no proud monuments, no new-fangled obelisks or mausoleums, heathen in everything but taste, and not Christian in that. Nothing that betokeneth aristocracy, unless it were the venerable memorial of some old family long extinct. If the village-school adjoined the churchyard, so much the better. But all this must be as He will. I am greatly pleased with the fancy of Anaxagoras, whose sole request to the people of Lampsacus was, that the children might have a holiday on the anniversary of his death; but I would have the holiday on the day of my funeral. I would connect the happiness of childhood with the peace of the dead, not with the struggles of the dying.” The shadow of Grasmere churchyard, where at that time there were no obelisks, was probably in the poet’s thoughts. “I should not like,” he said to a friend, “boys to play leap-frog over me, but I would not mind little girls running over my grave.” The little building by the gate on the north no long time ago was the school-house. There little Barbara Lewthwaite was taught; and as Wordsworth one day looked in, he saw “that child of beauty rare” reading in Lindley Murray’s selection the poem he had written, and, as of course, very vain of the compliment he had paid her. The interior of the church is very different from what it was at the date of the Excursion. Churchwardens’ whitewash and paint and hideous pews have defaced all the features of interest; and the old Basilican fashion of men and women sitting on opposite sides of the nave, and the custom of flower-bearing, are the only relics of the olden time.

Wordsworths Grave (Hine).png
Wordsworth’s Grave.

The monument of Wordsworth, near the spot where for so many years on Sundays his place was never vacant, is decorated with his favourite flowers—daisies and wild celandine; the inscription is as follows, slightly altered from the words of Mr. Keble:

To the memory of
William Wordsworth,
a true Philosopher and Poet,
who, by the special calling of
Almighty God,
whether he discoursed on man or nature,
failed not to lift up the heart
to holy things,
tired not of maintaining the cause
of the poor and simple,
and so, in perilous times, was raised up
to be a Chief Minister,
not only of noblest poesy,
but of high and Sacred Truth,
this memorial
is placed here by his friends and neighbours,
in testimony
of respect, affection, and gratitude, anno 1851.

Here, rather than in the long-drawn aisles of Westminster, the memorial of the poet appears appropriate; but, indeed, he needs no monument. As long as the mountains stand and the lakes brighten the dales which once he celebrated, and with which now his name is imperishably associated, he needs no other monument than his own immortal verse, which he has bequeathed to all who can appreciate and love what is pure and good, and beautiful and holy—a κτῆμα ἐς τὸ ἀεί.

M. E. C. W.