16 OCTOBER 1880, Page 11


ASINGULARLY interesting meeting took place iu the Rothay Hotel, Grasmere, on the afternoon of Wednesday, September 29th, to inaugurate the Wordsworth Society, the Bishop of St. Andrew's presiding. Bishop Wordsworth said,— " Our assemblage here to-day represents a company spread, I may venture to say, almost throughout the civilised world; and embracing, as it does, several very notable Wordsworthians, is amply sufficient for the purpose which has brought us together. That purpose, as I understand it, is to plant a sapling, which shall grow into a great tree, in honour of the poet's memory, and which shall enable future generations of his admirers—sitting, as it were, under its branches—to understand his works more thoroughly, and to study them with greater pleasure,—like the yew-trees which he himself planted in the neighbouring church- yard, and which are now flourishing over his grave. With such an object before us, the occasion is one for action rather than much speech ; and, in order that we may

proceed to action with the least delay, and with the best effect, I shall presently call upon our Secretary, Professor Knight—who, as the originator of the movement, is most competent to do it justice—to explain to us what his ideas and wishes are concerning it. Indeed, I feel that I should be guilty of something like an act of petty larceny, and should be putting my sickle into my neighbour's corn, if I were to attempt to forestall the remarks which he will make, with far greater propriety. I shall therefore only add one word to express the satisfaction which I feel in observing that, among the company here present there is a happy mixture of pilgrims from both sides of the Border, English and Scotch, reminding us of the time when Walter Scott and William Wordsworth mounted up Helvellyn together ; and reminding me more particularly of the occasion when I had the honour of accompanying my uncle to Abbotsford, on the memorable visit which he paid to Sir Walter in 1831, just as he was on the point of setting out for Italy,—au occasion which produced Yarrow Revisited,' and also the well-known sonnet, first murmured by the poet while I was walking by his side, in the following week, on the banks of Loch Katrine." Professor Knight said he wished it had fallen to the lot of some one more representative than he was to make the first statement as to the aim of the proposed Society, and to submit to the meeting the resolutions which would embody its consti- tution and rules. But the story of its origin was very easily told. Some time ago, it occurred to one or two friends that there was some work still to be done in reference to Wordsworth, both with a view to the minute and systematic study of his text, and also to the preservation of any memorials of the poet which were of a perishable character, and which, if not soon rescued from oblivion, might be lost to posterity. Although a very great deal had been done by critics and editors, there were many

points that remained for elucidation ; and it; occurred to these friends that this might be done more effectively by the co- operation of several associated together, than by solitary labour. It seemed to them that in the case of all the greater poets, a time came when this work had to be done; and that it was specially needed in the case of one whose poetry was so inti- mately associated with locality. Then, there was the question of the chronological order of the poems, which it is not always easy to determine ; and also the question of the best text, as all stu- dents of Wordsworth are aware that he altered his text, probably more than any other English poet. Well, a few friends had agreed to form a private, or semi-private Club for these pur- poses ; and they originally conjoined with it the idea of an annual meeting in this Lake District of England, which is so peculiarly identified with the poet. Some of the original mem- bers, however, suggested their friends as associates ; while others, hearing of the proposed Club, wished to be admitted to it. It was thus very soon evident that if the Club was to be formed, it could not be a private one : and it thee seemed to some of its promoters that it would be well to make it as wide and representative as possible. The proposal was accordingly brought under the notice of a good many persons by corre- spondence ; and from the way in which the idea had been taken up, had there been the requisite leisure to correspond with all who might have been asked, the members now enrolled would have exceeded 200. Before reading the names of those who had joined, Professor Knight remarked that they had done so simply on the ground of private invitation, or request ; and it was ou that account necessary to give to this meeting an in- augural character, by the passing of definite resolutions, and the fixing of a constitution. The names of sixty-eight members were then read, including Lord Selborne and Lady Selborne, Lord Coleridge, Robert Browning, James Russell Lowell, Leslie Stephen, Stopford Brooke, Lady Richardson, the Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford, the Doan of Salisbury, John Ruskin, Edward Dowden, Aubrey de Vere, R. II. Hutton, Alfred Hunt, Mrs. Augusta Webster, Airs. E. Pfeiffer, the Bishops of Lincoln and St. Andrew's, Professor Campbell Fraser, Professor Edward Caird, Professor Nichol, Professor Estlin Carpenter, J. MacWhirter, H. Holiday, F. J. Furnivall, William Words- worth (Eton), William Wordsworth (Bombay), R. Spence Watson, George Wilson, J. Hutchinson, J. P. Graves, &c.

Before mentioning the definite work which the Society might undertake, Mr. Knight stated that he had an unpublished MS. poem of Wordsworth's, and two poems of his sister, Dorothy ; but that after conference with their President, the Bishop of St. Andrew's, he had thought it more expedient not to bring these before the present meeting, which was mainly a business one. Referring to the work which the Society might undertake, there was, first, the systematic and detailed study of the poems, to which the younger members might devote them- selves, with a view to determine certain critical points which remain unfixed. For example, there were many interesting questions in reference to the origin of the poems, which he illustrated by quoting the very sentence in Wilkinson's " Tours to the British Mountains " on which the poem of " The Solitary Reaper" was founded. Then, he thought that a valuable bit of work might be done in collecting a history of opinion with reference to Wordsworth, from the year 1793 to the present time, showing its fluctuations, &c. There were many essays and notices of the poet scattered in obscure corners, which might be lost to posterity, and which, in any case, if col- lected together, would form a most interesting literary record. He had just read, for example, an admirable criticism by Mrs. Barrett Browning, who made up for the omission of Words- worth from her " Vision of Poets," by one of the finest and most appreciative notices of him elsewhere. More than one correspondent had referred to this as work needing to be done, in particular Professor Dowden, of Trinity College, Dublin, who also urged the publication, by the Society, of all such writings of Wordsworth (poems, letters, &c.), as still remain in MS., and may be deemed suitable for publication. The letters scat- tered through various books might be brought together, or at least an index of them made, in chronological order, stating where each letter may be found. Then, it had been suggested that a short monograph might be written on the portraits of Words- worth, and a portrait engraved for the members of the Society. It had also been proposed that the Society might, by-and-by, issue a selection of Wordsworth's poems bearing upon the Lake District of England, which, without note or comment, would be of great value. Membership of the Society was not to be regarded as implying literary partisanship. He himself refused to be called a Wordsworthian, if that implied that he belonged to a literary party, or was the enrolled disciple of any literary school. One of his friends and correspondents—himself a distinguished writer on Wordsworth—had not joined the Society, because he thought it might imply partisanship. Now, there were many members of this Society who felt the truth of what the hostile critics say of Wordsworth,—that he lacks humour, and that ho has no passion, at least of the tumultuous kind, that his constructive power is feeble, do. ; but then, they feel that no poet gives us everything, and that all these defects in

Wordsworth are compensated for by his great meditative depth, and by that feature which he alone amongst poets possessed in a super-eminent degree, viz., his power of teaching us, when the tumult of passion was passed, by insight into the symbolism of Nature, an imaginative and rational insight, which connects his poetry in so remarkable a manner at once with the genius of Plato, and with the latest and most elevated philosophy of Europe.

Mr. Knight then read several extracts from letters giving suggestions to the Society,—in particular from Mr. Ruskin and Mr. Dowden. After making his suggestions, Professor Dowden said,—" There is a real work to do, and a sufficient work. Minor things may be done by the way, as they arise. My conception of the Club, as existing to do a definite piece of work, involves the idea of its ceasing to exist when that work is done. I should not like the Club to languish, or to seek a factitious ground of existence in the curiosities of a scholarship which has exhausted all that is real and living. Wordsworth's poetry goes farthest, like a voice among his own mountains, in quiet and solitude. When the purpose of the Club has been achieved, all external hindrances will have been removed from the way of Wordsworth's influence ; all natural aids will have been afforded to it, and his poetry may be left to do its own work, side by side with that of other great writers,— in a silent, spiritual way, like that of light ; in an un- trammelled, invisible way, like that of the winds, blowing where they list." The following were the resolutions which he then proposed for consideration, and if approved of, for adoption by the meeting. (The Resolutions are printed as adopted after discussion) :—" I. That a Society, to be called ` The Wordsworth Society,' be formed, for the following purposes, viz. : (1), As a bond of union amongst those who are in sympathy with the general teaching and spirit of Wordsworth ; (2), to promote and extend the study of the poet's works, in particular to carry on the literary work which remains to be done in connection with the text and chronology of the poems, and the local allusions which they contain ; (3), to collect for preservation, and if thought desirable, for publication, original letters, and unpublished reminiscences of the poet ; (4), to pre- pare a record of opinion, with reference to Wordsworth from 1793 to the present time, and to investigate any points con- nected with the first appearance of his works. II. That the officials of the Society be an Honorary President, a Secretary, and a Treasurer, with an Executive Committee, and that an annual meeting of the Society should be held at a place and date to be fixed by the Committee. III. That it be in the power of any member to transmit communications bearing upon the work of the Society to the Secretary, to be read and considered at the annual meeting." The Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford, (Dr. Cradock), entirely concurred with Professor Knight's programme. The prejudice against Wordsworth, which was once so general, was largely diminished, but not abolished, and the Society would do good work by making Wordsworth even more widely known. Some years ago, in a large public school, there were not three boys who knew a line of Wordsworth, beyond those which are quoted in "English Bards and Scotch Re- viewers." He felt that Wordsworth could not be properly appreciated without some knowledge of the Lake Country. He proposed that Professor Knight's resolutions should be adopted, and they were finally adopted, in the form in which they are quoted above. The Bishop of St. Andrew's was elected President, Professor Knight, Secretary, and Mr. Wilson, Murrayfield House, Midlothian, Treasurer.