Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Clearing the Wood for the Iron Way

Thomas Sidney Cooper (1803-1902), Clearing the Wood for the Iron Way:

The "iron way" is of course the railway. This painting reminds me of William Wordsworth's sonnet On the Projected Kendal and Windermere Railway:
Is then no nook of English ground secure
From rash assault? Schemes of retirement sown
In youth, and 'mid the busy world kept pure
As when their earliest flowers of hope were blown,
Must perish;—how can they this blight endure?
And must he too the ruthless change bemoan
Who scorns a false utilitarian lure
'Mid his paternal fields at random thrown?
Baffle the threat, bright Scene, from Orrest-head
Given to the pausing traveller's rapturous glance:
Plead for thy peace, thou beautiful romance
Of nature; and, if human hearts be dead,
Speak, passing winds; ye torrents, with your strong
And constant voice, protest against the wrong.
Wordsworth himself attached the following note to his sonnet:
The degree and kind of attachment which many of the yeomanry feel to their small inheritances can scarcely be over-rated. Near the house of one of them stands a magnificent tree, which a neighbour of the owner advised him to fell for profit's sake. 'Fell it!' exclaimed the yeoman, 'I had rather fall on my knees and worship it.' It happens, I believe, that the intended railway would pass through this little property, and I hope that an apology for the answer will not be thought necessary by one who enters into the strength of the feeling.
On the supposed identity of the yeoman, see William Knight, The English Lake District as Interpreted in the Poems of Wordsworth, 3rd ed. (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1904), p. 150:
Dr. Cradock says: "The yeoman was, I believe, Mr. Birkett, owner of a farm which lies a few fields back on the left of the road, between Waterhead and Troutbeck Bridge. My informant was the Reverend Mr. Jefferies of Grasmere, who was living in the country at the time of the occurrence which provoked the sonnet. I am told that the tree (an oak) is still standing, but I have not seen it."


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