Readers leave many things in books—relevant press cuttings, bookmarks or keepsakes for example and one of the pleasures for purchasers of pre-loved volumes is discovering these reminders from the past. The older the book, the more intriguing the find. Today I want to share with you a treasure from my collection which I found in an early nineteenth century notebook owned by Lieutenant (later Commander) Charles Haultain of the Royal Navy. Commander Haultain died in 1845. We must suppose that one of his descendants found the clasped notebook the ideal place to press this sprig of holly. I was awestruck when I read the inscription:
A relic from Wordsworth’s garden, pluck’d by Mr H Luttrell September 1848.
It was as if I had reached across time and space to establish this fleeting connection with one of England’s greatest poets. The leaf was plucked by Henry Luttrell, a society wit and author of light verse who, I dare hope, was a welcome guest and not one of the day-trippers who besieged Wordsworth’s home of Rydal Mount, near Ambleside in the English Lake District.
By 1848, two years before his death, Wordsworth was Poet Laureate and the revered elder statesman of English poetry. Elizabeth Barrett wrote to Miss Mitford in February 1842, ‘I might, if I were tempted, be caught in the overt act of gathering a thistle because Wordsworth had trodden it down ... of gathering it eagerly like his own ass!’ (Later in the same letter, she goes on to say, ‘Yes—Wordsworth is wordy sometimes—in his blank verse he is. But he is a Wordsworth—a great poet & true!’
He was a keen landscape gardener and designed the four acre garden at Mount Rydal where he built a ‘writing hut’. During his life time, it had already become a tourist destination where, according to James’ Gibson’s 1843 Guide to the Scenery on Windermere, Wordsworth ‘most kindly invites all strangers to walk through his grounds’. The opening of the Kendal and Windermere Railway in 1847 brought even more ‘Tourists’ and ‘Cheap-Trainers’ to the house, who did not hesitate to ring the bell and ask for an autograph or help themselves to a leaf as a memento.
Below: Rydal Mount, Gardens landscaped by William Wordsworth. (Cmyk at English Wikipedia)
William Wordsworth died in 1850 and his family continued to rent the house until the death of his widow, Mary, in 1859. It was acquired in 1969 by their great great granddaughter and remains in the ownership of the Wordsworth family. House and gardens are open to the public.