Monday, October 7, 2013

Foiling the Fantods

The Lake District of England is a wild and wonderful place. The fells rise up precipitously from bowl-like valleys. You can see for miles from ridges and hillsides. Mortarless stone walls snake up from dells straight up the steep sides of fells to the very top. Everything in summer is brilliant green , like Day-Glo paint, with lovely blue lakes reflecting everything.
My friend Susan and I were invited to meet and stay with the Martins in Ambleside, a lovely town in Wordsworth country. Tony, now retired, was a professor at Lancaster University, specializing in literacy. He had written a book about struggling readers and teaching technique to assist their learning. Susan, whose field is also literacy, had written him a fan letter, and he, in turn, told her that if she was ever in England, to please visit him and his wife in the Lake District.  Susan, not one to let an opportunity pass, took him up on the invitation. We were invited to stay in their home, which was rather brave of him and his wife , Nancy. She was the education coordinator at Dove Cottage, the Wordsworth Home in the nearby little village of Grasmere.
Nancy took us to Dove Cottage and gave us a tour of the cottage, where the poet and his sister Dorothy had lived, and told us about their life there, and talked about the remarkable journal which Dorothy had kept in which she described her day to day activities, her long walks, her garden and her devotion to the Great Poet. I became more interested in her than in the poet, and bought a copy of the journal and found it wonderful to read over and over. She was a memorable woman.
In the museum connected to the cottage there were many artifacts from the period ( early 19th century) among them the Claude Glass. When the early railroad provided access to the Lake District, it became a favorite vacation  and tourist spot for city folk from other parts of the U.K. Among these tourists were young ladies of a delicate makeup, whose contact with nature consisted mainly of Austenian walks about the shrubbery of country estates. Unfortunately, these young ladies found the wild scenery of the Lake District so overwhelming that they were won't to swoon from a surfeit of natural beauty.
Enter the Claude Glass. This device was held up, facing the scenery, while one's back was to the dangerous view. The Claude Glass was convex, thus taming the wildness into a more concentrated, more easily tolerated compact view. The young ladies could thus enjoy the full Lake District experience while retaining full consciousness.
The next evening, the Matins took us out to Wrynose Pass for a hike. It is a vast valley, surrounded by the Langdale Pikes, enormous green fells reaching  up to the sky.
I turned to Nancy.
"Oh, my God! Did you bring a Claude Glass?"
She had not, but somehow I managed to stave off the vapors. I understood those young ladies of old.
(I am quite sure that Dorothy Wordsworth never needed such a thing. She walked over the fells for miles almost very day and wrote in her journal of a host of golden daffodils before the Great Poet ever thought of that image himself. )

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