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•»■'»»■■ I I • — I II H IM ; 








Rev. WILLIAM LUKE NICHOLS, m.a., f.s.a. 


2>o&tnoton, Ibolfoi'fc, ant> St. Hubries. 





<St. JHptfitsian’s 

Fetter Lane, Fleet Street, E.C. 


Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2016 



©f i-t. aunties, 



How bless’d, delicious scene ! the eye that greets 
Thy open beauties, or thy lone retreats ; 

The unwearied sweep of wood thy cliffs that scales ; 
The never-ending waters of thy vales. 

Descriptive Sketches — Wordsworth. 


The Historic Paper on the Quantocks, by my late brother, 
issued only for private circulation, has been long out 
of print. It was his intention to reprint the little work, 
with Illustrations, adding also an account of the 
Dodington Tragedy, but that intention was frustrated 
by the repeated spasmodic attacks to which he was 
subject some time before his death ; he left, however, 
a carefully revised account of the terrible but romantic 
circumstances connected with it, of which many gar- 
bled versions are current. 

I regard it as a fraternal obligation to fulfil my brother’s 
wishes by the re-publication of the original Paper with 
the additions mentioned. 

Dodington, Holford, and St. Audries are so inseparably 
connected with the Quantocks, that it was deemed 
expedient to add a chapter to the original work, giving 
an account of those interesting features of the locality. 

My friend, Mr. Peach, has kindly assisted me in the editing 
and revision of the work and in passing it through the 



September, 1891. 

“ Naturane nobis hoc datum dicam, an errore quodam ; ut, 
cum ea loca videamus, in quibus memoria dignos viros acceperi- 
mus multum esse versatos, magis moveamur, quam si quando 
eorum ipsorum aut facta audiamus, aut scrip turn aliquod 
legamus ? Yelut ego nunc moveor. Yenit enim mihi 
Platonis in mentem, quern accepimus primum hie disputare 
solitum ; cujus etiam illi hortuli propin qui non memoriam 
solum mihi afflerunt, sed ipsum videntur in conspectu meo 
hie ponere. Hie Speucippus, hie Xenocrates, hie ejus auditor 
Polemo ; cujus ipsa ilia sessio fuit, quam videmus. 

Tanta vis admonitionis inest in locis .” — Cicero de Finib ., Lib. 
v., c. i. 

“ I remember once, when Coleridge, Thelwell and I were 
seated upon the turf on the brink of the stream, in the most 
beautiful part of the most beautiful glen of Alfoxden, Coleridge 
exclaimed, ‘ This is a place to reconcile one to all the jarrings 
and conflicts of the wide world.’ ‘ Nay,’ says Thelwall, c to 
make one forget them altogether.’ It was a chosen resort of 









•• 37 

.. 49 

.. 56 

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MAP . . . . • • • • • • • • title 


THE WOODLANDS .. .. .. .. .. i$ 

WATERFALL .. .. .. .. .. ..24 



POET WORDSWORTH .. .. .. .-33 



HOLFORD CHURCH .. .. .. .. ..57 




Womlbury Company. 




AVING resided for some time on the borders of the 

Quantock-hills, I have been requested to give my 
impressions of the scenery of the district, and especially 
to note any reminiscences I may have met with of the two 
great Poets, whose genius has thrown an additional charm 
over the locality, and made it for ever classic ground. 

The mountain range of the Quantocks, the Oberland of 
Somersetshire, rises above the wide plain of Bridgwater 
and the fair valley, or Dean 1 as it is called, of Taunton, and 
runs for nearly sixteen miles in a direction from south-east 
to north-west between the Bristol Channel and the latter 
town, and attains its greatest elevation at Wilsneck, an 
eminence rising between the two rival heights of Cothel- 
slone and Dousborough. 

The chief characteristic of Quantock scenery I venture 
to designate as Cheerful Beauty. Unlike the savage 
grandeur of the Scottish mountains, or the wild and bleak 

1 This is a parcel of ground round about Taunton very pleasant and 
populous, containing many parishes, and so fruitful, to use their own 
phrase, with the j tun and zoil, that it needs no manuring at all. The 
peasantry therein are as rude as rich, and so highly conceited of their 
own country, that they conceive it a disparagement to be born in any 
other place. — Grose's Provincial Glossary. For an account of the 
Manor of Taunton-Dean see Savage’s History of Taunton, p. 46. 



uplands of Northern England, its breezy summits rise in 
gentle and graceful undulations, and sink into woody 
combes of the most romantic beauty, thickly clothed, many 
of them with scrub oak, and each with its own little stream 
winding through it ; its slopes fringed with gorse and 
ferns of luxuriant growth, or purple with heather, and 
abounding everywhere with the pretty little shrub vac _ 
cinium myrtillus , or whortleberry, the fruit of which, locally 
known by the name of “ whorts ” becomes from its sale 
during the season a source of considerable profit to the 
surrounding villages. The prevalence of the yew and the 
holly may also be noted ; the former is found singly in the 
woods and hedgerows, or in the churchyards, of which few 
are without one or more specimens often of majestic growth 
and venerable age. The holly is still more abundant, and 
the fine undergrowth of this tree, like those in the grove at 
Alfoxden, so much admired by Wordsworth, forms quite a 
speciality of these woods. Nor must the charm which the 
colour of the soil imparts be forgotten ; — that rich red sand- 
stone which always gives such a warm tone to the 
landscape, and so much luxuriance to the foliage. Those 
numerous combes, however, in the sheltered hollows of 
which may be found some of the rarest of our native plants , 2 
form the most marked feature of the district ; and lying, as 
they generally do, at right angles to the sea-shore, break the 
outline of the mountain range into u Heads / 7 as they are 
locally termed, and these eminences, seen from the Bristol 

x Appendix, note i. 

2 Note ii. 



Channel, gave rise in days of yore to the Keltic name of 
The Quantocks, i.e., the water-headlands. 

Around the brows of these hills wind beautiful walks 
that extend for miles through oak woods, once the favourite 
haunt of the poets and their friends ; such are the valley of 
the Seven Wells, Cockercombe, Hunter’s Dell, and other 
points of similar interest. They have since been rendered 
more accessible by the formation of drives that open out 
the most charming scenes of woodland beauty. Southey, 
in one of his letters, affirms that “ Devonshire falls very 
flat after the North of Somerset, which is truly a magnifi- 
cent country.” Few strangers, however, who travel along 
the public road at the base of these hills would anticipate 
the countless beauties that He hidden in the recesses of their 
“ dingles and bosky dells, ” nor the splendid prospects 
which their heights command. Certainly, as far as my own 
experience extends, I never met with so much fine moun_ 
tain scenery that could be enjoyed with so trifling an 
amount of climbing, nor a district in which so many spots 
impressive from their solitude and seclusion could be so 
easily reached. An advantage this, to be appreciated, it 
may be, by persons somewhat advanced in years, more than 
by the droves of good people infected by the modern vulgar 
mania for climbing the snowy peaks of enormous mountains, 
with, as it would seem, no intelligible object except that of 
coming down again, and apart from any of those scientific 
researches which justify and ennoble so great an expendi- 
ture of time and toil. To such hunters after the sublime I 



cannot commend this part of Somersetshire, nor invite their 
steps to wander — 

On seaward Quantock’s heathy hills, 

Where quiet sounds from hidden rills 
Float here and there like things astray.l 

Our Quantock scenery, with its gentle features, and a 
beauty more of expression than of form, would be to them 
“a' is a picture to a blind man’s eye or might affect them 
much as a pastoral symphony of Beethoven might affect the 
crowd that is rushing from a “ monster concert 91 at Exeter 

This exaggerated passion for lofty mountains, so much in 
vogue of late years, appears to have been unknown to 
classical antiquity, and the greatest poets and painters 
would seem to have drawn but little of their inspiration 
from its influence. Beauty of scenery is in truth independ- 
ent of mere altitude and expanse, and grandeur is not 
necessarily connected with magnitude. To persons who 
are susceptible of the true enjoyment of external nature, 
and can watch with an intelligent eye the constant changes 
of shade and colour in landscape, and note the delicate 
harmonies and manifold transformations in sea, and sky, 
and cloud, which succeed each other in such infinite 
variety to them, the wild heathy moorlands, the softly 
rounded heights, and the deep-sunk combes of the Quan- 
tocks will, however inferior in scale, be found, in their way 

Coleridge Poems, vol. i , p. 180, 



scarcely less impressive than the passes of the Alps or the 
mountains of Switzerland. For after all, it is upon the 
mind which the spectator brings along with him that his 
acquisitions of pleasure or profit must depend : — 

we receive but what we give, 

And in our life alone doth Nature live. 1 

Other points of interest remain to be noticed. The 
mountain heights not only afford views of great extent and 
grandeur, but are many of them crowned with ancient 
encampments. Of these perhaps the most considerable in 
size, and commanding in position is Dousborough, a 
corruption of How’s-borough, i.e ., the hill-fort. A long 
green path of elastic turf leads up for. about a mile in 
nearly a straight line from the gate of my residence, Wood- 
lands, to the camp on the summit. This has been some- 
times ascribed to the Romans, but, as appears to me, is 
evidently a fortress of Belgic-British construction, and is 
of great size and strength. In form it is nearly oval, but 
accomodated to the shape of the hill. Its enclosure, 
partially overgrown with heather and dwarf-oak coppice, 
contains an area of more than ten acres. A deep fosse and 
a lofty agger surround it, and the ramparts are pierced by 
three entrances. On its western declivity may be traced a 
raised road, or causey, leading to the British trackway, that, 
running to the ancient ford at Combwitch, skirts the 
entrenched post at Cannington Park Hill, keeps along a 

1 Coleridge ; Poems v., p. 237, 



valley to the south of Nether Stowey, ascends Quantock, 
passing between Dousborough and Wilsneck, and then 
descends to the vale of Crowcombe ; next it mounts the 
Brendon Hills, and stretches far away over the wilds of 
of Exmoor to the mining districts of Cornwall. On the 
highest point of Dousborough, where stands the flag-staff, 
a heap of loose masonry marks the sight of a specula , or 
watch tower, and beside it are two or three circular pits, 
which formerly held the beacon fires. These were in 
correspondence with a chain of other forts of ante-Roman 
origin on the long ridge of the Mendips, and on the opposite 
Brendon Hills, protecting the Belgic frontiers, communi- 
cating with both Channels, and ready on the appearance of 
danger to convey onwards the telegraphic fire-signals, like 
the flame from Mount Ida that leapt from height to height 
to announce to Argos the news of the fall of Troy. 

That the Romans, after their subjugation of this part of 
Britannia Prima, may have occasionally occupied as castra 
aestiva the military post constructed long before their day, 
is not improbable. No Roman road, however, comes with- 
in ten miles of the fort, although a few coins of the Lower 
Empire have been found at the village of Kilton and 
elsewhere in the vicinity. An oval-shaped barrow within 
the enceinte , with a trench round it, which appears to have 
been formally opened, is sometimes pointed out as the 
Pretorium , but more probably marks the grave of some 
Belgic chieftain, — the oldest form of sepulture and the 



most durable. There is also at no great distance another 
sepulchral monument in the hollow below the northern 
slope of the encampment, on the left of the greensward 
path leading up to the summit. This is a cairn or heap of 
loose stones, surrounded by a shallow trench ; and on the 
hill just above Woodlands, is one of those circular pits so 
common on the Wiltshire Downs, which Stukely calls, oddly 
enough, “ inverted barrows.” This excavation marks the 
site of an outpost to the fort above, from which it was 
visible ; it commands the road at the foot of the hill, and 
was probably roofed over in a bee hive shape to form a 
shelter for the guard. Many tumuli are found scattered 
over the Quantocks, and but few Roman remains. Other 
ancient beacons may be traced on Wilsneck, Cothelstone, 
Morncombe, and elsewhere. 

It was the judicious advice of a distinguished antiquary, 
the late Sir Richard Colt Hoare, “ to avoid above all things 
the common error of looking for Roman stations on high 
mountains ; but on the contrary to examine those gentle 
eminences in the plains, having an open circuit of country 
around them. This latter quality seems peculiarly to have 
been considered by the Romans, as we may collect from 
their historians ; and for this reason, the Britons seldom 
ventured to attack the enemy in the open, but depended 
more on surprising them unawares. Hence the Romans 
fixed on situations for their camps where they could per* 
ceive at a distance the Britons descending from their strong- 
holds in the mountains.” The Roman generals, although 



they never failed, even on halting for a single night, to 
throw up entrenchments round their camp, yet relied less 
upon mountain-heights and huge ramparts than upon the 
disciplined bravery of their legions, and [their own superior 
military tactics. Their camps, although occasionally found 
intermingled with older British fortifications, were generally 
smaller, of a square form with four gates, and placed on 
some gentle eminence with water near at hand. Nor have 
the Danes a greater claim than the Romans to the con- 
struction of these grand military works that are sometimes 
called by their name. Their camps were mostly small and 
hastily thrown up to serve the purpose of some sudden 
piratical landing. In the neighbourhood of Watchet and 
Porlock are several small entrenchments near the coast, 
which may with great probability be assigned to this 
people ; while others, of dimensions equally small, consist- 
ing of merely a single agger and a fosse, may be found 
constructed on the hill-sides, or at head of some little 
valley, commanding its approach from the sea, and placed 
so as to defend the interior of the country from these 
marauding descents. Such are “Trendle Ring,” on the 
slope of Quantock, above Bicknoller, and another diminu- 
tive earthwork, of which I know not the name, on a little 
rocky promontory a mile further to the west towards 
S tog umber. 

It is not improbable that the whole of this wild outlying 
district of the Quantocks, so far removed from the great 
line of Roman traffic, remained for a considerable time a 



woody fastness of the Belgic-Britons. An interesting dis- 
covery which has been lately made on the Fairfield Estate, 
goes far to confirm the supposition of their occupancy. It 
consists of a great variety of objects in bronze, amounting, 
together with fragments, to nearly 150 pieces. There are 
portions of swords and their sheaths ; daggers and knives ; 
spear heads of the leaf shape and of the barbed type ; more 
than a score of Celts, of sections square or oval ; palstaves ; 
gouges ; a disc of molten metal ; a number of jets from the 
necks of moulds, &c. These articles were lately exhibited 
at the rooms of the Society of Antiquaries, at Somerset 
House, and are now arranged in the library at St. Audries. 

The view from the summit of Dousborough is of great 
extent and variety. Immediately beneath the spectator, on 
the north, stretching away towards the Bristol Channel, 
lies a level tract of woodland, interspersed with meadows, 
and orchards, and farmsteads, from which shoots up the 
spire of the fine old Priory Church of Stoke-Courcey, and 
near it stand the moated walls of its Norman Castle. Hard 
by is visible the ancient mansion of Fairfield, half hidden in 
its trees. Across the Channel is seen the Coast of Wales, 
and the horizon beyond is fringed by the mountains of 
Glamorgan, Brecknock, and Monmouthshire. The broad 
expanse of the “Severn-sea,” yellow as the Tiber, occupies the 
middle distance, with the bold, rocky islet of the Steep 
Holms rising abruptly from its bosom, — an out-lying mass 
severed from the mountain limestone of the Mendips, and 



not without a little history of its own. For here the sur- 
vivors of the pirate Danes, after the repulse of their 
attempted landing at Watchet (A.D, 915), found a brief 
refuge, and “sat on the island,” as the “Saxon Chronicle” 
expresses it, foodless and forlorn, till most of them died of 
hunger. Gildas, the oldest British historian, is said to have 
retired to this secluded spot to write his book of lamenta- 
tions, called a Treatise de excidio Britannic ? ; and here, 
after the battle of Hastings, Girtha, the mother of Harold, 
with some of the noble ladies of her court, found a tem- 
porary asylum. The island, which has been lately fortified 
with all the appliances of modern warfare, lies in the very 
highway of Channel traffic, for here the “ Severn-sea u 
becomes free and open to the Atlantic, and anyone of yon- 
der vessels, whose white sails add so much animation and in- 
terest to the view, might, it is said, make from hence in a 
fair wind, without a tack, the harbour of New York. The 
sister islet, the Flat Holmes, is less visible from hence, 
except at night, when, as Coleridge describes it, — 

Dark reddening from the channelled isle, 

Twinkles the watch-fire, like a sullen star. 

Turning towards the east, the long range of the Mendips 
appears, beyond the sandy flats that mark the position of 
the ancient estuary Uxella, now reduced, by their accumu- 
lations, to form the mouth of the river Parret. On the 
highest point of the range, is a beacon, once perhaps the 
most important watch-tower in the county, being equally 
visible from the north and south sides of Mendip. At one 



point, the long outline is obscured by a faint cloud of 
smoke which hangs over the busy town and port of Bridge- 
water, with its factories and foundries, and at another, a 
sharp fracture indicates the position of the grand ravine of 
Cheddar. More in advance towards the spectator the low- 
lying ridge of Polden, with a Roman road running along it, 
stretches away towards Sedgmoor ; and standing apart, 
islanded by its circling marshes, and hidden now and then 
by their mists, rises St. Michael’s famous tower, recalling 
the lines of a fine descriptive poet .* — 

“ How hath it vanished in a hasty spleen, 

The Tor of Glastonbury ! ” 

Still further south, Alfred’s tower looks out from the 
woods of Stourhead ; and on a very clear day are visible the 
double peaks of Montacute. On the west the prospect is 
limited by high and heathery moorlands, the haunt of the 
black game, except where a depression admits a glimpse of 
the Brendon hills, and the fine bold headland of Minehead ; 
and at times the peak of Dunkery, the monarch of western 
mountains, may be distinguished. Immediately below, to 
the left of the woods of Alfoxden, and looking across two 
parallel coombs of great beauty, lies the little valley of 
Kilve, and beyond its gap the glittering sea. 

The view from Cothelstone Beacon has been so well 
described in the Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological 
Society, by the late Mr. Warre, that it would be difficult 
to add much to the clever sketch he has left us ; and 
Willsneck, although of somewhat greater altitude, has 



little additional interest, and much in common with the 
neighbouring height. Neither elevation, however, affords 
a prospect so fascinating as that from Dousborough, 
although both command a wider expanse of view over the 
central part of the county, embracing a large portion of 
that fair valley known far and wide as Taunton Dean ; a 
goodly landscape, recalling to the recollection of the lover 
of our elder poets the fervid encomium of Drayton in his 
Poly-olbion ; 

“ What eare so empty is, that hath not heard the sound 

Of Taunton’s fruitfull Deane ? not matcht by any ground ; . . . 

Where sea-ward Quantock stands 

Having accomplished the ascent of Wilsneck, the climber 
(and if a botanist, he may chance on its higher slopes to 
light on a specimen of the rare stag’s-horn moss), finds 
himself on the loftiest point cf Quantock. As his eye 
ranges over the fertile campaign below, he will see innum- 
erable meadows and cornfields, farms, and rural dwellings; 
and, rising frequent from the valley, or nestling here and 
there in the woody openings of the hills, the battlements 
of some of those unrivalled 1 Perpendicular ’ Towers for 
which Somersetshire over all other parts of England reigns 
supreme. Nor will the survey prove less suggestive to the 
historian or the antiquary. Within ken are the sites of a 
score of battle-fields ; the mediaeval castle and the moated 
grange lend their associations ; nor are wanting old his- 
toric mansions, and 

“ ghostly halls of grey renown, 

“ With woodland honours graced 



On the south the heights of Blagdon form a rampart to 
the vale of Taunton, and at their extremity throw out a 
bold projecting spur, crowned by the strong British en- 
campment of Castle Neroche. Turning away from this fair 
scene towards the west, we have at our feet the romantic 
village of Crowcombe, and, on the opposite slope of the 
valley, Combe-Florey, a name now well known from its 
connection with the witty Canon of S. Paul’s, whose play- 
ful sallies, never spiced by malice, were always sine felle 
foci. His glebe is desciibed, in the memoir of his life, as 
truly a “valley of flowers,” — “ a lovely little spot where 
nature and heart combined to realise the Happy Valley.” 
The long line of the Brendon hills extends in front of our 
station, on an outlying point of which is conspicuous 
Willett Tower, a modern erection, and behind it are the 
Elworthy barrows, a large Belgic-British earthwork left 
half finished. It has formed a subject of fruitless conjecture 
with antiquaries, why these warlike fortifications were 
discontinued, and for so many centuries, 

‘ ‘ pendent opera interrupta, minaeque 

Murorum ingentes 

Yet one other distinction of the Quantocks remains to be 
noticed, 'which they possess in common with the hill 
country south of the Bristol Channel, including the heights 
of Exmoor and a poition of North Devon ; and that is, the 
fact that this district is now the last home in South Britain 
vif the wild red-deer and that here alone still survive some 
relics of the grand old stag-hunting establishments whose 



sport and hospitalities are associated with the bye-gone 
history of the county of Somerset. Here may still some- 
times be seen the broad-antlered stag or the gracetul hind 
hotly pursued by a gallant train of horsemen, while the 
echoes of the Quantocks are roused by the shouts of the 
gay cavalcade and the voices of the hounds swelling and 
dying away over the autumn woods, till their deepened note 
is followed by the wild bugle-call that proclaims “ the mort 
o’ the deer.” 

Into this charming country there came, between seventy 
and eighty years ago, two men, destined to exercise by 
their genius and their writings an influence upon the minds 
of their generation more profound than any others of their 
contemporaries. “Perhaps,” says a recent critic, “no two 
such men have met anywhere on English ground during 
this century.” It was the period when the stir and tur- 
moil which disturbed men’s minds at the outset of the 
first French Revolution had given place to comparative 
calm and repose, and the political fever of the nation was 
subsiding, that Coleridge, the younger of the two, “retired,” 
as he himself informs us, “ to a cottage in Somersetshire at 
the foot of Quantock, to devote himself to poetry and to the 
study of ethics and psychology, and the foundations of 
religion and morals .” 1 Wordsworth, his senior by more 

1 The following letter was addressed by Mr. Nichols to the Rev. 
J. R. Vernon, Rector of St. Audries, himself the author of an interest- 
ing work on the same locality, published in the Leisure Hour in 1888. 



i ; 

than two years, was attracted to the same neighbourhood 
by mental sympathy with his brother philosopher and poet, 
and a wish to enjoy the society of a man by whose mar- 
vellous conversation he had been so much impressed. He 
loved to describe Coleridge’s talk as “like a majestic river, 
the sound or sight of whose course you caught at intervals ; 
which was sometimes concealed by forests, sometimes lost 
in sand ; then came flashing out broad and distinct ; and 
even when it took a turn which your eye could not follow, 
yet you always felt and knew that there was a connection 
in its parts, and that it was the same river.” Those per- 
sons who have listened to the discourse of “ the old man 


Holford, June n, 1888 

My dear Sir, 

Pray forgive my delay in replying to your note, I am only just 
returned from London, and found a long arrear of bills and household 

I wished to illustrate my own booklet with some pictorial embel- 
lishments, connected with the two poets. After enquiry and personal 
inspection of the Stowey residence of Coleridge, and the scene 'of the 
brief Marazion of Wordsworth at Alfoxden, I found that the former 
had been so much changed from the pretty low-roofed thatched cottage 
of the past, by the addition of an upper storey ; the re-casing of the 
walls and addition of an extra wing, that the bard himself would fail 
to recognise his former domicile. The small country house of Alfoxden 
has been replaced by a mansion, and merely one or two smaller rooms 
within would recall it to Wordsworth if he could re-visit it. The 
Waterfall alone still “flows on for ever,” and the Combe has been 
intruded on by modern cottages, and the only contemporary one 



eloquent,” in his after years, will recognize the accuracy of 
this description.* * Yet no two men could be more unlike 
than the poets who now met beside the Quantocks. 
Coleridge, a student and recluse from his boyhood, of 
immense erudition, a heluo libronim ; all his life a vale- 
tudinarian who scarcely knew what health was — ever 
planning mighty works — multa et pulcra minans — yet 
so irresolute and infirm of purpose as never to realize his 

The only perfect existing residence of Coleridge is at Clevedon, 
where he brought his bride, and spent, perhaps, the happiest days of 
his married life. 

Soon after my Quantock book appeared, I received a letter from 
a perfect stranger, Mr. Buxton Forman (now the President of the 
Browning Society, and editor of the fine edition of the works of 
England’s greatest lyric poet, Shelley, in six octavo volumes), requesting 
on behalf of himself and a few friends to purchase or obtain the loan 
of the book, and calling my attention to an article in a public print 
taken almost wholly from the volume which they requested the gift of, 
or loan, or purchase. 

But I am almost afraid to look on the long epistle I have troubled 
you with, and can only regret being unable to offer you a more satis- 
factory response to your query. 

Faithfully yours, 

W. L. N. 

* Coleridge, on his side, speaking in his Biographia Litevaria, of his 
residence at Stowey, and the blessing he then acquired in the society 
of Wordsworth, whom he could look up to with equal reverence as a 
poet, a philosopher or a man, adds “ his conversation extended to al- 
most all subjects, except physics and politics ; with the latter he never 
troubled himself.” 



aspirations — the very Hamlet of literature ; — Wordsworth, 
on the other hand — as robust in body as one of the peasants 
of his native Cumberland, of indomitable purpose, keeping 
his way right onward when made the scorn of fools till he 
became the glory of his age — was no reader of books, except 
of the great book of nature, and his u study ” was on the 
Quantock downs. It was his creed that 

One impulse from a vernal wood 
May teach you more of man ; 

Of moral evil and of good, 

Than all the sages can. 

Over “these green hills, ” observes the same critic, “ the two 
young poets wandered for hours together rapt in fervid 
talk, Coleridge no doubt the chief speaker, Wordsworth not 
the less suggestive. Never before, or since, have these 
downs heard such high converse.” At that period, 
Benedict de Spinosa was the master spirit whose spirit held 
temporary sway over the mind of Coleridge ; and doubt- 
less the somewhat mystical, but ennobling propositions of 
the famous 5th book of his Ethics, which exercised so 
profound an influence over the greatest minds of Germany, 
would form a frequent subject of discussion and possess no 
small attraction for both poets. But not alone philosophy, 
poetry would naturally become their theme. Both were 
disgusted with the inane and artificial versification which 
then passed under its name, and with the false canons of criti- 
cism and formal rules upon which it was based, English 
poetry was indeed at that period at its lowest ebb, repre- 



seated mainly by the glitter and false taste of Darwin and 
the turgid twaddle of Hayley. Burns, it is true, had been 
lately in full song, but his wood notes wild were little known 
in the south ; and Cowper, the herald of a better day, was 
timid, and only half emancipated from the prevailing sys- 
tem. It was at this period that the poems of Wordsworth 
and Coleridge burst upon the literary world like a new 
revelation. In after years, the elder poet thus recalled 
their memorable rambles in those days of promise : — 

Upon smooth Quantock’s airy ridge we roved 
Unchecked, or loitered mid their sylvan combs, 

Thou in bewitching words, with happy art, 

Didst chaunt the vision of that Antient man, 

The bright-eyed Mariner, and rueful woes 
Didst utter of the Lady Christabel ; 

And I, associate with such labour, steeped 
In soft forgetfulness the livelong hours, 

Murmuring of him who, joyous hap, was found, 

After the perils of his moonlight ride, 

Near the loud waterfall ; or her who sate 
In misery near the miserable thorn. 

The Prelude, Book xiv. 

The result of these musings on the Quantocks was the 
publication in the following year (1798) of the famous 
Lyrical Ballads, a volume which so startled the critics of 
that day from their propriety. In anticipation of its recep- 
tion, Wordsworth, the chief contributor, prefixed to the 
second edition the motto, afterwards withdrawn, “ quam 
nihil ad genium , Papiniane, tuum ,” and added an explana- 
tory Preface of considerable length. The Antient Mariner , 



and the Christabel , planned during a walk along the 
Quan tock Hills towards Watchet, time has stamped as, 
“ after their kind, unsurpassed by any creation of the poet’s 
own generation, or perhaps ot any generation of England’s 
poetry.” The Christabel excited the warm admiration 
of Sir Walter Scott, who frankly acknowledged his own 
considerable obligations to the poetry of Coleridge, and 
particularly admired his management of the supernatural. 
“ Why,” enquires Sir Walter, “ is the Harp of Quantock 
silent ? ” and, in the notes to one of his romances, having 
occasion to refer to the popular superstition which formerly 
existed, that evil spirits could not enter an inhabited house 
unless invited, or even dragged over the threshold, he adds 
the remark, that “ the most picturesque use of this popular 
belief occurs in Coleridge’s beautiful, and tantalizing frag- 
ment of Christabel Has not our own imaginative poet 
cause to fear that future ages will desire to summon him 
from his place of rest, as Milton longed 

To call him up, who left half-told 
The story of Cambuscan bold ? 

“ The verses I refer to/’ continues Sir Walter, “are when 
Christabel conducts into her father’s castle a mysterious and 
malevolent being, under the disguise of a distressed female 
stranger : — 

They crossed the moat, and Christabel 
Took the key that fitted well ; 

A little door she opened straight, 

All in the middle of the gate ; 

The gate that was ironed within and without, 



Where an army in battle array had marched out. 

The lady sank, belike through pain, 

And Christabel with might and main 
Lifted her up, a weary weight, 

Over the threshold of the gate : 

Then the lady rose again, 

And moved as she were not in pain. 

So, free from danger, free from fear, 

They crossed the court : right glad they were.” 

On another occasion, speaking of u the singularly irregular 
structure of the stanzas, and the liberty it allowed the 
author to adapt the sound to the sense ” which he found in 
Christabel , he adds the graceful remark, “ it is to Mr. 
Coleridge that I am bound to make the acknowledgement 
due from the pupil to his master .” 1 Even Lord Byron 
owned the charm of what he called “ that wild, and 
singularly original and beautiful poem and to the 
Christabel we are indebted for the opening lines of one of 
his now nearly forgotten tales in verse, The Siege of Corinth. 
Indeed, few persons of sensibility can resist the marvellous 
skill with which the poet of Stowey gives “ a local 
habitation and a name” to the wild fictions of old romantic 
superstition. The mysterious Geraldine, with her witch- 
like beauty, uttering her spell over the sleeping Christabel, 
chills the blood with creeping horror ; and the wonderful 
art with which so many minute touches of quaint and 
picturesque description are thrown in, adds immensely to 
the magical effect. The mode of narrative, too, by question 

1 Int. to The Lay of the Last Minstrel, p. 24. 



and answer, then so novel and original, imparts spirit and 
liveliness to the story, and the moonlit forest ; the moated 
castle and its massive gate ; the angry moan of the old 
mastiff ; the echoing hall, and the sudden flash of the 
embers on its hearth, revealing only the serpent-eye of the 
stranger lady ; the carven chamber, and its fresh-trimmed 
silver lamp, 

Left swinging to and fro, — 

combine, one and all, to lay an irresistible hold upon the 
imagination of the reader. 

The year 1797, which gave birth to two such works of 
genius as this poem and The Antient Mariner , may well be 
called the annus mirabilis of the poet ! It was probably 
the happiest year of his life; he had not yet lost the 
springing hopes of youth, and keenly felt, no doubt, the 
exhilarating consciousness of his own great powers. His 
poetic prime,” observes his learned daughter, in her Notes 
on her Father’s life, “ commenced with the Ode to the 
Departing Year , composed at the end of December, 179b.” 
The year following, the five-and-twentieth of his life 
[during which, and in 1798, he resided in his cottage at 
Nether Stowey], produced The Ancient Mariner , Love , and 
The Dark Ladie , the first part of Christabel , Kuhla Khan , 
the tragedy of the Remorse , France , and This Lime Tree 
Bower. Fears in Solitude , The Nightingale ) and The 
Wanderings of Cain , were written in 1798. Frost at 
Midnight , The Picture , the Lines to the Rev. G, Coleridge ) 
and those To W, Wordsworth , are all of the same Nether 



Stowey period. “It was in June, 1797,” continues the 
poet’s daughter, “ that my Father began to be intimate 
with Mr. Wordsworth, and this doubtless gave an impulse 
to his mind. The poems which succeed are distinguished 
from those of my father’s Stowey life by a less buoyant 
spirit.” With these last I am not concerned in the present 
paper, which is confined to the period of the poet’s 
residence in this part of Somersetshire. Of the above 
poems Kubla Khan , a dream within a dream, was composed, 
as the author himself tells us, in a lonely farmhouse 
between Porlock and Lynton. The Lines to his Brother 
contain a touching biographical retrospect ; and the noble 
verses addressed to Wordsworth record his own feelings on 
hearing the grand poem of The Prelude read by its author. 
The tragedy of The Remorse was written at the suggestion 
of Sheridan, and some years afterwards represented at Drury 
Lane, at the request of Lord Byron, and with great success. 
In the little artistically-perfect gem, entitled Love , with 
which as a poem of the affections, there is nothing antient 
or modern that, in its way, can bear a moment’s comparison, 
one knows not which most to admire, — its picturesque 
description,— its apt locality, and the sculpture-like 
precision of its handling, — its captivating melancholy, or its 
exquisite biending of the spiritual and the sensuous. 

Most of the poems by Wordsworth contained in the first 
edition of the Lyrical Ballads (a little volume now of 
extreme rarity), were produced at Alfoxden, a mansion 
about three miles from Nether Stowey, the residence of his 



brother poet, and are descriptive of Quantock scenery, or 
founded on incidents that occurred in the neighbourhood. 
The picturesque little domain of Alfoxden has naturally 
acquired some celebrity from the circumstance that the 
Poet of the Excursion resided there for awhile in his noble 
poverty. An interesting memorial, now nearly effaced by 
time, of the Poet’s sojourn at Alfoxden, used to be visible — 
the letters W. W., deeply incised on one of the row of trees 
on the hill above the house. I have met on the 
neighbouring downs pilgrims from across the Atlantic on 
their way to visit the shrine of the Poet, and have been 
amused by the minute acquaintance they seemed to have 
acquired at their home in the Dominion of Canada with 
the names of some of our retired villages merely from their 
occurrence in the verses of their favourite author, or from 
the transient honour conferred upon them by his residence. 

Miss Wordsworth, his accomplished sister, thus describes 
the attractions of the place, as seen on their first arrival. 
“ There is everything here ; the sea ; woods wild as fancy 
ever painted ; and William and I, in a wander by ourselves, 
found out a sequestered waferfall in a dell formed by steep 
hills covered by full-grown timber trees. The woods are as 
fine as those at Lowther, and the country more romantic ; 
it has the character of the less grand parts of the lakes. 
From the end of the house we have a fine view of the sea, 
over a woody country, and exactly opposite the window 
where I now sit is an immense wood, whose round top has 



the appearance of a mighty dome. A quarter of a mile 
from the house is the waterfall of which I spoke.” 

It was by the side of this fall that Wordsworth composed 
one of his sweetest lyrics — the Lines in Early Spring : — 

I heard a thousand blended notes 
While in a grove I sit reclined, 

In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts 
Bring sad thoughts to the mind. 

In reading a description which he afterwards wrote of 
this little combe, one doubts whether his verse or his prose 
be the most beautiful : “ It was,” he says, “ a chosen resort 
of mine. The brook fell down a sloping rock, considerable 
for that country, and across the pool below had fallen an 
ash-tree from which rose perpendicularly boughs in search 
of the light, intercepted by the deep shade above. The 
boughs bore leaves of green that for want of sunshine had 
faded into almost lify-white ; and from the under side of 
this natural sylvan bridge depended long and beautiful 
tresses of ivy, which waved gently in the breeze that might 
be called the breath of the waterfall.” This dell, once 
locally known as “ The Mare’s Pool,” but now consecrated 
to all time as “ Wordsworth’s Glen,” was a favourite 
trysting-place of the two poets and their friends. Coleridge 
has described it in the graceful verses he addressed to his 
old school-fellow Charles Lamb, who, with his clever sister, 
then on a visit to the cottage of the Poet at Stowey, were 
out on the downs enjoying the breezes of Quantock, while 
their host, disabled during the whole time of their stay by 




an accident, was left to his solitary musings in the lime- 
tree bower in his orchard. He thus follows in imagination 
the route of his visitors in their charming ramble : 

they meanwhile, 

On springy heath, along hill top edge, 

Wander in gladness, and wind down, perchance, 

To that still roaring dell of which I told, 

The roaring dell , o'er wooded , narrow , deep, 

And only speckled by the mid-day sun ; 

Where its slim trunk the ash from rock to rock 
Flings arching like a bridge ; that branchless ash, 

Unsunned and damp, whose few poor yellow leaves 
Ne'er tremble in the gale, yet tremble still, 

Fanned by the waterfall ! 


Now my friends emerge, 

Beneath the wide, wide Heaven — and view again 
The many-steepled track magnificent 
Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea, 

With some fair bark, perhaps, whose'sails light up 
The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two isles 
Of purple shadow ! Yes ! they wander on 
In gladness all ; but thou, methinks, most glad, 

My gentle hearted Charles ! for thou hast pined 
And hungered after Nature many a year, 

In the great city pent, winning thy way 
With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain 
And strange calamity ! Ah ! slowly sink 
Behind the western ridge, thou glorious sun ! 

Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb, 

Ye purple heath-flowers ; richlier burn, ye clouds ! 

Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves ! 

And kindle thou blue ocean ! 

Every reader of taste must be delighted with this grand 



and nobly sustained piece of local descriptive poetry ; and 
persons to whom the scene is familiar will recognise in the 
latter portion of it the view from Woodlands Down. 

Coleridge, who drew his inspiration far less than his 
brother poet from external nature, has not failed however 
to weave into his verses several notices of the neighbourhood 
of his beloved “ Nether-Stowey, — clanim et venerabile 
nomen ! ” He thus describes a homeward descent from 
Dousborough : — 

Through weeds and thorns and matted underwood 
I force my way ; now climb and now descend 
O’er rocks, or bare or mossy, with wild foot 

Crushing the purple whorts 

Homeward I wend my way, and so recalled 

I find myself upon the brow and pause 

Startled ! and after lonely sojourning 

This burst of prospect, — here the shadowing main 

Dim tinted, there the mighty majesty 

Of that huge amphitheatre of rich 

And elmy fields. .... 

And now, beloved Stowey, I behold 

Thy church-tower, and methinks the four huge elms 

Clustering, which mark the mansion of my friend ; 

And close beside them, hidden from my view, 

Is my own lonely cottage, where my babe 
And my babe’s mother dwell in peace ! 

Any notice of the sojourn of Coleridge at Stowey would be 
very imperfect without some reference to the friend to 
whom he here alludes. This was Mr. T. Poole , 1 who 
appears to have been one of the most kind-hearted and 

1 Note iii. 




liberal of men, ever ready to assist humble merit ; and 
though it would seem that he had not himself enjoyed the 
benefit of a learned education, yet he must have been a 
person of considerable mental culture, and fully capable 
of appreciating the genius of the poet of whom he was the 
generous patron. He must indeed have been no common 
man to have been the “ dear friend ” of Coleridge and 
Wordsworth. At the suggestion of this estimable person, 
who was desirous of securing his gifted friend as a neighbour, 
Coleridge, with his wife and child, and Charles Lloyd , 1 
afterwards the translator of Alfieri, removed to a small 
house at Nether Stowey, hard by the residence of good Mr. 
Poole ; and like the poet Cowper at Olney, to obtain 
greater facility of intercourse, made a communication from 
his cottage-orchard into the garden of his friend. In this 
orchard was the “ lime-tree bower,” the “ prison ” of the 
disabled poet. Here too his friend Cottle describes a pretty 
garden-scene during a visit he paid to him at Stowey ; “ the 
orchard laden with fruit, the tripod table in the arbour, 
with its simple meal, surmounted by a brown jug of the 
true Taunton ale.” 11 There must have been witchery in 
our fare,” he exclaims, “ and the very birds seemed to 
participate in our felicity. As we sat in our sylvan hall 
(T. Poole, C. Lloyd, S. T. Coleridge, and myself), Mrs. 
Coleridge approached with her fine Hartley ; we all smiled, 
but the father’s eye beamed transcendent joy.” At the 

Note iv. 



table of this kind neighbour, the poet had the advantage of 
meeting a number of persons then, or afterwards, of 
celebrity in literature and science. Seldom, in so retired a 
village as Stowey, have there been gathered together so 
many persons of intellectual eminence ; — Wordsworth, 
Coleridge, Southey, Charles Lamb, George Burnet, Davy 
(afterwards Sir Humphrey), 1 Dr. Beddoes, Basil Montague, 
De Quincey, and a young man of great promise, too early 
lost, the younger Wedgwood ; — the reputed inventor 
of photography, and a most generous patron of the two 
Quantock poets. All these persons occasionally sat around 
the hospitable board of the Maecenas of Stowey. 

At this distance of time few personal anecdotes can be 
gleaned of the poet’s daily life at Stowey. That he was 
fond of watching the progress of a water-wheel and mill 
which Mr. Poole was erecting, and that the poetic 
philosopher by his abstruse views of mechanical science 
sometimes sadly puzzled the skilful engineer who was con- 
structing the work ; that, like many others who are not 
poets, he often sat up late, and that he sometimes got up 
afterwards when a bright idea occurred to his mind, is the 
little that is recorded.) 

It was during one of these solitary watchings beside his 
cottage-hearth at Stowey, that he wrote those fine verses, 
so full of beauty and pathos, entitled Frost at Midnight . 

1 Note v. 



The frost performs its secret ministry, 

Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry 
Came loud — and hark, again ! loud as before. 

The inmates of my cottage, all at rest, 

Have left me to that solitude which suits 
Abstruser musings : save that at my side 
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully. 

’Tis calm, indeed ! so calm that it disturbs 
And vexes meditation with its strange 
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood, 

This populous village ! Sea, hill, and wood, 

With all the numberless goings on of life, 

Inaudible as dreams ! the thin blue flame 
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not ; 

Only that film, which fluttered on the grate 
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing. 

Methinks its motion in this hush of nature 
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live. 

This fancy leads his thoughts back to his childhood, 
“ and his sweet birthplace, and the old church tower,” and 
its bells, and his school-days, and the wished-for advent of 
the “stranger,” prefigured by the fluttering film upon the 
bars. Then he addresses his sleeping babe, and contrasts 
his own melancholy boyhood, in the great city, “ pent mid 
cloisters dim,” with what he hopes will be the future life of 
his child; and, with singular accuracy of prediction, 
foreshadows the actual locality destined to be the abode in 
after years of the little unconscious Hartley, “ cradled by 
his side 

But thou, my babe ! shalt wander like a breeze 
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags 
Of antient mountain, and beneath the clouds, 



Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores 
And mountain crags 

“ Vates ” — (prophet and bard) — “ sic ore effatus amico est !” 
The inhabitants of that “ populous village ” at the time 
when the poet wrote these lines are now doubtless, all, or 
nearly all, plunged in a deeper slumber than that which he 
so impressively described. One of them, the last survivor 
of those who had enjoyed any personal acquaintance with 
the poet, died, some three or four years ago, in extreme 
old age. He was accustomed, with harmless vanity, to 
claim some small share in the production of The Antient 
Mariner, from the fact that he had made, or mended the 
poet’s pens , 1 who gratefully conferred upon him the title of 
his “ Pennefactor.” 

The elder poet, Wordsworth, has connected his verses 
far more with his own residence and neighbourhood. He 
himself describes his sojourn at Alfoxden “as a very 
pleasant and productive time of his life ; ” and indeed he 
has peopled its groves with the creations of his fancy, and 
hung a thought on every thorn. The romantic glen 
already described was the scene of his famous ballad, The 
Idiot Boy , a poem which, together with that entitled We 
are Seven , was a special favourite with Charles James Fox. 
The latter poem is an exquisite production ; but in the 
great statesman’s admiration for the other ballad, I am, I 
confess, unable to share. One stanza, however, of rare 

1 Note vi. 



beauty occurs in it : — 

By this, the stars were almost gone, 

The moon was setting on the hill, 

So pale you scarcely looked at her : 

The little birds began to stir , 

Though yet their tongues were still. 

In truth Wordsworth, like his great prototype Milton, 
and his contemporary Schiller, failed when he attempted 
the humorous, of which he had little or no perception. In 
Cowper’s ballad of John Gilpin we find genuine humour. 
In this ballad of Wordsworth’s, which he threw in the face 
of the shallow critics of his day, as a kind of wanton affront 
to their prejudices, humour is entirely wanting. The ballad 
was founded on an anecdote related to him by his friend 
Thomas Poole, and was composed, he tells us, in the grove 
at Alfoxden almost extempore. “ I mention this,” he adds, 
“in gratitude to those happy moments, for in truth I never 
wrote anything with so much glee.” The Last of the Flock 
was also written here, and the incident on which it was 
founded took place in the street of the village of Holford. 
The affecting ballad of Simon Lee was suggested by a 
homely occurrence near the entrance gate of Alfoxden, 
where the poor man’s cottage, now pulled down, stood 
“ near the water-fall, upon the village common.” He was 
an old huntsman, a retainer of the estate : — 

but no one now 

Dwelt in the Hall of Ivor 

Men, dogs, and horses, all were dead ; 

He was the sole survivor. 



The scene of the charming poem Ruth is laid by the bank 
of Tone and on the highlands of Somersetshire, where the 
sound of the wanderer’s flute 

At evening in his homeward walk 

The Quantock woodman hears. 

Expostulation and Reply was composed in front of the 
house at Alfoxden. The Thorn has vanished from the hill- 
side of the Quantock, but still lives in the poet’s description. 
Of a number of minor poems written here, a list will be 
given in the appendix. 

The meeting of our two poets with Thelwall in the glen 
at Alfoxden has been already noticed. Thelwall was a man 
of considerable mental powers, but had by his intemperate 
politics made himself obnoxious to the Government of 
the day, and became the subject of the satire of Canning 
in a witty parody of Milton which appeared in the pages of 
the Anti-Jacobin ; — “ Thelwall, and ye that lecture as ye 
go.” He was now, however, quietly engaged in the culti- 
vation of a farm near Nether Stowey, but his visit to 
Coleridge gave occasion for the employment of a spy to 
watch the proceedings of the three supposed conspirators. 
Coleridge, 1 the spy pronounced to be comparatively harm- 
less, but Wordsworth, who seldom spoke, was a dark and 
dangerous personage. From the misrepresentations of this 
man probably, and in spite of the regrets of his friend 

1 Mrs. Sandford, in her interesting life of Mr. Poole, throws much 
light on the proceedings. 




Poole, and the indignant protestations of Coleridge — “ the 
hills, and the woods, and the streams, and the sea, and the 
shores will break forth into reproaches against us, if we do 
not strain every nerve to keep their poet amongst them ” — 
the ignorant agent who was employed to let the mansion at 
Alfoxden refused to continue the lease, and — the poet was 
driven from his paradise ! 

More than forty years afterwards, and in the plentitude of 
his fame, 1 Wordsworth once more revisited his old abode. 
“ We visited,” he writes in 1841, “ all my old haunts in and 
about Alfoxden and Nether Stowey. These were farewell 
visits for life, and of course not a little interesting.” He 
was accompanied by his wife and daughter and a few chosen 
friends ; but one friend, alas ! was wanting to share his 
interest in each well-known scene. That adoring sister, 2 
who had been for so many years the companion of his walks 
and the partaker of his thoughts, and to whose manifold 
excellencies and graces he has paid so many affectionate 
tributes in his poems, was absent — lying, a melancholy 
wreck in body and mind, at his home in Westmoreland. 
As the old man stood once more in his favourite glen, 
and listened to the waterfall, might not his own delicious 
lines have come to his mind, and with a new significance ? 

No check, nor stay, this streamlet fears ; 

How merrily it goes ! 

1 Note vii. 




’Twill murmur on a thousand years, 

And flow as now it flows : 

And here on this delightful day, 

I cannot choose but think 
How oft, a vigorous man, I lay 
Beside this fountain’s brink. 

My eyes are dim with childish tears, 

My heart is idly stirred, 

For the same sound is in my ears 
Which in those days I heard. 

Thus fares it still in our decay ; 

And yet the wiser mind 

Mourns less for what age takes away 

Than what it leaves behind.” 

Here I must pause. I have not undertaken to write the 
biography of the two poets, but my humbler task has been 
to bring together a few scattered reminiscences of their 
residence in the Quantock district. 

To the extended influence of the writings of the 
younger poet, I ought to mention one testimony recently 
afforded by a royal personage, who, during his brief sojourn 
amongst us, won golden opinions from the people of this 
country. One of the earliest visits paid after his arrival in 
London by the Emperor of Brazil, was to the grave of 
Coleridge in the old churchyard at Highgate. 

He might there muse upon the genius, the virtues, and 
the frailties of one of England’s noblest poets and profound- 



est thinkers, and read there the poet’s own pathetic epitaph, 
in which, “ he being dead, yet speaketh : ” 

Stop, Christian passer-by ! Stop, Child of God ! 

And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod 
A Poet lies, or that which once seemed he ; 

Oh lift a thought in prayer for S. T. C. 

That he who many a year with toil of breath 
Found death in life, may here find life in death ! 

Mercy for praise ; to be forgiven for fame, 

He asked, and hoped through Christ. Do thou the same.