Thomas Gray, from Journal in the Lakes

Gray's journal, written in 1769 as a series of letters to his friend Dr. Thomas Wharton and first published posthumously with an edition of his poems in 1775, perfectly illustrates the later-eighteenth-century interest in venturing forth into nature, Claude glass in hand, to catch "a diversity of views" and "prospects" from the most favorable "stations" established for the purpose. The journal was several times reprinted and beginning in 1780 was read by numerous travelers as an appendix to Thomas West's popular Guide to the Lakes. Wordsworth refers to it nostalgically half a century later in Section Third of his own Guide to the Lakes.


[Click on image to enlarge] October 3 [1769]. Wind at S.E.; a heavenly day. Rose at 7, and walked out under the conduct of my landlord to Borrodale. The grass was covered with a hoar frost, which soon melted, and exhaled in a thin blueish smoke. Crossed the meadows obliquely, catching a diversity of views among the hills over the lake and islands, and changing prospect at every ten paces; left Cockshut and Castlehill (which we formerly mounted) behind me, and drew near the foot of Walla-crag, whose bare and rocky brow, cut perpendicularly down above 400 feet, as I guess, awefully overlooks the way; our path here tends to the left, and the ground gently rising, and covered with a glade of scattering trees and bushes on the very margin of the water, opens both ways the most delicious view that my eyes ever beheld. Behind you are the magnificent heights of Walla-crag; opposite lie the thick hanging woods of Lord Egremont, and Newland valley, with green and smiling fields embosomed in the dark cliffs; to the left the jaws of Borrodale, with that turbulent chaos of mountain behind mountain, rolled in confusion; beneath you, and stretching far away to the right, the shining purity of the Lake, just ruffled by the breeze enough to shew it is alive, reflecting rocks, woods, fields, and inverted tops of mountains, with the white buildings of Keswick, Crosthwait church, and Skiddaw for a background at a distance. Oh! Doctor! I never wished more for you; and pray think, how the glass played its part in such a spot, which is called Carf-close-reeds; I chuse to set down these barbarous names, that anybody may enquire on the place, and easily find the particular station, that I mean. This scene continues to Barrow-gate, and a little farther, passing a brook called Barrow-beck, we entered Borrodale. The crags, named Lodoor-banks, now begin to impend terribly over your way; and more terribly, when you hear that three years since an immense mass of rock tumbled at once from the brow, and barred all access to the dale (for this is the only road) till they could work their way through it. Luckily no one was passing at the time of this fall; but down the side of the mountain and far into the lake lie dispersed the huge fragments of this ruin in all shapes and in all directions. Something farther we turned aside into a coppice, ascending a little in front of Lodoor water-fall. The height appears to be about 200 feet, the quantity of water not great, though (these three days excepted) it had rained daily in the hills for near two months before: but then the stream was nobly broken, leaping from rock to rock, and foaming with fury. On one side a towering crag, that spired up to equal, if not overtop, the neighbouring cliffs (this lay all in shade and darkness); on the other hand a rounder broader projecting hill shagged with wood and illumined by the sun, which glanced sideways on the upper part of the cataract. The force of the water wearing a deep channel in the ground hurries away to join the lake. We descended again, and passed the stream over a rude bridge. Soon after we came under Gowder crag, a hill more formidable to the eye and to the apprehension than that of Lodoor; the rocks a-top, deep-cloven perpendicularly by the rains, hanging loose and nodding forwards, seem just starting from their base in shivers; the whole way down and the road on both sides is strewed with piles of the fragments strangely thrown across each other, and of a dreadful bulk. The place reminds one of those passes in the Alps, where the guides tell you to move on with speed, and say nothing, lest the agitation of the air should loosen the snows above, and bring down a mass that would overwhelm a caravan. I took their counsel here and hastened on in silence. * * *

Walked leisurely home the way we came, but saw a new landscape: the features indeed were the same in part, but many new ones were disclosed by the midday sun, and the tints were entirely changed. Take notice this was the best or perhaps the only day for going up Skiddaw, but I thought it better employed: it was perfectly serene, and hot as Midsummer.

In the evening walked alone down to the Lake by the side of Crow-Park after sunset and saw the solemn colouring of night draw on, the last gleam of sunshine fading away on the hill-tops, the deep serene of the waters, and the long shadows of the mountains thrown across them, till they nearly touched the hithermost shore. At distance heard the murmur of many waterfalls not audible in the day-time. Wished for the Moon, but she was dark to me and silent, hid in her vacant interlunar cave. >> note 1 * * *

[Click on image to enlarge] October 8th. * * * Past by the little chapel of Wiborn, out of which the Sunday congregation were then issuing. Past a beck near Dunmailraise and entered Westmoreland a second time, now begin to see Helm-crag distinguished from its rugged neighbours not so much by its height, as by the strange broken outline of its top, like some gigantic building demolished, and the stones that composed it flung across each other in wild confusion. Just beyond it opens one of the sweetest landscapes that art ever attempted to imitate. The bosom of the mountains spreading here into a broad basin discovers in the midst Grasmere-water; its margin is hollowed into small bays with bold eminences, some of rock, some of soft turf, that half conceal and vary the figure of the little lake they command. From the shore a low promontory pushes itself far into the water, and on it stands a white village with the parish-church rising in the midst of it, hanging enclosures, corn-fields, and meadows green as an emerald, with their trees and hedges, and cattle fill up the whole space from the edge of the water. Just opposite to you is a large farm-house at the bottom of a steep smooth lawn embosomed in old woods, which climb half way up the mountain's side, and discover above them a broken line of crags that crown the scene. Not a single red tile, no flaring >> note 2 gentleman's house, or garden walls break in upon the repose of this little unsuspected paradise, but all is peace, rusticity, and happy poverty in its neatest, most becoming attire.

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