Sunday, 25 May 2014


2014-21   Devotion of a Dog: Wordsworth's Fidelity and Scott's Helvellyn

Foxie guarding over her Master [Helvellyn 1805] 
On April 17, 1805, artist Charles Gough set out with his dog Foxie, to walk over Helvellyn, a high mountain in England’s picturesque Lake District. He never returned. Three months later, a shepherd heard barking high on the mountain’s flank, and discovered Foxie beside her master’s body. It appeared that Gough had fallen to his death, and the dog had remained by his side for three months. How she had survived up there in the wilderness, remains a mystery. 

The episode captured the Romantic imagination of poets and artists alike: Poets Wordsworth and Scott, and Painter Landseer, all paid tribute to Foxie’s loyalty [through their immortal works Fidelity, Helvellyn and Attachment].

William Wordsworth [1770-1850] 
William Wordsworth


A barking sound the Shepherd hears,
A cry as of a dog or fox;
He halts--and searches with his eyes
Among the scattered rocks:
And now at distance can discern
A stirring in a brake of fern;
And instantly a dog is seen,
Glancing through that covert green.

The Dog is not of mountain breed;
Its motions, too, are wild and shy;
With something, as the Shepherd thinks,
Unusual in its cry:
Nor is there any one in sight
All round, in hollow or on height;
Nor shout, nor whistle strikes his ear;
What is the creature doing here?

It was a cove, a huge recess,
That keeps, till June, December's snow;
A lofty precipice in front,
A silent tarn below!
Far in the bosom of Helvellyn,
Remote from public road or dwelling,
Pathway, or cultivated land;
From trace of human foot or hand.

There sometimes doth a leaping fish
Send through the tarn a lonely cheer;
The crags repeat the raven's croak,
In symphony austere;
Thither the rainbow comes--the cloud--
And mists that spread the flying shroud;
And sunbeams; and the sounding blast,
That, if it could, would hurry past;
But that enormous barrier holds it fast.

Not free from boding thoughts, a while
The Shepherd stood; then makes his way
O'er rocks and stones, following the Dog
As quickly as he may;
Nor far had gone before he found
A human skeleton on the ground;
The appalled Discoverer with a sigh
Looks round, to learn the history.

From those abrupt and perilous rocks
The Man had fallen, that place of fear!
At length upon the Shepherd's mind
It breaks, and all is clear:
He instantly recalled the name,
And who he was, and whence he came;
Remembered, too, the very day
On which the Traveller passed this way.

But hear a wonder, for whose sake
This lamentable tale I tell!
A lasting monument of words
This wonder merits well.
The Dog, which still was hovering nigh,
Repeating the same timid cry,
This Dog, had been through three months' space
A dweller in that savage place.

Yes, proof was plain that, since the day
When this ill-fated Traveller died,
The Dog had watched about the spot,
Or by his master's side:
How nourished here through such long time

He knows, who gave that love sublime;
And gave that strength of feeling, great

Above all human estimate!                                          
Sir Walter Scott [1771-1832]
I climbed the dark brow of the mighty Helvellyn,
Lakes and mountains beneath me gleamed misty and wide;
All was still, save by fits, when the eagle was yelling, 
And starting around me the echoes replied.

On the right, Striden-edge round the Red-tarn was bending,
And Catchedicam its left verge was defending,
One huge, nameless rock in the front was ascending,
When I marked the sad spot where the wanderer had died.

Dark green was that spot 'mid the brown mountain heather,
Where the pilgrim of nature lay stretched in decay
Like the corpse of an outcast abandoned to weather,
Till the mountain-winds wasted the tenantless clay.

Nor yet quite deserted, though lonely extended,
For, faithful in death, his mute favourite attended,
The much-loved remains of her master defended,
And chased the hill-fox and the raven away

How long didst thou think that his silence was slumber?
When the wind waved his garment, how oft didst thou start?

How many long days and long weeks didst thou number,
Ere he faded before thee, the friend of thy heart?

And, oh! was it meet, that—no requiem read o'er him,
No mother to weep, and no friend to deplore him,
And thou, little guardian, alone stretched before him—
Unhonoured the pilgrim from life should depart?

When a prince to the fate of the peasant has yielded,
The tapestry waves dark round the dim-lighted hall;
With scutcheons of silver the coffin is shielded,
And pages stand mute by the canopied pall;

Through the courts, at deep midnight, the torches are gleaming;
In the proudly arched chapel the banners are beaming;
Far adown the long aisle sacred music is streaming,
Lamenting a chief of the people should fall.

But meeter for thee, gentle lover of nature,
To lay down thy head like the meek mountain lamb,
When, wildered, he drops from some cliff huge in stature,
And draws his last sob by the side of his dam.

And more stately thy couch by this desert lake lying,
Thy obsequies sung by the gray plover flying,
With but one faithful friend to witness thy dying
In the arms of Helvellyn and Catchedicam


Comments by William Wordsworth:
“The young man whose death gave occasion to this poem was named Charles Gough, and had come early in the spring to Paterdale for the sake of angling.  While attempting to cross over Helvellyn to Grasmere he slipped from a steep part of the rock where the ice was not thawed, and perished.  His body was discovered as is told in this poem. Walter Scott heard of the accident, and both he and I, without either of us knowing that the other had taken up the subject, each wrote a poem in admiration of the dog’s fidelity. His contains a most beautiful stanza:-
“How long didst thou think that his silence was slumber,
When the wind waved his garment how oft didst thou start.”

I will add that the sentiment in the last four lines of the last stanza in my verses was uttered by a shepherd with such exactness, that a traveller, who afterwards reported his account in print, was induced to question the man whether he had read them, which he had not.”


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