I climbed stone stairs to a grand hotel that was at once majestic and dowdy, and I sat on a small upholstered sofa in a breezeway overlooking Lake Windermere. The view resembled one Ruskin had extolled in Fors Clavigera, his monthly open letters “To the workmen and labourers of Great Britain.” In this book, written while he was in and out of dementia or possibly suffering from severe migranes, Ruskin developed the free-wheeling, non-linear style that influenced Derrida—fors meaning the choices and plays of chance that determine our lives. According to Ruskin, the rolling hills, cloud dappled sky, and tree-dotted land amounted to a perfect vista. That morning I had visited Dove Cottage and was reading “The Prelude,” Wordsworth’s journey through memories whose meanings change with each revisit to them. Some are triggered by an activity in the natural world, such as hiking, others by sharp feelings, such as a memory of stealing a boat or of the death of Wordsworth’s father when the poet was thirteen:
And afterwards, the wind and sleety rain,
And all the business of the elements,
The single sheep, and the one blasted tree,
And the bleak music of that old stone wall
All these were spectacles and sounds to which
I would often repair and thence would drink . . .
I was struck by the modern, heartfelt sound of the verse, not straining for affect. Suddenly I realized I was sitting on a mound of coins that had slid silently from the pocket of the previous sitter. There were one-pound pieces and and two-pound pieces, twenty in all I scooped up quickly and left. I was not staying at the hotel.