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The “trying- to-look-pleasant” expression is peculiarly noticeable in the life masks of Wordsworth and of Keats; although the former did not altogether succeed, which was not the fault, by the way, of Charles Lamb. Haydon describes the operation in his Journal, under date of 1815, and says: “Wordsworth sat in my dressing-gown with his hands folded, sedate, solemn, and still, bearing it like a philosopher.” But elsewhere we read that the poet was placed flat on his back on the studio floor, while Lamb capered about him in glee at the undignified absurdity of the proceedings, trying to make the subject grin at his fantastic criticisms and remarks.
Sir Henry Taylor in his Autobiography spoke of attending Wordsworth’s funeral and of being shown then ”a cast of a mask of his face in which was a certain rough grandeur,” but he does not say when it was taken; nowhere did I find any reference to a death mask, and what Sir Henry saw and examined in 1850 was no doubt the work of Haydon, done thirty-five years before. It is more like the portraits of Wordsworth in his ripe middle-age than in his declining years.
Carlyle said that “Wordsworth’s face bore marks of much, not always peaceful, meditation; the look of it not bland or benevolent so much as close, impregnable, and hard.” S. C. Hall wrote that ” his eyes were mild and up-looking ; his mouth coarse rather than refined ; his forehead high rather than broad;” while Greville put it more tersely when he described him as “hard-featured, brown, wrinkled, with prominent teeth, and a few scattered gray hairs.” Leigh Hunt said, in his Autobiography: “Certainly I never beheld eyes that looked so inspired or supernatural [as Wordsworth’s]. They were like fires half burning, half smouldering, with a sort of acrid fixture of regard, and seated at the further end of two caverns. One might imagine Ezekiel or Isaiah to have had such eyes.”
Wordsworth reminded Hazlitt “of some of Holbein’s heads grave, saturnine, with a slight indication of sly humor, a peculiar sweetness in his smile.” Elsewhere Hazlitt spoke of his “intense high, narrow forehead, Eoman nose, cheeks furrowed by strong purpose, and a convulsive inclination to laughter about his mouth, which was a good deal at variance with the solemn and stately expression of the rest of his face.” And Sir Humphry and Lady Davy, who were at Wordsworth’s funeral, were both struck by the likeness of his face, in the deep repose of death, to that of Dante. The expression, they thought, was much more feminine than it had been in life, and it suggested strongly the face of his devoted sister, with whom so many of his years had been spent.
Haydon, in his Journal, April 13, 1815, wrote ” I had a cast made yesterday of Wordsworth’s 104 PORTRAITS IN PLASTER face. He bore it like a philosopher. He sat in my dressing - gown with his hands folded; sedate, solemn, and still.” And then Haydon de- scribed how, through the open door, he exhibited the unconscious poet, undergoing this unbecoming operation, to curious but disrespectful friends of them both.
Another account of this performance shows us Wordsworth flat on his back on the studio floor, with Charles Lamb dancing about him, and making absurd remarks in order to force the poet to smile, and so spoil the mask. All of which was very characteristic of that “dear delightful,” “poor creature” who was despised by Carlyle, and who was naturally loved by every- body else. “What would we not give now for a mask of Lamb himself, dead or alive?
All this happened when Wordsworth was forty-two years of age, and thirty-five years before he died. Sir Henry Taylor in his Autobiography, spoke, shortly after the poet’s death, of “a cast taken of a mask of Wordsworth.” He considered it admirable as a likeness, and added that it was so regarded by Mrs. Wordsworth. He saw “a rough grandeur in it, with which, if it was to be converted into marble, posterity might be contented.” But he does not say whether it was a life -mask or a death-mask, and he does not refer to the Haydon mask as such. In no other work, in no biography of Wordsworth, and in no account of his last hours, is any allusion to the mask to be found. The face here reproduced is, without question, that of Wordsworth. It suggests the Wordsworth of middle age; it strongly resembles the portraits painted by Haydon; it is much too young in form and expression for the senile Wordsworth of the well-known