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William Wordsworth: Poet of the Lake District

But while we are on the subject of Poetry, what think you, Miss Heywood, of Burns’ Lines to his Mary? — Oh I there is Pathos to madden one! — If ever there was a Man who felt, it was Burns. — Montgomery has all the Fire of Poetry, Wordsworth has the true soul of it …But Burns is always on fire. — His Soul was the Altar in which lovely Woman sat enshrined, his Spirit truly breathed the immortal Incence which is her Due. –”
Sir Edward Denham, Sanditon

William Wordsworth (April 7, 1770 – April 23, 1850) was a major English romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their 1798 joint publication, Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth’s masterpiece is generally considered to be The Prelude, an autobiographical poem of his early years that was revised and expanded a number of times. It was never published during his lifetime, and was only given the title after his death. Up until this time it was generally known as the poem “to Coleridge”. Wordsworth was England’s Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850. Early life and education

The second of five children, Wordsworth was born in Cumberland—part of the scenic region in north-west England called the Lake District. His sister was the poet and diarist Dorothy Wordsworth. With the death of his mother in 1778, his father sent him to Hawkshead Grammar School. In 1783 his father, who was a lawyer and the solicitor for the Earl of Lonsdale (a man much despised in the area), died. The estate consisted of around £4500, most of it in claims upon the Earl, who thwarted these claims until his death in 1802. The Earl’s successor, however, settled the claims with interest. After their father’s death, the Wordsworth children were left under the guardianship of their uncles. Although many aspects of his boyhood were positive, he recalled bouts of loneliness and anxiety. It took him many years, and much writing, to recover from the death of his parents and his separation from his siblings.

Wordsworth began attending St John’s College, Cambridge in 1787. His youngest brother, Christopher, rose to be Master of Trinity College. Three years later, in 1790, he visited Revolutionary France and supported the Republican movement. The following year, he graduated from Cambridge without distinction.

In November 1791, Wordsworth returned to France and took a walking tour of Europe that included the Alps and Italy. He fell in love with a French woman, Annette Vallon, who in 1792 gave birth to their child, Caroline. Because of lack of money and Britain’s tensions with France, he returned alone to England the next year. The circumstances of his return and his subsequent behaviour raise doubts as to his declared wish to marry Annette but he supported her and his daughter as best he could in later life. During this period, he wrote his acclaimed “It is a beautous evening, calm and free,” recalling his seaside walk with his daughter, whom he had not seen for ten years. At the conception of this poem, he had never seen his daughter before. The occurring lines reveal his deep love for both child and mother. The Reign of Terror estranged him from the Republican movement, and war between France and Britain prevented him from seeing Annette and Caroline again for several years. There are also strong suggestions that Wordsworth may have been depressed and emotionally unsettled in the mid 1790s.

With the Peace of Amiens again allowing travel to France, in 1802 Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, visited Annette and Caroline in France and arrived at a mutually agreeable settlement regarding Wordsworth’s obligations.

1793 saw Wordsworth’s first published poetry with the collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. He received a legacy of £900 from Raisley Calvert in 1795 so that he could pursue writing poetry. That year, he also met Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Somerset. The two poets quickly developed a close friendship. In 1797, Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, moved to Somerset, just a few miles away from Coleridge’s home in Nether Stowey. Together, Wordsworth and Coleridge (with insights from Dorothy) produced Lyrical Ballads (1798), an important work in the English Romantic movement. The volume had neither the name of Wordsworth nor Coleridge as author. One of Wordsworth’s most famous poems, “Tintern Abbey”, was published in the work, along with Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. The second edition, published in 1800, had only Wordsworth listed as author, and included a preface to the poems, which was significantly augmented in the 1802 edition. This Preface to Lyrical Ballads is considered a central work of Romantic literary theory. In it, Wordsworth discusses what he sees as the elements of a new type of poetry, one based on the “real language of men” and which avoids the poetic diction of much eighteenth-century poetry. Here, Wordsworth also gives his famous definition of poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquility.” A fourth and final edition of Lyrical Ballads was published in 1805.

Wordsworth, Dorothy, and Coleridge then travelled to Germany in the autumn of 1798. While Coleridge was intellectually stimulated by the trip, its main effect on Wordsworth was to produce homesickness. During the harsh winter of 1798–1799, Wordsworth lived with Dorothy in Goslar, and despite extreme stress and loneliness, he began work on an autobiographical piece later titled The Prelude. He also wrote a number of famous poems, including “the Lucy poems”. He and his sister moved back to England, now to Dove Cottage in Grasmere in the Lake District, and this time with fellow poet Robert Southey nearby. Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey came to be known as the “Lake Poets”. Through this period, many of his poems revolve around themes of death, endurance, separation, and grief.

In 1802, after returning from his trip to France with Dorothy to visit Annette and Caroline, Wordsworth received the inheritance owed by Lord Lonsdale since John Wordsworth’s death in 1783. Later that year, he married a childhood friend, Mary Hutchinson. Dorothy continued to live with the couple and grew close to Mary. The following year, Mary gave birth to the first of five children, John.

Both Coleridge’s health and his relationship to Wordsworth began showing signs of decay in 1804. That year Wordsworth befriended Robert Southey. With Napoleon’s rise as Emperor of the French, Wordsworth’s last wisp of liberalism fell, and from then on he identified himself as a Tory.

Wordsworth had for years been making plans to write a long philosophical poem in three parts, which he intended to call The Recluse. He had in 1798–99 started an autobiographical poem, which he never named but called the “poem to Coleridge”, which would serve as an appendix to The Recluse. In 1804 he began expanding this autobiographical work, having decided to make it a prologue rather than an appendix to the larger work he planned. By 1805, he had completed it, but refused to publish such a personal work until he had completed the whole of The Recluse. The death of his brother, John, in 1805 affected him strongly.

The source of Wordsworth’s philosophical allegiances as articulated in The Prelude and in such shorter works as “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey” has been the source of much critical debate. While it had long been supposed that Wordsworth relied chiefly on Coleridge for philosophical guidance, more recent scholarship has suggested that Wordsworth’s ideas may have been formed years before he and Coleridge became friends in the mid 1790s. While in Revolutionary Paris in 1792, the twenty-two year old Wordsworth made the acquaintance of the mysterious traveler John “Walking” Stewart (1747-1822), who was nearing the end of a thirty-years’ peregrination from Madras, India, through Persia and Arabia, across Africa and all of Europe, and up through the fledgling United States. By the time of their association, Stewart had published an ambitious work of original materialist philosophy entitled The Apocalypse of Nature (London, 1791), to which many of Wordsworth’s philosophical sentiments are likely indebted.

In 1807, his Poems in Two Volumes were published, including “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”. Up to this point Wordsworth was known publicly only for Lyrical Ballads, and he hoped this collection would cement his reputation. Its reception was only lukewarm, however.

For a time (starting in 1810), Wordsworth and Coleridge were estranged over the latter’s opium addiction.

Two of his children, Thomas and Catherine, died in 1812. The following year, he received an appointment as Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland, and the £400 per year income from the post made him financially secure. His family, including Dorothy, moved to Rydal Mount, Ambleside (between Grasmere and Rydal Water), where he spent the rest of his life.

In 1814 he published The Excursion as the second part of the three-part The Recluse. He had not completed the first and third parts, and never would complete them. However, he did write a poetic Prospectus to “The Recluse” in which he lays out the structure and intent of the poem. The Prospectus contains some of Wordsworth’s most famous lines on the relation between the human mind and nature:

My voice proclaims How exquisitely the individual Mind
(And the progressive powers perhaps no less
Of the whole species) to the external World
Is fitted:–and how exquisitely, too,
Theme this but little heard of among Men,
The external World is fitted to the Mind . . .

Some modern critics recognise a decline in his works beginning around the mid-1810s. But this decline was perhaps more a change in his lifestyle and beliefs, since most of the issues that characterise his early poetry (loss, death, endurance, separation, abandonment) were resolved in his writings. But, by 1820 he enjoyed the success accompanying a reversal in the contemporary critical opinion of his earlier works.

By 1828, Wordsworth had become fully reconciled to Coleridge, and the two toured the Rhineland together that year.

Dorothy suffered from a severe illness in 1829 that rendered her an invalid for the remainder of her life. In 1835, Wordsworth gave Annette and Caroline the money they needed for support.

Wordsworth received an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree in 1838 from Durham University, and the same honour from Oxford University the next year. In 1842 the government awarded him a civil list pension amounting to £300 a year.

With the death in 1843 of Robert Southey, Wordsworth became the Poet Laureate. When his daughter, Dora, died in 1847, his production of poetry came to a standstill.

William Wordsworth died in Rydal Mount in 1850 and was buried at St. Oswald’s church in Grasmere.

His widow published his lengthy autobiographical “Poem to Coleridge” as The Prelude several months after his death. Though this failed to arouse great interest in 1850, it has since come to be recognised as his masterpiece.

From Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.

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Touring with the Gardiners

Before they were separated by the conclusion of the play, she had the unexpected happiness of an invitation to accompany her uncle and aunt in a tour of pleasure which they proposed taking in the summer.

“We have not quite determined how far it shall carry us,” said Mrs Gardiner, “but perhaps to the Lakes.”

No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth, and her acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful. “My dear, dear aunt,” she rapturously cried, “what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of any thing…Lakes, mountains, and rivers shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor, when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarrelling about its relative situation.
–Pride and Prejudice

Just as summer vacation trips are popular today, “touring the countryside” was a popular activity during Regency Summers. When the weather was hot, those that could retreat to countryside estates would. If you didn’t own such a place, visiting a cooler climate and touring grand estates was the next best thing.

In Emma, Boxhill is beset by summer travelers, some travelling in an “Irish car”….which, by the way, is not a car at all, but a particular type of carriage arranged with two rows of seats facing outward.

Of course, the most famous instance of summer travel is that of the Gardiners, in Pride and Prejudice who first decide to tour the Lake District, and when circumstances prevent that, settle on the Peaks, taking in, on their way, a tour of Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate.

Early visitors to the Lake District, who travelled for the education and pleasure of the journey, include Celia Fiennes who in 1698 undertook a journey the length of England, including riding through Kendal and over Kirkstone Pass into Patterdale. Her experiences and impressions were published in her book Great Journey to Newcastle and Cornwall:

As I walked down at this place I was walled on both sides by those inaccessible high rocky barren hills which hang over one’s head in some places and appear very terrible; and from them springs many little currents of water from the sides and clefts which trickle down to some lower part where it runs swiftly over the stones and shelves in the way, which makes a pleasant rush and murmuring noise and like a snowball is increased by each spring trickling down on either side of those hills, and so descends into the bottoms which are a Moorish ground in which in many places the waters stand, and so form some of those Lakes as it did here.

In 1724, Daniel Defoe published the first volume of A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain. He commented on Westmorland that it was: the wildest, most barren and frightful of any that I have passed over in England, or even Wales itself; the west side, which borders on Cumberland, is indeed bounded by a chain of almost unpassable mountains which, in the language of the country, are called fells.

Towards the end of the 18th century, the area was becoming more popular with travellers. This was partly a result of wars in Continental Europe, restricting the possibility of travel there. In 1778 Father Thomas West produced A Guide to the Lakes, which began the era of modern tourism. West listed “stations” – viewpoints where tourists could enjoy the best views of the landscape, being encouraged to appreciated the formal qualities of the landscape and to apply aesthetic values. At some of these stations, buildings were erected to help this process. The remains of Claife Station (on the western shore of Windermere below Claife Heights) can be visited today.

The Lake District is intimately associated with English literature in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thomas Gray was the first to bring the region to attention, when he wrote a journal of his Grand Tour in 1769, but it was William Wordsworth whose poems were most famous and influential. Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, inspired by the sight of daffodils on the shores of Ullswater, remains one of the most famous in the English language. Out of his long life of eighty years, sixty were spent amid its lakes and mountains, first as a schoolboy at Hawkshead, and afterwards living in Grasmere (1799-1813) and Rydal Mount (1813-50). Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey became known as the Lake Poets.

William Wordsworth published his Guide to the Lakes in 1810, and by 1835 it had reached its fifth edition, now called A Guide through the District of the Lakes in the North of England. This book was particularly influential in popularising the region. Wordsworth’s favourite valley was Dunnerdale or the Duddon Valley nestling in the south-west of the Lake District.

The poet and his wife lie buried in the churchyard of Grasmere and very near to them are the remains of Hartley Coleridge (son of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge), who himself lived for many years in Keswick, Ambleside and Grasmere. Robert Southey, the Poet Laureate and friend of Wordsworth, was a resident of Keswick for forty years (1803-43), and was buried in Crosthwaite churchyard. Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived for some time in Keswick, and also with the Wordsworths at Grasmere. From 1807 to 1815 John Wilson lived at Windermere. De Quincey spent the greater part of the years 1809 to 1828 at Grasmere, in the first cottage which Wordsworth had inhabited.

In addition to these residents or natives of the Lake District, a variety of other poets and writers made visits to the Lake District or were bound by ties of friendship with those already mentioned above. These include Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sir Walter Scott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Arthur Hugh Clough, Henry Crabb Robinson, Thomas Carlyle, John Keats, Lord Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Felicia Hemans, and Gerald Massey.

The time fixed for the beginning of their Northern tour was now fast approaching; and a fortnight only was wanting of it, when a letter arrived from Mrs Gardiner, which at once delayed its commencement and curtailed its extent.

Mr Gardiner would be prevented by business from setting out till a fortnight later in July, and must be in London again within a month; and as that left too short a period for them to go so far, and see so much as they had proposed, or at least to see it with the leisure and comfort they had built on, they were obliged to give up the Lakes, and substitute a more contracted tour; and, according to the present plan, were to go no farther northward than Derbyshire. In that county, there was enough to be seen to occupy the chief of their three weeks; and to Mrs Gardiner it had a peculiarly strong attraction. The town where she had formerly passed some years of her life, and where they were now to spend a few days, was probably as great an object of her curiosity, as all the celebrated beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, or the Peak.
–Pride and Prejudice

The Peak District in Derbyshire and Staffordshire offers incredible views. The dramatic landscape ranges from percipitous valleys edged in loose stones in the Dark Peaks to lush valleys with limestone outcrops in the White Peaks all bisected by streams. Birds and wildflowers abound.

Dovedale is a meandering, deeply-cut two mile valley on the River Dove in the Peak District. The River Dove originates in the high moorlands of Axe Edge and joins the River Trent after a 45 mile circuitous journey through a series of spectacular limestone gorges: Beresford Dale, Wolfscote Dale, Milldale, and finally Dovedale. Dovedale is best enjoyed on a walking tour in which the views of valleys and rock spires are gradually revealed.

The Peak District and Dovedale are the result of extensive erosion of limestone [White Peaks] beds by waters rich in debris at the end of the ice age. The erosion cut through a conglamerate limestone resulting from a river delt overlaying an older limestone bed laid down in a shallow tropical sea 350 million years ago. The harder coral reef limestone remained. The ice age scouring revealed the coral islands as the Peaks from which the district derives its name.

Mr. Gardiner may well have stopped for a day of fishing in Dovedale. Trout fishing in the valley was made famous by Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton who wrote The Compleat Angler in the 17th century. Elizabeth must have greatly enjoyed the scenery.

Located on the Gardiner’s path to Pemberley in Derbyshire, are two of the most famous great houses in England: Blenheim and Chatsworth. While it may seem odd today to visit a private home, uninvited, and ask for a tour, such goings on were fairly common place two hundred years ago. It was a mark of hospitality to allow travelers, however unexpected, to drop in and request a tour of the housekeeper, who, no doubt, knew the history and the house better than the inhabitants. She would usually be given a monetary tip for her troubles.

While it is not mentioned whether Elizabeth and the Gardiners toured these homes on their journey, it has long been thought that Chatsworth was Jane Austen’s inspiration for Pemberley.

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Adapted from Sharon Wagoner’s article on The Georgian Index.net. Additional information from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.