One Impulse from a vernal wood/May teach you more of man,/Of moral evil and of good,/Than all the sages can. (from “The Tables Turned”)
Central to Romanticism is the longing for wholeness, for a unifying or “holistic” vision of the planet and its inhabitants. The failure of political reform, however well motivated, and the cancer like growth of the new slum ridden cities and their “dark, satanic mills“, caused Wordsworth, Coleridge, John Constable and other “Romantic” poets and artists to seek their ideal where life is lived amid the “blended holiness of earth and sky”. Such a place was the English Lake District, remote, beautiful and unchanging; a “recoverable Eden” where unifying visions and Man and nature were immediately discernible to sensitive souls. In 1799, at the age of 29, William Wordsworth and his best friend and fellow poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, undertook a walking tour of his native Lake District. While on the tour Wordsworth first saw Dove Cottage in the village of Grasmere. By December of that year he and his sister, Dorothy, were in residence there. Coleridge had moved to Greta Hall, Keswick, 21 kilometres (13 miles) to the north. So began eight years of “plain living and high thinking” and the publication of two editions of “Lyrical Ballads” (1801 and 1802). In the preface to the second edition he wrote: Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.”
In 1802 Wordsworth married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Hutchison. By 1808 three of their five children had been born. Along with Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy, writer Thomas de Quincey was also a permanent guest at Dove Cottage, which was now too small. After a couple of temporary homes, the Wordsworth household took up permanent residence at nearby Rydal Mount in 1813. Here the poet lived until his death at the age of 80 in 1850. Dorothy and Mary lived on at Rydal Mount until their deaths in 1855 and 1859 respectively. Both Rydal Mount and Dove Cottage are now open to the public and well worth visiting. A servant at Rydal Mount once said to a visitor, “This is my master’s library where he keeps his books: his study is out of doors.” This fact is readily apparent in the stunningly beautiful four and one half acre garden which Wordsworth designed himself. In his poem about Tintern Abbey, he wrote: ” … Nature never did betray/The heart that loved her.”
Immediately adjacent to Dove Cottage is the international award winning Grasmere and Wordsworth Museum. It was founded in 1934 and recreated in 1981 within the walls of an 1850s coach house. Inside, Wordsworth’s epic autobiographical poem, The Prelude, is used visually and aurally to follow the events of the poet’s life and evolutionary times. Displays consist of original manuscripts of Wordsworth and his contemporary writers, along with a fine art collection that includes works by Constable and Gainsborough. Each year the museum presents a special exhibition covering subjects connected with the Romantic Era.
For more information about Wordsworth please visit: https://wordsworth.org.uk/home.html