The ‘Rock of Names’

Page 1

by Ian O. Brodie

Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere and that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who lived for a time in Keswick., This small rocky outcrop above the eastern lake shore of Thirlmere, alongside the old turnpike road, marked a not infrequent meeting place for the friends, and is marked by their initials:

W. W.

M. H.

D. W.

S. T. C.

       J. W.

S. H.

 

 

The names are, of course, William Wordsworth, Mary Hutchinson, Dorothy Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Wordsworth, and Sara Hutchinson. The obvious omission is Coleridge’s wife, also named Sara.

Painting of the Rock by Harry Goodwin. Courtesy of the Trustees of Dove Cottage.

 

So how did this slab of roadside rock come into being?

It’s possible the carving took place over a period of time, starting in 1802. On May 4th 1802, Dorothy noted, ‘We parted from Coleridge at Sara’s Crag after having looked at the Letters which C. carved in the morning. I kissed them all. Wm deepened the T with C.’s penknife.’ Around the same time Coleridge himself wrote ‘Cut out my name & Dorothy’s over the S.H. at Sara’s Rock.’

In other words, the first initials to be cut were those of Sara Hutchinson and were the work of Coleridge. Sara was his unrequited love and he inscribed her initials just as people have done on trees for hundreds of years. It also explains why the group always called the crag ‘Sara’s Crag’ or ‘Sara’s Rock’ – it only started to be referred to as the Rock of Names later in the nineteenth century. The friends had already carved their names before: in April 1801 William wrote to his future wife, Mary Hutchinson, ‘You will recollect that there is a gate just across the road, directly opposite the fir grove; this gate was always a favourite station of ours; we love it far more now on Sara’s account. You know that it commands a beautiful prospect; Sara carved her cypher upon one of the bars, and we call it her gate. We will find out another place for your cypher, but you must come and fix upon the place yourself. How we long to see you, my dear Mary.’

Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, a founder of the Wordsworth Society, discussed the Rock in his Literary Associations of the English Lakes of 1894. He noted how hard the volcanic rock was, and commented, “For they were all poets who wrought their initials painfully upon the hard volcanic ash, and graved upon the rock’s smooth breast ‘letters / That once seemed only to express/ Love that was love in idleness’ (the lines are a reference to Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Waggoner’).

Dorothy’s journal has several references to the Rock, and as already noted, William referred to it in his original draft of ‘The Waggoner’:

We worked until the Initials took
Shapes that defied a scornful look. –
Long as for us a genial feeling
Survives, or one in need of healing,
The power, dear Rock, around thee cast,
Thy monumental power, shall last
For Me and Mine! O thought of pain,
That would impair it or profane!
Take all in kindness then, as said
With a staid heart but playful head;
And fail not thou, loved Rock! to keep
Thy charge when we are laid asleep.

Wordsworth recognised that the initials would still remain when he had departed the earth. And they survived thus for the following half-century, protected only by the slow growth of algae, lichens and moss, which as Professor William Knight noted in his The English Lake District as interpreted in the poems of Wordsworth (1878), “secured it from observation, even from the highway.”

However, in the mid-1870s, the city of Manchester drew up plans for a new reservoir at Thirlmere, and a bill was put before parliament. There were several objections to the plan, however, notably from Wordsworth’s son, William, who argued that new reservoir would literally submerge the Rock of Names. However, Cumbrian author John Wilson argued that the carvings weren’t the work of the poets at all, but rather of an eccentric local called John Longmire, whose hobby was stonecutting.

 

Water engineer G. H. Hill’s plan for the scheme

 

There were certainly similarities between the carvings on the Rock and known examples of Longmire’s work, and one plausible theory is that Longmire augmented and deepened the original carvings, perhaps adding a more ‘professional’ Roman lettered finish.

 

Herbert Bell’s photograph of the rock and lettering c1880. Courtesy of the Armitt Library Trustees.

 

What happened to the rock when Manchester constructed Thirlmere reservoir?

The Manchester Corporation Act was passed in 1879, and the Manchester Water Works committee eventually started construction of the Thirlmere dam in 1890. By this time Canon Rawnsley and his wife were at the heart of the campaign to stop Manchester from destroying the Rock.

 

Picture of the Thirlmere dam opening ceremony with Canon Rawnsley, who said the prayers, on the extreme left hand side. Picture courtesy of United Utilities.

 

Nor were the Rawnsleys the only people involved: there had been huge public interest during the parliamentary debate about the Thirlmere scheme, and people were now aware of the Rock’s existence as they had never been before. As a result, Manchester City Council reluctantly gave permission to the Cockermouth-based Wordsworth Institute to remove the rock. As Alderman Harwood wrote, “The fragments containing the initials were preserved, and have been built into a cairn on the solid base of mountain stone, at a point above the new road diversion, in a line with the rock from which they were taken. This was carried out by persons in the neighbourhood.” The local ‘persons’ in question included the Rawnsleys. As the Canon later noted, “The cairn, carefully built, contains only the fragments of certain letters, which are all that we are able to save from the cruel blasting powder of the contractors who wished to quarry the “Rock of Names” for material to make the water-dam.”

 

The Rawnsley cairn: photo courtesy of Geoff Darrall.

The photograph confirms that only parts of the lettering to have survived intact.

 

How did the rock fragments leave Thirlmere and come to Grasmere and to be ‘reassembled’ behind the Museum?

In 1984 the cairn’s fragments were ‘spirited’ away to Grasmere. This was a combined effort by the then chairman of the Wordsworth Trust, Jonathan Wordsworth, and Lakeland hotelier Michael Berry, who funded the operation. He told the BBC in 1984 that he’d been inspired to ‘save’ the Rock by reading about it in Dorothy’s Journals. The removal took place with the agreement of the North West Water Authority, who by then owned the Thirlmere site. The fragments were restored and reassembled on a wall above the Wordsworth Trust museum.

 

What do we see today?

The question which must now be asked is how much of the Rock we see today was actually the work of Wordsworth and Coleridge? Can the panel above Dove Cottage really be the fragments blasted by dynamite by Manchester’s contractors?

The work of breaking up Rawnsley’s cairn was attended by the press and a BBC North-West film team. It shows the contractor using a crowbar and lump hammer to break up the cairn. The fragments were then taken to a stonemasons in Bowness, where the blocks containing the initials were cut into two-inch pieces, laid out in their original order and bonded into one piece. The whole face was then sand-blasted to obtain the uniform appearance we see on site in Grasmere.

Brian Johnson, Michael Berry and Dr Robert Woof at the unveiling ceremony of Sara’s Rock.

 

All that remains on the original site, just above the A591 at Thirlmere, is a plaque placed close to where the Rock of Names and the ‘cairn’ used to stand. This is at Grid Reference NY320153.

Perhaps the BBC chose a most appropriate title for their 1984 film about the restoration of the Rock: ‘A Marvellous Piece of Illogical English History’. Whatever the current shape and form of Sara’s Rock we see toda,y it seems William’s wish is being met:

And fail not thou, loved Rock! to keep
Thy charge when we are laid asleep.

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

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Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

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09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

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A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

Page 1

by Rachael Tarrant

 

A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as an object that it is forbidden to touch, let alone open. What wonder could await us in this jade box? To my surprise, and rush of pleasure, the box is opened to reveal something apparently far less grandiose: a red leather travel notebook. Its cover is not simply ‘red’: it is rather a variegated motley of hues, a base rose colour overcome with deep patches of cherry, even shades of mahogany. This patchwork of colour; the book’s rough edges; the white wrinkles creasing its folding flap and webbing across intermittent areas of the cover combine to create the impression of a well-worn, weather-beaten journal. This travel notebook, we are informed, belonged to William Wordsworth. It contains fragments of verse written between 1797 and 1800.

 

Its cover immediately evokes outside space, just as the nature of the object’s materiality as a travel journal implies that the ideas and thoughts recorded within it have been inspired by the outside world. Having studied William’s poetry for several years now, I am well-versed in his great love of nature; I was thus struck by the idea of William wandering outside with this notebook by his side, ready to jot down poetic musings. Indeed, Rebecca Solnit asserts that “walking was [Wordsworth’s] means of composition. Most of his poems seem to have been composed while he walked and spoke aloud, to a companion or to himself” (Solnit, p 113). The outside form of the travel notebook seems to testify to the common conception of William, and, more generally, of the Romantic Poet, as the dreaming, solitary male musing in nature. Moreover, by considering this object in tandem with Solnit’s work, and Robin Jarvis’s 1997 study of the rise of pedestrianism in the Romantic period, one can understand William’s walking as part of a larger, radical move to explore the environment on foot.

Jarvis explains that walking had been traditionally associated with poverty, unrespectability and possible criminal intent. Though attitudes were to change during the first few decades of the nineteenth century, the increasing number of people choosing to travel on foot across the 1780s-90s were met with considerable prejudice. Jarvis thus sees an element of ‘deliberate social non-conformism, of oppositionality’, and a desire to pave one’s ‘own ideological space’ in the actions of late 18th century walkers. Elsewhere I have argued for William’s active rebellion against the forces of modernisation dominant in his society, seeing The Excursion, in particular, as William’s poetic endeavour to offer an alternative social vision. William thus seems to fit in with Jarvis’s model extremely well, and it is intriguing to consider walking as an intrinsic part of William’s method of conceptualising. My previous reflection on the “slow, ponderous pace of Wordsworth’s The Excursion” (Tarrant, p 5) takes on new meaning upon reading Solnit’s claim that William’s “steps seem to have beat out a steady rhythm for the poetry, like the metronome of a composer” (Solnit, p 114). Comforted by the rhythm of his feet through environmental space, William apparently felt best able to access his ‘own ideological space’ and compose unique poetry.

 

As a fellow student tentatively turns the leaves of the travel notebook, however, this idea of William as a solitary figure musing in nature is at once complicated. Within its scarlet cover lies the penmanship of many hands. Curator Jeff Cowton explains that the first hand is Dorothy Wordsworth’s, inking a fair copy of Samuel Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’. After several pages, and only part ways through ‘Christabel’, Dorothy’s handwriting stops. Abruptly, we are greeted with scribbled drafts and fragments penned by William. Jeff alerts us to the pin holes piercing these pages, indicating that this section was once stitched up. Following on from this, Mary Wordsworth’s hand resumes the work of inking ‘Christabel’. The inside of the travel book thus represents a meeting place for many voices. The space it evokes becomes one of domesticity, of talking and collaboration. The individual voices ring out in tangible, discernible styles, seen in the varying shapes and slants of the different handwriting and the blots of ink embodying different pressure and grasps. One page catches my eye in particular. An otherwise ordinary page with lines of neatly written poetry beginning half way down it; the page is made notable by a mesh of wild lines scribbled in circular motion, its focused web subsuming a third of the page, with looser, thinner lines sprawling off the edges. Jeff suggests this is the work of the Wordsworth children, gleefully drawing on the left-out notebook. In my mind the picture shifts; William’s solitary musings are rejoined with a chorus of other voices. The voices of his loved ones aid and inspire his creativity: he carries these voices with him as he wanders, composing drafts afoot, and he returns to them to “write the result down later” (Solnit p 113).

 

As a signifier of collaborative space, the inside of the travel notebook upsets the dominant conception of William as a solitary, self-obsessed figure. As Solnit quotes, William’s contemporaries recognised his focus on the self, with essayist William Hazlitt claiming “he sees nothing but himself and the universe”. Solnit echoes this view, over 150 years on, remarking that William’s “seems a remarkably impersonal life, since he remains reticent on his personal relationships” (p 106). Yet, this faded crimson notebook seems to testify to the importance of personal relationships to William, connecting him to a culture of community, sociability and collaboration. The incorporation of Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’ within William’s notebook further contributes to this conception of the importance of collaboration to William’s creative process. It seems likely that William flicked over Coleridge’s lines whilst musing upon his own. Coleridge’s verse hugs William’s ‘work towards’ famous titles like ‘The Prelude’ and ‘The Ruined Cottage’; I wonder: what might be gained from reading these poems in dialogue with ‘Christabel’ – in replica of their first formation? The placement of William’s drafts, encircled by Coleridge’s completed text, tangibly evokes the idea that poetry has no finite end, even when published. Coleridge’s verse, enmeshed in this space of literary creation, becomes part of the creative process once again. It sparks ideas in another creator’s mind, illustrating that spaces are never singularly marked off, but are always overlapping.

 

This object appeals to me in a way that even the unanimously revered first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads did not. Seeing and handling this object is so unlike the way I typically encounter Romantic period texts. Whether this is through an anthology or a website online, I normally blindly accept the text’s materiality, anaesthetised through repeated encounters with an authoritative presentation – standardized fonts; exact, uniform line spaces; each pristine word confidently declaring its aptitude to stand in the final, publicised version of that text. In contrast, the material presence of Wordsworth’s travel notebook is impossible to ignore. The human, living body, with its actively processing mind, positively leaps off every page. It is a place of testing and mistakes: countless words are scored out with varying degrees of vigour and thickness of line, replaced with better phrases which squeeze in between the lines above and below. It is a place for Dorothy Wordsworth to test her pen, writing ‘amen’ five times horizontally across a particularly intriguing page.

 

Far from making this page unusable, William’s handwriting accompanies Dorothy’s: his poetic attempts fill the page, writing right up to, and around, Dorothy’s testing. Leafing through the notebook, we also see that several pages have been cut out with a knife, perhaps to be transferred elsewhere. These details contribute to the look and feel of the object as a kind of hodgepodge or patchwork, a place of creativity in action. It offers a rare glimpse into those half-formed first thoughts and inner musings that lie behind the finalised versions of William’s poems. To see William’s drafts is to glimpse at the person behind the idolised figure – a man drawn, perhaps, to the colour red, surrounded and inspired by family, friends and his partner.

The relaxed, even rough, treatment of the travel notebook by the Wordsworths strikes a dramatic, almost amusing, contrast with our student group’s gentle, careful handling of the same. This item, having withstood violent scribbles and even the sharp blade of a knife, is now gingerly cradled by hands that apply the lightest touch to turning its pages. The passing of 200 years, and the reputation of its owners, has ensured the notebook’s status as an object of preservation. Quick musings and jotted-down thoughts become treasured inscriptions on a sacred text. I find myself wondering what William would think of this – of a group of students pouring over and dissecting his mistakes and drafts. It feels like an invasion of private space; this was not a text designed in mind for the public eye. Yet, it is for this very reason that the notebook has made such an impression on me – it evokes the human and imperfect, the work-in-progress rather than the finished product. It is, in fact, somewhat reassuring to see the author of so many magnificent works struggle at times to find the exact words he requires. It has been an encouraging thought whilst composing this paper: to imagine myself sharing in that experimental space of the red leather notebook.

 

Bibliography
Cowton, Jeff and Simon Bainbridge. 28 August 2015. ‘Why did William Wordsworth cut pages out of his notebooks?’

Garvis, Robin. 1997. Romantic Writing and Pedestrian Travel (Great Britain: Macmillan)

Solnit, Rebecca. 2001. Wanderlust: A History of Walking (London: Verso)

Tarrant, Rachael. 2o19. ‘The Impulse to Intervene: Tempering Accelerated Modernisation in Anna Laetitia Barbauld and William Wordsworth’, (unpublished postgraduate essay for the University of Glasgow), pp. 1-11

 

Rachael Tarrant holds a first-class honours degree in English Literature from the University of Glasgow. Rachael is currently pursuing her studies into the literature of the 18th and 19th centuries, and is especially fascinated by poetry and poetics. Compelling close-readings in particular bring her genuine joy and excitement, as does spending time with her boyfriend, friends, family and cats.

 

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

Chasing Coleridge

Page 1

by Mark Patterson

It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the Lakes and it’s probable that Coleridge had timed his trip to take advantage of good weather.

The route of Coleridge’s walk. Original map from Cumbria County Council

 

 

Certainly, it must have been a dry summer that year because when Coleridge reached the steep top of Newlands Pass, a mile or so above Buttermere, he found that the flow of water in Moss Force waterfall was much reduced. Perhaps pausing just briefly here, Coleridge descended to Buttermere, his half-way mark for the day, had a cup of tea at the Fish Inn, read most of Revelations, and then began the long ascent to the day’s second pass, Floutern Cop, which eventually brought him out over Ennerdale Water. As the light failed he kept walking a few more miles to reach his bed for the night, at the home of a friend-of-a-friend just beyond the village of Ennerdale Bridge.

 

Ascending to Newlands Pass and Moss Force

I’m describing Coleridge’s movements on this first day in some detail because when I set out to shadow his movements in August 2018 I soon found that I couldn’t match his distance without discomfort. In fact, having plodded up to Newlands Pass with a heavy rucksack on a hot shadeless day, and then down the other side to Buttermere, packed out with holiday-makers, I was happy to call a halt for the day by mid-afternoon. Ennerdale, Scale Force, Floutern Tarn and the magnificent wild glacial landscape leading up to Floutern Cop could wait until the next day.

Where Coleridge had walked 15 miles in a long day, I did eight and took the rest of the day off, bed secured at the youth hostel. Over the next week or so a few of my other daily walking distances also fell short of the Coleridgean ideal. Where Coleridge walked the last 16-mile stretch from Ambleside to Keswick in a day, pausing at Dove Cottage to make a meal, I stopped at Grasmere for the night and did the final 12 the next day. Was I ashamed of myself? A little. But, in truth, I wasn’t strictly seeking to replicate, step-by-step, Coleridge’s journey. That, after all, had already been done by the late Keswick rock climber and journalist Alan Hankinson, whose book Coleridge Walks the Fells (Ellenbank Press, 1991) recounts his attempt to follow the poet’s exact route, see what he saw and stay where he stayed. I was on a different mission, which was to gain a measure of insight into how Coleridge, and his circle, managed to regularly walk long distances with so little preparation or apparent discomfort. In essence, the subject of the walk, and my related research, can be summed up as, How did the Romantics Walk So Far with So Little? Their walking clothes, their food, their accommodation, the state of the roads and trails – this is what interests me.

As an inveterate long distance walker I find it impossible not to admire Coleridge. He may have been a poor husband and a frequently absent father, but he was in his element on the trail – intensely observant, curious, daring and blessed with tremendous physical stamina. Sixteen miles was his longest daily distance in the 1802 Lakes tour but he could do around twice that distance. In Scotland later that year he achieved an average of 30 miles a day (268 miles in nine days, at one point walking barefoot after accidentally burning his shoes at a fire). Earlier in the West Country he walked 90 miles in two days. Walking long distances over rough terrain in the dark held no terror for him. Nor did rock climbing, as we know from his celebrated descent of Broadstand on Scafell and frequent ascents of waterfalls. And that he was confident in his own speed and route-finding is shown by the fact that he often didn’t set out until after lunch. On at least two occasions on the nine-day tour of the Lakes, at Keswick and Eskdale, he wasn’t out of the door until after midday. Faced with a long day’s walk that might end in the dark, most of us try to set off after an early breakfast.

 

But Coleridge, while exceptional in so many ways (the most exceptional man of his generation, according to his publisher Joseph Cottle), was also typical of his circle and generation in the sense that these were people for whom walking was a daily necessity – and, increasingly, a sensual pleasure. William and Dorothy Wordsworth’s weekly trips to the post office in Ambleside were typical of their utilitarian journeys from Grasmere. Where many people in the western world today balk at the idea of walking a mile to anywhere, they regularly made six-mile round trips to collect their mail. On one occasion Dorothy mistakenly got to Ambleside in the morning, forgetting that the mail arrived in the evening, so walked back to Grasmere and returned to Ambleside at night. That was 12 miles just to get their mail. Of course, they walked because they had to; at that stage, living at Dove Cottage, they rarely hired a carriage. But what sets the Romantic generation off from previous ones was their delight in walking for its own sake, and their written articulation of that delight. Dorothy, no slacker herself when it came to distance walking, walked at every opportunity. That is abundantly evident in her Grasmere Journal and also the lesser-known journals of trips in Scotland and Europe. “I, being never at home, but where I can ramble on foot…” she wrote in her account of a tour of Switzerland in 1821.

 

But chief of the walkers among the ‘Wordsworth circle’ was Coleridge. How did he do it? Well, he travelled light – very light. Setting off from Greta Hall in 1802 he carried the shank of a besom broom for a walking stick, and a knapsack containing a spare shirt, cravat, two pairs of stockings, a book, paper and pens, tea and sugar, a night cap and an oilskin of some kind. So, with the shirt he was wearing, he had only two shirts for a journey of around 100 miles. He ate in inns but took no extra food or any cooking equipment.

His map, such as it could be called, and sketched on a single page in his journal, was really an illustrated aide memoire to the places he’d already visited or planned to visit on the coming tour. It wasn’t the kind of map that would help him get unlost with the aid of a compass. But then, he took no compass anyway. Yet Coleridge lost his way only once, on the way from Ulpha to Broughton Mills, and a local man soon put him on the right path.

 

There is a suggestion that he asked Wasdale shepherds for advice about the route up to Scafell but at no stage did he hire a mountain guide, which was a normal practice for gentlemen venturing into high places in those days. It wasn’t as if Coleridge didn’t have experience of using guides as he and Joseph Hucks hired two during their walking tour of Wales in 1794. It was the first guide, a lad of 17, who persuaded them not to indulge their mad idea of climbing Snowdon at 11pm. Eight years later, in the Lakes, Coleridge was still counting his pennies and not hiring guides may have been down to the need to economise.

 

All told, with just a coat and two shirts, lacking shelter, portable food or drink or the means to make fire, Coleridge appears to have been dangerously under-equipped for a nine day walk around the Lake District – judged by today’s safety-first standards, that is.

 

In his favour, he knew people and had connections in the area to secure beds and meals. On three occasions, in Ennerdale, Eskdale and Wasdale, he stayed overnight with friends-of-friends or people he had stayed with before. On a fourth occasion, while heading home to Keswick via Clappersgate, near Ambleside, he stayed over night at Brathay Hall, home of his friend and former pupil Charles Lloyd. At other times Coleridge relied on inns along the route for his bed and meals. And we know from his journal and letters a little about what he ate and drank. Buttermere: tea. St Bees: a glass of gin and water. Bonewood, near Gosforth: a pint of beer. Nether Wasdale: a “good dish” of tea (from his own stock). Eskdale: tea and “some excellent Salmonlings” brought from Ravenglass by his host. Broughton Mills: oatcake and cheese, with a pint of ale and two glasses of rum and water sweetened with preserved gooseberries. Dove Cottage, Grasmere; freshly shelled peas with a rasher of boiled bacon.

Entrance to Charles Lloyd’s former home, Brathay Hall, now a residential centre

Clearly, he didn’t worry about alcohol affecting his navigation skills. Nor did he feel the need to take any supplies of food to sustain his high-energy daily walking regime. In the 1860s, English adventurers such as Edward Whymper, conqueror of the Matterhorn, were sustained by specialist products such as bars of Fortnum & Mason ‘portable soup’, but such things were unknown in Coleridge’s time. In his day walking food meant stuffing everyday food such as bread, cheese or pieces of pork into knapsacks and pockets, as William and John Wordsworth did on their 118-mile walk from Grasmere to Yorkshire in 1800. Yet despite Coleridge’s untiring mileage over rough terrain in the Lakes he made only one brief comment about feeling hungry. This came at the top of Skafell where he wrote a letter to Sara Hutchinson in which he said he was “hunger’d & provisionless”. That was the only confession of want on his nine-day tour.

 

Hostels and civilian campsites were also unthought of in 1802, although there were inns, of varying standards. In Wales, Coleridge and Hucks encountered bad food, damp sheets and one place that was so stuffy they broke the windows to let air in. In the Lakes the worst place Coleridge admitted to was a “miserable Pot-house” in St Bees, where he slept in his clothes. Yet Coleridge’s willingness to ‘rough it’ (he happily slept in barns on his German walking tour) was an asset at a time when he was not well off. By contrast, it is arguably more difficult to rough it in the countryside today because security concerns and a general fear of strangers means that travellers are corralled into campsites, hostels and hotels. Who today dares ask a farmer for permission to sleep in his or her barn? Interestingly, Coleridge usually didn’t know where he was going to stay each night, trusting, just like many young backpackers do, that he would always find a bed somewhere. Alan Hankinson tried the same approach and got away with it, but only once managed to sleep under the same roof as Coleridge, at the Black Bull in Coniston. Hankinson, while not carrying a tent, food or cooking gear, still carried more weight than Coleridge. I, loaded down with tent, food, stove and gas in preparation for hostels and camping, carried more than Hankinson, which is why it was difficult to match Coleridge’s distances.

The Black Bull, Coniston

 

In a letter Coleridge once described his gait and walking style as “awkward” and as “indolence capable of energies” but, in contrast to my plodding with a heavy pack, Coleridge must have virtually flown across the fells. Of course, it is not possible now to talk of Coleridge without some acknowledgement of how his thoughts and actions may have been affected by opium addiction. The poet was a ‘user’ by 1802 and would be for many years afterwards. Did opium use suppress his hunger while he was walking? Yet if he was a user on this long walk he made no mention of it in his notes or letters – and he was no stranger to confessing his addiction to those close to him. Walking, it is true, does not magically rid one of drug or alcohol addiction. But it may be that the exuberance of sustained physical effort allowed Coleridge to keep his addiction at bay, even if for just for nine days.

 

Here then was Coleridge the ideal long-distance walker, a man capable of long daily distances with easy accommodation needs. On top of this, Lakeland residents and visitors must surely be amazed by Coleridge’s apparent immunity to bad weather. Yet only once did he actually experience rain and that was on the descent from Skafell to Eskdale when a thunderstorm caused him to seek shelter in the lee of a large rock near the river Esk. One brief rainstorm in nine days? He was fortunate. In August 1989 a heatwave broke on the very day that Alan Hankinson began his walk. He was soaked from head to foot by the time he reached Buttermere. The 2018 heatwave broke two days into my walk and good weather didn’t resume until the end. The intervening days were all drizzle and mist, and at Wasdale there was heavy rain driven by gale force winds.

 

Yet even had Coleridge suffered the same ‘Lakes weather’ as the rest of us there is good reason to believe he wouldn’t have packed up and gone home, and that’s because he loved the thrill and challenge of wild, bad weather. Hazlitt described how Coleridge had run bareheaded into a Quantocks thunderstorm to “enjoy the commotion of the elements”, and Coleridge later told how he walked stolidly on into a Lakeland storm for the sheer wild pleasure of it. Even drizzle had an aesthetic benefit as it “exhibits the mountains better than any”, as he told Southey in 1802.

Bad weather coming in across Wastwater in August 2018

 

One other aspect of the Lakeland landscape meant he could walk quickly and safely, and that was the quiet nature of the roads and tracks. The roads may have been narrow in his day (the single lane which runs past Dove Cottage, a remnant of the original road from Ambleside to Keswick, is a good example) but they were fit for the traffic of the day, when the fastest regular object was the mail coach. Itinerant beggars, tradespeople, horses and carts – this was the usual traffic on the Lakeland roads, as we know from Wordsworth’s poetry. Other routes trodden by Coleridge were basically as yet unpaved tracks. Contemporary prints show that the route along the side of Wastwater, for example, was still a rough track; neither was there yet a road fit for coaches along the Newlands valley to Buttermere; nor over the moors between Eskdale and Ulpha, a route which Coleridge found gloomy.

 

Across the moors to Ulpha

 

Contrast that with today’s situation, where most of Coleridge’s route is followed by busy roads and where walkers risk their lives. Even the narrow lane running along Eskdale, a route which Coleridge followed after descending from Skafell, is dangerous because of the volume of local and holiday traffic. But there is much worse for walkers than this; a large section of the road between Coniston and Hawkshead, for example, is horrible because of its blind corners and absence of pavements. And who today would willingly walk the fast road from Ambleside to Keswick? All this forces the modern walker to use caution or simply find alternative routes. If you want to follow Coleridge’s way in its purest, and safest, form you must skip the roads altogether and follow in his footsteps up from Buttermere to Floutern Tarn and over the top to Ennerdale; walk the old ‘coffin route’ from Wastwater to Burnmoor Tarn to Eskdale, not forgetting to ascend Skafell on the way; find his path from Eskdale up to Devoke Water; and tread the old narrow lane north from Ambleside which terminates outside Dove Cottage.

 

The stone boat house at Devoke Water, mentioned by Coleridge in his notes

 

The old ‘coffin road’ from Wasdale to Eskdale via Burnmoor Tarn

 

It is on these well-worn routes that Coleridge the walker can best be imagined. Poor, but with some money in his pockets, travelling light, unweighted by maps, spare food, spare this and spare that, and brought up in a tough physical culture where people walked long distances because they had to, Coleridge the exceptional writer and thinker became Coleridge the exceptional, pioneering, risk-taking, rock-climbing, ultra-lightweight, long-distance backpacker – the polar opposite of today’s cosseted, safety-conscious, expensively clad, leisure walker.

 

 

Mark Patterson is a freelance writer and journalist who has worked in newspapers, PR and marketing. He has written two books on Roman archaeology and is currently working on a series of essays and articles exploring various aspects of walking and walking culture including the influence of the Romantics.

 

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

Painted ships on painted oceans: Contemporary staging effects in The Rime

Page 1

by Rebekah Owens

 

These days we think of Coleridge primarily as a poet, but when he was writing The Rime of the Ancient Mariner he had playwriting very much on his mind. After collaborating with Robert Southey on the verse drama The Fall of Robespierre, in 1797, the year before the first version of the Rime appeared, Coleridge was commissioned by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the manager of Drury Lane Theatre to write a play. He began writing Osorio, an Elizabethan-style drama that eventually became Remorse. It was going to be published with Wordsworth’s drama The Borderers to raise money for a German tour. When that project failed, some of Osorio made it into Lyrical Ballads (‘The Dungeon’ and ‘The Foster Mother’s Tale’).

 

Given he was working on a drama that was to be presented (so he hoped) at an actual theatre, the stage and its various practices were not far from Coleridge’s mind as he began writing the Rime. He would have been mindful, for example, of how a story could be presented not just through the spoken word, but by the mechanics of stage effects. And those effects appear in the poem. The Rime is a series of ‘set pieces.’ It consists of visually arresting descriptions reminiscent of the decorative backdrops to performances at the contemporary theatre, such as the description of the Mariner’s ship which, when becalmed, becomes part of a scene painting: ‘As idle as a painted ship / Upon a painted ocean’. Images such as these are why Gustav Doré could produce powerful illustrations of the Rime in 1876 and why his work perfectly complements the poem. Because the whole tale is a series of tableaux, of vividly realised pictures against which the Mariner’s tale is set, it is easy to imagine his ship emerging into view upstage as painted flats of the ‘Ice mast high’ slide apart in front of it; or to envisage the hulk of the ‘Spectre-ship’ ship emerging from the wings, gliding on grooves past the doomed Mariner and his crew.

 

Such images in the poem are also, as in a theatre, mediated through light to mute or enhance colours to create the right ambience. The ‘dismal sheen’ of the surrounding ice, that subdued light that the Mariner describes is reminiscent of how atmospheric effects were created in the contemporary theatre when coloured silks or transparencies were dropped down in front of a scene and lit from behind. That feature would not just show the muted light of the ice cliff, but Coleridge describes the effect of these transparencies when he has the Mariner talk of the moon that shines through the fog as the albatross perches ‘on mast or shroud:’ ‘thro fog smoke-white / Glimmer’d the white moon-shine.’ That same effect, a gauze or silk hanging, would create the ethereal whites in the poem, such as when the moon ‘bemocked the sultry main / Like April hoar-frost spread’ and the light is diffused throughout the harbour that is ‘white with silent light’.

 

Coloured silks could create the ominous reds – that ‘moonlight bay’ so ‘white all o’er’ is punctuated by ‘dark-red shadows’ and there is the ‘still and awful red’ of the ‘charmèd water’. The same technique could produce the spectral greens that Coleridge describes – that wall of ice is ‘green as Emerauld’, and there is a ‘Burnt green’ that the Mariner sees dancing on the water’s surface as well as the ‘glossy green’ of the water snakes. Contemporary stage lighting could also reproduce some of the colour effects of the poem. The presence of all those greens is reminiscent of the oil lamps used on the stage in the days before limelight, lamps which produced a green-tinged light. There is even a suggestion of the iridescence that arises from a film of oil floating on water in the phrase: ‘The water, like a witch’s oils / Burnt green and blue and white.’ Perhaps, too, there is a hint of the notorious propensity of those lamps to smoke in the brief description of the ship’s crew whose ‘stony eyeballs glitter’d on / In the red and smoky light.’

 

 

There I might be stretching a point. But, even if subconscious, that the Rime had a certain staginess was obvious to one contemporary. William Wordsworth specifically criticised the poem for its performative and pictorial qualities. He described it as a series of happenings decorated with ‘too laboriously accumulated’ imagery. He considered it to be at odds with the philosophy of what was by now his Lyrical Ballads, that of creating poetry centred around emotions recollected in tranquillity in which he advocated a verse form that thinned out such pictorial, stagy mediation, in favour of a more direct connection with poet and reader. To that end, he placed Coleridge’s poem at the end of the first volume of the 1800 edition of the Ballads. He moved it upstage, if you like. In the middle, at the back where it could not properly be seen.

 

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

Page 1

by Peter Fiennes
 
It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing is just the fading memory of someone sitting in a favourite chair, or leaning against the table they once spent so much time laying and clearing. The discarded photograph only slowly bleaches to white. But anyone who has ever visited the fields and trenches of the Somme has felt the loss and desolation in the air. So much trauma and death, they say, has seeped into the landscape that the texture of the world has been changed. In Simon Schama’s extraordinary book Landscape and Memory, he suggests that it is ‘our shaping perception that makes the difference between raw matter and landscape’. In other words, it’s us that make the difference, and it’s our culture-bound minds that shape what we see and feel in the world – although, as Schama roams through the Polish forests where his ancestors once worked as loggers, he does leave behind a little sliver of doubt.
 
I have less rigour – or more credulity – which is why I’m standing at the head of an obscure wooded valley in north Devon, not far from the village of Porlock, trying to pick up the ghostly presence of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was here – or it was probably here – in a farmhouse just above this wood, that Coleridge fell into a drugged sleep after a long day’s walking, and woke to find that he had a poem fully formed in his mind, just waiting to be poured onto the page. The poem – the fragment of a poem – was ‘Kubla Khan’ and there would have been even more of it – it would, I am sure, have answered every question we have ever had about life, death, art, love and nature – but just as Coleridge was poised to reveal the secrets of the world ‘a person on business from Porlock’ came knocking, and Coleridge lingered too long at the door, and when he rushed back to his room to finish it, the poem had evaporated. Or so he tells us. And it’s certainly a more original excuse than ‘the dog ate it, Miss’. But imagine being the owners of this lonely farmhouse, just above –

 that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

 Fiennes post trees
Imagine having this man turn up at your home one night, exhausted but raving about demon lovers and the waning moon, high on opiates, crashing late and then lurching from his bed to answer your door, scaring the life out of your cousin from Porlock, scattering fragments of genius from his torn notebooks. Imagine trying to tell him, gently, that they’re not ‘cedars’ in the woods, but ‘woaks, Sir, woaks’. You’d be pleased to see the back of him, although for several months, through the years 1797 and 1798, Coleridge haunted these lonely woods, hills and slippery coastal paths. He walked for miles, for days, unable to settle at home (which was twenty-five miles from here in Nether Stowey); restlessly seeking out his neighbour, Wordsworth, and shaking him with a thrashy torrent of ideas and poetry; plunging through ‘wood and dale’ and ‘forests ancient as the hills’. ‘Kubla Khan’ is an explosion; it’s about creativity, or sex, or what it means to have bipolar disorder – we don’t know, except that it contains wild truths. And Coleridge, like Kipling, understood that all true magic must come in threes:
 

Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ‘twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

 
Well, we’ve heard it before, but it still packs a punch – and even more so if you are standing at the head of the valley, looking down at the wooded coombe just below the isolated farmhouse, where Coleridge first conjured this magic. It is May Day, traditionally the first day of spring, when the sun returns to a frost-ravaged land, and if I were a young maiden I should be wading through the dew at the foot of the hawthorn tree that is blossoming fretfully to my left, alone in a field of hungry young sheep. At my back is a dark line of pine trees (what else?), looming over the valley and being slapped around by a strong wind, but ahead and down the steep hill to the coombe is a more ancient land, a quieter spot, with a mass of broadleaf trees hazed in their first outpourings of green and, beyond them, a gratifyingly sunless sea.
Hawthorn_Blossom
 
The first day of spring is always a hard date to agree. Is it the vernal equinox, in most years falling on 21 March? Or is it, as the old tradition had it, on 1 May? Our ancestors lived in colder times, when the River Thames would freeze and the winters were bleak. To complicate matters, what is now 1 May was, until 1752, 19 April; and what is now 11 May was the old May Day. This is when the British calendar ‘lost’ eleven days, when the ‘Julian’ Calendar was replaced by the new-fangled ‘Gregorian’ one, and there were riots in the fields and the churches. Mrs J.H. Philpot in her 1897 book The Sacred Tree or The Tree, Religion and Myth has this story about the changing calendar and its effect on an offshoot of the Glastonbury Thorn that had survived in Quainton, Buckinghamshire:

 “[It] suddenly sprang into fame again when the new style was introduced into the Calendar in 1752, and the people, resenting the loss of their eleven days, appealed from the decision of their rulers to the higher wisdom of the miraculous tree. According to the Gentlemen’s Magazine for 1753, about two thousand people on the night of 24th December 1752 came with lanthorns and candles to view the thorn-tree, ‘which was remembered (this year only) to be a slip from the Glastonbury thorn.’ As the tree remained bare the people agreed that 25th December, N.S., could not be the true Christmas-day, and refused to celebrate it as such. Their excitement was intensified when on 5th January the tree was found to be in full bloom, and to pacify them the authorities were driven to decree that the old Christmas-day should be celebrated as well as the new.”

Glastonbury_thorn

 
These days, the levels of consumption required to feed two Christmases every year would probably spell the end of the planet, but I mention Mrs Philpot’s exciting story because it doesn’t feel quite like spring yet, here on the hill above Coleridge’s coombe, with only that lonely hawthorn and a straggle of gorse in bloom (and when is the gorse ever not?).
 
The edges of woods are not simple places and it is sometimes not easy to pass from the open land into the close, skyless company of trees. I am walking down a flinty path, flanked by ragged hedgerows and curious lambs, with the sun now tentatively shining on the valley. Maybe it’s this sudden soft bath of sunshine, but there is an invisible barrier between the sunny fields and the dark wood, and it does take something – not courage, exactly, but a conscious effort – to step from the light into the shade. Once through the gate, though, I am home in the trees’ familiar embrace. Or, as John Clare would say:

 And this old gate that claps against the tree
The entrance of spring’s paradise should be.

‘Wood Pictures in Spring’

 
It is right, I think, to pause and lean on a gate at the edge of a wood, before passing through. In any case, there is a man coming up the woodland path, twisting through the trees, and just as he reaches me a cuckoo calls from higher up the valley, the first I’ve heard for years. ‘That was nice, wasn’t it?’ says the man, his face hidden under a broad-brimmed hat, ‘a cuckoo on 1st May’.
cuckoo
 
May Day should be a day of magic. The cuckoo is a sign of a happy marriage, or of imminent adultery, although it is hard to see how it can be both. Always carry elder twigs (they will help you quell the urge to commit adultery)… or sew them into your lover’s pockets. The cuckoo’s calls follow me down into the coombe, past light drifts of bluebells, fat young clumps of nettle and crowds of low-growing holly bushes, now fading back into the woods with the greening of spring. There are violets by the side of the path, their soft lilac faces marked by ‘honey guides’, the pale white tracks that have evolved to steer insects into their pollen-rich hearts. They’re rather like a runway’s landing lights, set up to bring the aircraft safely home; and I’m thinking that this coombe, with its infallible path, could be my own personal honey guide, drawing me in, looking for something out of the ordinary. Honey-dew, perhaps. That would… well, that would make it all worthwhile.
 
I pass a very grand holly tree, growing wild and jagged around its battered old trunk. I can hear the river now as it hastens towards the sea, and then I can see it, a tight-runnelled, restless stream, hustling past bracken and moss-drenched rocks, throwing up sprays of icy light. Coleridge must have walked this way, not so very long ago, and watched the river leap and tumble. And he will have known this oak tree, its great trunk and branches hung about with spring ferns, its young, lime-green leaves tinged with a fading red. There’s a tiny, sunken church here, in a tenuous clearing in the woods, and I sit and watch the river race by.
Culbonechurch
 
The sea is very close, although it is quiet and hidden from view. There are no cars, no people, just birdsong – and sunlight and lichen mottling the ancient church walls. There are sycamores all around, but I am thinking of lime trees, and their slow retreat from the woods, and of Coleridge writing in his prison bower, and of the time I came walking over the South Downs, scrambling down wild rabbit paths, through overgrown woods of ash and chestnut, and then, dropping down the banks of a dizzying gulley, I slipped and sprawled into the last remnants of a lime tree copse, about ten immense trees hidden in fountains of green from the grip of the modern world. They cannot have been coppiced or cut for centuries. These woods must have been here when the Saxons carved their farms from the Sussex Weald, or even earlier, when the Romans drove the British tribes from their hilltops and forests and marched them into slavery. I kneel and crane to look up at the limes’ scoured trunks, their fragile summer leaves, the beech trees all around, crowding in, and then, under a half-fallen elder tree, pushing through last year’s leaves, I find a very young lime sapling. It is heartbreaking, the sight of this slender thread with its five green leaves and blood-red buds, hiding in the last refuge of a long-vanished forest. I don’t know why, but staring at this sapling, with the holy warmth of these lost limes at my back, fills me with grief and joy.
 
In fact, I think there’s only one thing I do know, as I sit in the shadow of Coleridge, waiting for magic to emerge from the woods on this first day in May. If you go looking, it won’t be there.
 
 
 
© Copyright Peter Fiennes 2018. All rights reserved.
 
This is an edited extract from ‘Oak and Ash and Thorn: the ancient woods and new forests of Britain by Peter Fiennes (Oneworld Publications). The book explores our long relationship with the woods – their history, folklore and conservation – and the sad and violent story of how so many have been lost. 
Peter Fiennes
Peter Fiennes was the publisher of Time Out Guides – and is also the author of To War with God, an account of his grandfather’s time as a chaplain at the front in World War I.

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

Revisiting Coleridge's poem, 'When Absent Soon To Meet Again'

Page 1

by Adam Roberts
NotebookFragment1810
This may be stating the obvious, but the opening prose section of this Coleridge March 1810 Notebook entry (much scribbled over and crossed out in the original) is actually a run-on draft of a poem. Now, lines 5-20 of the set-as-verse section of this, the passage beginning ‘I have experienc’d/The worst, the World can wreak on me’, was published after Coleridge’s death, in Ernest Hartley Coleridge’s Poetical Works (1912), as ‘Fragment 35’. But what of the earlier lines?
 
A little judicious reconstruction gives us:

When absent soon to meet again
That morning, and that last Employ
Had only so much certain Pain
As fears of Hope detract from Joy.
And now—O then I’m least opprest
When with the cleansing stream I mix
My tears, and oft I’d fain neglect
Myself, as anguish sinking down
Comes o’er me—yet I cannot own
The love-enchanted spirit fixed.
For not death, absence nor demerit—
Can free the love-enchanted spirit;
And I seem always in her eyen,
And she’ll no more appear to mine.

The first quatrain is clear enough; the later lines are open to a variety of possible reconstructions from the muddle of STC’s initial thoughts, and I’m not sure this is the best of them. You can see where his pre-revision poet’s imagination shifts gear, from rhymed octosyllabic self-pity into decasyllables (‘Such anguish and such sinking down of heart’ and so on) that in turn shift him towards a blank verse expression of more public misery. ‘Comes o’er me, yet never can I’ lacks a two-syllable top-off: ‘escape’ maybe; and then we’re into the next four lines, laid out as verse.
 
I think, then, that this is two poems: one an embryonic tetrameter lyric, the other (lines 5-20) a more finished blank verse meditation. Now, one argument against my ‘reconstruction’ of the first of these is that Coleridge was not a poet who particularly favoured half-rhymes like ‘opprest/neglect’ and ‘mix/fixed’ (plus I freely concede that ‘eyen’/‘mine’ is a stretch on my part). Me, I like half-rhymes—though, of course, I’m no Coleridge. But let’s say we give ourselves even more latitude and try to second-guess how STC might have shifted things about to preserve a fuller rhyme-scheme:

When absent soon to meet again
That morning, and that last Employ
Had only so much certain Pain
As fears of Hope detract from Joy.
But now—O then I’m least opprest
When with the cleansing stream I mix
My tears, and oft I’d fain transfix
Myself, as anguish sinking down
Comes o’er me—yet I cannot drown
My grief or ever bring it rest.
For not death, absence nor demerit—
Can free the love-enchanted spirit;
And I seem always in her eye,
And she’ll ne’er more appear to mine.

I’m not sure if the first ‘love-enchanted spirit’ line needs altering to avoid its repetition (as I have done in this more speculative second version), or whether the repetition is itself a good poetic effect.
 
Kathleen Coburn, in her edition of the Notebooks, suggests that this self-pitying piece of writing was provoked by Sara Hutchinson’s decision (in March 1810) to leave the Wordsworths’ house and go live with her brother Tom and cousin John Monkhouse in Wales: keeping house for the two men whilst they farmed. This she did, and seems to have enjoyed it, although it took her out of the ambit where Coleridge was likely to meet her (and indeed, he never visited her in Wales). Hence: anguish. Hence, also perhaps, a bitter recall, here, of ‘the EPOCH’, from three-and-a-bit years previously.
 
It’s tempting to read the ‘that morning’ of line 2 as a reference to the morning of Saturday 27th December 1806. The first four lines are ‘then’; the latter ten ‘now’, and the difference between the two sections is that Coleridge believes he’s never going to see the woman he loves again.
 
There’s a degree of artificiality (a less sympathetic reader might say: of bodge-job) about this reconstructed poem, of course; but I quite like it nonetheless. It’s like a sort of anti-sonnet. Not entirely un-maudlin, it’s true; but it holds its ‘I’ll never see her again, so I shall go drown myself in the river’ psychological melodrama at enough of an arm’s-length to squeeze real pathos out of its sorrow.
 
 
This post was originally written for Adam’s Coleridge blog – http://samueltaylorbloggeridge.blogspot.co.uk
Adam Roberts is Professor of Nineteenth-century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is the author of Landor’s Cleanness Adam_Roberts(OUP 2014) and recently published a new edition of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria (Edinburgh Univ. Press 2014). He is presently preparing an edition of Coleridge’s Lectures on Shakespeare, also for Edinburgh
 

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

Wordsworth’'s poem 'The Primrose of the Rock': From Pythagoras and Pantheism to Christianity

Page 1

by Fred Blick
 
Wordsworth’s contemplation of the primrose, as seen in ‘The Primrose of the Rock’ of 1831/5, illustrates the development of his spiritual beliefs concerning death and renewal. The poem reveals a change from a playing with the idea of continuity by Pythagorean transmigration of the soul to a conventional belief in orthodox, Christian Resurrection; from Pantheism to Christianity. The result was, as can be seen from the link below, one of the most touching of his ‘spots of time’ poems. This ‘spot’ was recorded in Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal for 24 April 1802 only a few days after she had memorialised the daffodils of Ullswater.
 
In a subsequent, unfinished poem, the doom-laden ‘The Tuft of Primroses’ of May-autumn 1808, Wordsworth clearly associates the primrose with illness and death, but also with relief in the thought of survival and renewal (see ll. 1- 20). Mary Wordsworth sister, Sara Hutchinson had become terribly ill in May 1808. Her illness is referred to in lines 37- 48 as ‘a Friend’ to whom ‘ … came danger with disease’. Worse, Wordsworth’s brother John had died in a shipwreck in 1805. His death is also referred to in the poem – ‘how much is gone’ (ll. 72-4), ‘Of best Friends dead or other deep heart’s loss’ (l. 74), ‘ How many mute memorials pass’d away’ (l. 77). Of the primrose itself the speaker takes some consolation in its survival,  ‘That little flower remains, and has survived’ (l. 79). Up to this period in his life Wordsworth seems to have seen continuity in the natural process of renewal and in the continuity of perceived phenomena, such as in a child’s uplifting sense of immortality as associated with the Rainbow; not primarily in a belief in Christian Resurrection. Like St. Basil in the later part of ‘The Tuft … ’ who chooses a hermit’s life, he seeks relief in solitude and then in recollection (as in ‘I wander’d lonely as a cloud’). ‘The Tuft …’ poem is an elegy for the inspired days of the ‘happy Band’ of Dove Cottage (Coleridge’s ‘Gang’ of ‘A Soliloquy of The Full The Moon’, 1802).
 
By the end of 1812, the anguish arising from the deaths of two of his children had produced a profound, compensatory, religious effect upon him which coincided with the family’s move from the smoky Allan Bank at Grasmere to the elevated Rydal Mount in the following year.

Rydal Mount

Rydal Mount


 
Wordsworth’s early vagueness about Christianity had been a source of uneasiness on the part of his friend and collaborator, Coleridge, who was an outspoken and convinced Unitarian. Coleridge wrote of Wordsworth to John Thelwall on 13 May 1796, ‘ … this man is a Republican and at least a semi-atheist’. Then he wrote to the Revd. J.P. Estlin on 18 May 1798, ‘He loves and venerates Christ & Christianity – I wish he did more’. The truth was that up to about 1808 Wordsworth was a tepid Anglican Christian who did not agree with all Christian dogma. He certainly displayed Pythagoreanism and Pantheism and found Deity in Nature as part of an interpretation of ‘the one life’. In contrast, Coleridge saw ‘the one life’ as part of Unitarian Christianity.
 
In his ‘Immortality Ode’, fifth stanza, Wordsworth contemplates Pythagorean transmigration:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,

However, like Coleridge’s, Wordsworth’s ‘one life’ is associated with Harmony. Both of them owed much to the Pythagorean concept of a harmonious universe based on the ‘music of the spheres’ – a harmony (in the Greek meaning of ‘a fitting together’) running through all things and constituting a finely tuned ‘One’ and, consequently, initiating ‘the one life’.
 
Inspired by the sound of the wind-harp wedged in a window, Coleridge wrote in his ‘The Eolian Harp’ (the 1817 version),

O the one life within us and abroad
Which meets all motion and becomes its soul,
A light in sound, a sound-like power in light
Rhythm in all thought, and joyance every where – …

Wordsworth was undoubtedly interested in the music of the spheres and in universal Pythagorean harmony. He was clearly aware of Shakespeare’s references to it in his plays and he knew, therefore, that Lorenzo was alluding to it when he addressed Jessica in the famous star-lit scene towards the end of The Merchant of Venice (Act V. scene i. 58-63). This evidenced when in The Prelude, Book First (1805, 351-55) Wordsworth writes:

The mind of Man is fram’d even like the breath
And harmony of music.
There is a dark Invisible workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, and makes them move
In one society.’

Wordsworth is speaking here of ‘the one life’ and of the macrocosm/microcosm equation which prevailed in Renaissance aesthetics and also of concordia discors, the harmony of discord, a concept derived from Pythagoras (c. 570–495 BC) and emphasised as ‘unity of opposites’, by Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 535 – c. 475 BC). This is also evident in Wordsworth’s 1828 preliminary ‘Argument’ for ‘On The Power of Sound’ which commences ‘Thy functions are ethereal’. There he summarizes the theme of its Stanza 12 as ‘The Pythagorean theory of numbers and music, with their supposed power over the motions of the universe.’ The stanza reads,

By one pervading spirit
Of tones and numbers all things are controlled,
As sages taught, where faith was found to merit
Initiation in that mystery old.

The heavens, whose aspect makes our minds as still
As they themselves appear to be,
Innumerable voices fill
With everlasting harmony.  (lines 177-184).

 
This display of Pythagoreanism appeared long after he had committed himself more fully to Christianity; but it looks as if it was planned much earlier. He was very proud of it. In a letter to Alexander Dyce dated 23 December 1837 he held it ‘… equal to anything I have produced’.
 
In a much simpler but sensitive vein, Dorothy wrote in her Journal for 24 April 1802,

Saturday 24th. A very wet day. William called me out to see a waterfall behind the Barberry tree. ― We walked in the evening to Rydale ― Coleridge and I lingered behind ― C stopped up the little runner by the Road to make a lake. We all stood to look at Glowworm Rock ― a primrose that grew there & just looked out on the Road from its own sheltered bower. The clouds moved as William observed in one regular body like a multitude in motion a sky all clouds over, not one cloud. On our return it broke a little out & we saw here & there a star. One appeared but for a moment in a lake pale blue sky’.  (Journals, Woof ed., p. 91).

Glowworm Rock 1890s

Glowworm Rock 1890s


 
The particular occasion; a wet day; possible apprehension at the waterfall; Coleridge’s deliberate stopping of the stream’s flow on the walk as if to stop the flow of time (so that the occasion would become one of Wordsworth’s inspirational ‘spots of time’); the ‘primrose’ clinging to the solid ‘Glowworm Rock’; the ‘multitude’ of ‘clouds’ and the ‘star’ seen ‘but for a moment’ – must have been an especially memorable combination. The record of how ‘We all stood to look at Glowworm Rock ― a primrose that grew there & just looked out …’ has the flavour of a solemn ceremony, the participants intent on memorializing a special occasion. Dorothy’s words fit the scene most beautifully and poetically, but they are loaded with an appreciation of the Pantheistic, animal vitality of natural phenomena as found in Greek Myths and Ovid.
 
Almost thirty years after that record, in 1831, Wordsworth finished ‘The Primrose of the Rock’. Its composition had begun in 1829 when Dorothy first became seriously ill and it was published in 1835, the year after Coleridge’s death after long illness. Like ‘The Barberry-Tree’ of Spring 1802, which commences ‘Late on breezy vernal eve’ (l. 1), the poem recalls that occasion of 1802, fanned by ‘the vernal breeze’ (l. 6). In 1831. Wordsworth was aged sixty-one and he knew too well that Dorothy’s health had failed. Coleridge was also extremely ill. In the poem Wordsworth recalled the rock where the ‘glow-worms hang their lamps’ (l. 3). And, as in ‘The Tuft of Primroses’, his theme was the persistence of the primrose flower and of the ‘Rock itself to which it ‘adheres’ as ‘A lasting link in Nature’s chain’ (ll.11 and 17). The love (including its sexual elements) symbolized by the light of the glow-worm (see Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Glow-worm’) had by 1829 been transmuted by age (‘That love which changed’, l. 37), into ‘God’s redeeming love’ (l. 36) with the certain prospect of a ‘rise’ to an ‘eternal summer’ (i.e. to Christian Resurrection, ll. 46-7). He could have composed no more moving souvenir of that happy, distant and contemplative occasion. Since that time he had merged his Darwinian Pantheism with Faith in the God of Christianity. Natural renewal had been replaced by Resurrection. Or perhaps he had simply clarified his ideas and had never really seen any conflict between different aspects of Deity.
 
The full poem can be read here. You can see it as a song in two parts, the first meditating on life’s changes through time and celebrating the first seeing of the persistent primrose of the ‘living rock’; and the second a Christian song in Recollection of that occasion, but embracing all ‘Deity’ (l. 54).
 
Fred Blick is an independent scholar from a multi-disciplinary background. He has published a number of essays over the past twenty years; not only “Wordsworth’s Dark Joke in ‘The Barberry-Tree’” in Romanticism journal in October 2014, but also innovative essays in peer-reviewed academic journals worldwide on the subjects of the Sonnets of William Shakespeare and of Edmund Spenser.
 

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

Sara Hutchinson, Coleridge's 'Asra'

Page 1

by Adam Roberts
‘Asra’ was Coleridge’s private name for Sara Hutchinson (1775-1835). There she is, in the image below (from Richard Holmes’s Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 1998); on the left Wordsworth’s own silhouette of her, and on the right a figure from Ciro Ferri’s ‘The Marriage of Boas and Ruth’, that Coleridge saw in Bolton Abbey in 1810, and which he claimed reminded him of Sara.
Asra ar
She was the younger sister of Mary Hutchinson, who married Wordsworth in 1802; Sara lived with her sister and new brother-in-law for many years. By most accounts she was an attractive woman, lively, diminutive and curvaceous; although some disliked her (some members of the Wordsworth circle, having failed to fall under her spell, called her large-chinned and -nosed, dumpy and tiresome. Harsh!). Coleridge, however, fell deeply in love with her after meeting her in 1799. Nothing came of this. Sara seems to have been fond of Coleridge, and was in many ways a good friend to him, going so far as to act as amanuensis during the long composition of The Friend, 1809-10. But she doesn’t seem to have desired him physically, or loved him, certainly not with the intensity that he desired and loved her; and when we factor-in her respectability (agreed upon by all), and already-married Coleridge’s own deeply-held religious scruples where adultery and divorce were concerned, we can be pretty sure the ‘affair’, such as it was, was unconsummated. But that doesn’t negate the intensity of Coleridge’s despairing longing; quite the reverse, of course. His notebooks and many of his poems return obsessively to ‘Asra’, to his love and desire and despair about her. Some of his finest poems, indeed, were inspired by her, although, as Richard Holmes notes in his thumbnail portrait (from his Penguin Coleridge: Selected Poetry, 1996):

… she was not a conventionally romantic, dreamy Muse. She was cheerful and outgoing, a small energetic figure with a mass of auburn hair, quick and neat in the house, and daring and eager on country walks. Many of Coleridge’s tenderest memories of her are in the snug, firelit farmhouse kitchen.

So why ‘Asra’? As anagrams go, it’s a pretty flimsy code for ‘Sara’; although since Coleridge’s wife was also called Sara it at least helps critics and biographers to distinguish between them. The impression Coleridge gives in his notebooks where his wife is concerned is one of sexual frigidity (of course, we’re only getting his side of the picture)—in one entry he laments that when the two of them get naked together ‘all [is] as cold & calm as a deep Frost’ adding that she ‘is uncommonly cold in her feelings of animal Love’ [Notebooks 1:979]. By contrast, ‘Asra’ is characterised in his notes in terms of warmth: firelight, warm climates, exoticism.
The first intimation of the ‘Asra’ nickname is in a present Coleridge gave Sara Hutchinson for Christmas 1800: an edition of Anna Seward’s Original Sonnets(1799), which he inscribed: ‘to Asahara, the Moorish Maid’. Presumably this records some private joke that the auburn-haired Sara had an oriental look about her: I suppose that ‘Asahara’ filters the Arabic ‘Ashura’ or maybe the Assyrian deity ‘Ashur’ via the letters of ‘Sara’. Conceivably it also picks up on the female-personified ‘orient’ IMAGINATION which Seward writes about, and who adorns the frontispiece to the Original Sonnets. ‘Come, bright IMAGINATION come relume/Thy orient lamp’ says the legend under the picture, quoting from Seward’s first sonnet. Did Coleridge fancy a resemblance between Sara Hutchinson and this figure? Did he make a joke of it with her, and so orientalise her name? Did he secretly yearn that she would come and *coughs* relume his orient lamp? I’m guessing: yes. Yes he did.
Asra ar3
Coleridge’s physical desire for Sara was inextricably tangled not only with its own impossibility, but with his deep reservoirs of self-disgust. This in turn leads me to believe that Coleridge had in mind ἀσαρα (‘ἀσ’ρα’): a shortened form of the Ancient Greek ἀσαραός, sometimes spelled ἀσηραός, which means (to quote Liddell and Scott) ‘causing nausea’, or ‘feeling disgust or disdainful of a woman’. L&S cite Sappho 78 for this latter meaning. Perhaps this seemingly simple anagram encodes physical disgust. He was presumably also aware that the Ancient Greek for the vagina (what L&S primly call ‘pudenda muliebria’) is a ‘sara’ word: σάραβος.
 
 

This post was originally written for Adam’s Coleridge blog http://samueltaylorbloggeridge.blogspot.co.uk
Adam Roberts is Professor of Nineteenth-century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is the author of Landor’s Cleanness (OUP 2014) and recently published a new edition of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria (Edinburgh Univ. Press 2014). He is presently preparing an edition of Coleridge’s Lectures on Shakespeare, also for Edinburgh. Adam_Roberts

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

'The Albatross': From Rime to opera

Page 1

by Sinéad O’Neill
Melville was right when he wrote, of the Albatross, ‘that white phantom sails in all imaginations.’ It sailed then, and it sails still. Coleridge’s poem on the same subject also haunts the collective imagination. It has certainly caught my fancy, enough to make me want to create an opera. Even people unfamiliar with the Rime of the Ancient Mariner get a certain sort of chill down the spine when it’s mentioned, along with a feeling that it somehow deals with fate, wildness, the merciless emptiness of wide seas, and the terrible, haunting burden of one’s former actions. This eerie atmosphere that coalesces around the poem makes it perfect for operatic treatment. Like Poe’s The Raven (which I also made into an opera) the Rime has a life of its own. We don’t need to bring the poem to our audience; we can play (and sing!) into the place it already occupies in the audience’s imagination.
The albatross
For a start, we don’t have to begin by trying to set the whole text to music. To my mind, that would miss the point: the Rime already has a textual life. A stage, though, is made out of space, not words. An opera is made out of music, singing, and movement; yes, there might be words too (there usually are!), but an essential feature of live opera – and what differentiates the form from an audio recording, a radio performance, a book, a film, a photograph – is that it uses movement through space as an expressive tool.
 
To make an opera out of Coleridge’s poem, then, I started by thinking about spatial imagery. The poem is full of it. The masts dropping down and down; the direction of sunrise and sunset; relentless southward progression; the impersonal, driving winds; ice dwarfing the ship; the vastness of the lonely oceans; the individual imprisoned on his tiny vessel; sea-going creatures swarming in savage freedom. Distance and closeness, changing perspectives, speed and stillness all imbue the poem with a constant feeling of movement. The mariner is at the mercy of the forces that move him, right up until the moment he grabs the oars of the pilot’s boat and rows like the devil for land.
The albatross, of course, is completely free and at home in this shifting landscape of sea and air. The winds that coldly command the mariner’s course are freely ridden by the albatross, which can come and go as it chooses. The ocean-treading wanderer is as thoroughly at home in this wilderness as the sailor is at sea.
Movement, then, is the first kernel at the heart of this new opera. How does the sea move? How does the ship ride the sea? How does the bird use the air?
Wanderer Angus Wilson
Artists, scientists and seafarers throughout the ages have found their souls struck by the shocking strangeness and beauty of these great birds striding free in their element: ‘I now belong to that higher cult of mortals, for I have seen the Albatross’ wrote Robert Cushman Murphy, in Logbook for Grace. Thus, I imagine, the mariner. The moment of encounter is surely key in his journey, as much as it was for ‘Ishmael’ in Moby Dick: ‘I remember the first Albatross I ever saw… Through its inexpressible, strange eyes, methought I peeped to secrets that took hold of God.’
Here is the second kernel: the moment of encounter. Imagine that first eye-contact between the strange, black eyes of the albatross and those keen, glittering eyes that so entranced the Wedding Guest. It’s the stuff of dreams, which makes it the stuff of opera. The encounter will furnish a ‘memory’ aria: ‘I remember the first Albatross I ever saw…’ It’s a memory that haunts the mariner; part of what compels him to tell and retell his tale.
Albatross photo
I’m about to delve into these ideas during two days of workshops and exploration with composer Kim Ashton, countertenor Christopher Ainslie, actor Jofre Carabén van der Meer, and accordionist Bartosz Glowacki. We will also have the following: some sheets of paper, some fine wooden batons, and some wire. Our task during the two days is to develop stage images that will use movement and music to evoke my ‘kernels’ in the minds of the audience.
Alb music
On 11 August, at RADA Studios in Central London, we’ll show these images to the public as part of Tête-à-tête The Opera Festival. That is the first step; then we move on to the meat of the writing and composition process, building up to a finished opera in about a year’s time. I’ll keep you posted…!
There will be a work-in-progress performance on 11 August 2017 at RADA Studios, London, as part of Tête-à-tête The Opera Festival.
 
Sinéad O’Neill is Founder and Director of Cambridge City Opera, which she created to commission and produce new opera. As well as The Albatross, she is currently developing The Barrington Hippo (Kate Whitley) a piece for children about a fossilised hippo from the Cambridgeshire countryside. Cambridge City Opera’s first work was On the Axis of this World (Matt Rogers) a meditation on Antarctic Sineadexploration developed with the Scott Polar Research Institute. In 2016, Sinéad directed And London Burned (Matt Rogers), a new opera about the Great Fire of London commissioned by the Temple Music Foundation. In Autumn 2017, Sinéad will direct the revival of Il Barbiere di Siviglia for Glyndebourne Tour.
 

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

Romantic but hardly romantic: Sarah Fricker'’s life as Coleridge’'s wife

Page 1

by Pamela Davenport
On a recent visit to Somerset, I rediscovered the beautiful Quantock Hills, which are characterised by deeply wooded combes and wonderful heathland covered with heather, and are truly deserving of their designation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Visiting Coleridge’s cottage in Nether Stowey made me think again about Coleridge as both man and poet, and about his relationship with Sarah Fricker, his wife.
stowey
 
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that most women in the 18th and 19th centuries were defined by the men in their lives, and in many ways Sara Coleridge was no different, dropping the “H” from her first name to please her husband, giving him constant support as his addiction spiralled out of control, and putting up with his various infatuations with other women. There must have been times when Sara thought there were three people in her marriage, most infamously another ‘Sarah’ – Sarah Hutchinson, Wordsworth’s sister-in-law, an enduring object of Coleridge’s unrequited passion and the ‘Asra’ of some of his finest poems. But Sara Coleridge’s inner strength and resilience sustained her as she struggled to bring up her children virtually single-handed, and often on the edge of poverty.
 
Born in 1770, Sarah was the eldest of the three Fricker sisters. They were city girls – elegant, educated and emancipated. Byron sarcastically referred to her and her sister Edith as “two milliners from Bath” – ‘milliner’ was contemporary shorthand for an immoral woman. It was also a rather patronising reference to the fact that both girls had been forced to earn their living as seamstresses when their father’s business failed.
Sara Fricker
Soon after Coleridge first met Sarah he wrote to Robert Southey (who was already engaged to Edith) saying of Sarah, ” Yes – Southey –  you are right….  I certainly love her. I think of her incessantly and with unspeakable tenderness…” Not long afterwards he  wrote ‘The Kiss’ for her:

Too well those lovely lips disclose
The triumphs of the opening rose,
O fair! O graceful! I bid them prove
As passive to the breath of Love….

In October 1795, after his wedding, Coleridge wrote, “On Sunday I was married…united to the woman whom I love best of all created Beings …Mrs Coleridge – MRS. COLERIDGE – I like to write the name”.
 
But by 1804 they were separated, and when Coleridge wrote to his brother he laid all the blame on Sara: “The few friends who have been Witnesses of my domestic life have long advised separation as the necessary condition of everything desirable for me – nor does Mrs Coleridge herself state or pretend to any objection on the score of attachment to me; that will not look respectable for her, is the sum into which all her objections resolve themselves”.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, drawn by George Dance, 21st March 1804, The Wordsworth Trust

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, drawn by George Dance, 21st March 1804, The Wordsworth Trust


Despite the opinions of Coleridge’s ‘Witnesses’, Sara herself may well have had a different view. During the 40 years of their marriage, Coleridge never made enough money to support his growing family. The relationship was, at best, an off-and-on one, and Coleridge only lived with Sara for less than six of those 40 years. Even when they were together, he was constantly complaining of various illnesses, consuming ever-increasing quantities of opium, and spending a lot of time in bed. When they first arrived at Nether Stowey, Coleridge wrote to his friend Tom Poole, that “ I mean to work very hard – as cook, butler, scullion, shoe cleaner, occasional nurse, gardener, hind pig protector, chaplain, secretary, poet review…I shall keep no servant, and shall cultivate my land acre and my wise-acres as well as I can….” But though this period at Stowey was to produce some of Coleridge’s finest poetry, the dream of domestic bliss soon died, and it was Sara who ended up doing most of the drudgery.
 
As time went on, Coleridge spent more time with Wordsworth and his family than with his own. As well as taking care of a damp and vermin-infested cottage, an often bedridden husband, and a new baby, Sara now had a lodger as well, Charles Lloyd. While Coleridge indulged in long walks on the Quantocks and all-night discussions with other notable radicals, Sara was left to cope with the demands of everyday living and a growing number of children. The water required for cooking, cleaning and washing had to be drawn from the well in the yard and heated over the open fire, where stews, pottage and boiled puddings were also cooked. Sara made light meals, like Coleridge’ favourite toasted cheese, over the fire in the second parlour, but with no cooking range, Sara had to take pies and meat for roasting to the local baker to be cooked.
Life did become a little easier for Sara in January 1798, when the Wedgwood brothers offered Coleridge an annuity for life of £150 a year. At least the tradesmen’s bills could now be paid. But by May that year, the Quantocks idyll was beginning to unravel: the Wordsworths decided to return to the Lake District and Coleridge began to realise that he would never make his fortune in rural Nether Stowey. He began to plan a walking tour with the Wordsworths to Germany to widen his knowledge of philosophy and theology. The initial intention was that Sara would join the tour, but this idea was shelved after the birth of her second son, Berkeley, rendered it impractical. Coleridge certainly seems to have missed his wife during this prolonged absence:

Good night my dear dear Sara – every night when I go to bed & every morning when I rise I will think of you with a yearning love, & of my blessed Babies! – Once more my dear Sara! Good night.

When he received the news that baby Berkeley had died in February 1799, Coleridge was distraught, but it was Sara who’d had to cope alone. “I am his mother, and have carried him in my arms and have fed him at my bosom, and have watched over him day and night for nine months: I have seen him twice at the brink of the grave but he has returned, and recovered and smiled upon me like an angel – and now I am lamenting that he is gone”. But Coleridge did not hurry home as Sara had hoped- it was July before Coleridge returned to England, and even then he went to London rather than to his wife.
 
When he did finally return to Stowey, Coleridge found it cramped and unappealing: “Our little Hovel is almost afloat – poor Sara tired off her legs with servanting – the house stinks of Sulphur … I however, sunk in Spinoza, remain as undisturbed as a Toad in a Rock”. He soon decided to share a house with Robert Southey and his wife, Sara’s sister, and one motive for the move may have been to salvage his own marriage. Sara packed up their possessions and the family moved to Greta Hall near Keswick, near to Grasmere where the Wordsworths lived. But Coleridge’s opium habit was soon taking over his life, and even his friendship with Wordsworth became strained.
 
In 1804, Coleridge accepted the post of secretary to the Governor of Malta, believing the warm weather would improve his health, and he left England and Sara for what turned out to be a two-year absence. He and Sara finally separated in 1808, and Sara was forced to move in with her sister and brother-in-law, an arrangement which endured for 29 years. She finally achieved some degree of independence, living first with her son Derwent when he took orders, then permanently with her daughter Sara, after she delivered her first child in 1820.
 
After years without any communications – or financial support – Sara renewed her contact with Coleridge in the last years of his life. He died in 1833, aged 61, having lived for the previous 17 years with the surgeon and apothecary James Gillman, who tried to control his opium habit. Sara died in London, in 1845.
 
Pamela Davenport is an experienced Higher and Further Education teacher, who has substantial experience working with children and young people in social care, community and educational settings including the British Council’s Erasmus/Socrates Teacher Mobility Project. Writer on Pamela Dsocial Care Values in Practice, The Invisible Child, The Rights of Children and co-author for Teacher’s Handbook for HUGS Charity. She is a passionate lover of art and literature, in particular Shakespeare, the Romantics, and the work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
 
 

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More
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