Discovering Mary Wordsworth through her letters

Page 1

by Nicole Jacobsen
As an intern primarily focused on the curatorial aspects of the Wordsworth Trust, I have the opportunity to work hands-on with many of the Trust’s manuscripts. During the past two months, I have been involved in a project to locate and transcribe all of Mary Wordsworth’s unpublished letters in our collection. The Jerwood Centre’s collection includes over 500 of her manuscripts, so the search has been quite a treasure hunt. I feel much better acquainted with Mary, her life, and personality after having read through and carefully copied over the writing of many of these letters.

Portrait of Mary Wordsworth, Margaret Gillies, 1839. (On display in Dove Cottage.)

Portrait of Mary Wordsworth, Margaret Gillies, 1839. (On display in Dove Cottage.)


In the context of writings about the Wordsworth family, Mary often seems like a secondary character, someone who happened upon the literary genius of William and the passionate perceptiveness of Dorothy and never made a name for herself outside of her husband’s fame. In reading her letters, however, it becomes quite apparent that though her ambition was not to become a well-known figure in the poetic circles of the day, she succeeded as a self-sufficient and capable woman who always kept her family as her first priority.
Mary’s letters reveal much about her concerns and preoccupations. When writing to William, a tender affection and feeling of partnership shines through her even scrawl. Because she only wrote to him while he was away, her longing and the pain of separation is a major theme of these letters. Her willingness to sacrifice for the good of others is evident when she gives William permission to extend his journey: ‘particularly if your keeping to your time is to cost much pain to others, give it up for a short while longer.’ She often writes with tenderness about her children and her concerns for them, this motherly instinct extending to the last decade of her life, when she continues to ask after her grandchildren and influence the family relationships as a whole.
In order to complete a transcription, I first have to locate the letters which haven’t been transcribed, take care while handling them, and then meticulously read over the sometimes quite minuscule handwriting. In order to save on postage, words are crammed in wherever possible, often written in different directions on the same sheet of paper. After the first few letters, I started to notice patterns in her script which helped me decipher the trickier words.
An example of one of Mary’s letters—this one was easier to read than most.

An example of one of Mary’s letters—this one was easier to read than most.


One of the hardest aspects of letter transcription is making out smudged or otherwise difficult-to-read words on the page. As a twenty-first century American student, I live in a completely different frame of reference to Mary’s world in rural England more than two hundred years ago. Context clues are essential in discovering her intended meaning, but sometimes they aren’t enough. I often search several iterations of place names before stumbling across the Lake District landmark referred to in the letters.
For certain phrases, I will confirm my supposed reading through an internet search, sometimes discovering more information that adds richness to my understanding of Mary’s writing and relationships. For example, I recently came across a phrase that I read as ‘Castle of Indolence,’ certainly a dramatic way to refer to the family home! Context clues—her reference to Rydal Mount as ‘Idle Mount,’ and a self-mocking manner that seemed to highlight her insecurities about the lack of recent productivity coming from the poet’s household—made the phrase seem pertinent, but I looked up the phrase to be sure.
A letter from Mary to John Kenyon, the first to feature the phrases ‘Idle Mount’ and ‘Castle of Indolence.’

A letter from Mary to John Kenyon, the first to feature the phrases ‘Idle Mount’ and ‘Castle of Indolence.’


It turns out that Castle of Indolence was a poem published in 1748 by the Scottish poet James Thomson. In 1802, William published a poem entitled ‘Stanzas written in my Pocket-Copy of Thomson’s Castle of Indolence,’ confirming that the James Thomson and his poem must have been household names for the Wordsworths.
An edition of Castle of Indolence contemporary to the Wordsworths.

An edition of Castle of Indolence contemporary to the Wordsworths.


Discoveries like these fill out an image of Mary as a well-read and knowledgeable woman, able to keep up with her husband’s written work and often serving as his amanuensis—a literary assistant or scribe. Though Mary certainly valued learning and education, she also recognised the importance of balance. In a letter to her grandson Johnnie, she writes, ‘All work & no play makes – You know the Proverb – Besides I fear your too close confinement to your books may tell upon your health.’  The letters reveal a lighter side of Mary than what is portrayed in any of the stern portraits of her. In contrast to the passion and strong emotions of Dorothy, her wit and tenderness set her apart and give her personality that Wordsworth biographies often don’t explore with much depth.
Portrait of William and Mary Wordsworth, Margaret Gillies, 1839. (Replica on display in Dove Cottage.)

Portrait of William and Mary Wordsworth, Margaret Gillies, 1839. (Replica on display in Dove Cottage.)


I have enjoyed getting to know Mary Wordsworth as more than just William’s wife—her letters are a great resource to gain insight into her personality and individuality. It’s uncommon to be able to read intimate communications between close friends, and having access to the letters in the Wordsworth Trust collection is a valuable resource. Imagining what my own correspondence would reveal about my personality and character is a little daunting, but as I read and transcribe, I feel like Mary is allowing me a little glimpse into her mind and heart through the words on the page.
Letters on display in the Jerwood Centre

Letters on display in the Jerwood Centre


The letters that have been transcribed as part of this project are available to search and read at http://collections.wordsworth.org.uk/wtweb/home.asp?page=Letters%20search%20home and the books and letters pictured throughout the post are currently on display in the Jerwood Centre.
 
19429791_10212236809651857_7443609467718592027_nNicole Jacobsen is an intern from Brigham Young University (Utah), a native of California who is living and working in Grasmere for three months. As an intern, she works with the Trust’s main collections, as well as providing visitor services in Dove Cottage, the Wordsworth Museum and the shop. She is pursuing a double major (joint honours) in English Literature and French Studies.

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

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

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 […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality. Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady Byron […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

Read More

Carlisle’s Historic Buildings

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Growing up in Carlisle I was not familiar with its historic buildings. Of course I’d been to the castle, to look around and go to children’s events. My secondary school prize giving ceremonies were held in the cathedral, and one felt like it had gone on for so long that my friends and I joked we could see the sun rising through the window. So I was aware of these places – but I was not familiar with them. It is only when I’ve been set a project with a fixed deadline – for my undergraduate thesis and at the Wordsworth Trust as a trainee – that I’ve really explored the history of my home town in any depth. And what an interesting history I discovered.
For the past month I have been at the Wordsworth Trust as one of the two Oxford graduate trainees they take on every year. When I applied for the position the curator, Jeff Cowton, wanted to develop a project for me to work on. I pointed out that my dissertation and previous work experience had all revolved around Cumbria, so for him it seemed an obvious choice: a project on the history of Carlisle. He thought it would be interesting to research Carlisle in the 18th century and consider the cultural backdrop to Wordsworth’s upbringing nearby. So, for the few months after the end of my exams and before arriving at Grasmere, I researched the history of Carlisle and the people who emerged as being of particular cultural significance. Jeff then asked me to develop this research by applying it to items in the Wordsworth Trust collection. He hoped that this would enhance reader understanding of Carlisle-related items. Jeff was not entirely sure how many items there would be; however, I was pleasantly surprised to find a small treasure trove. My research is now available to read on the collection website.
Carlisle at the beginning of the 18th century was very much a military city, despite its previous role as a defence against the Scots becoming obsolete with the succession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1603. John Bernard Gilpin (1701-1793), an artist resident in Carlisle whose work survives in the Wordsworth Trust collection, was also a captain of a garrison stationed in the city, and soldiers would continue to be based in Carlisle for centuries.
In 1745 Carlisle was required to serve a military purpose once more, when Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite supporters invaded England to try and take the throne from George II. Carlisle was besieged from 13-16 November before surrendering to the Jacobites, and then was recaptured by the Duke of Cumberland at the end of the year. Prisoners were tried at Carlisle and kept in the Castle before execution, as shown in J. Carter’s print of Fergus McIvor, the hero of Walter Scott’s novel Waverley (1814) being carted from the castle to his place of death. Waverley was Walter Scott’s first novel, and the beginning of a long string of hugely successful works. The use of real historical locations as the settings of dramatic fictional events, such as Scott’s characters fighting at the siege of Carlisle, is rather exciting.
Carlisle Castle, Execution of Fergus McIvor and Evan Dhu.

J. Carter after Thomas Miles Richardson (Senior) (1784-1848), Carlisle Castle, Execution of Fergus McIvor and Evan Dhu.

Images of Carlisle in the early 18th century show that it was limited by its military function; for example, in the Buck brothers 1745 print, we can see that the majority of buildings are contained within the city walls, which was the safest place to be during an attack. The peace which followed the 1745 Jacobite rebellion allowed for population growth as suburbs developed outside the walls: Caldewgate, Botchergate and Rickergate. The Universal British Directory (1790) claimed that in 1775 the population of Carlisle was 4,000 while in 1785 it was double that. This growth meant that there was a greater variety of citizens and increasing cultural pursuits.
Carlisle
Now that Carlisle’s original military purpose had come to an end, its historic military buildings could be admired for their pleasing appearance, rather than their functionality. The castle and Citadel, both shown in the Buck brothers print, were of particular interest due to their history. Prints of historic buildings were often made in anticipation of their being demolished. For example, Queen Mary’s Tower, the corner of the castle where Mary Queen of Scots had lodged in 1568, was pulled down in 1835. In the same year Thomas Allom’s drawing of the castle was published as a print with the tower made to look bigger than it actually was, and M.E. Nutter’s print of the tower was also published in the 1830s.
Queen Mary’s Tower

Engraving by A. Le Petit, published London: Son and Co. Fisher, 1835. Queen Mary’s Tower is the projecting turret to the far right, with a flag above.

The Citadel, built on the order of Henry VIII in 1541-3, was in poor condition by the early 19th century and so it was rebuilt to the plans of Robert Smirke. J. Noble’s engraving of 1803 shows the old Citadel in its dilapidated but romantic state, while Edward Finden’s engraving of 1828 shows the new Citadel, built in the Gothic style to maintain a connection to the previous building and which still survives today.
Queen Mary’s Tower

J. Noble after R. Carlisle, the Citadel at Carlisle, 1803, engraving,

 Entrance to Carlisle from the south, the prison and session house

 Finden, Edward (1791-1850) after Westall, William (1781-1850). – Entrance to Carlisle from the south, the prison and session house. –

Artists were also interested in historic buildings due to the ideas of Romanticism. This movement celebrated nature and the emotions, so medieval ruins and historic buildings could be evocative subjects. William Gilpin (1724-1804), the son of John Bernard Gilpin, developed the theory of the ‘picturesque’: ‘a term expressive of that peculiar kind of beauty, which is agreeable in a picture’. He believed that all locations should be viewed from a particular spot which was the most ‘picturesque’. Surprisingly, many prints show Carlisle from the same location: from the north-east on the other side of the River Eden. This allowed artists to include both of the city’s key buildings – the castle and cathedral – and the natural scenery which Romantics admired.  Sir George Beaumont’s 1798 drawing of the city perfectly exemplifies the contemporary focus on these features.
Carlisle

Sir George Beaumont (1753-1827), Carlisle, 29th August 1798, pen and ink drawing.

Romanticism also shaped the expectations people had when they came to Carlisle. While artists tried to emphasise Carlisle’s natural scenery by drawing the riverbanks curving towards the Eden Bridge, the reality of Carlisle’s urban landscape might not satisfy visitors. Dorothy Wordsworth expresses her disappointment in her Recollections of a Tour made in Scotland, manuscripts of which survive in the Wordsworth Trust collection. ‘Walked upon the city walls, which are broken down in places and crumbling away, and most disgusting from filth. The city and neighbourhood of Carlisle disappointed me’. Romantic ruins might be appealing in pictures, but the reality of decay was less attractive. Dorothy also disliked Carlisle’s natural scenery: ‘the banks of the river quite flat, and, though the holms [the flat land beside a river] are rich, there is not much beauty in the vale from the want of trees… I scarcely know how, but to me the holms had not a natural look; there was something townish in their appearance, a dullness in their strong deep green.’ Dorothy much preferred the natural landscape of the Lake District.
CarDorothy

Dorothy’s ‘Recollections of a tour in Scotland’ with revisions from the 1803 text, showing the pages on Carlisle.

While Carlisle did not inspire Dorothy’s imagination, it proved a fertile home for Susanna Blamire (1747-1794), Carlisle’s outstanding 18th century poet. Blamire began to write poems as a child, often addressed to and discussing the lives of people she knew. Friendship was a common theme in her poems, and she admitted she could not do without good company in her poem ‘On Society’, now in the Wordsworth Trust collection: ‘For me in social life is all my Bliss, / There rests my Idea of the smallest good’. Blamire was a good rider, and the Carlisle Hunt included ladies; she wrote a poem about it in which we hear about the exploits of ancient deities watching over the hunt. Diana, the goddess of the hunt, declares: ‘My daughters are like snowdrops seen, All dress’d in white and trimm’d with green’ – the uniform of the Carlisle hunt. Cupid steals Diana’s arrows to shoot the young ladies and cause them heartbreak, but Hymen, the god of marriage ceremonies, ‘heard, and with a smile, Declar’d he’d hover round Carlisle.’ Blamire never married; according to family gossip she fell in love with Earl Tankerville’s son Lord Ossulston, but the match was not considered appropriate by the earl’s family. Many of Blamire’s mournful poems are claimed to have been written about this relationship, such as ‘My Nanny O’, also in the Wordsworth Trust collection: ‘the late enlivgning maid… Now grief absenses the cheerfull sky / And clouds the sun-beam of her Eye’.
Carlisle’s political life was equally dramatic. Elections were hotly debated as the Earl of Lonsdale tried to secure his candidates with ‘mushroom voters’, which the House of Commons overruled. The French Revolution caused further anxiety, as establishment figures feared popular uprisings and challenges to the social order. William Paley, Archdeacon of Carlisle 1782-1805, was famed as a theologian during his lifetime, but he also wrote about social issues. In his 1793 treatise Reasons for contentment; addressed to the labouring part of the British public he argued that the lower classes should accept their positions and not envy those wealthier than them. He tried to argue that the poor are actually better off than the rich, as having no occupation is ‘the greatest plague of the human soul’. All people find the greatest happiness in ‘domestic affections’: ‘The poor man has his wife and children about him, and what has the rich more?’
These items associated with Carlisle’s history certainly inspire my imagination, as I envisage how the city has changed, the buildings which have disappeared, the social gatherings which took place and the fascinating individuals who called the city home. I can see the variety of emotions at play in 18th century Carlisle in the surviving artefacts: awe and dismay, fear and delight.
Joseph Massey is a curatorial and conservation volunteer at The Wordsworth Trust and Tullie House.

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

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

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 […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality. Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady Byron […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

Read More

Cataloguing Bewick’s letters

Page 1

by Martin Hasted
The Wordsworth Trust is home to a vast treasure trove of documents extending beyond just the work of Wordsworth himself. Amongst this collection are kept the letters and notes of the engraver Thomas Bewick. These letters reveal all the little details about Bewick’s life, ranging from letters to and from his business associates to personal letters to his family and friends, before culminating in the letters of his daughter as she attempted to hold her father’s collections together after his death.

One of my roles as a trainee at the Wordsworth Trust has been the cataloguing of this collection of letters in order to make them accessible to future researchers.  This cataloguing process has two elements: cataloguing to allow future research, and cataloguing to establish the physical condition of the manuscripts with future conservation in mind.

Cataloguing to allow for research is about recording a letter’s origins, who it is from and who it is addressed to, when the letter was written, and also what the letter is about. This information is all placed on a digital archive which can then be searched by researchers. As a result of this, Bewick’s letters become instantly available to a much wider audience, allowing a larger range of researchers to delve beyond simply studying Bewick’s finished books and engravings. Access to Bewick’s letters can provide an insight into his networks of distribution across the country, about the publishing and manufacturing processes of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and even provide names of paper suppliers and the prices they charged for their services.  The letters can thus become an important source of information for social history, and not merely the study of Bewick himself.

Bewick two
The second aspect of the cataloguing process is cataloguing with conservation in mind. This means recording the physical condition of the letters, including any holes in the paper, tears, staining, folding or crumbling. We try to ascertain whether this damage was done at the time of Thomas Bewick –  such as tearing off of seals when letters were received – or if it occurred over subsequent years. By building up a picture of the physical condition of these letters we can create a conservation plan on how best to look after them and stop or slow down any ongoing processes of decay. Building a condition report is essential for any new item entering a museum, as it provides a base-line against which the item can be periodically checked in the future, enabling us to see if it has become damaged during our time looking after it.

The process of cataloguing is an immersive one, as we physically handle and read words written down two hundred years ago and gain access to the story of their authors’ lives, with each letter providing a snapshot in time. Reading about people’s lives on paper they touched, folded and sealed gives us a unique connection with the world of Bewick, a connection which is often missing when reading a printed book.

In amongst the selection of letters which I have been cataloguing are the letters of Thomas Bewick’s brother John Bewick. The letters which John wrote to Thomas throughout 1795 provide a perfect example of the story contained in collections of letters, revealing a tragic narrative of illness, optimism and the stoic acceptance of death.  John had for some time been suffering from the effects of TB, a disease which he knew was incurable. Despite this, he continued to work, describing to Thomas how he could often manage little more than two hours before bouts of coughing forced him to stop. John would also do his best to help Thomas’ business through his contacts and customers in the south of England. As a result, John’s letters are often a mixture of business  and private concerns.

By 14th June 1795, John had accepted that his condition was entering its final stages, writing to Thomas to describe ‘All the pains that I have taken for two Years past to restore my Health; instead of which I get weaker and weaker, therefore now begin to have but little hopes.’ As a result he determined to return to his home at Eltringham to see Thomas, and hopefully be eased by his ‘native air’. This letter transcends the 200 years which separate our modern world from  John’s, as he expresses his wish to spend his last days at his home surrounded by his family.

Bewick one
The story, however, did not end with John’s return to Eltringham. On his return, his health appeared to improve between July and October, and he wrote happily to his brother of the prospect of taking a walk together by the banks of the Tyne. On October 17th he described himself as being ‘free from that Fever and heaviness – my Appetite better’, John’s optimism is infectious and it becomes impossible for the reader not to be caught up in the sense of hope that pervades his letters at this time.

This renders John’s letter of the 11th November all the more devastating. This letter would prove to be the last he would write to his brother Thomas, and we can see that his health had deteriorated rapidly over the course of the previous month, and the hopes and optimism of only a few weeks earlier collapsed with it. In this letter John was clearly aware that his life was coming to an end, yet he still wrote in his typical style, devoting the majority of a page to the day-to-day concerns relating to signing legal papers. But he ended the letter with an understated, reserved goodbye to his brother, declaring that:

with respect to myself I can only say that it is with pain that I can now whisper out my wants, I think a few Days more will relieve me from all my Pains and Troubles here.

John died on the 5th December 1795, and as we handle his letters we cannot but feel that the fragility of the letters reflects a deeper sense of the fragility of all human lives.

Although it is a privilege to read these unique historical documents, moments like these become devastating. As we catalogue these letters it’s hard not to become attached to the people and the stories contained within them. To read a man’s acceptance of his fate in his own hand is an incredibly powerful moment. In a sense this is why the Wordsworth Trust exists, and why we’re conserving these letters – they provide us a with a window onto the past, and into the lives of human beings who were fundamentally no different from us .

Martin Hasted is currently working as a Trainee for the WordswMartin Hastedorth Trust. The role is a yearlong placement designed to give trainees experience of working in the heritage sector, and as such encompasses various roles from providing tours of Dove Cottage to working with the Trust’s extensive archival material. Martin is currently working towards cataloguing the large volume of material relating to the engraver Thomas Bewick which was acquired by the Trust in 2013.

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

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

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 […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality. Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady Byron […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

Read More

Joseph Wilkinson and the Guide to the Lakes

Page 1

By Jenny Uglow
The Wordsworth Trust has nearly 50 watercolour sketches by Joseph Wilkinson (1765-1831), one of the figures on the fringes of Wordsworth’s life.
When I became interested in him a couple of years ago, for a hugely enjoyable Wordsworth Trust day in Grasmere, celebrating local artists, the Carlisle historian Denis Perriam, thought back to his time working at Tullie House Museum and remembered an old file, containing correspondence and the typescript of a life, begun by Donald Cook in the 1980s – this miraculously turned up on the back shelves of Carlisle Library, and provided an outline of Wilkinson’s life.

The son of a London merchant who settled in Carlisle, he was educated at Corpus Christi, Cambridge and then became a curate at Irthington ( he did well out of the church, as he also held curacies in Sunderland and Lincoln, and was chaplain to the Marquis of Huntly who had lands in the Lake District). In 1788 he married Mary Wood, daughter of Whitehaven metallurgist Charles Wood., and niece to the famous doctor and scientist William Brownrigg, known best for his work on mine-gases, minerals and salt, and for his investment in the iron industry. After Brownrigg’s wife – the former Mary Spedding – died in 1794, Wilkinson and Mary looked after him at the ‘Great Hall’ at Ormathwaite, until his death in 1800. They then stayed on as tenants until 1803-4 when Wilkinson became Rector of East and West Wretham, near Thetford.
Crosthwaite
Wilkinson was a passionate artist, and his slightly primitive sketches catch the isolation of Lakeland buildings, and the mystery of the mountains behind. As Stephen Gill has rightly said, he was not a professional ‘but a talented amateur who drew from both love and real knowledge of the landscape in which he had lived’.Sophia Thrale (one of the daughters of Samuel Johnson’s friend, Hester Thrale Piozzi ) remembered arriving to meet him at Patterdale on a tour of the Lakes, to find that Wilkinson had got lost in the mist upon the mountain for hours, ‘ after we persuaded him to take some refreshment, he insisted on going out to sketch again, which he goodnaturedly came on purpose to do’ . As well as sketching the wild and picturesque, he was interested in the industry of the area, painting the Wad Mine at Borrowdale, and, as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, in its myths and legends, like the story of St Bega landing at St Bees.

St BEES
At Crosthwaite, on 25 August 1802, a day of terrible Lakeland rain, a slightly stunned Sophia Thrale confided to her diary that ‘There was Company to dinner, among them a Mr Coldridge who struck me as being remarkably clever, unfortunately a provincial dialect, but is a most brilliant converser and very entertaining’. The Wilkinsons were friends of Coleridge and the Southeys, currently renting nearby Greta Hall, and Mary Wilkinson was Sara Coleridge’s godmother in 1802.
Seven years later, in June 1809, Joseph asked Coleridge if he or Wordsworth would introduce a volume of his Lake District views, aimed at the growing tourist industry. Wordsworth had already thought, in 1807, of writing a guide to the lakes, but by the following year he had decided, as he told the Revd Pering, that when he tried ‘an insuperable dullness’ came over him. Having lived all his life among the lakes, he said, ‘I should be utterly at a loss were I about to set myself to a formal delineation of them… where to begin, and where to end’. He was therefore interested in Wilkinson’s project, but was worried that his introduction might damage the livelihood of William Green, from Ambleside. Wilkinson assured him their work was different, offered him a fee and Wordsworth wrote the copy. The prints were issued monthly, 12 sets of 4 plates each, costing a guinea (very expensive). The complete, large folio volume Select Views in Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire, by the Rev. Joseph Wilkinson., published. by R. Ackerman, at his Repository of Arts, 101 Strand, appeared in 1810.

Higher Wadmine
In his text, Wordsworth almost ignored the pictures, enthusing about the Lake District’s gradations of colour through the seasons, and about its cottages and farms and traditional economic development, now under threat from new building and planting. It was well known that he actually hated the engravings – this was not Wilkinson’s fault, as the engravings were done by William Frederick Wells, and went seriously wrong when the publishers tried to colour them. Wordsworth told Lady Beaumont that ‘the drawings, or etchings or whatever they may be called are, I know, such as to you and Sir George must be intolerable. You will receive from them that sort of disgust which I do from bad poetry … They will please many who in all the arts are most taken by what is worthless.’ Wilkinson himself, Wordsworth said, ‘though not superabundant in good sense’ agreed that Sir George’s subscription was probably out of a kindness to Wordsworth himself.
Coniston, Water-head
The text was later published independently, first as an appendix to his Duddon sonnets, in 1820, then separately in 1822, under the title A Description of the Scenery of the Lakes in the North of England, and revised again in 1835 as his definitive Guide to the Lakes. By then the pictures themselves were forgotten, but if you come across them, don’t sneer, but enjoy them – and accept one of many generations of amateurs who have passionately loved and appreciated the Lakes.

Jenny Uglow

Jenny Uglow’s latest book is In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815. She is a Trustee of the Wordsworth Trust.

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

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

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 […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality. Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady Byron […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

Read More

Wordsworth’s manuscripts: The Curator’s role

Page 1

A personal viewpoint by Jeff Cowton MBE

What does it mean to ‘better know’ the poetry and prose of William and Dorothy Wordsworth?
A new exhibition has just opened in the Wordsworth Museum which, at its heart, is an exhibition about words: their combination and their written form, words written by William and Dorothy Wordsworth and Matsuo Bashō. In Wordsworth’s case, these are words written “to add sunshine to daylight by making the happy happier, to teach the young and the gracious of every age, to see, to think and feel”.

For visitors, ‘better knowing’ these writers comes through feeling the power of their words and this must be our goal: to help people to better see, think and feel through the poets’ own words.

I have long been influenced by Helen Darbishire’s concern “with the poet and his poetry, and with Wordsworth himself only insofar as knowledge of his life and character deepens understanding of his poetry”. It is a difficult line to draw. How many exhibitions on writers would pass Ms Darbishire’s test? It is easy to stray into biography because episodes in the writer’s life are interesting. How many exhibitions on writers put the poetry second to the chronological narrative?

We come a step closer to their words (and the way the writers combined them) through time spent with their manuscripts, the physical form to which the words were transferred from the writer’s imagination through ink and on to paper. Manuscripts show the processes of drafting and revising, of writers working alone and with others. Through our own enquiry, we can trace the formation of individual letters, follow the order of deletions and additions, and sense the state of mind of the author through their hurried or carefully-written handwriting. Above all else, a manuscript is a tangible and powerful link to that other person.

Jeff illus

The writers touched, pored over, and anguished over these fragments and notebooks: Part of them and their life is here before us; the manuscript is witness to it, and through it we are transported to that moment. The original manuscripts of Wordsworth’s poetry, now held by the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere, hold not just words, but moments in time: their meanings go beyond the words.

The role of the curator is to encourage and facilitate this deeper understanding through the interpretation of Dove Cottage, Town End and the internationally significant collections held in the Jerwood Centre. This interpretation is not simply the presentation of facts, but a mediation between visitor and artefact leading to new meanings and knowledge for the individual. The curator’s role is to stimulate and satisfy the visitor’s curiosity, and to enable their receptiveness to the words which are the crux of the exhibition.

But how do we stimulate a visitor’s interest in manuscripts without adding more words to an exhibition that already requires the act of reading? How do we create a learning experience that makes the most of the visitor being in the presence of the manuscript, and one that goes beyond regarding the manuscript only as a two-dimensional holder of text? How do we encourage visitors to notice clues in the physicality of the object; to look closely at handwriting styles (different pens and hands, or the same hand instructed from different states of the same mind?); to notice the way the page is laid out; to investigate how the text changes over time through the visible evidence of drafts, revisions and additions; to get a sense of the manuscript’s creation and history over several generations; to imagine what this physical object, perhaps with words of comfort or love, meant emotionally to its creator and subsequent owners?

In January 2014, artists of different forms from the UK and Japan gathered in the Jerwood Centre at Dove Cottage to spend two days getting to know the words and manuscripts of William and Dorothy Wordsworth. Their responses can be seen in the present exhibition Wordsworth and Bashō: Walking Poets.

Original and facsimile manuscripts of the earlier poets are set amongst fine art, sculpture, glass-work, music, calligraphy created as a result of the January symposium. We might think of Wordsworth’s comment in the Advertisement to Lyrical Ballads (1798) when he warned his readers that many of the poems that followed should “be considered as experiments”. He warned that many readers may struggle with “feelings of strangeness”, and asked that they overcome their own “pre-established codes of decision”.
Perhaps ‘Walking Poets’ is not what we would normally expect from an exhibition on Wordsworth or, for that matter, a typical exhibition in the Wordsworth Museum. But this exhibition brings us closer to the words of these three great writers: we come to them from new directions, stimulated by the work of living artists who have each worked closely with the words and manuscripts from the past. It is an exhibition that rewards close attention and time.


Jeff Cowton MBE is the Curator of the Wordsworth Museum at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, The Lake District.

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

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

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 […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality. Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady Byron […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

Read More
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