William Wordsworth and Grasmere
On 17th December 1799 William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy moved in to Dove Cottage, Grasmere, a former inn (known as the 'Dove and Olive') dating from 1617. They lived here until 1809, when Thomas De Quincey took on the property; he stayed until 1820.
Here Wordsworth wrote ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality’, the 1805 Prelude, most of Poems in Two Volumes (1807) and the ‘Preface’ to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads.
THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
from Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood by
Dorothy kept her Grasmere Journal between 14th May 1800 and 16th January 1803 ‘because I shall give William pleasure by it when he comes home again.’
Her record of daily life, excursions and the changing detail of the landscape is alive with the natural world. Nesting swallows at her window ‘twitter and make a bustle and a little cheerful song hanging against the panes of glass, with their soft white bellies…’
Dorothy had helped her brother through a breakdown in the Spring of 1796 and, in the words of The Prelude, ‘in the midst of all, preserved me still / A poet, made me seek beneath that name / My office upon earth, and nowhere else.’
William Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson on 4th October 1802. Dorothy wore the wedding ring the night before and, in acknowledgement of their special relationship, William briefly placed it back on her finger in the morning and blessed her fervently.
Both Mary and Dorothy were devoted to William and lived happily together at Dove Cottage. Coleridge, Humphry Davy, Walter Scott and De Quincey visited them here.
The Grasmere Journal provides a wonderful guide to the locations that the Wordsworths walked. A former barn has been converted into the William Wordsworth Museum housing a permanent collection devoted to the Wordsworths and Lakeside artists.
Dove Cottage was bought by a Trust and opened to the public in 1890. It is now maintained by the Wordsworth Trust [see www.wordsworth.org.uk].
The Wordsworths rented The Rectory, Grasmere, from May 1811 until May 1813. In her 1811 Journal, Dorothy wrote:
‘We had the finest Christmas day ever remembered, a cloudless sky and glittering lake; the tops of the higher mountains covered with snow. The day was kept as usual with roast beef and plumb pudding.’
The Wordsworths and their relations, Sara Hutchinson and Hartley Coleridge, are buried in a family plot in St Oswalds’ churchyard.
In June 1911 Thomas Hardy visited the graves and noted: ‘Wordsworth's grave and headstone are looking very trim and new. A group of tourists who have never read a line of him sit near, addressing and sending off picture postcards… Wrote some verses.'
The Wordsworth Hotel, formerly Rothay, has seen many literary visitors, including E.M. Forster, Hardy, Cecil Day-Lewis and John Betjeman.
In October 1804 lawyer Basil Montagu and the poet George Dyer, both friends of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Charles Lamb, stayed at the Red Lion inn. Harriet Martineau described the Red Lion as an old-fashioned ‘ham and egg’ establishment in 1854.
Loughrigg Terrace was a favourite walk of the Wordsworths, who would make a circuit of Grasmere, or sometimes Grasmere and Rydal Water, crossing the Rothay by the stepping stones just south of Rydal.
On 29th May 1800 Dorothy noted ‘I lay upon the steep of Loughrigg, my heart dissolved in what I saw, when I was not startled but re-called from my reverie by a noise as of a child paddling without shoes.’ This turned out to be a lamb seeking its mother.
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