Friday, 28 February 2014

Dove Cottage

What do you do in the Lake District on a wet weekend in February? You might go up a hill in the rain. You might, as I wrote in my book The Weekend Fix, 'clack-clack your twin walking poles round the Beatrix Potter nik-naks' of Coniston's tourist shops - or trial and buy outdoor gear, the Lake District having more outdoor shops in a greater concentration than anywhere else in the UK. Or you might take advantage of the Lake District's great literary connections and visit Hilltop - Potter's house, or Wordsworth's Dove Cottage.

Wordsworth is most famous for Daffodils. Personally I don't think that much of it when he has lines like:
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
          But to be young was very heaven
Now that is poetry! Wordsworth and Coleridge helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads. Along with their contemporaries Blake, Keats, Bryon and Shelley they were famed for taking English language poetry to a new level, away from the mannered Augustan verse of Pope and Dryden and into the realms of fancy. At the same time, and in the same way that Beethoven almost single-handedly redefined the image of the classical composer as a troubled, willful genius, Wordsworth and his contemporaries remoulded the image of the poet from an urbane dispenser of epigrams to the image still dominant today: a sensitive fop, musing over flowers in the rolling English countryside. They were the Beatles, Stones, Kinks and Who of poetry, moulding the genre forever in their image.

Dove Cottage:

But Wordsworth and his sister were no fey dandies. They were robust outdoorsy types, walking impressive mileages each day. It would have been easy for Wordsworth to be lazy as he'd been fortunate to discover early on a rich patron, whose generosity allowed him to buy Dove Cottage and concentrate on writing. But his friend Thomas de Quincey (who moved into Dove Cottage after the Wordsworths moved out) estimated that Wordsworth walked 175,000 miles, or an average of eight miles a day, every single day of his long adult life.

He could hardly have chosen a better place to walk. Hills in every direction, wooded lake shores to explore, quiet, yet with basic roads and facilities already in place. The only problem would have been the weather. We took a short walk from Dove Cottage to a knoll between Grasmere and Rydal Water, deciding that on a day of rain and sleet, when cars had their headlights on at 1pm, that this was far enough for us today.

Rydal Water:

Wordsworth would have hardly got into his stride at this point.

1 comment:

blueskyscotland said...

I like the "Lucy Poems" myself as they are fairly complex and ambiguous as to their subject. I've still got De Quincey's book Recollections of the Lakes and the Lakeland Poets which offers a first hand account of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey. I've also read Confessions of an English Opium eater. De Quincey was actually a very good fluent writer with a fast,vivid style that seems very modern. It's a shame he's just labelled as a drug addict these days as he was quite prolific himself.