1.         In the two centuries since its initial publication, Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes (as it has generally come to be known [1] ) has attracted its share of enthusiasts. One of the Guide’s earliest admirers was John Wilson, the one-time Wordsworth disciple who, through his bully pulpit at Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, became one of late-Romantic-era Britain’s most influential critics. In a series of Blackwood’sessays from the 1820s, Wilson variously described the Guide as “singular and striking,” “full of fine feeling and fine philosophy,” and “by far the best specimen of the prose style of Wordsworth which has ever been given to the world.” [2]  A half century later, Matthew Arnold recounted how Wordsworth once told him of a clergyman who asked “if he had ever written anything besides the Guide to the Lakes. Yes, he answered modestly, he had written verses.” [3]  In much the same vein, Arnold’s contemporary Andrew James Symington speculated that there was “not an inn or small farmhouse” mentioned in the Guide “which does not reap in hard coin the results.” [4]  And in 1906, as the Guide approached its century mark, the twenty-four-year-old Virginia Woolf dubbed it a “happily permanent friend” and its author a “calm authority” who “has all the courtesy and consideration of an old inhabitant who does the honours of the place to a stranger.” [5] 

2.         Despite receiving such warm praise in such high places, the Guide has never been what one might call a bestseller. In the thirty-seven years after it first appeared as a stand-alone volume in 1822, it enjoyed steady, if not brisk, sales, with new British editions appearing in 1823, 1835, 1842, 1843, 1846, 1853, and 1859. Then, rather inexplicably—especially given Wordsworth’s popularity among the Victorians—the book essentially vanished, being republished only in collected works editions between 1859 and the Ernest De Sélincourt edition of 1906. Thanks to several reissues of De Sélincourt and various other new editions, the Guide remained in print throughout much of the twentieth century, and databases such as Google Books now allow free and instant access to most nineteenth-century and a few twentieth-century editions. But, while the availability of the text itself is happily no longer an issue, those seeking a modern, comprehensive, annotated edition have generally been out of luck. W.J.B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser’s outstanding 1974 scholarly edition, which fills most of Volume 2 of their three-volume The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, remains the standard, but it is available exclusively in an expensive print edition, usually only in major university libraries. Another common problem for those researching the text is the difficulty of accessing the extremely rare first edition and the accompanying sketches by the Rev. Joseph Wilkinson. While the second through fifth editions of what came to be known as the Guide are now freely available via Google and other databases, studying the prose and sketches from the first edition has required a trip to one of the select few archives that own this work.

3.         The present edition, then, aims to give scholars, students, and general readers easy and open access to key editions of the Guide from Wordsworth’s lifetime, including full scans of Wilkinson’s 1810 sketches and Wordsworth’s texts of 1810 and 1835. Accompanying these original texts is an extensive scholarly apparatus that includes a historical and textual introduction to this edition; detailed footnotes on the texts; an annotated bibliography of previous scholarly editions and criticism on the Guide; and excerpts from letters by Wordsworth and his circle that shed light on the work’s production, reception, and revision. Taking advantage of digital technologies, this edition also includes a parallel-text feature, which allows readers to readily visualize how Wordsworth altered particular passages across the five editions published between 1810 and 1835. Beyond this, the edition features a wealth of maps, engravings, and photographs of the Lakes and an innovative geo-tracking feature that allows readers to pinpoint exact locations discussed in the Guide with the click of a mouse. Thus, while in many respects this aims to serve as a standard scholarly edition of the text, in others it offers a new, and hopefully fuller, experience with one of Wordsworth’s most illuminating, challenging, and compelling works.

Figure 1: The title page to Wilkinson’s Select Views in Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Lancashire. The essay Wordsworth wrote to accompany Wilkinson’s sketches is generally considered the first edition of the Guide.

The Guide’s Origins

4.        In his correspondence Wordsworth often referred to the Guide as “my little Book on the Lakes,” [6]  and he seemed to regard the work, especially as he grew older, with fondness. In fact, the Guide was the most extensively and frequently revised of all of his prose works. First published anonymously in 1810 as the letterpress to the Rev. Joseph Wilkinson’s Select Views in Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Lancashire (see Fig. 1), the Guide subsequently underwent major revisions in 1820, 1822, and 1823 before its final revision under Wordsworth’s direction in 1835. In 1842 Wordsworth gave editorial rights to the Kendal publishers Hudson and Nicholson to produce a new, greatly expanded version of the work. Since Wordsworth was not the primary editor of what has come to be known as “Hudson’s Guide,” this version is not always accounted for in the standard textual histories; however, its final form and much of the additional material included in it reflect his eager involvement. [7] 

5.        Wordsworth’s interests in travel and topographical description date to long before the first appearance of the Guide in 1810, but 1807 provides the earliest record we have of his seriously contemplating writing a guidebook. During a visit to Lady Holland, the poet said he was “preparing a manual to guide travelers in their tour amongst the Lakes.” [8]  Evidently that project was short-lived, however, for in the following year he firmly declined the Rev. John Pering’s request to provide a description of the Lakes, explaining, in a letter dated 2 October 1808, that so far his attempts to record excursions through his native country had been clouded by an “insuperable dullness.” His close familiarity with the Lakes had, in his estimation, left him “utterly at a loss” as to “where to begin, and where to end,” and he could not see his way to any adequate treatment of a “theme so boundless as this sublime and beautiful region.” [9] 

6.        In light of this declaration, it is somewhat surprising that less than a year later Wordsworth agreed to write the prose companion to Wilkinson’s sketches of the Lakes. In 1809, when he approached Wordsworth about helping with his sketches project, Wilkinson lived nearly three hundred miles southeast of the Lake District, in Thretford, Norfolk, where he served as the rector of East and West Wretham and domestic chaplain to the Marquis of Huntley. Between 1794 and 1804, however, he and his wife, Mary, had lived in Ormathwaite, on the outskirts of Keswick, where they cared for her octogenarian uncle, the legendary chemist Dr. William Brownrigg. [10]  Especially between 1802 and 1804, the Wilkinsons regularly socialized with their Keswick neighbors the Southeys and Coleridges and in the process often crossed paths with the Wordsworths. The cordial relationship that formed between the Wordsworths and Wilkinson is signaled in Dorothy’s journal entry for 1 July 1802, which recorded the arrival of saddlebags from Keswick including letters from Coleridge and Mary Hutchinson and drawings from Wilkinson. [11]  Of the three poets, Southey seems to have had the closest friendship with Wilkinson. In a letter to William Taylor dated 7 January 1804, he noted that Wilkinson “is my neighbour at present, and a very excellent one I find him.” [12]  Soon after Southey wrote this letter, the Wilkinsons moved to Norfolk, and two years later Southey went out of his way on a journey south to visit them. Writing to his wife back in Keswick, he reported that Wilkinson still represented “the very cream of human kindness.” Exiled as they were, however, to a region that, in Southey’s estimation, was “utterly without beauty,” the Wilkinsons pined for the Lakes: “Wilkinson says he has had but one regret at the thought of Ormathwaite—which has lasted ever since—and Mrs W. never looks at the drawing of it but the tears come in her eyes.” [13] 

7.         Driven by this nostalgia for the Lakes and the encouragement of the Tory politician Sir Thomas Wallace (to whom Wilkinson eventually dedicated Select Views), the reverend began preparing a new series of his Lakeland sketches. Sometime in the spring of 1809, he approached Coleridge about writing a prose companion for this project. [14]  This was a hectic time for Coleridge, as he was consumed at the moment by his new periodical, The Friend, so he forwarded Wilkinson’s inquiry to Wordsworth, who was apparently intrigued but non-committal. One of Wordsworth’s main concerns was that Wilkinson’s collection might compete with a similar project then in the works by the poet’s friend and Lake District neighbor William Green. In response to these concerns, in early June 1809 Wilkinson wrote Coleridge:

I am just returned from Town, where I have been making arrangements for my publication, and as I have seen some of Mr Green[’]s numbers I will be obliged to you if you will tell our friend Wordsworth that no two works, descriptive of the same country can be more different, or less likely to interfere with each other, than his and mine. [B]ut I shall write to Mr Wordsworth in a few days more fully upon the subject when I hope either Mr W—or yourself, or both, will afford me the assistance I shall explain to enable me to make my work more perfect and acceptable to the public than it otherwise would be. [15] 
Wordsworth was satisfied, and by the end of June he was already drafting the earliest versions of what would become the Guide to the Lakes. These were difficult financial times for the Wordsworths, and hence the general assumption has long been that only the most pressing need could have induced him to accept an undertaking that would appear to many as hack or, more generously, commissioned work. [16]  There is something to this, as by 1809 it was increasingly looking as if Wordsworth would never make a living as a poet. His most recent collection, Poems, in Two Volumes (1807)—an edition he had hoped would establish his reputation as one of Britain’s preeminent poets—was excoriated by reviewers and largely ignored by readers (230 of the 1,000 copies remained unsold in 1814). [17]  When Wilkinson came offering paid work, Wordsworth had no steady income and four children, a wife, a sister, a sister-in-law, and frequent long-term houseguests to feed. It was certainly, then, no time for high principles regarding the hiring out of his pen.

8.        That said, it seems overly harsh to read Wordsworth’s acceptance of Wilkinson’s offer as a purely mercenary act. As noted above, at least two years earlier Wordsworth had expressed interest in trying his hand at such a project; and the alacrity with which he began composing after agreeing to assist Wilkinson hardly suggests a begrudging attitude. With or without compensation, this opportunity might very well have struck Wordsworth as a godsend, as it allowed him to write on some of his favorite subjects (nature, aesthetics, the Lakes) in a genre (expository prose) to which he was increasingly drawn. On this latter point, the earliest versions of what would become the Guide to the Lakes were written in the midst of the most sustained period of prose composition of Wordsworth’s long career. Between 1808 and 1810, he wrote and saw to press the 216-page political treatise The Convention of Cintra; the letterpress for Select Views (i.e., the first edition of the Guide); and two lengthy essays (“Reply to Mathetes” and “Essay Upon Epitaphs”) for Coleridge’s The Friend. [18]  Just how busied he was with prose in 1809 is evidenced in the fact that The Convention of Cintra (published 27 May 1809) was released at the exact moment when he was entertaining Wilkinson’s invitation to assist with Select Views. Six months later, buoyed by her brother’s recent essays, Dorothy expressed optimism that William’s turn to prose works might actually bring him out of obscurity and alleviate the family’s financial distress. Writing to Catherine Clarkson on 18 November 1809, she confided, “I think, if he were to write [his own] Guide to the Lakes and prefix this preface [from Select Views], it would sell better, and bring him more money than any of his higher labours.” [19] 

9.        Besides money and the chance to write an essay on his native region, another likely inducement for Wordsworth’s participation in Select Views was the opportunity to engage with fine art and the picturesque landscape tradition. Owing to famous lines about the “tyranny” of the eye and how it is “the most despotic of our senses,” [20]  Wordsworth has often been misrepresented as hostile toward the visual arts. In reality, his views were more nuanced. His long-standing friendship and correspondence with Sir George Beaumont, a painter and well-known patron of the arts, highlights Wordsworth’s eager interest in prevailing artistic philosophies, particularly those dominating landscape painting, as well as his belief that he was qualified to evaluate fine art with a critical eye. The easy familiarity with which Wordsworth discusses artistic principles and techniques demonstrates that he was well versed enough; and, indeed, Wordsworth reportedly felt that there were three vocations for which nature had fitted him—those of poet, landscape gardener, and art critic. [21]  Select Views afforded Wordsworth the happy opportunity to draw upon each of these interests and to collaborate with a local artist working in the genre that most appealed to his aesthetic sensibilities.

10.        And, contrary to what has emerged as the scholarly consensus, Wilkinson might actually have been esteemed as a skilled artist in 1809. Most modern dismissals of Wilkinson’s artistic abilities draw upon a May 1810 letter from Wordsworth to his friend and patron, the art connoisseur Lady Beaumont. Penned at a moment of particular pique over how the serial publication of Select Views was proceeding, the letter grumbles: “The drawings, or Etchings, or whatever they may be called, are, I know, such as to you and Sir George [Beaumont] must be intolerable. You will receive from them that sort of disgust which I do from bad Poetry, a disgust which can never be felt in its full strength, but by those who are practised in an art, as well as Amateurs of it.” [22]  This bit of sniping has provided subsequent critics license to issue wholesale dismissals of Wilkinson’s sketches without ever seriously engaging them. [23]  Yet, if we examine the drawings themselves, many hold up quite well, particularly compared to rank-and-file sketches from the picturesque craze of the early Romantic period. The best images in Wilkinson’s Northern Sketches (1795) display skills in shading, situation, and perspective and avoid many of the clichés of late-eighteenth-century landscape painting (see, for instance, Fig. 2). No doubt Wordsworth felt encouraged by the success of this earlier project. And, though disproportion and a somewhat drab sameness weigh down many images in Select Views, sketches like “Newby Bridge” (Fig. 3) and “Cottage at Nebthit” (Fig. 4) artfully convey the harmony between the natural and the man-made in the Lake District.

11.        While Wilkinson never found a broad audience for his drawings, they were of sufficiently high quality that he was able to engage Rudolph Ackermann, the period’s leading publisher of decorative prints and color-plate books, to publish Select Views. Moreover, as noted above, Sir Thomas Wallace seems to have been a genuine admirer of Wilkinson’s art, and Sarah Murray, in her 1799 guidebook to Northern Britain, claimed, “no pencil, that I have ever seen, has produced the genuine tint and style of that country, in any degree equal to the drawings of my friend the Rev. Mr. Wilkinson, of Ormathwaite; who has, in his representations, exhibited the character of the Lakes in as great perfection as is possible for imitation to attain.” [24]  Wilkinson also apparently had several sincere admirers among the “Wordsworth circle,” including the Coleridges, the Southeys, and Wordsworth’s brother Christopher, who reportedly subscribed to Select Views on the strength of the artist’s earlier landscapes. [25]  All told, then, it merits rethinking the now conventional assumptions that Wilkinson’s sketches were unequivocally without merit and that Wordsworth, by extension, could only have agreed to work with so middling an artist for mercenary reasons. [26] 

Figure 2: Joseph Wilkinson, “Upper Wad-mine House–Borrowdale,” from Northern Scenery (1795). Source: Wordsworth Trust

Figure 3: Joseph Wilkinson, “Newby Bridge, Foot of Winandermere,” from Select Views (1810).

Figure 4: Joseph Wilkinson, “Cottage at Nebthit, with Backbarrow Crag,” from Select Views (1810).

Publication and Revision

12.        Another key indicator that Wilkinson’s sketches were highly valued by some is how they were priced and sold. In short, Select Views was an expensive production, privately funded by subscribers who were charged 10s. 6d. per month (£6.6s. for the entire series), in exchange for which they were to receive four folio-sized engravings at the beginning of each month of 1810. [27]  Calls for subscribers began appearing in national periodicals in April and May 1809—months before Wordsworth had agreed to participate [28] —and fuller advertisements followed later in the year in provincial newspapers (Figs. 5 and 6).

Figures 5 and 6: Advertisements for subscriptions to Wilkinson’s 1810 Select Views. Left: Bury and Norwich Post, 23 Aug. 1809, p. 3. Right: Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser, 23 Dec. 1809, p. 2.

13.        The series’ chief selling point, according to the newspaper advertisements, was Wilkinson’s long residence in the area, which gave his images “a decided superiority over the productions of travellers and artists,” who of necessity drew from “partial and hasty observation.” The engravings of Wilkinson’s pencil drawings, moreover, were by W. F. Wells, engraver to Gainsborough and “other eminent Masters.” And the paper would be of such a quality that it would “admit of tinting” should purchasers desire to color their images. Nowhere is there mention of Wordsworth’s name (nor would there be, even after the images began shipping), and that the engravings would be accompanied by “appropriate Letter-press Descriptions” is treated as a minor selling point.

14.        During the latter half of 1809, as Wilkinson recruited subscribers and worked with his engraver and publisher, Wordsworth made steady progress on his essay. In late November, Sara Hutchinson prepared a fair copy of the manuscript for the publisher, and at the start of the new year Wordsworth’s introduction and the first engravings began shipping. By Dorothy’s account, only after the introduction was published did William begin writing the other parts of the text, postponing later descriptions until he received copies of Wilkinson’s prints. [29]  It is not exactly clear when Wordsworth completed Sections I and II, but the writing regularly stalled due to delays on Wilkinson’s end. Nearly a year later, in November of 1810, Dorothy recorded that William was still writing for Select Views, a task that had become so “irksome” to him that he employed her to “compose a description or two for the finishing of his work for Wilkinson.” [30] 

15.        It seems unlikely that Wordsworth ever worked closely with Wilkinson’s prints as he composed; in fact, a number of incongruences between the letterpress and the prints indicate breakdowns in the collaborative process. Before Wordsworth had finished the final sections for Select Views, he was already making private plans to use what he had written as material for an independent guidebook, and between 1809 and 1812 Wordsworth began reworking ideas from Select Views into two fresh essays, now generally known as “Unpublished Tour” and “The Sublime and the Beautiful.” [31]  Wordsworth abandoned these essays shortly after accepting Lord Lonsdale’s annual pension of £100 per annum, a generous offer that provided Wordsworth with financial means to live on until a salaried government post opened up. [32]  Although these two essays remained incomplete and unpublished, many of the ideas expressed in them would find their way into subsequent editions of the Guide.

Figures 7 and 8. Left: The title page of the 1820 River Duddon edition, which included the “Topographical Description.” Right: The stand-alone third edition of 1822.

16.        It wasn’t until 1820 that Wordsworth published his revised and expanded essay as an appendix to his River Duddon volume (Fig. 7). Besides being rechristened “A Topographical Description of the Country of the Lakes in the North of England,” this revision combined Sections I and II from the 1810 edition into a single section and included new sections on the gracefulness and beauty of the lakes’ boundary lines, the initial impression of the region upon those unused to mountains, and the ill-advised attempts of modernizers to “improve” estates at Derwentwater and Windermere. [33]  Wordsworth also appended a prefatory note justifying the essay’s publication in the River Duddon volume on the grounds of its “having been written in the same spirit” as his poems and “from a belief that it [would] materially illustrate” his verses. This encouraging of readers to consider the essay in tandem with his poetry carries over into the “Topographical Description” itself, which routinely illustrates key points with passages from Wordsworth’s poetical corpus. At the same time, the second edition takes pains to dissociate itself from Select Views, expunging all references to both Wilkinson and his etchings. Completing the transformation of the reading experience, the River Duddon volume appeared not as a massive folio (as Select Views had) but as a more affordable and portable duodecimo.

17.        Although sales for The River Duddon were unremarkable, [34]  it was Wordsworth’s most extensively reviewed book to date. Most reviewers ignored the “Topographical Description,” but those who did notice it were unfailingly positive. The British Critic, for instance, opined that the essay “certainly is of value as an illustration of the poems now under our review, but we rate its absolute merit very high” (52). Likewise, the Literary Gazette and the Monthly Review called it, respectively, a “very agreeable performance” (203) and “as topographically useful as it is poetically picturesque” (143). [35] 

18.        Buoyed by these remarks and his family’s encouragement, Wordsworth began preparing a stand-alone edition of the Guide that would be tailored particularly toward travelers. Published in June 1822 as A Description of the Scenery in the North of England (Fig. 8), this third incarnation of the Guide included a fold-out map and a new section entitled “Directions and Information for the Tourist.” Other additions, such as notes on the local climate and an edited account of Dorothy’s excursion up Scafell Pike, only further signaled that the book’s primary intended audience was tourists.

Figure 9: Advertisement for the third edition of the Guide (1822). Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser, 8 June 1822: 1.

19.        Sized as a portable octavo, advertised widely, and priced at a reasonable 5s.6d. (Fig. 9), this first separately published edition of the Guide sold as rapidly as any Wordsworth title, save Peter Bell (1819), to date. Within a year the original 500-copy run was exhausted, and in June 1823 a revised edition of 1,000 copies went to press (Fig. 10). This fourth edition offered a new section comparing the Lakeland mountains to the Alps, advancing Wordsworth’s aim to “reconcile a Briton to the scenery of his own country, though not at the expense of truth.” [36]  It also included four new poems (two by Wordsworth and two by other poets) and a reworked version of Dorothy’s account of their Ullswater excursion. Despite the supplemental materials, the 1,000-copy print run turned out to be overly optimistic, as sales were considerably slower than those of the third edition. To move the hundreds of copies of the fourth edition he still had on hand after the initial sales wave, Wordsworth’s publisher, Longman, ran new advertisements for the book in newspapers and literary magazines during each summer tourism season between 1823 and 1833 (Fig. 11). [37]  This ongoing marketing of the volume resulted in steady if slow sales until 1835, when the fourth edition finally sold out and a fifth was commissioned. Even with aggregate sales of nearly 1,500 copies across two editions, the Guide had thus far proven less than a lucrative venture for Wordsworth, with his total royalties from the third and fourth editions amounting to a mere £62.12.10. [38] 

Figure 10: Title page for the fourth edition of 1823.

Figure 11: An advertisement for the fourth edition of the Guide from the 26 June 1831 issue of the Age (London). A version of this advertisement ran in several British newspapers and magazines during every summer tourism season of the late 1820s and early 1830s. Longman’s urgency to clear out this edition is indicated not only in the extended advertising campaign but in the fact that he was still advertising it as “new” eight years after its publication.

20.        In 1835, as stock of the fourth edition was at last exhausted, Wordsworth completed what would be the final revision of his lifetime and published a fifth, definitive edition as A Guide through the District of the Lakes in the North of England (Fig. 12). The major changes here were mainly structural, as Wordsworth reordered the book into its now familiar organization: an opening section with “Directions and Information for the Tourist,” a three-part “Description of the Scenery of the Lakes,” [39]  some “Miscellaneous Observations,” Wordsworth’s “Ode: The Pass of Kirkstone,” and an itinerary for those traveling to the region by stage. By this point, the essay’s evolution from a companion to a set of picturesque sketches into a full-fledged travel guide was complete, and, with the publication contract for this edition passing from the London-based Longman to the Kendal-based Hudson and Nicholson, the Guide for the first time became a genuinely locally produced good.

21.        It wasn’t just the production of the Guide, however, that was localized in 1835, as the archival record suggests a thoroughgoing provincializing of the book’s marketing at this point. Whereas the third and fourth editions were widely advertised and sold throughout England, the fifth edition had a minuscule advertising budget (£3.14, down from £30 for the previous edition), was advertised only in small-town Lake District newspapers, and accordingly went virtually unnoticed in the national literary press. [40]  As the London distributor for the new edition, Longman recorded sales of a scant 164 copies in the capital between 1835 and 1843. [41]  In contrast, sales in the Lake District seem to have been relatively robust. In a 27 September 1838 letter to Wordsworth, Hudson noted that only 433 of 1,500 copies of the 1835 Guide remained unsold and remitted to the poet a royalty check for £29.17.10. [42]  Hudson’s report suggests that the 1835 edition was, on the one hand, a commercial success and, on the other, sold primarily in the Lake District, likely to travelers as a guide-book or souvenir upon their arrival in Kendal or other gateways to the region. Whereas three years after the 1823 edition appeared Longman found himself with a sizeable unsold stock, three years after the 1835 edition Hudson was convinced there remained a considerable untapped market for the Guide. And thus, in the same 27 September 1838 letter to Wordsworth, he wrote, “We should be happy to consult with you sometime when we are at Ambleside on the expediency of having a new & more correct map of the Lake District, and also of extending the directions to Tourists in the next Edition, which we think would materially increase the Sale.” [43] 

22.        Uninterested by this point in working up fresh material for the Guide, the sixty-eight-year-old Wordsworth declined but gave his publishers permission to expand the volume as they saw fit. [44]  In the ensuing years, he played the role of general editor, assisting with the book’s organization and helping Hudson secure letters on the region’s geology from Adam Sedgwick and botanical lists from Thomas Gough. The resulting enlarged, more scientific edition—known today as “Hudson’s Guide” (Fig. 13)—first appeared in 1842, the year before Wordsworth became Poet Laureate. Hudson’s Guide was published twice more before Wordsworth’s 1850 death (in 1843 and 1846), with each subsequent edition incorporating new materials to meet the demands of an increasingly diverse and competitive guidebook market. Fittingly, thirty-plus years after Wilkinson elided Wordsworth’s name from the first edition of the Guide, the poet’s name had come to function as one of its chief selling points, for by now he had become a national institution and an attraction for tourists in his own right.

Figures 12 and 13: Title pages for the 1835 and 1842 editions of the Guide. Left: The fifth edition (1835), the last revised edition of Wordsworth’s lifetime and the first to include “Guide” in its title. Right: “Hudson’s Guide,” the expanded 1842 edition produced with Wordsworth’s assistance.

Writing the Lake District

23.         The textual history of Wordsworth’s Guide comes into tighter focus in light of its contextual history, for the book represents an episode not only in Wordsworth’s career but also in the longer history of travel writing about the Lake Country. By the time Wordsworth reached adulthood, the Lake District had become one of the most popular landscape subjects for writers and artists in the British Isles and a major tourist destination. Of course, it had not always been so. While people had long lived and labored in the region, before the mid-eighteenth century the lakes and mountains of England’s northwest attracted few leisure travelers. In fact, the topography of the Lake District struck many as more forbidding than inviting. Daniel Defoe, writing in the 1720s, claimed that the region was “eminent only for being the wildest, most barren and frightful of any that I have passed over in England.” [45]  Like many isolated landscapes prized by latter-day travelers, this one remained comparatively intact because earlier generations found it resistant to cultivation and civilization; its preservation is thus one of history’s happy ironies. It was not until modernity arrived with its sprawling populations, industrial projects, and rapid transportation networks that Britons began to value “wilderness” [46]  for its contrasting, spiritual resources. The change came about in Wordsworth’s lifetime or just before. As an old man he could still recall the observation of the shrewd woman he lodged with as a youth in Keswick: “Bless me! folk are always talking about prospects: when I was young there was never sic a thing neamed!” [47]  Indeed, the cult of picturesque scenery had become firmly entrenched by the late 1700s. Thus, Wordsworth’s nature writing, both in verse and prose, emerged at a moment of historical opportunity.

24.         Various imperatives drove the popularization of “wild” terrains like the Lake District. One was national: the so-called discovery of Britain reflected a desire to bring home at least some of the cultural capital of the continental Grand Tour, the rite of passage that functioned as the culmination of the English gentleman’s education. The growth of home tourism was helped by the fact that eighteenth-century European wars sometimes made cross-channel travel difficult. Turning energies inward by necessity as well as inclination, British tourists and travel writers self-consciously went about demarcating their own nation’s “classic ground,” often focusing on lesser known but increasingly romanticized reaches of Northern England, Scotland, and Wales. Wordsworth was therefore not unique when, in the Guide, he compared the Lakeland fells to the Alps and expressed a desire to “reconcile a Briton to the scenery of his own country” (105); [48]  rather, he was promoting a nativizing project with several decades of history. The eighteenth-century promotion of British landscape had paradoxical aspects. It drew on continental codes of art to celebrate domestic beauties, but it set the stage for the time when tourists would hunger to range over British territory newly defined as heritage landscape, helped along by expanding economic opportunity, leisure, and improved transportation. It is no wonder that most historians of British travel date the birth of modern tourism to roughly 1750—precisely the moment when Lake District literature emerged, marking the first stirrings of what would become the cult of the picturesque and, later on, of the expanded cultural picturesque known as literary tourism. By the Romantic period, conditions were firmly in place for tourism to flourish on a large scale.

25.         Wordsworth draws on this basic travel history in the Guide. Repeatedly he hits the keynote “within the last sixty years,” defining a period that wraps his Guide’s concerns into the history of tourism (see especially the opening of Section Third). [49]  The rise of landscape connoisseurship with its associated visual art and literature stirred up tourist traffic that transformed both physical and social aspects of the Lake District. It also encouraged more people to take up residence. Wordsworth himself chose to settle in the heart of the Lake District not only because it was his childhood home and the repository of personal memories but also because it had become a prominent aesthetic territory. Now, in the Guide as well as in his poetry, he was taking stock of the changes that had occurred there, sometimes writing in celebration, sometimes sounding defensive and elegiac notes. He was singing the beauties of a place, but he was also aiming to define and protect it.

26.         In sum, though many assume that the Lake District was “discovered” by Wordsworth and the other Lake Poets, it was in fact advertised in print and painting from the 1750s forwards; thus, Wordsworth’s Guide must be understood in terms of a deeper backstory. The Lakes were the subject of early books by James Clarke, Thomas Gray, Thomas Pennant, William Gilpin, Thomas West, and others. [50]  By the late 1700s, such books were commonly read, toted about, and recycled (cited, imitated, and even plagiarized by later tour writers). Indeed, Lake tours had already become the subjects of parody, as in James Plumptre’s The Lakers (1798) and William Combe and Thomas Rowlandson’s The Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (1809) (Fig. 14). Wordsworth had read enough Lake District literature to know what he liked and disliked about it. He engaged that tradition in the Guide, quoting and responding to previous writers; in fact, parts of his work may feel derivative to the reader who recognizes echoes of, say, Gilpin’s complaints about white objects disrupting sight lines or West’s characterization of the Lake region as a miniature version of the Alps. Other aspects of the Guide, too, might seem somewhat conventional to readers steeped in the period’s travel literature, including Wordsworth’s emphasis on ideal views and paths of approach, his attention to colors and forms, and certain aspects of his meditations on the beautiful and the sublime.

Figure 14: "Doctor Syntax Sketching the Lake" from Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (print, handcolored engraving and aquatint). Neither Combe nor Rowlandson had ever been to the Lake District, but that was part of the joke. Source: Department of Geography, Portsmouth University: This image comes from the 1812 edition, courtesy Jean and Martin Norgate.

27.         Yet, however familiar aspects of the Guide might seem, there is also a striking originality to much of the work. Wordsworth’s Guide, for instance, refuses to reduce the landscape to painters’ formulae, [51]  adds fresh touches of poetry and philosophy to the tour discourse, and advances novel arguments about land conservation and stewardship. And, not surprisingly, in terms of the lyricism and style of his prose, Wordsworth easily outshines most earlier writers on the Lakes.

28.         The first influential promoters of Lake scenery were visual artists, but just behind them came the writers who established foundations for literature on the region. One was John Dalton of Queen’s College, Oxford, who published A Descriptive Poem Addressed to Two Young Ladies at Their Return from Viewing the Mines Near Whitehaven in 1755; another was John Brown of St John’s, Cambridge, whose glowing letter on the Vale of Keswick (written in the early 1750s but first published in 1767) described the area’s scenery in terms of “the united powers of Claude, Salvator, and Poussin” and attracted many aspiring artists and scenery-hounds. [52]  As Peter Bicknell observes, both Dalton and Brown were natives of Cumberland; it was fitting that they should be the first of the “long line of dons and divines who were to record the Lakes.” [53]  Recalling such pioneers, in the Guide Wordsworth singled out Brown, calling him “one of the first who led the way to a worthy admiration of this country” and opining that he worked “with a powerful pencil, and the feeling of a genuine Enthusiast.” [54] 

29.        But even before Wordsworth was born, Brown’s letter had found its way into the hands of Thomas Gray and convinced that poet to turn Lake tourist. Gray, best known for his “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” made his tour of the Lakes in 1769. Having left a sick traveling companion behind, he kept a careful journal which first came to print in William Mason’s 1775 The Poems of Mr. Gray. In 1780 this text appeared as an addendum to the second edition of West’s popular Guide to the Lakes (discussed below), and by that means it became a permanent fixture in the tourist literature. Wordsworth knew it well. Though Gray’s prose had a few purple moments—his superheated account of the Jaws of Borrowdale inspired parodies—Wordsworth praised its overall “distinctness and unaffected simplicity.” [55]  In doing so he echoed the editor of West’s Guide, William Cockin, who admitted that Gray’s journal offered little of what readers might call “fine writing” but insisted that those who prized trustworthy description and “elegant simplicity of narrative” would find it a welcome companion to their travels. [56]  Wordsworth found in Gray a kindred spirit, a sensitive poet of an earlier generation exploring places he now knew and loved. Gray’s journal contained several passages that Wordsworth would especially approve, as when Gray called Grasmere Vale, Wordsworth’s future home, “a little unexpected paradise.” [57]  Wordsworth rightly saw Gray’s journal as a major impetus for the growth of Lakeland tourism, attributing its sway in part to “the pensive interest with which the human mind is ever disposed to listen to the farewell words of genius.” [58]  Gray died in July 1771, not quite two years after his Lake tour, and about fifteen months after Wordsworth’s birth.

30.         Another major figure in the background of Wordsworth’s writing and, indeed, in the backstory of most Romantic-era books on landscape, is the Reverend William Gilpin. His most directly relevant work, Observations Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty Made in the Year 1772 on Several Parts of England, Particularly the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland, was published in 1786. However, it circulated broadly in manuscript before its printing, so its influence predates its official appearance. Gilpin’s work was more instruction manual than tour guide, a treatise on the proper viewing and representation of landscape. Wordsworth, though uncomfortable with some of Gilpin’s notions, found himself agreeing with Gilpin on many points. In the Guide and elsewhere, he internalized much of the thought and vocabulary of this leading theorist of the picturesque.

31.         Arguably the first true guidebook to the Lake District, Thomas West’s A Guide to the Lakes first appeared in 1778. West had already established himself as an authority on the region with The Antiquities of Furness (1774), and recognizing that Lake tourism was accelerating, he set out to fill a need. His guidebook went through numerous editions and was still in use (in its eleventh edition) when the first stand-alone version of Wordsworth’s Guide appeared in 1822. Wordsworth refers to West often in the Guide, noting that his “Guide to the Lakes has been eminently serviceable to the Tourist for nearly 50 years.” [59] 

Figure 15: The Claude glass (sometimes called "Gray's glass" by tourists who remembered that poet's fondness for his instrument) was a tinted, convex, fold-up mirror that became a popular aid to scenery enthusiasts and landscape sketchers in the late eighteenth century. The device took its name from Claude Lorrain, the seventeenth-century French artist whose visions of Arcadia did much to shape British theories of the picturesque. To use one, the viewer had to turn his or her back to the natural scene. The glass could then frame and tint the landscape so that it resembled one of Claude's paintings. Photo courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

32.        The first few pages of West’s Guide indicate its character. The book’s epigraph, taken from Milton, announces a treatise on “A happy rural seat of various views,” and in fact views of the Northern Arcadia are the work’s main emphasis. Assuming that readers will bring expectations formed by landscape art, West strongly recommends the use of a “landscape mirror” (a.k.a. the Claude glass—a favorite device of Gray’s and of many travelers) (Fig. 15), and suggests a series of stations for viewing the region to best advantage. [60]  Sensibly organized, clear, detailed, and engaging, West’s catalogue of the full wonders of the Lake District quickly won admirers and exerted influence.

33.        West’s Guide took on another sort of importance due to innovations completed by William Cockin, who edited the second (1780) and third (1784) editions of the book after West’s death (Fig. 16). Under his superintendence, the Guide became an anthology of Lake writing. Its “Addenda,” comprising some 100 pages of the 300-page work, included texts on the Lakes dating as far back as the 1750s, presented in chronological order. Thus, the expanded Guide allowed a reader like Wordsworth to conveniently peruse the history of Lake literature. For readers generally, West’s Guide made literary descriptions, especially poems, fundamental aides to landscape appreciation. It probably also helped solidify the sense that travelers ought to take up the rhapsodic pen themselves. Composing a suitable panegyric became an important aspect of travel experience, with verse especially becoming a cognate to amateur sketching. Writers had launched a process that the Lake Poets, especially Wordsworth, would complete, converting the Lake District into a poetic landscape.

Figure 16: Frontispiece and title page from Thomas West’s A Guide to the Lakes, 2nd ed. Courtesy Research Library, The Getty Research Institute. Full facsimile at

34.        By framing the Lake District as a series of pictures and establishing codes by which such pictures should be admired, West and his contemporaries set patterns that tourism still follows in many respects, though catering now to travelers with digital cameras. In fact, today’s itinerary for the Lake District still includes some of West’s viewing “stations” (e.g., Claife Station on Windermere) (Fig. 17). At the same time, modern Lake tourism makes literary and antiquarian appeals that arguably can also be traced to West’s brand of tour writing.

Figure 17: Claife Station below Claife Heights on the western shore of Lake Windermere. It was built in the 1790s on the site of one of Thomas West’s popular “stations.” The windows featured colored glass that could mimic the effects of different times of day and seasons of the year. Photo courtesy of Stephen Dawson, Wikimedia Commons.

The Originality of Wordsworth’s Guide

35.        Though other titles might be mentioned, the examples cited above show that Wordsworth did not write in a vacuum. His Guide was highly informed by other books. Nonetheless, it was distinctive in several respects. It captured the creed that animated Wordsworth’s verses, promoting it for a broader sort of reading audience. As witnessed in this edition’s annotated bibliography, commentators on the Guide (while not always agreeing with each other) have tended to highlight many of the book’s uniquely “Wordsworthian” traits. Among the most broadly appreciated of these are the following.

36.        To begin with, whereas earlier guidebooks typically take the tourist’s point of view, the Guide convinces us that its author has walked all of the region’s paths in all sorts of weather. He belongs to the place almost as much as the trees, rocks, lichens, and waterfalls. Despite his familiarity with previous publications on his subject, he writes “as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Characteristically, he blends a native’s matter-of-factness with a sense of wonder and dignified reverence.

37.        Second, Wordsworth goes beyond the conventional practice of travel handbooks in the range of his arguments. As Ian Ousby writes, the Guide “makes most [earlier travel books] seem ‘two-dimensional’ by its larger, more rounded approach to its subject, treating landscape not as a special effect to be sought out and appreciated in isolation but connecting it to the region’s geology, history, and human culture.” [61]  Wordsworth himself said that he aimed to “give a model of the manner in which topographical descriptions ought to be executed…by evolving truly and distinctly one appearance from another.” [62]  In keeping with that intent, the Guide insists that travelers must experience the Lake District as it unfolds itself gradually to the pedestrian. Against the tradition of viewing the Lake District as a series of discrete viewing stations, Wordsworth presents it as a whole that takes its charms from relationship, interconnection, and gradual transition, both physical and temporal. Often Wordsworth seems to draw on Coleridge’s concept of beauty as “multeity in unity.” The Lake District may offer no single feature superior to, say, a high peak in the Alps, but as a compact whole, he contends, the Lake District compares favorably with any terrain in the world. In a sense, the region is a poem in which the parts take their meaning from the overall scheme. This understanding has both poetic and ecological significance.

38.        Third, Wordsworth never quite accepts the idea that he is merely writing a guidebook. He announces straightaway in the 1835 edition that the “humble and tedious task” of providing directions for tourists is, for him, subordinate. The core of his essay will therefore direct itself to “the Minds of Persons of taste, and a feeling for Landscape,” to sensitive beings prepared to watch and receive with uncommon attention. [63]  It is telling, indeed, that the word guide never appeared in the work’s title until the fifth edition. Description, adopted in the titles of the second, third, and fourth editions, was in ways a more accurate term, but the book never restricted itself to mere description either.

39.        Fourth, the Guide makes a pioneering case for preserving the ecological, aesthetic, and social health of the Lake District, fearing even as it promotes the region’s charms that newcomers may love the region to death. As noted above, Wordsworth writes as a Lake District local, but he also writes to locals—especially to wealthy landowners who have recently arrived. The title page of the Guide’s definitive fifth edition advertises a work “for the use of Tourists and Residents”; and from the third edition forward the book’s third section carries a telling subtitle: “Changes, and Rules of Taste for Preventing their Bad Effects.” Whether descanting on the ideal color for homes, the traditional shape of vernacular chimneys, or the sensible placement of trees, Wordsworth often takes a view that transcends the limits of private property. He argues that, in a special moral sense, the countryside belongs to everyone, regardless of who might own legal title to it. His statement that the Lake District should be regarded as “a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy” [64]  is widely regarded as the first published call for the creation of national parks. [65]  Wordsworth directly inspired the founders of Britain’s National Trust (not to mention the National Parks in the U.S.); and the 1951 establishment of Lake District National Park, the largest in England, drew heavily upon his legacy. As Bicknell says in the introduction to his illustrated edition of the Guide, “whether we agree with [Wordsworth] or not, he has fundamentally changed the way we all look at the natural world.” [66] 

40.        Finally, Wordsworth conceives of his guidebook not as a fully autonomous work but as part of his larger literary and philosophical project. Tellingly, where other topographical writers might refer to a painting, Wordsworth usually quotes poetry—not infrequently his own—instead. [67]  He imports verse not merely for vanity or ornamentation; rather, he grasps for the most evocative language at hand, whether it come in the form of a lyric, a passage from the Excursion, or even a few lines from such unpublished poems as “Home at Grasmere” or The Prelude. In so doing, Wordsworth insists that poetry is an authoritative mode of description and that topographical verse and prose are unavoidably intertwined. Quotations become verbal pictures, illustrations, occasions for heightened attention. They also model emotional reactions, encouraging readers to translate the writer’s observations into the realms of personal sensation and reflection. Consequently, the Guide schools readers in Wordsworth’s own processes of thought and composition. In terms of the larger history of travel writing, the work also expands the trend of blending poetry with tour writing, a potent combination which by Victorian times would not only make reviewing poetry essential to travelers’ landscape explorations, but would also produce thoroughly literary geographies, converting the Lake District into the “Wordsworthshire” of literary tourists. [68]  It should probably also be said that Wordsworth’s self-quotation performs anthology- and canon-making functions; thus, it becomes difficult to disentangle the long-range effects of Wordsworth’s Guide from the reverberations of his poems. In the end, Wordsworth, his poems, and the terrain he celebrated became inseparable in the public imagination. The increasing popularity of Wordsworth’s poetry from the 1820s through the 1840s mirrored, and probably owed something to, the growing accessibility of the Lake District as tourist terrain. Meanwhile, Lake tourism, helped along by marketing savvy on the poet’s and his publishers’ part, helped consolidate Wordsworth’s Victorian authorial persona.

41.        We can all be pleased that Wordsworth, despite early misgivings, took up, in his phrase, “a theme so boundless and sublime as this beautiful region.” [69]  His book still impresses with its earnest affection for its subject. There are moments in the Guide when the literature of knowledge modulates into the literature of power: accounts of the “magical” effects of reflection, light, and mist; striking metaphors; excursions into the clouds and even back in time. Other passages dwell on the small and often overlooked—lichens, wildflowers, ferns, gravel. Such descriptions generate in prose the “poetry of nature” [70]  for which Wordsworth remains beloved. In short, the book promotes Wordsworthian imagination, “the faculty which produces impressive effects out of simple elements.” [71]  It aims to transform the tourist experience into a higher spiritual exercise, inviting visitors to read the landscape as they have learned to read Wordsworth’s poems.

42.        Of course, the history of Wordsworth’s influence hardly ends with the editions of the Guide to the Lakes published during his lifetime. Lake District tourism and associated literature continued to grow after the poet’s death, encouraged by improved transportation, the advent of photography, and the enthusiasm of many writers, walkers, tour promoters, artists, and conservationists, notable Wordsworthians among them. While Wordsworth would be pleased by this expansion of his reputation and influence, he probably would feel some discomfort about the further commercialization of “Wordsworth Country.” Late in his life, he famously protested the construction of the Kendal and Windermere Railway, fearing that mass tourism would degrade the Lake District’s “character of seclusion and retirement.” [72]  In this light, it seems ironic that a man so skeptical of tourism should have written a guidebook at all. That said, Wordsworth loved sharing the beauties of the Lakes, and he understood that his own writing had helped produce the demand for tourist literature and infrastructure in the region. He could not really have things both ways. To be sure, Wordsworth never wished the Lake Country to be overrun by visitors unprepared to appreciate it, destroyed by the effects of its own attractions. As he put it in the second of his railway letters, “there are temples of Nature, temples built by the Almighty, which have…claim to be left unviolated.” [73]  Nonetheless, he could not keep the Lakes to himself, and in candid moments he may have perceived the symbolic appropriateness of having the local train and his appointment as Poet Laureate arrive together in the 1840s. He would now have to accept the crowds at Windermere along with his fan mail and appreciative readership. The Guide thus leaves us with a paradox, and it may be said to have failed in some of its rhetorical aims. Still, signs of the impact of Wordsworth’s taste-shaping efforts, his conservation ethic, and his love of nature abound even now in the Lake District and beyond.


[1] As detailed later in this introduction, Wordsworth’s essay on the Lakes appeared under various titles before he published it as A Guide through the District of the Lakes in the North of England in 1835. In 1842, when Wordsworth’s 1835 text was republished alongside Adam Sedgwick’s geological studies of the region, the collection was titled A Complete Guide to the Lakes. This shorthand title became more firmly fixed with the publication of Ernest De Sélincourt’s Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes (London: Henry Frowde, 1906), the edition that continues to be the most widely used version of the text. Keeping with convention, then, the present edition generally refers to the text as the Guide to the Lakes (or simply the Guide). BACK

[2] “Wordsworth’s River Duddon,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 7 (May 1820): 213; “Green’s Guide to the Lakes,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 12 (July 1822): 87. BACK

[3] “Preface,” Poems of Wordsworth, ed. Matthew Arnold (London: Macmillan, 1879), vi. BACK

[4] William Wordsworth: A Biographical Sketch (London: Blackie and Son, 1881), 2:54. BACK

[5] Virginia Woolf, “Then and Now, 1906,” Times Literary Supplement, 15 June 1906: 216. BACK

[6] The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth (hereafter “Letters”), ed. Ernest De Sélincourt et al., 2nd ed., 8 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1967-1993): 4:120, 4:178, 6:48, 6:81. BACK

[7] The full title of the 1842 edition is A Complete Guide to the Lakes, Comprising Minute Directions for the Tourist, with Mr. Wordsworth’s Description of the Scenery of the Country, &c. and Three Letters upon the Geology of the Lake District, by the Rev. Professor Sedgwick. BACK

[8] Mary Moorman, William Wordsworth: A Biography (Oxford: Clarendon, 1965), 157. Most of the letters cited in this introduction are reproduced elsewhere in this edition BACK

[9] Letters, 2:271. BACK

[10] Brownrigg (1711-1800, DNB) was one of the leading British scientists of his generation, making landmark discoveries in the regulation of mine gasses, the cultivation of table salt, and the identification of platinum’s physical properties. During his Ormathwaite years, Joseph Wilkinson (1764-1831) held curacies at Irthington (near Carlisle) and Monkwearmouth (near Sunderland) and a living at West Harrington, Lincolnshire. Despite his connection to Brownrigg and the Lake poets, Wilkinson was a rather minor figure in his era and was not included in either the original or updated Dictionary of National Biography. When Wilkinson died in October 1831, the Gentleman’s Magazine published a brief obituary (Nov. 1831, pp. 472-73), but the fullest details about his life are found in modern editions of the Guide, critical biographies of Wordsworth, and two exhibit guides published by the Wordsworth Trust: David Thomason and Robert Woof’s Derwentwater: The Vale of Elysium (1986) and Cecilia Powell and Stephen Hebron’s Savage Grandeur and Noble Thoughts: Discovering the Lake District 1750-1820 (2010), 138-39. BACK

[11] Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, ed. Mary Moorman (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1971), 144. See also Mark L. Reed, Wordsworth: The Chronology of the Middle Years: 1800-1815 (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1975), esp. 157, 163-64, and 184. BACK

[12] A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, ed. J. W. Robberds, 2 vols. (London: Murray, 1843), 1:479. BACK

[13] New Letters of Robert Southey, ed. Kenneth Curry, 2 vols. (New York: Columbia UP, 1965), 1:419-24. BACK

[14] The letter in which Wilkinson originally proposed the project to Coleridge has been lost. While there is no record of Wilkinson initially approaching Southey to assist with Select Views, it is worth speculating that he might have done so given that, first, Southey was apparently his closest friend among the Lake poets and, second, Southey had published significantly more prose at this point than either Wordsworth or Coleridge (e.g. Letters Written during a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal [1797] and Letters from England [1807]). BACK

[15] The original of this letter is owned by the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere. It has been printed in various sources, including W.J.B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser’s edition of the Guide (Prose Works [Oxford: Clarendon, 1974], 2:124) and Mark L. Reed’s Wordsworth: The Chronology of the Middle Years (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1975), 671. BACK

[16] See, for instance, Owen and Smyser, Prose, 2:124; Stephen Gill, William Wordsworth: A Life (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989), 284; Juliet Barker, Wordsworth: A Life (New York: Ecco, 2005), 280-81; Peter Simonsen, Wordsworth and Word-Preserving Arts: Typographic Inscription, Ekphrasis and Posterity in the Later Work (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007), 17. BACK

[17] Gill, Life, 258-59 and 266-67. BACK

[18] During this same span Wordsworth wrote two additional “Essays Upon Epitaphs.” Both were originally intended for The Friend but remained unpublished until 1876. BACK

[19] Letters, 2:372. BACK

[20] 1805 Prelude, xi.170-84. BACK

[21] “Reminiscences by the Late Bishop of Lincoln and the Rev. R. Perceval Graves,” an appendix to William Knight’s The Life of William Wordsworth (Edinburgh: W. Paterson, 1889), 2:327–28. BACK

[22] Letters, 2:404. That this view of Wilkinson’s sketches became doctrine in the Wordsworth home is suggested in a 5 October 1820 letter from Sara Hutchinson (the poet’s sister-in-law) to John Monkhouse. Commenting on some Westall engravings and a brief description of the Lakes she had sent him, she warns, “Don’t expect from this that it is anything but a mere description—or rather information for it is all about Becks & the waters—intended only to be useful—& not like Wm’s Preface to Wilkinson’s the only part of the Publication worth any thing.” The Letters of Sara Hutchinson, ed. Kathleen Coburn (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1954), 213. BACK

[23] Most twentieth-century commentaries, for instance, tended to dismiss Wilkinson’s contributions to Select Views as “a portfolio of very indifferent drawings” and “amateurish” productions that are “both inaccurate and lifeless.” See Moorman, William Wordsworth, 158; Peter Bicknell, The Illustrated Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes (New York: Congdon and Weed, 1984), 16, 20; De Sélincourt, Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes, iii-iv; and the opening sentence of Woolf’s review. BACK

[24] Sarah Murray, A Companion, and Useful Guide to the Beauties of Scotland, to the Lakes of Westmoreland, Cumberland, and Lancashire; and to the Curiosities in the District of Craven, in the West Riding of Yorkshire (London: n.p., 1799), 23. BACK

[25] See Barker, Wordsworth: A Life, 280 and Letters 8:20. BACK

[26] However undervalued Wilkinson’s artistic gifts may now be, it merits noting that he does appear to have struggled when it came to drawing the human figure. His original sketches, held by the Wordsworth Trust, include small figure studies in the margins—human characters, animals, wagon wheels, boats, etc.—ultimately located in the engravings. Either Wilkinson suggested these details to help engraver W. F. Wells (in a style that appears quite different from that of the landscapes) or, more likely, he requested another artist’s help. That artist might well be William Henry Pyne (1769–1843, DNB), a figure-drawing master who regularly collaborated with Ackermann, the publisher of Select Views. Figures in Pyne’s 1808 Microcosm, also published by Ackermann, resemble those added to Wilkinson’s landscapes. Wilkinson knew Pyne and included his name on a list of potential subscribers for Select Views (letter to Coleridge, 1 June 1809). BACK

[27] Except in August and September 1810, when three and five engravings were respectively shipped, Wilkinson generally kept to this schedule of sending four engravings per month. BACK

[28] A notice in the Eclectic Review for April 1809 reads, “The Rev. Joseph Wilkinson, of Thetford, is going to publish, by subscription, Select Views in Cumberland, Westmoreland, and part of Scotland; exhibiting the most picturesque situations in these counties, with letter-press descriptions” (292). The same notice appeared in the May issues of, among others, the Literary Panorama, the Monthly Magazine, and the Scots Magazine. BACK

[29] Letters, 2: 372. BACK

[30] Letters, 2:449. BACK

[31] Letters, 2:372. Owen and Smyser include complete versions of “Unpublished Tour” and “The Sublime and the Beautiful” in their edition of Wordsworth’s Prose Works, vol. 2. BACK

[32] Gill, Life, 295-96. BACK

[33] For a full, schematic study of the sequential changes to the Guide, see the parallel-text chart in this edition. For an excellent summary of the major changes across the first five editions of the Guide, see Owen and Smyser, Prose, 2:133-34. BACK

[34] Of the 500 copies printed in 1820, 340 sold in the first year, 72 in the second, and 8 in the third. Sales essentially ceased at this point, and 30 copies were remaindered in 1834. See W.J.B. Owen, “Cost, Sales, and Profits of Longman’s Editions of Wordsworth,” The Library, 5th ser., 12.2 (1957): 101. BACK

[35] For reviews of the River Duddon volume, see the annotated bibliography to this edition and the full-text reprints in Donald H. Reiman’s The Romantics Reviewed: Contemporary Reviews of British Romantic Writers (New York: Garland, 1972). BACK

[36] A Description of the Scenery of the Lakes in the North of England, 4th ed. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1823), 104. BACK

[37] See, for instance, the Literary Gazette, 1 July 1826, 415; the Monthly Literary Advertiser, 10 July 1826, 55; the Literary Gazette, 12 May 1827, 304; the Morning Journal, 23 May 1829, 1; the Literary Gazette, 21 Aug 1830, 551; the Age, 26 June 1831, 207; the Courier, 16 July 1833, 1. BACK

[38] Longman’s account books show 468 copies of the Guide selling in 1822, 113 in 1824, 169 in 1825, and, with the exception of 1829 (120 copies), between 33 and 85 per year from 1826 and 1835 (Owen, “Cost, Sales, and Profits,” 103). What is perhaps most interesting here is not the dwindling sales after the first few years (which happened with virtually all publications) but the residual interest in the fourth edition long after its publication date. Most books of Wordsworth’s poetry sold several hundred copies in the first two years after publication but fewer than 10 copies per year thereafter. In contrast, the average annual sale of the fourth edition of the Guide was 65 copies per year between 1826 and 1835. BACK

[39] The titles of the three sections illuminate Wordsworth’s organizational plan and rhetorical aims: “View of the Country as Formed by Nature”; “Aspect of the Country, As Affected by Its Inhabitants”; and “Changes, and Rules of Taste for Preventing their Bad Effects.” Natural history blends into human history as past moves to present and projected future. BACK

[40] Hudson’s report to Wordsworth records advertisements being placed in six small-town Cumbrian newspapers: the Carlisle Journal, Carlisle Patriot, Kendal Gazette, Kendal Mercury, Whitehaven Pacquet, and Whitehaven Herald (Wordsworth Trust MS. WLMS 6/9/1). For details on the advertising outlays for the third and fourth editions of the Guide, see Owen, “Costs, Sales, and Profits,” 103. BACK

[41] Owen, “Cost, Sales, and Profits,” 106. BACK

[42] Wordsworth Trust MS. WLMS 6/9/1. BACK

[43] Wordsworth Trust MS. WLMS 6/9/1. BACK

[44] Wordsworth’s only real stipulation was that his contributions remain untouched and separate from the publishers’ additions. As he put it in a letter to Adam Sedgwick (late March 1842), the new information intended for the “Body of the Tourist” must remain distinct from “all that related to the mind” (Letters 7:310). In saying this, Wordsworth echoed the opening of the 1835 edition: “In preparing this Manual, it was the Author’s principal wish to furnish a Guide or Companion for the Minds of Persons of taste, and feeling for Landscape, who might be inclined to explore the District of the Lakes with that degree of attention to which its beauty may fairly lay claim” (i). BACK

[45] Daniel Defoe, A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain, Divided into Circuits or Journies, 3 vols (London: n.p., 1724): 3:258. BACK

[46] We put “wilderness” in quotes because, as Wordsworth was well aware, the Lake District was hardly an untouched preserve, even before eighteenth-century tourists took interest in it. Humans had long inhabited and shaped the region. For Wordsworth, then, preserving the landscape meant holding on to and enhancing its character as produced by traditional ways of life and the mediating power of taste. Throughout the Guide, readers find significant tension between “nature” and “culture.” Several scholars listed in our annotated bibliography have addressed this tension and other complications attending Wordsworth’s environmentalism. BACK

[47] See Wordsworth’s first letter on the Kendal and Windermere railway, dated 9 December 1844, originally published in The Morning Post. Our copy text is Kendal and Windermere Railway: Two Letters Re-printed from The Morning Post (Kendal: Branthwaite and Son, 1844), 7. BACK

[48] Citations of Wordsworth’s Guide refer to the 1835 edition unless otherwise noted. BACK

[49] In another sense, this chronology assimilates regional history into the period of Wordsworth’s own life, linking the Guide and the landscape it celebrates to the biographical myth that underlies the author’s poetry. In the first edition of 1810, Wordsworth refers to events that have occurred “within the last forty years,” making 1770, his birth year, the point of departure. See Gill, Life, 285. BACK

[50] For a comprehensive history of Lake District literature prior to Wordsworth, see Peter Bicknell’s The Picturesque Scenery of the Lake District, 1752–1855: A Bibliographical Study (Winchester: St. Paul’s Bibliographies, 1990). BACK

[51] A typical passage on this theme occurs in the Guide’s “Miscellaneous Observations” section: “But, though our scenes are better suited to painting than those of the Alps, I should be sorry to contemplate either country in reference to that art, further than as its fitness or unfitness for the pencil renders it more or less pleasing to the eye of the spectator, who has learned to observe and feel, chiefly from Nature herself” (102). Wordsworth expressed skepticism about the jargon of landscape painting as early as his Descriptive Sketches (London: Johnson, 1793). He wrote, “Whoever, in attempting to describe [the Alps’] sublime features, should confine himself to the cold rules of painting would give his reader but a very imperfect idea of those emotions which they have the irresistible power of communicating to the most impassive imaginations” (24, fn). BACK

[52] Our copy text is A Description of the Lake at Keswick and the Adjacent Country in Cumberland, Communicated in a Letter to a Friend, by a Late Popular Writer (Kendal, 1770), 5. BACK

[53] Bicknell, Picturesque Scenery, 1. BACK

[54] Guide, 35, 60. BACK

[55] Guide, 61. BACK

[56] Thomas West, A Guide to the Lakes in Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire, 2nd ed. (London: Richardson and Urquhart, 1780), 199. BACK

[57] Ibid., 212. BACK

[58] Guide, 60-61. BACK

[59] Guide, 111. BACK

[60] Thomas West, A Guide to the Lakes (London: Richardson and Urquhart, 1778), 15-16, etc. BACK

[61] Ian Ousby, The Englishman’s England (London: Cambridge UP, 1990), 138–39. BACK

[62] He made this remark in an 1810 letter to Lady Beaumont (Letters, 2:404). BACK

[63] Guide, i. BACK

[64] Guide, 88. BACK

[65] On Wordsworth as founding figure for national parks, see, for example, Stephen Gill, Wordsworth and the Victorians (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998), 260. See also the UK National Parks website. BACK

[66] Bicknell, Illustrated Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes, 7. BACK

[67] On Wordsworth’s self-quotation in the Guide, see Julia Sandstrom Carlson, “Prose Mesurée in the Lakes Tour and Guide: Quoting and Recalibrating English Blank Verse,” European Romantic Review 20, no. 2 (April 2009): 227-36. BACK

[68] “Wordsworthshire” seems to be the coinage of James Russell Lowell (see his article on Wordsworth in Among My Books, 2nd ser., 1876), but it is essentially synonymous with “Wordsworth Country,” “Wordsworth Land,” and other common designations of the Lake District’s literary landscape. Compare “Scott-land,” “Burns Country,” and similar inventions of the period’s travel and heritage industries. BACK

[69] Letters, 2:271. BACK

[70] The “poetry of nature” phrase recalls Coleridge’s account of Lyrical Ballads in chapter 14 of Biographia Literaria: “During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbours, our conversations turned frequently on the two cardinal points of poetry, the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination. The sudden charm, which accidents of light and shade, which moonlight or sunset diffused over a known and familiar landscape, appeared to represent the practicability of combining both. These are the poetry of nature.” BACK

[71] Wordsworth’s note to “The Thorn,” 1800 Lyrical Ballads. BACK

[72] See his letters to the Morning Post, published together in slightly revised and expanded form as a pamphlet: Kendal and Windermere Railway: Two Letters Re-printed from The Morning Post (Kendal: Branthwaite and Son, 1844), 6. BACK

[73] Kendal and Windermere Railway, 19. BACK