Selections from Letters
Related to the Guide to the Lakes
This appendix assembles illustrative passages from letters directly related to the composition, reception, and revision of Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes. The selections appear chronologically and are grouped into five key phases in the Guide’s history: 1807–1811 (its origination and initial publication in Wilkinson’s Select Views); 1820 (its first appearance under Wordsworth’s name in The River Duddon); 1821–1834 (the text’s evolution into an independent guidebook in the third and fourth editions); 1835–1841 (Wordsworth’s final revisions and the reception of the fifth edition); and 1842–1850 (its reissue in Hudson’s Complete Guide and absorption by the early-Victorian travel book industry).
These excerpts derive from a number of sources, including original letters held at various repositories. Unless otherwise indicated in the footnotes, reliable and complete transcriptions of those letters by the Wordsworths may be found in The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, 2nd ed., 8 vols. Oxford UP, 1967–93. Throughout our selections, we regularize punctuation, expand abbreviations, and offer slight emendations for the sake of clarity.
1807–1811: The Origins and First Edition of the Guide
1. Dorothy Wordsworth (DW) to Jane Marshall, 18 October 1807
My Brother has made great use of Mr. Marshall’s  observations on planting, with which he has been greatly pleased, as they coincide with his own previous ideas of what should be. He recommends to every body to plant larches on their high rocky grounds—and oak, ash, etc. etc. on their richer and low grounds.
2. William Wordsworth (WW) to the Reverend J. Pering, 2 October 1808
I am pleased to find that this beautiful country has made such an impression upon you as to induce you to record your feelings: but what shall I say to your request that I should communicate to you some description of the same objects?—Alas! you have but a faint notion how disagreeable writing, of all Sorts, is to me, except from the impulse of the moment.
I must be my own Task master or I can do nothing at all. Last autumn I made a little Tour, with my wife, and she was very anxious that I should preserve the memory of it by a written account. I tried to comply with her entreaty, but an insuperable dullness came over me, and I could make no progress.
This simple and true statement I am sure you will deem a sufficient apology for not venturing upon a theme so boundless as this sublime and beautiful region.
Besides, you can easily conceive that objects may be too familiar to a Man, to leave him the power of describing them. This is the case with me in regard to these Lakes and mountains, which are my native Country, and among which I have passed the greatest part of my life: and really I should be utterly at a loss were I about to set myself to a formal delineation of them, or of any part of them, where to begin, and where to end.
3. Joseph Wilkinson to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, early June 1809
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. But 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.
4. DW to Catherine Clarkson, 18 November 1809
Sara has been kept almost constantly busy in transcribing: for William, and for ‘The Friend’; therefore she has desired me to write to you. For William she has been transcribing the introduction to a collection of prints to be published by Mr. Wilkinson of Thetford (of which I believe you know the history as your husband’s name is down among those of the subscribers). I hope you will be interested with William’s part of the work (he has only finished the general introduction, being unable to do the rest till he has seen the prints). It is the only regular and I may say scientific account of the present and past state and appearance of the country that has yet appeared. I think, if he were to write a Guide to the Lakes and prefix this preface, it would sell better, and bring him more money than any of his higher labours. He has some thoughts of doing this; but do not mention it, as Mr. W[ilkinson]’s work should have its fair run. He mentioned to Mr. Wilkinson his scheme, to which I should think that Mr. W. will have no objection; as the Guide will, by calling Mr. W.’s publication to mind, after its first run, perhaps help to keep up the sale.
5. WW to Joseph Wilkinson, ca. late May or June 1810
My dear Sir, Herewith is matter for two more numbers; I shall send for two additional ones in a couple of days.—You will probably judge best to [print?] matter for two numbers with each month as [you] have only six months before you, and your numbers are 12.
Yours most truly
My B[rother] Dr. Wordsworth  seeing by chance a specimen of your work put down his name then as a Subscriber, being so much pleased with it. Pray let a copy of as good impressions as you can command be sent for him to the Palace at Lambeth[.]
6. WW to Lady Beaumont, 10 May 1810
I am very happy that you have read the Introduction with so much pleasure, and must thank you for your kindness in telling me of it. I thought the part about the Cottages well-done; and also liked a sentence where I transport the Reader to the top of one of the Mountains, or rather to the Cloud chosen for his station, and give a sketch of the impressions which the Country might be supposed to make on a feeling mind, contemplating its appearance before it was inhabited. But what I wished to accomplish was to give a model of the manner in which topographical descriptions ought to be executed, in order to their being either useful or intelligible, by evolving truly and distinctly one appearance from another. In this I think I have not wholly failed.
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, 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. I took Sir George’s subscription as a kindness done to myself; and Wilkinson though not superabundant in good sense told me that he saw it in that light. I do however sincerely hope that the Author and his Wife (who certainly, notwithstanding her faults and foibles, is no ordinary Woman) may be spared any mortification from hearing them condemned severely by acknowledged judges. They will please many who in all the arts are most taken with what is most worthless. I do not mean that there is not in simple unadulterated minds a sense of the beautiful and sublime in art; but into the hands of few such do prints or picture fall.
7. WW to Mary Wordsworth, 22 July 1810
I have read nothing at all since I came here, nor had any inclination to read; but I am somewhat grieved that my eye has benefited so little by this long holiday. D[orothy] has been so good as to abridge the sheets I wrote for Wilkinson[.] [F]or my own part I have no longer any interest in the thing; so he must make what he can of them; as I can not do the thing in my own way I shall merely task myself with getting through it with the least trouble.
8. DW to Catherine Clarkson, 12 November 1810
I wrote so far last night after W[illiam] and M[ary] were gone to bed; for in the evening Wm. Employed me to compose a description or two for the finishing of his work for Wilkinson. It is a most irksome task to him, not being permitted to follow his own course, and I daresay you will find this latter part very flat.
1820: The River Duddon Collection
9. WW to Longman and Co., 11 April 1820
Will you please to transmit the following additional corrections and Errata to the Printer without delay. My Brother, and Sister (who is now in London)  will speak to you about reprinting my miscellaneous poems. I had agreed with them that they should be printed in 3 vol. the same size as the last Edition—but I prefer a smaller size in 4 vols. and likewise a Paper more of a cream colour than has recently been used. Shew my Sister a copy of Southey’s Madoc, one of those pages contains as many lines, without being crowded, as my two volumes, which are so much larger size.
I am Sirs yours etc.
Announce in the Ad: the Topographical description of the lakes.
10. WW to Lord Lonsdale, 28 or 29 April 1820
Your Lordship perhaps has already received a Publication of mine. The account of the Rev[erend] Robert Walker, in the Notes to the 1st Poem, will I think interest you; as probably will some parts of the Description of the Lake Country at the end of the vol.
11. Sara Hutchinson to John Monkhouse, 15 October 1820
I hope you will not be disappointed in the 2 Nos now sent. . . . Westall tells me that the former has gained him great credit amon[g] the Artists for its execution—and I could not have believed tha[t] an Engraving could have given the quiet and solemn feeling inspired by such a scene as the latter. The extra 18d upon the 3rd is occasioned by the Letter press. W[estall] would scarcely let me pay it, although he said it really cost him as much, ie. the paper & printing, for Southey furnished the matter gratis—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.
1821–1834: The Third and Fourth Editions
12. WW to Richard Sharp, 16 April 1822
I have in the press a little book on the Lakes, containing some illustrative remarks on Swiss scenery. If I have fallen into any errors, I know no one better able to correct them than yourself, and should the book (which I must mention is chiefly a republication) meet your eye, pray point out to me the mistakes. The part relating to Switzerland is new.
13. DW to Henry Crabb Robinson, 21 December 1822
My Brother’s mind, since our summer company left us has been so much taken up with anxiety that till within the last 3 weeks he has done nothing. Our first job was to prepare, with additions—a second Edition of his little Book on the Lakes. He is now giving his mind to Poetry again, but I do not think he will ever, in his life-time—publish any more poems—for they hang on hand—never selling—the Sketches and the Memorials  have not, I daresay half sold[.]
14. WW to Longman and Co., 25 November 1828
The draft on account of the Book of the Lakes did not reach me till within a very few days before I received your letter of enquiry—I, having left London previous to your sending it to Bryanston St. —where it had lain during the long absence of my friend. The bill is now afloat, and will no doubt soon find its way to you.
I was suprized to hear from a Gentleman yesterday, by letter, that he had sent to P.N. Row  for a copy of the Companion to the Lakes but was told it could not be had.—I presume it being asked for by that title has been the cause of the disappointment—not that the book is out of Print? Pray send a copy with the author’s respects to G. Huntly Gordon Esq[ui]re[,] Cannon Row Chambers, Cannon Row.
I am, dear Sirs
very sincerely y[ou]rs
15. WW to George Huntly Gordon, 15 December 1828
In the Book of the Lakes, which I have not at hand—is a passage rather too vaguely expressed where I content myself with saying—that after a certain point of elevation—the effect of the Mountains depends much more upon their form than their absolute Height—This point which ought to have been defined, is the one to which fleecy clouds (not thin and watery vapours) are accustomed to descend.—I am glad you are so much interested with this little tract—it could not have been written without long experience.
1835–1841: The 1835 Guide
16. WW to John Hudson and Cornelius Nicholson, 7 May 1835
My Book upon the Lakes is out of Print, and it has struck me that an arrangement might be made with you for its being printed and published at Kendal; and I should like to know, if you approve of the proposal, upon what terms you would undertake it, so as that the joint interests of Author and Publisher might be fairly and best promoted.—I am persuaded that this little Book would have a considerable sale, if any Publisher Resident in the Country would undertake to circulate it through the Lake district, and in the leading Towns of the North. Of course an arrangement would be expedient so that the Book might be had at Messrs. Longmans and Moxon my Publishers in London, and any other Bookseller.
Let me have your answer as soon as you can, as I wish to go to press instantly in order to secure the advantage of the sale of the approaching season.—
If either of you Gentlemen should be coming this way I should be glad to settle the terms etc. by conversation.
I am Gentlemen
Your obedient Serv[a]nt
17. WW to Edward Moxon, 2 August 1835
I have been reprinting and republishing at Kendal my little Book on the lakes with some additions. I took the liberty of adding your name to Longmans on the Title page; the Publishers, on their part, added their own London publisher, Whit[t]aker. —I hope some Copies have been forwarded to you, as I requested they might.
18. WW to Hudson and Nicholson, 11 August 1835
I am surprized to find by a letter from Longmans this morn[in]g that they have not rec[eive]d a Supply of the book of the Lakes—Pray, if you have not already done so lose no time in forwarding a parcel to that house, and also to Mr. Moxon and—
I am truly y[ou]rs etc.
19. WW to Simpkin Marshall and Co., 24 September 1835 [?]
In answer to your Letter received some time ago, I have to say, that I have never had any thing to do with the Sale of my books—Some time since Messrs. Longman informed me that my Book on the Lakes was out of Print, and for the sake of interesting a local Publisher in it, I put the work into his hands, leaving to him to fix the Price, without being in the least aware of the probability of any person being injured in any way by the change, or that any inconvenience could arize out of it to any one; and I cannot see what I can do in the case—
Sorry for your disappointment, which seems inevitable, in cases of this kind.
I remain Sirs
Your Obedient Servant
20. WW to Edward Moxon, 25 September 1835
Don’t give yourself the least trouble about pushing my Lake Book—it is a mere trifle, and I had your name put into the title page solely out of regard to you.
21. WW to Henry Reed, 14 September 1840
I am much pleased by what you say in your letter of the 18th of May last, upon the tract of the Convention of Cintra,  and I think myself with some interest upon its being reprinted hereafter, along with my other writings. . . . It was I repeat gratifying to me that you should have spoken of that work as you do, and particularly that you should have considered it in relation to my Poems, somewhat in the same manner you had done in respect to my little Book upon the Lakes.
22. WW to Thomas Powell, 19 August 1841
At Kendal the Booksellers I employ, who publish my little Vol: upon the Lakes, are named Hudson and Nicholson. They are responsible people, and perhaps a few Copies might be disposed of there by them.
1842–1850: “Hudson’s Guide” and the Victorian Wordsworth
23. Adam Sedgwick to WW, 26 March 1842
I have heard, from Kendal, that a new Edition of your beautiful little work on the Lake Country was in the press; & I have been asked to contribute a short essay, on the muscular integuments, ribs and bones of your mountains. . . .[I]f you now claim my promise, and do not fear to forfeit [your?] inspiration, by seeming to league yourself with one on whom the nine sisters have never so much as smiled, I will send a short essay to your printer.
24. WW to Adam Sedgwick, ca. late March or early April 1842
You have much obliged me by the promptitude with which you have met the request made through an Acquaintance or Friend of my Publishers; and I should be very happy to be the Medium of conveying to the public your view of the Geology of this interesting District, however concisely given. First, however, I must tell you exactly how the matter stands between me and the Publishers. The last edition of my little work being nearly out I undertook about a twelvemonth since to furnish some new Matter in the way of a more minute Guide for the Body of the Tourist, as I found that the Guide Books which attended mainly to this were preferred much, by the generality of Tourists, to mine, which, though in fact containing as much of this sort of matter as could be of any real use, appeared to be wanting in this respect. The employment to which I had by a sort of promise committed myself I found upon further consideration to be very troublesome and infra dig.:  and as I was still desirous that my Book should be circulated, not for any pecuniary emolument, for that was quite trifling, but for the principles of Taste which it recommended, I turned all that I had written over to Mr. Hudson the Publisher, stipulating only that all that related to mind, should in my book be printed entire and separated from other matter, and so it now stands. Every thing of mine will be reprinted, but the guide matter of mine will be interwoven with what Mr. Hudson has undertaken to write or compile, the whole however before struck off to be submitted to my approbation. Mr. Gough of Kendal,  a Son of the celebrated blind man of that place, will, Mr. Hudson expects, promote the Botany, and if you would condescend to act upon your promise made to me long ago under somewhat different circumstances, I think a Book would be produced answering every purpose that could be desired.
25. WW to John Hudson, early April 1842
I am sorry to say that your letter and proof arrived together with several other communications and putting yours aside I entirely forgot it till this morning. I wrote to Prof. Sedgwick in answer to a Letter from him, pressing him to prepare the essay as soon as he could; which I have no doubt he will do.—Any thing I have to say, had better be reserved for a brief advertisement. I am truly sorry to have disdained your proof as mentioned; but will take care the like shall not occur in future. The introduction is well planned and I wish you success in the [? Onerous] undertaking.
Mr. Hill my neighbor tells me that the Botany in Otley is not arranged scientifically. Would Mr. Gough be so kind as to do it for us; pray ask him, joining my request with your own. It would be a decided advantage to have this done.—
26. WW to Adam Sedgwick, 11 May 1842 [?]
My dear Sir,
I snatch a moment from the hurry of this place to thank you for the first of the Series of Letters on the Geology of the Lake district which you have done me the honor of addressing to me. I received it yesterday from Mr. Danby,  liked it very much, and am impatient for the rest. It will give the Kendal lake Book so decided a superiority over every other, that the Publishers have good reason to rejoice. I am happy to think that my endeavours to illustrate the beautiful Region may be thought not unworthy of accompanying your scientific researches. I address this to you at random, but hope it will be forwarded should you be no longer at Cambridge.
You perhaps don’t remember that the Pocket Hammerers were complained of not by me in my own person, but in the character of a splenetic Recluse; I will, however, frankly own that to a certain extent I sympathized with my imaginary personage, but I am sure I need not define for you how far, but no farther, I went along with him. Geology and Minerology are very different things.
Ever, my dear Mr. Sedgwick,
Westall, who had become acquainted with the Lake Poets through Sir George Beaumont, was regarded by Southey as “by far the most faithful delineator of the scenery of the Lakes” (The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, ed. Charles Cuthbert Southey, vol. 5, Longman, 1850, 52). For his part, Wordsworth wrote three sonnets in 1818 “Suggested by Mr. W. Westall’s Views of the Caves, Etc., In Yorkshire.” For Sara Hutchinson’s full letter, see The Letters of Sara Hutchinson, 1800–1835, ed. Kathleen Coburn, U of Toronto P, 1954, 212–14. BACK
No. 12 Bryanston Street, Portman Square, London, was the home of Edward Quillinan (1791–1851 OED), a poet who later married Wordsworth’s daughter Dora. Quillinan is the “friend” mentioned at the end of this sentence. BACK
The Convention of Cintra was a political pamphlet published by Wordsworth in 1809. Concerning it, Reed wrote (in the May letter mentioned by the poet), “I was not less surprised than delighted in finding so much more of permanent and universal interest than I had any reason to look for in a work professedly of an occasional character. I cannot better convey the impression it has made on my mind than by saying that I cherish it with the same feeling as the poems, and therefore is it that I am anxious to see them conjoined. No reader, who duly appreciates the latter, can fail to perceive that the Tract is rich in the same elements of thought and feeling.” BACK
Edward McInnes’s engraving was based on an 1839 portrait by Margaret Gillies (1803–1887, DNB), an admirer of Wordsworth’s for whom, on the strength of recommendations from Thomas Powell and Leigh Hunt, he agreed to sit. BACK
 Thomas Gough (1804–1880) was a naturalist in Kendal who several decades later would publish Personal Reminiscences of the Habits of Animals (1872) and Observations on the Heron and the Heronry at Dallam Tower, Westmorland (1880). His father, John Gough (1757–1825, DNB), had lost his sight in childhood and served as Wordsworth’s model for the blind philosopher in The Excursion. BACK
Sedgwick apparently had teased Wordsworth about the section of Book III of The Excursion in which the speaker says of “rock hounds,”