William Wordsworth

Arrival at Dove Cottage, Grasmere (December 1799)

Dove Cottage
Dove Cottage, Grasmere, now the Wordsworth Museum. It was known to the Wordsworths as Townend. Built in the 17th century as the Dove and Olive Bough Inn, the cottage was rented by the Wordsworths from December 1799 until May 1808.

The following letter from William to S.T.Coleridge is interesting for several reasons. It gives a detailed account of how William and Dorothy Wordsworth arrived at Grasmere from Sockburn, a distance of some eighty miles, in the middle of winter and nearly all on foot. It also articulates something of the tender relationship at this time between William and Coleridge, and it gives some good examples of the Wordsworths' passion for the countryside expressed through meticulous observation, though one has to say that William's descriptions lack some of the fluency and charm of Dorothy's (see her Alfoxden and Grasmere Journals.)

William and Coleridge had completed a pedestrian tour of the Lakes from late October until late November, at first accompanied by the publisher Joseph Cottle and subsequently by William's brother John. It was towards the end of this tour that they stumbled across the cottage at Grasmere which was to become the Wordsworths' home for eight years. Coleridge and William parted company in late November, Coleridge returning to Sockburn and then, shortly after, to London, where he was to write for Daniel Stuart.

Letter to S.T.Coleridge, Christmas Eve, Grasmere, 1799

My Dear Coleridge,

We arrived here last Friday, and have now been four days in our new abode without writing to you, a long time! but we have been in such confusion as not to have had a moment's leisure. We found two Letters from you one of which I had heard of at Sockburne. I do not think there is much cause to be uneasy about Cooke's affair, but as he has not answered my Letter I cannot say but I am sorry I mentioned your name; feeling so forcibly as I did that, if any man had reason to suppose I could be of service to him, he would gain incalculably by the proposed change, I was betrayed into language not sufficiently considerate and reseved. If it is in my power to remedy any part of the evil by writing again to Cooke, or in any other way, pray mention it to me.

I arrived at Sockburn the day after you quitted it, I scarcely knew whether to be sorry or no that you were no longer there, as it would have been a great pain to me to have parted from you. I was sadly disappointed in not finding Dorothy; Mary was a solitary house-keeper and overjoyed to see me. D is now sitting by me racked with the tooth-ache. This is a grievous misfortune as she has so much work for her needle among the bedcurtains, etc. that she is absolutely buried in it.

We have both caught troublesome colds in our new and almost empty house, but we hope to make it a comfortable dwelling. Our first two days were days of fear as one of the rooms upstairs smoked like a furnace, we have since learned that it is uninhabitable as a sitting room on this account; the other room however which is fortunately the one we intended for our living room promises uncommonly well; that is, the chimney draws perfectly, and does not even smoke at the first lighting of the fire. In particular winds most likely we shall have puffs of inconvenience, but this I believe will be found a curable evil, by means of devils as they are called and other beneficient agents which we shall station at the top of the chimney if their services should be required.

D is much pleased with the house and the appurtenances, the orchard especially; in imagination she has already built a seat with a summer shed on the highest platform in this our little domestic slip of mountain. The spot commands a view over the roof of our house, of the lake, the church, helm cragg, and two thirds of the vale.We mean to enclose also two or three yards of ground between us and the road, this for the sake of a few flowers, and because it will make it more our own. Besides, am I fanciful when I would extend the obligation of gratitude to insensate things? May not a man have a salutary pleasure in doing something gratuitousl for the sake of his house, as for an individual to which he owes so much -

 The manners of the neighbouring cottagers have far exceeded our expectations; they seem little adulterated; indeed as far as we have seen not at all. The people we have uniformly found kind-hearted, frank and manly, prompt to serve without servility. This is but experience of four days, but we have had dealings with persons of various occupations, and have no reason whatever to complain.

We do not think it necessary for us to keep a servant. We have agreed to give a woman, who lives in one of the adjoining cottages two shillings a week for attending two or three hours a day to light the fires, wash dishes, etc, etc. In addition to this she is to have her victuals every Saturday when she will be employed in scouring, and to have her victuals likewise on other days if we should have visitors and she is wanted more than usual. We could have had this attendance for eighteen pence a week but we added the sixpence for the sake of the poor woman, who is made happy by it.

 The weather since our arrival has been a keen frost, one morning two thirds of the lake was covered with ice which continued all the day but, to our great surprize, the next morning, though there was no intermission of the frost, had entirely disappeared. The ice had been so thin that the wind had broken it up, and most likely driven it to the outlet of the lake. Rydale is covered with ice, clear as polished steel, I have procured a pair of skates and to-morrow mean to give my body to the wind,- not, however, without reasonable caution.

We are looking for John every day; it will be a pity, if he should come, that D is so much engaged, she has scarcely been out since our arrival; one evening I tempted her forth; the planet Jupiter was on the top of the hugest of the Rydal mountains, but I had reason to repent of having seduced her from her work as she returned with a raging tooth-ache.

We were highly pleased with your last short letter, which we had confidently and eagerly expected at Sockburn. Stuart's conduct is liberal and I hope it will answer for him. You make no mention of your health. I was uneasy on that account when you were with us; upon recollection it seemed to me that the fatigues, accidents and exposures attendant upon our journey, took a greater hold of you than they ourght to have done had your habit of body been such as not to render caution necessary for it. Your account of Pinney is not more than I should have expected as I know him to be an excellent man. I received a Letter from him enclosing a five pound note, and informing me he hoped soon to be able to render me more substantial assistance. I wrote to him requesting him to use all his interest to induce M. to repay the principal, etc., and that if it was his intention to do anything to disentangle M. from his embarrassments, I recommended him to consider my claim.

We shall be glad to receive the German books though it will be at least 3 weeks before D will have any leisure to begin.

Your selection of names in your history of the eminent men with whom you dined entertained me much, a wretched Painter, a worse Philosopher, and a respectable bonesetter. This last I mention merely for the sake of eking out my sentence, as I venerate the profession of a Surgeon, and deem it the only one which has anything that deserves the name of utility in it.

I suspect that it may partly be owing to something like unconscious affectation, but in honest truth I feel little disposed to notice what you say of Lyrical Ballads though the account when I first read it gave me pleasure. The said Mr G. I have often heard described as a puppy, one of the fawning, flattering kind; in short, a polite liar, often perhaps without knowing himself to be so. Accordingly he would snatch at an opportunity of saying anything agreeable to your friend, etc.; ergo, the account is smoke or something near it.

You do not speak of your travelling conversations, I have begun the pastoral of Bowman: in my next letter I shall probably be able to send it to you. I am afraid it will have one fault, that of being too long.

As to the Tragedy and Peter Bell, D will do all in her power to put them forward. Composition I find invariably pernicious to me, and even penmanship if continued for any length of time at one sitting. I shall therefore wish you good night, my beloved friend, a wish, with a thousand others, in which D joins me. I am afraid half of what I have written is illegible, farewell.

Friday Evg: We have been overhead in confusion, painting the rooms, mending the doors, and heaven knows what! This however shall not prevent me from attempting to give you some account of our journey hither.

Sockburn to Grasmere

We left Sockburne tuesday before last early in the morning, D on a double horse, behind that good creature George [Hutchinson] , and I upon Lily, or Violet as Cottle calls her. We cross'd the Tees in the Sockburn fields by moonlight and after ten good miles riding came in sight of the Swale. It is there a beautiful river, with its green bank and flat holms scattered over with trees, four miles further brought us to Richmond with its huge ivied castle, its friarage steeple, its castle tower resembling a huge steeple, and two other steeple towers for such they appeared to us. Before we entered this venerable town, for it almost deserves the name, in a beautiful bottom beside the Swale, we saw a mansion of antique appearance which excited our curiosity. I met a little girl and pointing towards the place I asked her who lived in that house. 'Oh Sir we lives there' - her own dwelling was at a small distance in a line between me and the great Mansion. 'But the house in the valley overgrown (perhaps I said covered with) ivy, what is it?' 'Oh, Sir, them is only old Bules.' 'Old Bules, said I, what are they?' 'Old Buildings, Sir,' answered the girl smiling. This little incident put us in good humour with Richmond, and perhaps the ghostly arch at the bottom of its tall friarage steeple, a single tower that stands in a green by itself, appeared more interesting than it really is. The situation of this place resembles that of Barnard Castle, but I should suppose is somewhat inferior to it.

George accompanied us eight miles beyond Richmond and there we parted with sorrowful hearts. We were now in Wensley dale and D and I set off side by side to foot it as far as Kendal. A little before sunset we reached one of the waterfalls of which I read you a short description in Mr Taylor's tour. I meant to have attempted to give you a picture of it but I feel myself too lazy to execute the task. Tis a singular scene; such a performance as you might have expected from some giant gardiner employed by by one of Queen Elizabeth's courtiers, if this same giant gardiner had consulted with Spenser and they two had finished the work together. By this you will understand that with something of vastness or grandeur it is at once formal and wild. We reach'd the town of Askrigg, 12 miles, about six in the evening, having walked the last three mles in the dark and two of them over hard-frozen road to the great annoyance of our feet and ancles.

Next morning the earth was thinly covered with snow, enough to make the road soft and prevent its being slippery. On leaving Askrigg we turned aside to see another waterfall - 'twas a beautiful morning with driving snow-showers that disappeared by fits, and unveiled the east which was all one delicious pale orange colour. After walking through two fields we came to a mill which we pass'd and in a moment a sweet little valley opened before us, with an area of grassy ground, and a stream dashing over various lamina of black rocks close under a bank covered with firs. The bank and stream on our left, another woody bank on our right, and the flat meadow in front, from which, as at Buttermere, the stream had retired as it were to hide itself under the shade. As we walked up this delightful valley we were tempted to look back perpetually on the brook which reflected the orange light of the morning among the gloomy rocks with a brightness varying according to the agitation of the current. The steeple of Askrigg was between us and the east, at the bottomof the valley; it was not a quarter of a mile distant, but oh! how far we were from it.The two banks seemed to join before us with a facing of rock common to them both, when we reached this point the valley opened out again, two rocky banks on each side, which, hung with ivy and moss and fringed luxuriantly with brushwood, ran directly parallel to each other and then approaching with a gentle curve, at their point of union presented a lofty waterfall, the termination of the valley.

Twas a keen frosty morning, showers of snow threatening us but the sun bright and active; we had a task of twenty one miles to perform in a short winter's day, all this put our minds in such a state of excitation that we were no unworthy spectators of this delightful scene. On a nearer approach the water seemed to fall down a tall arch or rather nitch which had shaped itself by insensible moulderings in the wall of an old castle. We left this spot with reluctance but highly exhilarated.

When we had walked about a mile and a half we overtook two men with a string of ponies and some empty carts. I recommended to D to avail herself of this opportunity of husbanding her strength, we rode with them more than two miles, twas bitter cold, the wind driving the snow behind us in the best stile of a mountain storm. We soon reached an Inn at a place called Hardraw, and descending from our vehicles, after warming ourselves by the cottage fire we walked up the brook side to take a view of a third waterfall. We had not gone above a few hundred yards between two winding rocky banks before we came full upon it. It appeared to throw itself in a narrow line from a lofty wall of rock; the water which shot manifestly to some distance from the rock seeming from the extreme height of the fall to be dispersed before it reached the bason, into a thin shower of snow that was toss'd about like snow blown from the roof of a house. We were disappointed in the cascade though the introductory and accompanying banks were a noble mixture of grandeur and beauty. We walked up to the fall and what would I not give if I could convey to you the images and feelings which were then communicated to me. After cautiously sounding our way over stones of all colours and sizes encased in the clearest ice formed by the spray of the waterfall, we found the rock which before had seemed a perpendicular wall extending itself over us like the cieling of a huge cave; from the summit of which the water shot directly over our heads into a bason and among fragments of rock wrinkled over with masses of ice, white as snow, or rather as D says like congealed froth. The water fell at least ten yards from us and we stood directly behind it, the excavation not so deep in the rock as to impress any feeling of darkness, but lofty and magnificent, and in connection with the adjoining banks excluding as much of the sky as could well be spared from a scene so exquisitely beautiful. The spot where we stood was as dry as the chamber in which I am now sitting, and the incumbent rock of which the groundwork was limestone veined and dappled with colours which melted into each other in every possible variety. On the summit of the cave were three festoons or rather wrinkles in the rock which ran parallel to each other like the folds of a curtain when it is drawn up; each of them was hung with icicles of various length, and nearly in the middle of the festoons in the deepest valley made by their waving line the stream shot from between the rows of icicles in irregular fits of stregnth and with a body of water that momently varied. Sometimes it threw itself into the bason in one continued curve, sometimes it was interrupted almost midway in its fall and, being blown towards us, part of the water fell at no great distance from our feet like the heaviest thunder shower. In such a situation you have at every moment a feeling of the presence of the sky. Above the highest point of the waterfall large fleecy clouds drove over our heads and the sky appeared of a blue more than usually brilliant. The rocks on each side which, joining with the sides of the cave, formed the vista of the brook werechecquered with three diminutive waterfalls or rather veins of water each of which was a miniature of all that summer and winter can produce of a delicate beauty. The rock in the centre of these falls where the water was most abundant, deep blak, the adjoining parts yellow white purple violet and dovecolour'd; or covered with water plants of the most vivied green, and hung with streams and fountains of ice and icicles that in some places seemed to conceal the verdure of the plants and the variegated colours of the rocks and in some places to render their hues more splendid. I cannot express to you the enchanted effect produced by thisArabian scene of colour as the wind blew aside the great waterfall behind which we stood and hid and reveald each of these faery cataracts in irregular succession or displayed them with various gradations of distinctness, as the intervening spray was thickened or dispersed.

In the luxury of our imaginations we could not help feeding on the pleasure which in the heat of a july noon this cavern would spread through a frame exquisitely sensible. That huge rock of ivy on the right, the bank winding round on the left with all its living foliage, and the breeze stealing up the valley and bedewing the cavern with the faintest imaginable spray. And then the murmur of the water, the quiet, the seclusions, and a long summer day to dream in.

Have I not tired you? With difficulty we tore ourselves away, and on returning to the cottage we found we had been absent an hour. Twas a short one to us, we were in high spirits, and off we drove, and will you believe me when I tell you that we walked the next ten miles, by the watch over a high mountain road, thanks to the wind that drove behind us and the good road, in two hours and a quarter, a marvellous feat of which D will long tell.

Well! we rested in a tempting inn, close by Garsdale chapel, a lowly house of prayer in a charming little valley, here we stopp'd a quarter of an hour and then off to Sedbergh, 7 miles further, in an hour and thirty five minutes, the wind was still at our backs and the road delightful. I must hurry on, next morning we walked to Kendal, 11 miles, a terrible up and down road, in 3 hours, and after buying and ordering furniture, the next day by half past four we reached Grasmere in a post chaise. So ends my long story. God bless you, WW

Take no pains to contradict the story that the L.B. are entirely yours.Such a rumour is the best thing that can befall them. Poor Cottle! of this enough.

addressed to Mr Coleridge, No 21 Buckingham Street, Strand, London.



Poems written in youth
Lines left on a Seat in a Yew Tree  
  Descriptive Sketches
An Evening Walk 

Poems on the naming of places
Joanna's Rock  

Poems of the Fancy
   The Linnet

Poems of the Imagination
  Lines written above Tintern Abbey
   Night Piece

Miscellaneous Sonnets
   Upon Westminster Bridge
It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free  
   Composed in the Valley near Dover
The Poet's Work  

Poems dedicated to National Independence and Liberty
On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic  

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