A Perfect Electrometer

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My Cambridge tutor was bubbling over with pleasure one morning in 1962 after reading Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal, the one she kept between 1800 and 1803 when living with her poet brother William at Dove Cottage in the Lake District. What he had been particularly taken with was something she wrote on 14 May 1802 when the two had been walking in the woods alongside Grasmere: ‘William teased himself with seeking an epithet for the Cuckow.’ I never forgot this slightly comical picture of the creative process, but it was almost thirty years before I came to read her journal myself when doing a book on Coleridge among the lakes and mountains.

I suspect my tutor had bought a copy of the Pelican paperback called Home at Grasmere which appeared in 1960, compiled by Colette Clark. She had had the clever idea of interleaving extracts from the journal with the Wordsworth poems most closely linked to them. In 1969 her father Kenneth Clark, in the eleventh chapter of Civilisation, ‘The Worship of Nature’, was to call Dorothy ‘this shy, unassuming woman . . . the saint and prophetess’ of the new religion of the Romantics. Just after he had met her for the first time, in June 1797, Coleridge wrote of her manners – ‘simple, ardent, impressive’ – of ‘her most innocent soul’ – of ‘her eye watchful in minutest observation of nature’ – of her taste, ‘a perfect electrometer’. He had seen at once the qualities that were soon to make her such a vital auxiliary in his and Wordsworth’s creative, collaborative uprush among the Quantock Hills in Somerset that led to the Lyrical Ballads, and then during the attempt to rekindle those hotbed days starting a year or more later and hundreds of miles to the north, among the Lakes. But what has been abundantly clear since her Grasmere journal was first published in 1897 is that it is itself priceless and incomparable, called by Robert Gittings, the Keats and Hardy expert an

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About the contributor

Roger Hudson last visited Dove Cottage in 2016 and left it moved, but glad not to have had to live there. The wood engravings in this article are by Reynolds Stone.

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