After an incredibly long and frustrating time trying to get here, we finally made it to England on Wednesday morning about 24 hours later than originally scheduled! We were in good spirits and were incredibly happy to be out of airports – so much so that nobody minded the two hours it took to get to our hostel in Ambleside from Manchester (by train and by bus). The scenery along the way in the Lake District (pictured below: Grasmere, Cumbria) was stunningly beautiful and covered in sheep with their newborn lambs. Once we got to Ambleside, we all took a short breather to shower and decompress in our rooms, and then we were off to begin our first real adventure with the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere.
Unfortunately, because we were a full 24 hours behind, we weren’t able to do the same workshop that we were originally scheduled; fortunately, two of the Wordsworth Trust employees, Jeff and Alice, were very flexible and stayed late to give us a tour of Dove Cottage and look at books and manuscripts in their collections.
Dove Cottage was, in a word, charming. William Wordsworth, the revolutionary poet, had begun living there in 1799 with his sister Dorothy – by the time they moved out 8 years later, there were several other people who had joined them, including William’s wife Mary and three of their children. Despite going through more tenants after them, the cottage currently has much of their furniture; most significantly, there is a portrait of the family’s favorite dog, Pepper, and their original rocking chair. When the tour was done, Jeff and Alice gave us lemonade, gingerbread, and crisps (chips), and as we ate we discussed William and Dorothy’s writings. Some of us had the opportunity to sit in the Wordsworths’ rocking chair and read some of their work in the dark, the way it would have been written and read by the Wordsworth family itself (pictured below: Sydnie reading Dorothy’s journal for this date while Leif provides candlelight). I also got the chance to read William’s poem “We Are Seven,” and Dr. Clark read his sonnet “September 1st, 1802.” It became apparent to us that many of William’s poems, in particular, are a special embodiment of this community in Grasmere that they had lived in. The community as he and Dorothy knew it is remembered not only through the remaining cottage, furniture, and gardens (pictured below), but also through the simple and ordinary things they wrote about and reflected upon.
After this experience, we spent the remainder of our time looking at the collection of books and manuscripts in the Wordsworth Museum next door. There they have several incredible texts, including a notebook of William’s rough drafts (pictured below: that journal with our guide Jeff), ink and a quill gifted to a young woman by Queen Victoria, and a first-edition copy of William’s Lyrical Ballads. This particular copy of Lyrical Ballads was Jeff’s favorite part of the collection. This book changed the idea of what poetry ought to be about and kicked off the Romantic movement in Britain because Wordsworth began to write about ordinary things and his reflections upon them – this idea is hardly novel to us today, but at the time it was revolutionary. There were hundreds of other works there, and we had no time to explore anywhere near all of them; my favorite was a second edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost that was re-bound and written in by William Wordsworth himself (I was reduced to tears by it and have no shame admitting it), and Leif had great sentimental attachment to the first-edition, three-book version of Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Although we had begun our day as ten smelly travelers stuck in an airport, we had wrapped it up absolutely elated; if this was our first day in England, we certainly couldn’t wait for tomorrow.