Virtual Topography: Poets, Painters, Publishers and the Reproduction of the Landscape in the Early Nineteenth Century
Nottingham Trent University
In this article I develop the work of a number of critics—Gillen Darcy Wood, Sophie Thomas, Peter Simonsen, Julia S. Carlson—who have recently begun to revise our understanding of the relationship of literary Romanticism, and in particular that of Wordsworth and Southey, to visual culture. I show first that new means of mechanical reproduction—the woodcut, the aquatint—combined with technological changes in book production, stimulated a new print genre known as Views—an ancestor of the coffee-table book and often a spin-off wherein the public could see engravings of the scenes their favourite landscape poets described. Pictures sold poets, and, for the first time in history, popular writers were marketed to a mass readership able—and avid—to buy images as well as words. Wordsworth and Southey were not popular writers and were not at first marketed as illustrated poets. And they at first disapproved of the visual turn of their culture. This disapproval, I show, was never consistent or total and in fact they strove to take advantage of the vogue for the visual, collaborating with artists to publish volumes of Views in which their writing was combined with engravings of landscape. And these collaborations, I argue, were greatly influential upon them, causing them to alter the form and style of their writing as well as the publication formats in which it appeared. Wordsworth and Southey, in their late work, became writers of a moralised picturesque—of words that deferred to pictured views and tourist sights—and that sought to derive truths about human nature, life and society from them. Departing from their earlier suspicion of the visual, and of Views, they became practitioners, in conjunction with artists, of a virtual topography. Their continued marketing, in the 21st century, as part of the visual packaging of the Lake District in picture-book, DVD, and website is therefore not as contrary to what they stood for as it first might seem, shallow though it often is.
In July 1818 the artist William Westall (1781-1850) published an engraving of Gordale Scar in Yorkshire. Westall’s picture is firmly in the tradition of landscape art which watercolourists like J. M. W. Turner, Thomas Girtin and John Sell Cotman had pioneered on their numerous travels around Britain’s hills and coasts. A well-known beauty spot is painted from a low position, so the cliffs seem heightened; the air is full of cloud and mist, so the gorge seems mysterious; there are violent contrasts of light and shade, so the rocks appear threatening. The picture becomes sublime, a romantic evocation of nature’s awe-inspiring majesty. It is a fine example of the aquatint process that allowed engravers to render shading effects—cliffs and clouds—with a new subtlety. This process had been brought to Britain as recently as 1775 and was tricky: few engravers had mastered its potential to make their prints display the effects of light as delicately as the watercolours that they reproduced. William Westall, however, took the aquatint to new heights: in his hands it became independent of the painted original, a supple medium, whether in black and white or colour, for rendering the evanescences of nature. Here, it makes Gordale a place of menacing shadow and darkness.
Gordale Scar, from William Westall, Views of the Caves near Ingleton in Yorkshire (London, 1818).
Westall’s engraving was not the only representation of the Scar to appear that year. A few months later Blackwood’s Magazine published a sonnet entitled “Gordale”:
AT early dawn, or when the warmer air
Glimmers with fading light, and Shadowy Eve
Is busiest to confer and to bereave,
At either moment let thy feet repair
To Gordale chasm, terrific as the lair
Where the young Lions couch; for then by leave
Of the propitious hour, thou may'st perceive
The local Deity, with oozy hair
And mineral crown, beside his jagged urn,
Recumbent!—Him thou may’st behold who hides
His lineaments from day, yet there presides,
Teaching the docile Waters how to turn;
Or if need be, impediment to spurn,
And force their passage tow’rd the salt sea tides.
This sonnet is a response not to the place directly, but to Westall’s picture of the place—a picture, moreover, published with others in book—a reproduction. The poet was William Wordsworth, and he had been looking at a copy of Westall’s 1818 publication—Views of the Caves near Ingleton in Yorkshire. His response, as I shall detail later in this essay, was to intuit, in the shadows and glooms that Westall caught on paper, the spiritual powers that animate nature. Westall so concentrated Wordsworth’s vision on the spot that he felt able to find the god in the stone, or see into the life of things.
In writing not from nature directly, and not even from an original picture but from a mechanical print, Wordsworth was responding to a significant cultural development with which we are still living but that was new in his time—the development of media of mass reproduction, circulating images on an unprecedented scale. Westall’s Views was one of a new breed of picture books that rendered nature in romantic fashion, creating what I shall call a virtual topography, a visual representation of the wild British landscape that changed aesthetic tastes, galvanised the publishing market and popularised a new cultural practice—tourism (see Carlson 2010). Not only that: picture books like Westall’s also changed the way that Romantic poets published and even altered what they wrote. Wordsworth’s Gordale sonnet, an Ovidian poem in which he conjures up local spectres inhabiting the gorge in response to the brooding menace of Westall’s picture, was not a solitary example. After 1818 Wordsworth and his fellow Lake poet Southey turned again and again to writing virtual topography—set piece descriptions of views that were either based on pictures, meant to accompany pictures, or framed like pictures. They became guides for tourists, offering verbal pictures of landscapes worth consuming as sights. This was a turn away from the earlier anti-picturesque aesthetic that, as many critics have noted, they practised in earlier years. Yet it was, at the same time, a deepening of the picturesque, an attempt to make pictures yield insights into human nature formed by and forming the place pictured. There were, I shall show, social and economic as well as aesthetic reasons for this moral turn.
In arguing thus, I seek to develop the work of a number of critics who have recently begun to revise our understanding of the relationship of literary Romanticism, and in particular that of Wordsworth, to visual culture. Gillen Darcy Wood demonstrated Wordsworth’s disapproval, in Prelude Book VII and elsewhere, of a vulgarising turn from text to image that was epitomised by the advertisement sign and the illustrated magazine. Sophie Thomas and Peter Manning however, showed that this disapproval was never consistent or total: Wordsworth was fascinated by the new means of pictorial reproduction and was prepared to associate his writing with them, so long as he could achieve thereby a complex and considered response to the world, rather than a cheapened one of instant appropriation—a mere view that posed no moral questions of the viewer. Thus, as Julia S. Carlson has shown, he presented his poetry in illustrated guidebooks and, as Peter Simonsen has revealed, both published poems about pictures and attended to the visual layout of his publications. Southey and Coleridge followed a not dissimilar course: for all the so-called Lake poets, the opportunities for picturing landscape offered by the new media, and the popularity and sales achieved by illustrated books, were powerful stimuli to embrace a new kind of publication and a new kind of writing.
Before I examine the poets’ development of a moralised picturesque, a virtual topography, it is necessary to outline some of the changes in print culture that made it possible—in particular, the development of what we today call coffee-table books. Such books, before the late eighteenth century, were rare and expensive, published in small numbers for antiquarian gentlemen with an amateur interest in the natural history, monuments and historical remains of their locality. They were rarely to be found in middle-class homes, which lacked visual images—few original oils or watercolours, no colour pictures—perhaps a few line engravings, probably by Hogarth. Poorly illuminated, these homes were, as the poet Cowper recorded, gloomy in winter, although from 1780 Argand lamps brought more brilliance than candles could achieve (Cowper, IV: 267-70). It was no wonder then that there was a demand for portable images—prints and illustrations—which could be taken off gloomy shelves and inspected in the pools of lamplight. Charlotte Brontë would pore over engravings so minutely “with her eyes close to the paper, looking so long that we used to ask what she saw in it” (quoted Uglow 317). Jane Eyre likewise stared fascinated: “each picture told a story; mysterious often to my yet undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting: as interesting as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated on winter evenings” (quoted Uglow 319). The common people were still more deprived: their hunger for images is recorded by James Gillray, whose print Very Slippy Weather depicts a motley crowd gathered outside a print shop to drink in the latest hand-coloured caricatures.
Very Slippy Weather, James Gillray (London, 1808).
By 1850 the situation was very different: there were illustrated magazines, literary annuals marketed on their beautiful pictures, books of landscape views, all affordable by the bourgeoisie and selling by the tens of thousands. Several technological developments had enabled the public to satisfy their desire for pictures. The price of paper, which in the early 1800s made up half to two thirds the cost of a book, had fallen because of the industrialisation of textile manufacture: cloth was cheaper and more widespread and therefore so were the old rags from which paper was made until, in the 1860s, wood pulp paper became available, further lowering the price. In the 1810s the stereotype and the Fourdrinier continuous papermaking machine mechanised printing, making large print runs possible and further reducing production costs per publication (see Erickson). And then there was a major development in the reproduction of images: from the 1820s it became possible to engrave images on steel plates, rather than the traditional copper ones. Far harder, steel held the lines of the burin much longer: thousands of pulls of an engraving could now be made instead of hundreds. In consequence, heavily-illustrated literary annuals, anthologies which Southey called “picture books for grown children,” could be purchased cheaply (Southey 1849-50, V: 339). They became the fashion: in 1829 The Keepsake, featuring snippets of verse that were now subservient to the illustrations, sold over 20000 copies. Wordsworth’s collections of poetry, by contrast, were selling by the hundred.
With the technological changes came changes in art as painters and publishers tried to win sales by feeding the tastes of the middle classes, which they helped to shape. The “reading public” (a new concept in the early nineteenth century) was increasingly urban and suburban but still connected to the countryside: thousands of city-dwellers had grown up in the country, still had relatives there and sent their children there. They craved reminders of the landscape and culture they had left behind or could visit—not the classical sites of Italy that only aristocrats could afford to tour, but the hill landscapes of Wales, Scotland and the Lake District which the middle classes had time and money to reach. Illustrated books changed to meet this new market: Views, once produced in small expensive editions for antiquarians and connoisseurs, appeared in greater numbers at cheaper prices, and depicted romantic landscapes more frequently than historical monuments. They virtually connected a new public, in their confined urban and suburban lives, with the topography they saw on their annual holidays. In so doing, they popularised domestic tourism and helped change attitudes to landscape: increasingly, it could be consumed as a series of two-dimensional pictures. A place, and the social habitus that made the place what it was, was reduced to scenery—to views to look at from a distance by passing tourists who travelled in search of scenes they saw in books.
There were two specific developments in the reproduction of images that gave rise to books of Views. Both of these developments began in the 1770s: one was the revival of the woodcut; the other was the introduction of the aquatint. I look first at the woodcut.
It was Thomas Bewick of Newcastle (1753-1828) who made the old, crude, medium of woodcut print a new, delicate and subtle form of art, first in illustrations to Gay’s Fables, then in his famous natural history collections A General History of Quadrupeds (1790) and AHistory of British Birds (1797-1804). Bewick was able to find a market for his prints among a new class of purchasers: if botany and natural history had formerly been the provinces of wealthy gentlemen who could afford expensive coloured copper-plate engravings, his cheaper woodblock prints were affordable by the middle classes, who now had sufficient education and leisure to take a scientific interest in the rural world. Bewick’s works gained from, and in turn advanced, a nascent visual culture in which the world’s flora and fauna were translated into virtual form and systematically classified into timeless order, but also lovingly depicted so that they became objects of beauty. And Bewick’s genius was to make the tiny woodblocks yield an intricate and nuanced view not just of a single object, but of a whole rural scene. Bewick’s scenes, moreover, were not just attractive spectacles, or picturesque landscapes, for they not only rendered a view with great fidelity but also included human narratives: they brought the rural society to life, so that a book on birds was at the same time a collection of realistic vignettes of countryfolk’s activities. It was vignettes such as A Boy and a Nest and Saving the Toll that Charlotte Brontë and Jane Eyre were admiring; Bewick became so popular—not least among female readers such as Bronte—that natural history became a fashionable occupation for women, and ornithology the popular hobby that it remains to this day.
A Boy and a Nest, from Thomas Bewick, History of British Birds, 2 vols (London, 1804), II, 173.
Saving the Toll, from Thomas Bewick, History of British Birds, II, 31.
By 1800 Bewick and his studio of apprentices were the artists of choice for booksellers looking to promote their new stock by adding the latest style of illustration to it—their woodcuts were a marketing attraction and, because they did not require the purchase of expensive copper sheets, they were not too expensive to commission. One of these booksellers was the innovative Thomas Hood who employed the Bewick studio to illustrate a new poem that offered description after description of the rural world—The Farmer’s Boy (1800), by Robert Bloomfield.
Bloomfield’s poem was a smash hit. Between 1800 and 1803 it sold more than 26000 copies. The first, second and third editions of Lyrical Ballads, by contrast, sold a combined total of fewer than 2000, while Wordsworth’s Poems of 1807 sold 770 copies in eight years (see St Clair). At least part of the reason for The Farmer’s Boy’s success was its illustrations, which Lyrical Ballads conspicuously lacked. And once Bloomfield became popular, Hood promoted new editions by including new illustrations (by the eighth edition of 1805 the poem included eighteen, only six of which were in the first edition)—so that the publication became pictorially lavish (see Graver). Among them were the frontispiece to the second edition, designed by Bewick’s apprentice Charlton Nesbit, and an illustration of pigs scaring ducks by William Marshall Craig. The pictures and the poem worked well together because The Farmer’s Boy was not a linear narrative, but a series of set-piece scenes in the seasonal round, each one an individual rural activity that could be represented by a generic image that everyone could decode at once, as in the illustration of Bloomfield’s description of ploughing.
Frontispiece to 2nd and subsequent editions of The Farmer's Boy (London, 1800). Woodcut by Charlton Nesbit from a design by John Thurston.
Pigs scaring ducks, by William Marshall Craig, woodcut illustration to the 8th edn. of The Farmer's Boy (London, 1805).
Ploughing, by John Anderson, headpiece to “Spring,” The Farmer's Boy, 1st edn. (London, 1800).
The popularity of Bloomfield’s illustrated poem helped created a sales opportunity. Hood commissioned an experienced editor of illustrated series for antiquarians, and several engravers, to produce a spin-off, titled Views in Suffolk, Norfolk and Northamptonshire, Illustrative of the Works of Robt. Bloomfield (1806). The same company also produced Views of the landscapes of the two other best-selling poets of the time—Burns and Cowper. These were commercial ventures, and relatively cheap: in the case of Bloomfield, Hood organised the hiring and firing of artists and engravers, and produced the book rapidly to cash in on Bloomfield’s fame. The images chosen illustrated descriptions from the poems—and the text of the descriptions appeared opposite the images, as in the illustrations Danish Mounds and Euston Hall. It was a new marketing concept—a stand-alone volume of images and excerpts that was also a companion to the illustrated editions of The Farmer’s Boy that readers already owned. It could be browsed over the tea table or consulted in the armchair alongside the poem itself, to give a virtual experience, from the urban drawing room, of pastoral retirement in the country. It was not, however, particularly thought-provoking: the images were picturesque landscapes—farms and mansions framed by trees—but showed nothing of the poem’s descriptions of the pains and pleasures of rural labour, or of the farmworkers’ social customs.
The Danish Mounds, Thetford, by J. Grieg, from Views in Suffolk, Norfolk and Northamptonshire, Illustrative of the Works of Robt. Bloomfield; Accompanied with Descriptions: to which is Annexed a Memoir of the Poet's Life by E. W. Brayley (London, 1806).
Euston Hall, by J. Grieg, from Views in Suffolk, Norfolk and Northamptonshire, Illustrative of the Works of Robt. Bloomfield.
Other publishers and poets took note of the popularity of illustrated editions: the publisher Edward Moxon borrowed £7000 from the wealthy poet Samuel Rogers to commission the best watercolourists—including Turner—to make designs for a heavily pictorial edition of Rogers’s Italy (1822-28). The book was a composite production, bought as much for the illustrations as the verse. Byron’s poems of travel appeared in the same way. Both sold in the thousands, the verse and images mutually assisting buyers to take exotic virtual tours of the Mediterranean and the Levant.
With sales opportunities beckoning for publishers, engravers found themselves in heavy demand, and new techniques of reproduction that could render landscapes with fidelity were developed. As well as the woodcut, the aquatint met this need. The aquatint was introduced to Britain by Paul Sandby (1731-1809). It allowed him to reproduce for the first time the tonal effects of watercolours. Now engraving was no longer just a matter of lines and dots: gradual variations of shade could be produced, making the medium very good at indicating effects of light and cloud—as in Chepstow Castle in Monmouthshire of the XII Views in South Wales, the coffee-table book Sandby published in 1775 after a sketching tour made with the natural historian, antiquarian and patron of art Sir Joseph Banks. Sandby’s new medium was sought after: aquatints of places of beauty or historical interest became fashionable, turning the eyes of book buyers to the British landscape and promoting the new picturesque aesthetic, where one looked for painterly compositions in nature itself. Gilpin’s picturesque tour of the river Wye, for instance, was published, in its later editions, with aquatints. By the start of the nineteenth century the process was being employed to picture the Lake District too, making that region the epitome of picturesque and romantic scenery before most of the public had ever read a word of Wordsworth, Southey or Coleridge. They are famous now as the Lake poets: in their own day the thousands of tourists who visited were more likely to buy books of Lakeland engravings than of verse. Knowing this, the poets wanted both to improve the sales of their work by associating it with pictures and to make tourists take a deeper view of the country than pictures, by themselves, allowed. They wanted to exploit the fashion for the visual, but also to reassert the significance of the verbal to it.
Chepstow Castle in Monmouthshire, from Paul Sandby, XII Views in South Wales (London, 1775).
The first of these Lakeland books appeared in 1787—twenty engravings by Joseph Farington of Views of the Lakes &c in Cumberland and Westmorland, each accompanied by a prose description of the illustrated scene. Others followed, as did watercolours by artists including Turner, Girtin, and John Glover—whose successful sale of nine Lakeland scenes at the Watercolour Society in 1806 heralded the region’s popularity as a subject. Understandably, the Lake poets eyed these publications with interest and campaigned to have their own volumes illustrated and so gain the boost in sales that Bloomfield and Rogers received. But they were not profitable enough for a publisher to commission watercolourists and engravers on their behalf: Wordsworth, Southey and Coleridge were slow sellers. So they adopted a more do-it-yourself approach, developing links to artists themselves. And this, in turn, led them to publish in new formats and to adapt the way they wrote. They began to publish their nature writing alongside pictures of the landscape, issuing books of views and text combined, jointly-authored with artist friends. They also started describing set-piece scenes as depicted by artists—ekphrastic or sightseeing writing (see Simonsen). Sometimes the pictures responded to existing writing; often the writing responded to existing pictures. Either way, the result was virtual topography that a tourist could consult on the spot or read over when at home to bring the famous scene back into mind, and, crucially, to enter a more involved and critical relationship with the place and the human nature visible in that place than pictures by themselves allowed. A revised and moralised picturesque.
First of all Wordsworth allied himself with local amateur artist Joseph Wilkinson (1764-1831)—providing prose descriptions of the Lake country for Wilkinson’s Select Views in Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire (1810). However, he soon thought that engravings such as Part of Skiddaw, from Applethwaite Gill were so clumsy that he was relieved his contribution to the joint book was anonymous. With no second edition in prospect, he would use that contribution again later as the basis for his own Topographical Description of the Country of the Lakes (1820)—a case of descriptive prose written to accompany pictures becoming decoupled from those pictures, but nevertheless revised and extended through numerous editions (in 1835 it was renamed AGuide through the District of the Lakes). It is in these later, unillustrated, forms that critics have tended to consider the Guide, noting that Wordsworth took his role of introducing visitors to the Lakes more and more seriously, but omitting that it was to benefit from the popularity of Views that he turned to this genre of writing at all. And in fact there is considerable evidence that he was inspired by Wilkinson’s pictures, not all of which were crude, to produce what was at that point in his career, his most coherent, complete and carefully thought-out account of the Lake country as a place to see, visit and inhabit. It is notable, for example, that Wordsworth ties his descriptions to Wilkinson’s depictions, moving from viewed place to viewed place as a guide, rather than, as in The Prelude, through the spots of time that arose in the course of his personal experience. Writing for the pictures, he became a more sectionalised and systematic writer about his home landscape as a place to view, but was also provoked to think about what a viewer should discover and understand beyond pretty scenery. Textualising the visual—providing the letter-press for a picture book—led him both to serve and to deepen the discourse of tourism so that picturesque views might disclose a way of life to which he, a local, could introduce the visitor. For example, discussing the valleys and chapels that Wilkinson pictured in, for example, Langdale Chapel,Vale of Langdale, Wordsworth wrote
Thus has been given a faithful description, the minuteness of which the Reader will pardon, of the face of this country as it was and had been through centuries till within the last forty years. Towards the head of these Dales was found a perfect Republic of Shepherds and Agriculturalists, among whom the plough of each man was confined to the maintenance of his own family, or to the occasional accommodation of his neighbour. Two or three cows furnished each family with milk and cheese. The Chapel was the only edifice that presided over these dwellings, the supreme head of this pure Commonwealth; the members of which existed in the midst of a powerful empire, like an ideal society or an organized community whose constitution had been imposed and regulated by the mountains which protected it. Neither Knight nor Squire nor high-born Nobleman was here; but many of these humble sons of the hills had a consciousness that the land, which they walked over and tilled, had for more than five hundred years been possessed by men of their name and blood—and venerable was the transition when a curious traveller, descending from the heart of the mountains, had come to some ancient manorial residence in the more open part of the vales, which, with the rights attached to its proprietor, connected the almost visionary mountain Republic which he had been contemplating with the substantial frame of society as existing in the laws and constitution of a mighty empire.
Here Wordsworth’s text proceeds from a response to Wilkinson’s picture towards a forceful endorsement of the human society of the dales. The reader is invited not merely to spectate but to travel through the pictured valleys with Wordsworth his guide, so as to experience a way of life formed by and forming the land. Strongly marked by his 1790s republicanism, Wordsworth’s description proceeds from view, to landscape, to place, to human relationships, and is implicitly political, owing its understanding of the relationship between landscape and land use, and moral virtues and social harmony, to the seventeenth-century republican thinker Harrington. The word “visionary” is crucial: it suggests that what Wordsworth sees, and would have the reader of his text see, in Wilkinson’s views, is a matter of the insight that only a view guided by local lived experience can generate. Thus Select Views, making Wordsworth a commentator on the region and its inhabitants image by image, valley by valley, leads him to redefine the genre: no mere picture book, the combination of prose and engraving leads to a social and political vision as uncompromising as (and more explicitly republican than) anything he had ever published.
Part of Skiddaw, from Applethwaite Gill, from Joseph Wilkinson, Select Views in Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire (London, 1810).
Langdale Chapel, Vale of Langdale, from Joseph Wilkinson, Select Views in Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire.
Wilkinson left the Lake District in 1810; thereafter Wordsworth was cultivated by a more significant local artist. William Green (1760-1823) sold watercolours and prints from his shop in Ambleside; he also published a detailed guidebook. Like Wordsworth, Green believed in getting close to nature in a plain, unaffected, style: he claimed of his drawings that “all were entirely finished while the subject was before him, for he conceives that studies are lessened in value by being retouched in the house.” In 1821 Wordsworth let Green publish a view of his home Rydal Mount: both the artist and the poet hoped to benefit—Green by association with a poet now gaining national respect; Wordsworth by the extra publicity Green’s print brought. Green published many collections of Views, bringing Gilpin’s picturesque aesthetic and Sandby’s aquatint technique to the Lakes. His crowning achievement as an engraver was A Series of Sixty beautifully coloured plates of the Lakes of Lancashire, Cumberland & Westmorland, a volume of aquatints using two or three colour washes, costing five guineas. This large scale work was expensive, but individual prints could be bought from Green’s shop. Here I reproduce Grasmere.
Grasmere, from William Green, Lake Scenery (Ambleside, 1815).
Wordsworth liked Green’s work because it furthered his own aesthetic— Green did not just make conventional picturesque views, but drew cottages, sheds, crags, rocks, stones, and trees, rendering the local plainly in intense detail. Wordsworth bought Green’s drawings, subscribed to his publications and wrote his epitaph, praising his “skill and industry as an artist”; he also praised Green in his Guide to the Lakes. By promoting Green, and by letting Green sell views of Rydal Mount, Wordsworth was attempting to create the taste by which he, and the Lakes, could be enjoyed. Tourists would appreciate the landscape and culture properly—and buy his poems—because they had been educated to see into the life of things by artists such as Green. Green, that is to say, offered a virtual experience of which Wordsworth approved because it did not lend itself to shallow and easy consumption: if one accessed the Lakes from a distance through Green’s reproductions, one found oneself confronted by its particular materiality, seen to be the work of a specific combination of human labour and natural forces.
It was with William Westall that the Lake poets collaborated most closely—and it was he who most powerfully stimulated them to define a corrective to the touristic discourses that they saw as being consumerist and commodifying. Westall, like Sandby before him, was a protégé of Sir Joseph Banks, the wealthy patron and botanist who had circumnavigated the globe with Captain Cook and who subsequently became the most powerful man of science in Europe. Banks used his great wealth to promote the pictorial representation of the world’s natural history, as part of a post-enlightenment attempt to bring within the grasp of science the flora and fauna of the remotest regions, in the form of virtual data that could be fed into the classificatory system of Linnaeus. He employed artists to travel with him and record the regions he visited—not just the plants and animals, but the landscapes and monuments—and he commissioned engravings, so that the original drawings and watercolours became available to connoisseurs and scientists. Reproductive technology advanced to meet this new attempt to access and control the world from a distance: Sandby had developed the aquatint process to illustrate his tour of Wales with Banks, who continued, after his own travelling days were over, to sponsor and staff new expeditions. In 1800 Westall voyaged to Britain’s remotest and newest colony, Australia, under Banks’s patronage, where he drew plants and landscapes, and made the first detailed sketches of aboriginal people. He then travelled in China—then almost unknown to Britons—and India, bringing back visual records of each country and its culture. After returning to Britain he worked his sketches into oil paintings; they were also the source of engravings published in the voyage narrative A Voyage to Terra Australis (1814), and again in Views of Australian Scenery (1814). By his mid-thirties Westall was an experienced contributor to the new visual culture that grew in tandem with the development of technologies for accessing and classifying nature in both local and distant parts of the world, a development that fed, and was in turn fed by, colonialism. So rapidly had this culture spread, indeed, that Westall was but one of many travelling painters and engravers: he struggled for income and reputation in a London in which artists and illustrators abounded.
From 1816 Westall began to spend part of every year in the Lakes, sketching the hills and valleys, and becoming a member of Wordsworth’s circle. It was on one of these northern sojourns that he visited the limestone scenery of Yorkshire, exploring the gorges, pavements and caves that Wordsworth had toured with his sister Dorothy in 1800. Turning his sketches into aquatint engravings, Westall published the work with which I began this article, Views of the Caves (1818). As well as Gordale Scar, Westall depicted Malham Cove, an enormous inland basin featuring a massive tiered cliff, from the bottom of which a subterranean river issues. This strange arena, and the nearby caves, were well-known tourist sites, and Westall hoped to take advantage of their fame by selling the work to lovers of romantic landscape as well as to natural historians interested in the unusual geology of the place.
Malham Cove, from William Westall, Views of the Caves near Ingleton in Yorkshire (London, 1818).
Wordsworth saw Westall’s Views soon after publication and was sufficiently impressed to write three sonnets in response to them. As well as the poem on Gordale Scar I have already discussed, he wrote one on Malham Cove:
WAS the aim frustrated by force or guile,
When Giants scoop’d from out the rocky ground,
Tier under tier this semicirque profound.
Giants—the same who built in Erin's Isle
That Causeway with incomparable toil!
Oh! had the Crescent stretched its horns, wound
With finished sweep, into a perfect round,
No mightier Work had gained the plausive smile
Of all-beholding Phoebus! but, alas!
Vain earth! false world! Foundations must be laid
In Heaven; for, ’mid the wreck of IS and WAS,
Things Incomplete and purposes betrayed,
Make sadder transits o’er Truth’s mystic glass
Than noblest objects utterly decayed.
It’s notable that the poem is impersonal: Wordsworth does not revert to his own experience of the place or speak in the first person. He is not present in the scene because he is looking at its artistic representation—hence the emphasis on the tiered cliff, which Westall’s low point of view makes into a looming presence in the engraving. Indeed, Wordsworth alludes to the fact he is writing about a picture, taking his terminology from the visual aids that picturesque artists used to arrange perspective and colour. “Truth’s mystic glass” (changed in later editions to “thought’s optic glass”) treats the poet’s knowledge as a matter of trained vision, as if the observing narrator, looking through Westall’s painterly eyes, is seeing the true meaning of the scene in a crystal ball or a magic Claude glass—an optical aid to insight as well as to sight. As in the Gordale sonnet, however, Wordsworth does not replicate the picture in words but uses it as a point of departure—animating the static View by introducing a temporal dimension. The cove, he thinks, is the remains of an excavation made by the giants (who rebelled against the immortals in Greek myth). The sublime scene, however strongly Westall renders its solidity, is turned into a trace of time. The picture makes Wordsworth speculate on cause and effect, creation and decay, past and present: powerful though the cove is, its incompleteness is what he most notices. Indeed, this incompleteness makes its very profundity pathetic: for all its size it reminds the viewer of the vanity of earthly wishes and futility of mortal efforts, be they ever so gigantic. Wordsworth draws a moral conclusion: the cove is the wreck of unfounded ambition; only that which is founded upon heaven can be soundly completed, and even that, though “nobler,” decays.
Wordsworth responds to Westall’s depiction of an underground river in the remaining sonnet of the three, and there also his impulse is to put the picture into temporal motion, so that, above and below ground, the landscape discloses dynamic forces which link the natural and the spiritual:
PURE Element of Waters! Wheresoe’er
Thou dost forsake thy subterranean haunts,
Green herbs, bright flowers, and berry-bearing plants,
Start into life and in thy train appear:
And, through the sunny portion of the year,
Swift insects shine thy hovering pursuivants:
And, if thy bounty fail, the forest pants;
And Hart and Hind and Hunter with his spear,
Languish and droop together! Nor unfelt
In Man's perturbed soul thy sway benign;
And haply far within the marble belt
Of central earth, where tortured spirits pine
For grace and goodness lost, thy murmurs melt
Their anguish, and they blend sweet songs with thine!
Here Wordsworth is the Romantic Ecologist, portraying the utter (inter)dependence of man, animal, and plant upon the water cycle, which comprehends, as well as the earth’s surface, its centre (where some geologists thought there existed vast waters). Westall’s yawning chasm takes him on an imaginative journey into Dantean circles of hell, where he envisages even the damned souls being soothed by nature’s lifegiving water: the earth is a spiritual as well as material ecosystem, a “one life within us and abroad.”
Waterfall in Weathercote Cave, from Westall, Views of the Caves near Ingleton in Yorkshire.
Taken together, the three sonnets reveal that Wordsworth’s picturesque was a deeply moral one, concerned with central questions about heaven and earth, matter and spirit, a picturesque in which the static illustration of the beauty spot serves to freezeframe nature’s forces in action, giving the poet pause—allowing him to stand aside from the petty concerns that occupy our everyday consciousness. From the frozen moment created by the artist, he gains an opportunity to scrutinise what comes before and after the image and to intuit the invisible powers that have created the visible scene. This is a response to the “optic glass” of the artist that is far more searching than the discussions of aesthetic effect made by Gilpin, Price and Payne Knight: it makes a tourist sight the occasion for a profound and metaphysical apprehension of the world. It ensures that the poet’s words prevent the artist’s images being used merely for the consumption of landscape as a commodity: together visual and verbal force the reader to think, both about what has made the scene he views and about what is at stake in the process of viewing.
Westall realised that his engravings had spawned some significant new poems, and was quick to pass manuscripts of the sonnets, unbeknownst to their author, to Blackwood’s Magazine, where they were published in 1819. Wordsworth was annoyed at this breach of trust, but it was appropriate that the Views and the poems were announced together, for he could not have written as he did if he had not been deeply impressed by Westall’s pictures. And as it turned out, the publication was an augury of what was to come, since, sparked by what the Views had allowed him to achieve, Wordsworth went on to write more verse in the same vein—impersonally voiced responses to tourist sights that were familiar to readers from watercolours and prints. In 1820 Wordsworth’s next collection—the first to win him critical praise and good sales—was topographical. The sonnets on the river Duddon were sightseeing poems, each referring to a specific place along a Lakeland river that could be visited on foot. They were published in one volume along with a new version of the old prose he had written for Wilkinson’s Select Views (Wordsworth 1820). Wordsworth was now framing his poetry collections as verse tours—poetic kindred of prose guidebooks that offered verbal illustrations of beauty spots. Wordsworth, however, had the ulterior motive of making readers ponder the secret history—both natural and human—that he discovered in the familiar spots. Future collections included tour sequences about visiting the river Yarrow and the Isle of Man and set-piece descriptions of popular tourist sights in Scotland, all of which led to moral reflections. Wordsworth had become a poet who saw the traces of the human past in a present-day place, leading him to ponder what that place meant now, as if to view landscape was to be a visionary archaeologist who, in deciphering the past, revealed the present’s debt to it. Unlike his friend Walter Scott, who constructed historical narratives around the castles and abbeys he visited, Wordsworth favoured personal reflection upon well-known places of aesthetic or historical interest—stone circles, Fingal’s cave, a covenanter’s hideout. He was now a tourist poet, moralising a single view seen on a brief visits, as much as one who responded to places that were continuously significant in his own and his friends’ lives as in Lyrical Ballads and The Prelude. The trigger for this change was Westall.
By 1820 Westall had been forgiven his unauthorised publication of the Yorkshire sonnets. He made more visits to Rydal Mount, and obtained the poet’s approval for further works that placed their respective arts alongside each other. In 1831 he wrote to tell Wordsworth “I am just going to begin the plate of Rydal, I shall send a proof, for you to get me the names of the Mountains.”Rydal from Mr Wordsworth’sField under Rydal Mount (ca. 1832) was one of series of panoramic views Westall executed for the art publisher Ackermann between 1831 and 1839. Views of the Lake Scenery of Cumberland and Westmorland followed in 1840 and included engravings entitled Rydal Mount the Residence of Willm Wordsworth and Room at Rydal Mount—an interior apparently showing the poet and his wife, about the publication of which Wordsworth had some qualms, as it opened his private life to viewers. And if Westall was trading on the growing fame that made Wordsworth himself a sight for tourists to see, he also published prints designed to be bound up with the copies of the Collected Poems. Views of the Lake Country to Illustrate the Poems of W. Wordsworth, Esq. Drawn from Nature, And Engraved By W. Westall. A.R.A. was to be published in six parts by Wordsworth’s publisher Edward Moxon. Offering views of Grasmere, Lodore and Dungeon Ghyll, it was cheap at only three shillings—an affordable way to make the poet’s loco-descriptive verse a composite visual and verbal experience. Wordsworth welcomed the scheme and after Westall’s death, which prevented its full realisation, declared that Westall’s “Delineations of this Country must always be valued by those who visit it and wish to carry away faithful Portraitures of its beautiful scenery.”
William Westall, Rydal from Mr Wordsworth’sField under Rydal Mount (London, ca. 1832).
Rydal Mount the Residence of Willm Wordsworth, from William Westall, Views of the Lake Scenery of Cumberland and Westmorland (London, 1840).
Room at Rydal Mount, from William Westall, Views of the Lake Scenery of Cumberland and Westmorland.
If Westall prompted a change in direction in Wordsworth’s poetry, he had a similar effect on Southey’s prose. Long an admirer of landscape engravings (he commissioned his bookplate from Bewick’s studio), Southey became Westall’s Lakeland host and adviser: it was he who first suggested that Westall might make a series of views in illustration of Wordsworth’s poems. Before this, he had collaborated with Westall on a collection of prints, introduced by Southey, entitled Views of the Lake and of the Vale of Keswick (1820). This sumptuous publication demonstrated an unprecedented mastery of the colour aquatint. Wordsworth’s sister-in-law Sara Hutchinson noted that “the view of Derwent Water in twilight is above praise. . . I could not have believed that an engraving could have given the quiet and solemn feeling inspired by such a scene.” She also admired the View of Keswick from Barrow Common, noting that “Westall tells me [it] has gained him great credit among the Artists for its execution.” Westall’s control of the aquatint medium gave the illusion of presence as never before in a reproduction—and, Hutchinson continued, the prints were “so cheap”: the new methods of reproduction ensured that even a woman of very modest means could now virtually possess a favourite sight in a way formerly only possible to rich collectors who could afford original paintings. Not only the tourists, but the poet themselves were impressed and influenced—they began to frame the landscape through the Views that all so avidly consumed. Thus Southey’s introduction responded to the pictures, as Wordsworth’s text accompanying Wilkinson’s Select Views also had: it was a mini guidebook designed to provide the local knowledge that the pictures could not reveal, and it showed Southey as an expert on the aesthetics, natural history and geography of the area, making the Lakes a place of singularity—a special place to be visited and learnt from—rather than just beautiful scenery to be enjoyed and consumed. In effect, Southey topographised his own work: the Poet Laureate who sold so few copies of his poems supplemented the artist, adding to the visual representation. Here is Southey as tourist guide and guide to Westall’s Views:
The stream at Barrow is inferior to Lowdore, its course being scarcely more than a mile in length: but it forms a fine cascade immediately behind Barrow Hall. A brook of nearly the same size enters the Lake about half a mile from Barrow; and the tourist who will trace it upward to the place where it falls from Walla Crag, will find beauties enough in its recesses, as well as in the distant prospect, to repay him for the fatigue and difficulty of the steep ascent.
Here, like Wordsworth, Southey is not content with the picturesque and attempts to stop the picture book to which he is contributing pandaring to a commodified visual consumption. Beauty is specific and located, not just viewable as a distant prospect (whether from the tourist’s standpoint in the landscape, or via the artist’s image). It is to be found close at hand, as well as seen from afar, in the nooks and crannies of a brook that can be ascended only with effort, on foot. Southey would take the reader through the picture frame into an active, mobile, hands-on exploration of the crag. A rough scramble up a rocky stream breaches the alienated relationship of viewer and scene. Beauty is not just seen in the prospect that Westall reproduces, then, but also discovered by an engagement with the place that is mobile, and physical and mental at once—here Southey defines the terms of what critics now term Romantic pedestrianism. Paradoxically, though, it is only when collaborating on a book of picturesque views that Southey is pushed into the definition: for both poets the popular Views were appealing but also threatening; they felt pressured by their potent allure to work out an aesthetic in which the visual and the virtual were only the start of a more subjective and active exploration in which the distance between viewer and viewed was overcome.
Bookplate, by Thomas Bewick’s studio.
Keswick Lake from the East Side, from William Westall, Views of the Lake and of the Vale of Keswick (London, 1820).
Keswick Lake from Barrow Common, from Westall, Views of the Lake and of the Vale of Keswick.
Keswick Lake from Saddleback, from Westall, Views of the Lake and of the Vale of Keswick.
In 1829 Southey took his collaboration with Westall further, publishing under his own name a book in which Westall illustrated his detailed evocations of walks and prospects among the Lakes. Sir Thomas More; or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society developed the Romantic pedestrianism of the earlier Views of the Lake, but it also did more than this. It made the verbal and visual representation of the Lake District, and of the way of life practised there by Southey’s family, emblematic of the organic, uncommodified and anti-capitalist society for which the book formally argued. Thus the Colloquies feature earnest discussions between Southey and his alter ego, the ghost of Thomas More, about the state of England then and now, and about what kind of society it is right and Christian to advocate. But each of these discussions occurs when More’s ghost appears in the Lakeland landscape, haunting Southey on his walks among the hills and crags—and these walks, often taken with his children, are related in intimate, affectionate detail. The result is a moralised version of sightseeing and the picturesque: the familial affection and moral health of the walkers epitomises the advantages of a society based on local attachment to the “little platoon” of relatives and neighbours, a Burkean society in which the nation is an extended family.
One of the walks described is that mentioned in Views, the scramble up Walla Crag, overlooking Derwentwater. Now, however, Southey is more informal and colloquial, revealing his private life as he recreates a happy family outing:
a holyday having been voted by acclamation, an ordinary walk would not satisfy the children: . . it must be a scramble among the mountains, and I must accompany them; . . it would do me good, they knew it would; . . . they knew I did not take sufficient exercise, for they had heard me sometimes say so. One was for Skiddaw Dod, another for Causey Pike, a third proposed Watenlath; and I, who perhaps would more willingly have sate at home, was yet in a mood to suffer violence, and making a sort of compromise between their exuberant activity and my own inclination for the chair and the fireside, fixed upon Walla Crag. Never was any determination of sovereign authority more willingly received: it united all suffrages: Oh yes! yes! Walla Crag! was the unanimous reply. Away they went to put on coats and clogs, and presently were ready each with her little basket to carry out the luncheon, and bring home such treasures of mosses and lichens as they were sure to find. Off we set; and when I beheld their happiness, and thought how many enjoyments they would have been deprived of, if their lot had fallen in a great city, I blest God who had enabled me to fulfil my heart's desire and live in a country such as Cumberland.
The walk on which we had agreed has just that degree of difficulty and enterprize wherein children delight and may safely be indulged. I lived many years at Keswick before I explored it; but it has since been a favourite excursion with all my guests and resident friends who have been active and robust enough to accomplish the ascent. You leave the Borrodale road about a mile and half from the town, a little before it opens upon the terrace, and, crossing a wall by some stepping stones, go up the wood, having a brook, or what in the language of the country is called a beck, on the right hand. An artist might not long since have found some beautiful studies upon this beck, in its short course through the wood, where its craggy sides were embowered with old trees, the trunks of which, as well as their mossy branches, bent over the water: I scarcely know any place more delightful than this was in a sultry day, for the fine composition of the scene, its refreshing shade and sound, and the sense of deep retirement;.. but the woodman has been there! A little higher up you cross a wall and the elbow of a large tree that covers it; you are then upon the side of the open fell, shelving down to the stream, which has worked for itself a narrow ravine below. After a steep ascent you reach one of those loose walls which are common in this country; it runs across the side of the hill, and is broken down in some places; the easier way, or rather the less difficult, is on the inner side, over loose and rugged stones, the wreck of the crags above. They are finely coloured with a yellow or ochrey lichen, which predominates there, to the exclusion of the lichen geographicus: its colour may best be compared to that of beaten or unburnished gold; it is richly blended with the white or silvery kind, and interspersed with the stone-fern or mountain-parsley, the most beautiful of all our wild plants, resembling the richest point lace in its fine filaments and exquisite indentations.
The wall ends at the ravine; just at its termination part of it has been thrown down by the sheep or by the boys, and the view is thus opened from a point which, to borrow a word from the Tourist's Vocabulary, is a remarkable station. The stream, which in every other part of its course has worn for itself a deep and narrow channel, flows here for a few yards over a level bed of rock, where in fine weather it might be crossed with ease, then falls immediately into the ravine. A small ash tree bends over the pavement, in such a manner that, if you wish to get into the bed of the stream, you must either stoop under the branches, or stride over them. Looking upward there, the sight is confined between the sides of the mountain, which on the left is steep and stony, and on the right precipitous, except that directly opposite there are some shelves, or rather steps- of herbage and a few birch, more resembling bushes than trees in their size and growth; these, and the mountain rill; broken, flashing, and whitening in its fall where it comes rapidly down, but taking in the level part of its course a colour of delightful green from the rock over which it runs, are the only objects. But on looking back, you behold a scene of the most striking and peculiar character. The water, the rocky pavement, the craggy sides, and the ash tree, form the foreground and the frame of this singular picture. You have then the steep descent, open on one side to the lake, and on the other with the wood, half way down and reaching to the shore; the lower part of Derwentwater below, with its islands; the vale of Keswick, with Skiddaw for its huge boundary and bulwark, to the North; and where Bassenthwaite stretches into the open country, a distance of water, hills, and remote horizon, in which Claude would have found all he desired, and more than even he could have represented, had he beheld it in the glory of a midsummer sunset.
This was to be our resting-place, for though the steepest ascent was immediately before us, the companions seated themselves on the fell side, upon some of the larger stones, and there in full enjoyment of air and sunshine opened their baskets and took their noon-day meal, a little before its due time, with appetites which, quickened by exercise, had outstript the hours. My place was on a bough of the ash tree at a little distance, the water flowing at my feet, and the fall just below me. Among all the sights and sounds of Nature there are none which affect me more pleasurably than these. I could sit for hours to watch the motion of a brook: and when I call to mind the happy summer and autumn which I passed at Cintra, in the morning of life and hope, the perpetual gurgling of its tanks and fountains occurs among the vivid recollections of that earthly Paradise as one of its charms.
In a perceptive article, Esther Wohlgemut has noted of this passage “Southey’s tour of the Lake District belongs to the home-grown genre of the picturesque tour, and Southey self-consciously appropriates its discourse for his own use, borrowing words from the ‘Tourist’s Vocabulary’ and viewing the Lake District with a picturesque eye … Southey’s description emphasizes representation. He introduces the scene as a ‘singular picture’ complete with foreground and frame. He evokes the authority of the ubiquitous Claude, assuring the reader that the scene more than meets such an artist’s aesthetic desires” (Wohlgemut, paragraphs 6-8).
Yet Southey’s purpose is not just to make aesthetic distinctions: he adapts the picturesque, in fact, so as to generate an argument about the beneficial effect of viewing beautiful countryside on the morals, as well as the taste, of the viewer. Like Wordsworth responding to Westall’s pictures of Gordale and Malham, Southey wants to educate readers, from his own experience, in the Higher Tourism, so as to save them, and the nation at large, from becoming alienated and commercialised consumers—mere sightseers: “Of the very many Tourists who are annually brought to this Land of Lakes by what have now become the migratory habits of the opulent classes,” he writes, “there is a great proportion of persons who are desirous of making the shortest possible tarriance in any place; whose object is to get through their undertaking with as little trouble as they can, and whose inquiries are mainly directed to find out what is not necessary for them to see; happy when they are comforted with the assurance, that it is by no means required of them to deviate from the regular track, and that that which cannot be seen easily, need not be seen at all” (Southey 1829-31, II: 59). In Wohlgemut’s words, these are “superficial tourists,” whom Southey judges to be “rootless, conspicuous, lazy, and perfunctory. . . Fuelled by the profits of industry, they rush through the Lake District consuming vistas and views like periodicals and paper money—both of which Southey also associates . . . with the commercial class and presents as ephemeral.” They contrast with the Wordsworthian tourists that Southey is trying to foster, visitors who “truly enjoy the opportunities which are thus afforded them, and have a genuine generous delight in beholding the grandeur and the lovelier scenes of a mountainous region” (Southey 1829-31, II: 59). Wohlgemut sums up:
Superficial tourists, he suggests, leave the Lake District as they came: unmoved and unchanged. Wordsworthian tourists, on the other hand, take from their travels not only the immediate benefit of improved physical health but also moral and spiritual sustenance for the days to come. The love of natural scenery that these tourists acquire in the Lake District, Southey explains, “is one of our most abiding as well as our present enjoyments, [. . .] a sentiment which seems at once to humble and exalt us, which from natural emotion leads us to devotional thoughts and religious aspirations, grows therefore with our growth, and strengthens when our strength is failing us” (Southey 1829-31, II: 60). In this formulation, the landscape of the Lake District operates as a panacea, protecting country-dweller and city-dweller alike from the moral and spiritual ills that Southey sees emanating out of the cities and manufacturing districts of post-Waterloo Britain. Set against the self-interested, superficial, and changeable landscape of commercial Britain, the picturesque landscape of the Lake District reflects old English values such as community, tradition, and slow change.
Wohlgemut paragraph 8
Wohlgemut’s excellent analysis neglects one crucial fact: that the Colloquies was a joint production, both verbal and visual, Southey’s and Westall’s. Its moralising revision of the picturesque, its effort to make participation in the Lake landscape a solution to social ills, its updated Burkeanism, were all dependent upon its capacity to expemplify what it advocated, and this exemplification occurred not just through the verbal accounts of Southey’s rambles, but also through Westall’s pictures, which brought the scenes described within readers’ virtual view. Thus in the above description of the Walla Crag expedition, the references to viewing stations and to Claude prepare the reader to find, over the page, Westall’s picture of the view from the crag, with Southey in the foreground as the ideal viewer. The reader now sees not just the view, as in the corresponding plate in Views of the Lake, but also the viewer viewing it: the point is thereby made that the process of viewing is as important as, if not more important than, the thing viewed. The reader is virtually participating in the healthy process of properly seeing the restorative landscape, a process that originates with the rambling Southeys and is repeated by the sketching Westall. Colloquies, that is to say, is self-referential: drawing attention to its own status as a visual aid as well as verbal record, it aims to use the new engraving and printing technologies to bring about, at a distance, that to which it testifies. Far more than a guidebook or journal, it is an embodiment of the viewing process that it describes and on whose purpose it meditates: the picturesque made virtual reality. Southey, of course, could not have written in this way had he not been collaborating with a visual artist who was a master of the new reproductive techniques: his social and aesthetic Romanticism—a response to picturesque theory and to Wordsworth’s poetry—is inflected by the new print culture that made visual/verbal publications popular.
Derwentwater, Bassenthwaite-Water, and Skiddaw from Walla Crag, drawn by William Westall, engraved by E. Goodall, from Robert Southey, Sir Thomas More; or,Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, 4 vols (London, 1829), I, facing page 122.
In charting the spread of visual/verbal publications from the limited readership of antiquarians and natural historians to the expanding bourgeois reading public, I am bringing to light a neglected aspect of Romantic-era print culture. Changing the way in which literature was produced and consumed, mass reproduction prints, and the cheap illustrated volumes in which they appeared—both made possible by technological advances—altered what, and how, the Romantic poets wrote. Bewick and Sandby, and the artists and publishers who developed their engraving technologies for the new market, gave literary culture a visual turn. Wordsworth and Southey, as the resident writers of one of the most pictured regions, found themselves contributing to this visual turn, partly to boost their sales by collaboration with artists, partly to correct what they saw as a culture of sightseeing that was shallow and commodified. And so they contributed to the genres of tourism—the picture book, the guidebook—only to redefine them so that the virtual reproduction of the landscape involved far more than its alienated consumption. Their words began with pictures, only to breach the static and distant framing that pictures imposed by restoring to the pictured places what pictures omitted—histories and stories. Thus they gave the picturesque a social and moral dimension, even as their responses to pictures self-referentially put the process of viewing and picturing into question. The beautiful engravings of a Green or a Westall were thus, once combined with verbal descriptions, prompts to a process of reflection upon the self in relation to the place depicted—a process that both Wordsworth and Southey later continued in works not directly tied to art. For both men, this process led in the direction of a Romantic ecology the social dimension of which was organicist and conservative: what is first viewed as a scene must then be more deeply apprehended as a specific place shaped by the activities and experiences, over time, of those who dwell in it and are themselves shaped by it.
Nearly two hundred years on, our culture is more visual and virtual than ever before: the developments that began in the Romantic era have continued apace. The Lake District, a National Park, is still more the object of tourist visits and virtual reproduction than it was then. But it is now an over-determined site—the nature of its representation inflected by what its famous writers did and said, or by what can be claimed in their names. Thus the tensions that Wordsworth and Southey negotiated are played out in institutionalised form: the National Trust, a club that originated in Wordsworth’s name and that is funded by tourists’ subscriptions, attempts to maintain not just the scenic appearance, but also the social habitus of the parts of the Lake District it owns. It perpetuates the conservative organicism of the Lake poets, conserving a way of life that shaped and is shaped by the landscape. And tourists pay to visit it and experience it, a traditional rural world shielded from commercial change in the wake of Wordsworth’s aesthetic and moral vision. At the same time the leisure market and the heritage industry promote, in Wordsworth’s name, a picturesque of view, prospect and spectacle—the pictures without the moral insight, packaged in the coffee-table books and DVDs of Wordsworth’s Lakeland. It would be easy to say that the poet who condemned “getting and spending” must be turning in his grave at this commercial exploitation of his reputation but it is probably truer to note that it is actually the heir of the Views of the Lake Country to Illustrate the Poems of W. Wordsworth which Westall produced with his approval. The Lake poets’ virtual topography, with all its moral and social vision, was a response to a commercial visual culture by which they were fascinated as well as disgusted, and in which they remained participants.
Wordsworth’s Lakeland, DVD cover
Tim Fulford is a professor at Nottingham Trent University. He has published many books and articles on Romanticism. Currently, he is editing the Collected Letters of Robert Southey and completing a monograph on the late Poetry of the early Romantics.
I am grateful to the following archives and individuals for permission to reproduce images in their possession: Bruce Graver, Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, Nottingham Trent University, the Wordsworth Trust.
For debates about the Romantic poets and the picturesque see Liu and Fulford 1996. See Wood for details of Wordsworth’s earlier opposition to the age’s new visual media; Thomas, however, demonstrates that this opposition was never consistent or total: Wordsworth was fascinated by the new means of pictorial reproduction so long as they did not replace, or cause a dumbing down of, the text.
The editor was Edward Brayley, enameller, antiquarian and joint editor, with John Britton, of the book series, The Beauties of England and Wales.
On guidebooks incorporating poetry as well as visual materials, see Carlson 2009.
Green’s Preface to his Tourist’s New Guide to the Lake District, quoted in Burkett and Sloss 21.
On these tour poems see Gill and see Garrett.
See Fulford 2009.
William Westall to William Wordsworth, 21 October 1831, quoted in Bicknell and Woof, 76.
William Wordsworth to Robert Westall, 6 March 1850, in Wordsworth 1988: 916.
Sara Hutchinson to John Monkhouse, 15 October 1820, Hutchinson 213.
Introduction to Westall 1820.
On this, see Jarvis and see Wallace.
To love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind,
Southey 1829-31: I, 120-22.
Bicknell, Peter and Woof, Robert. The Lake District Discovered 1810-1850. Grasmere: Wordsworth Trust, 1983.
Burkett, M.E. and Sloss, J. D. G. William Green of Ambleside. A Lake District Artist (1760-1823). Kendal: Abbott Hall, 1984.
Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France. Ed. J. C. D. Clark. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002.
Calé, Luisa. Fuseli's Milton Gallery. ‘Turning Readers into Spectators’. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006.
Carlson, Julia S. “Prose mesurée in the Lakes tour and guide: quoting and recalibrating English blank verse.” European Romantic Review 20.2 (2009): 227-36.
Carlson, Julia S. “Topographical Measures: Wordsworth’s and Crosthwaite’s Lines on the Lake District.” Romanticism16.1 (2010): 72-93.
Cowper, William. The Task. A Poem in Six Books (1785). Facs. Rpt. Ilkley and London: Scolar Press, 1973.
Erickson, Lee. The Economy of Literary Form: English Literature and the Industrialization of Publishing 1800-1850. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.
Fulford, Tim. Landscape, Liberty and Authority: Poetry, Criticism and Politics from Thomson to Wordsworth. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.
Graver, Bruce. “Illustrating The Farmer’s Boy.” In Simon White, John Goodridge, and Bridget Keegan. Eds. Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class and the Romantic Canon. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2006, 49-69.
Labbe, Jacqueline. Romantic Visualities: Landscape, Gender and Romanticism. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave, 1998.
Simonsen, Peter. Wordsworth and the Word-Preserving Arts: Typographic Inscription, Ekphrasis and Posterity in the Later Work. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave, 2007.
Southey, Robert. Sir Thomas More; or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society. 4 vols. London: John Murray, 1829-31.
Southey, Robert. The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey. Ed. C. C. Southey. 6 vols. London: Longman, 1849-50.
Thomas, Sophie. Romanticism and Visuality: Fragments, History, Spectacle. New York and Abingdon, 2008.
Wallace, Anne. Walking, Literature, and English Culture: The Origins and Uses of Peripatetic in the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993.
Westall, Richard J. http://www.westallart.blogspot.com/
Wohlgemut, Esther. “Southey, Macaulay and the Idea of a Picturesque History.” Romanticism on the Net 32-3 (November 2003): paragraphs 6-8.
Wood, Gillen D’Arcy. The Shock of the Real: Romanticism and Visual Culture 1760-1860. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001.
Wordsworth, W. “Three original Sonnets by W. Wordsworth, Esq.; suggested by Westall’s Views of the Caves in Yorkshire.” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 4.12 (1819): 471.
Wordsworth, W. The River Duddon, a Series of Sonnets: Vaudracour and Julia: and Other Poems. To which is Annexed, a Topographical Description of the Country of the Lakes, in the North of England. London, 1820.
Wordsworth, W. The Letters of Williamand Dorothy Wordsworth. Part IV: Later Years. Ed. Alan G. Hill. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988.
|Auteur :||Tim Fulford|
|Titre :||Virtual Topography: Poets, Painters, Publishers and the Reproduction of the Landscape in the Early Nineteenth Century|
|Revue :||Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, Numéro 57-58, février-mai 2010|
Copyright © Tim Fulford, 2011