Contributor: Jeff Cowton
Location: The Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage, Grasmere
Description: This is a copy of the 1822 edition of William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes in its original board covers, containing an account of an ascent of England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike. Five hundred copies of the Guide were printed, selling for 5/- (25p) each. This copy is of a size that could be carried on a tour. Wordsworth’s Guide was deeply influenced by his travels in Europe, in particular his experience in 1790, when he (then twenty years old) walked through France to the Alps with his friend Robert Jones. The history of this account of the ascent of Scafell Pike suggests in addition how Rousseau’s influential depictions of the Alps affected how the landscape of the Lakes was experienced.
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Contributor: Jean-Marie Fournier
Location: Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Description: Now an exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Sultan Tippoo’s « Man-Tiger organ » is simultaneously an automaton, a sculpture in the Gothic taste, a musical instrument, an instance of popular craftsmanship in the spirit of the Enlightenment, and an elaborate practical joke. The object enjoyed great popularity in its day, celebrated in penny broadsides, chapbooks and newspapers, so that its fame was well-established long before it reached England. When it did arrive in Britain in 1800, it was exhibited first in the Tower of London, and then in East India House, Leadenhall Street. There it was seen by both William Blake and John Keats.
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Contributor: Tim Fulford
Location: The Wye Valley/The Royal Institution
Description: In 1800 a man inspired by Wordsworth’s visionary poetry made a trip to Tintern Abbey. Based in Bristol, he was a friend of Coleridge and Southey and was in the midst of editing Lyrical Ballads for the press; he also wrote nature verse in his own right. He was employed, however, not as a poet but as a scientific enquirer, and on his excursion to the river Wye he was armed with an improved eudiometer—the best instrument for measuring the proportion of oxygen, the gas first isolated by Joseph Priestley, in the atmosphere. ‘The Eudiometer’, he wrote, ‘that I have lately used is a very simple & commodious one – It consists of a tube about 5 inches long containing 200 grains of water – The space between the 140 & 180 grains is graduated. – This tube is emptied of water in an atmosphere when you wish to know its composition & plunged into a solution of muriate or sulphate of iron impregnated with Nitrous gas.’(1) He was Humphry Davy…
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Contributor: Clare Brant
Location: Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, London
Description: ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’: the first line (and proper title) of Wordsworth’s poem about daffodils (pub.1807) has epitomised Romantic poetry for generations of English schoolchildren (and for some, created resistance to it.) What made clouds Romantic? Why did poets and artists across Europe follow William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and John Constable (1776-1837) in making them subjects of Romantic poems and paintings?
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Contributor: Robert Rix
Location: Library of Congress, Washington DC
Description: The poet and artist William Blake (1757-1827) printed his Illuminated Books, combining text and picture, from copper plates. The technique he used was unique and is still subject to debate. We know that he wrote directly on the copper with an acid-resistant liquid; he then proceeded to cover the plate in corrosive acid that etched away the uncovered areas of the plate, leaving text and design in relief, which was finally inked and placed in a rolling press. The exhibit shows how Blake painted text in mirror writing so that the plate, when pressed against the paper, prints in normal script. Legend has it that Blake was instructed in this peculiar printing technique in 1788, when his dead brother, Robert, appeared to him in a vision. However, Blake never gave any detailed account of how his etchings were made. The exhibit is the only surviving fragment on which Blake’s etching technique is visible. It has therefore been of great interest to critics who have tried to reconstruct how Blake made his Illuminated Books.
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Contributor: Nicola J. Watson
Location: The Princes Czartoryski Museum, Kraców, Poland.
Description: This chair is part of the original collections of the Princes Czartoryski Museum (as of December 2016 part of the Polish National Museum). It is clearly an eighteenth-century chair. It has lion claws for feet, metal snakes for arms and is ornamented idiosyncratically and expensively on the seat back with a golden lyre. Above this, an inscription in Latin reads ‘William Shakespeare’s Chair.’ At first glance, this seems entirely unlikely; however, the back of the chair conceals a surprise. Open up a hinged door and within, reverently entombed in this outer shell, you find the remains of a much older chair. This is what is left of one of ‘Shakespeare’s chairs’. The story of how it travelled from Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon to Kraców describes in little Shakespeare’s import in the Europe of the 1790s as an exemplar both of Enlightenment ideals and Romantic habits of mind.
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Contributor: Matthew Sangster
Location: British Library, London
Description: Richard Horwood’s vast PLAN of the Cities of LONDON and WESTMINSTER the Borough of SOUTHWARK, and PARTS adjoining Shewing every HOUSE, a project commenced in 1790 and finally completed in 1799, touches upon many suggestive contradictions between Romantic ideologues and the print culture of the period in which these were theorised. The Plan is deeply Romantic in terms of its reach and ambition: a house-by-house map of the largest city in Europe surveyed and engraved by one man over a period of nearly a decade. Horwood himself was keen to stress the novelty and grandeur of his endeavour: his prospectus described the Plan as an undertaking ‘ON A PRINCIPLE NEVER BEFORE ATTEMPTED’ and when writing to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce in an attempt to secure a premium for his work, he played up the physical and mental effort it had required:
The execution of it has cost me nine years severe labour and indefatigable perseverance; and these years formed the most valuable part of my life. I took every angle; measured almost every line; and after that, plotted and compared the whole work. The engraving, considering the immense mass of work, is, I flatter myself, well done.
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Contributor: Anna Mercer
Location: Fanny Brawne’s Room, Keats House, Hampstead
Description: This is the engagement ring given to Fanny Brawne by the poet John Keats in 1819, probably in sometime in the Autumn of that year. (1) The ring was probably made in the late eighteenth century, and the stone is almandine – a type of garnet – set in a gold openwork scrolled shouldered hoop. It was inexpensive, reflecting Keats’s financial problems, which created anxiety for the poet before his illness the following year. (2) The Historical and Descriptive Guide to Keats House Museum (1934) suggests the ring was worn by Fanny until her death in 1865. (3) It was left to Fanny’s daughter Margaret, who never married. She then left it to her niece Frances Ellis (née Brawne-Lindon) who gifted the ring to Keats House. In 1925, Keats’s old lodgings at Wentworth Place in Hampstead were made into a memorial to the poet and became Keats House Museum. The ring is one of 13 relics relating to Fanny Brawne.
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Contributor: Elizabeth McKellar
Location: London, Victoria and Albert Museum, British Galleries, Room 118; The Wolfson Gallery, case 3
Description: This dish, for serving meat or vegetables, held in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, forms part of the ‘Frog Service’, a huge 50-person dinner and dessert service. It was commissioned by Catherine the Great from Josiah Wedgwood in 1773 and reflects Catherine’s passion for English landscape aesthetics and gardening. It exemplifies one way that such Anglophone tastes travelled across Europe at this time.
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Contributor: Jeff Cowton
Location: The Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere
Description: In 1799, when they were both in their late twenties, William and Dorothy Wordsworth moved to make a new life together in Dove Cottage, Grasmere, UK. In May 1800, William left Grasmere for a short absence and Dorothy decided to write a journal for his ‘pleasure’ when he returned. So began a journal that she continued to write for the next thirty or so months. Four notebooks survive; a fifth, covering most of 1801, is now missing. Written largely within the Dove Cottage household, the journal contains Dorothy’s vivid observations of domestic life, her neighbourhood and the natural world, from the mundane to the extraordinary, from the sixth delivery of the coal, to the remarkable sight of reflections off the lake. As a result, as the UNESCO UK Memory of the World register entry puts it, ‘From the journal we can picture the scene of brother and sister walking, talking, reading and writing together. It is an intimate portrait of a life in a place which, to them, was an earthly paradise.’ It not only provides evidence for the nature of the relationship between brother and sister but for their creative working practices. The two pages shown here offer clues to two mysteries: the genesis of one of the most important of all Romantic poems, known popularly as ‘Daffodils’; and why Dorothy left off writing her Journal.
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