A masterpiece of English prose, William Wordsworth’s 1820 essay on ‘The Country of the Lakes’ surveys not only the physical beauties of the area he knew and loved but also its traditional way of life. Having first appeared anonymously in 1810, the text underwent many refinements before reaching its final form in the ever-popular Guide to the Lakes of 1835. Its language, however, is never that of a guidebook.
Wordsworth’s writing is imaginative, sublime and poetical while his vivid analytical descriptions, based on personal observation, are akin to those of an artist or scientist. He is, by turns, both lyrical and polemical as he writes about a district that he saw was already under threat, leading to his heartfelt wish that it should be deemed ‘a sort of national property’ for everyone with ‘an eye to percevie and a heart to enjoy’.
The present edition of the essay, marking the bicentenary of its appearance in 1820 in a volume of poems including the ‘Duddon Sonnets’, is accompanied by images selected from the paintings, prints and drawings in the Fine Art Collection held by the Wordsworth Trust. Created by artists both professional and amateur over two centuries, these works provide close visual parallels to Wordsworth’s verbal descriptions, reinforcing the acuity of his vision and the perennial relevance of his remarks.