A Blupete Biography Page

A Literary Collaboration, Part 4 to the Life & Works of
William Wordsworth

As the year 1794 passed, Wordsworth was to be with his family, and, I should think with his mother's family, the Cooksons at Penrith. (See map.) It was at Penrith, as the year closed, that he came to find himself nursing a dying friend who had been at Cambridge with him, Raisley Calvert. In January, 1795, Calvert died and left an inheritance to Wordsworth, an inheritance which enabled Wordsworth to set out on his life's career which otherwise would not have been possible.19 He determined, too, at this point, that in life's journey his sister Dorothy was to be his fellow traveler.

It was during the years, 1794-5, that a very close relationship was to spring up between William Wordsworth and his sister, a relationship unique in the literary world, one that continued until Wordsworth's death, in 1850. For many long hours, at this point, in 1794, William (then 24) and Dorothy (then 22) were to discuss what it was that William was to do with his life. What was clear to Wordsworth was that, "All professions are attended with great inconveniences."20 With the Calvert legacy Wordsworth was able to put off his decision as to what he should do to make a living. The decision that William and Dorothy made, now that they could afford to do so, was to live together in a secluded country cottage. As it happened, a friend offered them just such a place, Racedown Lodge, near the Dorset coast. In September of 1795 the Wordsworths took up their residence at Racedown. There William Wordsworth turned to what was to be his life long activity: the writing of poetry.

One of the most famous literary collaborations, ever, was that of Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. When these two first met is a question21 which likely cannot be answered; by 1797, we are able to see that Coleridge was paying a visit to the Wordsworths at Racedown. Upon meeting Coleridge, the Wordsworths were electrified. We are not to be surprised by this, as Coleridge charmed everyone, at least at first. Henry Crabb Robinson was to write in his diary, "On politics, metaphysics and poetry, more especially on the Regency, Kant, and Shakespeare he was astonishingly eloquent." Concerning this first meeting, Dorothy was to get a letter off to her friend Mary Hutchinson. The first thing, as Dorothy was to explain was William's reading of his new poem The Ruined Cottage, with which Coleridge was much delighted, and, "after tea he [Coleridge] repeated to us two acts and a half of his tragedy Osorio. The next morning William read his tragedy The Borderers."22

The Wordsworths were enthralled with Coleridge; and so he with them. There were, during the spring of 1797, two or three visits back and forth.23 Coleridge was then living at Nether Stowey, a Somerset village, under the patronage of the local tanner and literary enthusiast, Tom Poole (1765-1837). Coleridge returned from one his trips to the Wordsworths on June 28th. There, at Nether Stowey, he was to tell his friends, with much enthusiasm, about the Wordsworths; such, that he returned travelling the fifty mile distance to Racedown and reappeared back to Nether Stowey on July 2nd with the Wordsworths in tow. Now, as it happened, Charles Lamb was to come up from London to pay his old school chum, Coleridge a visit. So, within days of the Wordsworths' arrival at Nether Stowey in came Charles Lamb and his sister. Thus there was to be quite a crowd in the little cottage occupied by the Coleridge family (Coleridge, Sara and their one year old Hartly), the Wordsworths, Charles Lamb and his sister. They were all somehow fitted in to the small Coleridge cottage at Nether Stowey. There was to be some relief when the Lambs returned to London, as they had intended to do. The Wordsworths seemed to have little reason to return to Racedown and were quite happy to continue on at Nether Stowey. What the Wordsworths wanted were new accommodations, somewhere near the Coleridges at Nether Stowey. Through the good offices of Tom Poole24, benefactor and friend to this growing clutch of literary luminaries, a large home was to be rented. It was located nearby at Holford Glen, a Queen Anne mansion which was known as Alfoxden. The Wordsworths, who likely still had a sizable portion of the Calvert legacy left, signed a one year lease for the sum of £23 and during July of 1797, the Wordsworths moved to Alfoxden: As Dorothy Wordsworth was to describe, "a large mansion with furniture enough for a dozen families like ours."

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Peter Landry

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2011