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The Alfoxden Days, Part 5 to the Life & Works of
William Wordsworth

With the new year, 1798, the English were feeling glum. Napoleon had successfully invaded Italy, and Spain had joined sides with France. The Austrians, who had stood up to France, retired from the field. France was left without an enemy on the continent, and England without an ally. England, fearing an invasion, withdrew her ships from the Mediterranean, which was thus to become a "French Lake" from January 1797 to May 1798. These were dark times, and the average Englishmen could see French spies everywhere. The regular sort of person that lived around or at Nether Stowey were sure that they had some in their midst. It was that strange group at Alfoxden as headed up by the newcomers: they had to be spies! Soon there was to be a surreptitious, but close watch on the Wordsworths and those who came to visit. The mansion, apparently came with a few servants; one of them was a female by the name of Mogg who was very suspicious of the new tenants. They talked differently, and to Mogg, this Somerset servant, unfamiliar as she apparently was with the manner and speech of those from the north of England, concluded these tenants must be from France. And they certainly behaved like Papists; why, they cleaned their clothes on Sunday; and, they had the morals of the Continentals, viz., "the master of the house had no wife with him, but only a woman that he tried to pass off as his sister." The Wordsworths and their friends also had this habit of going about in the countryside with their friends, making observations and writing in notepads which each had ready at hand.25 Something very sinister was going on here, as, Mogg dutifully reported.26 Word was to get back to the authorities in London about this bunch at Alfoxden and the report was not taken lightly, as there was sent out from London a government agent by the name of Walsh, who, during these times was to keep a watch on these strange people, viz., Wordsworth, Coleridge and friends who were gathered there together at Nether Stowey.27 All of this did not much bother these Rousseauan romantics28; the "Alfoxden Circle" "passed the wonderful summer of 1797, with almost ceaseless laughter and high spirits, constant visits, talk and sociability, love and warm happiness, excitement and buoyancy."29

The "Alfoxden Circle" was to lose one of its more illustrious members for a time, as Coleridge, desperate for money to support himself and his family had determined to take up a position as a Unitarian minister. A position opened up for him at Shrewsbury, so, there he went to take up his ministry. Coleridge, however, was not to spend much time at Shrewsbury, as, not too long after he left Nether Stowey, a gift of money was to be made to him. The Wedgwoods, in their continuing effort to support the arts, gave a life annuity to Coleridge of £150 per year with no conditions. Such a gift however was not to keep Coleridge at Nether Stowey, as he longed to travel to Germany for further studies. Doubtlessly these plans were discussed with the Wordsworths and a determination was made; all three would travel together to Germany, once the one year lease30 of Alfoxden was up, viz., the end of June, 1798. It was during this time, it hardly needs to be mentioned, that the two poets collaborated on their work, Lyrical Ballads, the manifesto of English Romanticism.

Before leaving for Germany, Wordsworth and Coleridge saw to the final arrangements in respect to the publication of Lyrical Ballads. These arrangements required, for the most part, their attendance at Bristol where a Bristol bookseller, Joseph Cottle (1770-1853) was putting the book through the presses. (They did, during that summer, make a trip to Wales at which time Wordsworth wrote one of his most popular poems, "Tintern Abbey," written on July 13th, 1798.) By late August the party headed for London there to make their final preparations for their trip to Germany. On September 16th, Dorothy and William, together with Coleridge and a friend of theirs, John Chester, set sail for Germany from Yarmouth arriving at Hamburg on the 19th.31

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2011