A treasure trove of items belonging to William Wordsworth never seen publicly before has been given to us here Rydal Mount, the poet’s home near Ambleside.
The items include two portraits which had not been seen for generations and that have never appeared on public display.
There’s a framed portrait in oils of William Wordsworth by Sir Willam Boxall. This is the finished portrait, the study of which can be found in the National Portrait Gallery and is a dramatic image of Wordsworth emerging from a glowering landscape.
And there’s also a chalk and charcoal drawing by Samuel Crosthwaite, the last known portrait done of Wordsworth while he was still alive. This last portrait shows Wordsworth as a wild old poet at the end of his life rather than the more familiar image as a traditional pillar of Victorian society.
There’s a number of smaller paintings by Sir George Beaumont, which have been hung in the dining room at Rydal Mount, as well as an important image that inspired The White Doe of Rylstone. This joins another image that inspired The Thorn which was already on display.
For many devotees, perhaps the most startling new arrival is the Wordsworth family bible, featuring in beautiful copperplate writing the date of John and Anne Wordsworth’s wedding day, and the birth and christening dates of all their children, including William and Dorothy.
There’s Wordsworth’s own walking sticks, one with his crest in silver on it. And there’s a fascinating artist’s impression of the west elevation of a house which Wordsworth planned to build on what’s now known as Dora’s Field. A copy of the plans of this house had been hanging in the study at Rydal Mount, but the artist’s impression of the house brings this vision to life.
They will all eventually go on display at Rydal Mount during this year of celebration to mark 250 years since the poet’s birth. A number of events to mark the anniversary are planned in the Lake District and in London, where a wreath-laying service will be held in Westminster Abbey in Match.
The items have all been donated by the direct descendants of Wordsworth who were keen for them to return to their home and remain in the Wordsworth family.
The curator, Emily Heath, said: “This is a truly astonishing and historic collection which students of Wordsworth and lovers of his life and poetry will find fascinating. It is a very exciting moment indeed.”
The poet’s great great great great grandson Christopher Wordsworth Andrew said: “Although we were very sad when my great-uncle, Gordon Wordsworth, died, we are very happy that his grandchildren, and my cousins, Giles and Zara Wordsworth, have generously returned these items to Rydal Mount. This was one of the last great collections of paintings, memorabilia and books in my family and it could quickly have been dispersed and lost down further generations. Everything is now preserved for us and the public to view at Rydal Mount.”
- The two Beaumont paintings have immense literary significance. One, The White Doe, inspired Wordsworth to write a poem after a visit to Bolton Priory in 1807. It’s based on a legendary account concerning the local Norton family. Francis Norton, the youngest member of the house of Norton in the late 16th century, took a young milk-white doe from the moors near their home, and gave it to his sister, Emily. He later, together with his father and brothers, joined a Catholic rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I. The rebels were defeated and condemned to death but Francis alone was pardoned and he, returning to Norton Tower, was murdered. Emily, chancing upon the loyal tenants taking him for burial, sank down in despair. Out of the forest came a herd of deer and one of them stopped, laying its head upon Emily’s lap. It was the white doe, and it became Emily’s constant companion and comfort in her home in Rylstone, even following her down the valley to Bolton Priory to visit Francis’ grave. After Emily died, the doe faithfully continued to make the journey, lying upon the grassy mound under which Emily’s brother lay.
- The image of the white doe joins another picture of Beaumont’s of Peel Castle in a Storm which inspired Wordsworth’s poem The Thorn :
There is a Thorn—it looks so old,
In truth, you’d find it hard to say
How it could ever have been young,
It looks so old and grey.
Not higher than a two years’ child
It stands erect, this aged Thorn;
No leaves it has, no prickly points;
It is a mass of knotted joints,
A wretched thing forlorn.
It stands erect, and like a stone
With lichens is it overgrown.