Lake Poets

The Lake Poets were a group of English poets who all lived in the Lake District of England, United Kingdom, in the first half of the nineteenth century. As a group, they followed no single "school" of thought or literary practice then known. They were named, only to be uniformly disparaged, by the Edinburgh Review. They are considered part of the Romantic Movement.

The three main figures of what has become known as the Lakes School were William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey. They were associated with several other poets and writers, including Dorothy Wordsworth, Charles Lamb, Mary Lamb, Charles Lloyd, Hartley Coleridge, John Wilson, and Thomas De Quincey.

Origins and accuracy of the name

The "Lake Poet School" (or 'Bards of the Lake', or the 'Lake School') was initially a derogatory term ("the School of whining and hypochondriacal poets that haunt the Lakes", according to Francis Jeffrey as reported by Coleridge) [1] that was also a misnomer, as it was neither particularly born out of the Lake District, nor was it a cohesive school of poetry. The principal members of the 'group' were William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. Dorothy Wordsworth was an auxiliary member who was unpublished during her lifetime (her journals, letters, and poems were published posthumously), but she provided much of the inspiration for her brother William's work.[2]

There was a certain amount of additional irony involved in the 'School's' perception by readers, who were inspired, upon reading the poetry, to visit the area, thus helping to destroy, in the mind of Wordsworth at least, the very thing that made the Lakes special (although he himself ended up writing one of the best guides to the region). In addition, many of the first and second generation practitioners of Romantic poetry had a complex and not entirely easy relationship with the Lakes (apart from Wordsworth). "For the most part other Romantic poets either struggle with a Lake Poet identity or come to define themselves against what the Lakes seem to offer in poetic terms." [3]

Dove Cottage - - 70618
Dove Cottage (Town End, Grasmere) - home of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, 1799-1808; home of Thomas De Quincey, 1809-1820

The Lake poets

For Wordsworth, who settled at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, with his sister Dorothy after some years of wandering, the Lakes became bound up with his identity as a poet. Born and brought up on the fringes of the Lake District (at Cockermouth and Penrith), Wordsworth came back to the area in December 1799 and settled into a 'poetic retirement' within his 'native mountains.' Although Wordsworth did not 'discover' the Lake District, nor was he the one who popularised it the most, he "was destined to become one of the key attractions to the area, while his particular vision of his native landscape would have an enduring influence upon its future." [4] Not just a 'nature poet', his poetry "is about the organic relationship between human beings and the natural world...' [5] After a brief flirtation with the Picturesque in his Cambridge years, he came to see this aesthetic view of nature as being only one of many (although it is arguable that he "was under the sway of Picturesque theory", he frequently transcended it.) [6] His 'vision' of nature was one that did not distort it in order to make art.

Wordsworth's early radical political ideas led him to his second poetic innovation: the use of 'plain language' and having for his subject the 'common man', as represented by the Dales-folk, (rather than "kings and queens, lords and ladies or gods and goddesses" as was the case up to then).[5] His third innovation was to do with the inward-turning of his mind, producing a semi-autobiographical take on nature and imagination : his poem The Prelude, he wrote to Dorothy, was "the poem on the growth of my own mind."

Rydal Mount - - 959824
Rydal Mount - home to Wordsworth 1813-1850. Hundreds of visitors came here to see him over the years

Despite this reclusive side of his personality, Wordsworth was a strong believer in family and community, and he was much concerned with the effects on (especially poor) people's way of life of social change (for example, due to the enclosure movement) that were taking place. He disliked change that flew in the face of Nature: the planting of regimented lines of Larches; the coming of the railways; new building that did not chime with the vernacular; and the building of grand houses in the Lakes by the industrialists of Lancashire particularly upset him. In 1810 he published his Guide to the Lakes, tellingly subtitled "for the Use of Tourists and Residents" , and with a Section Three entitled "Changes, and Rules of Taste for Preventing their Bad Effects." [7] Nicholson argues that the Guide was the outcome of the loss of Wordsworth's poetic vision of nature and a turning outwards into hard facts in order to preserve his sanity after "years, perhaps, of disillusion, disappointment, of spiritual impotence..." [8] Another aspect of it was the link to the ideas of Uvedale Price, whom Wordsworth knew and who proposed a "conservative, historicising and non-interventionist aesthetic".[9] The Guide ran to five editions during Wordsworth's lifetime and proved to be very popular. Indeed, it has been said that "the architectural axioms of building and gardening in the Lake District for the next hundred years were established by the Guide".[9]

For other writers, the region's pull was more uncertain. Coleridge followed Wordsworth to the Lakes and moved into Greta Hall in 1800. Although identified by his contemporaries as a 'Lake Poet', Coleridge's response to the landscape was at variance with the vision of Wordsworth, leading Coleridge to identify the landscape's "Gothic elements"..."and in so doing seems to recognise a potential for psychological horror rather than solace." [10] Wordsworth's rejection of the poem Christabel, partly written at Greta Hall, for the Lyrical Ballads collection, added to Coleridge's depression over his personal life, his doubts about being able to write as he would have wished and his ill-health which was made worse by the Cumbrian climate. This led him to resort to the Kendal Black Drop, making matters desperate. Coleridge moved out of the area in 1804.

Greta Hall
Greta Hall, Keswick - home of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1800-1804; home to Robert Southey, 1803-1843

Robert Southey, it has been argued, although becoming identified as the central 'Lake Poet' (he lived at Greta Hall from 1803 to 1843), was mostly a prose writer and did not particularly subscribe to the Wordsworthian vision of the Lakes.[11] Southey, like Wordsworth, started out on the republican left, but, by the time the threat from Napoleon had dwindled, he had become the embodiment of a Tory extolling the virtues of nation and patriotism, and using the Lakes as a touchstone, and as "the symbol of the nation's covenant with God." [12]

Letitia Elizabeth Landon's sketch, Grasmere Lake, A Sketch by a Cockney, in Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book, 1834, is a spoof on the Lake Poets, whom she admired (especially Wordsworth) but regarded as outmoded. In her view the days of Romanticism were over.

Associated writers

The second generation of Romantic poets were drawn to the area by the Romantic vision of seclusion and by the perceived republican views of the older poets, but found a different reality when they arrived. Shelley lived for three months in 1811 at Keswick, having been drawn to the Lakes by reading the early, "liberty and equality" Southey, only to find that Southey's views had changed and that the Lakes had been despoiled by "the manufacturers."

Keats, in the Summer of 1818, had a similar response to that of Shelley, finding his hero's house full of fashionable people and Wordsworth himself away canvassing for the local Tory candidate. Keats moved on to Scotland which provided him with the inspiration he sought (and where, in particular, he felt the influence of Robert Burns).

Byron did not visit the Lakes, but he ridiculed the isolation and narrowness of mind of the older Lake Poets, as well as of their abandonment of radical politics.[13]

The hale and hearty John Wilson provided an alternative take on the role of Lake Poet. He lived near Windermere between 1808 and 1815 and knew the older Lake Poet trio well. His poetry (Isle of Palms) reveals a physical response to the Lakes scenery (he was an energetic walker and climber), and emphasises companionship and energy as against Wordsworthian quiet and solitude.[14]

Wilson knew both Harriet Martineau and Thomas De Quincey. Martineau settled in a house she had built near Ambleside in 1845. As befitted her sociology-based background, her views concentrated on the need for the Lakes to be connected more with the outside world (for example, she was in favour of improved sanitation and of the new railways being set up through the district, unlike her friend Wordsworth). Her guide to the Lakes (Complete guide to the Lakes, 1855) was a rather factual and clear-eyed description about what to find there and about the condition of the people.[15][16]

De Quincey moved into Dove Cottage in 1809 after having met his hero Wordsworth a couple of times before at Allan Bank, where the Wordsworths lived during 1808-1811, and then at Rydal Mount (Recollections of the Lake Poets, edited essays, 1834-1840). His worship of Wordsworth turned sour after De Quincey married a local girl and the Wordsworths refused to meet her. Instead, according to Nicholson, he turned more to the local dalesfolk and "he got to know the dalesmen as people, as persons, better than ever Wordsworth did." [17] He reversed the practice of the Picturesque - instead of using the imagination to transform (and distort) the real, external world, he used the external world of the Lakes to feed his dreams and imagination.[18]

Other writers

The beauty of the Lake District has also inspired many other writers over the years, beyond the core Lake Poets. These include their contemporaries Bryan Procter, Felicia Hemans, and Walter Scott, as well as the labouring-class and slightly later John Close, who catered particularly to the growing tourist trade. Other poets include James Payn, Margaret Cropper, and Norman Nicholson.

John Ruskin settled in the house Brantwood, overlooking Coniston Water, in 1871, aged 48, having visited the Lakes many times previously. Worn out in body and mind, he was looking for a restful escape, and it was this "weariness and despair that caught the sympathy of the Lake visitors. They, too, turned to the Lakes for comfort and rest," rather than for the "stimulus and excitement that had been the joy of the early travellers.".[19] Ruskin, although he wrote little about the area, ended up taking on the mantle of Wordsworth as the "new Sage of the Lakes, the Picturesque Figure, the Old Man of Coniston." [20] Nicholson saw him as the "Picturesque Figure" "for in him are combined its three main phases - the aesthetic, the scientific and the moral...".[19] His scientific approach to the rocks and water of the Lakes, Nicholson argues, was an attempt, not to understand his subject, but to teach people how to react to it in a "practical and moral" way.[21]


  1. ^ Coleridge (1983), p. 51.
  2. ^ Wilson, Frances (2009). A Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: a Life New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  3. ^ Bradshaw (2011), p. 79.
  4. ^ Thompson (2010), p. 59
  5. ^ a b Thompson (2010), p. 87.
  6. ^ Thompson (2010), p. 160.
  7. ^ Thompson (2010), p. 157
  8. ^ Nicholson (1995), p. 155
  9. ^ a b Victoria and Albert Museum (1984), p. 80.
  10. ^ Bradshaw (2011), p. 67.
  11. ^ Bradshaw (2011), pp. 68-69.
  12. ^ Bradshaw (2011), p. 69.
  13. ^ Bradshaw (2011), pp. 72-74
  14. ^ Bradshaw (2011), pp. 74-77
  15. ^ Thompson (2010), pp. 191-195
  16. ^ Nicholson (1995), pp. 171-176
  17. ^ Nicholson (1995), p. 131
  18. ^ Nicholson (1995), pp. 135-139
  19. ^ a b Nicholson (1995), p. 164.
  20. ^ Nicholson (1995), p. 162.
  21. ^ Nicholson (1995), pp. 165-170.


  • Bradshaw, Penny (2011). "Romantic poetic identity and the English Lake District". Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society. 3. 11: 65–80.
  • Coleridge, Samuel Taylor (1983). James Engell and W. Jackson Bate (ed.). Biographia literaria : or biographical sketches of my early life and opinions [reprint of 1817 edition]. The collected works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, v.7. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. cxxxvi, 409. ISBN 9780691018614.
  • De Quincey, Thomas. Recollections of the Lakes and the Lake Poets. Edited by David Wright; New York, Penguin, 1970.
  • Nicholson, Norman (1995). The Lakers : the adventures of the first tourists [reprint of 1955 ed. published by Robert Hale]. Milnthorpe: Cicerone Press. pp. 1–200. ISBN 1852841753.
  • Thompson, Ian (2010). The English Lakes : a history. London : New York: Bloomsbury. pp. [viii], [1]-343. ISBN 9780747598381.
  • Victoria and Albert Museum (1984). The discovery of the Lake District : a Northern Arcadia and its uses. [London]: V & A. pp. [1]-174. ISBN 0905209966.

Further reading

  • Lindop, Grevel (2015). A literary guide to the Lake District (3rd ed.). Ammanford: Sigma Leisure. pp. xii, 356. ISBN 9781910758120.
  • "William Wordsworth - The Lake Poets", 60 min VHS (1994) and DVD (2004), produced by Jule Gammond and directed by Stephen Gammond, contributors: Jonathan Wordsworth, Robert Woof, Pamela Woof, Molly Lefebure, Grevel Lindop and Ted Hughes.
1834 in poetry

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1835 in poetry

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1839 in poetry

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1840 in poetry

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1854 in poetry

— From "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred Lord Tennyson, first published this year

Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature (for instance, Irish or France).

1862 in poetry

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:

His truth is marching on.-- first stanza of Julia Ward Howe's Battle Hymn of the Republic conceived as both poem and lyrics to a popular tune and first published in February in The Atlantic Monthly

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Dora Wordsworth

Dorothy "Dora" Wordsworth (16 August 1804 – 9 July 1847) was the daughter of William Wordsworth (1770–1850). Her infancy inspired Wordsworth to write "Address to My Infant Daughter" in her honour. As an adult, she is further immortalised by him in the 1828 poem "The Triad", along with Edith Southey and Sara Coleridge, daughters of her father's fellow Lake Poets. In 1843, at the age of 39, Dora Wordsworth married Edward Quillinan against her father's wishes. Throughout her life, she formed intense romantic attachments to both genders, the most significant being her friendship with Maria Jane Jewsbury. Another close friend was Maria Kinnaird, adoptive daughter of Richard "Conversation" Sharp and the future wife of Thomas Drummond. Dora and Maria were friends from their teenage years and some of their correspondence has survived Described by her aunt and namesake Dorothy Wordsworth as "at times very beautiful", Dora was devoted to her father and a significant influence on his poetry. Their relationship was particularly close, with Coleridge's son Hartley describing how she "almost adored" him in an 1830 letter.

However, Dora also had literary abilities of her own, publishing a travel journal. Sara Coleridge complained after Dora's death that her father's demands on her "frustrated a real talent".Dora Wordsworth died of tuberculosis at her parents' home, and is buried in the graveyard of St Oswald's Church, Grasmere, Cumbria along with her parents and siblings, aunt Sarah Hutchinson and Hartley Coleridge, son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. After her death, her distraught father (who had already lost two of his children to illness), planted hundreds of daffodils in her memory in a field beside St. Mary's Church, Rydal. The site, Dora's Field, where daffodils are still cultivated today is now owned by the National Trust.

Edinburgh Review

The Edinburgh Review has been the title of four distinct intellectual and cultural magazines. The best known, longest-lasting, and most influential of the four was the third, which was published regularly from 1802 to 1929.

Evolution Festival

Evolution Festival was a music festival held annually across Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead, England from 2002 until 2013. The festival attracted tens of thousands of attendees every year and usually took place on the Quayside. Evolution Festival was briefly titled Orange Evolution due to a sponsorship deal with the mobile phone company Orange. It has been described as "the biggest festival Tyneside has ever staged".Headline performers at Evolution Festival during its run included Dizzee Rascal, The Wombats, Paolo Nutini and Maxïmo Park. Florence + The Machine, Amy Winehouse and Ellie Goulding all appeared at Evolution before the height of their fame.In 2014 Evolution Festival did not take place, and although the organisers claimed it was only a "pause" the event has not been held since. A smaller event featuring local bands, Evolution Emerging, continues to be held annually.

Grasmere (village)

Grasmere is a village and tourist destination in the centre of the English Lake District. It takes its name from the adjacent lake. It has associations with the Lake Poets, one of whom, William Wordsworth, lived in Grasmere for 14 years and called it as "the loveliest spot that man hath ever found." Before 1974, Grasmere lay in the former county of Westmorland. It is now part of the county of Cumbria. In 1961 the civil parish had a population of 1029.

Greta Hall

Greta Hall is a house in Keswick in the Lake District of England. It is best known as the home of the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey.

The house is late C18. Front 3 storeys, with quoins and plinth, centre flush-panelled double doors (Gothic top panels glazed with net tracery), Ionic doorcase with fluted 3/4 columns, frieze, cornice and dentilled pediment. 3 sash windows on each floor (2 to left and 1 to right on ground floor, other storeys symmetrical), all 12-paned, in stone architraves. Large segmental 2-storeyed bow on right hand return side, otherwise 3 storeys with a Venetian window. Left hand return side has a similar Venetian window and a half-bow. Interior has good carved oak fireplace dated 1684 in "Southey's parlour", flag floors and old ovens in kitchens, and main windows with fluted interior wood cases. Simple wood staircase.Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived there with his family from 24 July 1800 until 1803 and regularly visited William Wordsworth in Grasmere.

Robert Southey and his wife came to stay with Coleridge at Greta Hall in 1803 and lived there until his death in 1843. Coleridge left Greta Hall in 1804 leaving his family in the care of Southey.

Greta Hall was visited by a number of the Lake Poets and other literary figures including William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth, William Hazlitt, Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sir Walter Scott, Sir George Beaumont, Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb 1802, Thomas De Quincey and John Ruskin.

Sara Coleridge was born at Greta Hall.

Keswick, Cumbria

Keswick ( KEZ-ik) is an English market town and civil parish, historically in Cumberland, and since 1974 in the Borough of Allerdale in Cumbria. The town, in the Lake District National Park, just north of Derwentwater, and 4 miles (6.4 km) from Bassenthwaite, had a population of 4,821 at the time of the 2011 census.

There is considerable evidence of prehistoric occupation of the Keswick area, but the first recorded mention of the town dates from the 13th century, when Edward I of England granted a charter for Keswick's market, which has maintained a continuous 700-year existence. In Tudor times the town was an important mining area, and from the 18th century onwards it has increasingly been known as a holiday centre; tourism has been its principal industry for more than 150 years. Its features include the Moot Hall; a modern theatre, the Theatre by the Lake; one of Britain's oldest surviving cinemas, the Alhambra; and the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery in the town's largest open space, Fitz Park. Among the town's annual events is the Keswick Convention, an Evangelical gathering attracting visitors from many countries.

Keswick became widely known for its association with the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. Together with their fellow Lake Poet William Wordsworth, based at Grasmere, 12 miles (19 km) away, they made the scenic beauty of the area widely known to readers in Britain and beyond. In the late 19th century and into the 20th, Keswick was the focus of several important initiatives by the growing conservation movement, often led by Hardwicke Rawnsley, vicar of the nearby Crosthwaite parish and co-founder of the National Trust, which has built up extensive holdings in the area.

Lake District

The Lake District, also known as the Lakes or Lakeland, is a mountainous region in North West England. A popular holiday destination, it is famous for its lakes, forests and mountains (or fells), and its associations with William Wordsworth and other Lake Poets and also with Beatrix Potter and John Ruskin. The National Park was established in 1951 and covers an area of 2,362 square kilometres. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.The Lake District is located entirely within the county of Cumbria. All the land in England higher than 3,000 feet (914 m) above sea level lies within the National Park, including Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. It also contains the deepest and largest natural lakes in England, Wast Water and Windermere respectively.

Molly Lefebure

Molly Lefebure FRSL (6 October 1919 – 27 February 2013) was a British writer with an interest in the English Lake District and the Lake Poets.

Recollections of the Lake Poets

Recollections of the Lake Poets is a collection of biographical essays written by the English author Thomas De Quincey. In these essays, originally published in Tait's Edinburgh Magazine between 1834 and 1840, De Quincey provided some of the earliest, best informed, and most candid accounts of the Lake Poets, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey, and others in their circle. Together, the essays "form one of the most entertaining of Lakeland books."

Robert Southey

Robert Southey ( or ; 12 August 1774 – 21 March 1843) was an English poet of the Romantic school, one of the Lake Poets along with William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and England's Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 until his death in 1843. Although his fame has been eclipsed by that of Wordsworth and Coleridge, his verse still enjoys some popularity.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (; 21 October 1772 – 25 July 1834) was an English poet, literary critic, philosopher and theologian who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He also shared volumes and collaborated with Charles Lamb, Robert Southey, and Charles Lloyd. He wrote the poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, as well as the major prose work Biographia Literaria. His critical work, especially on William Shakespeare, was highly influential, and he helped introduce German idealist philosophy to English-speaking culture. Coleridge coined many familiar words and phrases, including suspension of disbelief. He had a major influence on Ralph Waldo Emerson and on American transcendentalism.

Throughout his adult life Coleridge had crippling bouts of anxiety and depression; it has been speculated that he had bipolar disorder, which had not been defined during his lifetime. He was physically unhealthy, which may have stemmed from a bout of rheumatic fever and other childhood illnesses. He was treated for these conditions with laudanum, which fostered a lifelong opium addiction.

Tait's Edinburgh Magazine

Tait's Edinburgh Magazine was a monthly periodical founded in 1832. It was an important venue for liberal political views, as well as contemporary cultural and literary developments, in early-to-mid-nineteenth century Britain.The magazine was founded by William Tait (1792–1864), the son of a builder and an inheritor of a large fortune. Tait was an "independent radical" in politics; he strongly favored the Whig party. 1832 was a time of great political ferment, with the first Reform Bill the dominant subject of discourse. Tait's periodical was intended as a "Radical riposte" to "the politically revanchist but culturally avant-garde Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine." Tait's welcomed many new and unknown writers like Robert Nicoll, as well as established voices like James Henry Leigh Hunt, and figures of future fame like Harriet Martineau and John Stuart Mill.

From 1833 on, Tait's Magazine was a regular venue for the essays of Thomas De Quincey. De Quincey's series of biographical essays on the Lake Poets (later collected as Recollections of the Lake Poets) were featured in Tait's between 1834 and 1840. Tait published a range of other selections by De Quincey, including, somewhat surprisingly, "A Tory's Account of Toryism, Whiggism and Radicalism" (December 1835, January 1836). That article, however, was supplied with many sarcastic footnotes disagreeing with its points — "objecting foot-notes from the pen, presumably, of Tait himself."In 1834 Tait's Magazine was combined with Johnstone's Edinburgh Magazine, a liberal periodical started two years earlier by husband and wife John Johnstone and Christian Isobel Johnstone. She was an early feminist who wrote extensively for Tait's in the following years, becoming the magazine's "chief contributor and director" under William Tait himself. Christian Johnstone was "the first woman to serve as paid editor of a major Victorian periodical," to which she brought "fresh life and popularity." In the same year Alexander Bailey Richmond took the magazine's London agents to court, for reviewing a work calling Richmond a government spy: the defence was successful.Christian Johnstone died in 1857; Tait's Magazine ceased publication in 1861.

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850) was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their joint publication Lyrical Ballads (1798).

Wordsworth's magnum opus is generally considered to be The Prelude, a semi-autobiographical poem of his early years that he revised and expanded a number of times. It was posthumously titled and published by his wife in the year of his death, before which it was generally known as "the poem to Coleridge". Wordsworth was Britain's poet laureate from 1843 until his death from pleurisy on 23 April 1850.

Early poetry
Cambridge and
Bristol poetry
Late poetry and
Lyrical Ballads
Biographical and
other works
Epic poems
Children's literature
Lyrical Ballads
Later poetry
The Recluse

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