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9 treasures from the lives of the Wordsworths at Dove Cottage 1

As William Wordsworth’s famous Lakeland home, Dove Cottage, opens its doors for the 2018 season Dora Anderson-Taylor of the Wordsworth Trust picks nine treasures from the collection

Dorothy’s Dove Cottage drawing

a photo of a handwritten letter with a small drawing of a house within the text

Courtesy The Wordsworth Trust

This rough sketch of Dove Cottage appears at the end of Dorothy Wordsworth’s letter to her friend, Lady Beaumont, on 26 August 1805. Dorothy had been asked by William Wordsworth to give Beaumont ‘an accurate notion of our house’ but her drawing doesn’t quite manage this. Dorothy even admits in the letter that ‘I have not been taught to exercise the pencil. It is indeed true that I scarcely ever take a walk without lamenting it’. It is an amusing treasure in our collection – Dorothy was able to bring people and landscapes to life so excellently in words but not so much through drawings!

Dora Wordsworth’s portrait

a side portrait of a Georgian era woman in side profile with a blue sash

Margaret Gillies, Dora Wordsworth, 1839 © The Wordsworth Trust

A portrait of Dora Wordsworth, William Wordsworth’s daughter, painted in watercolour by Margaret Gillies in 1839. The making of this painting seems not to have been a simple process, William wrote to Thomas Powell about it that ‘Dora has been attempted but not yet, as we think, with much success’. Dora also later wrote that she had sat again for the painting ‘to have my nose reduced a little’. It seems to have resulted in a beautiful painting which is particularly appropriate to highlight at the moment as we have a new exhibition open ‘Women’s Lives through Letters’ that explores the lives of the women closest to Wordsworth and the crucial role they played in the creation of his poetry.

Cabinet of curiousities

a photo of a cabinet with open drawers and lower cabinet

© The Wordsworth Trust

A true cabinet of curiosities, this chest was made in England but includes designs from Portugal, China and Japan as well as those inspired by Hinduism. The 2 doors open to reveal 6 sliding drawers which contain a variety of material collected from the mid-19th century onwards, possibly by Edith May Southey, the daughter of the Romantic poet Robert Southey. A dried Pufferfish and a mini teapot are just a couple of the treasures inside. The chest reveals a great love of natural history and all things exotic.

Newspaper room

a photo of a magnifying glass over a detail of an eighteenth century newspaper

© The Wordsworth Trust

The newspaper room in Dove Cottage occurred because Dorothy Wordsworth was trying to insulate the walls of the small, Lakeland cottage. The newspapers in there are of the time but are not the same ones as Dorothy put up, nevertheless they provide incredibly interesting insights into day-to-day life and the issues of the day.

Wordsworth’s spectacles

a photo of a pair of green-tinged spectacles

© The Wordsworth Trust

Wordsworth struggled with his eyesight throughout much of his life and at some points he really feared that he would go blind. These spectacles, as well as others on display at Dove Cottage, will have been crucial for him to write the poetry that we read today.

Wordsworth’s passport

a close up of William Wordsworth's passport

© The Wordsworth Trust

It looks rather different to what we are used to today, but this is Wordsworth’s passport. It was not required in those days to travel, however Wordsworth carried it around when travelling as a means of introduction – it was a sort of networking tool. It gives a rather plain description of Wordsworth when it says: “Hair: greying, Forehead: bald, Eyebrows: white, Eyes: grey, Nose: medium, Chin: round, Face: oval and Complexion: ordinary.”

Wordsworth’s suitcase

a photo of an old open suitcase with the words William Wordsworth

© The Wordsworth Trust

William Wordsworth wrote his own name on this suitcase and, if you look carefully, we can see where he has run out of space on the panel and only managed to fit ‘W. Wordswort’ in and added the ‘H’ in above afterwards. The suitcase is on display in William’s bedroom in Dove Cottage.

A remarkable letter

a photo of a letter handwritten by three different people

Dorothy, William and Mary’s letter to Coleridge © The Wordsworth Trust

This letter was written by Dorothy, William and Mary to their good friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It is dated precisely as ‘Tuesday Evening, 6th March, ½ past 7 o’clock [1804]’. Dorothy writes of her health and of copying William’s poetry for him, and lovingly describes the baby, Johnny, whom Mary later describes as a ‘roaring Bairn’. William also writes and squeezes his words into each spare space on the paper including the left margin and even writing a little over Dorothy’s own words. It is particularly interesting item as it contains the writing of Dorothy, William and Mary together and gives a wonderful impression of the domestic life in this important literary household. (A video describing this letter further can be found on The Wordsworth Trust Youtube Channel called ‘Women Behind the Words: A Remarkable Letter’).

A notebook for Coleridge

a photo of an open handwritten notebook

© The Wordsworth Trust

This notebook is a favourite object of our curator and was written out by William’s sister Dorothy and his wife, Mary, in February/March 1804. The notebook was for Coleridge who was going overseas and had requested copies of William’s poetry to take with him. It is the most comprehensive account of Wordsworth’s unpublished poems at that time, even including one of the earliest versions of ‘The Prelude’. Having items like this in the collection enables us to see not only the genius of Wordsworth’s poetry, but also the hard work involved, both from himself in altering and editing lines, and of Dorothy and Mary in the incredible amount of effort required to copy it all out for Coleridge.


Wordsworth Grasmere

Grasmere, Cumbria

Immerse yourself in the unique atmosphere of Dove Cottage, the Grasmere home of poet William Wordsworth. Wander through the Garden-Orchard Wordsworth called ‘the loveliest spot that man hath ever found’. Uncover Wordsworth’s radical and creative life story in the Museum and enjoy breathtaking views of Grasmere Vale from the new…

One comment on “9 treasures from the lives of the Wordsworths at Dove Cottage

  1. Anna Bright on

    My father was part of the Cornell University group of scholars who worked on Wordsworth’s papers for many years. I have happy memories of my school holidays spent up in Grasmere. I’m sure he’d love to see what you’ve done with the place.


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