Annotated Bibliography

Current through 2014 and organized chronologically within sections, this bibliography reflects the diversity of responses the Guide has engendered since its original publication. The style, tenor, and length of the sources below vary greatly. Most items are by professional scholars, but a few are the work of enthusiasts who revel in the pleasures of discovering (or re-discovering) the Lake District through Wordsworth’s eyes. Collectively, these works speak to the significant impact the Guide has had on how we imagine and value the English Lake District.

Standard Editions

The editions below are ideal resources for scholarship but can be difficult to access outside research libraries. For readers seeking an inexpensive, portable edition of the Guide, several options exist. At present, the most readily available version is a 2004 reprint of Ernest de Sélincourt’s edition (London: Frances Lincoln) with a preface by Stephen Gill.

  • Grosart, Alexander B. The Prose Works of William Wordsworth. 3 vols. London: Moxon, 1876. Vol. 2. 215-319. 

    In this first attempt to assemble all of Wordsworth’s prose writings, the arrangement is thematic. The text of the 1835 Guide appears in vol. 2, “Aesthetical and Literary” works, under the subcategory of “Descriptive” writing, accompanied by Wordsworth’s letters on the Kendal and Windermere Railway. This edition has no footnotes besides Wordsworth’s own and offers just seven “Notes and Illustrations” at the volume’s end. Essentially, then, it offers only a clean reading text, but it sets a precedent for more thorough scholarly treatments.

  • Knight, William. Prose Works of William Wordsworth. 2 vols. London: Macmillan, 1896. Vol. 2. 1-121.

    Building on the work of Grosart, Knight produces a chronological edition of Wordsworth’s prose writings. Volume 2 begins with the Guide, for which Knight prefers the earlier title, Description of the Scenery of the Lakes. Using the 1835 edition as his copy text, Knight annotates the work with basic information on the Guide’s textual history and references to relevant passages in Wordsworth’s poetry. As such, Knight’s is the first in a line of scholarly editions that runs through de Sélincourt through Owen and Smyser to the current electronic edition.

  • De Sélincourt, Ernest, ed. Guide to the Lakes. London: Henry Frowde, 1906.

    The first scholarly, and the most widely read and reprinted, edition of the twentieth century, De Sélincourt’s version includes the 1835 text, a general introduction, scholarly notes, and appendices. De Sélincourt’s learned and affectionate introduction remains indispensable.

  • Owen, W.J.B. and Jane Worthington Smyser, eds. The Prose Works of William Wordsworth. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1974. Vol. 2. 

    Still the foremost critical edition of Wordsworth’s prose works, Owen and Smyser’s collection includes a thoroughly annotated version of the 1835 Guide through the District of the Lakes and a variety of related texts, including Wordsworth’s Select Views, his “Unpublished Tour,” his essay on “The Sublime and the Beautiful,” and his 1844 letters to the Morning Post protesting the incursion of railways into the Lake District. Owen and Smyser offer extensive commentary on the guidebook’s textual history as well as annotations on the text.

  • Bicknell, Peter, ed. The Illustrated Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes. New York: Congdon and Weed, 1984.

    This attractive edition presents the 1835 text alongside images of the Lake District by such artists as Constable, Gilpin, Rowlandson, and Turner. It also includes historical materials (maps, title page facsimiles, etc.) and photographs that add visual and cultural interest. Bicknell’s introduction reviews the Guide’s textual history and helpfully situates the work within the history of Lake District tourism and travel writing.

Biographies and Reference Works

  • Moorman, Mary. William Wordsworth: A Biography: The Later Years 1808-1850. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965.

    Moorman traces how the Guide, originally conceived as the textual introduction to Wilkinson’s sketches, became a significant enterprise, calling the work the first trumpet blast in what was to become a long-term conservation campaign.

  • Reed, Mark L. Wordsworth: The Chronology of the Middle Years, 1800-1815. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1975. 

    This meticulous log of Wordsworth’s daily activities includes valuable details about the composition, revision, and publication of the various editions of the Guide.

  • Gill, Stephen. William Wordsworth: A Life. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989. 

    In this authoritative biography, Gill shows that the Guide was a work long in the making. Though reluctantly begun, it became a project in which Wordsworth was deeply invested, and Gill suggests its aesthetic value has been underappreciated in contemporary scholarship. Gill also suggests an autobiographical component of the Guide, noting how Wordsworth uses his birth year (1770) as the moment at which the Lake District and its culture began quickly deteriorating.

  • Wu, Duncan. Wordsworth’s Reading, 1770–1799. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993. 

    This bibliography and its companion (below) are invaluable for tracing Wordsworth’s sources. Wu lists in chronological order books read by Wordsworth from childhood until the time of his move to Dove Cottage. Among these are many books referenced in the Guide. Wu shows that Wordsworth’s interest in travel literature dates back at least to his days at Hawkshead School.

  • Wu, Duncan. Wordsworth’s Reading, 1800–1815. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995.

    Wu’s second window into Wordsworth’s intellectual development, this volume surveys Wordsworth’s reading during the years that produced much of his greatest writing, including Select Views.

  • Barker, Juliet. Wordsworth: A Life. London: Viking, 2000.

    Barker recounts the genesis of the Guide, exploring Wordsworth’s motivations for taking up the project and outlining the book’s chief rhetorical aims. She also touches on later editions of the Guide and their reception.

Early Commentary and Criticism

  • “Wordsworth’s River Duddon.” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine7 (May 1820): 208-13.

    Likely penned by John Wilson, this review begins with a passionate defense of Wordsworth against the attacks of the Edinburgh Review, moves into an admiring survey of the River Duddon sonnets, and ends by noting, “The volume is concluded with a very singular and striking prose description of the County of the Lakes; but of this we must defer our notice till some future opportunity—contenting ourselves, in the meantime, with assuring our readers, that it is by far the best specimen of the prose style of Wordsworth which has ever been given to the world” (213).

  • “Wordsworth’s River Duddon, and Other Poems.” British Review16 (Sep. 1820): 37-53.

    This enthusiastic review of the River Duddon volume concludes with warm praise for the “Topographical Description,” asserting: “It certainly is of value as an illustration of the poems now under our review, but we rate its absolute merit very high. Among many topics of rural beauty, it contains an ingenious illustration of the advantages which winter has over summer in the display of mountainous prospect; a very interestingly picturesque description of the disposition and effect of the cottages in the vales; and more particularly of the gradual formation of woody scenery, by nature and time” (52).

  • “Wordsworth’s River Duddon, &c.” Monthly Review93 (Oct. 1820): 132-43.

    This generally damning review of Wordsworth’s poetry ends on a conciliatory note, suggesting, “the Tour of the Lakes seems to us to be as topographically useful as it is poetically picturesque” (143).

  • [Wilson, John.] “Green’s Guide to the Lakes.” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine12 (July 1822): 84-90.

    In the middle of his review of William Green’s Tourist’s New Guide to the Lakes, Wilson remarks: “Mr. Wordsworth has just published in a neat little five shilling duodecimo, (Longman,) an Essay on the Scenery of the North of England. It is, as might have been anticipated, full of fine feeling and fine philosophy. He analizes the country, and shews all the sources of the pleasure which it is peculiarly fitted to yield the enlightened and thoughtful mind. But after all, the best book to read (we are not now speaking of Guides) before, during, and after a Tour of the Lakes, is The Lyrical Ballads” (87).

  • Briggs, John. “Letter VII.” The Remains of John Briggs: Late Editor of “The Lonsdale Magazine,” and of “The Westmorland Gazette.” Kirkby Lonsdale: Arthur Foster, 1825. 91-105.

    Briggs records an anecdote in which William Tyson, an old inhabitant of the Lakes, muses, “I can compare the lake mountains … to nothing so natural as a cart wheel, with nine spokes.” When Tyson’s account reminds one of the listeners of Wordsworth’s use of the same analogy in “Section First” of the Guide, Briggs insinuates that the poet has stolen it from the “old dalelander.”

  • [Kent, Elizabeth.] Sylvan Sketches; or, A Companion to the Park and the Shrubbery. London: Taylor and Hessey, 1825.

    This collection of quotations by British writers about the flora of their native island excerpts several of the Guide’s remarks on the larch tree. Kent muses that Wordsworth “seems to have had a strange dislike to this fine tree” (208) and that the larch is “to be pitied in having, for its enemy, a pen so powerful” (209).

  • [Wilson, John.] “Cottages.” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 19 (Mar. 1826): 241-66.

    In the midst of this rambling essay on British cottages, Wilson inserts a few remarks on the Guide. “Instead of a guide,” he writes, Wordsworth “presented the world with a treatise on the picturesque, the sublime, and the beautiful. It is needless to say, that his treatise overflows with fine and true thoughts and observations; nor does any man living better understand, or more deeply feel, the characteristic qualities of the scenery of Westmoreland. Yet it is somewhat heavy, even as a philosophical essay.” He goes on to opine that such guides are perhaps best written by non-natives of a region, who might offer a more “impartial and reasonable work” (264).

  • “Our Library Table.” The Athenaeum, 3 Oct 1835: 744.

    This brief list of books the magazine has received but has not had space to review concludes with warm praise for the fifth edition of the Guide: “We could find in our hearts to write a separate article on ‘Wordsworth’s Guide though the districts of the Lakes,’ fifth (it ought to be fifteenth) edition, having taken it up merely to cut open the leaves, and, thanks to his beautiful and poetical descriptions, wandered for a whole morning among the scenery which has been his inspiration, and to which he has repaid its influences and associations tenfold, whether in his noble poems, or the less ambitious volume before us. For ourselves, we owe him not a few thanks for compelling us to pause in the dullest of our labours, and carrying us away, though only for an hour, to the land of lake and hill!”

  • Howitt, William. The Rural Life of England. 2 vols. London: Longman, 1838. 1:85-88.

    Howitt’s chapter on “Planting” quotes at length from the Guide’s proscriptions on larch plantations. While Howitt concurs with Wordsworth that larch groves can blight picturesque scenes, he encourages cultivation of the tree in waste areas.

  • Gibson, Alexander Craig. The Old Man; or Ravings and Ramblings Round Conistone.London: Whittaker, 1849. 29-31.

    This loquacious tour of the Lake District includes a rebuttal to Wordsworth’s condemnation of white-washed cottages. Rather than unnatural eyesores, Gibson argues, white cottages signify the cleanliness and industry of the inhabitants.

  • Knight, William. The English Lake District as Interpreted in the Poems of Wordsworth. Edinburgh: Douglas, 1878. 

    In his introduction to this, one of the earliest of his many appreciations of Wordsworth, Knight maintains that the Guide is “weighted with reflections on aspects of Nature missed by the ordinary eye, and contains exquisite side glances into the very heart of those familiar things ‘that border the highway’” (xvi). Knight describes many features of the book and appreciatively quotes long passages, concluding that “there is no finer delineation of the district, except in his own poetry” (xvii).

  • Arnold, Matthew, ed. Poems of Wordsworth. London: Macmillan, 1879.

    In his preface to this edition of Wordsworth’s poems, Arnold recollects an amusing anecdote of Wordsworth’s about how “one of the pilgrims [to Rydal Mount], a clergyman, asked him if he had ever written anything besides the Guide to the Lakes” (vi).

  • Symington, Andrew James. William Wordsworth: A Biographical Sketch. London: Blackie and Son, 1881.

    After rehearsing the textual history of the Guide, this early biography praises the book’s ability to bring the region’s land forms, flora, and fauna to life. Symington is perhaps most impressed by Wordsworth’s depiction of “the inhabitants of the Dales, with their homesteads and manner of living.” In this respect, it is “quite a model, and probably the most accurate and interesting thing of the kind ever written.” He concludes his section on the Guide by speculating on the economic impact of Wordsworth’s writing on the region: “there is not an inn or small farmhouse in all the Lake Country which does not reap in hard coin the results” (2:53-54).

  • Nicholson, Albert. “The Literature of the English Lake District.” Papers of the Manchester Literary Club10 (1884): 330-39. 

    Having compiled a bibliography of “some two hundred and forty writers” on the Lakes, Nicholson concludes that “a really good guide book has yet to be written” (330). He does, however, single out Wordsworth’s Guide as an exception to the “usual monotony” and briefly recaps the poet’s strictures on white-wash and larch trees.

  • Brooke, Stopford. “On Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes.” In Wordsworthiana: A Selection from Papers Read to the Wordsworth Society. Ed. William Knight. London: Macmillan, 1889. 129-41.

    This paper, initially presented to the Wordsworth Society in 1883, might be considered the first major critical essay on the Guide. Brooke begins by contrasting the relative detachment of Gray’s guide to the Lake District with the passion of Wordsworth’s. From there he traces how Wordsworth’s love for the region and gift for poetical description show through in the Guide.

  • C[ampbell], J[ames] D[ykes]. “Wordsworth’s Verses in his Guide to the Lake Country.” Athenaeum, 16 Aug. 1890: 225-26 and 23 Aug. 1890: 255.

    After beginning by reporting that the Guide is rarely read but widely available in old editions, Campbell recommends it as a “capital companion on a tramp over the Wordsworth country, being not merely illuminating, but highly practical” (225). Campbell’s main concern, though, is bibliographical, as he corrects compilers who fail to recognize that such poems as “Long Meg and Her Daughters” and “Waterfowl” were first published in the Guide.

  • Knight, William. Prose Writings of Wordsworth. London: Scott, 1893. ix, xii, xxi-xxii.

    In this collection of gems from Wordsworth’s prose—a sort of warm-up exercise for the two-volume Prose Works he would publish three years later—Knight commends several of Wordsworth’s writings, but “above all, his Description of the Scenery of the Lakes” (xii). This, he says, contains “Perhaps, on the whole, the finest passages in Wordsworth’s Prose” (xxii). “Taken by itself, and apart from all detailed topography,” he concludes, “it is by far the best ‘Guide to the Lakes’ that exists” (xxii).

  • Woolf, Virginia. “Then and Now, 1906.” Review of Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakesand H.D. Rawnsley’s Months at the Lakes. Times Literary Supplement, 15 June 1906: 216.

    Praising Ernest de Sélincourt’s new edition of the Guide—the first stand-alone version since 1864—Woolf greets Wordsworth’s book as a “permanent friend.” Woolf claims that, unlike writers chiefly concerned about stylistic flourishes or literary fashions, Wordsworth wrote his Guide with authority and logic. She admires his intricate knowledge of the area and his insistence on spiritual richness and systematic order within the natural world. Compared with the ornate word-sketches in Rawnsley’s Months at the Lakes, Wordsworth’s descriptions ring with solemn but imaginative honesty. “There are few,” she writes, “who would not seem to write diluted English after the terse veracity of the poet’s prose.”

Aesthetics, Landscape, and the Picturesque

  • Nabholtz, John R. “Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakesand the Picturesque Tradition.” Modern Philology61.4 (1964): 288-97. 

    Nabholtz counters scholarship that distances Wordsworth’s Guide from the picturesque tradition, arguing that, far from departing from his predecessors, Wordsworth was deeply influenced by picturesque writers and theorists such as William Gilpin, Uvedale Price, and Thomas West. While Wordsworth aimed to refine prevailing tastes and perceptual habits, he largely worked within recognizable codes.

  • Noyes, Russell. Wordsworth and the Art of Landscape. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1968. 

    Noyes argues that Wordsworth is perhaps best understood as a proficient in the Romantic “art of landscape,” an amalgam of landscape painting, gardening, poetry, and travel. Several sections of this book provide context, but Chapter 4 goes into detail on how the Guide reveals Wordsworth’s affections, philosophy, and sense of vocation.

  • Owen, W.J.B. “Wordsworth’s Aesthetics of Landscape.” The Wordsworth Circle7.2 (1976): 70-82. 

    Owen considers Wordsworth’s landscape aesthetics by comparing different editions of the Guide to Wordsworth’s fragmentary essay the Sublime and Beautiful and his incomplete Unpublished Tour. He highlights important ways in which all three of Wordsworth’s prose commentaries on landscape aesthetics draw upon Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful.

  • Spector, Stephen J. “Wordsworth’s Mirror Imagery and the Picturesque Tradition.” ELH44.1 (1977): 85-107.

    This article is a “study of Wordsworth’s use of mirror imagery in its most immediate context, the Picturesque tradition of reflection description” (102). Spector observes that Wordsworth’s use of mirror imagery in the Guide combines “stillness and movement,” creating a picture that simultaneously reflects the constraints of time and the power of the human imagination.

  • Marder, Daniel. “The Picturesque in Wordsworth’s Imagination: His Guide to the Lakes.” The Nature of Identity: Essays Presented to Donald E. Hayden by the Graduate Faculty of Modern Letters, the University of Tulsa. Ed. Winston Weathers. Tulsa: U of Tulsa P, 1981. 27-35.

    In the Guide, Marder argues, Wordsworth repeatedly begins with “familiar vision and vocabulary” drawn from the picturesque tradition before then moving on to “analytical observation,” fresh language, and more refined perspectives (32). As a result, the Guide manages to foreground Wordsworth’s original aesthetic and moral ideas. While its main procedure is to move readers from the familiar to the new, it “never quite overcomes the traditions of the picturesque” (35).

  • The Discovery of the Lake District: A Northern Arcadia and its Uses. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1984. 

    Written to accompany an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, this book (assembled with the assistance of Robert Woof and Peter Bicknell) explores the “public life” of the Lake District from the eighteenth century to the present. Pages 77–91 treat Wordsworth specifically, with one short section, “Wordsworth as Guide,” arguing not only that the Guide to the Lakes “became the standard work on the visual qualities of the Lake District” (80), but, more importantly, that it inaugurated a crucial shift “from critical pictorialism to a sense of responsibility for [the landscape’s] right development and careful conservation” (80). This shift would become decisive in English culture. In connection with this discussion, the authors also foreground Wordsworth’s interests in landscape design and gardening, urging readers not to overlook “this side of Wordsworth’s nature,” which so clearly drove the ethics of the Guide.

  • Davies, Hugh Sykes. Wordsworth and the Worth of Words. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.

    Davies argues that Wordsworth’s opinions on forestry in general and larches in particular were heavily influenced by Gilpin’s Remarks on Forest Scenery (1791). As an editorial aside, Davies notes that this is “the only subject about which I find myself in complete disagreement with Wordsworth. I enjoy the larch greatly, and can only suppose that he had seen none but immature specimens, and in those close plantations which are necessary for economic forestry” (317).

  • Kelley, Theresa. Wordsworth’s Revisionary Aesthetics. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.

    In her chapter on “Archeologies,” Kelley argues that Wordsworth’s Guide privileges two aesthetic arguments. First, Wordsworth endorses the Coleridgean definition of beauty as “Multeity in Unity.” Second, and more radically, he suggests that the beautiful is a natural progression and completion of the sublime. Kelley argues that Wordsworth’s reckoning of sublimity as inherently deficient, primordial, and precursory to the beautiful is evident in the way he stratifies the topography and history of the Lake District. This stratification, according to Kelley, reflects Wordsworth’s attempts to map out the workings of his own imagination.

  • Bewell, Alan. Wordsworth and the Enlightenment: Nature, Man, and Society in the Experimental Poetry. New Haven: Yale UP, 1989.

    Bewell explores eighteenth-century influences on Wordsworth’s landscape aesthetics, his geological sensibility, and his understanding of the human community as an agent of change. Although Bewell’s direct treatment of Wordsworth’s travel writing is brief, many conclusions he draws from other works also apply to the Guide.

  • Liu, Alan. Wordsworth: The Sense of History. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1989.

    In his chapter on “The Politics of the Picturesque,” Liu labels the Guide the “most picturesque of [Wordsworth’s] later work” and traces how it models the ideologies of visual and social control Liu considers to be at the heart of the picturesque project.

  • Bicknell, Peter. The Picturesque Scenery of the Lake District, 1752-1855: A Bibliographical Study. Winchester: St. Paul’s Bibliographies, 1990.

    This catalogue of Lake-District guidebooks—an essential resource for book historians—contains a textual history of Wordsworth’s Guide and situates it within the tradition of picturesque writing.

  • Roberts, Bill. “‘A Dawn of Imaginative Feeling’: Wordsworth’s Debt to John Brown (1715-66).” Charles Lamb Bulletin98 (1997): 64-70.

    Roberts’s essay considers the importance of John Brown, an influential eighteenth-century writer and critic, as a predecessor to Thomas Gray and William Wordsworth. The article focuses specifically on Brown’s posthumously published poem “Night Scene in the Vale of Keswick,” which was first published in 1776 and subsequently reprinted in the 1835 edition of Wordsworth’s Guide. Roberts suggests that while Brown likely found his poem unsuitable for publication because of its suppressed romantic quality, the poem provided a seminal “modern” description of mountain scenery that inspired writers like Thomas Gray and Wordsworth. In fact, Robert asserts that both Gray and Wordsworth attempted to recreate Brown’s alpine experience and imitated his style.

  • Gigante, Denise. Taste: A Literary History. New Haven: Yale UP, 2005. 

    In her chapter on “Digesting Wordsworth,” Gigante analyzes intellectual and spiritual “feeding” metaphors in the poet’s verse and maintains that the Guide offers a tutorial in “viewing, or intellectually feeding upon, nature” (79). Gigante posits that the Guide attempts to distinguish the elevated “feeding mind” that can appropriate and order the material world through imagination from a mind of “bad taste” that is driven by merely consumerist impulses. Wordsworth, she argues, finds himself caught between models of consumption, and his struggle helps explain the irony of his complaining about the incursions of tourists and trains even while writing guidebooks for visitors.

  • Schatz-Jakobsen, Claus. “Wordsworth as Scatterbrain: Deconstructing the ‘Nature’ of William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes.” Ethics, Place and Environment11.2 (2008): 205-12.

    Schatz-Jakobsen explores the connotations of the word “Nature” in the Guide, arguing that there are two definitions at play in the text. The first refers to nature in the abstract, as an idealized manifestation of the divine or the essence of the beautiful or sublime. The other refers to nature as physical matter. By using Nietzsche’s “fiction of causation” as a model for describing this duality, Schatz-Jakobsen argues we can better understand how these two definitions function in the Guide.

  • Ottum, Lisa. “Discriminating Vision: Rereading Place in Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes.” Prose Studies34.3 (2012): 167-84. Ottum argues that Wordsworth is concerned with both describing the characteristics of a particular setting—the things that make up a place’s essence—and situating this place in reference to “scenic settings abroad.” In this sense, the localist focus of the Guide is not “anti-urban” so much as it is a response to shifts in globalization and the emergence of mass tourism. While eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century tourism encouraged travelers to discover similarities between “picturesque” environments, the Guide distinguishes the Lake District from foreign places of sublime or picturesque interest.

Ecology and Environmentalism

  • Hayden, Donald E. “William Wordsworth: Early Ecologist.” Studies in Relevance: Romantic and Victorian Writers in 1972. Ed. Thomas Meade Harwell. Salzburg: Institut fur Englische Sprache und Literatur, 1973. 36-52.

    Drawing heavily upon the Guide, Hayden argues that Wordsworth qualifies as an early ecologist in four respects: “as a landscapist, as a preservationist, as anti-industrialist, and as an influencer” (36).

  • Moldenhauer, Joseph J. “Waldenand Wordsworth’s Guide to the English Lake District.” Studies in the American Renaissance(1990): 261-92.

    Moldenhauer asserts that Wordsworth’s Guide had a significant influence on Thoreau’s Walden. Despite his appreciation for the Guide, Thoreau felt Wordsworth was unduly concerned with external “improvements” to the land rather than with individual character development. Thoreau’s commentary on cottage architecture disparages Wordsworth’s aestheticism, reinforcing instead the virtues of the self-made individual and presenting the construction of beautiful buildings in the natural world as the outgrowth of the builder’s self.

  • Bate, Jonathan. Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition: London: Routledge, 1991. 

    This pioneering book in “green Romanticism” examines how Wordsworth’s ecological commentary and efforts to inspire a national preservation movement remain relevant. Particularly in Chapter 2, Bate argues that, as one of the poet’s bestselling works and “an exemplar of the Romantic ecology” (45), the Guide should be central to Wordsworthian and Romantic studies: “To think for a moment of Wordsworth as pre-eminently not the author of ‘Tintern Abbey’ and The Prelude but the compiler of the Guide to the Lakes will thus be not only to recover an important nineteenth-century view of him, but also to begin to move away from narrow canonicity. If we are to historicize Romanticism, we must bring the Guide from the periphery to the centre. The neglect of it is quite extraordinary” (42).

  • Gill, Stephen Charles. Wordsworth and the Victorians. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.

    In his final chapter, “The Last Decade: From Wordsworth Society to National Trust,” Gill contends that, although many Victorians contributed to conservation movements, Wordsworth’s was “the originating ‘language and discourse.’” Furthermore, we find in his Guide “the germ of the National Trust’s long gestation” (260). Gill points to Wordsworth’s famous description of the Lake District “as a sort of national property,” concluding, “That hundreds of thousands of people every year walk over unenclosed hills, of enjoy access to lake shores, is his greatest, and most fitting memorial” (260).

  • McKusick, James. Green Writing: Romanticism and Ecology. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000.

    McKusick highlights ecological arguments in the Guide, contending (against some skeptical critics) that Wordsworth’s agenda was not merely to preserve the Lakes for the social elite but also to warn of broader impacts increased traffic would have on the region. Wordsworth, he says, was “prophetic in his understanding that unlimited transportation access, recreational development, and suburban sprawl will ultimately ruin the rural landscape for everyone who inhabits it, both rich and poor” (76).

  • Ritvo, Harriet. The Dawn of Green: Manchester, Thirlmere, and Modern Environmentalism. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2009. 

    While this book mentions the Guide only in passing, it illuminates Wordsworth’s long-term impact on the Lake District and on environmental discourse. The city of Manchester’s conversion of Thirlmere into a reservoir, proposed in the 1870s and completed in the 1890s, provoked one of the first modern environmental controversies, pitting “the Victorian icon of nature” (sanctified by Wordsworth) against “the Victorian icon of progress” (2–3). This debate was remarkable, Ritvo argues, because it hinged on the emerging, radical notion (adumbrated by the Guide) that the public, national and even transnational, could have interest in a landscape that was privately owned.

  • Hess, Scott. William Wordsworth and the Ecology of Authorship: The Roots of Environmentalism in Nineteenth-Century Culture.Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2012.

    In his chapter “Wordsworth Country,” Hess considers how Wordsworth used the Guide to construct a literary landscape in which he grounded his poetic identity. He argues that as readers follow Wordsworth’s textual guidance, they begin to see the landscape as Wordsworth imagined it and to identify the region not only with his literary work but also with the poet himself. Against Bate and other celebrants of Wordsworth’s ecological sensibility, Hess asserts that the Guide’s argument is fundamentally aesthetic, not environmental.

Geology, Geography, and Topography

  • Wyatt, John. Wordsworth and the Geologists. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995.

    Wyatt examines how Wordsworth’s interest in the geological sciences influenced his aesthetics. He includes a detailed discussion of Wordsworth’s correspondence with Adam Sedgwick and the geological commentaries Sedgwick wrote to supplement the late editions of the Guide.

  • Bode, Christoph. “Putting the Lake District on the (Mental) Map: William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes.” Journal for the Study of British Cultures4.1 (1997): 95-111. 

    Bode explores how the Guide effectively functions as a “national mental map”—a cartographic depiction of how people perceive environments and how the mind processes and remembers specific locations and creates unique associations with them. He observes that since the Romantic period the Lake District has remained an exception to generally unfavorable feelings about traveling in the north of England. He attributes the phenomenon to the region’s association with Wordsworth and Wordsworth’s successful efforts to shape national perception of the Lake District in his Guide as well as his poetry.

  • Wiley, Michael. Romantic Geography: Wordsworth and Anglo-European Spaces. New York: St. Martin’s, 1998.

    Wiley presents Wordsworth’s imagination as fully grounded in the physical world. While Wordsworth’s commentary on perspective, his cartographic descriptions, and his interest in holistic spatial representations of the Lake District in the Guide re-examine and depart from institutionalized depictions of the landscape, Wiley concludes that Wordsworth also realized he would have to align his literary idealization of the landscape with recognized methods of delineating space and land.

  • Whyte, Ian. “William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakesand the Geographical Tradition.” Area32.1 (2000): 101-06. 

    Whyte argues that the Guide made a significant contribution to nineteenth-century geographical studies and that Wordsworth’s “analytical” and “holistic” survey of the landscape should be read in relation to contemporary geographical literature. He highlights examples in the Guide that demonstrate Wordsworth’s keen awareness of geological processes in the formation and evolution of the Lake District.

  • Heringman, Noah. Romantic Rocks, Aesthetic Geology. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2004.

    Although Heringman’s study of the connections between literature and geology in the Romantic age features no extended reading of the Guide, it regularly references the book’s natural descriptions as part of its larger arguments.

  • Moseley, C.W.R.D. “‘Get Thee Up into the High Mountain’: The English Lake District as Virtual Landscape.” TRANS: Internet Journal for Cultural Studies15.5.10 (May 2004). Web.

    Moseley compares two legendary topographical treatments of the Lake District, Wordsworth’s Guide and the series of guidebooks Alfred Wainwright published between 1955 and 1966. Wordsworth’s Guide, Moseley argues, is written as if the reader physically travels with Wordsworth. In its pedestrian sensibility, it anticipates Wainwright’s books for fell-walkers. While, like earlier writers in the picturesque tradition, Wordsworth privileges valley “views” and “prospects,” he offers a new sense of immersion, a feeling for the walker’s route, and a willingness to celebrate hard-earned views from above.

  • Oda, Tomoya. “A Slip of Wordsworth’s Pen in his Guide through the District of the Lakes.” Notes and Queries55.4 (2008): 424-25.

    In this brief note, Tomoya explains that Wordsworth “must have confused Middleton with Middleham” in tracing his route to the Lakes through Greta Bridge and Penrith.

  • Carlson, Julia Sandstrom. “Topographical Measures: Wordsworth’s and Crosthwaite’s Lines on the Lake District.” Romanticism 16.1 (2010): 72-93.

    All of Wordsworth’s Lake District writing, Carlson argues, reflects and inflects key developments in the picturesque representation of the Lakes. In particular, his work shows how such representation became increasingly multi-medial, incorporating maps, engravings, poems, diagrams, and other tools to define and materialize British terrain. Depicting the British landscape cartographically became linked with describing it in poetic meter. It is no coincidence, Carlson notes, that Wordsworth’s poetry records some of the first cultural responses to the Ordnance Survey of Britain, nor that his own Guide came to incorporate many different materials “as if they were comparable visual aids to the experience of landscape” (88). In fact, Wordsworth’s Guide influenced the next generation of tour books, which worked to merge art, literature, travel, and science.

  • Smethurst, Paul. Travel Writing and the Natural World, 1768-1840. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

    Smethurst evaluates how scientific metaphors, particularly those espoused by work in optics, geology, and natural history, inform Wordsworth’s romantic vision in the Guide. Arguing that Wordsworth draws upon “shared imaginative structure and schemata” that shaped eighteenth-century scientific and creative discourse, Smethurst highlights textual points in the Guide that resonate with writings of other “traveler-scientists.” His interest in the Guide is part of Smethurst’s larger exploration of how eighteenth-century and romantic practices in tourism and natural history detached “nature” from the actual environment.

  • Porter, Dahlia. “Maps, Lists, Views: How the Picturesque Wye Transformed Topography.” Romanticism 19.2 (2013): 163-78.

    Porter’s essay describes the evolving discipline of topography and its management of competing genres, linked variously with the modern discourses of feeling and fact. Wordsworth’s Guide enters the essay in its final section, serving as a case study of topography’s development. Porter traces the Guide’s transformation through its various editions, highlighting Wordsworth’s attempts to reconcile discourses that often competed with one another. Ultimately, the edition of 1835 “enhanced the text’s relationship to picturesque aesthetics while subsuming (but carefully maintaining) its alignment with the representational techniques of physical geography” (175). If nineteenth-century poets of place and readers of like spirit preferred the language of personal observation and response, Porter argues, they also found authority and practical value in the new topography.


  • Roberts, Daniel Sanjiv. Revisionary Gleam: De Quincey, Coleridge, and the High Romantic Argument. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2000.

    Roberts explores the “reciprocal relationship” between Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes and De Quincey’s essay “Danish Origin.” He concludes that De Quincey, like Coleridge, challenges Wordsworth’s claim to represent the “real” language and customs of the Lake District (127) and suggests that Wordsworth declined De Quincey’s offers to include his essay as an addendum to both the 1820 “Topographical Description” and the 1822 Description of the Scenery of the Lakes because of mounting tensions between the writers. Personalities aside, however, De Quincey’s and Wordsworth’s shared conservative politics are on full display in “Danish Origin” and the Guide.

  • Hazucha, Andrew. “Neither Deep nor Shallow but National: Eco-Nationalism in Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes. Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment9.2 (2002): 61-73.

    While acknowledging Bate’s insights about Wordsworth’s “green Romanticism,” Hazucha argues that Wordsworth’s ecological concerns in the Guide are closely tied to his increasingly isolationist and nationalistic attitudes. Hazucha concludes that Wordsworth’s complaints about the effects of tourism and the importation of non-native plant species reflect his alarmist attitude toward foreign models of governance.

  • Kim, Benjamin. “Generating a National Sublime: Wordsworth’s The River Duddon and The Guide to the Lakes.” Studies in Romanticism45.1 (2006): 49-75. 

    Kim argues that Wordsworth’s aesthetic arguments in The River Duddon and the Guide overlap with those in the Convention of Cintra and shows how Wordsworth’s resurgent interest in politics coincided with his composition of the Guide. Drawing comparisons between the Cintra tract, The River Duddon, and the Guide, Kim argues that the Guide celebrates the national as well as the local.

  • Garrett, James. Wordsworth and the Writing of the Nation. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008.

    Garrett argues that, in the wake of Waterloo, Wordsworth defined the nation in terms of the local. Moreover, he contends that Wordsworth’s call for the preservation of land as a national trust at the end of the Guide posited the Lake District as a “museum space” which would preserve Wordsworth’s vision of British national identity.

Tourism and Travel

  • Squire, Shelach J. “Wordsworth and Lake District Tourism: Romantic Reshaping of Landscape.” The Canadian Geographer32.3 (1988): 237-47.

    Squire shows that the Romantic emphasis on imagination and emotional experience fostered a strong tourism industry in the North of England bent on framing the landscape as an idyllic, untamed region. Squire explores the Guide specifically as an important example of how the Romantic ideology generated a literary lens through which tourists “read” the Lake District.

  • Ousby, Ian. The Englishman’s England: Taste, Travel and the Rise of Tourism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. 

    In his final chapter, “Rash Assault: Nature and the Nature of Tourism,” Ousby turns to the Lake District to study how “nature” has come to function as “a necessary refuge, a source of spiritual renewal” (101). Paradoxically, he remarks, the very tourists who visit places like the Lakes for spiritual sustenance often destroy what they cherish; Wordsworth himself famously took up these questions. Of the Guide specifically, Ousby writes that, although it was far from the first guidebook of its kind, it made earlier efforts seem unliterary and incomplete in comparison. Moreover, the Guide cemented Wordsworth’s status as a “Lake Poet,” embodying what was finally his greatest impact on tourism—namely, the invention of a literary landscape inseparable from the poet’s life and work.

  • Buzard, James. The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature, and the Ways to ‘Culture,’ 1800–1918. Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.

    Buzard’s chapter on “Tourist and Traveller” helps explain how Wordsworth could both complain about tourists and write guidebooks for them. Travel literature dealt in anti-tourist rhetoric from the start, Buzard contends, because the “tourist” was the (supposedly) less cultured, less sophisticated person against whom a true “traveller” could define himself. When Wordsworth directed his guidebook to “the Minds of Persons of taste,” he was seeking “readers who would live up to the calling of true travellers” (30). Such sensitive beings could visit the Lake District without desecrating it. In this context, Buzard describes the Guide as an example of the “anti-guidebook” genre. Buzard concludes that Wordsworth’s Guide lost much of its idiosyncratic flavor when incorporated into Hudson’s Complete Guide of 1842. By that time, travel books based on individual authority were beginning to seem obsolete, as the age of the comprehensive Baedecker and Murray handbooks had arrived.

  • Labbe, Jacqueline. Romantic Visualities: Landscape, Gender, and Romanticism. New York: St. Martin’s, 1998. 

    Labbe compares how Priscilla Wakefield’s A Family Tour and Wordsworth’s Guide appropriate and revise eighteenth-century aesthetics of the sublime and the beautiful. She suggests that, in the Guide, Wordsworth sets himself up as a “patriarch” of the Lake District and ensures that those tourists who read his guidebook will vicariously experience the region through his perspective. Ultimately, Labbe concludes, Wordsworth wants to create an “undifferentiated Nature, undisturbed by detail,” in order to reinforce his self-appointed position as the leading guide to the region.

  • Wyatt, John. Wordsworth’s Poetry of Travel, 1819-42: “Such Sweet Wayfaring.”Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999.

    As part of his study of Wordsworth’s travel writing, Wyatt dedicates a chapter to the River Duddon volume, arguing that the “Topographical Description” should be read (as Wordsworth urges) in conversation with the Duddon sonnets.

  • Thompson, Ian. The English Lakes: A History. London: Bloomsbury, 2010.

    This history of the region regularly cites and endorses the Guide. Thompson traces the idea of the Lake District as well as its physical nature, understanding that it is a human and philosophical artifact as well as a product of natural forces. By his account, “Wordsworth’s aerial picture must have done much to fix the idea of a ‘district’ in people’s minds” (100). While the Lakeland was popular before Wordsworth wrote his Guide, Wordsworth helped tourists conceive of the area “as a distinct entity, separate from those bits of its constituent counties that did not fit the Picturesque ideal” (10).

  • Walton, John K. and Jason Wood, eds. The Making of a Cultural Landscape: The English Lake District as Tourist Destination, 1750–2010. Burlington: Ashgate, 2013.

    This rich, multidisciplinary essay collection explores the history of Lake District tourism from the 1700s to the present. The Guide appears in various essays: Susan Denyer’s meditation on Lakeland as both “nature” and cultural artifact; John Walton’s interrogation of the Lakes as a potential world heritage site; Melanie Hall’s account of Wordsworth’s transatlantic influence on the national parks movement; Keith Hanley’s piece on the Romantic invention of Lake District literary tourism; Sarah Rutherford’s case study of Claife Station (a picturesque viewing spot); and David Cooper’s discussion of the “Post-Industrial Picturesque.” Wordsworth thus appears in the guises of pioneer of regional geography, environmental preservationist, inspiration for the founders of the National Trust, and theorist of a benevolent British empire.

  • Yoshikawa, Saeko. William Wordsworth and the Invention of Tourism, 1820–1900. Burlington: Ashgate, 2014. 

    Yoshikawa argues that Wordsworth’s growing reputation in the 1800s owed as much to Lakeland guidebooks as it did to formal biographies, editions, and critical works. The Guide to the Lakes enters her narrative as an ur-text, the inspiration for a number of more popular, user-friendly guidebooks that broadened Wordsworth’s cultural influence. While the Guide did not in itself attract a mass readership or serve as direct reference for the majority of Victorian tourists who visited the Lakes, it did set terms for appreciating the Lake District in a “Wordsworthian” manner and helped define the “Lake District” itself as a single destination.

Other Approaches

  • Thomas, Gordon K. “A Guide to Wordsworth’s Guides.” The Wordsworth Circle18.1 (1987): 28-32.

    Thomas takes up “guide” figures in Wordsworth’s writing: guides divine, natural, and human, some trustworthy and others unreliable. Noting that the theme of guidance runs throughout Wordsworth’s oeuvre, Thomas suggests that readers consult the text in which Wordsworth most explicitly assumes the role of guide, the Guide to the Lakes, for clues about the poet’s thoughts on the subject. Thomas elaborates especially on Wordsworth’s aim to guide the minds of his readers. Wordsworth’s authority derives from intimate local knowledge, but even more so from habits of observation and reflection.

  • Khan, Jalal Uddin. “Publication and Reception of Wordsworth’s River Duddon Volume.” Modern Language Studies32.2 (2002): 45-67. 

    Khan details the textual history and reception of the 1820 River Duddon volume, exploring reasons for its unlikely success, including the new directions in subject and style Wordsworth takes in the “Topographical Description.”

  • Chandler, David. “The Influence of Southey’s Letters from Englandon Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes.” Notes and Queries50.3 (2003): 288-91. 

    In this speculative essay, Chandler presents internal evidence that certain sections of Select Views (1810)—particularly the descriptions of Crummock Water and Brothers Water—might have been influenced by the imaginary tour of the Lakes that Southey included in Letters from England (1807). Although there is no definitive proof that Wordsworth read Southey’s volume, it was published just weeks before Wordsworth began working on Select Views.

  • Gill, Stephen Charles. “Wordsworth and the River Duddon.” Essays in Criticism57.1 (2007): 22-41.

    Gill examines points of textual similarity between the poetry and prose in the 1820 River Duddon volume, suggesting that, while the volume is a miscellany, it is also unified in the sense that it “both literally and metaphorically begins and ends in the Lake District” (25). Notably, Gill argues that “Topographical Description” extends and enhances Wordsworth’s poetical vision as presented in the River Duddon poems. Gill frames his argument within the context of the rise of tourism and the critical reception of the Lake School.

  • Simonsen, Peter. Wordsworth and Word-Preserving Arts: Typographic Inscription, Ekphrasis and Posterity in the Later Work. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007.

    Simonsen argues that Wordsworth was an ekphrastic poet and that his interest in visual arts has been underplayed in scholarship. Noting that Select Views was commissioned as the textual companion to a series of sketches, Simonsen finds ekphrastic qualities in Wordsworth’s prose from the 1810 edition forward.

  • Carlson, Julia Sandstrom. “Prose Mesuréein the Lakes Tour and Guide: Quoting and Recalibrating English Blank Verse.” European Romantic Review20.2 (2009): 227-236.

    Carlson proposes that guidebooks, by quoting illustrative snippets of blank verse, helped bring about the Romantic-era naturalization and nationalization of blank verse as a lyric form. Whereas other tour writers borrowed poetic descriptions of different locales—say, from Milton or Thomson—and applied them to Lake District features, Wordsworth included poetry that presented itself as autochthonous. Carlson shows how Wordsworth’s quotations in the Guide (1) translate the ideas and objects described into the register of individual experience, (2) demonstrate “the mind’s penetration by images,” (3) serve as illustrations or “verse-pictures,” and (4) institute pauses for contemplation, halting the reader’s movement as if enforcing visual attention.

  • Hebron, Stephen and Cecilia Powell. Savage Grandeur and Noblest Thoughts: Discovering the Lake District 1750-1820. Grasmere: Wordsworth Trust, 2010.

    Published as a companion to the Wordsworth Trust’s exhibition marking the bicentenary of Select Views, this catalogue features visual depictions of the Lake District, a concise description of the textual history of the Guide, and a scholarly commentary on Select Views and The River Duddon.

  • Fulford, Tim. The Late Poetry of the Lake Poets: Romanticism Revised. New York: Cambridge UP, 2013.

    For Fulford, Wordsworth’s later work “was neither an escape from history as New Historicist critics argued in the 1980s, nor, on any simple level, an ecological poetry, as eco-critics suggested in the 1990s, but a topographic writing allied with guidebooks and local histories, and preoccupied with the landscape as a place marked by the deeds of past Britons—a historicized nationalism” (7). Fulford mentions the Guide in this context, contending also that the book in its various editions shows Wordsworth taking advantage of new trends in publishing and meeting the demands of late-Romantic and Victorian audiences.

Annotated Bibliography © 2020 by Nicholas Mason, Paul Westover, and Romantic Circles is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0