Friday, 29 January 2016

Wordsworth’s “Guide to the Lakes” and the Picturesque Tradition

John, R. Nabholtz, 'Wordsworth’s “Guide to the Lakes” and the Picturesque Tradition', Modern Philology 61:4 (May 1964),288-297

Response by Abigail Turner:

Nabholtz investigates the question surrounding Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lake Country, asking why this Guide is “fundamentally different from those of its picturesque predecessors. Why Wordsworth should repeatedly invoke the tradition he is working outside of or against?” Before Wordsworth’s guide his predecessors such as John Brown and Thomas Gray had used the beauty of the landscape to direct the reader’s eye to the scenery. However, as Nabholtz uncovers, Wordsworth was not satisfied with a mere description of scenery, he wanted the readers to gain something more when they visited the lakes.

Wordsworth throughout the Guide emphasises repeatedly the use of one’s mind. The Guide becomes then one of thought as in its different sections Wordsworth uses the picturesque not only to reach the summits of beauty, but also to take this further to the sublime and dig deeper to the scenery’s origins. The picturesque then becomes a means to open the reader’s mind to a whole multitude of ways of thinking about, understanding, experiencing and appreciating the Lake Country. Nabholtz concludes, “Wordsworth’s appreciation of the picturesque beauty of the Lake Country was in reality a sign of his reverence for nature herself.” To get to this conclusion however Nabholtz must prove how the potent copying of Wordsworth’s predecessors can form an analysis directed to visual appearance that is in turn defined by picturesque standards.

Wordsworth does this through the mind, and by using the visual appearance in conjunction with thought he is able to set the standard of the picturesque through its discovery. For example Nabholtz uses the economy of nature as an example of how Wordsworth thinks through the movements of a lake to uncover the necessity and value of water. This is also seen in his descriptions of the mountains. Drawing upon his predecessors, he values the mountains for their limestone origins, which is vital to Yorkshire’s industry.

However, not only does Wordsworth dig deep into the origin of the Lake Country’s natural beauty he soars high with the natural processes of the sublime:
Sublimity is the result of Nature’s first great dealings with the superficies of the earth; but the general tendency of her subsequent operations is towards the production of beauty; by a multiplicity of symmetrical parts using in a constant whole.”(Guide, p.35)
The Sublime is an awe-inspiring movement that requires in this case a freeing of the surface vision, that Gray and Brown used in their Guides, to reach beyond to an appreciation that is thought through natural processes to create something that contains a personal story for the reader. A good example of how Wordsworth uses this is in his comparison of the Lake’s mountains to the Swiss Alps. He uses his own imagination and knowledge of the natural world to reach a beauty that is beyond the surface of the Lake’s. By doing so he is creating a narrative that is inspirational for it also encourages the reader’s reaction to be something somewhat similar; they are drawn along by his thought and are able to transcend this to imagine their own

‘Alps.’ Therefore, what Nabholtz has discovered is how Wordsworth utilises the picturesque descriptions of his predecessors through thought processes to rediscover again and again the magnitude and sublimity in nature’s natural processes.

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