1798-1800: From Goslar to Grasmere

This website is called "From Goslar to Grasmere" because its focus, in text and context, is the year from December 1798-December 1799 and the first year in Grasmere in 1800. Across this period William and Dorothy's lives changed dramatically, and with lasting consequences for both their writing. In December, 1798 they were stuck in a remote town in Saxony, under the Hartz mountains, in extreme cold and in physical and cultural isolation, surrounded by a people alien to them. In December, 1799 they moved into Dove Cottage, Grasmere which was to prove such a significant and productive home for them over the next eight years. But "From Goslar to Grasmere" also serves to connect the two major manuscripts with which the project is concerned. The earliest Prelude manuscript MS JJ was written in Goslar and out of that sense of isolation, whilst the Home at Grasmere manuscripts, begun in early 1800, initially emerge in joyous celebration at having found a home.

In 1798-99, after leaving Alfoxden, the two young people were homeless. They made the best of this by choosing to move around, but their movements were underpinned by uncertainty about their future. They were not travelling freely with the pleasure at the end of returning home, they were travelling without knowing what or where that home would be. During this period, they undertook four walking tours of various lengths (two in Wales, one in Saxony, and one [William only] in the Lakes) as well as travelling to Germany and living there for seven months. The tour of Saxony alone lasted for two months.

It is clear from the Letters that the Wordsworths did not set out with the specific aim of going to Goslar, nor did they intend to stay long once they arrived there. One motive for travel was to live more cheaply than they could in England. They were not moneyed tourists in search of particular places or experiences. Dorothy tells Mrs William Rawson: "you may perhaps think that we are going upon an expensive scheme into Germany and that our income will not suffice to maintain us. . . .We can live for less money in Germany while we are stationary than we can in England" (EY 224). They also emphatically intended to learn the language – Dorothy in the same letter writes of making money from "translation" and Coleridge records Wordsworth's telling him, "as he did not come into Germany to learn the Language by a Dictionary, he must remove" (EY 233).

Unlike Coleridge, William and Dorothy could not afford to stay in "good society". As a result their experience does not appear to have been a pleasant one and their trip was unsuccessful. First there was the cold. In the Fenwick Notes, dictated in later life, Wordsworth describes this in detail:

So severe was the cold of this winter, that when we past out of the parlour warmed by the stove, our cheeks were struck by the air as by cold iron. I slept in a room over a passage that was not ceiled. The people of the house used to say, rather unfeelingly, that they expected I should be frozen to death some night. (Fenwick Notes, 38)

Secondly, they had also placed themselves in a remote village with a limited ability to communicate on their part and "no society" (EY 233) with which to mingle. As a result they failed to achieve their prime objective which was to learn the language through daily exchange and conversation. The period of 1798-99 thus has a strange kind of "in-between" identity. William and Dorothy are wanderers and outsiders, either on the move or in transit, at least until they return to England to stay with the Hutchinsons at Sockburn in April, 1799.

When we turn to the following year the contrast is dramatic. In the full twelve months of 1800 Dorothy only leaves Grasmere for Keswick, which she does twice (for one week in August and just under a week in November). William goes to Keswick more frequently than Dorothy (to see Coleridge who had just moved there) but the furthest he travels is to the Hutchinson's farm with John. Instead of moving around the two young people now assert their pull on others. Grasmere becomes a fixed point and steady centre. Visitors come for extended periods of time: John Wordsworth stays for 9 months; Mary Hutchinson for over a month; Sara Hutchinson for 6-7 weeks; Coleridge for two longer stays and many shorter ones.

The contrast across these two and a half years illustrates a radical change in the pattern and shape of their lives. As such it sheds clear light upon Home at Grasmere as a poem concerned with trying to establish, creatively, what had just been established domestically. Wordsworth seeks to draw upon his new-found stability in a positive representation of the valley as:

A Centre, come from wheresoe'er you will,

A Whole without dependence or defect,

Made for itself and happy in itself,

Perfect Contentment, Unity entire.

(MS B Reading Text, lines 167-170).

A comparison of the places visited by William and Dorothy Wordsworth in the year and a half prior to their move to Grasmere with those places visited during their first year in Grasmere is extremely telling. The two consecutive periods reveal radically different kinds of existence. To look at these in detail click on the links below.