Abundant Recompense

Article excerpt

The essays in this collection, originally delivered at the Wordsworth Summer Conference and first published in The Wordsworth Circle, have been out of print for some time, but not for lack of caring. In 1970, starting with only 200 subscribers, TWC circulated as mimeographed stapled sheets typed on an ancient manual typewriter. These early issues were used up some time ago and have not yet been made available on line. While some of the authors included in this issue--Brian Morris, John Jordan, Jack Owen, Jonathan Wordsworth, and Bob Barth--have passed on to an afterlife conference, the other authors have kindly agreed to allow reprinting without any changes whatsoever, even their affiliations. One, however, requires a special note: now Professor at Warwick, in 1984, Jonathan Bate was a postgraduate student, an indefatigable tutor charming as much as leading us up the highest peaks of the Lake District, before beginning a distinguished career on radio and tv, writing plays, novels, journalism, books on drama, Shakespeare, ecology, poetry, the award-winning John Clare biography and edition, the Oxford History of English Literature, now completing an edition of the Complete Works of Shakespeare, and, in June, 2006, was named Commander of the British Empire (CBE).

While the Wordsworth Summer Conference took on new forms after the first thirty-five years, and will no doubt take on many more, I offer this history now because the serendipitous way it began is more interesting than the tales that have grown up around it. The record is in The Wordsworth Circle, which began the same year, 1970, serving the same audience and with the same purpose: to create a sense of community, to fulfill the legacy about which Wordsworth was specific: the Poet, he wrote in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800) "is the rock and defense for human nature, an upholder and preserver, carrying everywhere with him relationship and love. In spite of difference of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs; in spite of things gone out of mind, and things violently destroyed, the Poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth, and over all things." Since 1970, we have tried to live by this prophecy in the learned societies, journals, books, courses, literary organizations, conferences, meetings, celebrations of the poetry, the poets, and those who studied them which have blossomed and will continue to enrich our lives.

The Wordsworth Summer Conference began on Boxing Day, 1969, when I met Richard Wordsworth for the first time in London for lunch at the Dorchester Hotel. Richard had seen Rydal Mount advertised in the London Times ("Wordsworth Home for Sale. Outstanding Tourist Possibilities, or Ideal Family Home") and started a campaign to purchase his great-great grandfather's home. The National Trust dismissed his appeal: "I believe we have enough Wordsworth shrines. Rydal Mount would make three, or four counting the grave." But Richard was not planning a shrine: for the last thirty-seven years of Wordsworth's life, Rydal Mount and Fox How, Matthew Arnold's home just down the hill, had been the destination for every significant writer and intellectual in England, many Europeans and Americans as well. As Robert Woof wrote, "The visitor's list is like a roll-call of the early 19th century. It must be one of the most documented houses in history." And that is how Richard wanted it restored: a center of creative, intellectual, and social activity, poetry readings, plays, lectures, concerts, even a flat for visiting scholars and writers. I had just started The Wordsworth Circle, and mutual friends suggested that I help.

Richard, a successful actor, with a Cambridge education, a history of memorable roles in England, America, and Australia, played everything from Shakespeare to Shaw, from Shakespeare to a mutating astronaut, television costume dramas, horror films, even musical theatre as Fagan in Oliver, as Hans Christian Andersen in Song of Norway, and, in Peter Pan, as both Mr. …

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