WORDSWORTH, HILL FARMING AND THE MAKING OF A CULTURAL LANDSCAPE

Terry McCormick © 2009

The poems Wordsworth wrote in the first five years of his return to his native region (1800-1805) are driven by an intensity of encounter with places, landscapes and the community of hill farmers and shepherds which lived and worked around him. There is a sheen of idealization, especially  in the early enthusiastic embrace;  Wordsworth is a poet not an historian. Then there is an exploration  and celebration in depth and detail through some remarkable poems. And then, from about 1808 onwards, there is a prose analysis and  a sustained ‘protect and serve’ advocacy of a pastoral culture as a guarantor of a vibrant and sustainable cultural landscape in the drafts and versions of his Guide through the District of the Lakes.  As Wordsworth takes us  readers into this culture, he seeds a human ecology out of a broadly non-literary hill farming way of life, and sets a course for the wider communication of this culture which, until his arrival back home, had been place-specific and regionally circumscribed. Wordsworth would not have been able to do this without the circumstance of his own childhood and upbringing in the Lake District; in re-discovering the region he uncovered an archaeology of profound experience and identity. This revealing was informed by an early family life sustained by land management; his father was a land-agent for the Earl of Lonsdale.  And then there was Wordsworth’s special gift  of  empathy with individuals and aboriginal communities who and which were not included within mainstream British  and European culture.

I
The shepherd was first of all a silhouette in a landscape distanced from the young emerging poet by conventions of classical pastoral admixed with current picturesque fashion:

‘How luminous and calm the scene below
To shepherd pausing on the mountain’s brow,
As from his love he winds his homeward way
With heart all hope and spirits kind and gay…’
An Evening Walk (MS, 1794)

But even as early as this, Wordsworth’s local and specific knowledge of  hill life off-set these conventions:

'He marks beneath the unchequered moonbeams fall
Direct upon the loose rude cross of wall
That shields from driving snows the winter flocks
Now wandering thoughtless o’er the distant rocks.’
An Evening Walk (MS, 1794)

This role of the shepherd in Wordsworth’s early poetry as a device for seeing and engaging  is rapidly deepened throughout his 20’s.  In these years his native knowledge and the contemporary reality of agricultural distress combine (eg  The Reverie of Poor Susan (1797), The Last of the Flock (1798), to suggest that the shepherd and the farmer will become the means by which Wordsworth can access a rich and knowledgeable participation in the natural world.

By the time Wordsworth has re-settled in his home-region, the silhouette-shepherd had become a voice which carries a culture and a vision of human possibility:

‘A human voice, how awful in the gloom
Of coming night, when sky is dark, and earth
Not dark, not yet enlightened, but by snow
Made visible, amid the noise of winds
And bleatings manifold of sheep that know
That summons and are gathering round for food-

I came not dreaming of unruffled life,
Untainted manners; born among the hills
Bred also there…                                         

                                …so here there is

A Power and a protection for the mind
Dispensed indeed to other solitudes
Favoured by noble privilege like this,
Where kindred independence of estate
Is prevalent, where he who tills the field,
He, happy Man! Is Master of the field
And treads the mountain which his Father trod.
Hence, and from other local circumstance,
In this enclosure many of the old
Substantial virtues have a firmer tone
Than in the base and ordinary world.’
Home at Grasmere MS B (1800), 416-19, 428-30, 457-68

In re-discovering his native community, Wordsworth was able to ground powerful, classical pastoral precedents, in a new ‘real-world’ pastoral; Cumbrian, Lake District, specific, valley by valley, farming family by farming family; shepherd by shepherd:

                                        ‘Society is here
A true Community, a genuine frame
Of many into incorporate.
That must be looked for here, paternal sway,
One household, under God, for high and low,
One family, and one mansion; to themselves
Appropriate…’

Dismissing therefore, all Arcadian dreams.
All golden fancies of the golden Age…’
Home at Grasmere MS B (1800), 818-24, 829-30

This is a community defined, given an identity, and protected by place and its physical boundaries. This is a cultural ecology that begins to mesmerize Wordsworth and has a hold over his imagination and his thinking.

As Wordsworth looks more closely at the lives of two farming families – the Ewebanks of Ennerdale (The Brothers, 1800) and Michael, Isabel and Luke of Grasmere (Michael, 1800) – he takes on the challenges and crises of the Lake District’s hill farming culture. In The Brothers, famously, he begins the poem by pointing to the gulf between picture(sque)-obsessed tourists and the valley farmers:

‘Perched on the forehead of a jutting crag,
Pencil in hand and book upon the knee,
Will look and scribble, scribble on and look,
Until a main might travel twelve stout miles,
Or reap an acre of his neighbour’s corn.
The Brothers (1800), 6-10

The poem, through the story of a returning local man who for a while remains a ‘stranger’ (as are the poem’s readers) opens a window into the culture of this  family which has been making and maintaining this place for at least five generations;  since approximately 1650.* This is a community of the living and the dead (‘We have no need of names and epitaphs/We talk about the dead by our firesides’ (178-79) ) in which the struggles of sustaining life in the valleys and hills had their tragic outcomes:

‘-and old Walter,
They left to him the family heart, and land
With other burthens than the crop it bore.
Year after year the old man still kept up
A cheerful mind,- and buffeted with bond,
Interest, and mortgages; at last he sank
And went into his grave before his time. (210-16)

After Walter died, ‘the estate and house were sold’ (301)

‘…and all their sheep
‘A pretty flock, and which, for aught I know,
Had clothed the Ewbanks for a thousand years:-
Well – all was gone, and they were destitute…’(301-04)

In this community, the land was ‘the family heart’; shepherds were hefted to it, as were their flocks. Here, for Wordsworth, this pastoral life offered a model and a  source of place-making knowledge which was more valuable because of the threats to its existence.

This preoccupation with a culture sourced in land-ownership and place-making over generations is worked through  again in 1800 through Michael, a story of one shepherd and his family leading Wordsworth into this community.  The events in the poem date from the 1720’s/1730’s, which suggests a birth- time for Michael of around 1650.Wordsworth emphasizes that he is not drawn to shepherds and hill farmers ‘For their own sakes’ (25), but more for the landscape which they had cultured: ‘…for the fields and hills/Where was their occupation and abode.’ (25-6) And this culture was rooted in everyday work and intimate knowledge of terrain and climate:

‘And in his shepherd’s calling he was prompt
And watchful more than ordinary men.
Hence he had learned the meaning of all winds,
Of blasts of every tone…
And truly, at all times, the storm that drives
The traveller to a shelter, summoned him
Up to the mountains: he had been alone
Amid the heart of a thousand mists,
That came to him, and left him, on the heights.’
(46-9, 56-60)

The poem is imbued with insight about the character of human hefting which is the foundation for this distinctive culture : ‘Those fields, those hills – what could they less? had laid/Strong hold on his affections…’ (74-75) This insight is inflamed with the knowledge that such foundations had begun to fracture at the beginning of the 18th century, and that the impossibility of succession projected an absolute end to this culture.  Because of the fragility of this pastoral way of life, Michael’s son, Luke, leaves home to make his fortune in order to keep the small estate within the family. As Michael puts it to his wife Isabel:

‘”I have been toiling more than seventy years,
And in the open sunshine of God’s love
Have we all lived; yet if these fields of ours
Should pass into a stranger’s hand, I think
That I could not lie quiet in my grave.’ (228-32)

 

Wordsworth picks up the story after the tragedy has happened through his encounters with the incomplete heart-shaped sheepfold which Michael began to build and which would have been completed if the worst had not happened. The fracture of heart and place is vivid in the landscape as this structure; this unfinished sheepfold.  Wordsworth does what he can do.  In effect he completes the sheepfold for Michael, as a poem. The oral, non-literary place-making culture of generations of shepherds and hill farmers is transferred into a literary and cosmopolitan medium which, at the very least, reveals all that could be lost. This is the story of one family; the community history of this cultural landscape is made up of these stories.

II
The title of Book VIII of  The Prelude ‘Retrospect- Love of Nature Leading to Love of Mankind’ (a philosophical stance that is behind the formation of the National Parks within the United Kingdom) is illustrated by the opening description of the fair  at Grasmere. This highlights the community traditions which join pleasure  with business and stockmanship:

‘…the sheep
That have for traffic been cull’d out are penn’d
In cotes that stand together on the Plain
Ranged side by side; the chaffering is begun.
The Heifer lows uneasy at the voice
Of a new master, bleat the Flocks aloud…’ (19-24)

Wordsworth then backs this up with a  recollection of  his own entanglement with the individuality of this unique culture and its crafts, skills, and knowledge in the ‘eyelet spots/And loop-holes of the hills’ (88-89):

‘…but by me was then first seen)
A Shepherd in the bottom of the Vale
Towards the centre standing, who with voice,
And hand waved to and fro as need required
Gave signal to his Dog, thus teaching him
To chace along the mazes of steep crags
The Flock he could not see: and so the Brute
Dear Creature! with a Man’s intelligence
Advancing, or  retreating on his steps.
Through every pervious strait, to the right or left,
Thridded away unbaffled…’(105-114)

The kinship between shepherd, dogs, livestock, and the particular terrain of a farm and its common land is born of decades of sustaining a living in the uplands. Wordsworth celebrates this experience and ‘know-how’; the sheep have been bred to know their place- their ‘ancient Birth-right’ (262):

‘”that tho’ the storm
Drive one of these poor Creatures miles and miles,
If he can crawl he will return again
To his own hills, the spots where, when a Lamb
He learned to pasture at his Mother’s side.”
After so long a labour, suddenly
Bethinking him of this, the Boy
Pursued his way towards a brook whose course
Was through that unfenced tract of mountain-ground
Which to his Father’s little Farm belong’d,
The home and ancient Birth-right of their Flock.’
(253-62)

From this perspective Wordsworth, in 1803-5, while he was composing the thirteen book Prelude, began to articulate with confidence a general view about the importance of this hill farming culture to this Lake District landscape and the wider national (and international) community:

‘But lovelier far than this the Paradise
Where I was rear’d;…
The heart of Man, a district on all sides
The fragrance breathing of humanity,
Man free, man working for himself, with choice
Of time, and place, and object; by his wants,
His comforts, native occupations, cares,
Conducted on to individual ends
Or social…’(144-45, 152-56)

 

III
So, as Wordsworth deepens his appreciation of this unique uplands culture, he builds a philosophy, a set of values, which is on the edge of a  spiritual vision, certainly the nucleus of a deep human ecology:

‘How exquisitely the individual Mind
(And the progressive powers perhaps no less
Of the whole species) to the external world
Is fitted; and how exquisitely too-
Theme this but little heard of among men-
The external world is fitted to the mind…’
Home at Grasmere, MSB, 1006-11

Seeking to match his own engagement  with hill shepherds and their pastoral culture,  his language achieves an authentic voice, the more directly it embodies this culture of work with place, landscape and livestock. This work is all-embracing and includes the wider community. The ‘homely Priest of Ennerdale’ and his family in The Brothers demonstrate this integrity:

                                           ‘Upon the stone
His wife sate near him, teasing matted wool,
While, from the twin cards soothed with glittering wire,
He fed the spindle to his youngest child, 
Who, in the open air, with due accord
Of busy hands and back and forward steps,
Her large round wheel was turning.’
(20-26)

 

As Wordsworth reviews the shepherding year, he gathers in his own thoughts and insights into the moral force and absolute value of this hill farming culture. First of all, the challenges of winter:

‘There ‘tis the Shepherd’s task the winter long
To wait upon the storms: of their approach
Sagacious, from the height he drives his Flock
Down into sheltering coves, and feeds them there
Through the hard time, long as the storm is lock’d
(So do they phrase it) bearing from the stalls
A toilsome burden up the craggy ways,
To strew it on the snow.’
The Prelude (1805) VIII,358-65

Then the spring:

‘And when the Spring
Looks out, and all the mountains dance with lambs,
He through the enclosures won from the steep Waste,
And through the lower Heights hath gone his rounds…’
Ibid, 365-68

And the summer,

‘…when the Flock with warmer weather climbs
Higher and higher, him his office leads
To range among them, through the hills dispers’d
And watch their goings, whatsoever track
Each Wanderer chuses for itself; a work
That lasts the summer through.’
Ibid, 369-74

This is a working life that expresses an independence and dignity which compensates for low cash returns and unreliable markets: ‘He feels himself/In those vast regions where his service is/A Freeman’ (Ibid, 384-86). And, for those, like Wordsworth and some of his readers, who are able to see into this life, the hill shepherd can become more exalted, probably, than he could ever comprehend:

                                          ‘…thus
Have I beheld him, without knowing why
Have felt his presence in his own domain,
As of a Lord and Master; or a Power
Or Genius, under Nature, under God,
Presiding…’
(Ibid, 389-94)

But, while not ensuring that all his readers will become born-again pastoralists, Wordsworth’s vision of the reality and value of hill farming has a diamond-hard edge to it which leads him to see this way of life, incubated and sustained in his native Lake District, as a bulwark against destructive processes veering into the region:

                                          'And thus
Was founded a sure safeguard and defence
Against the weight of meanness and selfish cares,
Coarse manners, vulgar passions, that beat in
On all sides from the ordinary world
In which we traffic.’
(Ibid, 451-56)


It is this conviction which drives Wordsworth to write his famous letter of 14th January 1801, to the then leader of the opposition in the House of Commons, Charles James Fox,  making a plea for the support of this way of life, this special Lake District community, against the forces of social disintegration:

‘They are small independent proprietors of land here called statesmen,men of respectable education who daily labour on their own littleproperties. The domestic affections will always be strong amongst men who live in a country not crowded with population, if these men are placed above poverty. But if they are proprietors of small estates, which have descended to them from their ancestors, the power which these affections will acquire amongst such men is inconceivable by those who have only had an opportunity of observing hired labourers, farmers, and the manufacturing Poor. Their little tract of land serves as a kind of permanent rallying point for their domestic feelings, as a tablet upon which they are written which makes them objects of memory in a thousand instances when they would otherwise be forgotten…This class of men is rapidly disappearing.’
Letters, Early Years, p314-15

IV
It was not long before Wordsworth settled on a conviction that land ownership was essential if the place-shaping  he explored and celebrated in his poetry was to be protected. His Poems on the Naming of Places of 1800 carried more than a touch of literal possession of place, and shortly after writing to Charles James Fox as a champion of the ‘statesmen’ community, he reveals in a letter seeking support from  his friend Thomas Poole (9th April 1801)that this advocacy was not limited to one ‘class of men’:

'…you are yourself the inheritor of an estate which has long been in the possession of your family; and, above all, because you are so well acquainted, nay, so familiarly conversant with the language, manners, and feelings of the middle order of people who dwell in the country.’
Letters, Early Years, p.322

And soon, once the outstanding litigation between the Wordsworth family and the Earl of Lonsdale was settled, this inclusivity embraced the ‘higher order’ of people as well, first of all with Sir George Beaumont from 1803 onwards:

‘Let a man of wealth and influence shew by the appearance of the
country in his neighbourhood that he treads in the steps of the good sense of the age and occasionally goes foremost; let him give countenance to improvements in agriculture, steering clear of the pedantry of it , and showing that its grossest utilities will connect
themselves harmoniously with the more intellectual arts, and even thrive the best under such connection…'
17th and 24th October 1805, Letters, Early Years, p.625

And then, for the remainder of his life, with the most powerful landed interest in Cumbria; the Lonsdale family.

Throughout, land and landownership was the absolute guarantee of social stability and ecological continuity, and this allowed Wordsworth to form allegiances with all the classes. Without land (and its places and landscapes), there are no domestic affections and the culture and community which underpinned these places and landscapes is continuously diminished. Wordsworth’s everyday observations of his neighbours and their crises – here the Ashburners at Town End – provided evidence of this fact:

‘With our pastures about us, we could not be sad;
Our comfort was near if we ever were crost;
But the comfort, the blessings, and wealth that we had,
We slighted them all,- and our birthright was lost.'
Repentance A Pastoral Ballad, 21-24

Wordsworth was able to gather up these preoccupations and make his case more directly and with force in his Guide through the District of the Lakes (1835) which appeared first of all in 1810 as Select Views. In an extended passage, deleted in manuscript, Wordsworth concentrates on the significance of the ‘Stavely Revolt’  of 1619-26 (fully assessed most recently by Joe Scott in The Kendal Tenant Rights Dispute, CWAAS 98(1998) 169-82 )which achieved a  legal consolidation of customary tenure:

‘As a matter of general interest it may be added that this Village
has a claim, little known, upon the regards of the Patriot, on account of a struggle that was made by a Band of fearless and resolute Peasants who 200 years ago here pledged themselves to defend the rights which they inherited from their Forefathers. And, had not the struggle been attended with success, these Landscapes would have wanted the greatest part of the most interesting ornaments which they to this day possess…I allude to the partition of the Country into small estates, and all those unaffected graces which arise out of that arrangement of property chiefly held by customary tenure…’ Select Views, Prose Works, II, pp264-65

Acknowledging his debt to Joseph Nicolson and Richard Burns’ The History and Antiquities of the Counties of Westmorland and Cumberland (2 vols, 1777), Wordsworth tracks the struggle between peasants and and the Crown:

‘’The tenants still would not submit . Though their service had ceased the Border spirit remained, and they combined to defend each other by force if no other course should be effectual.A meeting was holden at Stavely…’ (ibid, p.265)

The dispute eventually went to the star chamber and was a victory for the ‘fearless and resolute peasants’ who, in Wordsworth’s concluding comments, called up the memory of

‘the confederacy of Peasants that gave birth to the Swiss
Republic, or the Magna Charta-Barons assembled at Runnymede.
-I before mentioned what connections this struggle has with the
Landscapes of this District which is our present business…’
(Ibid, p.266)

Indeed… here is the most direct statement of the making of a cultural landscape by a community founded upon a system of land-management which achieved a security and legal support for gradual adaptation and evolution over the succeeding 150 years (from 1610), before again coming under the pressures and threats fore-grounded during Wordsworth’s lifetime. The logic is clear for Wordsworth and pervades his Guide through the District of  the Lakes (1835): the surviving and thriving of these landscapes and places depends upon the  surviving and thriving of the working community which helped to create them and sustain them over centuries.

V
Beyond Wordsworth’s first encounters with the region he returned to - its places, landscapes and communities - his work is often shaped by a prolonged mourning for what had disappeared and what was vanishing around him. In retrospect,  for 21st century stewards of a cultural landscape, he identifies and celebrates what could now be called ‘indicators of a cultural landscape’ his focus was on the indicators of a cultural landscape, the working practices and traditions refreshed and adapted by succeeding generations. The vital link between dogs and man in managing livestock  produced examples of extraordinary fidelity, as in manuscript draft to Book VI of  The Excursion(1814)  where Wordsworth calls up the death of a shepherd on Bield Crag:

‘The man who here is laid
Venturing along the brink of that sheer edge
To take his well-known way, in eager quest
Of some endangered straggler from his flock
Slipped in the turmoil of a winter’s storm
And far beneath by next day’s light was found
A wounded coarse with face toward the snow
And Raiment by that long precipitous fall
Torn from his back – and there was found his Dog
In mournful Posture o’er the naked part
Couching as if to shield it from the cold.’
(MS 61, Poetical Works, V. pp461-62)

In an era of ‘agricultural improvement’ in arable production,  this uplands culture, for Wordsworth, had a value that is beyond economic return and the ups and downs of the market:

‘The Sheep which range upon the Mountains interest the affections
more than a lifeless crop; the profit they bring is not put off to
distant time, & falls in according to the wants of the house by commodious detail. The labours of the Shepherd also have the attractions of an amusement which in a mountainous country
is not languid & effeminate, but full of hardship, effort, & danger,
diversified by the fluctuations of hope & fear.’
(‘'An Unpublished Tour, 1811-12', Prose II, p.311)

To look closely at this culture is to access a profound cross-generational intimacy (in contemporary terms ‘effective succession’) with the terrain and its livestock which is most telling in the practice of hefting both for shepherds and their sheep:

‘Look upwards & imagine that you see what I happen to
know might a short while since have frequently been seen
from this bottom – the figure of a Shepherd climbing up this
path and bearing his son upon his shoulder. You will conjecture
from the appearance that the boy is yet to young to sustain the toil of ascent so long and steep, but there is not a sheep in this heath-bred & heath-going flock the countenance of which is not perfectly known to him; & as soon as the pair have reached thy top of the eminence, he will slip from the back of his panting father, & will either trip by his side over the plain or commence his almost independent operations with vigour and fearless confidence. It must be allowed that the best culture is that which does most good to the human heart…’
(‘An Unpublished Tour, 1811-12, Prose II, p.312)

Behind  this is an historical narrating (indebted to Thomas West’s The Antiquities of Furness , 1774, pp xxii-xxiv) of how these places and landscape were shaped and managed by pastoral communities beginning with the tenant system overseen by the monasteries:

‘divisions were not properly distinguished; the land remained
mixed; each tenant had a share through all the arable and meadow-
land, and common of pasture over all the wastes. The sub-tenements were judged sufficient for the support of so many families…’
A Guide through the District of the Lakes, 1357-60, Prose Works II, p.197

The consequences of this

‘have affected the face of the country materially to the present day, being, in fact, one of the principal causes which give it such a striking superiority, in beauty and interest, over all other parts of the island’. Ibid, 1345-47

This system evolved and achieved stability and strength between the 1600’s and 1750 and is described and celebrated by  Wordsworth as a cultural ecology par excellence:

‘Corn was grown in these vales…sufficient upon each estate to
furnish bread for each family, and no more: notwithstanding the
union of several tenements, the possessions of each inhabitant
still being small…The storms and moisture of the climate induced
them to sprinkle their upland property with outhouses of native
stone, as places of shelter for their sheep, where, in tempestuous weather, food was distributed to them. Every family spun from its
own flock the wool withy which it was clothed…every thing else,
person and possession, exhibited a perfect equality, a community
of shepherds and agriculturists, proprietors, for the most part, of
the lands which they occupied and cultivated.’
Ibid, 1469-73, 76-81, 89-92

There is no doubt that  this description softens the hard edges and the struggle for survival which we know, through poems like Michael and The Brothers, that Wordsworth thoroughly appreciated. Historians of the region – notably JD Marshall and Angus Winchester – have pointed to a glossing and simplification of the historical complexity of the Lake district farming community and highlighted the way this which played to the sensibility of incoming gentry (JD Marshall, 'The Lakeland Yeoman, his home and community' in Old Lakeland, David & Charles, 1971 and Angus JL , Wordsworth's 'Pure Commonwealth'? Yeoman Dynasties in the English Lake District, c.1450-1750, Armitt Library Journal, ed. Keith Hanley, 1/1998). But there is enough core evidence and reportage to give the case a powerful and lasting resonance.  And Wordsworth is being polemical,  arguing for the sources of a cultural ecology to be found in this Lake District story: ‘the manner in which the hand of man has acted upon the surface of the inner regions of this mountainous country, as incorporated with and subservient to the  powers and processes of nature’ (Ibid, 1516-18) The vernacular architecture of these hill farmers and shepherd express this fusion vividly:

‘Hence buildings, which in their very form call to mind the
processes of nature, do thus, clothed in part with a vegetable
garb, appear to be received into the bosom of the living
principle of things, as it exists among the woods and fields;
and, by their colour and their shape, affectingly directly the
thoughts to that tranquil course of nature and simplicity, along
which the humble-minded inhabitants have, through so many
generations, been led.’ (Ibid, 1568-76)

For Wordsworth, this culture then in the early 19th century, as now in the early 21st century is ‘the hidden treasures of its landscapes’ (Ibid, 1599-1600) which is there for all those with an ‘eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy’ (Ibid, 2306-2307). Conversely, it is clear that these ‘hidden treasures’ can be easily missed in the din of contemporary preoccupation; more so in our own time than in the first half of the 19th century. This, for Wordsworth, is an outstanding value of the Lake District; it is a value which has hill farming as a skeletal framework and circulatory system for the cultural landscape. And it is a value that he argues needs conservation and protection in his lifetime, as it does even more urgently in our own:

‘Towards the head of these Dales was found a perfect Republic
of Shepherds and Agriculturists’…this pure Commonwealth; the
members of which existed in the midst of a powerful empire, like
an ideal society or an organized community whose constitution had
been imposed and regulated by the mountains which protected it…
many of these humble sons of the hills had a consciousness that
the land, which they walked over and tilled, had for more than five hundred years been possessed by men of their name and blood…’
(Ibid, 1665-67, 71-74, 75-78)

The destination of Wordsworth’s youthful and radical republicanism associated with the French revolution was this region. The idealism is still there but is now grounded in the power politics of land-ownership and dependent on the wider power structure of the national and international community; in his time ‘a powerful empire’.

VI
As the years went by, the case Wordsworth made in his Guide through the District of the Lakes (1835), driven as it was by a mission to counter the triviality of the picturesque with its ‘craving for prospect which is immoderate’ (Ibid, 1825-26) became frequently and conventionally political. Wordsworth’s natural – in his father’s footsteps - reversion to a support role for the Lowther family interests in Cumberland and Westmorland led him, by 1817, to a defence of the feudalistic status quo:

'…the principal ties which kept the different classes of society
in a vital and harmonious dependence upon each other have,
within these 30 years either been greatly impaired or wholly
dissolved. Everything has been put to market and sold for the
highest price it would bring…was…a substantial amity and
interchanges of hospitality from generation to generation. All
this moral cement is dissolved…’
(Letter to Daniel Stuart, 7th April, 1817, Letters, The Middle Years, Part II p.375-76)

And so, freeholds were bought in order to acquire votes for Lord Lonsdale in the key election of 1818. The old poetry of delight in place and organic vernacular is now blended with the political imperative:

‘An hour ago a bargain was struck in this house for a beautiful freehold in little Langdale – the farm just below Betty’s house on the same side of the road – a sweet sunny place with beautiful rocks. Yew trees and hollies around two comfortable dwellings – The purchase money 700 Gs.- it may be divided into 6 freeholds…’
(Letter,Mary Wordsworth to Thomas Monkhouse 15th November 1818 Mary Wordsworth, Letters 1800-1855, p.40)

As Wordsworth saw it, conservative politics in 1818 were essential for the survival of the cultural ecology of the region. The commitment to land and land-ownership was more fundamental than circumstantial and electoral allegiances. In 1817 he also argued that Thomas Spence’s radical scheme for land nationalization deserved support as a solution to the conflict between the landed and the landless (Letters, The Middle Years, Part 1, p.387). And, in 1824 he opposed proposals by the agents of Lady le Fleming to enclose Rydal Commons. His success in this opposition gained the praise of a local builder:

‘It was all along of him that Grasmere folks have their Common
open. Ye may ga now reet up t’sky ower Grizedale, wi’out
liggin’ leg to t’fence, and all through him…it’s a deal pleasanter for
them as walks up Grisedale, ye kna, let alean reets o’ foddering
and goosage for freemen I’ Gersmer.’
(Rawnsley, Reminiscences of Wordsworth among the Peasantry of  Westmorland (1968, p.27)

The nub of the cultural landscape for Wordsworth was the kinship between the making and managing of places (undertaken for centuries in the Lake District by shepherds and hill farmers) – also described as the ‘economy of nature’ (Wordsworth’s term for ‘ecology’) (Guide through the District of the Lakes, 993, Prose Works, II, p.185) and the aesthetic experience generated by the cultural landscape and its places. If  ‘the economy of nature’ was functioning well (because it is being managed effectively) then this results in a ‘uniting of symmetrical parts in a consistent whole’ (Ibid, 874-5, p.181)which is his definition of the beautiful.  His life and work in the Lake District led him back to this time and time again and his poetry and prose ensured that his insights and his debts were shared with a universal community.  The depth of Wordsworth’s ecology continues to waylay and surprise; its dependence on  the Lake District’s farming community and legacy was acknowledged fully and with all humility  and directness throughout his work. This is a legacy which carried daunting challenges in his lifetime and beyond. Wordsworth’s interpretation and advocacy of this regional culture set a template which successive cultural-ecological activists have worked with throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. They would be the first to recognize the patchwork character of their effectiveness in protecting and serving the core active principles of the cultural landscape championed by Wordsworth. The fact that every day, perhaps every hour, the ‘economy of nature’ continues to generate beauty and often deepens its impact for resident and visiting communities, testifies to the enduring value of a landscape which was shaped by a hill farming community and given cultural power by a writer who unflinchingly acknowledged and celebrated this source of the shaping.