Dr. Nicholas Mason, English Department
As I worked with Shannon Stimpson on her 2010 honors thesis on William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes, she and I regularly lamented that no one had produced a widely accessible, modern scholarly edition of this major work. With this in mind, after Shannon’s thesis defense I proposed that she, my colleague Paul Westover, and I collaboratively produce a new edition of the Guide. In the months that followed, we received a MEG grant from the university, recruited two undergraduate students (Rachel Wise and Emily Young) to help with the project, and used most of the grant money to travel as a research team in May 2011 to the Lake District in Northern England. There we familiarized ourselves with the landscapes featured in the Guide, photographed key scenes and landmarks for our envisioned electronic edition of the book, and studied manuscripts and early editions of Wordsworth’s text at the Wordsworth Trust’s library. In the two-plus years since, our research team has expanded to include two faculty members with expertise in digital editions (Dr. Billy Hall from English and Dr. Jarom McDonald from the Office of Digital Humanities), and in the spring of 2013 we submitted the various textual, hypertextual, and scholarly sections of our edition to Romantic Circles, the premier publisher of electronic scholarly editions of Romantic-era literature. After receiving a highly positive external review of our work in the fall of 2013 (see attached appendix), Romantic Circles agreed to publish our edition. We are now making final edits and technical adjustments and anticipate the electronic edition will be published sometime in early 2014. Once published our collaborative edition should prove a significant scholarly milestone for one mid-career faculty member (myself), three early-career faculty members (Drs. Westover, Hall, and McDonald), and three students who are preparing for careers in the academy (Shannon Stimpson, Rachel Wise, and Emily Young).
Evaluation of how well the academic objectives of the proposal were met
Everything we outlined in our original proposal has been accomplished. We acquired copies and user rights for all the original editions of the Guide, converted the print editions into searchable digital texts, prepared a scholarly introduction and annotations to the text, and created a visually compelling and highly functional digital framework for our materials. As the attached peer review implies, our edition should quickly become a standard reference work for all scholars working on the Guide, Lake District tourism, and early nineteenth-century theories of nature and the aesthetic.
Evaluation of the mentoring environment
At every turn we endeavored to keep this a student-focused research project. Soon after receiving our grant, Paul Westover and I began holding weekly meetings where we broadened our students’ knowledge of Wordsworth and trained them in the sort of textual work we’d be asking them to perform. Then, in May 2011, we used the MEG funding to travel to the English Lake District, where we spent an entire week working in archives, on trails Wordsworth frequented, and around dinner tables. This was a fully immersive mentoring experience, and students developed first-hand experience seeing how scholars formulate and research projects in our field. After returning from England, we met regularly throughout the rest of 2011 and 2012 to coordinate our efforts and move the project closer to publication.
Progress of student participants
Shannon Stimpson: When we began this project, Shannon had just completed her BA in English and was set to begin work as an MA student in English at BYU. Since that time, she has finished her MA, including writing a master’s thesis that extended her personal research on Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes. In mid-2012 she and her husband moved to Penn State for his doctoral work, and she is hoping to begin her own doctoral studies at Penn State this coming fall.
Rachel Wise: When Rachel joined our research team, she was double-majoring in art history and English and deciding which field to pursue as a graduate student. In the intervening years, she has immersed herself in art history, earning an MA in the subject from BYU and developing her skills as a specialist in 17th-century Dutch painting. In Fall 2013 she began her doctoral studies in art history at the University of Pennsylvania.
Emily Young: Like Shannon and Rachel, Emily has used our Wordsworth project as a spring board into graduate studies. After joining our team as a senior English major, she realized she had the skill set and interests to pursue a graduate degree in literary studies. She has since completed most of her course work in BYU’s MA program in English and is writing an MA thesis on Wordsworth’s contemporary Sir Walter Scott.
Description of the results/findings of the project
When it is published in the coming months, our project will provide literary scholars and historians with a wealth of new insights into the composition, publication, circulation, and revision of Wordsworth’s Guide. Our introduction and notes will also help scholars better understand Wordsworth’s unique theories on everything from the white-washing of cottages to the planting of nonindigenous species to the need to establish nature preserves.
Description of how the budget was spent
Our final expenditures ended up closely following what we proposed in our original budget. Of the $20,000 we received from the Mentoring Environment Grant, roughly $6,000 went toward student wages, $13,000 toward travel costs incurred during our team’s week of research in England’s Lake District, and $1,000 toward research materials, supplies, and permissions for our edition.
Appendix: Anonymous Peer Reviewer’s Report for Romantic Circles
Review of Romantic Circles Editions: Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes – an electronic edition by Nicholas Mason, Shannon Stimpson, Paul Westover, et al.
My overall sense is that this is an impressive achievement and very much deserving of publication. As will become apparent in some of my comments below, this is an important text for Romantic Studies and especially its “green” turn in the last decade so an accessible edition, especially one incorporating all its different versions, as well as images, a comprehensive introduction, and annotated bibliography is not just welcome but also essential. Unfortunately, though, as I will also detail below, I was not able to see the edition as it seems to be intended to appear. My comments, then, are mainly focused on the introduction and what I see as the potential of the edition rather than strictly on its correctness or scholarly acumen – neither of which, to me, seems to be questionable.
Text and Annotations
Because of difficulties opening and reading the actual edition, I’m not sure that I can do full justice to the editors’ work here. I am very curious to see how the text looks online and how browsing it incorporates the annotations and their many useful illustrations and photographs. At any rate, a full comparison between print versions of the Guide and the electronic edition is quite beyond the limits of this review. But it’s too bad that I was not able to engage with the edition in the way promised by the introduction. By the looks of things, the editors have adapted existing digital versions (or in some cases scanned them) rather than transcribed a print copies and so it’s unlikely that there will be any errors in the traditional sense. I can’t tell from the materials that I have how readers will move from text to annotations: hypertext? Notes? By the looks of things, the complete edition will be extremely comprehensive and I’m sure very useful. Unfortunately I can’t really comment on this in detail because I cannot see the actual edition as promised in the introduction. Perhaps, once a mock-up of the edition is up I can see it before release. But I also trust that the edition and texts, as supplemented by the annotations, will be highly valuable. The annotations are primarily devoted to specifying place names, describing people cited and mentioned and providing illustrations, both historical and current: first rate on that score. There seems to me to be more than enough material for this edition and will be especially useful for classroom use and in supplementing students’ first-time engagements with Wordsworth and Romanticism. It is probably too much to ask that some of the critical discussions elaborated in the annotated bibliography be elaborated in relevant sections of the annotations. The intent here seems to be to inform and supplement rather than debate, which is fine.
These seem well chosen and appropriate and will be very useful for supplementing the edition. The annotations look good to me too. I’m not sure how they are to be used as part of the hypertext, though. Will there be relevant links in the introduction and/or texts?
The introduction is highly informative. It traces in detail the origins, evolution, and initial reception of the Guide from its earliest manifestation as an essay accompanying Wilkinson’s Select Views to supplementary essay in the River Duddon to the stand-alone Description of the Scenery of the Lakes to the first edition of the Guide proper and then onto Hudson’s many expanded editions. There is more information here than usual in an introductory essay, including and especially the several plates and title-pages – another feature that makes the idea of an electronic version of this text so compelling. The incorporation of several advertisements shows just how market-oriented Wordsworth and his publishers were in the way that they present the Descriptions and the Guide. I was particularly interested in the changes Wordsworth made to the 1835 edition and the shifting in marketing strategy from a national London-based audience to a local Cumbrian audience. There is also a curious irony to the fact that Wordsworth’s name became associated with the guide and one of its selling-points only after he had ceased to have much to with its production and publication. This argument challenges to some extent Stephen Gill’s argument in Wordsworth and the Victorians that Wordsworth’s increased popularity in the 1820s and 30s can attributed to the poet himself.
I also appreciate the discussion of how the Guide fits into the history of Lake District tourism. The discussion of Brown, Gilpin, and West is interesting without being overwhelming. This will be especially useful for readers who are not familiar with the broader context of the Guide. The claim that these “[w]riters had launched a process that the Lake Poets, especially Wordsworth, would complete, converting the Lake District into a poetic landscape” is essentially correct. But it is also the case, as argued here, that the Wordsworth’s Guide represents a significant shift in the marketing of the Lakes on that seems to depend on a concern to preserve the Lakes for the sake not just of “taste” but also of ecology. Hence, as the editors point out, Wordsworth’s call to make the Lakes into a “national property” is very much the root of the National Parks mandate.
But is there not an important ambiguity here? I am wondering if some of the later developments in tourism played a part in the historical development in Tourism. Is it a coincidence that Wordsworth’s Guide starts to gain in popularity at the same moment that trains began bringing tourists to the Lakes in greater numbers? Wordsworth mentions his concerns about this influx in the Guide itself. This seems to me to be a palpable irony. Is it worth mentioning? I’m not really convinced—as some green critics have been—that Wordsworth’s hostility to the influx of tourists and thus his anticipation of environmental politics is entirely genuine. Rather, a combination of the increased accessibility of the Lakes as well as marketing savvy on the poet’s and his publishers’ part helped to consolidate Wordsworth’s authorial persona as much as the poetry did.
Also, I wonder if the editors might want to explore some of the nuances of Wordsworth’s “eco-mimesis” as Tim Morton calls it. In many respects, Wordsworth creates a taste for nature in the Guide precisely by imagining a particular version of the nature of the Lakes that occludes the political and aesthetic interest of their actual history. When Wordsworth writes a whole chapter on the “Changes [to the Lake Region] and Rules of Taste for Preventing their Bad Effects” he is not necessarily a natural landscape as much as he is telling his audience to see a particular kind of landscape, transformed into Nature by the mediating power of taste. When Wordsworth says there that a plantation of Scotch Firs is a “Melancholy Phalanx” he is passing judgment not on the degradation of human intervention per se, but rather on a particular kind of intervention that he finds distasteful, preferring the presumption that the trees might have been planted by a hermit. There is, in other words, running through the Guide a curious but significant tension between the “natural” and the “cultural” that deserves greater attention. Liu touches on this in Sense of History but few other critics have, especially green critics. I’m not sure if this venue is appropriate for a full discussion of the tensions within eco-criticism and environmental aesthetics, but surely there is some space here to discuss more fully some of the ironies attending Wordsworth’s environmentalism. Such a discussion might be an interesting stimulus to classroom discussion for instance where, in my experience, Romantic environmentalism is all too readily taken at face value by students and not developed in a sufficiently nuanced way by instructors.
Quite apart from its usefulness in relation to the Guide and the new apparatus, this bibliography is an extraordinary useful scholarly undertaking in itself. The documentation on the early reviews of the Guide in its various incarnations will be invaluable for anyone researching or teaching this text. The supplementary bibliography of critical studies is usefully divided into subject areas. The annotations are fairly short and in some cases don’t do full justice to the works listed – but in cases like Liu’s and Bewell’s studies this can hardly be helped. I can imagine that thanks in part to this edition the bibliography on Wordsworth’s Guide might expand significantly in the next few years. The electronic format of this edition will thus happily allow for updates as this work progresses.