Press Release: Romantic Wordsworth Meets His Waterloo

Date: 17 February 2015

Historically important manuscripts of William Wordsworth's war poetry will be on display at a major exhibition to mark the bi-centenary of the Battle of Waterloo.

The exhibition is the first to present Wordsworth and other writers of the Romantic period as 'war poets'.

Their works about the conflicts of their time are as important as those penned by the Great War poets, such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, according to literary experts.

'Wordsworth, War & Waterloo' is open to the public at The Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere, Cumbria, from March 16 until November.

Important manuscripts of Wordsworth's war poetry will be on display, alongside stunning pictures and fascinating objects from the combat between Britain and France.

They include a cannon from Nelson's flagship, cannonballs from the battle of Salamanca and a set of 'Waterloo Teeth'.

Acclaimed UK Wordsworth expert Professor Simon Bainbridge, from Lancaster University's English and Creative Writing department, is one of those behind the exhibition

He said: "The show will reveal how important the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars were for Wordsworth as a writer.

"It will tell the story of the poet's changing responses to the global conflict that began in 1793 and culminated in Wellington's victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in June, 1815.

"In doing so, the exhibition will illustrate how the dramatic events of the war impinged on the lives of people across Britain, including women and children.

"We also want to show how war shaped Wordsworth's ideas about his own role as a poet.

"It will display how he and other writers came to define themselves in relation to the major military and naval figures of the period - Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and, in particular, Napoleon Bonaparte."

The exhibition will be richly illustrated with a number of important paintings, drawings and cartoons from the period.

It will bring together Benjamin Robert Haydon's portraits of Wordsworth, Wellington and Napoleon, and will also feature a range of satirical cartoons on the war and its leading personalities by the brilliant caricaturist James Gillray.

Among other display items is the acclaimed English painter JMW Turner's sketchbook from his visit to Waterloo.

Activities for families and children will play a major part in the exhibition, and there will be a programme of events associated with the show.

Prof Bainbridge is curating this major exhibition, alongside Jeff Cowton of the Wordsworth Trust.

He said: "We have worked hard to bring together an exhibition that gives a fascinating insight into an aspect of the Romantics that many people are totally unaware of.

"Wordsworth's war poetry is a million miles from his wanderings "lonely as a cloud" on Cumbria's hillsides.

"The work makes a fascinating comparison with the writing produced a century later by the Great War poets in the trenches of Flanders."

The professor is a leading authority on the subject of literature and war in the Romantic period and the author of the books Napoleon and English Romanticism and British Poetry and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Jeff Cowton, MBE, the curator of the Wordsworth Trust, said: "It has been exciting to see our great collection brought alive by this collaboration with Lancaster University. We have long wanted to present a different side to Wordsworth, and this exhibition certainly does that. We hope it will make him a fascinating figure to people of all ages who may not know anything about him before they visit'.The exhibition space at the Wordsworth Museum is an integral part of the Dove Cottage site, which receives more than 50,000 visitors a year.


Further information

Associated departments and research centres: English and Creative Writing, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, FASS Enterprise Centre