Apr 29, 2020

Happy 250th birthday Wordsworth – but what did he think of geologists?

William Wordsworth, one of our most famous poets was born in Cockermouth 250 years ago this month (April 7th).
Category: 2020
Posted by: Sarah

Wordsworth on Helvellyn by Benjamin Robert HaydonIn his 1814 poem ‘The Excursion – book III’, Wordsworth writes

‘He who with pocket-hammer smites the edge

Of luckless rocks or prominent stone,…

Detaching by the stroke

A chip or splinter – to resolve his doubts;’

From this you might reasonably think that Wordsworth did not like geologists. Indeed Adam Sedgwick, who got to know him well, was sufficiently worried to apologise - ‘One of your greatest works seems to contain a poetic ban against my brethren of the hammer, and some of them may have well deserved your censures:’

However, in reply Wordsworth gently admonished Sedgwick for being too literal in his interpretation. Wordsworth was in fact sufficiently well informed about early 19th century developments in geology and in particular the geology of his beloved Lake District to ask Sedgwick to write a geological introduction to his ‘Guide to the Lakes’. Sedgwick eventually completed his contribution for the 5th edition published in 1842 and expanded it in subsequent editions, which continued to be published after Wordsworth’s death in 1850.


Douglas Palmer