The English Lakes: A History

David Craig writes:

Ian Thompson’s history of the Lake District is grounded almost exclusively in the aesthetic. ‘Since the Lake District is an imaginative construction,’ he argues, ‘it has no real boundaries, physical or historical.’ Thomas West brings out his Guide (1778), which advises on the correct ‘stations’ from which to view this or that Picturesque vista. Wordsworth writes his Guide to the Lakes (1835), which idealises the hill farmer as the type of the sturdy Englishman, neither drudge nor parasite. Ruskin is drawn by what he sees as the acme of terrestrial beauty and ensconces himself above Coniston Water as a grumpy sage. Beatrix Potter writes and illustrates sharp-eyed stories set round Hawkshead, Sawrey and the dale of Newlands, settles there finally and specialises in native breeds of sheep. Arthur Ransome writes stories set in Coniston (and elsewhere) and inspires me and many thousands of other children with tales about families learning to camp and sail and climb and skate and smelt copper.

(LRB 20 December 2012)

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