Nicholson therefore appears to have been at Tintern Abbey at perhaps the very same moment as William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, and his sketch captures a snapshot of a time and a place that proved crucial in Wordsworth’s development as a poet. It is during this visit to the Wye Valley that Wordsworth writes his first great poetical account of how his experiences have influenced him. He believes, for instance, that the scenes he witnessed on a previous visit to the Wye in 1793 have stayed with him ever since, picking him up when he is weary and lightening the weight of the world. The memory, Wordsworth writes, acts as ‘a dwelling-place / For all sweet sounds and harmonies’, from which we are fed and healed in times of difficulty.
In the years to come, Wordsworth would continue this kind of self-examination and reassessment, and it is this process that becomes the driving force behind his great autobiographical poem now known as The Prelude. This later poem is, among other things, a great celebration of the beauty, the culture and traditions of life here in Cumbria. From its descriptions of the sounds of the Derwent rolling beside his house in infancy, to the wild activities among the hills with his school friends and the solitary moments in a rowing boat upon the surface of a quiet lake, it highlights the joy Wordsworth experienced in this area. It is certainly a work that owes a great deal to the excavation of memory in “Tintern Abbey”. Francis Nicholson, therefore, in sketching the ruins of the Abbey, unknowingly depicts a moment that brought about a new depth to Wordsworth’s creativity.
This treasure was chosen by Mark Wiltshire, intern at the Wordsworth Trust.