Illustrious Dove Cottage
David Morrell’s Ruler of the Night is set on the harrowing, fogbound streets of 1855 London. A gripping Victorian mystery/thriller, its vivid historical details come from years of research. Here is one of the photo essays that David prepared about the novel’s fascinating locations.
“One of the most famous literary dwellings in England—Dove Cottage—where William Wordsworth lived.”
At the start of David Morrell’s Ruler of The Night, opium-eater Thomas De Quincey and his daughter, Emily, are rushing from London to Grasmere in England’s Lake District. To his alarm, De Quincey has learned that a collection of rare books he stored in a house there is about to be auctioned because he failed to pay the rent for the house. This in fact happened many times in De Quincey’s life. Often the houses were so filled with books that they were uninhabitable.
One of these houses was among the most famous literary dwellings in England—Dove Cottage—where William Wordsworth lived from 1799-1808 and De Quincey lived from 1809-1820.
The story behind the intersection of the two authors is fascinating. In 1803, when De Quincey was 18, he wrote a fan letter to Wordsworth at a time when critics ridiculed Wordsworth’s poetry. Delighted by De Quincey’s enthusiasm, Wordsworth sent a letter in return, suggesting that if De Quincey were ever in the Lake District, he should drop by for a visit.
Twice—in 1805 and 1806—De Quincey journeyed to the Lake District to pay that visit, but in both cases, he stood on a ridge, stared down at the white wall of Dove Cottage, and suffered such nervousness that he turned away.
In 1807, De Quincey met Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” and co-author (with Wordsworth) of the Lyrical Ballads, the book that had won De Quincey’s admiration. De Quincey became Coleridge’s friend, partially by giving him £300 that De Quincey had inherited. It was part of a scheme in which De Quincey hoped that Coleridge would introduce him to Wordsworth, which happened in 1807 when De Quincey accompanied Coleridge’s family to the Lake District and stopped at Dove Cottage.
De Quincey’s description of that meeting is memorable. “Through the little gate I pressed forward; ten steps beyond it lay the principal door to the house. To this, no longer clearly conscious of my own feelings, I passed on rapidly; I heard a step, a voice, and, like a flash of lightning, I saw the figure emerge of a tallish man, who held out his hand, and saluted me with the most cordial manner, and the warmest expression of friendly welcome that it is possible to imagine.”
De Quincey returned to visit Wordsworth many times thereafter, and when Wordworth’s family became too large for the dwelling, De Quincey rented it, remaining there for more years than Wordsworth lived in it.
Plaque in Dove Cottage’s garden
A display outside Dove cottage, provided by the
Wordsworth Trust, which conducts tours
Back of Dove Cottage
Their friendship disintegrated when De Quincey ordered shrubbery to be torn out, making Wordsworth, his wife, and his sister feel that a trust had been violated. Moreover, Wordsworth’s sister may have felt jealous when De Quincey began courting a farmer’s daughter down the road, visiting her at midnight.
“At the up-rousing of the Bats and the Owls he regularly went thither,” Wordsworth’s sister noted sarcastically, “and the consequence was that Peggy Simpson presented him with a son ten weeks ago.”
Estranged from the Wordsworths, needing to live closer to the magazines for which he wrote, in 1820 De Quincey moved his family to a suburb of Edinburgh in Scotland. He continued to lease Dove Cottage until 1837 when its landlord—angered by De Quincey’s repeated failure to pay rent—sold the precious volumes that De Quincey had crammed into it.
More details about De Quincey, Wordsworth, Dove Cottage, and the Lake District can be found in David’s short story, The Opium Eater. Based on actual events, it’s about three heartbreaking deaths and how De Quincey became known as the Opium-Eater.