Goodrich Castle sits atop a massive hill, which is partially covered in trees (to the left of the ruins) and partially eroded (bare rock forms the base of the hill directly below the castle). To the left, a large shrub or tree hangs out over the water, overlapping our view of the hill. To the right another hill, partially forested, frames the central bluff. The Wye extends from the viewer between these banks to the base of the central hill. It is unclear which way the river bends around the hill. The water is calm, and the sky is mostly cloudy.
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
William Gilpin's Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, etc. Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; Made in the Summer of the Year 1770, first published in 1782.
Thordarson T 1712
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Goodrich Castle first appeared in Gilpin’s travel journal, likely as an ink-and-wash sketch. Gilpin waited to publish his journal for several years, largely due to his dissatisfaction with printed recreations of his sketches. Using a crude combination of etching and aquatint, Gilpin's journal and sketches were finally published as Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, etc. Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; Made in the Summer of the Year 1770 in 1782. Beginning in 1789, however, Goodrich Castle and most of Gilpin’s original sketches were recreated in subsequent, published editions solely using the developed aquatinting technique.
The Wye Tour
The popularity of the Wye Tour, a picturesque tour through the England-Wales border down the River Wye, increased exponentially during the 1780s and the decades that followed (though the Wye river was a popular site for at least twenty-five years before Gilpin’s tour); this was due in large part to the tour guide-book Observations on the River Wye, written by the Reverend William Gilpin and published in 1782. The tour focused on the natural beauty of the Wye Valley, especially the part of the Valley that fit Gilpin’s idea of the “correctly picturesque”—usually characterized by a natural object (e.g., a tree, a stone, cliffs; anything not human-made) which stood out in stark contrast to its surroundings and was often in close proximity to people or human-made objects (factories, bridges, and the like). The tour lasted two to three days by boat (the most common form of travel for tourists) or carriage (used only by the very wealthy), and significantly longer by foot; William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, took a walking tour of the Wye Valley in 1798 (see William Wordsworth’s memorial poem “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey on Revisiting the banks of the Wye Valley during a tour, July 13, 1798”). The most common form of travel was by pleasure boat, which featured a canopy to shield tourists from the wind, sun, and rain; a handful of tables for writing or drawing; and several oarsmen who acted as de facto tour guides and cost three to four guineas for two days' employment (Moir 125). The tour extended, as Gilpin noted, “To [Chepstow] from Ross, which is a course of near 40 miles” and featured “a succession of the most picturesque scenes” (Gilpin 7). Highlights included Ross-on-Wye, Goodrich Castle, Symond’s Yat, Monmouth, Tintern Abbey, Piercefield, Chepstow Castle, and, finally, the junction of the Rivers Wye and Severn at Chepstow.
Picturesque tourism as an industry was largely popularized by the publication of Gilpin’s Observations on the River Wye in 1782. Tourists of the "picturesque" traveled to Scotland, North and South Wales, the Wye Valley, and the Lake District (in northwest England) in search of scenery manifesting this ideal. Oftentimes, tourists brought watercolors to quickly paint or sketch the scenes that most captivated them, in the fashion of Gilpin. These tourists, and their dogged pursuit of the picturesque, would later be lampooned by caricaturists in the early years of the 1800s, but picturesque tourism maintained significant popularity until the mid-nineteenth century.
A prolific biographer and schoolmaster of some repute, William Gilpin is probably best-known for his investigation of what he termed “picturesque beauty,” an idea which was first defined as “that peculiar kind of beauty, which is agreeable in a picture” (qtd. in Andrews, "Gilpin"). In later essays, Gilpin elaborated his definition to include concepts as broad and vital as "contrast" (between shapes, textures, and colors) as well as details as specific and trivial as, for example, what makes a cow picturesque: it must be “shaggy, half-starved, and in a group of three” (Michasiw 92). Observations on the River Wye was the first of these essays, and it galvanized the picturesque tourism industry (Andrews, In Search of the Picturesque 86). Many in Gilpin’s reading audience followed in his footsteps, taking picturesque tours of the River Wye and other locales he had visited while noting picturesque scenes in travel journals of their own.
The Wye River
The Wye River rises on Plynlimon Mountain in Wales and flows southeast for 130 miles. The last forty miles of the river, beginning at Ross-on-Wye, made up the Wye Tour during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Gilpin described its beauty as related primarily to its “mazy course” and “lofty banks” (Gilpin 7). The river winds along the English-Welsh border until it empties into the River Severn at Chepstow, and features the ruins of several castles, abbeys, and the like along its banks.
Built c. 1160-1170 on a riverbank high above the River Wye, the keep is the oldest part of the castle. The gatehouse was completed around 1300; relatively soon afterwards, the castle fell into ruination. Goodrich Castle, “Boosom’d high in tufted Trees” (Gilpin 19), formed “the first great spectacle” of the tour (Andrews, In Search of the Picturesque 90), and earned Gilpin’s praise as “correctly picturesque” since it was such “a very grand view” (Gilpin 17-18). Goodrich Castle was located just before New Weir and the massive rock Symonds Yat (which rose 470 feet above the river), about 3 miles downriver from the launch-point at Ross-on-Wye. As the first great spectacle of the tour, Goodrich Castle helped set the tone for the picturesque scenes to come.
The Banks of Wye: a Poem in Four Books by Robert Bloomfield (1811)
Bloomfield, famous for his semi-autobiographical poem The Farmer’s Boy (1800), took a ten day tour of the Wye Valley during a period in his life marked by personal and professional turmoil. The tour rejuvenated him, and the versification of his travel journal eventually became The Banks of Wye: a Poem in Four Books (Kaloustian). The poem is primarily significant for two reasons. First, and most obviously, it addresses the scenery and spectacles of the Wye Tour, giving the reader a good idea of what to expect on such a tour. Second, it follows the decidedly Wordsworthian example of examining the effects of that scenery on the self. Passages like the following endow the scenery with the ability to affect humans:
Till bold, impressive, and sublime,Note how the ruins of Goodrich Castle are capable of telling “noble truths,” a direct interaction that Gilpin et alia would have either not noticed or summarily dismissed. Other passages focusing on the direct effect of natural images on the viewer include the following:Gleam’d all that’s left by storms and timeOf GOODRICH TOWERS. The mould’ring pileTells noble truths,—but dies the while.(Bloomfield 1.149-52)
Then CHEPSTOW’S ruin’d fortress caughtandThe mind’s collected store of thought,A dark, majestic, jealous frownHung on his brow, and warn’d us down.(Bloomfield 2.315-18)
TINTERN, thy name shall hence sustainThe first of these passages features not only personification of Chepstow Castle, but also describes the ruins’ ability to catch “the mind’s collected store of thought,” as well as its capacity to “warn” viewers. This warning is likely related to mortality, given the nearby mention of the “setting sun” (Bloomfield 2.313), a typical symbol of waning life. The second passage also utilizes one of the Wye Tour’s most famous spectacles (Tintern Abbey) to illustrate scenery’s ability to influence the viewer. The mere name of the Abbey is enough to call to the poet’s mind “a thousand raptures,” some of which included “priest[s] or king[s]” (2.124), “some BLOOD-STAIN’D warrior’s ghost” (2.125), or “grass-grown mansions of the dead” (2.114). The capacity of Nature to wreak such significant alterations in a viewer’s psyche runs diametrically opposed to the strictly evaluative eye of the picturesque tourist, and embodies a decidedly post-“Lines” worldview.A thousand raptures in my brain;Joys, full of soul, all strength, all eye,That cannot fade, that cannot die.(Bloomfield 2.131-34)
This image features Goodrich Castle, a ruin dating to the twelfth century. This was the first great spectacle tourists experienced during the Wye Tour. Goodrich Castle, like Grand Woody Banks near Ross-on-Wye, is an aquatint recreation of a sketch in William Gilpin's travel journal. Unlike other sketches of Gilpin's in which he "edited" the natural scenery, Goodrich Castle is largely representational as he deemed the scene "correctly Picturesque" (Gilpin 7).
Ruin. River. Picturesque. Goodrich Castle. Wye. Tourism.
During the Romantic period in England, Gilpin helped popularize picturesque tourism—that is, sightseeing centered on experiencing the Romantic notion of the picturesque: a natural object, such as a stone, tree, etc., that stood out in stark contrast to its surroundings and often impressed the viewer with a feeling of the sublime. Consequently, the theme of “editing” nature to make it properly picturesque pervades Gilpin’s work; he used his sketches to convey to readers what he saw as reinvented by his own mind, and to encourage them to pursue similar views. However, the boatmen that acted as de facto tour guides on the Wye scoffed at Gilpin’s (mis)representations, and advised tourists familiar with Gilpin’s guidebook not to bother looking for the scenes “recreated" there since they did not, in fact, exist (William Mason, qtd. in Barbier 71).
As opposed to Thomas Hearne’s exact watercolor depiction of Goodrich Castle (Hearne’s work is noted for its “topographical” accuracy), Gilpin’s rendition is more dramatic (Fenwick). Gilpin effaces some of the hills, remaking them as cliffs; introduces a large tree or shrub to the left foreground to frame the central hill; and cloaks both sides of the river in sfumato, obscuring which way it bends. By effacing the hills, Gilpin has introduced a contrast in texture to the leaves of the trees that is not present in Hearne’s more detailed recreation. However, Gilpin’s editing here is not as rigorous as in other examples of his work, since he deemed Goodrich Castle “correctly picturesque” (Gilpin 18). Besides the contrast of texture between the foliage of the banks and the rock of the hills, the picturesque is also invoked in this scene by the centrality of the featured ruins, an integral part of many properly picturesque landscapes. Interaction between the human and natural worlds occurs in the meeting of the trees with the castle's wall in the left third of the sketch, and the sublime is manifested in the size of the sheer hills as well as in the blending of trees and horizon.
Andrews, Malcolm. “Gilpin, William (1724–1804).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 28 Mar. 2009.
---. In Search of the Picturesque. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1989. Print.
Barbier, C.P. William Gilpin. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1963. Print.
Bloomfield, Robert. The Banks of Wye: a Poem in Four Books. London: Longman; Hurst; Rees; Orme; etc., 1813. Print.
Fenwick, Simon. “Hearne, Thomas (1744–1817).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 29 Mar. 2009.
Gilpin, William. Observations on the River Wye. 1782. Oxford: Woodstock Books, 1991. Print. Revolution and Romanticism, 1789-1834.
Mersey, Daniel. "Goodrich Castle." The Castles of Wales Website. Jeffrey L. Thomas, 2009. Web. 22 Aug. 2013.
Michasiw, Kim I. "Nine Revisionist Theses on the Picturesque." Representations 38 (1992): 76-100. Print.
Moir, Esther. The Discovery of Britain; The English Tourists. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1964. Print.
OBSERVATIONS ON THE RIVER WYE, AND SEVERAL PARTS OF SOUTH WALES, &c. RELATIVE CHIEFLY TO PICTURESQUE BEAUTY; Made in the Summer of the Year 1770, By WILLIAM GILPIN, M.A. VICAR of BOLDRE near LYMINGTON. LONDON: PRINTED FOR R. BLAMIRE IN THE STRAND. SOLD BY B. LAW, AVE MARY LANE; AND R. FAULDER, NEW BOND STREET. M.DCC.LXXXII.