Image 1.14 | Portrait of Dorothy Wordsworth
Artist | David Rannie Source | Wikimedia Commons License | Public Domain
Like many women in this era, Dorothy Wordsworth sublimated her intellectual and emotional energies to a male figure, in this case, Dorothy’s brother William. Their bond was so great that some critics conjecture a more-than-filial love between them, while others suggest that Dorothy is the inspiration for the famous but unidentified and unidentifiable Lucy Gray of William’s Lucy Gray poems. Like William, Dorothy felt deeply tied to nature as well as to the common, everyday occurrences in the world. She described these occurrences with vivid detail in her journals, her most famous works. She wrote them with the expectation that William would read and use them as he wished. Again, many women in this era found their only means for publication of any kind to be through their male relations. Whether or not Dorothy Wordsworth had any personal ambition, she certainly provided William with the means to “recollect in tranquility” the “overflow of emotions” he experienced by watching dancing daffodils, by meeting a leech-gatherer, by hearing the song of a solitary reaper.
Once Dorothy inherited a bequest, she set up house with William, Mary, and their children. She joined William on daily excursions, recording in particular the rural landscape and lifestyles now in flux with industrialization. This family accord was permanently marred by an illness that caused Dorothy to become bed-ridden and temperamentally changed. The love that both William and Mary, who had been a friend of Dorothy’s since childhood, felt for Dorothy appeared in their devotedly caring for Dorothy until her death (William predeceased her by five years).
1.8.1 From The Alfoxden Journal
January 29, 1798. A very stormy day. William walked to the top of the hill to see the sea. Nothing distinguishable but a heavy blackness. An immense bough riven from one of the fir trees. William called me into the garden to observe a singular appearance about the moon. A perfect rainbow, within the bow one star, only of colours more vivid. The semi-circle soon became a complete circle, and in the course of three or four minutes the whole faded away. Walked to the blacksmith’s and the baker’s ; an uninteresting evening.
January 31, 1798. Set forward to Stowey at half-past five. A violent storm in the wood; sheltered under the hollies. When we left home the moon immensely large, the sky scattered over with clouds. These soon closed in, contracting the dimensions of the moon without concealing her. The sound of the pattering shower, and the gusts of wind, very grand. Left the wood when nothing remained of the storm but the driving wind, and a few scattering drops of rain. Presently all clear, Venus first showing herself between the struggling clouds; afterwards Jupiter appeared. The hawthorn hedges, black and pointed, glittering with millions of diamond drops; the hollies shining with broader patches of light. The road to the village of Holford glittered like another stream. On our return, the wind high a violent storm of hail and rain at the Castle of Comfort. All the Heavens seemed in one perpetual motion when the rain ceased ; the moon appearing, now half veiled, and now retired behind heavy clouds, the stars still moving, the roads very dirty.
February 3, 1798. A mild morning, the windows open at breakfast, the redbreasts singing in the garden. Walked with Coleridge over the hills. The sea at first obscured by vapour; that vapour afterwards slid in one mighty mass along the sea-shore; the islands and one point of land clear beyond it. The distant country (which was purple in the clear dull air), overhung by straggling clouds that sailed over it, appeared like the darker clouds, which are often seen at a great distance apparently, motionless, while the nearer ones pass quickly over them, driven by the lower winds. I never saw such a union of earth, sky, and sea. The clouds beneath our feet spread themselves to the water, and the clouds of the sky almost joined them. Gathered sticks in the wood; a perfect stillness. The redbreasts sang upon the leafless boughs. Of a great number of sheep in the field, only one standing. Returned to dinner at five o’clock. The moonlight still and warm as a summer’s night at nine o’clock.
February 4, 1798. Walked a great part of the way to Stowey with Coleridge. The morning warm and sunny. The young lasses seen on the hill-tops, in the villages and roads, in their summer holiday clothes pink petticoats and blue. Mothers with their children in arms, and the little ones that could just walk, tottering by their side. Midges or small flies spinning in the sunshine; the songs of the lark and redbreast; daisies upon the turf; the hazels in blossom ; honeysuckles budding. I saw one solitary strawberry flower under a hedge. The furze gay with blossom. The moss rubbed from the pailings by the sheep, that leave locks of wool, and the red marks with which they are spotted, upon the wood.
February 5, 1798. Walked to Stowey with Coleridge, returned by Woodlands; a very warm day. In the continued singing of birds distinguished the notes of a blackbird or thrush. The sea overshadowed by a thick dark mist, the land in sunshine. The sheltered oaks and beeches still retaining their brown leaves. Observed some trees putting out red shoots. Query: What trees are they?
February 6, 1798. Walked to Stowey over the hills, returned to tea, a cold and clear evening, the roads in some parts frozen hard. The sea hid by mist all the day.
February 7, 1798. Turned towards Potsdam, but finding the way dirty, changed our course. Cottage gardens the object of our walk. Went up the smaller Coombe to Woodlands, to the blacksmith’s, the baker’s, and through the village of Holford. Still misty over the sea. The air very delightful. We saw nothing very new, or interesting.
February 8, 1798. Went up the Park, and over the tops of the hills, till we came to a new and very delicious pathway, which conducted us to the Coombe. Sat a considerable time upon the heath. Its surface restless and glittering with the motion of the scattered piles of withered grass, and the waving of the spiders’ threads. On our return the mist still hanging over the sea, but the opposite coast clear, and the rocky cliffs distinguishable. In the deep Coombe, as we stood upon the sunless hill, we saw miles of grass, light and glittering, and the insects passing.
February 9, 1798. William gathered sticks. . . .
February 10, 1798. Walked to Woodlands, and to the waterfall. The alder’s-tongue and the ferns green in the low damp dell. These plants now in perpetual motion from the current of the air; in summer only moved by the drippings of the rocks. A cloudy day.
February 11, 1798. Walked with Coleridge near to Stowey. The day pleasant, but cloudy.
February 12, 1798. Walked alone to Stowey. Returned in the evening with Coleridge. A mild, pleasant, cloudy day. Walked with Coleridge through the wood.
1.8.2 From The Grasmere Journal
May 14, 1800. Wm. and John set off into Yorkshire after dinner at half-past two o’clock, cold pork in their pockets. I left them at the turning of the Low-wood bay under the trees. My heart was so full that I could hardly speak to W. when I gave him a farewell kiss. I sate a long time upon a stone at the margin of the lake, and after a flood of tears my heart was easier. The lake looked to me, I knew not why, dull and melancholy, and the weltering on the shores seemed a heavy sound. I walked as long as I could amongst the stones of the shore. The wood rich in flowers; a beautiful yellow (palish yellow) flower, that looked thick, round, and double the smell very sweet (I supposed it was a ranunculus), crowfoot, the grassy-leaved rabbit-looking white flower, strawberries, geraniums, scentless violets, anemones, two kinds of orchises, primroses, the heck-berry very beautiful, the crab coming out as a low shrub. Met an old man, driving a very large beautiful bull, and a cow. He walked with two sticks. Came home by Clappersgate. The valley very green; many sweet views up to Rydale, when I could juggle away the fine houses; but they disturbed me, even more than when I have been happier; one beautiful view of the bridge, without Sir Michael’s. Sate down very often, though it was cold. I resolved to write a journal of the time, till W. and J. return, and I set about keeping my resolve, because I will not quarrel with myself, and because I shall give William pleasure by it when he comes home again. At Rydale, a woman of the village, stout and well dressed, begged a half-penny. She had never she said done it before, but these hard times! Arrived at home, set some slips of privet, the evening cold, had a fire, my face now flame-coloured. It is nine o’clock. I shall now go to bed. ... Oh that I had a letter from William.
Friday Morning. Warm and mild, after a fine night of rain. . . . The woods extremely beautiful with all autumnal variety and softness. I carried a basket for mosses, and gathered some wild plants. Oh! that we had a book of botany. All flowers now are gay and deliciously sweet. The primrose still prominent; the later flowers and the shiny foxgloves very tall, with their heads budding. I went forward round the lake at the foot of Loughrigg Fell. I was much amused with the busyness of a pair of stone-chats; their restless voices as they skimmed along the water, following each other, their shadows under them, and their returning back to the stones on the shore, chirping with the same unwearied voice. Could not cross the water, so I went round by the stepping-stones. . . . Rydale was very beautiful, with spear-shaped streaks of polished steel. . . . Grasmere very solemn in the last glimpse of twilight. It calls home the heart to quietness. I had been very melancholy. In my walk back I had many of my saddest thoughts, and I could not keep the tears within me. But when I came to Grasmerc I felt that it did me good. I finished my letter to M. H. . . .
Image 1.15 | Rydal Mount Home of the Wordsworths Photographer | P.K. Niyogi Source | Wikimedia Commons License | CC BY-SA 3.0
Saturday. Incessant rain from morning till night. . . . Worked hard, and read Midsummer Night’s Dream, and ballads. Sauntered a little in the garden. The blackbird sate quietly in its nest, rocked by the wind, and beaten by the rain.
October 1, 1800. A fine morning, a showery night. The lake still in the morning; in the forenoon flashing light from the beams of the sun, as it was ruffled by the wind. We corrected the last sheet.
October 2, 1800. A very rainy morning. We walked after dinner to observe the torrents. I followed Wm. to Rydale. We afterwards went to Butterlip How. The Black Quarter looked marshy, and the general prospect was cold, but the force was very grand. The
lichens are now coming out afresh. I carried home a collection in the afternoon. We had a pleasant conversation about the manners of the rich; avarice, inordinate desires, and the effeminacy, unnaturalness, and unworthy objects of education. The moonlight lay upon the hills like snow.
October 3, 1800. Very rainy all the morning. Wm. walked to Ambleside after dinner. I went with him part of the way. He talked much about the object of his essay for the second volume of “ L[yrical]. B[allads].” . . . Amos Cottle’s death in the Morning Post. N.B. When William and I returned from accompanying Jones, we met an old man almost double. He had on a coat, thrown over his shoulders, above his waistcoat and coat. Under this he carried a bundle, and had an apron on and a night-cap. His face was interesting. He had dark eyes and a long nose. John, who afterwards met him at Wytheburn, took him for a Jew. He was of Scotch parents, but had been born in the army. He had had a wife, and “she was a good woman, and it pleased God to bless us with ten children.” All these were dead but one, of whom he had not heard for many years, a sailor. His trade was to gather leeches, but now leeches were scarce, and he had not strength for it. He lived by begging, and was making his way to Carlisle, where he should buy a few godly books to sell. He said leeches were very scarce, partly owing to this dry season, but many years they have been scarce. He supposed it owing to their being much sought after, that they did not breed fast, and were of slow growth. Leeches were formerly 2s. 6d. per 100; they are now 30/. He had been hurt in driving a cart, his leg broken, his body driven over, his skull fractured. He felt no pain till he recovered from his first insensibility. It was then late in the evening, when the light was just going away.
October 31, 1802 [November 1] . . . William and S. went to Keswick. Mary and I walked to the top of the hill and looked at Rydale. I was much affected when I stood upon the second bar of Sara’s gate. The lake was perfectly still, the sun shone on hill and vale, the distant birch trees looked like large golden flowers. Nothing else In colour was distinct and separate, but all the beautiful colours seemed to be melted into one another, and joined together in one mass, so that there were no differences, though an endless variety, when one tried to find it out. The fields were of one sober yellow brown. . . .
November 2, 1802. William returned from Keswick.
Friday. I wrote to Montagu, . . . and sent off letters to Miss Lamb and Coleridge. . . .
Sunday. Fine weather. Letters from Coleridge that he was gone to London. Sara at Penrith. I wrote to Mrs. Clarkson. William began to translate Ariosto.
Monday. A beautiful day. William got to work again at Ariosto, and so continued all the morning, though the day was so delightful that it made my very heart long to be out of doors, and see and feel the beauty of the autumn in freedom. The trees on the opposite side of the lake are of a yellow brown, but there are one or two trees opposite our windows (an ash tree, for instance) quite green, as in spring. The fields are of their winter colour, but the island is as green as ever it was. . . . William is writing out his stanzas from Ariosto. . . . The evening is quiet. Poor Coleridge! Sara is at Keswick, I hope. ... I have read one canto of Ariosto to-day. . .
December 24, 1802. Christmas Eve. William is now sitting by me, at half-past ten o’clock. I have been . . . repeating some of his sonnets to him, listening to his own repeating, reading some of Milton’s, and the Allegro and Penseroso. It is a, quick, keen frost. . . Coleridge came this morning with Wedgwood. We all turned out . . . one by one, to meet him. He looked well. We had to tell him of the birth of his little girl, born yesterday morning at six o’clock. William went with them to Wytheburn in the chaise, and M. and I met W. on the Raise. It was not an unpleasant morning. . . . The sun shone now and then, and there was no wind, but all things looked cheerless and distinct; no meltings of sky into mountains, the mountains like stone work wrought up with huge hammers. Last Sunday was as mild a day as I ever remember. . . . Mary and I went round the lakes. There were flowers of various kinds the topmost bell of a foxglove, geraniums, daisies, a buttercup in the water (but this I saw two or three days before), small yellow flowers (I do not know their name) in the turf. A large bunch of strawberry blossoms. ...
It is Christmas Day, Saturday, 25th December 1802. I am thirty-one years of age. It is a dull, frosty day.
1.8.3 Reading and Review Questions
Why do you think Dorothy Wordsworth did not seek to publish her journals?
Why do you think that Dorothy encouraged William to read her journals? How does William characterize Dorothy in his poetry, and why?
How would you describe Dorothy’s voice, style, or vision? Do they resemble William’s in any way? If so, how?
What’s the effect of Dorothy’s including in her journal items of everyday routine? What are the daily matters that make up Dorothy’s days? How, if at all, do these matters differ from those with which William would deal?