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Selections from The Grasmere Journals (Dorothy Wordsworth)

Published onFeb 20, 2024
Selections from The Grasmere Journals (Dorothy Wordsworth)

Selections from The Grasmere Journals by Dorothy Wordsworth


William Knight’s “PREFATORY NOTE” from 1897

The Journals written by Dorothy Wordsworth, and her reminiscences of Tours made with her brother, are more interesting to posterity than her letters. A few fragments from her Grasmere Journal were included by the late Bishop of Lincoln in the Memoirs of his uncle, published in 1850. The Recollections of a Tour made in Scotland in 1803, were edited in full by the late Principal Shairp in the year 1874 (third edition 1894). In 1889, I included in my Life of William Wordsworth most of the Journal written at Alfoxden, much of that referring to Hamburg, and the greater part of the longer Grasmere Journal. Some extracts from the Journal of a Tour on the Continent made in 1820 (and of a similar one written by Mrs. Wordsworth), as well as short records of subsequent visits to Scotland and to the Isle of Man, were printed in the same volume. None of these, however, were given in their entirety; nor is it desirable now to print them in extenso, except in the case of the Recollections of a Tour made in Scotland in 1803. All the Journals contain numerous trivial details, which bear ample witness to the "plain living and high thinking" of the Wordsworth household—and, in this edition, samples of these[Pg viii] details are given—but there is no need to record all the cases in which the sister wrote, "To-day I mended William's shirts," or "William gathered sticks," or "I went in search of eggs," etc. etc. …Some persons may think that too much has been recorded, others that everything should have been printed. As to this, posterity must judge. I think that many, in future years, will value these Journals, not only as a record of the relations existing between Wordsworth and his sister, his wife, her family and his friends, but also as an illustration of the remarkable literary brotherhood and sisterhood of the period.

 May 14th, 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 heckberry 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[Pg 32] 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.

 Thursday, 15th.— [April 1802]

It was a threatening, misty morning, but mild. We set off after dinner from Eusemere. Mrs. Clarkson went a short way with us, but turned back. The wind was furious, and we thought we must have returned. We first rested in the large boathouse,[Pg 106] then under a furze bush opposite Mr. Clarkson's. Saw the plough going in the field. The wind seized our breath. The lake was rough. There was a boat by itself floating in the middle of the bay below Water Millock. We rested again in the Water Millock Lane. The hawthorns are black and green, the birches here and there greenish, but there is yet more of purple to be seen on the twigs. We got over into a field to avoid some cows—people working. A few primroses by the roadside—woodsorrel flower, the anemone, scentless violets, strawberries, and that starry, yellow flower which Mrs. C. calls pile wort. When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow Park we saw a few daffodils close to the water-side. We fancied that the sea had floated the seeds ashore, and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more; and at last, under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and above them; some rested their heads upon these stones, as on a pillow, for weariness; and the rest tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot, and a few stragglers higher up; but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity, unity, and life of that one busy highway. We rested again and again. The bays were stormy, and we heard the waves at different distances, and in the middle of the water, like the sea.... All was cheerless and gloomy, so we faced the storm. At Dobson's I was very kindly treated by a young woman. The landlady looked sour, but it is her way.... William was sitting by a good fire when I came downstairs. He soon made his way to the library, piled up in a corner of the window. He brought out a[Pg 107] volume of Enfield's Speaker, another miscellany, and an odd volume of Congreve's plays. We had a glass of warm rum and water. We enjoyed ourselves, and wished for Mary. It rained and blew, when we went to bed.

 Tuesday, 20th. [1802]

Market day. Streets dirty, very rainy, did not leave Hull till four o'clock, and left Barton at about six; rained all the way almost. A beautiful village at the foot of a hill with trees. A gentleman's house converted into a lady's boarding-school.... We left Lincoln on Wednesday morning, 27th July, at six o'clock. It rained heavily, and we could see nothing but the antientry of some of the buildings as we passed along. The night before, however, we had seen enough to make us regret this. The minster stands at the edge of a hill overlooking an immense plain. The country very flat as we went along; the day mended. We went to see the outside of the minster while the passengers were dining at Peterborough; the west end very grand....

On Thursday morning, 29th, we arrived in London. Wm. left me at the Sun.... After various troubles and disasters, we left London on Saturday morning at half-past five or six, the 31st of July. We mounted the Dover coach at Charing Cross. It was a beautiful morning. The city, St. Paul's, with the river, and a multitude of little boats, made a most beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge. The houses were not overhung by their cloud of smoke, and they were spread out endlessly, yet the sun shone so brightly, with such a fierce light, that there was even something like the purity of one of nature's own grand spectacles.

We saw the castle of Dover, and the sea beyond, four or five miles before we reached it. We looked at it through a long vale, the castle being upon an eminence, as it seemed, at the end of this vale, which opened to the sea. The country now became less fertile, but near Dover it seemed more rich again. Many buildings[Pg 146] stand on the flat fields, sheltered with tall trees. There is one old chapel that might have been there just in the same state in which it now is when this vale was as retired, and as little known to travellers as our own Cumberland mountain wilds thirty years ago. There was also a very old building on the other side of the road, which had a strange effect among the many new ones that are springing up everywhere. It seemed odd that it could have kept itself pure in its ancientry among so many upstarts.

It was near dark when we reached Dover. We were told that a packet was about to sail, so we went down to the custom-house in half-an-hour—had our luggage examined, etc. etc., and then we drank tea with the Honourable Mr. Knox and his tutor. We arrived at Calais at four o'clock on Sunday morning, the 31st of July. We stayed in the vessel till half-past seven; then William went for letters at about half-past eight or nine. We found out Annette and C. chez Madame Avril dans la Rue de la Tête d'or. We lodged opposite two ladies, in tolerably decent-sized rooms, but badly furnished....

The weather was very hot. We walked by the sea-shore almost every evening with Annette and Caroline, or William and I alone. I had a bad cold, and could not bathe at first, but William did. It was a pretty sight to see as we walked upon the sands when the tide was low, perhaps a hundred people bathing about a quarter of a mile distant from us. And we had delightful walks after the heat of the day was passed—seeing far off in the west the coast of England like a cloud crested with Dover castle, which was but like the summit of the cloud—the evening star and the glory of the sky,73 the reflections in the water were more beautiful than the sky itself, purple waves brighter than precious stones, for ever melting away upon the sands.[Pg 147] The fort, a wooden building, at the entrance of the harbour at Calais, when the evening twilight was coming on, and we could not see anything of the building but its shape, which was far more distinct than in perfect daylight, seemed to be reared upon pillars of ebony, between which pillars the sea was seen in the most beautiful colours that can be conceived. Nothing in romance was ever half so beautiful. Now came in view, as the evening star sunk down, and the colours of the west faded away, the two lights of England, lighted up by Englishmen in our country to warn vessels off rocks or sands. These we used to see from the pier, when we could see no other distant objects but the clouds, the sky, and the sea itself—all was dark behind. The town of Calais seemed deserted of the light of heaven, but there was always light, and life, and joy upon the sea. One night I shall never forget—the day had been very hot, and William and I walked alone together upon the pier. The sea was gloomy, for there was a blackness over all the sky, except when it was overspread with lightning, which often revealed to us a distant vessel near, as the waves roared and broke against the pier, and they were interfused with greenish fiery light. The more distant sea always black and gloomy. It was also beautiful, on the calm hot night, to see the little boats row out of harbour with wings of fire, and the sail boats with the fiery track which they cut as they went along, and which closed up after them with a hundred thousand sparkles, and streams of glow-worm light. Caroline was delighted.


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