Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley


Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth
Edited by William Knight in two volumes (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 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. In all cases, however, in which a sentence or paragraph, or several sentences and paragraphs, in the Journals are left out, the omission is indicated by means of asterisks. Nothing is omitted of any literary or biographical value. 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.

Coming now to details.

I do not know of any Journal written at Racedown, and I do not think that Dorothy kept one while she and her brother lived in Dorsetshire. In July 1797 they took up their residence at Alfoxden ; but, so far as is known, it was not till the 20th of January 1798 that Dorothy began to write a Journal of her own and her brother’s life at that place. It was continued uninterruptedly till Thursday, 22nd May 1798. It gives numerous details as to the visits of Coleridere to Alfoxden, and the Wordsworths’ visits to him at Nether-Stowey, as well as of the circumstances under which several of their poems were composed. Many sentences in the Journal present a curious resemblance to words and phrases which occur in the poems ' and there is no doubt that, as brother and sister made use of the same note-book—some of Wordsworth’s own verses having been written by him in his sister’s journal—the copartnery may have extended to more than the common use of the same MS.

The archaic spellings which occur in this Journal are retained; but inaccuracies—such as Bartelmy for Bartholemew, Cre wkshank for Cruikshank—are corrected. In the edition of 1889 the words were printed as written in MS. ; but it is one thing to reproduce the bona fide text of a journal, or the ifisissima verba of a poet, and quite another to reproduce the incorrect spellings of his sister.

From the Journal of the days spent at Flamburg in 1798—when the Wordsworths were on their way to Goslar, and Coleridge to Ratzeburg—only a few extracts are given, dating from 14th September to 3rd October of that year. These explain themselves.

Of the Grasmere Journals much more is given, and a great deal that was omitted from the first volume of the Life of Wordsworth in 1889, is now printed. To many readers this will be by far the most interesting section of all Dorothy Wordsworth’s writings. It not only contains exquisite descriptions of Grasmere and its district—a most felicitous record of the changes of the seasons and the progress of the year, details as to flower and tree, bird and beast, mountain and lake—but it casts a flood of light on the circumstances undei- which her brother’s poems were composed. It also discloses much as to the doings of the Wordsworth household, of the visits of Coleridge and others, while it vividly illustrates the peasant life of Westmoreland at the beginning of this century. What I have seen of this Journal extends from 14th May to 21st December 1800, and from 10th October 1801 to 16th January 1803. It is here printed in four sections.

When the late Principal Shairp edited the Recollections of a Tour made in Scotland in 1803, he inserted an elaborate and valuable introduction, with a few explanatory and topographical notes. With the consent of Mrs. Shairp, and of the Principal’s son, Sheriff J. C. Shairp, many of them are now reproduced, with the initials J. C. S. appended. As some notes were needed at these places, and I could only have slightly varied the statements of fact, it seemed better for the reader, and more respectful to the memory of such a Wordsworthian as the late Principal was, to record them as his. I cordially thank Mrs. Shairp, and her son, for their kindness in this matter. It should be added that Dorothy Wordsworth’s archaic spelling of many of the names of places, such as — Lanerk, Ulswater, Strath Eyer, Loch Ketterine, Inversneyde, etc., are retained.

These Recollections of the Tour made in Scotland were not all written down at the time during the journey. Many of them were “ afterthoughts.” The Alfoxden and Grasmere Journals were “diaries,” in the sense that— except when the contrary is stated—they were written down day by day ; but certain portions of the Scottish Journal suggest either that they were entirely written after the return to Grasmere, or were then considerably expanded. I have not seen the original MS. Dorothy transcribed it in full for her friend Mrs. Clarkson, commencing the work in 1803, and finishing it on 31st May 1805 (see vol. ii. p. 78). This transcript I have seen. It is the only one now traceable.

It should be mentioned that Dorothy Wordsworth was often quite incorrect in her dates, both as to the day of the week and the month. Minute accuracy on these points did not count for much at that time ; and very often a mistake in the date of one entry in her Journal brought with it a long series of future errors. The same remark applies to the Grasmere Journal, and to the record of the Continental Tour of 1820.

Many friends and students of Wordsworth regretted the long delay in the publication of the Tour made in Scotland in 1803. In the Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers (1856), p. 208, we find the following: “I do indeed regret that Wordsworth has printed only fragments of his sister’s journal; it is most excellent, and ought to have been published entire.” It will always hold a place of honour in itinerary literature. It possesses a singular charm, and has abiding interest, not only as a record of travel, but also as a mirror of Scottish life and character nearly a hundred years ago.

The Journal of a Mountain Ramble, by William and Dorothy Wordsworth in November 1805, calls for no special remark. The ramble was from Grasmere by Rydal and Kirkstone Pass to Patterdale and Ullswater, thence to the top of Place Fell, at the foot of which Wordsworth thought of buying—and did afterwards buy —a small property near the Lake, thence to Yanworth, returning to Grasmere by Kirkstone again. The story of this “ramble,” written by Dorothy, was afterwards incorporated in part by William Wordsworth in his prose Description of the Scenery of the Lakes—another curious instance of their literary copartnery.


In 1820 the poet, his wife, and sister, along with Mr. and Mrs. Monkhouse, and Miss Horrocks (a sister of Mrs. Monkhouse), spent more than three months on the Continent. They left Lambeth on the 10th of July, and returned to London in November. Starting from Dover on 11 th July, they went by Brussels to Cologne, up the Rhine to Switzerland, were joined by Henry Crabb Robinson at Lucerne, crossed over to the Italian Lakes, visited Milan, came back to Switzerland, and passed through France to Paris, where they spent a month. Dorothy Wordsworth wrote a minute and very careful Journal of this tour, taking notes at the tijne, and extending them on her return to Westmoreland. Mrs. Wordsworth kept a shorter record of the same journey. Crabb Robinson also wrote a diary of it. Wordsworth recorded and idealised his tour in a series of poems, named by him “ Memorials of a Tour on the Continent, 1820,” very few of which were written on the spot ; and when, in the after-leisure of Rydal Mount, he set to work upon them, it is evident that he consulted, and made frequent use of, the two family Journals, particularly the one written by his sister. In a letter to Mrs. Clarkson from Coblentz, dated 22nd July, Dorothy said : “Journals we shall have in abundance; for all, except my brother and Mrs. Monkhouse, keep a journal. Mine is nothing but notes, unintelligible to any one but myself. I look forward, however, to many a pleasant hour’s employment at Rydal Mount in filling up the chasms.”

The originals of these two Journals still exist, and it is hard to say whether the jottings taken at the time by the wife, or the extended Journal afterwards written by the sister, is the more admirable, both as a record of travel and as a commentary on the poet’s work. Dorothy’s MS. is nearly as long as her Recollections of the Scottish Tour of 1803. Extracts from both Journals were published in the library edition of the Poems in 1884, and in the Life of William Wordsworth in 1889 ; but these were limited to passages illustrative of the Poems.

It is not expedient to print either Journal in full. There are, however, so many passages of interest and beauty in each—presenting a vivid picture of the towns and countries through which the Wordsworths passed, and of the style of continental travelling in those days— that it seems desirable to insert more numerous extracts from them than those which have been already printed. They will be found to illustrate much of the state of things in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France in the first quarter of the present century ; while they afford an interesting contrast to that which meets the eye of the traveller, and ministers to his wants, at the present day. In the 80 pages extracted from Dorothy’s Journal alone, it is such passages that have, in the main, been selected.

In October 1821, Mr. Robinson was a visitor at Rydal Mount; and after reading over the Journals of Mrs. and Dorothy Wordsworth, he wrote thus in his Diary:—

“ 2nd Oct. ’21.—I read to-day part of Miss, and also Mrs., W.’s Journal in Switzerland. They put mine to shame.1 They had adopted a plan of journalising which could not fail to render the account amusing and informing. Mrs. W., in particular, frequently described, as in a panorama, the objects around her; and these were written on the spot : and I recollect her often sitting on the grass, not aware of what kind of employment she had. Now it is evident that a succession of such pictures must represent the face of the country. Their Journals were alike abundant in observation (in which the writers showed an enviable faculty), and were sparing of reflections, which ought rather to be excited by than obtruded in a book of travels. I think I shall profit on some future occasion by the hint I have taken.”

Again, in November 1823, Robinson wrote :—


“Finished Mrs. Wordsworth’s Journal. I do not know when I have felt more humble than in reading it. It is so superior to my own. She saw so much more than I did, though we were side by side during a great part of the time.”

Robinson advised Dorothy Wordsworth to publish her Journal of this Continental Tour, and she replied to him, 23rd May 1824 :—

. Your advice respecting my Continental Journal is, I am sure, very good, provided it were worth while to make a book of it, i.e. provided I could do so, and provided it were my wish ; but it is not. ‘ Far better,’ I say, c make another tour, and write the Journal on a different plan !’ In recopying it, 1 should, as you advise, omit considerable portions of the description. . . . But, observe, my object is not to make a book, but to leave to my niece a neatly-penned memorial of those few interesting months of our lives. . . .”

In 1822, Dorothy Wordsworth went with Joanna Hutchinson to Scotland, for change of air and scene. She wrote of this journey:—

“ I had for years promised Joanna to go with her to Edinburgh—that was her object; but we planned a little tour, up the Forth to Stirling, thence by track-boat to Glasgow ; from Dumbarton to Rob Roy’s cave by steam : stopping at Tarbet ; thence in a cart to Inverary ; back again to Glasgow, down Loch Fyne, and up the Clyde ; thence on the coach to Lanark ; and from Lanark to Moffat in a cart. There we stopped two days, my companion being an invalid ; and she fancied the waters might cure her, but a bathing-place which nobody frequents is never in order ; and we were glad to leave Moffat, crossing the wild country again in a cart, to the banks of the river Esk. We returned to Edinburgh for the sake of warm baths. We were three weeks in lodgings at Edinburgh. Joanna had much of that sort of pleasure which one has in first seeing a foreign country ; and in our travels, whether on the outside of a coach, on the deck of a steamboat, or in whatever way we got forward, she was always cheerful, never complaining of bad fare, bad inns, or anything else. ...”

It was a short excursion, but was memorialised in the usual way by Dorothy’s ever ready pen.

In the following year, 1823, Wordsworth and his wife left Lee Priory, “for a little tour in Flanders and Holland,” as he phrased it in a letter to John Kenyon. He wrote 16th May :—

“We shall go to Dover, with a view to embark for Ostend to-morrow, unless detained by similar obstacles. From Ostend we mean to go to Ghent, to Antwerp, Breda, Utrecht, Amsterdam—to Rotterdam by Haarlem, the Hague, and Leyden— thence to Antwerp by another route, and perhaps shall return by Mechlin, Brussels, Lille, and Ypres to Calais—or direct to Ostend as we came. We hope to be landed in England within a month. We shall hurry through London homewards, where we are naturally anxious already to be, having left Rydal Mount so far back as February. . .

The extracts taken from Mary Wordsworth’s Journal show how far they conformed to, and how far they departed from, their original plan of travel. In them will be found the same directness and simplicity, the same vividness of touch, as are seen in her Journal of the longer tour taken in 1820.

In 1828, Dorothy Wordsworth went to the Isle of Man, accompanied by Mrs. Wordsworth’s sister Joanna, to visit her brother Henry Hutchinson. This was a visit, earlier by five years than that which the poet took with his sister to the Isle of Man, before proceeding to Scotland, a tour which gave rise to so many sonnets. Of the later tour she kept no Journal, but of the earlier one some records survive, from which a few extracts have been made.

In conclusion, I must mention the special kindness of the late Mrs. Wordsworth, the daughter-in-law of the poet, and of Mr. Gordon Wordsworth his grandson, in granting free access to all the Journals and MSS. they possessed, and now possess. Without their aid the publication of these volumes would have been impossible.

William Knight.

Volume 1  |  Volume 2

By Andrew Lang (1897) (pdf)


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus