Monday, 8 December 2008

The wordsmiths of Grasmere Common

Dorothy Wordsworth is great - but in a completely different way to the Lea Valley.

"Wm (William) walked to Rydale. I copied a part of The Beggar in the morning--I was not quite well in the evening therefore I did not walk--Wm walked a very mild moonlight night. Glowworms everywhere." (October 1800)*

While her brother is walking the Wordsworth-trodden paths of Grasmere and Rydal, Dorothy is copying up part of one of his revisited poems - dusted off and rejuvenated for William's Lyrical Ballads (1798). It's amazing how such simple, stark reportage turns out to be, over two hundred years later, as valuable as "The Old Cumberland Beggar" itself.


Wordsworth's House, Rydal Mount by B. Shelton,
from The Story of Some English Shires, 1897


After another moonwalk, Dorothy notes, "The Lychens 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, & effeminacy unnaturalness & the unworthy objects of education. After the Lloyds were gone we walked--a showery evening. The moonlight lay upon the hills like snow."*

The moonlight lay upon the hills like snow. What a great image. And to finish with this after documenting the "pleasant conversation" regarding class and wealth. Avarice. "Effeminacy unnaturalness". The beauty of a journal - from heat to frost in a few flicks of a pen.

Dorothy wrote for William's benefit - although it seems he lost interest in her writing through the Grasmere Journals, which followed her Alfoxden Journals. However, to a 21st century reader the records are fascinating. Both brother and sister clearly shared a love for nature and walking. His passions lay in writing and poetry, and she showed great imagination to glide from description to lyric, from emotion to pragmatism.

Her art was in communicating the everyday - the pursuits of her brother as well well as hobby of a million men and women in 2008. Dorothy Wordsworth's Journals are more than mere accounts of her brother's life; they are equally valuable for their depiction of late 18th century life among the lakes, leaves and lychens of the Lake District.

Surely she could never have imagined being published? William was the wordsmith, she the lady of occasional leisure. I imagine she would die of embarrassment if she knew what had happened to these diaries.

Well either that or got "a headache & went to lie down in the orchard".*

(*from The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals, OUP)

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