Dorothy Wordsworth: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Drawing of Dorothy Wordsworth in middle age

Dorothy Mae Ann Wordsworth (25 December 1771 – 25 January 1855) was an English author, poet and diarist. She was the sister of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth, and the two were close for all of their lives. Dorothy did not set out to be an author, and her writings comprise only of a series of letters, diary entries and short stories.



She was born on Christmas Day in Cockermouth, Cumberland in 1771. Despite the early death of her mother, Dorothy, William and their three siblings had a happy childhood. In 1783 their father died, and the children were sent to live with various relatives. Dorothy was sent alone to live with her aunt Elizabeth Threlkeld in Halifax, West Yorkshire.[1] After she was able to reunite with William firstly at Racedown Lodge in Dorset in 1795 and afterwards (1797/98)at Alfoxton House in Somerset, they became inseparable companions. The pair lived in poverty at first; and would often beg for cast-off clothes from their friends.[2]

Wordsworth wrote of her in his famous Tintern Abbey poem:

Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes [...]
My dear, dear Sister!

Dorothy was a diarist and poet but had little interest in becoming a famous writer like her brother. "I should detest the idea of setting myself up as an author," she once wrote, "give Wm. the Pleasure of it."[3] She almost published her travel account with William to Scotland in 1803 Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland, but a publisher was not found[4] and it would not be published until 1874.

She never married. After William married Mary Hutchinson in 1802, Dorothy continued to live with them. She was by now 31, and thought of herself as too old for marriage. In 1829 she fell seriously ill, and was to remain an invalid for the remainder of her life. She died at the age of eighty-three in 1855, having spent the past twenty years in, according to the biographer Richard Cavendish, "a deepening haze of senility".[2]

Dorothy's Grasmere Journal was first published in 1897, edited by William Knight. The journal eloquently described her day-to-day life in the Lake District, long walks she and her brother took through the countryside, and detailed portraits of literary lights of the early 19th century, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Lamb and Robert Southey, a close friend who popularised the fairytale Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Dorothy Wordsworth's works came to light just as literary critics were beginning to re-examine women's role in literature. The success of the Grasmere Journal led to a renewed interest in Wordsworth,[5] and several other journals and collections of her letters have since been published.

The Grasmere Journal and Wordsworth's other works revealed how vital she was to her brother's success. William relied on his sister's detailed accounts of nature scenes when writing poems and borrowed freely from her journals. For instance, compare lines from one of William Wordsworth's most famous poems "I Wandered as Lonely as a Cloud",

...All at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee

To this entry from Dorothy's journal:

When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side. We fancied that the lake 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 about 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 a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity and unity and life of that one busy highway.[6]


  1. ^ MacLean, 7
  2. ^ a b Cavendish, Richard. "Death of Dorothy Wordsworth: January 25th, 1855". History Today, Vol. 55, January 2005.
  3. ^ De Selincourt, Ernest (ed.). "The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, vol. 2". Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1967. 454
  4. ^ De Selincourt, vii
  5. ^ Polowetzky, Michael. "Prominent Sisters: Mary Lamb, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Sarah Disraeli". Westport CT: Greenwood, 1996. 66
  6. ^ Teich, Nathaniel. "14 Spots of Time—writerly and Readerly Imaging with William Wordsworth and Basho". Language and Image in the Reading-Writing Classroom: Teaching Vision, ed. Fleckenstein, Kristie S; Calendrillo, Linda T; Worley, Demetrice A. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. 213


  • De Selincourt, Ernest. Dorothy Wordsworth: A Biography. The Clarendon Press, 1933.
  • Gittings, Robert & Manton, Jo. Dorothy Wordsworth. Clarendon Press, 1985. ISBN 0-1981-8519-7
  • Jones, Kathleen. A Passionate Sisterhood: Wives, Sisters and Daughters of the Lakeland Poets. Virago Press ISBN 1-8604-9492-7
  • Macdonald MacLean, Catherine. Dorothy Wordsworth, the Early Years. New York: The Viking Press, 1932.
  • Wilson, Frances. The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life. Faber and Faber, 2009.

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Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

We saw a few daffodils…

Dorothy Wordsworth (1771-12-251855-01-25) was an English diarist, travel-writer and catalyst in the writing of her brother William Wordsworth's poems. Her diaries were a direct source of some of Wordsworth's best-known lines.




Quotations are taken from Mary Moorman's edition of the Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth (Oxford University Press, 1971) ISBN 0192811037, which see for cross-references to corresponding lines by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

  • The sky spread over with one continuous cloud, whitened by the light of the moon, which, though her dim shape was seen, did not throw forth so strong a light as to chequer the earth with shadows. At once the clouds seemed to cleave asunder, and left her in the centre of a black-blue vault. She sailed along, followed by multitudes of stars, small, and bright, and sharp.
  • One only leaf upon the top of a tree - the sole remaining leaf - danced round and round like a rag blown by the wind.
    • March 7, 1798
    • This was turned into Coleridge's Christabel, lines 48-50:
      There is not wind enough to twirl
      The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
      That dances as often as dance it can.
  • We saw a raven very high above us. It called out, and the dome of the sky seemed to echo the sound. It called again and again as it flew onwards, and the mountains gave back the sound, seeming as if from their centre; a musical bell-like answering to the bird's hoarse voice.
  • She had got up behind the chaise and her cloak had been caught by the wheel and was jammed in and it hung there. She was crying after it. Poor thing. Mr. Graham took her into the chaise and the cloak was released from the wheel but the child's misery did not cease for her cloak was torn to rags; it had been a miserable cloak before, but she had no other and it was the greatest sorrow that could befal her. Her name was Alice Fell.
  • When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side…At last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them [deleted: the end we did not see] 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 about 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.
  • My Brother William was married to Mary Hutchinson…At a little after 8 o'clock I saw them go down the avenue towards the Church. William had parted from me upstairs. [deleted: I gave him the wedding ring – with how deep a blessing! I took it from my forefinger where I had worn it the whole of the night before – he slipped it again onto my finger and blessed me fervently].

About Dorothy Wordsworth

  • She is a woman indeed! in mind I mean, and heart; for her person is such, that if you expected to see a pretty woman, you would think her rather ordinary; if you expected to see an ordinary woman, you would think her pretty! but her manners are simple, ardent, impressive. In every motion, her most innocent soul outbeams so brightly, that who saw would say,

    Guilt was a thing impossible in her.

    Her information various. Her eye watchful in minutest observation of nature; and her taste, a perfect electrometer. It bends, protrudes, and draws in, at subtlest beauties, and most recondite faults.
  • Her eyes were not soft, as Mrs. Wordsworth's, nor were they fierce or bold; but they were wild and startling, and hurried in their motion. Her manner was warm and even ardent; her sensibility seemed constitutionally deep; and some subtle fire of impassioned intellect apparently burned within her.
  • Miss Dorothy did best part o' pitting his potry togidder. He let it fa' and she cam efter and gethered it oop for him ye kna.
    • Local testimony recorded by Canon Rawnsley in Literary Associations of the English Lakes (Glasgow, 1894) vol. 2, p. 136.
  • The Blessing of my later years
    Was with me when a boy:
    She gave me eyes, she gave me ears;
    And humble cares, and delicate fears;
    A heart, the fountain of sweet tears;
    And love, and thought, and joy.
    • William Wordsworth, "The Sparrow's Nest", line 15.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

DOROTHY WORDSWORTH (1 771-1855), English writer and diarist, was the third child and only daughter of John Wordsworth of Cockermouth and his wife, Anne CooksonCrackanthorpe. The poet William Wordsworth was her brother and a year her senior. On the death of her father in 1783, Dorothy found a home at Penrith, in the house of her maternal grandfather, and afterwards for a time with a maiden lady at Halifax. In 1787, on the death of the elder William Cookson, she was adopted by her uncle, and lived in his Norfolk parish of Forncett. She and her brother William, who dedicated to his sister the Evening Walk of 1792, were early drawn to one another, and in 1794 they visited the Lakes together. They determined that it would be best to combine their small capitals, and that Dorothy should keep house for the poet. From this time forth her life ran on lines closely parallel to those of her great brother, whose companion she continued to be till his death. It is thought that they made the acquaintance of Coleridge in 1797.

From the autumn of 1795 to July 1797 William and Dorothy Wordsworth took up their abode at Racedown, in Dorsetshire. At the latter date they moved to a large manor-house, Alfoxden, in the N. slope of the Quantock hills, in W. Somerset, S. T. Coleridge about the same time settling near by in the town of Nether Stowey. On the 10th of January 1798 Dorothy Wordsworth began her invaluable Journal, used by successive biographers of her brother, but first printed in its quasi-entirety by Professor W. Knight in 1897. The Wordsworths, Coleridge, and Chester left England for Germany on the 14th of September 1798; and of this journey also Dorothy Wordsworth preserved an account, portions of which were published in 1897. On the 14th of May 1800 she started another Journal at Grasmere, which she kept very fully until the 31st of December of the same year. She resumed it on the 1st of January 1802 for another twelve months, closing on the 11th of January 1803. These were printed first in 1889. She composed Recollections of a Tour in Scotland, in 1803, with her brother and Coleridge; this was first published in 1874. Her next contribution to the family history was her Journal of a Mountain Ramble, in November 1805, an account of a walking tour in the Lake district with her brother. In July 1820 the Wordsworths made a tour on the continent of Europe, of which Dorothy preserved a very careful record, portions of which were given to the world in 1884, the writer having refused to publish it in 1824 on the ground that her "object was not to make a book, but to leave to her niece a neatly penned memorial of those few interesting months of our lives." Meanwhile, without her brother, but in the company of Joanna Hutchinson, Dorothy Wordsworth had travelled over Scotland in 1822, and had composed a Journal of that tour. Other MSS. exist and have been examined carefully by the editors and biographers of the poets, but the records which we have mentioned and her letters form the principal literary relics of Dorothy Wordsworth. In 1829 she was attacked by very serious illness, and was never again in good health. After 1836 she could not be considered to be in possession of her mental faculties, and became a pathetic member of the interesting household at Grasmere. She outlived the poet, however, by several years, dying at Grasmere on the 2 5th ofJanuary 1855.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of Dorothy Wordsworth's companionship to her illustrious brother. He has left .numerous tributes to it, and to the sympathetic originality of her perceptions. "She," he said, "gave me eyes, she gave me ears; And humble cares, and delicate fears; A heart the fountain of sweet tears; And love, and thought, and joy." The value of the records preserved by Dorothy Wordsworth, especially in earlier years, is hardly to be over-estimated by those who desire to form an exact impression of the revival of English poetry. When Wordsworth and Coleridge refashioned imaginative literature at the close of the 18th century, they were daily and hourly accompanied by a feminine presence exquisitely attuned to sympathize with their efforts, and by an intelligence which was able and anxious to move in step with theirs. "S. T. C. and my beloved sister," William Wordsworth wrote in 1832, "are the two beings to whom my intellect is most indebted." In her pages we can put our finger on the very pulse of the machine; we are present while the New Poetry is evolved, and the sensitive descriptions in her prose lack nothing but the accomplishment of verse. Moreover, it is certain that the sharpness and fineness of Dorothy's observation, "the shooting lights of her wild eyes," actually afforded material to the poets. Coleridge, for instance, when he wrote his famous lines about "The one red leaf, the last of its clan," used almost the very words in which, on the 7th of March 1798, Dorothy Wordsworth had recorded "One only leaf upon the top of a tree ... danced round and round like a rag blown by the wind." It is not merely by the biographical value of her notes that Dorothy Wordsworth lives. She claims an independent place in the history of English prose as one of the very earliest writers who noted, in language delicately chosen, and with no other object than to preserve their fugitive beauty, the little picturesque phenomena of homely country life. When we speak with very high praise of her art in this direction, it is only fair to add that it is called forth almost entirely by what she wrote between 1798 and 1803, for a decline similar to that which fell upon her brother's poetry early invaded her prose; and her later journals, like her Letters, are less interesting because less inspired. A Life by E. Lee was published in 1886; but it is only since 1897, when Professor Knight collected and edited her scattered MSS., that Dorothy Wordsworth has taken her independent place in literary history. (E. G.)

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