Greetings, everyone, from Glasgow and Grasmere! I hope you enjoy my latest vlog, in which I travel for the first time to the beautiful Lake District village of Grasmere. This perfectly picturesque spot was once home to William Wordsworth and his family, including his beloved sister Dorothy who wrote The Grasmere Journal (the book that inspired my trip in the first place)!
Dorothy's journal was never actually intended for publication: instead, her very first entry on 14th May 1800 recorded that 'I resolve to write a journal of the time till W. and J. [John Wordsworth, their brother] return ... because I shall give Wm. pleasure by it when he comes home again'. The Grasmere Journal contains vivid descriptions of the ever-evolving landscape around Dorothy, and the feminist historian in me (I think we're all well acquainted with her by now!) feels that she deserves far greater credit as a gifted nature writer. Filled with deeply evocative depictions, there are several instances within the Journal where we can see how Dorothy's writing explicitly influenced Wordsworth's poetry. On 14th March 1802, for instance, Dorothy describes a conversation with her brother about butterflies:
'I told him that I used to chase them a little, but that I was afraid of brushing the dust off their wings, and did not catch them. He told me how they used to kill all the white ones when he went to school because they were Frenchmen.'
A very similar scene appears in Wordsworth's 'To a Butterfly' poem:
'A very hunter did I rush
Upon the prey:—with leaps and springs
I follow'd on from brake to bush;
But She, God love her! feared to brush
The dust from off its wings.'
And on 15th April 1802, two years before William wrote his world-famous 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud' poem (in which he describes a 'host of golden daffodils'), Dorothy observed in her journal:
'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 & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing.'
Whether helping to transcribe her brother's poetry (an activity she did regularly) or inspiring him with her own interpretations of the natural beauty around them, it seems clear to me that Dorothy - and later William's wife Mary too - played a significant part in making Dove Cottage a centre for creative collaboration. On 18th March 1802, Dorothy confided in her Journal how 'I had many very exquisite feelings ... among the dark and lofty hills, with that bright, soft light ...' which made her feel like 'more than half a poet'. Sadly, however, she believed that she lacked merit as a writer and never sought to share her work publicly, other than writing 'a few lines' to amuse William's children. As she told her acquaintance Lady Beaumont in a 1806 letter:
'Do not think that I was ever bold enough to hope to compose verses for the pleasure of grown persons. Descriptions, Sentiments, or little stories for children was all I could be ambitious of doing, and I did try one story, but failed so sadly that I was completely discouraged ...'
While I might disagree with Dorothy about her lack of literary ability, I can wholeheartedly understand why Grasmere came to mean so much to her. The Wordsworths' lives and work remain very much present as an important part of village life: as William once put it, 'the loveliest spot that man hath ever found'! During my visit, I was touched to see that the Wordsworth Trust (who care for Dove Cottage and its gardens) are starting to acknowledge Dorothy's importance. With renovations underway to mark the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth's birth in 2020, I may just have to return next year!
Ps. I had such fun this month participating in the inaugural Summer Art Challenge at Scotland's National Museum of Rural Life, and was delighted to discover that my painting Keep a Green Tree in Your Heart won the People’s Choice Award! Thanks so much to all the farm fans who voted for my watercolour and ink artwork (how fortunate to have trees as my signature motif!) ... and to Sooty the Farm Cat, of course, who kept me company literally all day! Keep a tree in your heart and the singing bird will come (or failing that, a sheep or too!)