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On This Date Dorothy Wordsworth Died

January 25, 2018

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On this date in 1855 Dorothy Wordsworth died at age 83. She spent her last 20 years in “a deepening haze of senility.”

But it always from her young adulthood that we always think of Wordsworth, her brother William, and their close intellectual bond.

Dorothy and William Wordsworth spent their childhoods apart with relatives after the deaths of their parents. So when they came together in early adulthood they really did not know each other well.

Here in a letter to her close friend Jane Pollard from June 1792 Dorothy Wordsworth wrote to Jane Pollard her dreams of cottage life with William whom she had only recently

I have strolled into a neighboring meadow, where I am enjoying the melody of birds, and the busy sounds of a fine summer’s evening. But oh! how imperfect is my pleasure whilst I am alone! Why are you not seated with me? And my dear William, why is he not here also? I could almost fancy that I see you both near me. I hear you point out a spot, where if we could erect a little cottage and call it our own, we should be the happiest of human beings. I see my brother fired with the idea of leading his sister to such a retreat. Our parlour is in a moment furnished, our garden is adorned by magic; the roses and honeysuckles spring at our command; the wood behind the house lifts its head, and furnishes us with a winter’s shelter and a summer’s noonday shade. My dear friend, I trust that erelong you will be, without the aid of imagination, the companion of my walks, and my dear William may be of our party.

 

First Impressions: Dorothy Wordsworth Meets Her Brother

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Racedown Cottage, the first residence of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, in the Lake District

April 7, 2017

On this date William Wordsworth was born in 1770 in Cockermouth, Cumberland, UK.

Few brother-sister relationships in literary history have affected the course of western literature like that of Dorothy and William Wordsworth. The story of that relationship is the story of natural and shared genius, yet the genius of one relegated, obscured, and subordinated in her lifetime to the genius celebrated in his lifetime. Yet, William’s genius was dependent greatly upon that of his sister’s. Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals were not published in her lifetime, but they reveal her genius and they reveal that she was for many of the early Wordsworth poems her brother’s collaborator. It’s not that William took advantage of his sister or that he would have denied her role as his partner if asked. Nineteenth-century English society took advantage of her.

Regardless, William Wordsworth received the acclaim of history and the western world as he dominated his age and mightily helped the worldwide paradigm change that was Romanticism.

Dorothy and William spent their childhoods apart with relatives after the deaths of their parents. So when they came together in early adulthood they really did not know each other well.

Here in a letter to her close friend Jane Pollard from February 1792, Dorothy offers her early impressions of her brother, at first comparing him to their brother Christopher:

Christopher is steady and sincere in his attachments. William has both these virtues in an eminent degree, and a sort of violence of affection, if I may so term it, which demonstrates itself every moment of the day, when the objects of his attentions to their wishes, in a sort of restless watchfulness which I may not know how to describe, a tenderness that never sleeps, and at the same time such a delicacy of manner as I have observed in few men.

In another letter to Pollard from June of that year, Dorothy writes an introduction to her brother whom she hopes Pollard will soon meet:

But it is enough to say that I am likely to have the happiness of introducing you to my beloved brother. You must forgive me for talking so much of him; my affection hurries me on, and makes me forget that you cannot be so much interested in the subject as I am. You do not know how amiable he is. Perhaps you reply, ‘But I know how blinded you are.’ Well, my dearest, I plead guilty at once; I must be blind; he cannot be so pleasing as my fondness makes him. I am willing to allow that half the virtues with which I fancy him endowed are the creation of my love; but surely I may be excused! He was never tired of comforting his sister; he never left her in anger; he always met her with joy; he preferred her society to every other pleasure—or rather, when we were so happy as to be within each other’s reach, he had no pleasure when we were compelled to be divided. Do not, then expect too much from this brother of whom I have delighted so to talk to you. In the first place, you must be with him more than once before he will be perfectly easy in conversation. In the second place, his person is not in his favour—at least I should think not; but I soon ceased to discover this—nay, I almost thought that the opinion which I had formed was erroneous. He is, however, certainly rather plain, though otherwise has an extremely thoughtful countenance; but when he speaks it is often lighted up by a smile which I think very pleasing. But enough, he is my brother; why should I describe him? I shall be launching again into panegyric.

 

First Impressions Series: William Wordsworth at 17 and the French Revolution

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First Impressions Series: William Wordsworth at 17 and the French Revolution

September 22, 2016

William Wordsworth at the age of 17 entered Paris during the Revolution in 1792 and with the intense idealism of a young man at the beginning of what would quickly become known as the Romantic era, he was immediately smitten by all he saw. He writes in one of the most famous passages from The Prelude:

O pleasant exercise of hope and joy

For mighty were the [allies] which then stood

Upon our side, we who were strong in Love!

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,

But to be young was very Heaven!

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Paul Varner

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