Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 5. Dorothy Wordsworth

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

V. William Wordsworth

§ 5. Dorothy Wordsworth

When he wrote this tragedy, Wordsworth had already put an end to his solitary, wandering life and settled at Racedown in Dorsetshire with his sister Dorothy (autumn of 1795). There, they both lived a frugal life, on the meagre income from a legacy of £900 left to the poet by a dying friend. This settlement was the crowning of a long-cherished scheme. Brother and sister were passionately attached to each other. Dorothy’s letters make their mutual love known to us and let us into depths of Wordsworth’s nature, scarcely revealed by his poems. She speaks of “a vehemence of affection” in him that his readers might not suspect, so careful he usually was, in Hazlitt’s words, “to calm the throbbing pulses of his own heart by keeping his eye ever fixed on the face of nature.” By this discipline, did he, in those years, slowly conquer his besetting thoughts of despondency. Wordsworth and Dorothy were equally fond of natural scenery. Their delight in each other and their daily rambles were the first agents in the young disillusionised republican’s recovery. Dorothy made him turn his eyes again to the landscape and take an interest in the peasants near their home. But the poet’s mind remained gloomy for a time, as is shown by his pastoral The Ruined Cottage (or The Story of Margaret), which afterwards found its place in the first book of The Excursion. A heart-rending narrative, if read without the comforting comments of the pedlar afterwards added to it, a perfect poem, too, such as Wordsworth never surpassed, it points out both the exceeding tenderness often met with in the hearts of the poor and the cruelty of fate aggravated by the existing social order. No doctrine, poetic or philosophical, is perceptible in this poem of simple, chastened beauty. It does not give any token of the message with which Wordsworth was soon to think himself entrusted.