collections

Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal of a Few Months’ Residence in Portugal (1847)


Dorothy Wordsworth, Journal of a Few Months Residence in Portugal and Glimpses of the South of Spain (London, E. Moxon, 1847)

The first Dorothy Wordsworth (1771–1855) is perhaps best known as a diarist, some of whose entries provided her brother William with material for his poems. When in April 1802, William saw “a crowd, / A host of golden daffodils,” he was not, strictly speaking, wandering lonely as a cloud. His sister Dorothy was by his side, noting how the flowers

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.

But Dorothy was not only a gifted diarist and William’s close companion. She was also an intrepid traveler. In 1803, she went with her brother and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Scotland, composing a manuscript that would not be published until after her death. In 1818, she and her friend Mary Barker were the first women to scale Scafell Pike — the highest mountain in England. Dorothy’s account of this feat was a bit troublingly “borrowed”, without attribution, by her brother in his A Guide through the District of the Lakes.

The second Dorothy Wordsworth (1804–1847), aka “Dora”, was, of course, named after her aunt — and in many ways followed in the first Dorothy’s footsteps. She was, in the words of Wordsworth scholar Judith W. Page, a “dutiful daughter who assume[d] a major role in her father’s life…taking dictation, presiding at tea, visiting neighbors, threatening to become a scholar”. But Dora showed herself to be perhaps even bolder than her aunt, when, in 1843, at the age of thirty-nine, she married the Anglophone poet and Portuguese translator Edward Quillinan —very much against her father’s wishes.

Two years later, she traveled with Quillinan to Portugal (where he had been born) and wrote a memorable account of her impressions and experiences there. Her descriptions of Portugal reveal a keen eye and a warm sense of humor. They also reveal her homesickness. The trip southward had been undertaken for the benefit of Dora’s health — she was suffering from tuberculosis — and in the end she remained away from England for about a year.

In one passage, Dora laments the pleasure the boys of Oporto take in setting off fireworks (to the displeasure of horses and passersby), but even here she finds beauty in something she doesn’t exactly love:

Having dwelt so long upon the disagreeable effects of rockets, I must be excused for describing one scene in which they played no vulgar part. It was at night, the signal gun of our English steamer roused me from a deep sleep. I got up — opened the shutters. A full moon was shining brilliantly; the white breakers of the bar were as visible as they were audible… To the north all seemed wrapped in gloom; but in that direction my heart lay. I again looked anxiously into the deep gloom, and a heave of some friendly wave brought into view a galaxy of bright stars floating upon the waters; it was as if a constellation had come down from the heavens to rest…

Dora’s travels took her from Oporto into the north Portuguese countryside, where she observed the beaches, forests, hills, and vineyards. Her father’s poetry was never far from her mind. She spied “old cork-trees scattered here and there, single or in clumps; old, I say, for every cork-tree that I see looks, like Wordsworth’s thorn, ‘as if it never had been young’”. The sites of Britain, too, continually served as touchstones. Huge stones seen on the journey over Mount Estremo reminded her of “the bowderstone and Borrodale; and many of our prospects today were of Cumbrian feature”.

Yet, despite her mal du pays, Dora was obviously alive to her surroundings. She learned a great deal about Portuguese literature and culture, and recorded her reactions, not only to the heat, but to the beauty of the Lusitanian countryside.

Sadly, Dora died from tuberculosis in 1847, only a little more than a year after returning from continental Europe. She is buried in Rydal, in a field that her father, mother, and aunt planted with hundreds upon hundreds of daffodils.

Above we’ve featured the first edition. A second edition was published in 1895 which includes an introductory “memoir” by Edmund Lee and you can see that here.