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Skip to 0 minutes and 30 secondsTuesday 22nd. Still Thaw. I washed my head. Wm & I went to Rydale for letters, the road was covered with dirty snow, rough & rather slippery. We had a melancholy letter from C, for he had been very ill, tho’ he was better when he wrote. We walked home almost without speaking— Wm composed a few lines of the Pedlar. We talked about Lamb's tragedy as we went down the White Moss. We stopped a long time in going to watch a little bird with a salmon coloured breast—a white cross or T upon its wings, & a brownish back with faint stripes.

Skip to 1 minute and 17 secondsIt was pecking the scattered Dung upon the road— it began to peck at the distance of 4 yards from us & advanced nearer & nearer till it came within the length of Wm's stick without any apparent fear of us. As we came up the White Moss we met an old man, who I saw was a beggar by his two bags hanging over his shoulder, but from a half laziness, half indifference, & a wanting to try him if he would speak I let him pass. He said nothing, & my heart smote me. I turned back & said You are begging? ‘Ay’ says he— I gave him a halfpenny. William, judging from his appearance joined in I suppose you were a sailor?

Skip to 2 minutes and 6 seconds‘Ay’ he replied, ‘I have been 57 years at sea, 12 of them on board a man-of-war under Sir Hugh Palmer.’ Why have you not a pension? ‘I have no pension, but I could have got into Greenwich hospital but all my officers are dead.’ He was 75 years of age, had a freshish colour in his cheeks, grey hair, a decent hat with a binding round the edge, the hat worn brown & glossy, his shoes were small thin shoes low in the quarters, pretty good—they had belonged to a gentleman.

Skip to 2 minutes and 47 secondsHis coat was blue, frock shaped coming over his thighs, it had been joined up the seams behind with paler blue to let it out, & there were three Bell-shaped patches of darker blue behind where the Buttons had been. His breeches were either of fustian or grey cloth, with strings hanging down, whole & tight & he had a checked shirt on, and a small coloured handkerchief tyed round his neck. His bags were hung over each shoulder & lay on each side of him, below his breast. One was brownish & of coarse stuff, the other was white with meal on the outside, & his blue waistcoat was whitened with meal.

Skip to 3 minutes and 31 secondsIn the coarse bag I guessed he put his scraps of meat &c. He walked with a slender stick decently stout, but his legs bowed outwards. We overtook old Fleming at Rydale, leading his little Dutchman-like grandchild along the slippery road. The same pace seemed to be natural to them both, the old man & the little child, & they went hand in hand, the Grandfather cautious, yet looking proud of his charge. He had two patches of new cloth at the shoulder blades of his faded claret coloured coat, like eyes at each shoulder, not worn elsewhere. I found Mary at home in her riding-habit all her clothes being put up. We were very sad about Coleridge. Wm walked further.

Skip to 4 minutes and 26 secondsWhen he came home he cleared a path to the necessary— called me out to see it but before we got there a whole housetop full of snow had fallen from the roof upon the path & it echoed in the ground beneath like a dull beating upon it. We talked of going to Ambleside after dinner to borrow money of Luff, but we thought we would defer our visit to Eusemere a day.— Half the Seaman's nose was reddish as if he had been in his youth somewhat used to drinking, though he was not injured by it.— We stopped to look at the Stone seat at the top of the Hill.

Skip to 5 minutes and 6 secondsThere was a white cushion upon it round at the edge like a cushion & the Rock behind looked soft as velvet, of a vivid green & so tempting! The snow too looked as soft as a down cushion. A young Foxglove, like a Star in the Centre. There were a few green lichens about it & a few withered Brackens of Fern here & there & upon the ground near. All else was a thick Snow—no foot mark to it, not the foot of a sheep.— When we were at Thomas Ashburner's on Sunday Peggy talked about the Queen of Patterdale. She had been brought to drinking by her husband's unkindness & Avarice. She was formerly a very nice tidy woman.

Skip to 5 minutes and 57 secondsShe had taken to drinking but ‘that was better than if she had taken to something worse’ (by this I suppose she meant killing herself). She said that her husband used to be out all night with other women & she used to hear him come in in the morning, for they never slept together— ‘Many a poor Body a Wife like me, has had a working heart for her, as much stuff as she had’. We sate snugly around the fire. I read to them the Tale of Custance & the Syrian Monarch, also some of the Prologues. It is the Man of Lawes Tale. We went to bed early. It snowed & thawed.

22 December 1801

In this step, you can listen to novelist and academic, Dr Jenn Ashworth read Dorothy’s journal entry for 22 December 1801 aloud while following Dorothy’s handwriting. If this is too difficult to read, there is a transcript attached that you can read instead or as well as this!

This is a lengthy journal entry, which gives you some sense of the Wordsworths’ daily lives together. Dorothy describes meeting an old man on the road. She lets him pass by before, regretting this, she gives him money and they talk to the old man and find out something of his story. They see someone else on their way home (old Fleming and his grandchild) and Dorothy remembers Peggy Ashburner’s gossip about ‘the Queen of Patterdale’.

When listening to and/or reading this entry, think about what this episode tells you about life in those times.

  • What kind of details does Dorothy notice during her day?
  • What do you think of the old man’s story?
  • How does Dorothy describe the people she meets and the landscape she moves through?
  • Are there bits of this journal entry that you particularly like or that you might criticise?

A short quiz follows the reading.

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This video is from the free online course:

William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place

Lancaster University