Literature Study GuidesThe Grasmere JournalsBook 3 1802 January March Summary

The Grasmere Journals | Study Guide

Dorothy Wordsworth

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The Grasmere Journals | Book 3, 1802 (January–March) | Summary



In January Dorothy writes that Mary visits them again. They part from her on January 22 before staying with the Clarksons, who tell them many amusing stories, some of which Dorothy records. As she and William walk home, they become caught in a storm. The rain, hail, and mist are so heavy, they lose sight of their path and become nearly lost.

William writes to Annette on January 22. The siblings receive a "heart-rending" letter from Coleridge. William asks Dorothy to "set down" a story about a bird that belonged to a spinster, Barbara Wilkinson. Dorothy writes about the turtledove in her journal on January 30..The dove, having lost its companion bird, is visited daily by a mouse that eats with it. The turtledove, who remains in its cage for nine years, dotes on the mouse until it stops coming.

The night of February 8 is so cold that Dorothy cannot sleep despite gathering all her clothes around herself. Dorothy notes that William worked so hard composing and revising, he frequently made himself sick. On February 12 a beggar woman stops by with her a young son, who reminds Dorothy of Basil. The woman's sad story prompts Dorothy to be thankful for everything she has.

William goes away for a few days on March 4, and Dorothy resolves to be busy and keep her spirits up in his absence. He returns on March 7. On March 13 Dorothy reads William her account of the tall beggar woman and her sons. Dorothy writes that William wanted to write a poem about them but was unable to get away from Dorothy's exact wording. The next day William composes "The Beggars."

On March 15 a sailor named Isaac Chapel visits the cottage, and William and Dorothy speak to him for two hours. He tells them gruesome stories of his time on a slave ship and of his adventures as a castaway in America spending time among the Native Americans. He reminds Dorothy very much of her brother John.

On March 19 Coleridge visits the cottage. On March 22 Dorothy and William discuss several topics, including Coleridge. They resolve to go and see Annette and that William should "go to Mary." On March 28 they go to Keswick to visit the Coleridges.


In this section there is evidence of William's direct use of Dorothy's journal as the inspiration for his poem "The Beggars." The account Dorothy reads to him is her journal entry from May 27, 1800, of the tall beggar woman and her sons. He also asks her to record a story about a pet bird, possibly to use for a poem in the future. In this way, Dorothy's journal is a shared document between the two of them, rather than a private, personal journal as diaries are thought of today.

The children's story, The Mousewife (1951) by British writer Rumer Godden (1907–98), with illustrations by American author and illustrator William Pène du Bois (1916–93), is credited with originally having been based on Dorothy's story from her journal about Miss Wilkinson's caged dove. Godden writes, "It was quite true, but her mouse, I am sorry to say, did not let the dove out of its cage. I thought mine should, and she did."

The 1801 journal contains the first mention of Annette Vallon. William met and had a romantic affair with the Frenchwoman on an extended trip to France around the time he attended Cambridge. The two had a daughter together in 1792. Since the war between England and France broke out, William had been unable to see Annette again. In March the siblings decided to plan to take a trip to France to see Annette and her daughter Caroline later that year. It is likely the phrase "William should go to Mary" in this conversation refers to a decision that William will wed Mary, for after they returned from France that is what happened.

The siblings are fascinated by stories. Not only does Dorothy record the anecdotes of friends like the Clarksons, but she also writes down the life stories of beggars. She and William speak to the traveling sailor for hours, absorbed in his experiences. It is not surprising that two writers, like the Wordsworths, are interested in the stuff that makes up their work: stories.

The boy who the beggar woman's son reminds Dorothy of is Basil, a motherless child she cared for from 1795–97 for income. Three-year-old Basil Montagu lived with Dorothy, William, and a servant at Racedown Lodge and later at Alfoxden House. They rented the houses to give him a quiet, stable place to live, and Dorothy acted as his teacher. His father, also named Basil, was a lawyer friend of William's from Cambridge.

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