Dorothy Mae Ann Wordsworth lived from 25 December 1771 to 25 January 1855. She was a poet, author and diarist who is best remembered as the sister of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth. Mary lived with her brother for much of her adult life and, from 1802, with William and his wife Mary.
Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland, A. D. 1803 is an account by Dorothy Wordsworth of a six-week, 663-mile journey through the Scottish Highlands in August and September 1803 with her brother William Wordsworth and, for part of the journey, their friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It has been called Dorothy's masterpiece and is rightly regarded as one of the best accounts of Scottish travel literature accounts during a period in the late 1700s and early 1800s which saw many such accounts appear. It is often compared as the Romantic counterpart of two better known Enlightenment-era travel accounts: A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland written by Samuel Johnson and published in 1775. and The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D., by James Boswell, which was published in 1786.
The itinerary for the 1803 tour was in part a literary pilgrimage to places associated with Scottish figures significant to Romanticists such as Robert Burns (whose widow they almost met during the tour), Ossian, Rob Roy, William Wallace and their contemporary Sir Walter Scott, who they did meet. Part of the way through the journey, Coleridge became unwell and decided to return home: reading between the lines you get the impression this may have not been a totally unwelcome decision to the Wordsworths. Oddly, later in the trip they hear accounts that he has pressed on further into Scotland alone.
Dorothy's descriptions and judgments of the countryside and landscapes emerge as a mixture of her own personal tastes and aesthetics and the then fashionable aesthetics of the sublime, beautiful and picturesque. Recollections is often considered a classic of picturesque travel writing. It differs from many other accounts in being less given to literary pretension and as a result more down to earth and accessible. It also differs from most accounts of the era in being written from a female perspective, and perhaps as a result we emerge with a much clearer view of the ordinary lives of ordinary people. We also gain a far from glowing picture of the state of most Scottish inns at the time of the tour.
What also becomes obvious is the hardiness needed to travel in Scotland at the beginning of the 1800s. The three undertook much of the journey on a very lightly constructed two wheeled one horse, totally open, "car" or carriage. The state of many of the roads they encountered was such that one or more of the party often had to walk, and in places they left their carriage and undertook long excursions, often over very unforgiving terrain, on foot.
Dorothy wrote her Recollections mainly for for family and friends. It was not published during her lifetime, which is perhaps as well: the reader cannot help but wonder whether some of the comments about, in particular, the standards of service and cleanliness at clearly identified inns would have had to be toned down if published while their subjects were still around to read them. In the event Recollections was published for the first time only in 1874. Its editor, J. C. Shairp, appears to have seen his role as to insert into the book the literary pretensions its author had herself chosen to omit, and the result was a 31 page preface which added little to the charm of Dorothy Wordsworth's own words and nothing significant about Scotland. The 1874 preface has been excluded from the Undiscovered Scotland version.
Oddly inserted within the entry for 5 September 1803 is a "memorandum by the author" in which Dorothy Wordsworth noted that most of the content up to that point had been written within three months of the events they describe, while much of the rest was written in the Spring of 1805. From the reader's point of view the differences between the near contemporary account and the section written eighteen months later are not as marked as the author clearly thought they might be:
Memorandum by the Author.
The transcript of the First Part of this Journal, and the Second as far as Friday, September 2nd, were written before the end of the year 1803. I do not know exactly when I concluded the remainder of the Second Part, but it was resumed on the 2nd of February 1804. The Third Part was begun at the end of the month of April 1805, and finished on the 31st of May.'
April 11th, 1805.
I am setting about a task which, however free and happy the state of my mind, I could not have performed well at this distance of time; but now, I do not know that I shall be able to go on with it at all. I will strive, however, to do the best I can, setting before myself a different object from that hitherto aimed at, which was, to omit no incident, however trifling, and to describe the country so minutely that you should, where the objects were the most interesting, feel as if you had been with us. I shall now only attempt to give you an idea of those scenes which pleased us most, dropping the incidents of the ordinary days, of which many have slipped from my memory, and others which remain it would be difficult, and often painful to me, to endeavour to draw out and disentangle from other thoughts. I the less regret my inability to do more, because, in describing a great part of what we saw from the time we left Kenmore, my work would be little more than a repetition of what I have said before, or, where it was not so, a longer time was necessary to enable us to bear away what was most interesting than we could afford to give.
Like other eBooks whose texts are reproduced on Undiscovered Scotland, Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland, A. D. 1803, by Dorothy Wordsworth is long out of copyright. What sets the Undiscovered Scotland version apart is the cross linking between the text of the book and features elsewhere on the site, allowing the reader to explore beyond the text itself, finding out more about the places and people mentioned.
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