Index  Dorothy Wordsworth

Tour in Scotland

This woman’s appearance was very melancholy

Meeting the poor and homeless 

The Lake District, where the Wordsworths lived, was home to many loners and families who were victims of the economic downturn through the war with France. In Scotland, Dorothy and William also met many wandering paupers. There, during the so-called clearances, from the middle of the eighteenth century, a great number of crofters were expelled from their land. Many emigrated - often forcedly - to America, Canada and Australia. Others fell into mendicancy. Dorothy describes some of them, such as the woman with her child she met at Luss, the village on the banks of Loch Lomond. She and her brother found shelter in a 'nice-looking white' inn by the road. 'The view very pleasant to the lake, over the top of the village a cluster of thatched houses among trees, with a large chapel in the midst of them'. The meal was disappointing, the beer was sour, but the people were nice and that made up for it. They went for a walk along the lake before going to sleep. It was cold, the sky was dark without a ray of sunshine.

Came to a bark hut by the shores, and sate for some time under the shelter of it. While we were here a poor woman with a little child by her side begged a penny of me, and asked where she could 'find quarters in the village.' She was a travelling beggar, a native of Scotland, had often 'heard of that water,' but was never there before. This woman's appearance, while the wind was rustling about us, and the waves breaking at our feet, was very melancholy: the waters looked wide, the hills many, and dark, and far off - no house but at Luss. I thought what a dreary waste must this lake be to such poor creatures, struggling with fatigue and poverty and unknown ways!

This fragment suggests that Dorothy is aware of the contrast between this woman with her child, and herself and her brother. To some, the lake nearby is a 'dreary waste', the next day she herself experienced the scenery at Loch Lomond as 'a combination of natural wildness, loveliness, beauty, and barrenness, or rather bareness, yet not comfortless or cold; but the whole was beautiful'.

Painful toil

Nearly three weeks later, the Wordsworths returned to Loch Lomond. When crossing the lake with the ferry, they once again encountered a woman - now with a child and a man - who had been sentenced to a wandering existence. This time, Dorothy speaks out loud about the contradiction between traveling for pleasure and wandering out of dire necessity.

The ferryman happened to be just ready at the moment to go over the lake with a poor man, his wife and child. The little girl, about three years old, cried all the way, terrified by the water. When we parted from this family, they going down the lake, and we up it, I could not but think of the difference in our condition to that poor woman, who, with her husband, had been driven from her home by want of work, and was now going a long journey to seek it elsewhere: every step was painful toil, for she had either her child to bear or a heavy burthen. I walked as she did, but pleasure was my object, and if toil came along with it, even that was pleasure, - pleasure, at least, it would be in the remembrance.