MS B Educational: Removing John

The passage of poetry where William and Dorothy's brother John is described must have been written in 1800 while John was staying with them at Dove Cottage. He stayed for eight months from late January to late September. This sounds like a long time, but John was a sailor, home on leave between voyages.

Look closely at this later draft of the poem on page 38 of MS B. Opposite the description of John, on the back of page 37, Wordsworth has done some redrafting suggesting that he may have thought about leaving out the detailed description.

The addition on the right hand side reads:

if this

Were not, our habitation will be sought

By kindred spirits Sisters of our hearts

And Brothers of our love [they?] who inspire

By whose example aided we shall strive

To make our minds as lovely as those


Which we behold, as fit as fair


(MS B 37v)

In the next version, however, Wordsworth did keep the lines about John in the poem.

Why do you think Wordsworth might have thought about taking out his description of John?

Letters About John

Given below are extracts from William and Dorothy's letters about their brother John.

WW to James Losh, 16th March, 1805

When he came to Grasmere somewhat better than five years ago he found in his Sister and me and Coleridge and in my Wife and a Sister of hers whom at that time he had an opportunity of seeing much of [Sara Hutchinson], all that was wanting to make him completely happy; accordingly he gave up his heart to us, and we had the unexpected delight of finding in him a Friend who had a perfect sympathy with all our pleasures.

(Letters: Early Years, 563)

DW to Lady Beaumont, 29th November, 1805

. . . the Image of our departed Brother haunts me with many a pang in the midst of happy recollections of him, and glorious hopes – he loved this fireside – he paced over this floor in pride before we had been six weeks in the house, exulting within his noble heart that his Father’s Children had once again a home together. We did not know on what day he would come, though we were expecting him every hour, therefore he had no reason to fear that he should surprize us suddenly; yet twice did he approach the door and lay his hand upon the latch, and stop, and turn away without the courage to enter (we had not met for several years) he then went to the Inn and sent us word that he was come. This will give you a notion of the depth of his affections, and the delicacy of his feelings. While he stayed with us he busied himself continually with little schemes for our comfort. At this moment when I cast my eyes about I scarcely see any thing that does not remind me of some circumstance of this kind, and my tears will flow by fits . . .

(Letters: Early Years, 649).

William and Dorothy last saw John on 29th September, 1800. This is how Dorothy Wordsworth records it in her journal:

On Monday 29th John left us. Wm & I parted with him in sight of Ulswater. It was a fine day, showery but with sunshine and fine clouds – poor fellow my heart was right sad –

(Journal, 22-23).

The place where they parted is called Grisedale Tarn. It lies on the path between the hills of Helvellyn and Fairfield when you cross over from Grasmere to Patterdale. A monument to the place where the brother and his siblings parted is now at this site.