During our recent visit to Cumbria and Scotland, we had the opportunity to visit Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount in Grasmere. These were the first and last homes to the poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy.
William Wordsworth was a near-contemporary of Burns, being about 20 years younger. When he settled in Grasmere, his younger sister Dorothy accompanied him and served as his housekeeper. Dorothy began to keep a journal, and in her journal she displays an excellent literary sense and sharp observation.
I left with a greater appreciation for Dorothy, and a lesser one of William.
William had a habit of using Dorothy's journal as inspiration for his poems. His famous, "I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud", written in 1804, was cribbed from Dorothy's April 15th, 1802 journal entry:
Dorothy's journal entry to me is a superior piece of literature than is Wordsworth's poem -- more evocative, more descriptive, more romantic.
The Wordsworths made a trip to Scotland in 1803, and visited Burns's home and grave in Dumfries. Dorothy recorded the events in her journal:
Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland. A.D.1803
* * *
Reached Dumfries at about nine o'clock-market-day; met crowds of people on the road, and every one had a smile for us and our car. . . . The inn was a large house, and tolerably comfortable; Mr. Rogers and his sister, whom we had seen at our own cottage at Grasmere a few days before, had arrived there that same afternoon on their way to the Highlands; but we did not see them till the next morning, and only for about a quarter of an hour.
Thursday, August 18th -- Went to the churchyard where Burns is buried. A bookseller accompanied us. He showed us the outside of Burns's house, where he had lived the last three years of his life, and where he died. It has a mean appearance, and is in a bye situation, whitewashed; dirty about the doors, as almost all Scotch houses are; flowering plants in the windows.
Went on to visit his grave. He lies at a corner of the churchyard, and his second son, Francis Wallace, beside him. There is no stone to mark the spot; but a hundred guineas have been collected, to be expended on some sort of monument. "There," said the book- seller, pointing to a pompous monument, "there lies Mr. Such-a-one" -- I have forgotten his name, -- "a remarkably clever man; he was an attorney, and hardly ever lost a cause he undertook. Burns made many a lampoon upon him, and there they rest, as you see." We looked at the grave with melancholy and painful reflections, repeating to each other his own verses:-
The poor Inhabitant below
Was quick to leam, and wise to know
And keenly felt the friendly glow
And softer flame;
But thoughtless follies laid him low,
And stain'd his name.1
The churchyard is full of grave-stones and expensive monuments in all sorts of fantastic shapes-obelisk-wise, pillar-wise, etc. In speaking of Gretna Green, I forgot to mention that we visited the churchyard. The church is like a huge house; indeed, so are all the churches, with a steeple, not a square tower or spire, -- a sort of thing more like a glass-house chimney than a Church of England steeple; grave-stones in abundance, few verses, yet there were some -- no texts. Over the graves of married women the maiden name instead of that of the husband, "spouse" instead of "wife," and the place of abode preceded by "in" instead of "of." When our guide had left us, we turned again to Burns's house. Mrs. Burns was gone to spend some time by the sea- shore with her children. We spoke to the servant maid at the door, who invited us forward, and we sate [sic] down in the parlour. The walls were coloured with a blue wash; on one side of the fire was a mahogany desk, opposite to the window a clock, and over the desk a print from The Cotter's Saturday Night, which Burns mentions in one of his letters having received as a present. The house was cleanly [sic] and neat in the inside, the stairs of stone, scoured white, the kitchen on the right side of the passage, the parlour on the left. In the room above the parlour the poet died, and his son after him in the same room. The servant told us she had lived five years with Mrs. Burns, who was now in great sorrow for the death of "Wallace." She said that Mrs. Burns's youngest son was at Christ's Hospital. . .