William Wordsworth Walking: Art, Work, Leisure, and a Curious Form of Consumption

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William Wordsworth Walking: Art, Work, Leisure, and a Curious Form of Consumption

William Wordsworth spent a good portion of his life on foot, walking. Consider a sequence of Dorothy's journal entries: Monday the 14th, "Wm & Mary walked to Ambleside in the morning to buy mousetraps" (about 5 miles round trip); Tuesday the 15th, "Wm & I walked to Rydale for letters" (about 3 miles round trip); Wednesday the 16th, "After dinner Wm & I walked twice up to the Swan & back again" (3 miles), met Miss Simpson and walked with her to the Oliffs and then back to her house (another 3 miles); Thursday the 17th, "we had a delightful walk" (a couple of miles); Friday the 18th, "Mary & Wm walked round the two lakes" (about 6 miles); Saturday the 19th, "We walked by Brathay to Ambleside" (6 miles). Now such distances are not remarkable in fine weather, but these were walks from the 14th to the 19th of December 1801, and Dorothy's notes include "A very keen frost, extremely slippery," and "Snow in the night & still snowing," and "the evening cloudy and promising snow" (GJ 48-49). Undeterred by bad weather, Wordsworth (and Dorothy) gave walking a central position in their daily lives, even to the extent that not walking becomes a remarkable event. Dorothy records that on September 13, 1800, "William writing his preface did not walk" (GJ 22). And of course in better weather there were shorter and longer walking tours such as Dorothy's record of September 3, 1800, in which Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Jonathan Wordsworth left "after breakfast" to walk "upon Helvellyn" and returned home at 10 at night, having covered probably 15 to 20 miles (GJ 20-21)--a long, but not unusually long for them, walk. In short, Wordsworth habitually spent at least several hours a day walking, and it was not at all uncommon for him to spend entire days on foot.

The central role of walking in Wordsworth's life suggests a number of interesting questions, but I will focus here only on those related to the theme of this conference, work and leisure. Obviously, much of Wordsworth's walking could be classed as leisure-time activity. There was probably no compelling reason for Wordsworth and Dorothy to walk twice to the Black Swan or for Wordsworth and Mary to circumambulate the lakes.

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