WILLIAM WORDSWORTH WAS BORN on April 7, 1770, in the Lake District of England. After the death of their mother in 1778 and their father in 1783, Wordsworth and his siblings were brought up under the guardianship of their uncles. Wordsworth would later describe frequent bouts of depression and persistent grief for the deaths of his parents and a subsequent separation from his brothers and sisters. As adults, he and his sister Dorothy would become inseparable friends.
Wordsworth toured France in 1791 and fell in love with Annette Vallon, with whom he had a daughter, Caroline. Wordsworth would most likely have married Annette, but the Revolution in France made it impossible for him to stay there, and growing conflict between France and England forced him to take his family home to England. He did, however, support Annette and Caroline for the rest of their lives.
Like William Blake, Wordsworth had been an early supporter of the French Revolution, but was disheartened by the horrible excesses of the Reign of Terror.
He met Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1793, and the two poets became close friends. Together, Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems that many credit as beginning the English Romantic movement. In Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth and Coleridge attempted to depart from the highly eloquent and stylistic works of the Enlightenment and develop a new form, based on the “real language of men.” The collection includes Wordsworth's “Tintern Abbey,” and Coleridge's “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
By 1804, Wordsworth's friendship with Coleridge had begun to deteriorate, largely due to Wordsworth's concern about Coleridge's opium addiction and Coleridge's disillusionment that Wordsworth was losing the liberal idealism that had once driven his work. The poets' friendship, especially their collaboration on the “Lyrical Ballads,” is explored in the 2000 film, Pandaemonium.
Wordsworth expected to be named England's Poet Laureate in 1813, but lost the title to his friend Robert Southey (who is best known today as the author of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”). When Southey died in 1843, Wordsworth was finally appointed to the post.
After his death on April 23, 1850, Wordsworth's widow published the long autobiographical “poem to Coleridge” under the title The Prelude. It did not meet with either critical or commercial success on its original publication, but it is now generally regarded as Wordsworth's masterpiece.
We have within ourselves
Enough to fill the present day with joy,
And overspread the future years with hope.