Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
The northwestern corner of England, which contains the counties of Northumberland and Westmorland, is both mountainous and inaccessible. The cliffs are not as high as those in Switzerland, but they are rugged, and the land is settled mainly by shepherds and by isolated farmers. The valleys have long, narrow, picturesque lakes, and so the region is called the English Lake District. William Wordsworth was born and lived much of his life among these lakes. Many of the English Romantic writers are sometimes called lake poets because of their association with this area. Wordsworth was born in 1770 in the small town of Cockermouth in Cumberland. Although he later wrote about the lower classes, his own family was middle class, and the poet never actually worked with his hands to make his living. His father was a lawyer who managed the affairs of the earl of Lonsdale. The poet had three brothers (Richard, John, and Christopher) and a sister (Dorothy). For the first nine years of his life, the family inhabited a comfortable house near the Derwent River. William attended Anne Birkett’s school in the little town of Penrith, where Mary Hutchinson, whom he married in 1802, was also a student. His mother died when he was seven. The two brothers, William and Richard, then boarded at the house of Ann Tyson while attending grammar school in the village of Hawkshead.
Apparently this arrangement was a kindly one, and the boy spent much time happily roaming the nearby fields and hills. He also profited from the teaching of his schoolmaster William Taylor, who encouraged him to write poetry. In 1783, his father died and the family inheritance was tied up in litigation for some twenty years. Only after the death of the earl of Lonsdale in 1802 was Wordsworth able to profit from his father’s estate. With the help of relatives, he matriculated at St. John’s College, Cambridge University. Although he did not earn distinction as a student, those years were fertile times for learning.
While he was a student at St. John’s, between 1787 and 1791, the French Revolution broke out across the English Channel. During his summer vacation of 1790, Wordsworth and his college friend, Robert Jones, went on a walking tour across France and Switzerland to Italy. The young students were much impressed by the popular revolution and the spirit of democracy in France at that time. Wordsworth took his degree at St. John’s in January, 1791, but had no definite plans for his future. The following November, he went again to revolution-torn France with the idea of learning the French language well enough to earn his living as a tutor. Passing through Paris, he settled at Blois in the Loire Valley. There he made friends with Captain Michael Beaupuy...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
William Wordsworth was born at Cockermouth, in Cumberland, England, on April 7, 1770, the son of John and Ann Wordsworth. He had an elder brother, Richard, a younger sister, Dorothy, and two younger brothers, John and Christopher. His mother died when William was eight, and he and his brothers were separated from their sister to be reared by grandparents. William’s father died when William was thirteen. William first began writing poetry soon after.
When he was seventeen, Wordsworth entered Cambridge and was graduated in 1791. While at the university, he went with a friend on a walking tour of France during the beginnings of its revolution. After leaving the university, he returned to France, where he found himself in the midst of bloody violence in 1792. He met and planned to marry Annette Vallon, but he was forced to return to England and could not marry her, although the relationship produced a daughter.
Uncertain of his future, distraught over events in France, and heartsick about his separation from Annette, he went on a walking tour of Wales in 1793 and then joyfully reunited with his sister, Dorothy, and made plans to settle with her until he could marry Annette. Meanwhile, he met the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1797 in Dorset. By now, Wordsworth believed that his destiny was to become a poet, and he was encouraged by Dorothy and Coleridge. To finance a trip to Germany, Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote their famous collection of poems, Lyrical Ballads, in 1798. One of the poems, “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” was composed after a walking trip that Wordsworth took with Dorothy to visit the ruins of a famous abbey on the Welsh border.
In 1798 and 1799, the two poets and Dorothy went to Germany, but Wordsworth and his sister returned shortly afterward to England, leaving Coleridge behind. Wordsworth wrote more poems, which would be included in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads in 1800, and he composed his prose essay on his theory of poetry as a preface for the collection. He also began to write long sections in blank verse of his autobiographical poem, to be called The Prelude: Or, The Growth of a Poet’s Mind (1850), which he had probably begun in Germany. When Coleridge returned to England, he often visited William and Dorothy and soon moved to live near them in the Lake District of north England, where Wordsworth was born.
By this time,...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
From ballad experiments to innovations of epic, William Wordsworth maintained a total commitment to poetry. He turned his personal experience into public statement, and he modified public genres of writing with personal testimony. He departed from classic ideals of regularity and abstract diction, and he established the Romantic taste for the irregular experience rendered in concrete language.
Life in the solitude of the Lake District provided him with subjects of rustic living, but his education in sophisticated cities added richness of self-reflection and self-discipline. His writing drew from all dimensions of his experience.
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Comparing William Wordsworth with other great English poets was once a parlor game for critics. Matthew Arnold places him below only William Shakespeare and John Milton; others, ranging less widely, are content to call him the greatest of the Romantic poets. Incontestably, Wordsworth stands supreme among English nature poets, and the stamp of his influence so strongly marks the brief period of nineteenth century Romanticism that some have called it the age of Wordsworth.
The second son of a lower-middle-class family, Wordsworth was born April 7, 1770, at Cockermouth in the Lake District of Cumberland. When he was eight, his mother died; the loss of his father, five years later, made him dependent upon his uncles for an education. School at Hawkshead was followed by matriculation at Cambridge University, where he entered St. John’s College in 1787. He interrupted his career there in 1790 to take a summer tour of Switzerland, France, and Italy; in 1791, after receiving his degree, he returned to France, ostensibly to learn the language.
Much besides language, however, quickly absorbed Wordsworth’s attention. The years 1791 to 1792 found him developing two passions, one for Annette Vallon and the other for the French Revolution. Both were probably sincere, while they lasted, but both were soon to suffer from a change of heart. Wordsworth’s daughter Anne Caroline was born to Annette Vallon while he was still in France; for reasons that have never become clear, he acknowledged the child without marrying the mother. Wordsworth’s other passion, the Revolution, stirred him deeply and left an indelible impression. His enthusiasm waned chiefly because of its growing excesses and because of the accession of Napoleon. Even so, the philosophy he acquired from Michel Beaupuy and his fellow revolutionists was an important factor in making Wordsworth the great poetic spokesman for that element as yet relatively voiceless—the “common man.”
Back in England, Wordsworth briefly found congeniality in the circle of young freethinkers surrounding William Godwin. Godwin, future father-in-law of Percy Bysshe Shelley, was a radical philosopher and the author of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness...
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Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: As one of the first and probably the greatest of the English Romantic poets, Wordsworth redirected the literary trends of the time. His most important poems present a vision of the expanded human mind in creative interplay with the external world.
William Wordsworth was born on April 7, 1770, in the village of Cockermouth, on the borders of the Lake District in northwest England. He was the second of five children born to John and Ann Wordsworth. His mother died when he was eight, and when he was nine he was sent to Hawkshead Grammar School, thirty-five miles to the south, on the shores of Esthwaite Lake. Wordsworth loved the Lakeland countryside, where he...
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