William Wordsworth Additional Biography


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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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, Wordsworth and Annette were no longer interested in marrying, and he married Mary Hutchinson in...

(The entire section is 1042 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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 (1793). Like Wordsworth, he was an ardent disciple of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a fact which helps to explain...

(The entire section is 975 words.)


(History of the World: The 19th Century)

0111201606-Wordsworth.jpg (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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.

Early Life

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 was free to roam for long periods, as he was later to record in The Prelude: Or, The Growth of a Poet’s Mind (1850). He was an adventurous, imaginative, strong-minded, and rebellious boy, who was also given to periods of solitude. His was a happy childhood, though his father also died when Wordsworth was young.

In 1787, Wordsworth entered St. John’s College, Cambridge, but the tall, lean, and dour Northerner, his long face usually serious in expression, his clothes plain and unsophisticated, and his manner awkward, neither excelled as a scholar nor fitted smoothly into fashionable social circles. He later wrote in The Prelude that he believed that he was “not for that hour,/ Nor for that place,” but at the time he had no clear idea of his vocation.

During his summer vacation in 1790, Wordsworth went on a walking tour with his friend Robert Jones through France and the Alps. The following year, after receiving his degree from Cambridge, he climbed Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in Great Britain. It was an important event because he would later incorporate the story of the climb, giving it great symbolic importance, in the final book of The Prelude.

In November, 1791, Wordsworth returned to France, where the French Revolution was at its height. Stimulated by his friendship with the Republican soldier Michel Beaupuy, Wordsworth enthusiastically embraced the revolutionary cause, later writing of “France standing on the top of golden hours,/ And human nature seeming born again.” He also had a love affair with a Frenchwoman, Annette Vallon, from Orleans, who later gave birth to his child, Caroline.

Wordsworth returned to England in December, 1792, and one month later his first published poetry, An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches, appeared. For the next two years, he lived mainly in London and was involved in radical politics. Wordsworth was appalled that England had gone to war against revolutionary France, but over the next few years, as he watched the Revolution turn into tyranny and ward of conquest, he was thrown into a state of moral confusion.

In 1795, Wordsworth’s financial position eased when a young friend, Raisley Calvert, died and left him a legacy of nine hundred pounds. He and his devoted sister, Dorothy, rented a cottage in Racedown, in the southwest county of Dorset, where Wordsworth recovered his peace of mind. He also met two young poets, Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The friendship with Coleridge, which became fully established in 1797, coincided with the beginning of a golden decade in which Wordsworth was to write most of his greatest poems.

Life’s Work

Coleridge, a great poet in his own right, worshipped Wordsworth, and Wordsworth, in his turn, was stimulated by the range of Coleridge’s learning and the depth of his critical insight. It was Coleridge who helped to shape Wordsworth’s conception of his own poetic vocation. For several years, the two were almost daily in each other’s company, and in 1798 they published anonymously a joint collection (although Wordsworth was the chief contributor), entitled Lyrical Ballads. It did not win favorable reviews and did not sell many copies, but it later came to be recognized as one of the landmarks in the history of English literature. Wordsworth had developed a new idea of what poetry could be about. He wrote about ordinary events in the lives of ordinary people: simple country folk and children mainly, but also social outcasts and misfits. Not only did this break all the neoclassical rules about the proper subject matter of poetry, but, in using simple, nonliterary language, what he called the common language of men, Wordsworth also challenged the conventional wisdom regarding poetic diction.

In December, 1799, following a brief visit to Germany with Coleridge, Wordsworth and Dorothy moved to Dove Cottage, in the Lake District village of Grasmere. Coleridge and his wife followed them to nearby Keswick. The Wordsworths were to live in Dove Cottage for nearly ten years; it was to be the most creative period of the poet’s life. This was in part a result of the serenity and happiness of domestic life at Dove Cottage; Dorothy was a devoted helper, and Wordsworth’s marriage to his childhood friend Mary Hutchinson in 1802 increased his tranquillity. It was an ideal environment for writing. During this period, Wordsworth completed an early version of The Prelude, planned a long poem titled The Recluse (1888), and wrote most of Home at Grasmere...

(The entire section is 2166 words.)