William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850) was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their joint publication Lyrical Ballads (1798).
Wordsworth's magnum opus is generally considered to be The Prelude, a semi-autobiographical poem of his early years that he revised and expanded a number of times. It was posthumously titled and published by his wife in the year of his death, before which it was generally known as "the poem to Coleridge". Wordsworth was Britain's poet laureate from 1843 until his death from pleurisy on 23 April 1850.
|Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom|
6 April 1843 – 23 April 1850
|Preceded by||Robert Southey|
|Succeeded by||Alfred, Lord Tennyson|
|Born||7 April 1770|
Cockermouth, Cumberland, England
|Died||23 April 1850 (aged 80)|
Rydal, Westmorland, England
|Alma mater||St John's College, Cambridge|
The second of five children born to John Wordsworth and Ann Cookson, William Wordsworth was born on 7 April 1770 in what is now named Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, Cumberland, part of the scenic region in northwestern England known as the Lake District. William's sister, the poet and diarist Dorothy Wordsworth, to whom he was close all his life, was born the following year, and the two were baptised together. They had three other siblings: Richard, the eldest, who became a lawyer; John, born after Dorothy, who went to sea and died in 1805 when the ship of which he was captain, the Earl of Abergavenny, was wrecked off the south coast of England; and Christopher, the youngest, who entered the Church and rose to be Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.
Wordsworth's father was a legal representative of James Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale and, through his connections, lived in a large mansion in the small town. He was frequently away from home on business, so the young William and his siblings had little involvement with him and remained distant from him until his death in 1783. However, he did encourage William in his reading, and in particular set him to commit large portions of verse to memory, including works by Milton, Shakespeare and Spenser. William was also allowed to use his father's library. William also spent time at his mother's parents' house in Penrith, Cumberland, where he was exposed to the moors, but did not get along with his grandparents or his uncle, who also lived there. His hostile interactions with them distressed him to the point of contemplating suicide.
Wordsworth was taught to read by his mother and attended, first, a tiny school of low quality in Cockermouth, then a school in Penrith for the children of upper-class families, where he was taught by Ann Birkett, who insisted on instilling in her students traditions that included pursuing both scholarly and local activities, especially the festivals around Easter, May Day and Shrove Tuesday. Wordsworth was taught both the Bible and the Spectator, but little else. It was at the school in Penrith that he met the Hutchinsons, including Mary, who later became his wife.
After the death of Wordsworth's mother, in 1778, his father sent him to Hawkshead Grammar School in Lancashire (now in Cumbria) and sent Dorothy to live with relatives in Yorkshire. She and William did not meet again for another nine years.
Wordsworth made his debut as a writer in 1787 when he published a sonnet in The European Magazine. That same year he began attending St John's College, Cambridge. He received his BA degree in 1791. He returned to Hawkshead for the first two summers of his time at Cambridge, and often spent later holidays on walking tours, visiting places famous for the beauty of their landscape. In 1790 he went on a walking tour of Europe, during which he toured the Alps extensively, and visited nearby areas of France, Switzerland, and Italy.
In November 1791, Wordsworth visited Revolutionary France and became enchanted with the Republican movement. He fell in love with a French woman, Annette Vallon, who in 1792 gave birth to their daughter Caroline. Financial problems and Britain's tense relations with France forced him to return to England alone the following year. The circumstances of his return and his subsequent behaviour raised doubts as to his declared wish to marry Annette, but he supported her and his daughter as best he could in later life. The Reign of Terror left Wordsworth thoroughly disillusioned with the French Revolution and the outbreak of armed hostilities between Britain and France prevented him from seeing Annette and his daughter for some years.
With the Peace of Amiens again allowing travel to France, in 1802 Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy visited Annette and Caroline in Calais. The purpose of the visit was to prepare Annette for the fact of his forthcoming marriage to Mary Hutchinson. Afterwards he wrote the sonnet "It is a beauteous evening, calm and free," recalling a seaside walk with the 9-year-old Caroline, whom he had never seen before that visit. Mary was anxious that Wordsworth should do more for Caroline. Upon Caroline's marriage, in 1816, Wordsworth settled £30 a year on her (equivalent to £1360 as of the year 2000), payments which continued until 1835, when they were replaced by a capital settlement.
The year 1793 saw the first publication of poems by Wordsworth, in the collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. In 1795 he received a legacy of 900 pounds from Raisley Calvert and became able to pursue a career as a poet.
It was also in 1795 that he met Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Somerset. The two poets quickly developed a close friendship. In 1797, Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy moved from Racedown in Dorset where he had lived for two years with his sister Dorothy to Alfoxton House, Somerset, just a few miles away from Coleridge's home in Nether Stowey. Together Wordsworth and Coleridge (with insights from Dorothy) produced Lyrical Ballads (1798), an important work in the English Romantic movement. The volume gave neither Wordsworth's nor Coleridge's name as author. One of Wordsworth's most famous poems, "Tintern Abbey", was published in this collection, along with Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner". The second edition, published in 1800, had only Wordsworth listed as the author, and included a preface to the poems. It was augmented significantly in the next edition, published in 1802. In this preface, which some scholars consider a central work of Romantic literary theory, Wordsworth discusses what he sees as the elements of a new type of verse, one that is based on the "real language of men" and avoids the poetic diction of much 18th-century verse. Wordsworth also gives his famous definition of poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility", and calls his own poems in the book "experimental". A fourth and final edition of Lyrical Ballads was published in 1805.
Between 1795-97, Wordsworth wrote his only play, The Borderers, a verse tragedy set during the reign of King Henry III of England, when Englishmen in the North Country came into conflict with Scottish rovers. He attempted to get the play staged in November 1797, but it was rejected by Thomas Harris, the manager of the Covent Garden Theatre, who proclaimed it "impossible that the play should succeed in the representation". The rebuff was not received lightly by Wordsworth and the play was not published until 1842, after substantial revision.
Wordsworth, Dorothy and Coleridge travelled to Germany in the autumn of 1798. While Coleridge was intellectually stimulated by the journey, its main effect on Wordsworth was to produce homesickness. During the harsh winter of 1798–99 Wordsworth lived with Dorothy in Goslar, and, despite extreme stress and loneliness, began work on the autobiographical piece that was later titled The Prelude. He wrote a number of other famous poems in Goslar, including "The Lucy poems". In the Autumn of 1799, Wordsworth and his sister returned to England and visited the Hutchinson family at Sockburn. When Coleridge arrived back in England he travelled to the North with their publisher Joseph Cottle to meet Wordsworth and undertake a proposed tour of the Lake District. This was the immediate cause of the siblings settling at Dove Cottage in Grasmere in the Lake District, this time with another poet, Robert Southey nearby. Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey came to be known as the "Lake Poets". Throughout this period many of Wordsworth's poems revolved around themes of death, endurance, separation and grief.
In 1802, Lowther's heir, William Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale, paid the 4,000 pounds owed to Wordsworth's father through Lowther's failure to pay his aide. It was this repayment that afforded Wordsworth the financial means to marry. On 4 October, following his visit with Dorothy to France to arrange matters with Annette, Wordsworth married his childhood friend Mary Hutchinson. Dorothy continued to live with the couple and grew close to Mary. The following year Mary gave birth to the first of five children, three of whom predeceased her and William:
Wordsworth had for years been making plans to write a long philosophical poem in three parts, which he intended to call The Recluse. In 1798–99 he started an autobiographical poem, which he referred to as the "poem to Coleridge" and which he planned would serve as an appendix to a larger work called The Recluse. In 1804 he began expanding this autobiographical work, having decided to make it a prologue rather than an appendix. He completed this work, now generally referred to as the first version of The Prelude, in 1805, but refused to publish such a personal work until he had completed the whole of The Recluse. The death of his brother John, also in 1805, affected him strongly and may have influenced his decisions about these works.
Wordsworth's philosophical allegiances as articulated in The Prelude and in such shorter works as "Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey" have been a source of critical debate. It was long supposed that Wordsworth relied chiefly on Coleridge for philosophical guidance, but more recently scholars have suggested that Wordsworth's ideas may have been formed years before he and Coleridge became friends in the mid-1790s. In particular, while he was in revolutionary Paris in 1792, the 22-year-old Wordsworth made the acquaintance of the mysterious traveler John "Walking" Stewart (1747–1822), who was nearing the end of his thirty years of wandering, on foot, from Madras, India, through Persia and Arabia, across Africa and Europe, and up through the fledgling United States. By the time of their association, Stewart had published an ambitious work of original materialist philosophy entitled The Apocalypse of Nature (London, 1791), to which many of Wordsworth's philosophical sentiments may well be indebted.
In 1807 Wordsworth published Poems in Two Volumes, including "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood". Up to this point Wordsworth was known only for Lyrical Ballads, and he hoped that this new collection would cement his reputation. Its reception was lukewarm, however.
In 1810, Wordsworth and Coleridge were estranged over the latter's opium addiction, and in 1812, his son Thomas died at the age of 6, six months after the death of 3-year-old Catherine. The following year he received an appointment as Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland, and the stipend of £400 a year made him financially secure. In 1813, he and his family, including Dorothy, moved to Rydal Mount, Ambleside (between Grasmere and Rydal Water), where he spent the rest of his life.
In 1814 Wordsworth published The Excursion as the second part of the three-part work The Recluse, even though he had not completed the first part or the third part, and never did. He did, however, write a poetic Prospectus to "The Recluse" in which he laid out the structure and intention of the whole work. The Prospectus contains some of Wordsworth's most famous lines on the relation between the human mind and nature:
... my voice proclaims
How exquisitely the individual Mind
(And the progressive powers perhaps no less
Of the whole species) to the external World
Is fitted:—and how exquisitely, too—
Theme this but little heard of among Men,
The external World is fitted to the Mind;
And the creation (by no lower name
Can it be called) which they with blended might
Some modern critics suggest that there was a decline in his work beginning around the mid-1810s, perhaps because most of the concerns that characterised his early poems (loss, death, endurance, separation and abandonment) had been resolved in his writings and his life. By 1820, he was enjoying considerable success accompanying a reversal in the contemporary critical opinion of his earlier works.
Following the death of his friend the painter William Green in 1823, Wordsworth also mended his relations with Coleridge. The two were fully reconciled by 1828, when they toured the Rhineland together. Dorothy suffered from a severe illness in 1829 that rendered her an invalid for the remainder of her life. Coleridge and Charles Lamb both died in 1834, their loss being a difficult blow to Wordsworth. The following year saw the passing of James Hogg. Despite the death of many contemporaries, the popularity of his poetry ensured a steady stream of young friends and admirers to replace those he lost.
Wordsworth's youthful political radicalism, unlike Coleridge's, never led him to rebel against his religious upbringing. He remarked in 1812 that he was willing to shed his blood for the established Church of England, reflected in the Ecclesiastical Sketches of 1822. This religious conservatism also colours The Excursion (1814), a long poem that became extremely popular during the nineteenth century; it features three central characters, the Wanderer; the Solitary, who has experienced the hopes and miseries of the French Revolution; and the Pastor, who dominates the last third of the poem.
Wordsworth remained a formidable presence in his later years. In 1837, the Scottish poet and playwright Joanna Baillie reflected on her long acquaintance with Wordsworth. "He looks like a man that one must not speak to unless one has some sensible thing to say. However he does occasionally converse cheerfully & well; and when one knows how benevolent & excellent he is, it disposes one to be very much pleased with him."
In 1838, Wordsworth received an honorary doctorate in Civil Law from the University of Durham and the following year he was awarded the same honorary degree by the University of Oxford, when John Keble praised him as the "poet of humanity", praise greatly appreciated by Wordsworth. (It has been argued that Wordsworth was a great influence on Keble's immensely popular book of devotional poetry, The Christian Year (1827).) In 1842, the government awarded him a Civil List pension of £300 a year.
Following the death of Robert Southey in 1843 Wordsworth became Poet Laureate. He initially refused the honour, saying that he was too old, but accepted when the Prime Minister, Robert Peel, assured him that "you shall have nothing required of you". Wordsworth thus became the only poet laureate to write no official verses. The sudden death of his daughter Dora in 1847 at age 42 was difficult for the aging poet to take and in his depression, he completely gave up writing new material.
William Wordsworth died at home at Rydal Mount from an aggravated case of pleurisy on 23 April 1850, and was buried at St Oswald's Church, Grasmere. His widow Mary published his lengthy autobiographical "poem to Coleridge" as The Prelude several months after his death. Though it failed to arouse much interest at that time, it has since come to be widely recognised as his masterpiece.
Wordsworth has appeared as a character in works of fiction, including:
General information and biographical sketches
| British Poet Laureate
"Anecdote for Fathers" is a poem written by William Wordsworth and is included in the Lyrical Ballads.
The poem is a description of a conversation between a father and son told from the perspective of the father, it is a criticism of the adult need for reason and a celebration of childhood. The poem tries to show how adults should learn from children and echoes Wordsworth's idea that "The child is father to the man".Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802
"Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802" is a Petrarchan sonnet by William Wordsworth describing London and the River Thames, viewed from Westminster Bridge in the early morning. It was first published in the collection Poems, in Two Volumes in 1807.Convention of Cintra
The Convention of Cintra was an agreement signed on 30 August 1808, during the Peninsular War. By the agreement, the defeated French were allowed to evacuate their troops from Portugal without further conflict. The Convention was signed at the Palace of Queluz, in Queluz, Cintra, Estremadura.
The French forces under Jean-Andoche Junot were defeated by the Anglo-Portuguese forces commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley at Vimeiro on 21 August and found themselves almost cut off from retreat. However, at that moment, Wellesley was superseded by the arrival of Sir Harry Burrard and then the next day by Sir Hew Dalrymple. Both were cautious old men who had seen little recent fighting; rather than push the French, they were satisfied to open negotiations. Wellesley had sought to take control of the Torres Vedras area high ground and cut the French retreat with his unused reserve, but he was ordered to hold. Talks between Dalrymple and François Kellerman led to the signing of the Convention.
Dalrymple allowed terms for Portugal similar to those a garrison might receive for surrendering a fortress. The 20,900 French soldiers were evacuated from Portugal with all their equipment and 'personal property' (which may have included looted Portuguese valuables) by the British Navy. They were transported to Rochefort, France. Junot arrived there on 11 October. Avoiding all Spanish entanglements and getting free transport meant the French travelled loaded, not light like a defeated garrison marching to their own lines.
The Convention was seen as a disgrace by many in the United Kingdom who felt that a complete defeat of Junot had been transformed into a French escape, while Dalrymple had also ignored the Royal Navy's concern about a blockaded Russian squadron in Lisbon. The squadron was allowed to sail to Portsmouth, and eventually to return to Russia, despite the fact that Britain and Russia were at war.
Wellesley wanted to fight, but he signed the preliminary Armistice under orders. He took no part in negotiating the Convention and did not sign it. Dalrymple's reports were written, however, to centre any criticism on Wellesley, who still held a ministerial post in the government. Wellesley was subsequently recalled from Portugal, together with Burrard and Dalrymple, to face an official inquiry. The inquiry was held in the Great Hall at the Royal Hospital Chelsea from 14 November to 27 December 1808. All three men were cleared; but while Wellesley soon returned to active duty in Portugal, Burrard and Dalrymple were quietly pushed into retirement and never saw active service again. Sir John Moore, commenting on the Inquiry, expressed the popular sentiment that "Sir Hew Dalrymple was confused and incapable beyond any man I ever saw head an army. The whole of his conduct then and since has proved him to be a very foolish man."
Lord Byron laments the Convention in his Childe Harold's Pilgrimage:
And ever since that martial synod met,Britannia sickens, Cintra! at thy name;
And folks in office at the mention fret,
And fain would blush, if blush they could, for shame.
How will posterity the deed proclaim!
Will not our own and fellow-nations sneer,
To view these champions cheated of their fame,
By foes in fight o'erthrown, yet victors here,
Where Scorn her finger points, through many a coming year?
The Convention of Cintra is also the name of a pamphlet written by the future British Poet Laureate William Wordsworth in 1808; he also wrote a passionate sonnet that, in his own words, was "composed while the author was engaged in writing a tract occasioned by" the Convention, in which he laments the bondage felt by "suffering Spain". An excerpt from the 'tract' itself can be found in William Wordsworth: Selected Prose, Penguin Classics 1988; the whole may be found in The Prose Works of William Wordsworth through googlebooks. It is notable for its recognition of the significance of guerrilla warfare in the Peninsular War. The term 'guerrilla' was not then current and is not used by Wordsworth. He mentions Wellesley (Wellington) but does not anticipate his future importance.Dorothy Wordsworth
Dorothy Mae Ann Wordsworth (25 December 1771 – 25 January 1855) was an English author, poet, and diarist. She was the sister of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth, and the two were close all their adult lives. Wordsworth had no ambitions to be a public author, yet she left behind numerous letters, diary entries, topographical descriptions, poems, and other writings.Early life of William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850) was an English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their 1798 joint publication, Lyrical Ballads. His early years were dominated by his experience of the countryside around the Lake District and the English moors. Dorothy Wordsworth, his sister, served as his early companion until their mother's death and their separation when he was sent to school.Elegiac Stanzas
Elegiac Stanzas is a poem by William Wordsworth, originally published in Poems, in Two Volumes (1807). Its full title is "Elegiac Stanzas, Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm, Painted by Sir George Beaumont."I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" (also commonly known as "Daffodils") is a lyric poem by William Wordsworth. It is Wordsworth's most famous work.The poem was inspired by an event on 15 April 1802, in which Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy came across a "long belt" of daffodils. Written some time between 1804 and 1807 (in 1804 by Wordsworth's own account), it was first published in 1807 in Poems in Two Volumes, and a revised version was published in 1815.In a poll conducted in 1995 by the BBC Radio 4 Bookworm programme to determine the nation's favourite poems, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud came fifth. Often anthologised, the poem is commonly seen as a classic of English romantic poetry, although Poems in Two Volumes, in which it first appeared, was poorly reviewed by Wordsworth's contemporaries.Lake Poets
The Lake Poets were a group of English poets who all lived in the Lake District of England, United Kingdom, in the first half of the nineteenth century. As a group, they followed no single "school" of thought or literary practice then known. They were named, only to be uniformly disparaged, by the Edinburgh Review. They are considered part of the Romantic Movement.
The three main figures of what has become known as the Lakes School were William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey. They were associated with several other poets and writers, including Dorothy Wordsworth, Charles Lamb, Charles Lloyd, Hartley Coleridge, John Wilson, and Thomas De Quincey.Lyrical Ballads
Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems is a collection of poems by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, first published in 1798 and generally considered to have marked the beginning of the English Romantic movement in literature. The immediate effect on critics was modest, but it became and remains a landmark, changing the course of English literature and poetry.
Most of the poems in the 1798 edition were written by Wordsworth, with Coleridge contributing only four poems to the collection (although these made about a third of the book in length), including one of his most famous works, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
A second edition was published in 1800, in which Wordsworth included additional poems and a preface detailing the pair's avowed poetical principles. For another edition, published in 1802, Wordsworth added an appendix titled Poetic Diction in which he expanded the ideas set forth in the preface.Michael (poem)
"Michael" is a pastoral poem, written by William Wordsworth in 1800 and first published in the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads. The poem is one of Wordsworth's best known poems and the subject of much critical literature. It tells the story of an aging shepherd, Michael, his wife, and his only child Luke.
Michael lost half his land when he used it as a surety for a nephew who had met with financial misfortune. When Luke reaches the age of 18, Michael sends Luke to stay in London with a merchant that he might learn a trade and acquire sufficient wealth to regain the land that Michael has lost. It breaks Michael's heart to send Luke away and he makes Luke lay the first stone of a sheepfold as a covenant between them that Luke will return. However, Luke is corrupted in the city and is forced to flee the country and Michael must live out his life without his son. He returns sometimes to the sheepfold but no longer has the heart to complete it.
The epigraph of George Eliot's Silas Marner is taken from the poem.
The story of "Michael" may derive in part from the famous Parable of the Prodigal Son in the Bible.Poems, in Two Volumes
Poems, in Two Volumes is a collection of poetry by English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, published in 1807.It contains many notable poems, including:
"Resolution and Independence"
"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" (sometimes anthologized as "The Daffodils")
"My Heart Leaps Up"
"Ode: Intimations of Immortality"
"Ode to Duty"
"The Solitary Reaper"
"Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802"
"The World Is Too Much with Us"Poor Susan
"Poor Susan" is a lyric poem by William Wordsworth composed at Alfoxden in 1797. It was first published in the collection Lyrical Ballads in 1798. It is written in anapestic tetrameter.
The poem records the memories awakened in a country girl in London on hearing a thrush sing in the early morning.Preface to the Lyrical Ballads
The Preface to the Lyrical Ballads is an essay, composed by William Wordsworth, for the second edition (published in January 1801, and often referred to as the "1800 Edition") of the poetry collection Lyrical Ballads, and then greatly expanded in the third edition of 1802. It has come to be seen as a de facto manifesto of the Romantic movement.Resolution and Independence
"Resolution and Independence" is a lyric poem by the English romantic poet William Wordsworth, composed in 1802 and published in 1807 in Poems in Two Volumes. The poem contains twenty stanzas written in modified rhyme royal, and describes Wordsworth’s encounter with a leech-gatherer near his home in the Lake District of England.Rydal Mount
Rydal Mount is a house in the small village of Rydal, near Ambleside in the English Lake District. It is best known as the home of the poet William Wordsworth from 1813 to his death in 1850. It is currently operated as a writer's home museum.The Excursion
The Excursion: Being a portion of The Recluse, a poem is a long poem by Romantic poet William Wordsworth and was first published in 1814 (see 1814 in poetry). It was intended to be the second part of The Recluse, an unfinished larger work that was also meant to include The Prelude, Wordsworth's other long poem, which was eventually published posthumously. The exact dates of its composition are unknown, but the first manuscript is generally dated as either September 1806 or December 1809.The Prelude
The Prelude or, Growth of a Poet's Mind; An Autobiographical Poem is an autobiographical poem in blank verse by the English poet William Wordsworth. Intended as the introduction to the more philosophical poem The Recluse, which Wordsworth never finished, The Prelude is an extremely personal work and reveals many details of Wordsworth's life.
Wordsworth began The Prelude in 1798, at the age of 28, and continued to work on it throughout his life. He never gave it a title, but called it the "Poem (title not yet fixed upon) to Coleridge" and in his letters to Dorothy Wordsworth referred to it as "the poem on the growth of my own mind". The poem was unknown to the general public until the final version was published three months after Wordsworth's death in 1850. Its present title was given to it by his widow Mary. It is widely regarded as Wordsworth's greatest work.To William Wordsworth
To William Wordsworth is a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge written in 1807 as a response to poet William Wordsworth's autobiographical poem The Prelude, called here "that prophetic lay". Wordsworth had recited that poem to his friend Coleridge personally. In his poem, Coleridge praises Wordsworth's understanding of both external and human nature, at the same time emphasizing Wordsworth's poetic achievement and downplaying Coleridge's own.William Wordsworth Fisher
Admiral Sir William Wordsworth Fisher (26 March 1875 – 24 June 1937) was a Royal Navy officer who captained a battleship at the Battle of Jutland and became Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. Arthur Marder wrote that he was "the outstanding admiral of the inter-war period".