William Wordsworth

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William Wordsworth

Born: April 7, 1770(1770-04-07)
Flag of England Cockermouth, England
Died: April 23, 1850 (aged 80)
Flag of England Ambleside, England
Occupation: Poet
Literary movement: Romanticism
Influences: John Milton, Henry Vaughan, David Hartley, Samuel Coleridge, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, William Shakespeare, John "Walking" Stewart
Influenced: John Stuart Mill, Matthew Arnold, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Leslie Stephen, Wilfred Owen, Ezra Pound, Robert Frost, W.B. Yeats, George Byron, 6th Baron Byron, John Millington Synge

William Wordsworth (April 7, 1770 – April 23, 1850) was a major English romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their 1798 joint publication, Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth's masterpiece is generally considered to be The Prelude, an autobiographical poem of his early years that was revised and expanded a number of times. It was never published during his lifetime, and was only given the title after his death. Up until this time it was generally known as the poem "to Coleridge". Wordsworth was England's Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850.


  • 1 Biography
    • 1.1 Early life and education
    • 1.2 Relationship with Annette Vallon
    • 1.3 First publication and Lyrical Ballads
    • 1.4 Germany and move to the Lake District
    • 1.5 Autobiographical work and Poems in Two Volumes
    • 1.6 The Prospectus
    • 1.7 The Poet Laureate and other honours
    • 1.8 Marriage
    • 1.9 Death
  • 2 Major works
  • 3 Trivia
  • 4 References
  • 5 External links
    • 5.1 General information and biographical sketches
    • 5.2 Wordsworth's works


Early life and education

The second of five children, Wordsworth was born in Cumberland—part of the scenic region in north-west England called the Lake District. His sister was the poet and diarist Dorothy Wordsworth. With the death of his mother in 1778, his father sent him to Hawkshead Grammar School. In 1783 his father, who was a lawyer and the solicitor for the Earl of Lonsdale (a man much despised in the area), died. The estate consisted of around £4500[citation needed], most of it in claims upon the Earl, who thwarted these claims until his death in 1802. The Earl's successor, however, settled the claims with interest. After their father's death, the Wordsworth children were left under the guardianship of their uncles. Although many aspects of his boyhood were positive, he recalled bouts of loneliness and anxiety. It took him many years, and much writing, to recover from the death of his parents and his separation from his siblings.

Wordsworth began attending St John's College, Cambridge in 1787. His youngest brother, Christopher, rose to be Master of Trinity College.[1] Three years later, in 1790, he visited Revolutionary France and supported the Republican movement. The following year, he graduated from Cambridge without distinction.

Relationship with Annette Vallon

In November 1791, Wordsworth returned to France and took a walking tour of Europe that included the Alps and Italy. He fell in love with a French woman, Annette Vallon, who in 1792 gave birth to their child, Caroline. Because of lack of money and Britain's tensions with France, he returned alone to England the next year.[2] The circumstances of his return and his subsequent behaviour raise doubts as to his declared wish to marry Annette but he supported her and his daughter as best he could in later life. During this period, he wrote his acclaimed "It is a beauteous evening, calm and free," recalling his seaside walk with his daughter, whom he had not seen for ten years. At the conception of this poem, he had never seen his daughter before. The occurring lines reveal his deep love for both child and mother. The Reign of Terror estranged him from the Republican movement, and war between France and Britain prevented him from seeing Annette and Caroline again for several years. There are also strong suggestions that Wordsworth may have been depressed and emotionally unsettled in the mid 1790s.

With the Peace of Amiens again allowing travel to France, in 1802 Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, visited Annette and Caroline in France and arrived at a mutually agreeable settlement regarding Wordsworth's obligations.[2]

First publication and Lyrical Ballads

1793 saw Wordsworth's first published poetry with the collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. He received a legacy of £900 from Raisley Calvert in 1795 so that he could pursue writing poetry. That year, he also met Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Somerset. The two poets quickly developed a close friendship. In 1797, Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, moved to 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 had neither the name of Wordsworth nor Coleridge as author. One of Wordsworth's most famous poems, "Tintern Abbey", was published in the work, along with Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner". The second edition, published in 1800, had only Wordsworth listed as author, and included a preface to the poems, which was significantly augmented in the 1802 edition. This Preface to Lyrical Ballads is considered a central work of Romantic literary theory. In it, Wordsworth discusses what he sees as the elements of a new type of poetry, one based on the "real language of men" and which avoids the poetic diction of much eighteenth-century poetry. Here, Wordsworth also gives his famous definition of poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquility." A fourth and final edition of Lyrical Ballads was published in 1805.

Germany and move to the Lake District

Wordsworth, Dorothy, and Coleridge then travelled to Germany in the autumn of 1798. While Coleridge was intellectually stimulated by the trip, its main effect on Wordsworth was to produce homesickness.[2] During the harsh winter of 1798–1799, Wordsworth lived with Dorothy in Goslar, and despite extreme stress and loneliness, he began work on an autobiographical piece later titled The Prelude. He also wrote a number of famous poems, including "the Lucy poems". He and his sister moved back to England, now to Dove Cottage in Grasmere in the Lake District, and this time with fellow poet Robert Southey nearby. Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey came to be known as the "Lake Poets". Through this period, many of his poems revolve around themes of death, endurance, separation, and grief.

William Wordsworth, reproduced from Margaret Gillies' 1839 original
William Wordsworth, reproduced from Margaret Gillies' 1839 original
Portrait, 1842, by Benjamin Haydon
Portrait, 1842, by Benjamin Haydon

Both Coleridge's health and his relationship to Wordsworth began showing signs of decay in 1804. That year Wordsworth befriended Robert Southey. With Napoleon's rise as Emperor of the French, Wordsworth's last wisp of liberalism fell, and from then on he identified himself as a Tory.

Autobiographical work and Poems in Two Volumes

Wordsworth had for years been making plans to write a long philosophical poem in three parts, which he intended to call The Recluse. He had in 1798–99 started an autobiographical poem, which he never named but called the "poem to Coleridge", which would serve as an appendix to The Recluse. In 1804 he began expanding this autobiographical work, having decided to make it a prologue rather than an appendix to the larger work he planned. By 1805, he had completed it, but refused to publish such a personal work until he had completed the whole of The Recluse. The death of his brother, John, in 1805 affected him strongly.

The source of Wordsworth's philosophical allegiances as articulated in The Prelude and in such shorter works as "Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey" has been the source of much critical debate. While it had long been supposed that Wordsworth relied chiefly on Coleridge for philosophical guidance, more recent scholarship has suggested that Wordsworth's ideas may have been formed years before he and Coleridge became friends in the mid 1790s. While in Revolutionary Paris in 1792, the twenty-two year old Wordsworth made the acquaintance of the mysterious traveler John "Walking" Stewart (1747-1822),[3] who was nearing the end of a thirty-years' peregrination from Madras, India, through Persia and Arabia, across Africa and all of 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 are likely indebted.

In 1807, his Poems in Two Volumes were published, including "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood". Up to this point Wordsworth was known publicly only for Lyrical Ballads, and he hoped this collection would cement his reputation. Its reception was only lukewarm, however.

For a time (starting in 1810), Wordsworth and Coleridge were estranged over the latter's opium addiction.[2]

Two of his children, Thomas and Catherine, died in 1812. The following year, he received an appointment as Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland, and the £400 per year income from the post made him financially secure. His family, including Dorothy, moved to Rydal Mount, Ambleside (between Grasmere and Rydal Water), where he spent the rest of his life.[2]

The Prospectus

In 1814 he published The Excursion as the second part of the three-part The Recluse. He had not completed the first and third parts, and never would complete them. However, he did write a poetic Prospectus to "The Recluse" in which he lays out the structure and intent of the poem. 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 .

Some modern critics recognise a decline in his works beginning around the mid-1810s. But this decline was perhaps more a change in his lifestyle and beliefs, since most of the issues that characterise his early poetry (loss, death, endurance, separation, abandonment) were resolved in his writings. But, by 1820 he enjoyed the success accompanying a reversal in the contemporary critical opinion of his earlier works.

By 1828, Wordsworth had become fully reconciled to Coleridge, and the two toured the Rhineland together that year.[2]

Dorothy suffered from a severe illness in 1829 that rendered her an invalid for the remainder of her life. In 1835, Wordsworth gave Annette and Caroline the money they needed for support.

The Poet Laureate and other honours

Wordsworth received an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree in 1838 from Durham University, and the same honour from Oxford University the next year.[2] In 1842 the government awarded him a civil list pension amounting to £300 a year.

With the death in 1843 of Robert Southey, Wordsworth became the Poet Laureate. When his daughter, Dora, died in 1847, his production of poetry came to a standstill.


In 1802, after returning from his trip to France with Dorothy to visit Annette and Caroline, Wordsworth received the inheritance owed by Lord Lonsdale since John Wordsworth's death in 1783. Later that year, he married a childhood friend, Mary Hutchinson.[2] Dorothy continued to live with the couple and grew close to Mary. The following year, Mary gave birth to the first of five children, John.


William Wordsworth died in Rydal Mount in 1850 and was buried at St. Oswald's church in Grasmere.

His widow published his lengthy autobiographical "poem to Coleridge" as The Prelude several months after his death. Though this failed to arouse great interest in 1850, it has since come to be recognised as his masterpiece. The lives of Wordsworth and Coleridge, in particular their collaboration on the "Lyrical Ballads," are discussed in the 2000 film Pandaemonium.

Major works

  • Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems (1798)
    • "Simon Lee"
    • "We Are Seven"
    • "Lines Written in Early Spring"
    • "Expostulation and Reply"
    • "The Tables Turned"
    • "The Thorn"
    • "Lines Composed A Few Miles above Tintern Abbey"
  • Lyrical Ballads, with Other Poems (1800)
    • Preface to the Lyrical Ballads
    • "Strange fits of passion I have known"[4]
    • "She dwelt among the untrodden ways"[4]
    • "Three years she grew"[4]
    • "A slumber did my spirit seal"[4]
    • "I travelled among unknown men"[4]
    • "Lucy Gray"
    • "The Two April Mornings"
    • "Nutting"
    • "The Ruined Cottage"
    • "Michael"
  • Poems, in Two Volumes (1807)
    • "Resolution and Independence"
    • "I wandered lonely as a cloud"
    • "My heart leaps up"
    • "Ode: Intimations of Immortality"
    • "Ode to Duty"
    • "The Solitary Reaper"
    • "Elegiac Stanzas"
    • "Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802"
    • "London, 1802"
    • "The world is too much with us"
  • The Excursion (1814)
    • "Prospectus to The Recluse"
  • Ecclesiastical Sketches (1822)
    • "Mutability"
  • The Prelude (1850, posthumous)
    • The Prelude; or, Growth of a Poet's Mind


  • Wordsworth suffered from Anosmia.
  • Wordsworth was the first to coin the term "miller blue". He referred to it in his autobiographical poem "The Prelude" when he empathized with the difficulties of the indigo dye workers of his home town of Cockermouth. Miller blue was an homage to the fact that Cockermouth was a mill town and the dye workers suffered the hazards of the indigo dye industry.

  • (2000) in M. H. Abrams: The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume 2A, The Romantic Period (7th ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.. ISBN 0-393-97568-1. 
  • (2000) in Stephen Gill: William Wordsworth: The Major Works. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.. ISBN 0-19-284044-4. 
  • Worsworth's links with Claines, Worcester
  • Wordsworth and the Lake District
  • Wordsworth's Grave
  • Biography and Works
  • Wordsworth and the Lake District
  • The Wordsworth Trust
  • Romantic Circles -- Excellent Editions & Articles on Wordsworth and other Authors of the Romantic period
  • Hawkshead Grammar School Museum
  • Wordsworth's works

    • Bartleby.com's complete poetical works by Wordsworth
    • Selected Poems by W.Wordsworth
    • Biography and Works
    • Works by William Wordsworth at Project Gutenberg
    • Poetry Archive: 166 poems of William Wordsworth
    • To Toussaint Louverture - poem by William Wordsworth
    • Extensive Information on Wordsworth's Poem, Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey
    Preceded by
    Robert Southey
    British Poet Laureate
    Succeeded by
    Alfred Tennyson
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    NAME Wordsworth, William
    SHORT DESCRIPTION English poet
    DATE OF BIRTH April 7, 1770
    PLACE OF BIRTH Cockermouth, England
    DATE OF DEATH April 23, 1850
    PLACE OF DEATH Ambleside, England

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