William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth (1770-1850), after a painting by P. Kramer; published by Frederick Bruckmann Verlag, Munich, 1900. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

William Wordsworth
Born 7 April 1770
Cockermouth, Cumberland, England
Died 23 April 1850 (aged 80)
Ambleside, England
Nationality English
Citizenship United Kingdom British subject
Literary movement Romantic poets, Lake Poets
Notable work(s) Lyrical Ballads, The Prelude
Notable award(s) Poet Laureate

William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 - 23 April 1850) was a major English poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads.



Wordsworth was born April 7, 1770, at Cockermouth, a town on the edge of the Cumberland highlands. His father was agent to Lord Lowther, and came of an old north country stock. Both father and mother died in his boyhood; his mother earkuest, his father when he was 14. He went to school in the neighborhood, at Hawkshead, and his school days were days of much liberty, both in playing and reading. In October 1787 he went to Cambridge. But he made no mark at the university, and in January 1791 he took his degree and left. Like many of his generation he was filled with enthusiasm for the French Revolution, and he resided for more than a year in France. The Reign of Terror drove him home; he came to London; he was in Dorsetshire (1796), then at Alfoxden in the Somersetshire Quantocks, where he saw much of S.T. Coleridge. In 1793 he published a volume of poems, and in 1798 appeared, at Bristol, the 1st volume of the Lyrical Ballads, intended to be a joint work of Coleridge and Wordsworth, but to which Coleridge only contributed The Ancient Mariner, and 2 or 3 other pieces. The 2 friends went to Germany at the end of 1798, and Wordsworth, with his sister, spent the winter at Goslar. When be returned to England, he settled, with his sister, near Grasmere, meaning to give himself to poetical composition as the business of his life, and in 1800 published the 2nd volume of the Lyrical Ballads. In 1802 he married Mary Hutchinson, and finally fixed his home in the lakes, though it was not till several years afterwards (1813) that he took up his abode in the place henceforth connected with his name, Rydal Mount. During all the early part of the century he was very busy. Besides shorter pieces, he was at work from 1799 to 1805 on a poem, The Prelude, describing the history and growth of his own mind, and intended to be an introduction to the greater philosophical poem which he was already meditating, The Recluse — in part, and only in part, realised in The Excursion, published in 1814. Composition took many shapes in the various collections published by Wordsworthbut especially his poetical efforts took the shape of the sonnet. Large collections of sonnets marked the working of his thoughts and feelings on certain groups of subjects, or were the memorials of scenes which had interested him. He once, and early in his career, attempted the drama (The Borderers, 1805-6) but with little success. From the start he took a keen interest in all political and social questions, and he was an impassioned and forcible prose writer. His life was a long one, of steady work and much happiness. He died April 23, 1850, at Rydal Mount.[1]

Wordsworth's magnum opus is generally considered to be The Prelude, a semiautobiographical poem of his early years which he revised and expanded a number of times. Wordsworth was Britain's Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850.


Main article: Early life of William Wordsworth

The second of five children born to John Wordsworth and Ann (Cookson), William Wordsworth was born on 7 April 1770 in Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, Cumberland[2] — part of the scenic region in northwest England, the Lake District. His 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 Master, 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.[3]

Their 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. Wordsworth, as with his siblings, had little involvement with their father, and they would be distant with him until his death in 1783.[4] Wordsworth's father, although rarely present, did teach him poetry, including that of Milton, Shakespeare and Spenser, in addition to allowing his son to rely on his own father's library.

Along with spending time reading in Cockermouth, Wordsworth would also stay at his mother's parents house in Penrith, Cumberland. At Penrith, Wordsworth was exposed to the moors. Wordsworth could not get along with his grandparents and his uncle, and his hostile interactions with them distressed him to the point of contemplating suicide.[5]

After the death of their mother, in 1778, John Wordsworth sent William to Hawkshead Grammar School in Lancashire and Dorothy to live with relatives in Yorkshire; she and William would not meet again for another 9 years. Although Hawkshead was Wordsworth's first serious experience with education, he had been taught to read by his mother and had attended a tiny school of low quality in Cockermouth. After the Cockermouth school, he was sent to a school in Penrith for the children of upper-class families and taught by Ann Birkett, a woman 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 that Wordsworth was to meet the Hutchinsons, including Mary, who would be his future wife.[6]

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, and earmed a B.A. in 1791.[7] He returned to Hawkshead for his first 2 summer holidays, and often spent later holidays on walking tours, visiting places famous for the beauty of their landscape. In 1790, he took a walking tour of Europe, during which he toured the Alps extensively, and visited nearby areas of France, Switzerland, and Italy.

Relationship with Annette VallonEdit

In November 1791, Wordsworth visited Revolutionary France and became enthralled with the Republican movement. 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.[8] 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. 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 strong suggestions that Wordsworth may have been depressed and emotionally unsettled in the mid-1790s.(Citation needed)

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 pave the way for his forthcoming marriage to Mary Hutchinson, and a mutually agreeable settlement was reached regarding Wordsworth's obligations.[8] Afterwards he wrote the poem "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.

Early publicationsEdit

William Wordsworth at 28 by William Shuter2

Wordsworth in 1798. Portrait by William Shuter (1771-1798). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

1793 saw Wordsworth's earliest 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 met Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Somerset. The poets quickly developed a close friendship. In 1797, Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy moved 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 the work, 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, which was augmented significantly in the 1802 edition. A fourth and final edition of Lyrical Ballads was published in 1805.

The BorderersEdit

In 1795-1797, he wrote his only play, The Borderers (play), a verse tragedy during the reign of King Henry III of England, when Englishmen of the north country were in conflict with Scottish rovers. Wordsworth attempted to get the play staged in November 1797, but it was rejected by Thomas Harris, theatre manager of Covent Garden, 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.[9]

Germany and the Lake DistrictEdit

Rydal Mount, Home of William Wordsworth

Rydal Mount, home of William and Dorothy Wordsworth in the Lake District. Photo by Rachel Rodgers. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Wordsworth, Dorothy and Coleridge traveled to Germany in the autumn of 1798. While Coleridge was intellectually stimulated by the trip, its main effect on Wordsworth was to produce homesickness.[8] 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 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".[10] Through this period, many of his poems revolve around themes of death, endurance, separation and grief.

Marriage and childrenEdit

In 1802, after Wordsworth's return from his trip to France with Dorothy to visit Annette and Caroline, Lowther's heir, William Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale, paid the £4,000 debt owed to Wordsworth's father incurred through Lowther's failure to pay his aide.[11] Later that year, Wordsworth married a childhood friend, Mary Hutchinson.[8] 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 William and Mary:

  • John Wordsworth (18 June 1803-1875). Married four times:
  1. Isabella Curwen (d. 1848) had six children: Jane, Henry, William, John, Charles and Edward.
  2. Helen Ross (d. 1854). No issue.
  3. Mary Ann Dolan (d. after 1858) had one daughter Dora (b.1858).
  4. Mary Gamble. No issue.
  • Dora Wordsworth (16 August 1804 - 9 July 1847). Married Edward Quillinan in 1843.
  • Thomas Wordsworth (15 June 1806 - 1 December 1812).
  • Catherine Wordsworth (6 September 1808 - 4 June 1812).
  • William "Willy" Wordsworth (12 May 1810-1883). Married Fanny Graham and had four children: Mary Louisa, William, Reginald, Gordon.

Autobiographical workEdit


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 22-year-old Wordsworth made the acquaintance of the mysterious traveller John "Walking" Stewart (1747-1822),[12] 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 lukewarm, however. For a time (starting in 1810), Wordsworth and Coleridge were estranged over the latter's opium addiction.[8] 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) in 1813, where he spent the rest of his life.[8]

Following the death of his friend the painter William Green in 1823, Wordsworth mended relations with Coleridge.[13] The two were fully reconciled by 1828, when they toured the Rhineland together.[8] 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.

When his daughter, Dora, died in 1847, his production of poetry came to a standstill.


File:WilliamWordsworth Grave.JPG

William Wordsworth died by re-aggravating a case of pleurisy on 23 April 1850, and was buried at St. Oswald's church in Grasmere.


Main article: Wordsworth's poetry

The 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 18th-century poetry. Here, Wordsworth gives his famous definition of poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility."

In 1814 he published The Excursion as the 2nd part of the 3-part The Recluse. He had not completed the 1st and 3rd parts, and never would. He did, however, 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 criticsTemplate:Who recognize 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 characterize his early poetry (loss, death, endurance, separation and 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.

His widow Mary 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 recognized as his masterpiece.


Wordsworth received an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree in 1838 from Durham University, and the same honor from Oxford University the next year.[8] 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 of the United Kingdom. He initially refused the honour, saying he was too old, but accepted when Prime Minister Robert Peel assured him "you shall have nothing required of you." (He became the only laureate to write no official poetry.)

A life-sized marble statue of Wordsworth by Frederick Thrupp is in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey. Erected in St. George's chapel in 1854, it was moved to its present location (beside Shakespeare's memorial)in 1932.[14]

27 of his poems ("Lucy" i-v, "Upon Westminster Bridge," "Evening on Calais Beach," "On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic, 1802," "England, 1802" i-v, "The Solitary Reaper," "Perfect Woman," "Daffodils," "Ode to Duty," "The Rainbow," "The Sonnet" i & ii, "The World," "Ode. Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood," "Desideria," "Valedictory Sonnet to the River Duddon," "Mutability," "The Trosachs," and "Speak!") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[15]

Wordsworth TrustEdit

Main article: Wordsworth Trust

The Wordsworth Trust is a living memorial set up to celebrate the works of Wordsworth and his contemporaries. The Trust maintains Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth lived in the Lake District, and also runs a Wordsworth Museum and Art Gallery in Grasmere. It sponsors both a Poet in Residence and an Artist in Residence, and gives poetry readings and art exhibitions open to the public during the summer.






Collected editionsEdit


  • The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth (edited by Ernest de Selincourt). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.
    • The Early Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, 1787-1805. (1 volume), 1935
    •  The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The middle years. (2 volumes), 1937
    • The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The later years. 1939
    • (revised & enlarged by Chester L. Shaver, Mary Moorman, & Alan G. Hill) as The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth (5 volumes), Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1967-1988.
  • The Love Letters of William and Mary Wordsworth (edited by Beth Darlington). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.
  • The Letters of William Wordsworth: A new selection (edited by Alan G. Hill). New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
My Heart Leaps Up by William Wordsworth - Poetry Reading-1

My Heart Leaps Up by William Wordsworth - Poetry Reading-1

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[23]

Poems by William WordsworthEdit

  1. I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

See alsoEdit

Preceded by
Robert Southey
Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
Alfred Tennyson

Template:William Wordsworth


  • Hunter Davies, William Wordsworth-A Biography, Frances Lincoln Ltd,London,2009 ISBN 978-0-7112-3045-3
  • Emma Mason, The Cambridge Introduction to William Wordsworth (Cambridge University Press, 2010) [2]
  • M.R. Tewari, One Interior Life—A Study of the Nature of Wordsworth's Poetic Experience, (New Delhi: S. Chand & Company Ltd, 1983)
  • Report to Wordsworth Written by Boey Kim Cheng, as a direct reference to his poems Composed Upon Westminster Bridge and The World is too Much with us


  1. from Richard William Church,, "[ Critical Introduction: William Wordsworth (1770–1850) ]," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Feb. 19, 2016.
  2. "Wordsworth House", Images of England (English Heritage),, retrieved 21 December 2009 
  3. Appendix A (Past Governors) of Allport, D. H. & Friskney, N. J. "A Short History of Wilson's School", Wilson's School Charitable Trust, 1986.
  4. Moorman 1968 pp. 5-7.
  5. Moorman 1968:9-13.
  6. Moorman 1968:15-18.
  7. Wordsworth, William in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 [1] Everett, Glenn, "William Wordsworth: Biography" Web page at The Victorian Web Web site, accessed 7 January 2007
  9. Stephen Gill, William Wordsworth: A Life, Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 132-3.
  10. See: Recollections of the Lake Poets.
  11. Moorman 1968 p. 8
  12. Kelly Grovier, "Dream Walker: A Wordsworth Mystery Solved", Times Literary Supplement, 16 February 2007
  13. Gentlemans Magazine|Sylvanus Urban- 1823 Template:Clarify
  14. William Wordworth, People, History, Westminster Abbey. Web, July 12, 2016.
  15. Alphabetical list of authors: Shelley, Percy Bysshe to Yeats, William Butler. Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 19, 2012.
  16. William Wordsworth, Complete Poetical Works (London: Macmillan, 1888)., 1999, Web, Sep. 15, 2013.
  17. Early Poems / by William Wordsworth. Hathi Trust. Web, Dec. 15, 2013.
  18. A Selection from the Sonnets of William Wordsworth (1891), Internet Archive. Web, Dec. 15, 2013.
  19. Poems for the Young (1872), Internet Archive. Web, Dec. 15, 2013.
  20. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth (1854), Internet Archive. Web, Dec. 15, 2013.
  21. Wordsworth's Poetical Works, Project Gutenberg. Web, Jan. 6, 2012.
  22. The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth (1904), Internet Archive. Web, Dec. 15, 2013.
  23. William Wordsworth 1770-1850. Poetry Foundation. Web, Jan 6. 2012.

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