Biography of William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was one of the nineteenth century Romantic “Lake Poets” and a Poet Laureate.
When and Where was he Born?
7th April 1770. Cockermouth, Cumbria, England.
Wordsworth was the second son of John Wordsworth, the Business Agent of Sir James Lowther (later Earl of Lonsdale) and Ann, daughter of William Cookson, a linen draper.
Hawkshead Grammar School, Cumbria. St. John’s College, Cambridge.
Timeline of of William Wordsworth
1771: Dorothy Wordsworth, his sister, born at Cockermouth.
1778: Death of his Mother on March 8th.
1779: Wordsworth lodges with Hugh and Ann Tyson whilst attending Hawkshead Grammar School.
1783: Death of his father on 30th December.
1785: William Wordsworth’s first surviving poetry is written. “Lines Written as a School Exercise at Hawkshead”.
1787: Wordsworth’s first published poem is included in “The European Magazine” in March, “Sonnet, On Seeing Miss Helen Maria Williams Weep at a Tale of Distress”.
1788: Composition of “An Evening Walk”.
1790: He goes on a walking tour of post revolutionary France and then into Switzerland with Robert Jones.
1791: Wordsworth spends the early part of the year in London and then returns to France in November. He is influenced by the political scene. He has a love affair with Annette Vallon and she becomes pregnant and gives birth to a daughter, Caroline. Wordsworth returns to England in order to find paid employment.
1793: War is declared between England and France during February and Wordsworth feels an outcast. He goes on a long walking tour, although penniless, across Salisbury Plain and into Wales where he sees Tintern Abbey which inspires his famous poem.
1794: He is reunited with his sister Dorothy when he stays at Windy Brow in Keswick, Cumbria. He stays at Rampside in Cumbria during August and sees Peele Castle. He nurses his friend Raisley Calvert who leaves him £900 on his death bed.
1795: Wordsworth has become a familiar figure in the radical circles in London and is a regular visitor to the house of William Godwin during the Spring. In August he meets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey for the first time in Bristol. He settles with Dorothy at Racedown in Dorset and begins to write “Salisbury Pain”.
1797: He completes his play “The Borderers” and the Wordsworths move to Alfoxton (Alfoxden) House in Somerset so that he can be nearer his great new friend Coleridge and they begin joint writing projects.
1798: Wordsworth completes “The Ruined Cottage” and composes most of the “Lyrical Ballads” jointly with Coleridge. The book is published anonymously and there is much debate over its authorship. He travels to Germany with Dorothy and Coleridge and begins writing verses which will eventually be included in “The Prelude”.
1799: Wordsworth returns to England and moves into Dove Cottage at Grasmere in the Lake District with Dorothy.
1800: He works on poems for the second edition of the “Lyrical Ballads”. One of his most famous poems “Michael”, a pastoral work about a shepherd, is included in it.
1802: Peace between England and France in August allows Wordsworth to travel to France to see Annette and Caroline. He gets married to Mary Hutchinson.
1803: War breaks out once more and there is a fear of invasion. Birth of his first son John. He goes on a tour of Scotland with Dorothy and Coleridge. On the 17th September the Wordsworths meet Walter Scott. Coleridge, who is ill decides to journey on by himself.
1804: Wordsworth completes “Ode: Imitations of Immortality”.
1805: His brother John, a sea-captain is drowned on the 5th February as his ship the “Earl of Abergavenny” is hit by a storm. Wordsworth completes “The Prelude”.
1806: He spends the winter at Coleorton House in Leicestershire. He reads “The Prelude” to Coleridge, now returned from Malta but still in ill health.
1808: The Wordsworths and Dorothy move into a larger house called Allan Bank at Grasmere.
1810: Birth of his son William. A misunderstanding about the quality of Coleridge’s poems leads to a breach with Coleridge which is not healed until 1812.
1811: Deaths of his children Thomas and Catherine. The family move to the rectory in Grasmere.
1813: Wordsworth becomes distributor of Postage Stamps for Westmoreland which allows him a steady income. The family move to Rydal Mount, overlooking Rydal Water. Although it was his home for the rest of his life he was never to own it in his own right.
1814: He publishes “The Excursion” which is attacked by reviewers.
1815: Publication of the first collected edition of his poems.
1817: Wordsworth moves in London literary circles more frequently and meets John Keats.
1818: The once radical Wordsworth now campaigns in the General Election for the local Tory Lord.
1820: He embarks on a tour of Europe again.
1827: Wordsworth visits the Rhineland in Germany with his favourite Daughter Dora and Coleridge.
1831: He tours Scotland and meets up with Scott again for the last time.
1834: Death of his friend Coleridge.
1836: He tours France and Italy.
1837: All of his Sonnets are collected into one edition.
1842: Wordsworth resigns stamp distributorship. He becomes Poet Laureate on the death of his, and Coleridge’s, friend Robert Southey.
1843: His reputation as a public figure is now rising and he receives Honorary Doctorates from Oxford and Durham Universities.
1845: All his poems are brought together in one collected edition which he edits with immense care.
1849: Wordsworth becomes grief stricken by the death of his beloved daughter Dora.
When and Where Did he Die?
23rd April 1850. Rydal Mount, Rydal, Cumbria, England of pleurisy.
Age at Death:
1793: “Descriptive Sketches.” “An Evening Walk.”
1798: “Lyrical Ballads” (With Coleridge).
1800: “Lyrical Ballads” (New Edition with Coleridge).
1802: “Lyrical Ballads” (Third Edition) (With Coleridge).
1807: “Poems”. “Ode to Duty”. “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.”
1809: “Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, Spain and Portugal as affected by the Convention of Cintra.”
1814: “The Excursion, Being a Portion of The Recluse.”
1815: “The White Doe of Rylstone.”
1816: “A Letter to a Friend of Burns.”
1819: “Peter Bell”. “The Waggoner.”
1820: “The River Duddon”. “Vaudracour and Julia”.
1822: “Ecclesiastical Sketches”. “Memorial of a Tour on the Continent.”
1835: “Yarrow Revisited.”
1843: “Poems Chiefly of Early and Late Years”. “The Borderers.”
1850: “The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet’s Mind.”
(1851): “Memoirs Dictated by Himself.”
(1888): “The Recluse.”
4th October 1802 to Mary Hutchinson.
Site of Grave:
St. Oswald’s Churchyard, Grasmere, Cumbria, England.
Places of Interest:
Wordsworth House, Main Street, Cockermouth, CA13 9RX (National Trust.)
Grammar School, Hawkshead has his initials carved in a bench.
Dove Cottage and Museum, Grasmere, LA22 9SH. (Wordsworth Trust.)
Aira Force Waterfall, Ullswater.
Allan Bank, Grasmere. (National Trust).
Rydal Mount and Gardens, Ambleside, LA22 9LU (House where Wordsworth lived from 1813 until his death in 1850. Gardens also designed by the Poet).
Dora’s Field, field near Rydal Mount planted with daffodils in honour of his daughter.
The Armitt Museum, Ambleside.
Gowbarrow Park, Ullswater, inspiration for the poem “The Daffodils”.
Scafell Pike, (climbed in 1818)
Helvellyn (climbed several times).
National Portrait Gallery.
Snowdon (Climbed in 1791).
The Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage, Grasmere, LA22 9SH. Wordsworth Trust