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William Wordsworth

(1770—1850) poet

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educated at Hawkshead Grammar School. His mother died in 1778, his father in 1783, losses recorded in The Prelude. He attended St John's College, Cambridge, but disliked the academic course. In 1790 he went on a walking tour of France, the Alps, and Italy, and returned to France late in 1791, to spend a year there; during this period he fell in love with the daughter of a surgeon at Blois, Annette Vallon, who bore him a daughter. (This love affair is reflected in ‘Vaudracour and Julia’, composed ?1804, pub. 1820.) After his return to England he published in 1793 two poems in heroic couplets, An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches, both conventional attempts at the picturesque and the sublime. In this year he also wrote (but did not publish) a Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff (see Watson, R.) in support of the French Republic. England's declaration of war against France shocked him deeply, but the institution of the Terror marked the beginning of his disillusion with the French Revolution, a period of depression reflected in his verse drama The Borderers (composed 1796–7, pub. 1842). In 1795 he received a legacy of £900 from his friend Raisley Calvert, which allowed him to pursue his vocation as a poet, and to be reunited with his sister Dorothy Wordsworth; they settled first at Racedown in Dorset, then at Alfoxden in Somerset, to be near Coleridge, then living at Nether Stowey, whom Wordsworth had met in 1795. This was a period of intense creativity for both poets, which produced the Lyrical Ballads (1798), a landmark in the history of English Romanticism. (See Ancient Mariner, Idiot Boy, Tintern Abbey.) The winter of 1798–9 was spent in Goslar in Germany, where Wordsworth wrote the enigmatic ‘Lucy’ poems. In 1799 he and Dorothy settled in Dove Cottage, Grasmere; to the next year belong ‘The Recluse’, Book I (later The Excursion), ‘The Brothers’, ‘Michael’, and many of the poems included in the 1800 edition of the Lyrical Ballads (which, with its provocative preface on poetic diction, aroused much criticism). In 1802 Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson. In the same year he composed ‘Resolution and Independence’, and began his ode on ‘Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’, both of which appeared in Poems in Two Volumes (1807), along with many of his most celebrated lyrics. To the same period belong the birth of five children, travels with Dorothy and Coleridge, and new friendships, notably with Sir W. Scott, Sir G. Beaumont, and De Quincey. Wordsworth's domestic happiness was overcast by the death of his sailor brother John in 1805 (which inspired several, poems, including ‘Elegiac Stanzas suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle’, 1807), the early deaths of two of his children (one of which inspired his sonnet ‘Surprised by Joy’, 1815), and the physical deterioration of Coleridge, from whom he was for some time estranged, and with whom he was never entirely reconciled. But his productivity continued, and his popularity gradually increased. The Excursion was published in 1814, The White Doe of Rylstone in 1815, two volumes of Miscellaneous Poems in 1815, and Peter Bell and The Waggoner in 1819. Wordsworth slowly settled into the role of patriotic, conservative public man, abandoning the radical politics and idealism of his youth. Much of the best of his later work was mildly topographical, inspired by his love of travel. In 1843 he succeeded Southey as poet laureate. He died in Rydal Mount, Ambleside (where he had lived since 1813) after the publication of a finally revised text of his works (6 vols, 1849–50). The Prelude was published posthumously in 1850.


Subjects: Literature

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