This Day In Writing History
On April 7th, 1770, the legendary British poet William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, Cumberland, England. He had two older brothers, a younger brother, and a younger sister. Of his four siblings, Wordsworth was closest to his younger sister Dorothy, whom he would live and travel with. Only a year younger than her brother, she was a poet and a noted diarist.
As a young boy, Wordsworth would frequently stay with his mother's parents in Penrith. He loved the moors and the landscape, which would influence his poetry, but he hated his grandparents and uncle, whose harsh treatment nearly drove him to suicide. To avoid them, he would spend hours communing with nature.
Wordworth's mother, who had taught him how to read and write, died when he was eight years old. His father, who had tutored him in poetry and given him access to his large collection of books, sent him to a boarding school for children of upper class families. His beloved sister Dorothy went to live with relatives in Yorkshire. He wouldn't see her again for nine years.
At boarding school, Wordsworth's headmistress, Ann Birkett, instituted a curriculum of mostly biblical studies for her students. She also encouraged them to partake in local activities, especially the festivals of Easter, May Day, and Shrove Tuesday. During his time at boarding school, he would meet his future wife, Mary Hutchinson.
In 1787, at the age of 17, Wordsworth enrolled at St. John's College, Cambridge. That same year, his poetry debuted in print when one of his sonnets was published in The European Magazine. He graduated in 1791. A year earlier, he spent his holidays taking walking tours across Europe. He toured the Alps extensively and visited France, Switzerland, and Italy.
After graduating, Wordsworth made a return visit to France, which was mired in revolution. He supported the revolution and fell in love with a French girl named Annette Vallon, who gave birth to his illegitimate daughter, Caroline. Though he wanted to marry Annette, financial trouble and growing tensions between France and Britain led Wordsworth to return home alone. The ensuing war between the two countries prevented Wordsworth from returning to France for almost ten years.
Meanwhile, in 1793, Wordsworth's first two poetry collections, An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches, were published, establishing him as a major talent. Two years later, he received a £900 legacy so that he could write full time. That same year, in Somerset, he met writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who became his closest friend. He bought a house in Somerset, near Coleridge's home, and moved in along with his sister Dorothy.
Wordsworth and Coleridge collaborated on a poetry collection called Lyrical Ballads, which was published in 1798. Featuring Wordsworth's classic poem Tintern Abbey and Coleridge's classic epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the book was considered a seminal work of English Romantic poetry. For the second edition of the book, Wordsworth wrote an essay, Preface to Lyrical Ballads, where he discussed Romantic literary theory.
In the fall of 1798, Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge traveled to Germany. During the harsh German winter, while living with Dorothy in Goslar, Wordsworth wrote to escape his stress and homesickness. He began an autobiographical piece called The Prelude and wrote many of his famous poems, including his "Lucy poems." The trio returned to England and settled in Grasmere in the Lake District, where Wordsworth, Coleridge, and their new friend Robert Southey would come to be known as the Lake Poets.
After the Peace of Amiens treaty ended the war between England and France, British subjects were once again allowed to travel to France. So, Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy went to see Annette Vallon to discuss mutually acceptable terms of financial support. Wordsworth was happy to see his daughter Caroline again and to be able to provide for her and her mother financially. He returned to England and married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Hutchinson, who would bear him four children.
Wordsworth continued to write. He published another poetry collection, Poems in Two Volumes, in 1807. Seven years later, he published his epic poem, The Excursion. Before it came out, Wordsworth became estranged from his opium-addicted friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In 1812, Wordsworth lost two of his children, Thomas and Catherine. The following year, he was appointed as the Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland, for which he would earn £400 per year. Financially secure, he moved his family, including his sister Dorothy, to a new home in Ambleside, where he would live the rest of his life.
In 1823, Wordsworth and Coleridge reconciled when they toured the Rhineland together.
Wordsworth retired in 1842 after the British government awarded him a pension of £300 a year. When his friend Robert Southey died in 1843, Wordsworth became the new Poet Laureate of England, but when his daughter Dora died four years later in 1847, he stopped writing poetry.
William Wordsworth died of lung disease in April of 1850 at the age of 80. Several months later, his wife Mary published his epic poem The Prelude. It attracted little attention at the time, but later came to be recognized as Wordsworth's masterpiece.
Quote Of The Day
"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." - William Wordsworth
Today's video features a discussion of William Wordsworth's classic poem, Michael: A Pastoral Poem, and a tour of the Lake District where he lived. Enjoy!