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William Wordsworth

English Romantic Poet William Wordsworth was born 7 April 1770 in Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, Cumberland, in the Lake District. His sister was the poet and diarist Dorothy Wordsworth and his eldest brother Richard, became a lawyer; while his brother John, died at sea in 1805 when the ship of which he was captain, the Earl of Abergavenny, was wrecked off the south coast of England. His younger brother Christopher, entered the Church becoming Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. Wordsworth was taught to read by his mother and attended, first, a tiny school of low quality in Cockermouth, then a school in Penrith for the children of upper-class families, where he was taught by Ann Birkett. Wordsworth was taught both the Bible and the Spectator, but little else. It was at the school in Penrith that he met the Hutchinsons, including Mary, who later became his wife. After the death of his mother, in 1778, Wordsworth’s father sent him to Hawkshead Grammar School in Lancashire (now in Cumbria) and sent Dorothy to live with relatives in Yorkshire.

Wordsworth made his debut as a writer in 1787 when he published a sonnet in The European Magazine and began attending St John’s College, Cambridge. He received his BA degree in 1791. He returned to Hawkshead for the first two summers of his time at Cambridge, and often spent later holidays on walking tours, visiting places famous for the beauty of their landscape. In 1790 he went on a walking tour of Europe, visiting France, Switzerland, and Italy. In November 1791, Wordsworth visited Revolutionary France supporting the Republican movement. He fell in love with a French woman, Annette Vallon, who in 1792 gave birth to their daughter Caroline. However Financial problems and Britain’s tense relations with France forced him to return to England alone in 1793. When the Peace of Amiens again allowed travel to France, Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy visited Annette and Caroline in Calais in 1802. Afterwards he wrote the sonnet “It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,” recalling a seaside walk with Caroline.

Wordsworth first poems were published in 1793, in the collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. In 1795 he received a legacy of 900 pounds from Raisley Calvert and became able to pursue a career as a poet. 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 Alfoxton House, Somerset, just a few miles away from Coleridge’s home in Nether Stowey. Together Wordsworth and Coleridge produced Lyrical Ballads, which contained Wordsworth’s poem Tintern Abbey”, along with Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. A second edition, was published in 1800 and the next edition, of Lyrical Ballads was published in 1802 In which Wordsworth gives his famous definition of poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility,”. A fourth and final edition of Lyrical Ballads was published in 1805. Between 1795-97, Wordsworth wrote his only play, The Borderers, a verse tragedy set during the reign of King Henry III of England, when Englishmen in the North Country came into conflict with Scottish rovers. He attempted to get the play staged in November 1797, but but was thwarted by Thomas Harris, the manager of the Covent Garden Theatre. In 1798 Wordsworth, Dorothy and Coleridge travelled to Germany. Between 1798–99 Wordsworth lived with Dorothy in Goslar, and, despite extreme stress and loneliness, began work on the autobiographical piece titled The Prelude and also wrote a number of other famous poems in Goslar, including “The Lucy poems”.

In 1799, Wordsworth and his sister returned to England and visited the Hutchinson family at Sockburn. When Coleridge arrived back in England he travelled to the North with their publisher Joseph Cottle to meet Wordsworth and tour the Lake District. They settled at Dove Cottage in Grasmere in the Lake District, with poet, Robert Southey nearby. Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey became known as the “Lake Poets”. Between 1798–99 he started an autobiographical poem, “poem to Coleridge” as an appendix or prologue to a larger work called The Recluse. In 1804 he began expanding this autobiographical work. He completed the first version of The Prelude, in 1805, but did not publish it until he had completed The Recluse. The death of his brother John, in 1805, also affected him deeply. In 1807 Wordsworth published Poems in Two Volumes, including “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”. In 1813, he and his family, moved to Rydal Mount, Ambleside (between Grasmere and Rydal Water). Sadly In 1810, Wordsworth and Coleridge fell out over Coleridge’s opium addiction, and in 1812, his son Thomas died at the age of 6, six months after the death of 3-year-old Catherine. The following year he received an appointment as Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland. In 1814 Wordsworth published The Excursion as the second part of the three-part work The Recluse, he also wrote a poetic Prospectus to “The Recluse”. By 1820, he was enjoying considerable success accompanying a reversal in the contemporary critical opinion of his earlier works.

Following the death of his friend the painter William Green in 1823, Wordsworth also mended his relations with Coleridge and in 1828 they toured the Rhineland together. Sadly Dorothy suffered from a severe illness in 1829 that rendered her an invalid for the remainder of her life. In 1838, Wordsworth received an honorary doctorate in Civil Law from the University of Durham and the following year he was awarded the same honorary degree by the University of Oxford. In 1842, the government awarded him a Civil List pension of £300 a year. Following the death of Robert Southey in 1843 Wordsworth became Poet Laureate After assurances from Prime Minister, Robert Peel, Wordsworth thus became the only poet laureate to write no official verses. Sadly His daughter Dora suddenly died in 1847 at the age of only 42 and in his depression, he completely gave up writing new material. Then William Wordsworth himself died at home at Rydal Mount from an aggravated case of pleurisy on 23 April 1850. He was buried at St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere.

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