‘Trailing clouds of glory do we come’: Sally Minogue salutes William Wordsworth on his 250th ...
"Life is divided into three terms - that which was, which is, and which will be.
Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future. "
William Wordsworth was born on 17th April 1770 in Cockermouth in the Lake District. William was the second of seven siblings born to Christopher, an attorney, and Anne Cookson Wordsworth. His sister, Dorothy, was also a poet and author and she and William were very close. Following the death of his mother when he was eight years old, Wordsworth was sent away to Hawkshead Grammar School. Dorothy was sent to live with relatives in Yorkshire and did not see her brother for nine years. Wordsworth later attended St. John’s College in Cambridge where he made his debut as a writer when he published a sonnet in The European Magazine. Wordsworth became an orphan at the age of thirteen when his father also passed away.
In 1790, Wordsworth spent a year in France following a walking tour with friends that visited France, the Alps and Italy. Whilst in France, Wordsworth met and fell in love with a young French woman, Annette Vallon, who subsequently bore him a daughter, Caroline. Shortly after Caroline was born, Wordsworth ran out of money and was forced to return to England. The war between the two countries prevented him from returning to France until 1802, at which point he had not seen Caroline for ten years. It was at this time that he wrote the poem ‘It is a beauteous evening, calm and free’, following a seaside walk with his daughter.
In 1795, after receiving a legacy, Wordsworth lived with his sister Dorothy first in Dorset and then at Alfoxden, Dorset. Whilst living in Dorset, Wordsworth met Samuel Coleridge. The two formed a close friendship and published their Lyrical Ballads in 1798. This book is credited with helping to launch the Romantic Age of English literature. The book includes Wordsworth's Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey and Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, probably their two most famous works. In 1798, Wordsworth and Dorothy moved to Germany with Coleridge, where Wordsworth began work on The Prelude, a semi-autobiographical poem of his early years which he revised and expanded a number of times. It was titled posthumously and published, prior to which it was generally known as the poem "to Coleridge".
Wordsworth was terribly homesick whilst living in Germany and returned to the Lake District in 1799. In 1802, after amicably separating from Anne Vallon, Wordsworth married a childhood friend named Mary Hutchinson. He and Mary had five children, although two of them died tragically in 1812. In 1807, Wordsworth published Poems in Two Volumes, which included the poems Resolution and Independence and Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.
Wordsworth became widely successful and was made poet laureate in 1843, following the death of Robert Southey. 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).
William Wordsworth died on 23rd April 1850 of pleurisy. He is buried at St. Oswald's Church, in Grasmere. His widow Mary published The Prelude several months after his death. Though this failed to arouse any great interest at the time, it has since come to be recognised as his masterpiece.
TITLES BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH