Biography of William Wordsworth
Wordsworth, born in his beloved Lake District, was the son of an attorney. He went to school first at Penrith and then at Hawkshead Grammar school before studying, from 1787, at St John’s College, Cambridge – all of which periods were later to be described vividly in The Prelude. In 1790 he went with friends on a walking tour to France, the Alps and Italy, before arriving in France where Wordsworth was to spend the next year.
Whilst in France he fell in love twice over: once with a young French woman, Annette Vallon, who subsequently bore him a daughter, and then, once more, with the French Revolution. Returning to England he wrote, and left unpublished, his Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff – a tract in support of the French Revolutionary cause. In 1795, after receiving a legacy, Wordsworth lived with his sister Dorothy first in Dorset and then at Alfoxden, Dorset, close to Coleridge.
In these years he wrote many of his greatest poems and also travelled with Coleridge and Dorothy, in the winter of 1798-79, to Germany. Two years later the second and enlarged edition of the Lyrical Ballads appeared in 1801, just one year before Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson. This was followed, in 1807, by the publication of Poems in Two Volumes, which included the poems ‘Resolution and Independence’ and ‘Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’.
During this period he also made new friendships with Walter Scott, Sir G. Beaumont and De Quincy, wrote such poems as ‘Elegaic Stanzas suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle’ (1807), and fathered five children. He received a civil list pension in 1842 and was made poet-laureate just one year later.
Today Wordsworth’s poetry remains widely read. Its almost universal appeal is perhaps best explained by Wordsworth’s own words on the role, for him, of poetry; what he called “the most philosophical of all writing” whose object is “truth…carried alive into the heart by passion”.