Great Personalities » William Wordsworth

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William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth was born on 7 April 1770 at Cumbria. William’s father was an attorney and they lived in a large mansion in the small town of Cockermouth at Cumbria. His father was frequently away on business, and the young William and his siblings had very little involvement with him.

William was taught to read by his mother and his first schooling came from an inconspicuous, tiny school in Cockermouth. His mother passed away in 1778. Later, his father sent him to a Grammar School somewhere in Lancashire. Soon after that, he was once again shifted to a school in Penrith that catered to children from affluent families. It was here that he met Ann Birkett, a teacher who had tremendous influence on him. She insisted on instilling traditions that included pursuing both scholarly and local activities in her students.

His father later sent his sister, Dorothy to live with relatives in Yorkshire. As a result, they were separated for a period of nearly nine years. In short, he and his siblings were left in the care of different relatives. It was during his younger days that Wordsworth began to develop a long-lasting love for nature, which is evident in many of his poems.

In 1787, Wordsworth made his debut as a writer, when he published a sonnet in The European Magazine. He also joined the St John's College, Cambridge in 1787. In 1790, he took a break from the University and toured Europe. He spent a summer holiday touring Switzerland, Italy, and France. He also supported the ideals of the French Revolution. In 1791, after receiving his BA degree, he began to write poetry, none of which was published until 1793.

Sometime during 1795, Wordsworth and his sister shifted to Dorset. It was during this period that he received a legacy from a close relative. Two years later, they moved again to live near poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s home in Somerset. Coleridge was a great admirer of Wordsworth's work. In 1798, they joined hands to publish the 'Lyrical Ballads.' This collection of poems was written mostly by Wordsworth, with Coleridge contributing 'The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.’ This marks the beginning of the Romantic Movement in English poetry. However, most critics greeted the poems with animosity.

Coleridge, Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, spent the winter of 1798 – 1799 in Germany. It was here where he wrote many poems. It was here where he wrote the profound 'Lucy' poems. After his return from Germany in 1799, Wordsworth and Dorothy settled at Grasmere in the Lake District. It was in 1802, that Wordsworth married his childhood friend, Mary Hutchinson at the insistence of his sister Dorothy.

However, their happiness was short-lived, as the next few years were particularly harsh for Wordsworth. He lost two children and adding to his woes, he also lost his brother at sea. Furthermore, Dorothy became mentally ill and he and his wife had to care for Wordsworth's sister Dorothy until her death. Wordsworth's most famous poem, 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud' was written at his cottage in Grasmere during 1804. By early 1800, his political views underwent a dramatic transformation. He took a conservative position, disillusioned by the events taking place in France, where Napoleon Bonaparte had taken control.

In 1813, Wordsworth moved from Grasmere to nearby Ambelside. Although he continued to write poetry, it was not as great as his early works. Sometime during 1838, an honorary doctorate from the University of Durham was awarded to Wordsworth. In 1839, the University of Oxford also presented him with another honorary degree in Civil Law. However, it was in 1842, the government also awarded him an annual Civil List pension of 300 pounds. Wordsworth was appointed the poet laureate, following the death of Robert Southey in 1843. He initially refused the honor as he felt that he was too old, but accepted it at the insistence of the then Prime Minister, Robert Peel. This, he became the only laureate to write no official verses. Later on, Wordsworth became a conservative as well as a patriotic and public figure. He also abandoned all of his radical ideologies.

However, when his daughter Dora suddenly passed away in 1847, his little world came to a standstill. Totally devastated by the death of his daughter Dora, Wordsworth apparently lost all his interest to compose further poems.

William Wordsworth died on 23 April 1850, due to an aggravated case of pleurisy. He was buried at the Grasmere Churchyard. After his death, Wordsworth’s widow, Mary, published his great autobiographical poem, ‘The Prelude’, which he had worked on since 1798. The poem, revised numerous times, chronicles the spiritual side of the poet and marks the birth of a new genre of poetry. Although it did not arouse much interest during that period, it has since come to be widely recognized as his masterpiece.

If one has to describe William Wordsworth in a sentence, it would be that he was a romantic, refreshing, colorful, idealistic, and inconsistent personality.

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