Wordsworth, Wordsmith

Portrait of William Wordsworth by Benjamin Robert HaydonOnce again, it’s been a while since we celebrated a birthday here on the Armchair Anglophile, so let’s light a candle for one of the greatest British poets: William Wordsworth, who was born 7 April 1770 at Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, Cumberland.

Little William received a thorough grounding in the great poets from an early age and was given the run of his father’s library. Growing up in the ridiculously scenic Lake District also helped feed his imagination before he was shipped off to school in 1778. Nine years later, he published his first sonnet in The European Magazine before heading off to St John’s College, Cambridge. During his holidays, he took to visiting places renowned for their natural beauty, especially the Alps.

In 1793, Wordsworth published two collections of poetry, and two years later he was granted a legacy of £900 from Raisley Calvert so he could pursue writing. That same year, he met Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the two formed a fast friendship that would eventually result in Lyrical Ballads, the publication considered to be the beginning of the English Romantic movement in literature.

Following its publication (to fairly modest reviews), Wordswoth, Coleridge, and Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy, travelled around Germany, where Wordsworth began work on The Prelude and wrote several famous poems, including The Lucy Poems. He moved back to the Lake District on his return to England, and shortly thereafter married Mary Hutchinson, a childhood friend. They had five children, three of whom lived to adulthood.

Wordsworth continued to write, publishing Poems in Two Volumes in 1807 and The Excursion in 1814. Critics started looking at all of his works with a more forgiving eye starting around 1820, and he received honorary degrees from both Durham University and Oxford University in 1838. When Robert Southey died in 1843, Wordsworth was named Poet Laureate and became the only person to hold the title without having to write any official poetry. After 1847, he stopped writing following the death of his daughter, Dora. He died three years later, on 23 April 1850 and was buried at St Oswald’s church in Grasmere. His widow published The Prelude several months later. It has since come to be regarded as a masterpiece.

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