William Wordsworth

Portrait of William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth was an English Romantic poet, who along with his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge helped to begin Romanticism in English literature. He was born in Cockermouth (now Cumbria), England on 7th April 1770 and died at Rydal Mount, Rydal, Cumbria, England on 23rd April 1850 aged 80.

Major Works

“Lyrical Ballads” (1800) 
“Ode: Intimations of Immortality” (1807)
“The Waggoner” (1819)
“Sonnets” (1838)
“The Borderers” (1843)
“The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet’s Mind” (1850)

Biography Timeline

William Wordsworth was born on 7th April 1770 in Cockermouth, Cumbria, England. He was the second son of John Wordsworth, the Business Agent of Sir James Lowther (later Earl of Lonsdale) and Ann, daughter of William Cookson, a linen draper. He was educated at Hawkshead Grammar School, Cumbria and St. John’s College, Cambridge.

1771: Dorothy Wordsworth, his sister is born at Cockermouth.

1778: Death of his Mother on March 8th.

1779: He lodges with Hugh and Ann Tyson whilst attending Hawkshead Grammar School.

1783: Death of his father on 30th December.

1785: His first surviving poetry is written. “Lines Written as a School Exercise at Hawkshead”.

1787: His first published poem is included in “The European Magazine” in March, “Sonnet, On Seeing Miss Helen Maria Williams Weep at a Tale of Distress”.

1790: He goes on a walking tour of post revolutionary France and then into Switzerland with Robert Jones.

1791: He spends the early part of the year in London and then returns to France in November. He is influenced by the post revolutionary political scene. He has a love affair with Annette Vallon and she becomes pregnant and gives birth to a daughter, Caroline. Wordsworth returns to England in order to find paid employment.

1793: War is declared between England and France during February and Wordsworth feels like an outcast. He goes on a long walking tour, although penniless, across Salisbury Plain and into Wales where he sees Tintern Abbey which inspires his famous poem.

1794: He is reunited with his sister Dorothy when he stays at Windy Brow in Keswick, Cumbria owned by then Calverts. He nurses his friend Raisley Calvert who leaves him £900 on his death bed.

1795: He has become a familiar figure in the radical circles in London and is a regular visitor to the house of William Godwin during the Spring. In August he meets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey for the first time in Bristol. He settles with Dorothy at Racedown in Dorset and begins to write “Salisbury Plain”.

1797: He completes his play “The Borderers” and the Wordsworths move to Alfoxton (Alfoxden) House in Somerset so that he can be nearer his great new friend Coleridge and they begin joint writing projects.

1798: He completes “The Ruined Cottage” and composes most of the “Lyrical Ballads” jointly with Coleridge. The book is published anonymously and there is much debate over its authorship. He travels to Germany with Dorothy and Coleridge and begins writing verses which will eventually be included in “The Prelude”.

1799: He returns to England and moves into Dove Cottage at Grasmere in the Lake District with his sister Dorothy.

1800: He works on poems for the second edition of the “Lyrical Ballads”. One of his most famous poems “Michael”, a pastoral work about a shepherd, is included in it.

1802: Peace between England and France in August allows Wordsworth to travel to France to see Annette and Caroline. He gets married to Mary Hutchinson.

1803: War breaks out once more and there is a fear of invasion. Birth of his first son John. He goes on a tour of Scotland with Dorothy and Coleridge. On the 17th September the Wordsworths meet Walter Scott. Coleridge, who is ill decides to journey on by himself.

1804: He completes “Ode: Imitations of Immortality”.

1805: His brother John, a sea-captain, is drowned on the 5th February as his ship the “Earl of Abergavenny” is hit by a storm. Wordsworth completes “The Prelude”.

1808: The Wordsworths and Dorothy move into a larger house called Allan Bank at Grasmere, Cumbria.

1810: Birth of his son William. A misunderstanding about the quality of Coleridge’s poems leads to a breach with between the two men which is not healed until 1812.

1811: Deaths of his children Thomas and Catherine.

1813: He becomes distributor of Postage Stamps for Westmoreland which allows him a steady income. The family move to Rydal Mount, overlooking Rydal Water. Although it was his home for the rest of his life he was never to own it in his own right.

1814: He publishes “The Excursion” which is attacked by reviewers.

1815: Publication of the first collected edition of his poems.

1817: He moves in London literary circles more frequently and meets John Keats.

1818: The once radical Wordsworth now campaigns in the General Election for the local Tory Lord.

1820: He embarks on a tour of Europe again.

1827: He visits the Rhineland in Germany with his favourite Daughter Dora and Coleridge.

1831: He tours Scotland and meets up with Walter Scott again for the last time.

1834: Death of his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge in London.

1836: He tours France and Italy.

1842: He resigns stamp distributorship. He becomes Poet Laureate on the death of Robert Southey.

1843: His reputation as a public figure is now rising and he receives Honorary Doctorates from Oxford and Durham Universities.

1845: All his poems are brought together in one collected edition which he edits with immense care.

1849: He becomes grief stricken by the death of his beloved daughter Dora.

William Wordsworth died of pleurisy on 23rd April 1850 at Rydal Mount in Rydal, Cumbria, England and was buried at St. Oswald’s Churchyard, Grasmere, Cumbria, England.

Please see Britain Unlimited’s William Wordsworth page for further information.