A-Z: General definitions: Wordsworth


(1775-1850) Wordsworth was born in the Lake District and was one of the leading Romantic poets.

After attending school in Hawkshead, he spent an unhappy time at the University of Cambridge. He lived in France in 1791-2, where he became inspired by the principles of the French Revolution and had a love affair with Annette Vallon, who bore him a daughter.

The publication in 1793 of An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches began to establish his reputation as poet, but it was with the appearance of Lyrical Ballads (1798) on which he collaborated with Samuel Taylor Coleridge that his work attracted wide attention. This volume, particularly with the addition of Wordsworth's Preface in the second edition of 1800, has come to be seen as a landmark in the early phase of English Romanticism. He lived close to Coleridge in Somerset from 1797, and after spending the winter of 1798-9 in Germany, Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy settled again in the Lake District, where they remained for the rest of their lives.

Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson in 1802 and worked on poems, including the famous ode Intimations of Immortality from Early Childhood, that were eventually published in 1807 as Poems in Two Volumes. His long poem The Excursion appeared in 1814, and he published several other volumes, but most of his best work was now behind him.

In 1813 he had been appointed stamp distributor of Westmoreland with an annual salary of  £400. This enabled him to live comfortably, and as he grew older he became more conservative and abandoned the radical political ideas of his early years. He was granted a Civil List (government) pension of  £300 a year in 1842 and in 1843 he became Poet Laureate in succession to his friend Robert Southey.

In 1798-9 he had begun work on a long, autobiographical poem called The Prelude; a version was complete by 1805 but it was only in 1850, just after Wordsworth's death, that it was published, having been heavily revised in the intervening years. Many readers, however, prefer the more vigorous and less timid version of 1805.

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