- 7 April 1770 – William Wordsworth birth
“William Wordsworth is considered the greatest poet of his age. Upon his death he held the position of of Poet Laureate of England. Though his work was at first rejected and criticized, Wordsworth persevered in his unique poetic syle of magnifying the ordinary and cloaking the common in royal robes of description. Wordsworth’s appearance was not extraordinary except for a high forehead and penetrating eyes that revealed an unusually perceptive personality. His eyes, according to one description, shone with a “light that never was on sea or shore, a light radiating from some far spiritual world.” With this light he was able to discover through careful observation the beauty around him, which he then expressed in the humblest of terms. While beauty had for decades been sacrificed for purely moral content, Wordsworth delighted not only in knowing truth and morality, but in portraying them in beautful language.” 1
“Every great poet is a teacher; I wish either to be considered as a teacher or as nothing.”
– William Wordsworth
Life Sketch from The Other Eminent Men of Wilford WoodruffCopyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy. English Poet 1770-1850
Early LifeAt only fourteen years of age, Wordsworth developed his style when he suddenly awoke to the beauty of the simple things around him:
This is feebly and imperfectly expressed; but I recollect distinctly the very spot where this [recognition] first struck me. It was on the way between Hawkshead and Ambleside, and gave me extreme pleasure. The moment was important in my poetical history; for I date from it my consciousness of the infinte variety of natural appearances which had been unnoticed by poets of any age or country, so far as I was acquainted with theml and I made a resolution to supply in some degree the deficiency.Feeling that poetry was his “office upon the earth,” Wordsworth acted on this resolution through his poetry as he said in one poem:
Earth’s materials wait upon my step, Pitches her tents before me as I move.Some time after Wordsworth’s death, a stranger asked one of his servants to show him the poet’s study. The servant replied as she showed the room, “This is my master’s library, where he keeps his books, but his study is out of doors.” Although many believed that nature was Wordsworth’s god, it is more accurate to say that Wordsworth worshiped nature for there he found God. Wordsworth is known not only for his descriptions of simple beauty, but also for his belief in immortality and his allusions to the influecne of a higher power. These beliefs brought great criticism upob him, even from his old friend and fellow poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. But Wordsworth had an inflexible loyalty to truth and he refused to depart from impressions of an afterlife, which he held as a “revealed truth.” His influence eventually changed the character of the poetical literature of his country. Another prominent them in Wordsworth’s poetry was patriotism. Many of his poems dealt with issues of tyranny and liberty. Ths was no dount the result of having been born in 1770, during the reign of George III, and haveing lived through the fateful years of the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Irish issue, and the Napoleonic Wars. Young Wordsworth was particularly influenced by the French Revolution. He ardently sympathized with the revolutionaries but drew back sharply when their fight for liberty spilled into cruel excesses. These subjects were so important to him that in writing about them he felt he tread upon “holy ground.” Wordsworth felt a great responsibility to fulfill the call of his youth. He wrote that the purpose of his poetry was “to console the afflicted; add sunshine to daylight by making [the] happy happier; to teach the young and the gracious of every age to see, to think, and feel, and therefore to become more actively and securly virtuous.” Fullfilling this purpose meant that he never gave utterance to feelings of discouragement or despair. His desire was to purify and exalt English poetry, and the results of this desire can be seen in some of his finer works; such as “Ode to Intimations of Immortality,” “Ode to Duty,” “My Heart Leaps Up,” and in a declaractive statement announces the sacred calling of a poet: “If thou Indeed Derive thy light from Heaven.” Although Wordsworth was not widely read in his lifetime, the future makers and shapers of England read his works and he became a reforming spirit of the age. Born to John Wordsworth and Anne Cookson, William Wordsworth was one of five children in a warm and loving home. To Wordsworth, his mother was the personification intuitive wisdom. She who was his first teacher had not
… falsly taught, Fetching her goodness rather from times past Nor did by habit of her thoughts mistrust Our nature, but had virtual faith that He Who fills the mother’s breast with innocent milk, Doth also for our nobler part provideWordsworth’s mother died when he was eight years old. Although his memory of her was dimmed by the years, his most tender feelings were always associated with her. Her philosophies of childhood did much to further his poetic interests. She gave im, even in his earliest years, access to nature. As sson as young Wordsworth was capable of walking outside the kitchen door, she left it open for him. He was left on his own to explore and discover the outside world, and his realm grew with each passing year. In spite of his mother’s delight in his growth, she had some concern for this particular child. She once expressed to a friend of hers that of her five children, she was most anxious about William’s future. She understood in an intuitive way hat he would be remarkable eighter for good or evil, and sometimes saw evidence for the latter. Wordsworth himself acknowledged that in his formative years he was often stiff, moody, and violent. He described how once, while at his grandfather’s house, he and his eldest brother were whipping tops: “The walls were hung round with family pictures, and I said to my brother, ‘Dare you strike your whip through the old lady’s petticoat?’ He replied, ‘No, I won’t.’ ‘Then,’ said I, ‘here goes,’ and I struck my lash through her hooped petticaot for which, no doubt I was properly punished.
EducationWordworth’s education was not based entirely in nature. His father was careful to acquaint his son to the great literary masters. William memorized portions of the owrks of the best English poets and at an early age could repeact lengthy portions of Shakespeare, Milton, and Spenser. His first formal education was under the care of one of the village dames who also promoted memorization and gave a great deal of freedom in educational tasks. When Wordsworth was nine, he was sent to Hawkschool in his village. There, although in school, he was still surrounded by those favorable influences of nature that had such a beneficial affect upon his moral and intellectual development. His experience wat Hawkshead was made better by the fact that he was able to live there with a most affectionate and motherly person named Anne Tyson. Her kind attention he gratefully remembered and celebrated in his autobiographical poem, “Prelude.” The headmaster of Hawkshead loved nature and appreciated Wordsworth’s attempts to depict nature in writing. He was the first to detect and stimulate Wordsworth’s earliest efforts in poetry. These early experiences in anture and writing convinced Wordworth that all children are born as natural poets, but they gradually lose that power through the habits formed in this life. When Wordsworth was fourteen, his father died having never fully recovered from the shock of his wife’s earlier death. Some biographers have passed lightly over the death of bother parents commenting that Wordsworth was little affected. However, one cannot but help wonder if these losses led to his understanding and belief in the principle of immortality. After his father’s death Wordsworth remained at Hawkshead until he was eighteen years old. Concentrating little on Latin and Greek, he loved to read Goldsmtih, Cervantes, Shakespeare, and other. In 1787, Wordsworth eneter St. John’s College at Cambridge, where, much to his relatives’ dismay, he was little motivated. Although Cambridge was noted for its scholarship in mathematics, Wordsworth instead devoted most of his time to the poets. After graduation he visited France with a fellow student and quickly aligned himself with the early workings of the French REvolution. Had he not been forced to return to England because of a collaps of his financial affairs, he might have met with the guillotine.
MarriageWhile in France, Wordsworth fell in love with a young French girl, Annette Vallon. As was the accepted custom of the day in France, they shared a common-law marriage. He returned to England, anticipating only a short stay; his common-law-wife, who was expecting their first child, stayed with her family. But after Wordsworth left, the French Revolution broke out and soon reached its height. It was impossinle for any Englishmen to enter France. Once again bereft of a family, Wordsworth spent the next few years aimlessly. His relatives tried to buoy him up by encouraging him to go into law or the ministry, but neither interested him.
WritingA friend of Wordsworth’s, whom he had once helped, died, and willed him £1000. This was characteristic of his life, as money always seemed to necome available just when he needed it. His sister, Dorothy, who by this time had become his traveling companion and an inestimable influence on his poetry, managed the money so well that they were able to live a number of years before the money ran out. When it was finally gone, a large sum of money that was owed his father’s estate came through. This money left Wordsworth free to pursue his writing. It was duirng this time that Wordsworth met and collaborated with Samuel Coleridge. When the French Revolution quieted and Wordsworth was able to return to France, so much had changed between him and Annette they agreed to permanently separate, even though he felt a deep concern for his child. He returned to England and noticed that a friend of his sister’s, Mary Hutchinson, had grown into a lovely lady. With encouragement from Dorothy, Wordsworth married Mary. It was a perfect match. She was a good woman in the purest sense, and she bore Wordsworth five children. Wordsworth expressed his feelings in “She was a Phantom of Delight.” Wordsworth spent his llife recounting the human experience in poetry. It was therefore fitting that his death on the 23 April 1850 occurred on the niversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death. Summarizing Wordsworth’s influence Mathew Arnold wrote “Memorial Verse”;
Time may restore us in his course Goethe’s sage mind and Byron’s force; But when will Europe’s late hour Again find Wordsworth’s healing power?Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy. 2