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'William Wordsworth'


William Wordsworth was born on 7 April 1770 in a fine Georgian house in Cockermouth, now called Wordsworth House. His father John was estate agent to Sir James Lowther, who owned the house. The garden at the back, with the River Derwent flowing past, was a place of magic and adventure for the young William. William has an elder brother Richard, a younger sister Dorothy and two younger brothers John and Christopher.

His childhood was spent largely in Cockermouth and Penrith, his mother's home town. William and Dorothy and his future wife Mary Hutchinson attended infant school in Penrith between 1776 and 1777. William's mother died in Penrith when he was 8. His father died when he was 13, and is buried in the churchyard of All Saints Cockermouth. All Saints church rooms is on the site of the Cockermouth school that William attended as a boy.

From 1779 until 1787 William attended the Grammar School in Hawkshead, lodging with Ann Tyson at Colthouse initially, then with his brothers. At Hawkshead William thrived - receiving encouragement from the headmaster to read and write poetry. During these years he made many visits to the countryside, gaining inspiration as the powers of nature exercised their influence.

He then went to St John's College Cambridge, where he was not a notable student, but inevitably matured in thought and sophistication. In 1795 he received a bequest of 900 which gave hive the means to pursue a literary career.

In 1795 the Wordsworths stayed in a cottage in Dorset, where they met Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. In the years ahead a close relationship developed between William, Dorothy and Coleridge. William and Coleridge then undertook a tour of the Lake District, starting at Temple Sowerby, and finishing at Wasdale Head, via Grasmere. At Grasmere they saw Dove Cottage, then an empty Inn called the Dove and Olive Branch.

In December 1799 William and Dorothy moved into Dove Cottage, in Grasmere. Coleridge having previously moved to Greta Hall in Keswick. Dorothy was William's secretary as William dictated his poetry. In 1802 William married his childhood companion Mary Hutchinson, and the first three of their five children were born. Thomas de Quincey was a permanent guest, and in 1808 as the cottage became inadequate, they moved to Allan Bank in Grasmere, a large house that William had condemned as an eyesore when it was being built. They lived here for two years, with poet and friend Coleridge. They then moved to the Old Rectory, opposite St Oswald's Church, a cold and damp house where his two youngest children died.

In 1813 they moved to Rydal Mount, where William and Mary stayed until their deaths in 1850 and 1859. Whilst at Rydal Mount William became Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland, and had an office in Church St Ambleside. In 1820 he published his 'Guide through the District of the Lakes'. In 1842 he became the Poet Laureate, and resigned his office as Stamp Distributor.

He helped to choose the site of St Mary's Church, built just below Rydal Mount, and where he was church warden from 1833 to 1834.

 

In 1850 William caught a cold on a country walk, and he died on 23 April, St George's day, 80 years after his birth. He and Mary who died 9 years later have a simple tombstone in the churchyard of St Oswald's Church in Grasmere, now one of the most visited literary shrines in the world. William Wordsworth wrote some 70000 lines of verse, 40000 lines more than any other poet.

Cumbria Tourist Board publish a leaflet called 'Wordsworth's Lake District', describing the many places that Wordsworth had associations with. For further information about Wordsworth, the Wordsworth Museum, next to Dove Cottage contains a wealth of manuscripts, art and artefacts, and runs various courses for people with a serious interest in Wordsworth. Tel 015394 35544 for more information.

Hunter Davies has written a biography of Wordsworth, aimed at the general reader. Though many studies have been written about Wordsworth over the years, this is the only full length popular biography.

For the text of his poem 'Yew Trees', and a picture of the tree in Lorton that inspired it, see Yew Trees.

Opposite Wordsworth House in Cockermouth is a memorial to William Wordsworth unveiled on 7 April 1970, the bicentenery of his birth.

Principal Places to Visit
Wordsworth House Cockermouth Birthplace. 1770-1776 89: NY 118307
Old Grammar School Hawkshead 1779-1787 90: NY 352980
Dove Cottage Grasmere 1799-1808 90: NY 343069
Rydal Mount Ambleside 1813-1850 90: NY 364064
St Oswald's Church Grasmere Burial Place 90: NY 337034

 Open Directory Project
Arts: Literature: Authors: W: Wordsworth, William

See also The Electric Study Project - Literature Resources on the Internet.

 

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