William Wordsworth, a famous poet of the Romantic Period, wrote a great deal of poetry that was inspired by his lifestyle. Wordsworth’s fond love of nature, unusual childhood, and numerous influential relationships with others all played large roles in the poems that he produced.
William lost both his mother and his father at a fairly young age. He spent much of his childhood in boarding schools, which he seemed to love, and staying with his surviving relatives, which he did not enjoy. At the age of 8, William lost his mother, Ann, and at 13 years old, William lost his father, John. Before William’s parents died, he was taught well. His mother taught him to read at an early age and his father made him learn Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, and Pope by heart. Ann’s death had a huge effect on the whole family. William described the event as a “vicious blow,” and the whole family was supposedly torn apart from the tragedy. Some critics have linked William’s maternal loss to his possible use of Nature as a “surrogate mother” in the way that he displayed Nature as something that he lived for and that possibly kept him alive. John was a prominent lawyer of Cockermouth, England. He was however, hated and feared by much of the town because many people despised some of his clients. Although William usually escaped those feelings by taking in the scenes of the gardens in Cockermouth, the hatred supposedly came back to haunt all of the Wordsworth children by receiving criticism from residents of Cockermouth.
Once Ann died, William’s state of parental guidance began to change. In May 1779, William began attending Hawkshead Boarding School. His years at Hawkshead were described as reasonably happy because William Taylor, the headmaster at Hawkshead, was a poetry lover and the boys at Hawkshead got a lot of freedom outside of school. William lived with a woman named Ann Tyson while attending Hawkshead. Ann was able to act somewhat like a mother towards William and did a great deal of encouraging William’s love of nature in the Lake District area. Holidays were the worst for William because he had to live with his money-conscious uncles and cruel parents of his mother in Penrith, England. William loved the town of Penrith because of its beauty but hated spending time in the Cookson household so much that at one time he had a desire to commit suicide.
Wordsworth was always fond of nature, and most of his most successful poems were based on nature. Generations of his family were all landowners, so loving a simple country life tended to run in the family. One critic, Matthew Arnold, felt that Wordsworth’s powerful writing connected with his love for nature is what made his poetry great. Wordsworth traveled abroad several times throughout Europe for both political reasons and to observe the nature there. Several of Wordsworth’s poems were written in Germany, where he went with his sister Dorothy and friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge from 1798-1799. Some examples of Germany-based poetry by Wordsworth are the “Lucy” poems, which were written there, and “The Prelude” was begun there. In one “Lucy” poem called “I Traveled Among Unknown Men,” William wrote, “I travell’d among unknown men,/ In lands beyond the sea;/ Nor England! Did I know till then,/ What love I bore to thee.” Within these lines Wordsworth introduces the reader to the fact that he is traveling throughout places other than England and becoming familiar with new lands. William gained a big interest in the French Revolution on his second trip to the continent of Europe. William joined the fighters for freedom and as a result, his family stopped sending him money because they disagreed with William’s choice.
Wordsworth’s romantic relationships as well as his ties with Dorothy and Coleridge were very consuming and affected his poetry immensely. Wordsworth was interested in writing, but really never aspired to be a poet. Money problems kept him from his secret ambition of being an officer in the army and personal relationships led to a calling in poetry. William’s college years at St. John’s (1787-1791) were described as “unpleasant.” The academic life there was very difficult for William and he was just an average student, so during his years at St. John’s are when William took his two long trips to the Continent. On one of his trips he met Annette Vallon in France, with whom he had an illegitimate child, Caroline. In early 1793 Wordsworth was in London, and at that time he wanted to be a radical journalist and pamphleteer, but he was too outspoken to find a publisher due to “Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff.” This was a defensive statement regarding the execution of Louis XVI and supported the French Revolution and was not published until after he died. Within the “Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff,” William went on to say, “But when redress is in our own power and resistance is rational, we suffer with the same humility from beings like ourselves, because we are taught from infancy that we were born in a state of inferiority to our oppressors, that they were sent into the world to scourge, and we to be scourged.” By saying this, William is defending the revolt by the French in order to gain their freedom. This was a very radical point of view and not accepted by many. William’s lack of money led to his poetic career. He decided to live in a cottage in Dorset with Dorothy and ended up meeting Coleridge there. Many critics and writers depicted Dorothy as William’s lifelong companion.
The brother and sister were very close and relied on each other while growing up because of all their family problems. Dorothy aided William with some of his poetry by giving him ideas and some people believe that she was the inspiration for the “Lucy” poems. Some writers believe that the relationship between the two of them was incestuous due to their intimacy and the fact that they lived with each other for a good part of their grown up lives. Also, it is said that Dorothy didn’t attend William’s marriage to Mary Hutchinson because she was on her bed crying.
Wordsworth’s introduction to Coleridge led him to finding an intense poetic partner. Every day the two wrote poems together, commented on one another’s poems, and discussed poetic theories. The two never “co-wrote,” however they did utilize each other’s thoughts into their own poetry. In 1797 Wordsworth moved to Alfoxden in Somerset. Wordsworth and Coleridge worked together and eventually in 1798 they published “Lyrical Ballads,” which was a book of poetry by the two of them, published anonymously. William and Samuel put out a second edition of the book with a Preface by Wordsworth. This Preface included their philosophy of poetry, which stated that poems should be written with a lot of simplicity, imagination, and relation to nature. Since only Wordsworth’s name was on the second edition, his name became better known while Coleridge’s didn’t. In 1810 Coleridge and Wordsworth suffered a horrible fight. Coleridge moved to London to live with Basil Montagu and Wordsworth took it upon himself to tell Montagu bad things about Coleridge’s personal habits, such as exaggerated drug problems. Montagu then confronted Coleridge and evidently Wordsworth embellished Coleridge’s opium addiction, which resulted in Coleridge feeling very hurt and angry. The two underwent a temporary, two year falling out, but their friendship was never the same.
Wordsworth’s family problems did not only exist during his childhood but during his adult years as well. In 1802 William went back to France to visit Annette and Caroline but ended up marrying Mary Hutchinson instead. Mary’s family didn’t like William and she was disowned once they heard she was engaged to him. Since William’s parents were dead, he didn’t like his grandparents, and the rest of his family had stopped funding him for becoming involved in the fight for freedom in the French Revolution, the two were left with little or no relatives. However by 1810 William had five children with her. In 1805 William’s brother, John, died in a shipwreck and in 1812, two of William’s children, Catherine and Thomas, died. The years between 1808 and 1811 were miserable for Wordsworth due to two moves, one of which was into a home with a backed up chimney that caused the house to always be smoky. By 1835, Dorothy had become permanently senile and had several painful illnesses. A series of several more deaths of friends and family members finally ended in 1847 when Dora, a very beloved daughter of William, died. Finally on April 23, 1850 William died from a fatal case of pleurisy.
Wordsworth received a large amount of criticism due to his style of poetry and his ideas. Some of the reviews for “Poems, in Two Volumes” said his poems included “commonplace ideas clothed in a language not simple, but puerile.” In fact, some critics actually laughed at Wordsworth. In 1793, “An Evening Walk” and “Descriptive Sketches” were published, both written in the stylized idiom and vocabulary of the 18th century. Wordsworth was also criticized for the unevenness in his poetry and his transformation from a radical to a conservative. The mockery he got for becoming a conservative was because Wordsworth had to accept the job of Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland, a government job, in 1813 on account of his family’s lack of money. Acceptance of Wordsworth was established in 1843 when he made Poet Laureate, a royal patronage of poets. William felt that he mentally grew and verified a relationship with nature. Romanticism, a revolt against Classicism in the 18th and 19th century literary and artistic movements, was introduced through Wordsworth’s poetry. Romantic writers returned to nature and the goodness of humans. Now, Wordsworth’s poetry is still affecting the literary world. His ideals have provided popular phrases still used and his diction is admired and applied.