« PreviousContinue »
[Wordsworth's Prelude and Autobiography; C. Wordsworth, Memoirs of W. W., 1851 ; Coleridge, Biogr. Lit.; De Quincey, Lake Poets ; Haz-, litt, First Acquaintance with Poets ; Knight, Life of W. W.(vols. ix., X. xi. of Works), Memoirs of Coleorton, 1887, Proceed. Words. Soc. (six vols., selections of which are in) Wordsworthiana ; Meyers, Wordsworth (E. M.L.); Symington, William Wordsworth, 1881; Sutherland, William Wordsworth, 2nd ed., 1892; Elizabeth Wordsworth, William Wordsworth, 1894. Essays and criticisms by Arnold (Selections of W. W., Stopford Brooke, Church (Dante, etc.), Dowden (Studies in Literature), Morley (Works), Pater (Appreciations), Sarrazin (Renaissance de la poésie anglaise), Scherer (tr. Saintsbury), Shairp, etc. The best editions are Knight, eleven vols., 1887–1889; Dowden, seven vols., 1892–3; Morley, one vol., 1894.)
William Wordsworth was born at Cockermouth, Cum berland, April 7th, 1770, the second son of John Wordsworth, solicitor to Sir James Lowther, and of Anne Wordsworth, daughter of William Cookson, mercer of Penrith. His childhood truly showed that in him at least the boy was father to the man. Cockermouth is near the Derwent, that blent
A murmur with my nurse's song,
That flowed along my dreams. Bathing in the mill-race, plundering the raven's nest, skating, bathing, nutting, fishing, such were the golden days of happy boyhood ; and the activities of boyhood lived on in the man. Wordsworth, Elizabeth Wordsworth says, could cut his name in the ice when quite an elderly man. The effect on his spirits of this free open life, lighted by a passion for the open air, may be read in his early Lines on Leaving School.
His schooldays at Hawkeshead, Lancashire, were happy,
though he describes himself as being of a stiff, moody, violent temper.' Fielding, Smollett, Le Sage, Swift were his first favourite authors. His father interested himself in his training, and through his guidance Wordsworth as a boy could repeat by heart much of Spenser, Shakspere, and Milton.
His father having died in 1783, Wordsworth was sent to Cambridge by his uncles. He entered St. John's College in October, 1787, and graduated in January, 1791. On the whole he took little interest in academic pursuits, yet read classics diligently, studied Italian and the older English poets, and sauntered, played, or rioted' with his fellow-students. His vacations were spent in the country; in one of them he traversed on foot France, Switzerland, and Northern Italy.
During another of these vacation rambles, returning at early dawn from some frolic,
The morning rose, in memorable pompi
Wordsworth's first long poem, An Evening Walk, 1789, shows the spirit of nature striving against the bondage of Pope.
Unable to decide on a profession, Wordsworth went to France in November, 1791, where he stayed thirteen
months studying French and watching with beating heart the emancipation of human life and spirit in the Revolution. He returned to England with his choice of a profession yet unmade, and in 1793 published his first volumes of verses, An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches, the value of which no one but Coleridge appreciated. He spent a month in the Isle of Wight, wandered about Salisbury Plain, and along the Wye to North Wales. One of his rambles with his sister Dorothy led him from Kendal to Grasmere, and from Grasmere to Keswick, -6 the most delightful country we have ever seen,' she said. He projected a monthly miscellany, and was completely out of money when his good friend Raisley Calvert died, leaving him a legacy of £900. This was the turning point of his life. Inspired by his sister, Wordsworth resolved to take up that plain life of high thought which was to result in a pure and lasting fame. Wordsworth never was ungrateful to that noblest of women, his sister Dorothy. In the midst of troubles she never flagged, in the moments of literary aspiration she was by his side with sympathetic heart and equal mind.
She whispered still that brightness would return,
She gave me eyes, she gave me ears;
And love, and thought, and joy.
The brother and sister settled in Racedown Lodge, Crewkerne, Dorset, in a delightful country, with “charming walks, a good garden, and a pleasant home.” There Wordsworth wrote his Imitations of Juvenal, Salisbury
Plain, and commenced the Borderers. Henceforth he was dedicated to poetry.
Coleridge, as we saw, visited the Wordsworths in Racedown in June, 1797, and such was his charm that they removed the next month to Alfoxden, three miles from Stowey, and two from the Bristol Channel. Here the Lyrical Ballads were written, and the Borderers finished. The latter was Wordsworth's one effort at dramatic composition. It was rejected by the Covent Garden Theatre; upon which the poet remarked that “the moving accident is not my trade." Lamb and Hazlitt, who came down to see Coleridge, were taken of course to see Wordsworth. Hazlitt, hearing Coleridge read some of his friend's poems, “felt the sense of a new style and a new spirit of poetry come over him.”
Wordsworth's sojourn in Germany, which was marked by the composition of many of his best lyrics, such as Lucy Gray and the poems of Lucy (see p. 217), ended in July, 1799. In the autumn the brother and sister made excursions through Cumberland and Westmoreland, and were so taken with the natural beauty of these shires that they settled in Grasmere, December, 1799.
Gray has described the Grasmere scenery and De Quincey the Wordsworth cottage-a little white cottage, sheltered in trees, overhung by the lofty mountain ascending behind it; below the broad basin of Grasmere water, and the low promontory on which rests the village with its embowered houses : all about the encircling eternal hills, and in their bosom, in those days, quiet peace.
During 1800 the poet wrote Poems on the Naming of Places, The Brothers, The Pet Lamb, Michel, etc. In 1802 he paid a short visit to France that resulted in the Calais sonnets, and the sonnets written at London. The same year he married Mary Hutchinson, a schoolmate of his childhood, a wife worthy of her husband and his sister, and of the poem, She was a Phantom of Delight, depicting that perfect woman nobly planned.
In Dove Cottage until 1813, then in a larger house at Rydal Mount, but always by Grasmere lake, Wordsworth lived his long life. Friends were about him. Coleridge was at times in Keswick, fifteen miles away (they loved to walk such distances in those days), where Southey also was living ; De Quincey took the Dove Cottage when Wordsworth moved to Rydal Mount; “Christopher North” was at Elleray, nine miles distant; Dr. Arnold built himself a house at Ambleside, an hour's walk from Rydal Mount. Occasionally the poet left home to make long trips on the Continent or to Scotland and Wales, steadily composing under the influences of suggestive scenes. Memorials of a Tour in Scotland (1814), on the Continent (1820), in Italy (1837), are collections of poems due to these excursions. His sonnets, many of which are gems of lyrical beauty unsurpassed, are chiefly in three series, Ecclesiastical Sketches, On the River Duddon, and Sonnets Dedicated to Liberty. Of his other chief works, Peter Bell, written in 1798, was not published till 1819; the Excursion, composed in 1795–1814, was published in 1814 ; The White Doe of Rylstone, written in 1807, was issued in 1815; while the Prelude, begun in 1799 and finished in 1805, was printed only after his death.
About 1830 the years of neglect and ridicule that Wordsworth had borne with serene mind changed for years of honour and fame. Oxford bestowed on him a doctor's degree; the nation, with one voice, on the death