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This article was written by Leslie Stephen and was published in 1900
William Wordsworth, poet, son of John Wordsworth, was born at Cockermouth, Cumberland, on 7 April 1770. The poet's grandfather, Richard Wordsworth (1680?-1762), descendant of a family which had been settled for many generations at Penistone, near Sheffield, bought an estate at Sockbridge, near Penrith. His eldest son, also Richard (d. 1794), became collector of customs at Whitehaven. His daughter Anne married Thomas Myers, vicar of Lazonby, Cumberland . His second son, John (1741-1783), the poet's father, was an attorney at Cockermouth, and in 1766 became agent to Sir James Lowther (afterwards first Earl of Lonsdale). On 5 February 1766 John Wordsworth married Anne (b. January 1747), daughter of William Cookson, mercer, of Penrith, by Dorothy (Crackanthorpe). They had five children: Richard (1768-1816), William, Dorothy (1771-1855), John (1772-1805), and Christopher (1774-1846), afterwards master of Trinity College, Cambridge. The mother died ‘of a decline’ in March 1778. Brief references in the ‘Prelude’ (v. 256, &c.) and the autobiographical fragment show that Wordsworth remembered her with tenderness as a serene and devoted mother. William, alone of her children, caused her anxiety on account of his ‘stiff, moody, and violent temper,’ and she prophesied that he would be remarkable for good or for evil. To prove his audacity he once struck a whip through a family picture. On another occasion he thought of committing suicide by way of resenting a punishment, but stopped in very good time. He was sent to schools at Cockermouth and Penrith, where he learnt little. His father at the same time made him get by heart passages from Shakespeare, Spenser, and Milton.
In 1778 Wordsworth and his elder brother were sent to the grammar school at Hawkshead (founded by Archbishop Edwin Sandys). The life was simple and hardy. Wordsworth lived in the cottage of Anne Tyson, a ‘kind and motherly’ old dame, whom he commemorates affectionately in the ‘Prelude’ (iv. 27-43). There were four masters during Wordsworth's time. William Taylor, master from 1782 till his death in 1786, won his warm regard, and was in some degree the original of the ‘Matthew’ of the well-known poems of 1799. An usher taught him more Latin in a fortnight than he had learnt in two years at Cockermouth; and he wrote some English verses which were admired, and of which a fragment or two is preserved. His first published poem, an irregular sonnet, signed ‘Axiologus,’ in the ‘European Magazine’ for March 1787, appeared before he left school. The great merit of the school in his opinion was the liberty allowed to the scholars. Disciples of Rousseau's then popular theories would have approved a system which had doubtless grown up without reference to the theories of Rousseau or of any one else. Wordsworth congratulated himself upon the absence of any attempt to cram or produce model pupils. He read what he pleased, including ‘all Fielding's works,’ ‘Don Quixote,’ ‘Gil Blas,’ ‘Gulliver's Travels,’ and ‘A Tale of a Tub.’ He also read an abridgment of the ‘Arabian Nights.’ He tried with his schoolfellows to save enough money to buy the whole book, but their resolution failed. He amused himself rambling over the fells, fishing, boating, birdsnesting on the crags, riding to Furness Abbey, and skating upon the lake; skating was the only athletic exercise, except walking, which he kept which he kept up in later life. He took his share in the simple society of the place, and probably appeared to his fellows to be a fine sturdy lad, with no nonsense about him. He already delighted, however, in lonely strolls, in which a characteristic mood began to show itself. The outward world, he says, seemed to him to be a dream; distant mountains assumed a spectral life, and affected him with a kind of superstitious awe (Prelude, i. 377, &c., ii. 351). The love of boyish sports gradually developed into an almost mystical love of nature. Wordsworth may in later years have read a little too much into these early moods, but the general truth of his recollections is unmistakable. He thoroughly imbibed at the same time the local sentiment of the little rustic society of independent ‘statesmen’ and peasants, though he still regarded the shepherd rather as the genius of the scenery than as a human being (ib. viii. 256, &c.). Scott was hardly more a product of the border country than Wordsworth of the lake district; but while Scott was filling his mind with picturesque historical imagery, Wordsworth was indulging in vague reveries, and was already something of a recluse. He was, however, far from unsocial, and was often deeply moved by some of the little incidents which afterwards served as a text for his poems.
Meanwhile his father had died on 30 December 1783. He left little beyond a claim upon Lord Lonsdale. When application was made for payment the earl simply defied his creditors. Basil Montagu, in his evidence to a commission on bankruptcy, stated that when an action was brought at Carlisle, the earl ‘retained every counsel on the circuit, and came down with a cloud of fivescore witnesses.’ The case was ordered to stand over, and nothing was done until Lonsdale's death (24 May 1802). Montagu gives erroneous figures, and his statement of facts may be also exaggerated. The uncles, Richard Wordsworth and Christopher Crackanthorpe (previously Cookson), were guardians of the children. Dorothy lived partly with her grandparents at Penrith, and for a time with a Miss Threlkeld at Halifax. The guardians managed to ‘scrape together’ funds enough to send William and his younger brother, Christopher, to college; while Richard became an attorney in London, and John was sent to sea about 1787.
William went up to St. John's College, Cambridge, in October 1787. His rooms were in the first court above the college kitchens; and from them he could see the antechapel of Trinity. At Cambridge he enjoyed even more thoroughly than at Hawkshead whatever advantages might be derived from the neglect of his teachers. He had acquired enough knowledge of Euclid and arithmetic to be ahead of his contemporaries. He took advantage of this by employing himself in the study of Italian with Isola (a refugee who had known Gray, and was grandfather of the girl adopted by the Lambs, afterwards Mrs. Moxon). He neglected the regular academical course, partly, it seems, because he thought it narrow, and disliked the excessive competition (Prelude, iii. 497, &c.), and partly by way of spiting his guardians by ‘hardy disobedience’ (ib. vi. 28). The ‘northern villager’ appeared uncouth enough to the ‘chattering popinjays’ whom men called fellow-commoners, and looked with little reverence upon the dons of the time, quaint ‘old humorists,’ who left the youths to themselves, and in whose hands the chapel services seemed to him a ‘mockery.’ He managed to indulge in his poetic reveries even in the ‘level fields’ of Cambridgeshire. He was sociable enough with his contemporaries, talked and lounged, galloped in ‘blind zeal of senseless horsemanship,’ and ‘sailed boisterously’ on the Cam. He remembered the haunts of Chaucer and Spenser, and ‘poured out libations’ in Milton's old rooms till, for the only time in his life, his brain ‘grew dizzy.’ He was able even then to run back to chapel.
In the long vacation of 1788 he revisited Hawkshead, revived his old friendships, and, after a night spent in dancing, was deeply moved by a splendid sunrise. He felt that he was henceforth ‘a dedicated spirit’ (ib. iv. 337). His last two years at Cambridge were spent in desultory reading, while he began to lose his awe of ‘printed books and authorship’ and to aspire to the fellowship of letters. In 1789 he made an excursion through Dovedale to Penrith, and rambled with his sister and her friend, Mary Hutchinson, who had been his schoolfellow at Penrith. In 1790 he resolved to make a foreign tour with his friend Robert Jones of Plas-yn-llan, Denbighshire, afterwards fellow of St. John's. They took £20 apiece, carried all they required in pocket-handkerchiefs, and made their tour on foot. They left Dover on 13 July 1790, found the French people ‘mad with joy’ in the early stages of the revolution, and were welcomed as representatives of British liberty. They crossed the country to Chalon-sur-Saône, descended the Rhone to Lyons, visited the Grande Chartreuse, went thence to Geneva, and, after an excursion to Chamonix from Martigny, crossed the Simplon; went by Locarno to Gravedona on the Lake of Como, thence to Soazza in the Val Misocco, and by the Bernardino to Hinter-Rhein; traversed the Via Mala to Reichenau, and then crossed the Oberalp Pass, and went through the Canton Uri to Lucerne, Zürich, and Schaffhausen. They returned to Lucerne, visited Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen, and finally travelled through Basle to Cologne and Calais. Wordsworth heartily enjoyed an expedition which seemed to be ‘unprecedented’ to his friends and the college authorities. He ought to have been reading for his degree.
He graduated as B.A. without honours in January 1791. His grandfather, Cookson, had died in 1787, when his sister left Penrith to live with her uncle, Dr. William Cookson, canon of Windsor, who had been a fellow of St. John's, and also held the college living of Forncett, near Norwich. Wordsworth went to Forncett after taking his degree, then spent three months in London, which he had first seen in 1788 (Prelude, vii. 65), and in the summer visited his friend Jones in Wales. The London visit had an effect upon him, described in the ‘Prelude.’ He was a diligent sightseer, heard Burke speak, and saw Mrs. Siddons act; admired clowns and conjurors at Sadler's Wells and shows of every variety at Bartholomew fair; visited Bedlam and St. Paul's, and gazed at the tragic and comic sights of London streets. The general result, he says, was to introduce human sympathies into his thoughts of nature, and make him recognise ‘the unity of man,’ though he looked at the ‘moving pageant’ (Prelude, vii. 637) as at a dream, and with a sense that the face of every passer-by was a mystery. He was, as Coleridge notes, a spectator ab extra. Meanwhile he was puzzled as to his future. His sister calculated in December 1791 that there would be about £1,000 apiece for her and her three younger brothers, from which, in William's case, the cost of his education would be deducted. He had wished to be a lawyer ‘if his health would permit.’ He had thoughts for a time of entering the army. He was urged to take orders, but he was not yet of the right age, and probably was not sufficiently orthodox. He had learnt Italian, French, and Spanish; was writing poetry, and was thinking of studying ‘the oriental languages.’ These accomplishments were of little commercial value; but he thought that by learning French thoroughly he might qualify himself to be a travelling tutor. He had money enough for a year abroad, and accordingly left England in November 1791.
He passed through Paris, heard debates at the assembly and at the Jacobins' Club; he pocketed a relic of the Bastille, but admits that he ‘affected more emotion than he felt.’ He went to Orleans, and thence early in 1792 to Blois. Here he made acquaintance with the officers of a regiment quartered in the town. Most of them were royalists, intending to emigrate at the first opportunity. One of them, however, Michel de Beaupuy (1755-1796), though of noble birth, was an ardent republican. Wordsworth was predisposed to republicanism by his education in a simple society and by his life in ‘the literary republic’ of Cambridge. Beaupuy's personal charm and accomplishments gave him great influence with his young friend, in whose eyes he resembled one of Plutarch's heroes (Prelude, ix. 419). When Beaupuy pointed to a ‘hunger-bitten’ peasant girl, and said ‘it is against that that we are fighting’ (ib. ix. 517), Wordsworth became a thorough disciple. From Beaupuy he heard the story afterwards made into his dullest poem, ‘Vaudracour and Julia’. Beaupuy afterwards distinguished himself in Vendée, where Wordsworth erroneously says that he was killed (he was really killed on the Elz on 19 October 1796).
In October Wordsworth returned to Paris, which was still under the influence of the September massacres. He was disgusted by the failure of Louvet's attack upon Robespierre (29 October), and was half inclined to take some active part in support of the Girondins. He felt, however, his incapacity as an insignificant foreigner, and was moreover at the end of his money. He returned to England in December 1792. Soon after his return he first appeared as an as an author. Joseph Johnson, who published for many of the revolutionary party, brought out the ‘Evening Walk’ and the ‘Descriptive Sketches’ early in 1793. In both poems the metre and diction conform to the conventions of the old-fashioned school, to whom Pope was still the recognised model. The ‘Evening Walk,’ composed during his college vacations spent at the lakes, is remarkable for its series of accurate transcripts of natural scenery, obviously made on the spot. The ‘Descriptive Sketches’ describes the journey to Switzerland and was composed in France, where he helped a fading memory of details from the work of the French painter Ramond, who in 1781 translated Archdeacon Coxe's letters from Switzerland, with additional notes. The poem recalls Goldsmith's ‘Traveller,’ and illustrates Wordsworth's politics at the time of its composition. He bewails the harsh lot of the poor peasant in language recalling the hunger-bitten peasant of Blois. Wordsworth observes in the ‘Prelude’ that he and Jones had ‘taken up dejection for pleasure's sake’ (Prelude, vi. 551), and the pessimism may be a little forced. It leads up to an eager expression of sympathy for the defenders of liberty in France. Coleridge read the poem at Cambridge in 1794, and thought that ‘the emergence of an original poetical genius above the horizon’ had seldom been ‘more evidently pronounced,’ though the style was still contorted and obscure. Few readers, however, were Coleridges, and the poem attracted little notice. Wordsworth's political principles found more energetic expression in a letter to Richard Watson, bishop of Llandaff, who in January 1793 had published an attack on the revolution. The letter shows that Wordsworth, while professing hearty detestation of violence, strongly sympathised with the principles advocated in Paine's ‘Rights of Man.’ It was not published till it appeared in Dr. Grosart's edition of the ‘Prose Works.’
The outbreak of war placed Wordsworth's philanthropy in painful conflict with his patriotism. He exulted (Prelude, x. 185) in the humiliation and was distressed by the victories of the country which he loved. His prospects in life became still more precarious. His relatives had been disgusted by his refusal to take up a regular profession, and were not likely to be propitiated by his avowed principles. For some time his life was desultory. In the summer of 1793 he stayed in the Isle of Wight with an old schoolfellow, William Calvert, one of the sons of R. Calvert, steward to the Duke of Norfolk. Here he watched the ships at Spithead with melancholy forebodings of a long, disastrous, and unrighteous war. He went on foot through Salisbury Plain and by Tintern Abbey to his friend Jones in Wales. In the beginning of 1794 he went to the lakes, and soon afterwards joined his sister at Halifax to talk over his prospects. He had resolved not to take orders, and had ‘neither strength of mind, purse, or constitution’ for ‘the bar,’ nor could he hear of a place as tutor. His sister accompanied him back to the lakes, where they stayed at a farm belonging to his friend Calvert at Windy Brow, near Keswick. They afterwards visited their uncle, Richard Wordsworth, a solicitor at Whitehaven. Wordsworth proposed to his friend Mathews, a London journalist, to start a monthly miscellany to be called ‘The Philanthropist.’ While this was under discussion he was staying with Raisley, brother of William Calvert, at Penrith. Raisley Calvert was failing in health, and soon afterwards died of consumption. He left £900 to Wordsworth, partly, as Wordsworth told Sir G. Beaumont, ‘from a confidence on his part that I had power and attainments which might be of use to mankind.’ But for this legacy he might, he says, have been forced into the church or the law. With the help of it and a few small windfalls he managed to support himself and his sister for the next seven or eight years.
In 1795 Basil Montagu, then a widower, with a son four or five years old, proposed that Wordsworth should become the child's tutor for £50 a year. Montagu also obtained for him the offer of a farmhouse at Racedown, between Crewkerne in Somerset and Lyme in Dorset. The owner was a Mr. Pinney of Bristol, one of Montagu's friends. The Wordsworths apparently occupied it rent free, with an orchard and garden. Dorothy Wordsworth calculates that with the legacy and a little cousin of whom she was to take charge, they would have an income of ‘at least £70 or £80’ a year. They settled at Racedown in the autumn of 1795, and Wordsworth began to labour steadily in his vocation. His revolutionary sympathies were still strong. He had been deeply agitated by the ‘reign of terror.’ He declares that for months and years ‘after the last beat of those atrocities’ (Prelude, x. 400) his sleep was generally broken by ‘ghastly visions’ of cruelty to ‘innocent victims.’ When crossing the sands of Morecambe Bay in August 1794 he heard of the death of Robespierre with ‘transport,’ and expected that the ‘golden time’ would now really come. His old hopes revived, but were disappointed when he saw that the war of self-defence was becoming a war of conquest. His first writings expressed the emotions of the earlier period. His ‘Guilt and Sorrow,’ in which he abandons the Pope model to the great benefit of his style, was composed of two tragic stories: one of a ‘female vagrant’ whose miseries were due to the ruin caused by war and her husband's enlistment in the army, was partly written, he says, ‘at least two years before;’ the other, of a man who had been impressed in the navy, and led to commit murder by excusable irritation at the social injustice, was suggested during his ramble over Salisbury Plain in 1793. The story, which was used in Barham's ‘Ingoldsby Legends,’ is told in the ‘New Annual Register’ for 1786, and in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for same year. The ‘Female Vagrant’ appeared in the ‘Lyrical Ballads;’ the whole in the ‘Poems’ of 1842. He wrote at Racedown some satires, imitated from Juvenal, which he proposed to publish in a joint volume with his friend Archdeacon Wrangham. From a fragment (given in Athenæum, 8 December 1894) it appears that he spoke some unpleasant truths about the Prince of Wales. He resolved, however, to ‘steer clear of personal satire,’ and refused to allow the publication. In 1795-6 he composed a tragedy called ‘The Borderers.’ No poem could have less local colour, though he read Ridpath's ‘Border-History’ in order to get some, and he had not the slightest dramatic power. It was offered to Covent Garden at the end of 1797, and the Wordsworths went to London to request of ‘one of the principal actors’ to consider possible alterations. It was, however, rejected, as Wordsworth apparently expected. ‘The Borderers’ was intended, he says, to make intelligible the ‘apparently motiveless actions of bad men,’ and was founded upon his reflections during the ‘Terror.’ The wicked hero has learnt to regard all morality as merely conventional, and gets rid of scruples in general. As M. Legouis has pointed out, Wordsworth was thinking of the revolutionary doctrine as represented by Godwin, whose ‘Political Justice’ (1793) was taken at the time as a philosophical revelation. Wordsworth describes the perplexity into which he was thrown by his attempt to defend his principles by metaphysics, while facts refused to confirm them. He gradually abandoned a doctrine which he came to regard as sophistical, not so much from any argumentative process as through the influence of his sister and of the quiet domestic life. Old associations revived, and the revolution now appeared to him to imply a dissolution of the most sacred bonds of social life. His poetry has been called ‘essentially democratic’. The so-called ‘democratic’ element was the spirit of the simple society in which he had been bred, and of which he had found types in the Swiss peasantry. His ideal state, like Cobbett's, was that in which the old yeomanry flourished. The old order was being broken up by the worship of the ‘idol proudly named the Wealth of Nations,’ and the revolutionists were really his enemies. The occupation of Switzerland by the French in 1798, when the forest cantons which had especially charmed him were forcibly conquered, seems to have finally disenchanted him. The process, however, was gradual, and in May 1796 Coleridge calls him a ‘very dear friend,’ and describes him as ‘as ‘a republican, and at least a semi-atheist’.
The acquaintance with Coleridge marks an epoch in both lives. The exact dates are uncertain. They possibly met at Bristol in 1795, and must, as Coleridge's letter shows, have known each other in 1796; but the close intimacy began in 1797. Coleridge was living at Nether Stowey in 1797, and in June visited the Wordsworths at Racedown. In July they visited him at Stowey, and while there took a house at Alfoxden, three miles from Nether Stowey, for £23 a year. Their ‘principal inducement’ was Coleridge's society. Each of the two men appreciated the genius of the other to the full. Coleridge told Cottle that he felt himself a ‘little man’ beside Wordsworth, pronounced ‘The Borderers’ to be absolutely wonderful, and compared it to Schiller's ‘Robbers’ and to Shakespeare, though in Wordsworth, he added, ‘there are no inequalities.’ Wordsworth showed to Coleridge his ‘Ruined Cottage,’ a poem which afterwards formed part of the ‘Excursion,’ and Coleridge repeated part of his ‘Osorio’ to Wordsworth, and was encouraged by his friend's opinion. Coleridge also described Wordsworth's ‘exquisite sister’ in glowing language. He speaks of her exquisite taste and close observation of nature. Her diary amply confirms the judgment and shows the close intimacy of the trio. ‘We are three people,’ said Coleridge, ‘but only one soul.’ As Coleridge was already married, they could not be lovers; but they were the warmest of friends, and for the time Dorothy's influence upon Coleridge was almost as strong as her influence upon her brother. Charles Lamb visited Coleridge during the first stay of the Wordsworths in Stowey. Shortly afterwards John Thelwall came for a visit. The neighbourhood was alarmed by a conjunction of three republicans, though Poole answered for their respectability. A spy is said to have watched them, and from a letter in Southey's ‘Life and Correspondence’ there was clearly some truth in the account, which Coleridge embroiders . In the beginning of 1798 the party was visited by Hazlitt, who gave his reminiscences in the ‘Liberal’ (1823). Wordsworth appeared as a gaunt quaintly-dressed being, ‘not unlike his own Peter Bell,’ passages from which he recited. Though looking stern and worn, with furrowed cheeks, he talked ‘very naturally and freely,’ and enjoyed a ‘Cheshire cheese.’
The most remarkable incident of this time was the walk of 13 November 1797, when the two poets proposed to compose a joint ballad to be sold for £5 to pay for their tour. The ‘Ancient Mariner,’ thus begun, was left to Coleridge. This led to talk of a joint publication to which Coleridge should contribute poems showing the dramatic truth of supernatural incidents, while Wordsworth should try to give the charm of novelty to ‘things of every day.’ The result was the publication of the ‘Lyrical Ballads,’ for which Cottle agreed in May 1798 to give thirty guineas. The book appeared in September, Wordsworth contributing the largest part of the contents. It was reviewed unfavourably by Southey, though he knew, as Wordsworth told Cottle, that the book had been published ‘for money and for money alone,’ and might therefore have kept his opinions to himself. The sale was at first so slow that Cottle, who had sold his copyrights to Longman, found that its value was reckoned as nothing. He thereupon asked Longman to give it him back, and presented it to Wordsworth, who brought out a second edition in 1800. To this he added a preface upon ‘poetic diction,’ arguing that the language of poetry should be identical with that of ‘real life.’ This became the text of Coleridge's admirable criticism of Wordsworth in the ‘Biographia Literaria.’ Wordsworth in his preface apologised for publishing the ‘Ancient Mariner,’ which had offended the critics and, as he thought, injured the sale of the volume, while Coleridge attributed the unpopularity to Wordsworth's unfortunate theory. Wordsworth, indeed, was very far from adhering to it in practice, as appeared, for example, in the magnificent ‘Lines on Tintern Abbey’ in this volume (commemorating a ramble with his sister and Cottle in June 1798). Other pieces, however, contained some of the puerile and prosaic passages which excited the ridicule of critics and were parodied in ‘Rejected Addresses.’ The tendency to lapse into prose was a permanent weakness, but at this time was intensified by Wordsworth's state of mind. He had escaped from his revolutionary passion by regaining his early sympathy for the quiet life round ‘the village steeple,’ and had found ‘love in huts where poor men lie.’ He rejected the ‘artificial’ language of Pope and Gray, which had been ‘natural’ to men of the world and scholars; and tried to adopt the language of the peasant of real life. The genuine pathos gradually impressed a growing circle of readers; but for the moment his lapses into a clumsy rusticity gave an easy triumph to the judicious critic.
In January 1798 Coleridge, having been pensioned by the Wedgwoods, planned a visit to Germany, and the Wordsworths resolved to join him. They intended to spend two years in learning German and ‘natural science.’ They left Alfoxden on 26 June, and, after a stay at Bristol seeing the ‘Lyrical Ballads’ through the press, sailed from Yarmouth on 16 September. After a week at Hamburg, where they saw Klopstock, the Wordsworths settled at Goslar, while Coleridge went to Ratzeburg and Göttingen. Goslar was chosen for its quiet, and turned out to be a ‘lifeless’ place. The Wordsworths saw no society, because, as he had a lady with him, he would have been bound to entertain in return, and because he hated tobacco, and, according to Coleridge, was unsociable and hypochondriacal. The winter was so cold that the people at his house told him ‘rather unfeelingly’ that he would be frozen to death, and, instead of associating with Germans, he composed poetry chiefly about himself. He wrote the beginning of the ‘Prelude’ on 10 February 1799 on his way to a visit to Coleridge. He also wrote the poems to Lucy. She has been taken for a real person, and was made the heroine of a silly story by the Baroness von Stockhausen. Nothing, however, is known to suggest that there was any such person. The verses, ‘She was a phantom of delight,’ which Miss Martineau thought applicable to ‘Lucy’, were really addressed to his wife. Coleridge surmised that one of the poems —‘A slumber did my spirit seal’ — referred to Dorothy. The residence in Germany had no traceable effect upon Wordsworth's mind. The cost of living was more than he had expected, and early in 1799 he returned with his sister to England, after spending a day with Coleridge at Göttingen.
They reached England about the end of April. Their plans for the future were unsettled, and they went at once to stay with their friends the Hutchinsons at Sockburn-on-Tees. Coleridge soon followed them, and at the end of October Wordsworth, with his brother John and Coleridge, made an excursion to the lakes. There he was impressed by the beauty of a vacant house called Dove Cottage, at Town End, Grasmere. He resolved to take it at once, and soon afterwards travelled on foot with his sister from Sockburn, reaching Dove Cottage on 21 December 1799. The cottage was small, as befitted their means, but the country was so congenial that they remained in it for the rest of their lives. Wordsworth settled down to the composition of poetry, working at the long philosophical work which was to sum up his whole theory of life, and writing many occasional poems, some of which are among his best. Dorothy's journals show that he laboured steadily at his task, and was often tired and upset by the excitement or by the trouble of revising. She was constantly noting effects of scenery with her usual delicacy, and recording little incidents which supplied texts for her brother. Coleridge was still their closest intimate. He settled at Keswick in July 1800, after a short stay at Dove Cottage, and in the following period was constantly coming over to Grasmere. The Wordsworths knew a few neighbours — W. Calvert (who was building a house at Windy Brow), Thomas Clarkson (who was living at Eusemere, on Ulleswater), and others — but lived in the quietest fashion. Among Wordsworth's first employments was the publication of the second edition of the ‘Lyrical Ballads.’ The first volume had sold ‘much better than we expected,’ as Dorothy said, and had, she hoped, ‘prepared a number of purchasers’ for the second, which was now added with some of Wordsworth's finest poems. The enlarged ‘Lyrical Ballads’ gained some popularity, as Jeffrey admitted in his review of Wordsworth's next book (1807), and Wordsworth made about £100 from the sale. By Poole's advice copies were sent to Wilberforce and the Duchess of Devonshire, and one, with a remarkable letter from the author, to Fox. To Fox he explains the intention of his poems, especially of the two noble idylls ‘The Brothers’ and ‘Michael.’ They were meant to illustrate the strength of the domestic affections among the ‘statesmen’ of the north. The ‘rapid decay’ of such affections, caused by the growth of manufactures, the war taxes, and the poor law, was, he thought, the greatest curse which could befall a land. The letter is the most explicit statement of the sentiment embodied in much of Wordsworth's best work. Fox made a civil but not very appreciative reply. Another noteworthy letter explaining his poetical principles was in answer to John Wilson (‘Christopher North’), who at the age of seventeen had written a very appreciative letter (24 May 1802). The enthusiasm of the younger generation was beginning to be roused.
The death of Lord Lonsdale in 1802 improved Wordsworth's financial position. The sum originally due was £5,000, and the second earl, on succeeding to his cousin's estates, repaid the original debt with interest, making altogether £8,500l. William and his sister were each to have about £1,800; of this they had lent £1,200 to John Wordsworth, and in February 1805 William was still uncertain as to the final result. The prospect of a better income probably encouraged him to marry Mary Hutchinson (b. 16 August 1770), who had been his schoolfellow at Penrith, and was the daughter of a man in business at Penrith. She was not, as has been said, his cousin, though there was a remote family connection, Wordsworth's uncle, Dr. Cookson, and her uncle, W. Monkhouse, having married sisters. Her parents had died in her childhood, and she lived with relations at Penrith, till in 1792-3 she went to keep house for her brother Thomas, who had a farm at Sockburn. In 1800 they moved to another farm at Gallow Hill, Brompton, near Scarborough. Mary Hutchinson and the Wordsworths had kept up the old relations; she had been with them in his vacation rambles in 1790, and had visited them at Racedown and at Dove Cottage; while they had stayed with her at Sockburn. The marriage was thus the quiet consummation of a lifelong intimacy. If there was no romantic incident, it proved at least that a poet might be capable of perfect domestic happiness. Wordsworth's wife had not the genius nor the remarkable acquirements of his sister, but she was a gentle, sympathetic, and sensible woman. He described her apparently with as much fidelity as love in the verses ‘She was a phantom of delight.’
In July 1802 Wordsworth and his sister left Grasmere, and, after visiting the Hutchinsons, made an expedition to Calais. Passing through London, he wrote (31 July) the famous sonnet upon Westminster Bridge. He had been struck by Milton's sonnets when read to him by his sister on 21 May 1802, and at once tried his skill on a form of poetry his best efforts in which are unsurpassed by any English writer. The narrow limits prevented deviations into prosaic verbosity and allowed a dignified expression of profound feeling. The Wordsworths returned at the end of August, and, after three weeks in London, went to Gallow Hill, where he was married to Mary Hutchinson on 4 October 1802. The same day the three drove to Thirsk, and on the 6th reached Grasmere, and settled down to the old life. Dorothy could not ‘describe what she felt,’ but accepted her sister-in-law without a trace of jealousy.
From this time Wordsworth's life was uneventful. His five children were born: John on 18 June 1803; Dorothy, 16 August 1804; Thomas, 16 June 1806; Catharine, 6 September 1808; and William, 12 May 1810. In the autumn of 1801 Wordsworth made a walking tour in Scotland, briefly mentioned in his sister's ‘Recollections.’ While crossing Solway Moss he composed the verses ‘To a Skylark,’ first published in 1807, and he probably wrote some other poems at the same time. In August 1803 he started for a second tour in Scotland with his sister and Coleridge, leaving his wife with her infant son (John) at Grasmere. Coleridge's bad health, his domestic discomforts, of which the Wordsworths soon became cognisant, and his resort to opium, which they probably discovered by degrees, caused them anxiety. He left them after a time at Inversnaid. The Wordsworths visited Burns's country, saw the falls of Clyde, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, Inverary, Glencoe, Killiecrankie, and many of the scenes to which Scott was about to give popularity. The journal of this tour kept by Dorothy Wordsworth was admired by S. Rogers, who in 1823 corresponded with her as to its proposed publication, but it did not appear in full until it was edited in 1874 by Professor Shairp as ‘Recollections of a Tour made in Scotland, a.d. 1803.’ At the end they visited Scott himself at Lasswade, and in his company visited Melrose, Jedburgh, and Hawick. A cordial friendship began; and in 1805 Scott with his wife visited the Wordsworths at Grasmere, and Scott, with (Sir) Humphry Davy, made an ascent of Helvellyn, which suggested well-known poems to the two authors.
The Wordsworths returned to Grasmere in October 1803. Coleridge had now resolved to go abroad. On his way to London he fell ill at Dove Cottage, and was nursed by the two ladies. Wordsworth ‘almost forced’ upon him a loan of £100 to enable him to travel, and he sailed for Malta on 9 April 1804. At this time Sir George Howland Beaumont had made the acquaintance of Coleridge, whom he visited at Keswick, and admired, though he was not personally known to Wordsworth. He had an ‘ardent desire’ to bring the two poets into closer neighbourhood, and with this purpose bought a small property at Applethwaite on the flanks of Skiddaw, and presented it to Wordsworth as a site for a house. Coleridge's departure removed the reason for this change. Dove Cottage, however, was becoming overcrowded.
In November 1805 Wordsworth rambled with his sister into Patterdale (his sister's journal of the tour was incorporated in Wordsworth's ‘Guide’ to the lakes in 1835). He was struck by the beauty of a cottage with nine acres of land under Placefell. The owners wanted 1,000l. for it, and Wordsworth offered 800l. His friend Wilkinson applied to the new Lord Lonsdale, who at once sent 800l. to Wordsworth to effect the purchase. Wordsworth, after some hesitation, accepted 200l. of this to make up the 1,000l., paying the 800l. himself, half of which was supplied by his wife. The purchase was finally completed in March 1807 (Knight, ii. 37-8, 72-3); but Wordsworth never built upon the land. The generosity of Lord Lonsdale led to a friendship which afterwards became very intimate.
John Wordsworth had sailed early in 1805 in command of the East Indiaman Abergavenny, which was wrecked by the fault of a pilot off the Bill of Portland on 5 Feb. The captain, who behaved with great courage, and over two hundred persons were lost. John was a man of great charm, sharing, it seems, his sister's eye for natural scenery, and of a refinement and literary taste unusual in his profession. The whole family were profoundly affected by his loss (see Knight, i. 370-80, ii. 41). Wordsworth told Sir George Beaumont (5 May 1805) that he had been trying to write a commemorative poem, but had been too much agitated to remember what he wrote. He composed, however, some ‘elegiac verses’ referring to his last parting with his brother near Grisedale tarn. An inscription has been placed on the face of a neighbouring rock at the suggestion of Canon Rawnsley. There are many references to John in Wordsworth's poetry, especially in the verses on Piel Castle (the reference is to Piel, near Barrow-in-Furness; see Eversley Wordsworth, iii. 56-57). The character of the ‘Happy Warrior,’ suggested by the death of Nelson, includes traits of character derived from John Wordsworth.
In May 1805 Wordsworth had finished the ‘Prelude,’ having worked at it for some months. He observes that it is ‘unprecedented’ for a man to write nine thousand lines about himself, but explains that he was induced to this by ‘real humility.’ He was afraid of any more arduous topic. The poem was meant to be ‘a sort of portico to the “Recluse,”’ which he hoped soon to begin in earnest. It remained unprinted till his death. Meanwhile Dove Cottage was becoming untenable. Sir G. Beaumont was at this time rebuilding his house at Coleorton, near Ashby-de-la-Zouche, Leicestershire. During the building he occupied a farmhouse, and he now offered this for the winter of 1806-7 to the Wordsworths. They moved thither with Mrs. Wordsworth's sister Sarah at the end of October 1806. Wordsworth took a lively interest in plans for the gardens, upon which he wrote long letters to the Beaumonts. He wrote inscriptions to be placed in the grounds. Sir G. Beaumont's pictures suggested some of his poems (especially that on Piel Castle), and Beaumont drew illustrations for several of Wordsworth's poems. The friendship remained unbroken until the death of Sir G. Beaumont (7 February 1827). He left an annuity of £100 to Wordsworth to pay the expenses of an annual tour. At the end of 1806 Coleridge came with Hartley to stay with the Wordsworths at Coleorton. In January 1807 Wordsworth recited the ‘Prelude’ to Coleridge, who thereupon wrote his verses ‘To a Gentleman’. From Coleorton Wordsworth went to London for a month in the spring of 1807, coming back with Scott.
The Wordsworths returned to Grasmere in the autumn. He afterwards went to the Hutchinsons at Stockton, where he wrote part of the ‘White Doe of Rylstone.’ A collection of poems in two volumes appeared this year, including the odes to ‘Duty,’ and upon the ‘Intimations of Immortality,’ ‘Miscellaneous Sonnets,’ sonnets dedicated to ‘Liberty,’ and poems written during a tour in Scotland. Though containing some of his finest work, the new publication was sharply attacked upon the old grounds. Southey wrote to Miss Seward that had he been Wordsworth's adviser a great part of the last volume would have been suppressed. The ‘storm of ridicule’ might have been foreseen, and Wordsworth, though he despised, was ‘diseasedly sensitive to the censure which he despises.’ Wordsworth, however, himself expressed great confidence as to the ultimate success of his work, misunderstood by a frivolous public. Jeffrey in the ‘Edinburgh’ (October 1807) treated Wordsworth as a man of great ability, led into error by a perverse theory; but the ridicule was more pointed than the praise, and was thought to have stopped the circulation of the poems.
Wordsworth went to London to see Coleridge, who was ill, and heard him lecture in the beginning of 1808. He had now decided to leave Dove Cottage, where he had to work in the one room also used by the family, the children, and visitors. He moved to a house called Allan Bank, recently built under Silverhowe on the way to Easedale. There he settled in the autumn of 1808, and Coleridge came to be his guest. De Quincey, who had recently become Coleridge's friend, was another guest, who at the end of 1809 settled in Dove Cottage. John Wilson, Wordsworth's old admirer, had built his house at Elleray, and now became personally intimate with the Wordsworths. The whole country was at this time in a passion of excitement over the convention of Cintra. Wordsworth's interest in political matters appeared to have subsided; and in June 1805 he wrote to Sir G. Beaumont wondering at his own indifference to current affairs, such as Nelson's voyage to the West Indies. The Spanish rising, however, roused him thoroughly. He sympathised heartily with the patriotic resistance to Napoleon, and was shocked by the permission granted to the French army to return to their own country. He expressed his feelings in a pamphlet, which Canning is said to have regarded as the most eloquent production since Burke's. It takes a high moral ground, and, if rather magniloquent, is forcibly written. Unluckily it was entrusted to De Quincey, who was unbusinesslike, and worried the printers by theories of punctuation. The publication was delayed, but, as Southey wrote to Scott, it would have failed in any case from its ‘long and involved’ sentences. Wordsworth, he says, became obscure, partly because he imitated Milton, and partly because the habit of dictating hides a man's obscurity from himself. The series of sonnets ‘dedicated to national independence and liberty,’ written about this time, represent the same mood.
Coleridge was now bringing out the ‘Friend,’ of which the first number appeared on 1 June 1809, and the last on 15 March 1810. He dictated much of it at Grasmere to Sarah Hutchinson, sister of Mrs. Wordsworth. Wordsworth gave some help by replying to a letter by John Wilson (signed ‘Mathetes’) and contributing an essay upon ‘Epitaphs.’ In 1810 appeared the first version of his prose book upon the lakes. Coleridge, after the failure of the ‘Friend,’ had decided to go to London with Basil Montagu, at whose house he meant to reside. Wordsworth, having had painful experience of Coleridge's habits as a guest, thought it his duty to warn Montagu of the responsibilities which he was incurring. Montagu, three days after reaching London, took the amazing step of communicating this statement to Coleridge. Wordsworth, according to him, had said, ‘Coleridge has been a “nuisance” in my house, and I have no hope for him;’ and had commissioned Montagu to deliver this agreeable opinion to its object. Coleridge, in his unfortunate condition, was thrown into a paroxysm of distress. He left Montagu to settle with the Morgans, and, instead of appealing to Wordsworth himself, confided more or less in the Lambs, the Morgans, Mrs. Clarkson, and other friends. For a time a complete alienation followed. In the spring of 1812 Coleridge was on the lakes, but refused, in spite of Dorothy's entreaties, to visit Grasmere.
In May 1812 Wordsworth came to London, and Crabb Robinson acted as a friendly mediator. The difficulty was that, although Wordsworth could deny that he had sent any message or used the words repeated by Coleridge, who had probably exaggerated Montagu's exaggerated version, he could not deny that he had said something which would be painful to Coleridge. He might have used the word ‘nuisance’ in regard to some of Coleridge's habits, which undoubtedly deserved the name; but he denied that he had applied it to Coleridge himself. Wordsworth was both delicate and straightforward, and Coleridge ended by accepting his statements. At the end of the year he wrote a very warm letter of condolence upon the death of Wordsworth's son. It included a reference (Coleridge, Letters, p. 601) to his feeling for Sarah Hutchinson, of which Wordsworth would naturally disapprove. At any rate, he delayed answering, but he then wrote inviting Coleridge to Grasmere, where his company would be the greatest comfort to his friend. Coleridge went off to the seaside and made no reply. Intercourse was renewed by some letters in 1815 upon poetical points; but in 1816 Wordsworth was annoyed at the criticisms in the ‘Biographia Literaria,’ and the friendship was not re-established till 1817, and never regained the old warmth. The quarrel which suspended one of the most remarkable of literary friendships was regarded by Coleridge as one of the ‘four griping sorrows of his life’ (Allsop, Coleridge, ii. 140). Though known to so many people at the time, the facts have only recently been made public (Knight, ii. 168-87; J. D. Campbell, Coleridge, pp. 179-85, 193-7; Coleridge, Letters, pp. 578, 586-612. A full account given in Crabb Robinson's Diary was suppressed by the editor. Mrs. Clarkson wrote to him that Wordsworth's conduct had been affectionate and ‘forbearing throughout’).
In the summer of 1810 the Wordsworths had moved from Allan Bank to the parsonage at Grasmere. Two of the children were ailing, and both died in 1812 — Catherine on 4 June and Thomas on 1 December. They were buried in the churchyard, and the painful association made Wordsworth anxious to leave the house. Early in 1813 he moved accordingly to Rydal Mount, the house which he occupied for the rest of his life. In 1812 he had applied to Lord Lonsdale to obtain some situation for him, stating that his actual literary pursuits brought in little money, and that he could not turn to less exalted and more profitable work. Lord Lonsdale, after applying fruitlessly to Lord Liverpool, offered an allowance (apparently of £100 a year) from himself. Wordsworth accepted this, after some hesitation, but soon afterwards Lonsdale obtained for him the office of distributor of stamps for the county of Westmoreland. [The statement that Lonsdale acted upon a hint from Rogers, who had said that the Wordsworths had often to abstain from meat cannot be accurate.] The office brought him in about £400 a year. A good deal of the work was done by a clerk, John Carter, who served him for his life, and edited the ‘Prelude’ after his death. It involved, however, some careful superintendence, and Wordsworth says that for seven years he or ‘one of his nearest connections’ had been daily on the spot.
In 1814 Wordsworth made another tour in Scotland, when he saw Hogg and Gillies, who published several of his letters in ‘Memoirs of a Literary Veteran.’ In July appeared the ‘Excursion.’ When finishing the ‘Prelude’ he says that the task ‘of his life’ will be over if he can finish the ‘Recluse’ and ‘a narrative poem of the epic kind’. The epic was never begun, and the ‘Excursion’ (with a fragment published in 1888), on which he worked at intervals from 1795 till its publication, represents the ‘Recluse.’ It marks the culmination of Wordsworth's poetical career. Jeffrey's famous phrase, ‘This will never do!’ was really the protest of literary orthodoxy against a heresy the more offensive because it was growing in strength. Southey, Keats, and Crabb Robinson now put Wordsworth by the side of Milton. Lamb was allowed by his old enemy Gifford (perhaps in remorse for a previous attack) to review the poem in the ‘Quarterly,’ where, however, the article was cruelly mangled. Coleridge objected that the ‘Excursion’ did not fulfil his anticipations that the ‘Recluse’ was to be the ‘first and only true philosophical poem in existence’; whereas the philosophy was still subordinate to the exposition of commonplace truths. The poem took its place as Wordsworth's masterpiece among the younger generation now growing up. Wordsworth gradually abandoned any thought of carrying out any larger design. The ‘White Doe of Rylstone’ (published in 1815) had been written in 1807-8, ‘Peter Bell’ and the ‘Waggoner’ (both published in 1819) in 1798 and 1805 respectively. ‘Peter Bell’ is said to have been his ‘most successful’ book up to that time, an edition of five hundred copies having been sold in the year and a second published. From ‘want of resolution to take up a longer work,’ he says, he spent much time in writing sonnets. The sonnets on the Duddon, chiefly written about 1820, show his true power. The longest and least successful series was that called ‘Ecclesiastical Sketches,’ published in 1822. In fact Wordsworth's productive power had declined, and henceforth appeared only in occasional ‘effusions.’ He had become respectable and conservative. To the liberals he appeared to be a renegade. Shelley expresses his view in a sonnet and in ‘Peter Bell the Third,’ the first ‘Peter Bell’ being the parody by John Hamilton Reynolds, brought out when Wordsworth's poem was advertised. Browning's ‘Lost Leader’ gives a later version of this sentiment. Wordsworth's ‘Thanksgiving Ode’ in 1815 (to which Shelley refers) shows how completely he shared the conservative view. Although the evolution of Wordsworth's opinions was both honest and intelligible, it led to a practical alliance with toryism. He took a keen interest in local politics, as appears from his letters to Lord Lonsdale, and in 1818 published two addresses to the Westminster freeholders in support of the tory party. He was alarmed by the discontent of that period, and fully approved of the repressive measures. At a later period he was strongly opposed to catholic emancipation, and thought the Reform Bill would lead to a disastrous revolution. On 13 January 1819 he was placed on the commission of the peace for Westmorland.
During his later years Wordsworth made a good many tours and widened his circle of friends. Samuel Rogers had seen him at the lakes in 1803, and was a helpful friend. Another friend, who had first met him at Coleorton in 1809, was B. R. Haydon, who in 1815 took a cast of his face and introduced him to Leigh Hunt. In 1817 he had a famous dinner at Haydon's studio with Keats and Lamb. Keats saw ‘a good deal’ of him, and regarded him with reverence. Crabb Robinson, introduced to him by Lamb in 1808, was always a most attentive disciple and something of a Boswell. In later visits he saw much of Rogers and his younger admirer (Sir) Henry Taylor, who asked some of the utilitarians to meet him at a breakfast party. In 1820 he made a four months' tour with his wife and sister and other friends up the Rhine to Switzerland, met Robinson at Lucerne, and, after visiting the Italian lakes, returned by Paris. In 1823 he visited Belgium with his wife, and in 1828 went again to Belgium and up the Rhine with his daughter and Coleridge. In 1829 he went to Ireland to visit (Sir) William Rowan Hamilton, an ardent admirer, to whom he often wrote criticising poems written by Hamilton and his sister kindly and judiciously. In 1831 he went to Scotland, chiefly to see Scott, whom he visited in September at Abbotsford. A fine sonnet, ‘Yarrow Revisited’ (1835), commemorates this last meeting. A final tour through the Isle of Man to Scotland was made in 1833, and produced another series of poems in the same volume. The death of James Hogg (1770-1835) on 21 November 1835 suggested an ‘Effusion,’ with touching allusions to the deaths of Scott (1832), Crabbe (1832), Coleridge (1834), Lamb (1834), and Mrs. Hemans (1835).
The old generation was vanishing. Wordsworth was deeply affected by the death of Coleridge, though the close intimacy had never been restored. The death of his sister-in-law, Sarah Hutchinson, on 23 June 1835, was a still severer blow. Dorothy Wordsworth had never really recovered from a severe illness in 1829, and by this time was sinking into incurable ill-health. The disease, as he tells Rogers in February 1836, had to some degree affected the brain. In 1837 Wordsworth made his last continental tour, attended by H. C. Robinson, who in later years spent several Christmases at Grasmere. Between 19 March and 7 August they went through France, and by the Corniche road through Italy to Rome; back to Florence, Milan, and the lakes to Venice, and thence through Tyrol, Salzburg, Munich, and Heidelberg, and back by Brussels and Calais. Wordsworth enjoyed his tour and still wrote poems.
Dr. Arnold built his house at Fox How in 1833. He and his family and Mrs. Fletcher, with her daughters, Lady Richardson and Mrs. Davy, were valued neighbours in later years.
Admiration of Wordsworth's poetry was now becoming part of the orthodox creed. Coleridge's criticisms in the ‘Biographia Literaria’ expounded the true faith, and Coleridge had become a prophet. In 1823 Dorothy Wordsworth told Robinson that he would publish no more poems, as they never sold. The collective edition of 1820 of five hundred copies was not sold out for four years. In 1825-6 he corresponded with S. Rogers and Alaric Watts, asking them to help him to get better terms from a new publisher. The profits of his books had been spent in advertising. Rogers said that if he were allowed to select, he would make a popular collection of the poems. To this Wordsworth declined to submit, and, after some negotiation, had to fall back upon his old publishers, the Longmans, who in 1827 brought out a new edition — Wordsworth to have two-thirds of the expenses and profits, instead of half profits as before. Of a new edition in 1831 only four hundred out of two thousand copies were sold by June 1832. On 20 February 1835 Wordsworth told Moore that he had not made above £1,000 by all his publications up to that time. Rogers told Robinson about this time that Wordsworth would now be as much overpraised as he had been depreciated. In 1836 Edward Moxon, who had published ‘Selections’ in 1831, gave him £1,000 for a new edition, a bargain which in 1842 Wordsworth thought had been a bad one for the publisher. The circulation, however, was increasing.
In 1837 he began to hear that his poems were making an impression at home and abroad. In that year he was told that an edition of twenty thousand copies had been published in America. In 1839, when Talfourd was proposing a new law of copyright, Wordsworth, in a petition to the House of Commons, stated that within the last four years he had received more for his writings than during his whole previous career. He had a long correspondence with Talfourd, Gladstone, and other supporters of the measure at this period. When on 26 May 1836 he attended the first performance of Talfourd's ‘Ion,’ he was received with loud cheers, according to the rather doubtful statement of John Dix, who was present. In 1838 he received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from the university of Durham, and in 1839 the same degree at Oxford. He there received an enthusiastic welcome. Keble, who presented him, dedicated to him in 1844 his ‘Prælectiones Academicæ,’ and on both occasions used terms of reverent affection, by which Wordsworth was deeply gratified. He had waited forty years for general recognition of his genius.
In 1842 Wordsworth resigned his place in the stamp office; it was transferred to his son William, who had done much of the duty since 1831, when upon an enlargement of the district he had become his father's deputy at Carlisle. This involved a loss of £400 a year, ‘more than half his income’. This fact, as he desired, was brought under the notice of Sir R. Peel, who in October gave him a pension of £300 a year from the civil list. The grant was due to the influence of Gladstone.
Wordsworth's eldest son, John, had taken orders, and at the end of 1828 was preferred to the rectory of Moresby, Cumberland, by Lord Lonsdale. He afterwards became vicar of Brigham, near Cockermouth. Wordsworth's daughter Dorothy (called ‘Dora’ to distinguish her from her aunt) was his favourite child, and is commemorated with Edith Southey and Sara Coleridge in the ‘Triad.’ On 11 May 1841 she married Edward Quillinan. Wordsworth withheld his consent for some time, partly, it seems, because Quillinan was a Roman catholic, but chiefly from unwillingness to part from the daughter whom he loved with a ‘passionately jealous’ affection. His consent was partly due to the pressure of Isabella Fenwick, who had come to live at Grasmere out of admiration for his poetry, and stayed for some time in the family. Both the poet and his wife found in her an ardent and judicious friend, and to her Wordsworth dictated the invaluable notes upon the composition of his poems.
Upon the death of Southey (21 March 1843) the poet-laureateship was offered to Wordsworth, who at first declined on the ground of his inability to discharge the duties. Sir Robert Peel having assured him that no official verses would be required from him, he accepted the offer. In May 1845 he went to London upon being invited to a state ball. He afterwards attended a levee in court dress, and had to be forced into Rogers's clothes and to wear Davy's sword. Tennyson was squeezed into the same coat when he had to attend a levee as Wordsworth's successor. In January 1846 he sent a copy of his poems to the queen, with verses inscribed upon the flyleaf. In 1847 an ode, nominally by him, but probably written by Quillinan, was set to music and performed at the installation of the prince consort as chancellor of the university of Cambridge. It was received with great applause. Wordsworth was still vigorous. Some memorials of his conversation are given by Mrs. (Eliza) Fletcher and her daughters, Lady Richardson and Mrs. Davy. Disciples such as Henry Taylor, Mr. Aubrey de Vere, and Matthew Arnold paid him their homage, and he was the object of general reverence.
His son William married Miss Graham. Mrs. Quillinan was taken ill soon afterwards. Her parents returned from a visit to Christopher Wordsworth at Westminster upon hearing of her state. After two months of anxiety she died on 9 July. Wordsworth's grief was overpowering and darkened his remaining years. In 1849 he visited one of the Hutchinsons at Malvern, and there had his last interview with Robinson. On 10 March 1850 he was able to attend divine service at Rydal chapel, but a day or two later caught cold and gradually sank, dying peacefully on 23 April 1850. He was buried in Grasmere churchyard on the 27th by the side of his children. Dorothy Wordsworth died on 25 January 1855. Mrs. Wordsworth survived till her ninetieth year, and died on 17 January 1859, when she was buried beside her husband. John, the elder of the two surviving sons, died in 1875, and William, the younger, in 1883. Both left children.
The criticism of Wordsworth's poetry by S. T. Coleridge in the ‘Biographia Literaria’ is still unsurpassed. Later criticisms of interest are by Sir Henry Taylor; Mr. Aubrey de Vere in ‘Essays chiefly on Poetry,’ 1887, vol. i.; Matthew Arnold; Dean Church; Shairp in ‘Studies in Philosophy and Poetry,’ 1868; R. H. Hutton in ‘Essays Philosophical and Literary,’ 1871, vol. ii.; Walter Pater in ‘Appreciations,’ 1890; A. C. Swinburne in ‘Miscellanies,’ 1886; Viscount Morley (‘Introduction’ to poems, 1888); J. R. Lowell (‘Among my Books’), and Prof. Raleigh (1903). J. S. Mill in his ‘Autobiography’ has an interesting account of the effect upon himself of reading Wordsworth. The soothing influence which Mill recognised no doubt explains the strong affection which Wordsworth has inspired in all sympathetic readers. No poet has been more loved because none has expressed more forcibly and truly the deepest moral emotions. Some critics have laboured to show that his poetry was not a philosophy such as Coleridge fondly expected to find in the ‘Excursion.’ Wordsworth was to begin by exposing the ‘sandy sophisms of Locke,’ and to show the reconciliation of true idealism and true realism. Wordsworth, in fact, was only puzzled by metaphysical arguments, and could not, if any one could, transmute them into poetry. His ‘philosophy,’ if he be allowed to have one, must be taken to correspond to a profound and consistent perception of certain vitally important aspects of human life. His aim from the first was to find fit utterance for the primary and simple feelings. The attempt to utter the corresponding truths has an awkward tendency to degenerate into platitude; and Wordsworth's revolt against the ‘artificial’ style of the previous school led to his trivialities. He seems to have thought that because the peasant has the feelings common to man, the peasant's language could give them adequate expression. He became inartistic at times from fear of being unnatural. He fully recognised, indeed, the necessity of polishing his poems, as is shown by his continual revisions. A certain clumsiness always remains; but in his earlier period he had the power of arresting simple thought with the magic of poetical inspiration.
The great stimulus came from the French revolution. The sympathy which he felt with the supposed restoration of an idyllic order disappeared when it took the form of social disintegration. The growth of pauperism and the factory system, and the decay of old simple society, intensified the impression; and some of his noblest poems are devoted to celebrating the virtues which he took to be endangered. Wordsworth's love of ‘nature’ is partly an expression of the same feeling. He loved the mountains because they were the barriers which protected the peasant. He loved them also because they echoed his own most characteristic moods. His ‘mystical’ or pantheistic view of nature meant the delight of the lonely musings when he had to ‘grasp a tree’ to convince himself of the reality of the world. The love of nature was therefore the other side of his ‘egotism.’ He hated the scientific view which substituted mere matter of fact for emotional stimulus. The truth and power of his sentiment make this the most original and most purely poetical element in his writings. He could as little rival Coleridge and Shelley in soaring above the commonplace world as Byron or Burns in uttering the passions. But in his own domain, the expression of the deep and solemn emotions of a quiet recluse among simple people and impressive scenery, he is equally unsurpassable. Miss Fenwick says that all his affections were so powerful that, had his intellect been less strong, ‘they must have destroyed him long ago.’ Coleridge notices his strong tendency to hypochondria. Wordsworth's solidity gave him always a certain ‘alacrity in sinking;’ and it was chiefly during the period which followed his great intellectual crisis that he achieved his highest flights. In later years he was an excellent distributor of stamps, but, except in the opinion of one or two very zealous disciples, a very inferior poet.
Wordsworth, according to Haydon, was exactly 5 feet 9½ inches in height. He was of sturdy large-boned clumsily built figure, looking like one of his respectable dalesmen. Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, and De Quincey speak of his eyes as glowing at times with remarkable fire. De Quincey says that the ‘Richardson’ portrait of Milton was an exact likeness; but the impression is scarcely confirmed by his portraits. They show a strong bony framework, a heavy mouth, and a prominent nose, and some are more suggestive of strength than of fire. After leaving Racedown he was entirely without the sense of smell.
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