William Wordsworth (cont)
(1770 - 1850)

Dove Cottage     
Dove Cottage, Grasmere, now the Wordsworth Museum. It was known to the Wordsworths as Townend. Built in the 17th century as the Dove and Olive Bough Inn, the cottage was rented by the Wordsworths from December 1799 until May 1808.

December 1799 - May 1808 : Town End (Dove Cottage)
Dove Cottage on Grasmere Lake is probably the house most strongly associated with Wordsworth. It is also astonishingly well preserved, and, given the size of it, one can only marvel at the numbers of people who stayed there from time to time. William arrived with his sister on Friday 20 December after a journey, mainly on foot, of more than eighty miles spread over four days. more

Towards the end of January 1800 John Wordsworth, William's younger brother, arrived on an eight month visit. Both Dorothy and William found his company congenial. 'Meek, affectionate, silently enthusiastic, loving all quiet things, and a Poet in everything but words', was William's later assessment of him.(Letter to George Beaumont, February 11, 1805) John now met Mary Hutchinson, who came to stay for five weeks. There are several commentators who believe that John fell in love with her, an unfortunate thing as William intended to marry her, and indeed did so in 1802. more

Coleridge came, stayed for a few weeks, went back to London and Nether Stowey, then arrived on June 29 with his family in tow. They stayed four weeks before settling at Greta Hall near Keswick, some thirteen miles away. The two poets worked together on the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, an enterprise made difficult by Coleridge's worsening opium addiction, his general ill health, his marital problems and their distance from the printers in Bristol.

Dove Cottage Interior
Dove Cottage Interior

Though dated 1800, Lyrical Ballads, with other Poems was actually published in January 1801. There were few reviews, but the volumes sold reasonably well. Sara Hutchinson (Mary's younger sister) came to stay for the winter. News came that brother John had been sworn captain of the Earl of Abergavenny, and he persuaded them to invest money in his voyage. Coleridge continued ill, and William wrote to Poole in an attempt to raise money to send him to the Azores, but Coleridge himself promptly took the opportunity to leave Greta Bridge and follow Sara Hutchinson to Bishop Middleham, where she was staying with her brother George. Here he stayed for three weeks. It was at this point that his affection for Sara seems to have turned into an obsession. At the beginning of September, William joined Basil Montagu's wedding party on their journey north to Glasgow and Edinburgh. On his return, Coleridge announced to him his intention of leaving his wife to earn his living in London. He left the Lakes in mid November, and, at about the same time, William announced his intention to marry Mary Hutchinson, who had arrived at Dove Cottage some time previous. It was probably at this point that he proposed to her.

Dorothy's bedroom
Dorothy's bedroom

During February 1802 letters began arriving from Coleridge who was planning to move to the South of France for his health, and take the Wordsworths with him. Meanwhile, thirteen letters were exchanged between the Wordsworths and Annette Vallon between December 1801 and July 1802. France had been opened up to British visitors with the onset of negotiations for the short lived Peace of Amiens signed on March 25, 1802. Coleridge made a visit to Sara Hutchinson, now staying at Gallow Hill with her brother Tom, in early March, before returning to Grasmere. A reconciliation was attempted between him and his wife, who became pregnant at about this time. In early April, William went to visit Mary in Bishop Middleham (brother George's farm), probably to advise her that he intended to meet with Annette in France before proceeding with their marriage. News arrived on May 25 that Lord Lonsdale (Wicked Jimmy) was dead. This opened up the possibility that the Wordsworths would at last be paid the debt owed to them, and negotiations were indeed recommenced. William and Dorothy left Grasmere on July 9 for France, calling on Mary, Tom and Sara Hutchinson at Gallow Hill on the way. They passed over Westminster Bridge early on the morning of July 31 (memorialised in the sonnet On Westminster Bridge) and arrived in France early in the morning of August 1. They stayed until August 29. The sonnet It is a beauteous evening, calm and free records something of William's emotions during the visit. Their relief on returning to England is recorded in the sonnet Composed in the valley near Dover on the day of Landing. They delayed returning to the North to visit their uncle William Cookson at Windsor, then, hearing of brother John's return on the Earl of Abergavenny, spent a further eleven days in London, finally leaving on September 24 for Gallow Hill. William and Mary were married in the church at nearby Brompton-by-Sawdon on October 4, 1802. Coleridge once again left his wife in November, this time to accompany Tom Wedgewood on a tour of Wales. Brother John, significantly, failed to make the trip North to visit. After the marriage, Mary installed herself at Dove Cottage with William and Dorothy.

The Lowthers settled their debt to the Wordsworths, amounting to some £8500 including costs and interest (about £400,000 in today's terms), remitting the first instalment of £3000 on February 21, 1803. In March, the Edinburgh Review published a review by Francis Jeffrey of Thalaba the Destroyer by Robert Southey in which he attacked the 'Lake School of Poets' by which he meant Southey, Wordsworth and Coleridge. It provided the basis for the debate about the 'new' poetry for the next twenty years. Mary gave birth to a baby boy on June 18, who was christened 'John', with Dorothy as godmother and Richard Wordsworth and Coleridge as godfathers. On August 14, William, Dorothy and Coleridge set off on a six weeks tour of Scotland in what they described as a 'jaunting car'. Coleridge separated from the Wordsworths at Tarbet, proceeding on foot. The Wordsworths continued their tour through central Scotland and then down through Edinburgh to Melrose, where they were received and entertained by Walter Scott, returning to Dove Cottage on September 25. Sir George Beaumont had stayed at Greta Hall at the beginning of August, at which point in time Coleridge had introduced him to Wordsworth's poetry, and Beaumont had responded with such enthusiasm that he had gifted William a small property called Applethwaite on the slopes of Skiddaw (worth about £100). In October, William joined the volunteer movement being organised against the expected invasion by Napoleon. Invited by Coleridge, the poet Robert Southey moved north from Bristol and settled in half of Greta Hall with his family, where he would stay for the next forty years, caring incidentally for Coleridge's wife and children.

Map of part of Lake District
Map of part of the Lake District

At the beginning of 1804, Tom Hutchinson, Mary Wordsworth's brother, took a farm called Park House on the Dalemain Estate near Penrith, bringing his sisters Sara and Joanna Hutchinson with him. Coleridge left the Lake District in January, and in April he left England for Malta. Mary Wordsworth gave birth to a girl, Dora, in August. William and Dorothy went on a short tour of the Lakes. Richard, William's lawyer brother who had successfully negotiated the settlement with the Lowthers over the previous twenty years, was also in the Lakes for the first time for many years, but he was only to spend one day at Grasmere. Brother John, who had returned after a moderately successful voyage and was now preparing for another, did not make the journey north. The Wordsworths saw in the new year at Park House, in the company of most of the Hutchinson family.

1805: His brother drowns at sea. On 5 February 1805, the Earl of Abergavenny sank in shallow water off the Shambles close to Weymouth, taking John Wordsworth, the captain, and 232 others to their deaths. It was, of course, a grievous loss to both William and Dorothy, their fraternal intimacy having only just been re-established after years of estrangement. more There were many visitors to the Lake District over the summer, including Walter Scott and Humphry Davy. The 1805 edition of Lyrical Ballads was published in London in October, being largely a reprint of the 1802 edition with minor corrections.

1806: William spent two months in London, from the beginning of April to the end of May, where he visited his brother, Christopher who was now chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace. He also visited the Montagues, the Lambs, the Clarksons, the Cooksons at Binfield, and renewed his acquaintance with William Godwin and Horne Tooke. Through Sir George Beaumont he got to know many artists, including Henry Edridge who produced this skillful if somewhat flattering sketch.

Portrait sketch of William Wordsworth
Portrait sketch of William Wordsworth by Henry Edridge (1806)

In April, he attended, thanks to his influential friend Samuel Rogers, a ball given by Mrs Charles James Fox. Robert Southey writes Wordsworth flourishes in London, he powders and goes to all the great routs. no man is more flattered by the attentions of the great, and no man would be more offended to be told so. (Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, i, 386/7) He was back at Grasmere by May 25. Coleridge arrived back in England on August 11. He went straight to London and began work for Stuart, asking Mary Lamb to persuade Wordsworth and Southey to break the news to his wife that he wished to separate from her permanently. The Wordsworths left Dove Cottage on October 26 to make a long visit to the Beaumonts in Coleorton, Leicestershire. They first travelled to Kendal, where they were joined by Sara Hutchinson, who informed them that Coleridge was in Penrith. He came to Kendal, where the Wordsworths delayed their departure for several days, but the reunion was disappointing for all of them. Dorothy writes later (Letter to Catherine Clarkson 5 November 1806): He ..  scarcely ever spoke of anything that concerned him, or us, or our common friends nearly, except we forced him to it; and immediately he changed the conversation to Malta, Sir Alexander Ball, the corruptions of government, anything but what we were yearning after. All we could gather from him was that he must part from her (his wife) or die... They arrived in Coleorton on October 30, where Coleridge and his son, Hartley, joined them on December 21. The Wordsworths were confident that they would be able to 'manage ' Coleridge, but his notebooks from the period indicate that this was far from the case. From an event (Sara bare breasted in bed with Wordsworth) apparently observed at the Queen's Head, Stringstone, close by Coleorton,  he became convinced that they were engaging in sexual activities together, though he was never entirely convinced of the veracity of his suspicions or of what he had seen.

Drawing of Coleorton Hall
Drawing of Coleorton Hall by John Constable (the Wordsworths stayed in the nearby Farm House)

1807: Still at Coleorton at the beginning of January, Wordsworth read aloud The Prelude in the presence of Dorothy, Mary, Sara Hutchinson and Coleridge. Sometime during the first half of the year, Wordsworth transcribed the first stanza of William Blake's Tyger into a commonplace book. In mid-April, the Wordsworths, Sara Hutchinson and the Coleridges left Coleorton for London. Poems in Two Volumes was printed in an edition of 1000 copies by Longmans, for which Wordsworth received £105. The Wordsworths left London to return to Coleorton on May 6 accompanied by Walter Scott, and returned to Grasmere by July 10, visiting Nottingham, Sheffield, Huddersfield, Halifax, Burnsall, Gordale, and Kendal on the way back. At the end of July, William and Dorothy spent a couple of days with John Wilson at Elleray. On August 26, Lord and Lady Holland invited William to dinner at the Low Wood Hotel on Windermere. Lady Holland was more impressed with his conversation than with his poetry. On December 3, Poems in Two Volumes received a critical drubbing from the Edinburgh Review.

1808: By now, William was established as a lion of the literary scene, but his probems with Coleridge had only just begun. He went to London at the end of February, where he met with Coleridge and attended two of his lectures. He returned to Dove Cottage around April 6. He had appointed Coleridge to deal with the negotiations for the publication of the White Doe of Rhylstone with Longman's, but, in the event, changed his mind about publication. Understandably, Coleridge wrote a letter of complaint, but he also mixed in complaints with regard to Wordsworth's supposed role in alienating Sara Hutchinson. Wordsworth penned, but wisely did not send, a reply to these allegations. At the end of May, the Wordsworths moved from Dove Cottage to Allan Bank, where they remained until early June 1811.

May 1808- June 1811 : Allan Bank

Photograph of Allan Bank
Allan Bank. An imposing residence, but, unfortunately, the chimneys smoked abominably.

Coleridge arrived on a visit on September 1. Catharine Wordsworth, the Wordsworth's fourth child, was born on September 6. Indignation at the Convention of Cintra began to be felt in Great Britain from the end of September, and Wordsworth made plans to hold meetings and to write a pamphlet. Thomas de Quincey arrived to stay at the beginning of November, which meant that there were now thirteen regular residents at Allan Bank, rising to fifteen at the weekends when the two Coleridge boys, Hartley and Derwent, stayed.

1809: De Quincey left Allan Bank at the end of February to see the pamphlet on the Convention of Cintra through the press in London. After many changes, alterations and false starts, it was finally printed on May 24 in a run of 500, but, though it had several appreciative reviews, did not sell enough copies to cover its costs. Coleridge arrived at Allan Bank on June 13. He will now stay until May 1810. With Sara Hutchinson as his amenuensis, he launched into the production of a weekly newspaper, The Friend, which ran from June 1, 1809 to March 10, 1810, 28 numbers in all, and a herculean achievement, but one which was, however, doomed to failure, particularly when Sara Hutchinson decided to decamp with her brother to his new farm in Radnorshire, Wales during April 1810. Visits and socialising continued apace throughout 1809, including visits of relations, friends, old and new, and literary acquaintances, visitors normally staying for several days. William himself went off on a grand fishing expedition with John Wilson and thirty two others in the nearby lakes and tarns in late June. De Quincey installed himself in Dove Cottage in late October, and occupied the property until 1820.

1810: Coleridge left Allan Bank for Greta Hall on May 2. He would never live with the Wordsworths again. A third son and fifth child was born to the Wordsworths on May 12. At the end of June, William made another trip of two months to Coleorton, returning to Allan Bank by September 3. On September 23, Basil Montagu arrived at Allan Bank on a visit. He also paid a visit to Coleridge at Greta Hall, and persuaded him to return to London with him to seek treatment for his opium addiction. He informed Coleridge of negative comments made by Wordsworth about him, at which Coleridge took great offence. Montagu then wrote to Wordsworth to tell him that he had repeated his remarks to Coleridge and that Coleridge was very angry.

The Old Rectory, Grasmere
The old Rectory Grasmere


May 1811-1813 The Rectory, Grasmere.

In late May, the Wordsworths moved to the Rectory in Grasmere. At the beginning of August, William left with Mary, Tommy, Catharine and Fanny Turner, the maid, to spend a month by the seaside at Bootle, returning on September 8. Sara Hutchinson arrived for a visit which lasted until August 1813. During October, William became involved with introducing the Madras system of Dr Bell in Grasmere school. 

Lowther Castle
Lowther Castle, the south façade, the seat of Lord Lonsdale

On February 6, he wrote to Lord Lonsdale requesting an office. Later that month Coleridge travelled from Kendal to Keswick with his two sons, driving past the Rectory without stopping. On April 12, William left Grasmere with Mary and Tommy. They probably travelled to Chester together, where they separated, Mary going to Hindwell to see her Hutchinson relatives, and William to London, where he intended contacting Coleridge. After several abortive attempts, Henry Crabb Robinson negotiated a settlement between the two, though relations were never the same again. William spent some time in London literary society, and attended four of Coleridge's lectures. On June 10, he received news of the death of his daughter, Catharine, and he travelled to Hindwell to be with his wife. They returned to Grasmere by July 5. Tommy contracted measles and died unexpectedly on December 1. On March 13, 1813, Wordsworth was installed as distributor of Stamps with the aid of Lord Lonsdale and Sir George Beaumont, a position worth some £400 a year (about £20,000 in today's terms) which gave the family financial security. His functions involved the stamping of documents and collection of taxes on property transactions. Around May 12, 1813 the Wordsworths moved to Rydal Mount.

May 1813 -1850 Rydal Mount: Wordsworth the family man and distributor of stamps

Rydal Mount
Rydal Mount, Ambleside, the home of William Wordsworth from 1813 until his death in 1850.

In 1814 (44) he published The Excursion, 9000 lines of poetry in nine volumes, which aroused little interest. The work comprised the second volume of his magnum opus (now called The Recluse by his entourage), for which The Prelude was conceived as the prelude. This was followed by The White Doe of Rylstone (1815, 45), Peter Bell (1819, 49) and Benjamin the Waggoner (1819, 49). He continued to be criticised for his low subjects and ‘simplicity’. Thereafter he became more interested in reworking, ordering and anthologising his work in various collected editions. 

He was appointed Poet Laureate in 1843 (73). 

He died in 1850 (80) and was buried in Grasmere churchyard.

The Prelude, perhaps his best known work nowadays, was published just after his death, the publication supervised by Mary Wordsworth.


Part I

Ullswater in the Lake District, watercolour by John Glover (1767-1849)

Links to Poems

Poems written in youth
Lines left on a Seat in a Yew Tree  
  Descriptive Sketches
An Evening Walk 

Poems on the naming of places
Joanna's Rock  

Poems of the Fancy
   The Linnet

Poems of the Imagination
  Lines written above Tintern Abbey
   Night Piece

Miscellaneous Sonnets
   Upon Westminster Bridge
It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free  
   Composed in the Valley near Dover
The Poet's Work  

  Sonnet, on seeing Miss Helen Maria Williams weep at a tale of distress
The World is too much with us 

Poems dedicated to National Independence and Liberty
On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic  

Other Poems
The Prelude

Links to external sites

Recording of The Wanderer

Comprehensive poetry resource

The poet biographies, criticism, maps, translations, and textual notes on this site are the copyright of Paul Scott