William Wordsworth, the son of an attorney, was born in 1770. After the death of his mother in 1778 and his father in 1783, Wordsworth was sent away to be educated at Hawkshead Grammar School in the Lake District. Wordsworth went to St. John's College, Cambridge where he developed radical political views. Influenced by the ideas of William Godwin, Wordsworth was an early supporter of the French Revolution.
Wordsworth went on a walking tour of France in 1790 and returned the following year and had an affair with Annette Vallon, the result of which was an illegitimate daughter, Ann Caroline. After the outbreak of war with France in 1793, Wordsworth returned to England. The poem, Guilt and Sorrow reveals that he still held strong views on social justice. He also wrote, Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff (1793), a pamphlet that gave support to the French Revolution. However, after the Reign of Terror (September 1793-July 1794), Wordsworth became disillusioned with radicalism. This was reflected in his verse drama, The Borderers (1796).
In 1796 Wordsworth set up home at Alfoxden in Somerset with his sister, Dorothy Wordsworth. His friend, Samuel Coleridge, who had also renounced his early revolutionary beliefs, lived three miles away at Nether Stowey. In 1798 they published the book Lyrical Ballads, which achieved a revolution in literary taste and sensibility. Lyrical Ballads included Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey and Coleridge's famous poems, the Ancient Mariner and The Nightingale.
In 1799 Dorothy and William moved to Grasmere in the Lake District. Three years later William Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson. Over the next five years Wordsworth suffering several distressing experiences, including the death of two of his children, his brother being drowned at sea and Dorothy's mental breakdown. During this period Wordsworth worked on two major poems, The Recluse, which was never finished, and The Prelude, a poem that remained unpublished until after his death.
Wordsworth published Poems in Two Volumes in 1807. This including the poems: Ode to Duty (about the death of his brother), Resolution and Independence and Intimations of Immortality. Although attacked by William Hazlitt, Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, for renouncing his early radicalism, Wordsworth was popular with most critics. The Excursion (1814) was well received and this was followed by The White Doe of Rylstone (1815), Miscellaneous Poems (1815) and The Waggoner (1819).
Wordsworth, now established as a conservative and patriotic poet, succeeded Robert Southey as poet laureate in 1843. William Wordsworth died at Rydal Mount, Ambleside in 1850.