A Blupete Biography Page

The Tempering Of A Poet, Part 2 to the Life & Works of
William Wordsworth

Bills or no bills, during his third summer vacation (1790), Wordsworth somehow managed to find enough money to go off to the continent with a college friend of his, Robert Jones. They landed in Calais on July 13th and returned to England three months later. It would not appear, after that, William ever got back to his studies. That winter he was to be found in London, there to thoroughly take in all the sights.9 The following spring he was walking around Wales with his friend, Robert Jones. His family tried to get him restarted at Cambridge, that fall, in 1791; but his studies to him turned into an "immense wilderness," a wilderness he determined to escape by taking himself off to France, once again. He crossed over from Brighton to Dieppe at the end of November. After a few days in Paris he struck south to the Loire, where, at Orléans, notwithstanding his republican leanings, he was to take up with a military officer by the name of Captain Michael Beaupuy. Beaupuy was one of a band of royalists fighting, for, what was then, a lost cause. There at Orléans, too, the twenty-one year old Wordsworth was to meet Annette Vallon. Annette, four years older than William, was the daughter of a surgeon who practiced further on down the Loire, at Blois. We might suppose Annette was an enthusiast of the New Sensibility as was then sweeping France, where a woman and a man, unlike the age just past, were not afraid to show their fellowship in the new ideals, as for example, upon greeting one another, to give one another a Platonic embrace. In the case of William and Annette these Platonic embraces were soon to lead to passionate love making, and, the inevitable -- in those days -- a pregnancy. Upon the pregnancy becoming obvious, Annette's family stepped in and forbade any further meeting of the two. That autumn, the France Revolution brought about one of its more ugly scenes, in Paris, the September massacres. William was apparently there in the middle of this and had real concerns for his safety. He knew he would have to return to England but wanted, before leaving, to have a word with Annette; but, that, it seems, was impossible. He was to leave for England very late in the year but not before he did get word that Annette, on December 15th, gave birth to a daughter, Caroline.10

Back in England, Wordsworth was to hover about the channel with a view to getting immediately back to France. His biographer, Burra observed: "During the summer he had spent a month of calm and glassy days in the Isle of Wright, waiting for his opportunity which never came then; but he watched in despair the naval preparations for war."11 Wordsworth slowly and reluctantly came to see the impossibility of his situation: he would have to wait out the war. Little did he know that it would prove to be a very long wait; except for The Peace of Amiens (1802-03) during which time Wordsworth did manage to get over to see Annette and Caroline for a short time, as we will see, England and France were to be at war for a 23 year period, ending only with the defeat of Napoleon at The Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Thus we would have seen, in 1792, a dejected man, Wordsworth, leaving the southeast coast. He traveled west across England through the Salisbury Plain, where, incidently he was much moved by the visages of antiquity as is represented by that celebrated ancient stone circle, Stonehenge. From there he traveled alone, to arrive at Wales, to the valley of the Wye and the ruins of Tintern Abbey. It was in Wales he was to meet his old friend Robert Jones and together they carried on to North Wales and there to ascend Snowdon. These three scenes that Wordsworth was to take in during the summer of 1793: Stonehenge, Tintern Abbey and Snowdon -- were to make an indelible impression on our budding poet. By 1794, Wordsworth was back in his native north country to be near his family and particularly to be near his sister, Dorothy; to renew, in a sense, the "glad animal days" of his youth.

Thus, important years were to pass for Wordsworth. For him, his experiences in France and his utter despondency during that first year back in England, was to be his flaming forge: the quiet events of the following year were to temper the man into what he was to become. Wordsworth's spirit -- through the heat, pressure and cooling of these years, from 1793 to 1796 -- was to be formed into that of a poet, able to meld those parts or elements of himself to those parts or elements of that of the natural world on which he had achieved a unique perspective. De Quincey observed that it is from these years that we "may date the commencement of Wordsworth's entire self-dedication to poetry as the study and main business of his life."12

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Peter Landry

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2011