The second of five children born to John Wordsworth and Ann Cookson, William Wordsworth was born on 7 April 1770 in what is now named Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, Cumberland, (now in Cumbria), part of the scenic region in northwestern England known as the Lake District. William's sister, the poet and diarist Dorothy Wordsworth, to whom he was close all his life, was born the following year, and the two were baptised together. They had three other siblings: Richard, the eldest, who became a lawyer; John, born after Dorothy, who went to sea and died in 1805 when the ship of which he was captain, the Earl of Abergavenny, was wrecked off the south coast of England; and Christopher, the youngest, who entered the Church and rose to be Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.
Wordsworth's father was a legal representative of James Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale, and, through his connections, lived in a large mansion in the small town. He was frequently away from home on business, so the young William and his siblings had little involvement with him and remained distant from him until his death in 1783. However, he did encourage William in his reading, and in particular set him to commit large portions of verse to memory, including works by Milton, Shakespeare and Spenser. William was also allowed to use his father's library. William also spent time at his mother's parents' house in Penrith, Cumberland, where he was exposed to the moors, but did not get along with his grandparents or his uncle, who also lived there. His hostile interactions with them distressed him to the point of contemplating suicide.
Wordsworth was taught to read by his mother and attended, first, a tiny school of low quality in Cockermouth, then a school in Penrith for the children of upper-class families, where he was taught by Ann Birkett, who insisted on instilling in her students traditions that included pursuing both scholarly and local activities, especially the festivals around Easter, May Day and Shrove Tuesday. Wordsworth was taught both the Bible and the Spectator, but little else. It was at the school in Penrith that he met the Hutchinsons, including Mary, who later became his wife.
After the death of Wordsworth's mother, in 1778, his father sent him to Hawkshead Grammar School in Lancashire (now in Cumbria) and sent Dorothy to live with relatives in Yorkshire. She and William did not meet again for nine years.
Wordsworth made his debut as a writer in 1787 when he published a sonnet in The European Magazine. That same year he began attending St John's College, Cambridge. He received his BA degree in 1791. He returned to Hawkshead for the first two summers of his time at Cambridge, and often spent later holidays on walking tours, visiting places famous for the beauty of their landscape. In 1790 he went on a walking tour of Europe, during which he toured the Alps extensively, and visited nearby areas of France, Switzerland, and Italy.
Relationship with Annette Vallon
In November 1791, Wordsworth visited Revolutionary France and became enchanted with the Republican movement. He fell in love with a French woman, Annette Vallon, who, in 1792, gave birth to their daughter Caroline. Financial problems and Britain's tense relations with France forced him to return to England alone the following year. The circumstances of his return and his subsequent behaviour raised doubts as to his declared wish to marry Annette. However, he supported her and his daughter as best he could in later life. The Reign of Terror left Wordsworth thoroughly disillusioned with the French Revolution and the outbreak of armed hostilities between Britain and France prevented him from seeing Annette and his daughter for some years.
With the Peace of Amiens again allowing travel to France, in 1802 Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy visited Annette and Caroline in Calais. The purpose of the visit was to prepare Annette for the fact of his forthcoming marriage to Mary Hutchinson. Afterwards he wrote the sonnet "It is a beauteous evening, calm and free", recalling a seaside walk with the 9-year-old Caroline, whom he had never seen before that visit. Mary was anxious that Wordsworth should do more for Caroline. Upon Caroline's marriage, in 1816, Wordsworth settled £30 a year on her (equivalent to £2,313 as of 2021), payments which continued until 1835, when they were replaced by a capital settlement.