This year is the poet William Wordsworth’s 250th birthday. So why should we celebrate him?
From a 21st century point of view, the problem with William Wordsworth (1770-1850) is that it’s difficult to label him neatly. He was an early Romantic poet who held radical views. His fellow-poet contemporaries, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron, who knew him personally, all predeceased him by at least twenty-five years. We cannot know how Byron, Keats and Shelley would have turned out if they had lived, but Wordsworth, unromantically, became an Establishment figure, one of the nation’s most loved and respected poets, and ended up as Poet Laureate.
William Wordsworth by Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1842. The poet is standing under the brooding mountain, Helvellyn, as darkness falls. Photo, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.
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Benjamin Haydon (1786-1846), artist, and author of a brilliant diary, is somewhat neglected nowadays, though he was an interesting man and counted Keats, Hazlitt and Wordsworth among his friends. He was a good portrait painter – as his 1842 portrait of Wordsworth below attests – but, unfortunately, he passionately believed in the old-fashioned 18th century notion that Great Painting should concentrate on historical and religious subjects in the Grand Manner.
William Wordsworth against a background of the majestic Helvellyn, in the Lake District, by Benjamin Haydon, 1842. Once a staunch Radical and Romantic poet, Wordsworth, by 1842, had become an establishment figure and would become Poet Laureate in the following year.
Continue reading Benjamin Haydon on Art, Love and Death