William Wordsworth’s Nose

While best known as Shakespeare’s death date and birthday, 23 April marked the anniversary of the death of another of England’s great poets—William Wordsworth (7/4/1770-23/4/1850). While visiting his former home, Dove Cottage, and the Wordsworth Museum this week, I was amused by the description provided for the famous portrait of him by Henry Edridge in the temporary exhibition curated by Michael Thompson: “This portrait was probably drawn in May 1806 while Wordsworth was a guest of Sir George Beaumont in London. As a society painter, Edridge has tidied up Wordsworth’s strong features; chiefly his nose” (my emphasis).

I was informed by one of the cottage guides that the family referred to this picture as the ‘dandy portrait’, and that its artistic license was a continuing source of amusement. Comparison with other portraits does suggest that the artist has softened William’s strong nose, which gives us an interesting little insight into fashionable physiognomy of the time.

Wordsworth by Henry Edridge 1806

William Wordsworth by Henry Edridge, 1806. Copyright The Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage, Grasmere.


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