Background and early life
William Pearson was born on 9 October 1780, the son of a yeoman farmer from the village of Crosthwaite near Kendal in the Lake District, and the second of eight children. He was educated at local schools in Crosthwaite and Underbarrow. He was interested in learning and education from an early age, encouraged by his father’s enthusiasm for science, and by the availability of numerous books, both in his childhood home and at a book club in Kendal of which he was a member.
William Pearson’s first career was as a teacher, first in the local one-roomed village school and later as a tutor to four children. After two years he left to go into commerce. He worked in a grocer’s shop in Kendal for a year, and then another shop in London, where he lived on the premises, sleeping under the shop counter. Within a few months, ill health forced him to return home.
In 1803, through an acquaintance of his father, Pearson secured work as a clerk in the Manchester bank Jones, Fox & Co of King St. He was not immediately impressed by the city or its people. In a letter to a family friend he remarked, ‘I think Manchester in proportion to its population, very deficient in young men of cultivated understanding – immersed in business, or carried down the stream of dissipation – slaves to Mammon, or to Bacchus – they have seldom time for the rational amusement of reading, or for the calm pleasures of reflection.’
Pearson remained in the bank for 17 years, enduring what he called ‘drudgery at the desk’s dead wood’.
Farming, writing and friendships
While living in Manchester Pearson contributed to the Manchester Gazette and continued his self-education.
By 1820 he had saved enough money to follow his dream of returning to the Lake District and living on the land. He purchased Borderside, a small farm in the Winster Valley, near where he had grown up. He employed a housekeeper, leaving himself with enough leisure time to devote more attention to writing. In numerous essays and articles he discussed country life, folklore, philosophy and poetry.
His interest in farming and horticulture led him to become involved in the Kendal Natural History Society, through which he met and formed a lasting friendship with William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy. Pearson advised the Wordsworths on farming matters and went fell-walking with them in the countryside around the Wordsworths’ home at Rydal Mount, where Pearson occasionally stayed. They also exchanged letters discussing natural history and poetry.
When Pearson heard of William Wordsworth’s death in April 1850 he wrote to Wordsworth’s widow about his ‘immeasurable superiority’ as a poet, and his certainty that Wordsworth’s ‘divine writings will survive to cheer and to elevate unborn generations’.
Family life and death
In 1842, when William Pearson was 62 years old, he married 53-year-old Ann Greenhow of Kendal. They visited Italy and Switzerland on their honeymoon, following an itinerary devised by William Wordsworth. They spent nine months abroad before returning to live at Pearson’s farm. Soon afterwards Pearson built a new home on the farm. Mr and Mrs Pearson moved into this house in 1848, Pearson proudly noting that it had ‘a goodly row of chimneys with pretty round tops on square pedestals, the only specimens yet in Crosthwaite of the revived good old fashion’.
William died on 15 December 1856. His widow subsequently edited and published Papers, Letters and Journals of William Pearson.
Related publications and online sources
- Ann Pearson, Papers, Letters and Journals of William Pearson (London, 1863)