Rare Wordsworth Manuscript Secured By Wordsworth Trust

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 04 April 2007
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photo of the page of an old book with words crossed out replaced by handwritten notes

Wordsworth's wife Mary actually wrote the corrections out. Courtesy Wordsworth Trust

The Wordsworth Trust has acquired a rare manuscript by William Wordsworth showing how the celebrated Romantic poet made continuous amendments to his work.

The first edition copy of the poem The White Doe of Rylstone is covered in revisions in the handwriting of the poet’s wife Mary Wordsworth.

They were made in preparation for the second edition of the work in 1820 and show Wordsworth’s constant changes from the early drafts to proof stages.

“For Wordsworth the process of composition of verse and prose was a continuous one,” said David Wilson, the Robert Woof Director of the Wordsworth Trust.

photo of the page of an old book with handwritten notes on it

The book joins more than 90 per cent of the surviving Wordsworth papers at Grasmere. Courtesy Wordsworth Trust

“Publication was just one stage in the never ending reworking and revisiting of the his text. This is an excellent example of that process and it is an important addition to the collection we hold here,” added David.

A total of 13 revisions to the poem are recorded in the book, along with directions to the printer, a rearrangement of the first section plus Mary’s record of revisions. It was bought for the Trust from a London book dealer.

The poem is a historical narrative set in Yorkshire inspired by Wordsworth’s trip to Bolton Abbey, between Skipton and Harrogate. He had been reading a number of historical works and felt that this type of poem might be popular with readers and raise his family’s income.

“Originally written in 1807-08, it was held back from publication until 1815 because of Wordsworth’s sensitivity to negative criticism he received when he showed it to Coleridge and Charles Lamb,” explained David.

painting of a man and woman at a table in georgian dress

William and Mary Wordsworth painted by Gillie. Courtesy Wordsworth Trust

“While that 1815 edition was still on sale, Wordsworth revised it again for the 1820 edition – it is those revisions that are written in the margins of this book and will provide researchers visiting Grasmere a better understanding of the poem.”

The book will now join more than 90 per cent of the surviving Wordsworth manuscripts in Grasmere in the Lake District, site of Dove Cottage, the poet’s former home. Many are on show in the neighbouring Wordsworth Museum.

Wordsworth (1770-1850) is credited, along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, with launching what became known as the Romantic movement in English literature. He spent much of his life in the Lake District and became Poet Laureate in 1843.

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