Dating and Order of Manuscripts (Brief)
Home at Grasmere cannot be dated with absolute certainty (except for the later fair copy MS D) although a number of attempts to resolve the dating of the manuscripts have been made, based upon different kinds of evidence. There are two main reasons for scholarly opinion changing over time, both of which have to do with how a scholar or editor would normally fix the date of a manuscript.
Normally, the major source of information to support and confirm dating would be the Letters and other recorded comments by the poet. However, in the case of this poem, a difficulty with establishing clear dates for the material occurs because of Home at Grasmere's identity as the first book of the larger projected project, The Recluse. This means that wherever the Wordsworths refer potentially to work for Home at Grasmere they call it "The Recluse". However, they also use this term to describe all kinds of other material being written between 1800 and 1806 or later (particularly work for The Ruined Cottage and The Excursion). This means that it is hard to be certain which texts they are talking about when they give line counts of them.
The second reason that there is a problem in dating Home at Grasmere concerns the way in which the dating is confirmed and the use of different kinds of evidence for this. The four major kinds of evidence used are:
1. Textual/ internal
The evidence of the poem itself. The text describes a specific time period (Spring 1800) with some detailed references to it.
2. Empirical (Uses of Paper/ Watermarks)
The use of watermarks on the paper shows that much of the paper was dated "1801" but that this block of paper was not generally used by the Wordsworths until 1805.
3. The Manuscripts
The three earlier manuscripts that have survived all appear to date from 1806 (although MS R could be earlier).
4. Contextual Evidence
The relation between the 3 earliest manuscripts suggests that they must all have been worked on at around the same time because they represent a certain stage of the process, bringing material for the poem together into a single unified work.
The problem is that these different kinds of evidence conflict with one another. The content of the poem strongly suggests a specific time of writing (Spring, 1800) but the empirical evidence of the paper says that the manuscripts could not possibly have been written at this time (1801 at the earliest). The contradictions between different kinds of evidence can partly be resolved if we allow that the poem was brought together into its first fair copy state in 1806 but that there must have been other early manuscript material that has not survived. In effect, an earlier phase of first writing in 1800 must have existed, but there is no surviving manuscript material from this phase.
The three surviving earlier manuscripts (MS A; MS R; MS B) are now agreed to have been written in 1806 although some of the content must have been written earlier. MS R could potentially have been written at an earlier time. The fourth manuscript (MS D) is unproblematic and was copied out in 1812-1814 and 1831-1832.
NOTE: The dating debate is only over the three earliest manuscripts.