Dating and Order of Manuscripts (Full)


1. Helen Darbishire (PW V, 1949)

In the first scholarly edition of Home at Grasmere, Helen Darbishire suggests that the poem was mainly written between Feb-April 1800 with MS B "probably written later in 1800" (PW V, 475) and MS D "dated after 1814. . . . Possibly the MS. was written early in 1815" (476). She determines the date of the writing of the poem according to references within the poetic text itself, relying upon textual evidence and indirect empirical evidence. So she uses the evidence of the full moon to state that:

"Thrice hath the winter moon been filled with light", etc., show that W. was at work on the first book of The Recluse in late March 1800: he and D. W. arrived in Grasmere to take up their abode in Dove Cottage on Dec. 21, 1799; the moon was full on Jan. 10, 1800, again on Feb. 9, and for the third time on March 10. (PW V, 475).

She goes on to suggest that references to weather and the seasons in the poem – such as "'Two months unwearied of severest storm' (line 181); 'Soon will peep forth the primrose' (line 514)" (475) – all corroborate the date of composition as between February and April 1800 when the Wordsworths first settled in Grasmere. The assumption here is that the content of the poem corresponds directly to the time it is written and thus sets the date of composition.

SUM: Proposed date of 1800 for 3 early MSS.

Evidence: Textual (internal); Contextual.

2. John Finch (Drafted 1967, Pub. 1970)

In "On the Dating of Home at Grasmere: A New Approach" (1970) John Finch asserts the centrality of Home at Grasmere to Wordsworth's work on The Recluse, and the importance of Spring 1800 as a significant date for it. He states that "All his attempts from 1800 onwards to complete The Recluse involved an imaginative return to that year and to the poem which described it" (14) and "Whenever he tried to finish The Recluse Wordsworth came back to this poem" (16). Finch at first raises the question of how much of the poem was actually composed in 1800 and then goes on to present an argument against this date. Using Wordsworth's description of the state of The Recluse in the Letters, he argues that "as late as June 1805, Home at Grasmere did not exist as a complete unit" (19). He also draws textually upon the declared abandonment of an epic in the "Prospectus" lines of Home at Grasmere as a post-Prelude renunciation: "the renunciation and the poem's completion must, the evidence of the letters suggests, both be later than June 1805" (20).

Turning to the manuscript materials, Finch asserts of the three early MSS that "All belong to a single phase of composition" (20). As with the Letters, so he argues that the manuscripts themselves also point to a date of 1805. Finch ingeniously used the empirical evidence of the watermarks on the paper to support his case. MSS A and B are both written on paper with a watermark of 1801. This evidence unquestionably does away with a date of 1800 for these materials: they must be written at least in 1801 and possibly later. Finch argues the latter, because the Wordsworths tended to use the same material for both letters and manuscripts at the same time and "the Wordsworths were using the 1801 paper . . . for their letters in 1805-1807" (21). For Finch "the matter is put beyond question by the use of 1801 paper in two other manuscripts which clearly belong to those years" (21).

Finally, Finch asserts that MS R "must also belong to this period, though for different reasons" (21). Here, other entries in the same manuscript notebook determine the date. Lines from The Waggoner, known to be written in early January 1806, are entered above the page which contains pencil draft for Home at Grasmere and precede that entry. Finch does however, acknowledge alternative possibilities here:

It remains a possibility that, though earlier than MS. B, the draft which immediately follows the Waggoner lines is a reworking of the corresponding passage – now missing - in the continuous text. The central section of Home at Grasmere could thus arguably have been written at an earlier stage. (23)

Finch concludes that "the working out of the first full version belongs to the years 1805-1807" (24).

SUM: Dates the three early MSS as 1806-1807.

Evidence: Textual; Letters; Watermarks of 1801 paper/habits of usage; Manuscripts.

3. James Butler (1971)

In his PhD thesis, entitled "This Sublime Retirement: A Textual and Literary Study of Wordsworth's Home at Grasmere," James Butler makes a number of key points which are later articulated by Beth Darlington and Jonathan Wordsworth. Like them, and unlike Finch, he tends to emphasise elements of early composition: "What can be said for certain is that part of Home at Grasmere does date from a period close to the events it describes – 1800-1801" (18). In general, then, Butler seeks to remind us that although much of the material that survives is clearly copied up in 1806 it must have had prior surviving draft from the time of first arrival in the valley.

As well as carefully sifting through the evidence of the letters, Butler argues for the possibility of another missing MS A sheet containing early draft: "Neither Darbishire, nor Finch mentions the possibility that a sheet following the extant one of MS A may have been lost. Wordsworth wrote to the very bottom of the remaining sheet" (34-5). He suggests that this sheet might have contained copy of early fragmentary material from 1800-01. In particular, the final line of MS A "Newcomer as I am to speak in doubt" is potentially seen to connect to rough draft in MS R at the line "Fair proof of this, Newcomer though I be" (MS B 693). Some of the material in MS R and possibly even the "Happy Band" passage which has no surviving draft, could have been copied onto a third (missing) MS A sheet.

Three points made in the thesis are later adopted by Beth Darlington and Jonathan Wordsworth. The first is the argument that the "Happy Band" lines must be early on the grounds of Wordsworth's emotional state:

A conclusive argument against 1806 is that it is impossible that Wordsworth could have composed these joyous lines about John, with a promise of the "happy band" in the "vale of Peace," after the devastating blow of John's death in 1805. (55)

Secondly, in his comparative analysis of Home at Grasmere and the early Prelude, Butler draws attention to the "glad preamble" as a connecting piece for the two works:

Wordsworth's first great decision about the inter-related structure of the Recluse and the Prelude came whenever he put the "glad preamble" as introduction to the "two-book Prelude." Now both the main philosophic poem and its biographical counterpart would begin with the same literal and symbolic event – the journey to Grasmere. (94)

Thirdly, Butler points out the shift from the poet's epic intentions and ambitions in the early Prelude to the rejection of them: "What once bulked so large in the Prelude as a possible poetic theme is now rejected by the speaker in Home at Grasmere" (110). All of these points are used by the later scholars.

His approach, contextualising Home at Grasmere in the light of the Recluse, Tuft of Primroses and of Prelude development strongly anticipates Kenneth R. Johnston's 1984 study (Wordsworth and The Recluse).

SUM: Follows Finch's dating but asks questions as to how much of the poem could have been earlier than 1806. Identifies rough draft in notebooks which is definitely 1806 but indicates the possibility of non-surviving early work.

Evidence: Textual; contextual; watermarks; letters. Draws on Finch and Reed (although Reed is not yet published).

4. Mark Reed (1975)

In Appendix VI of Wordsworth: The Chronology of the Middle Years 1800-1815 Mark Reed carefully addresses the issues involved in dating Home at Grasmere. He begins by listing those points in the poem where the content "strongly suggests composition in 1800" (656) (71-79; 170-92; 238-68; 471-90; 502-44; 648-663; these references are to the Darbishire MS D text) and suggests some work might also have occurred in spring 1801. Nonetheless, he agrees with John Finch that his evidence – in terms of content in Letters, watermarks and the relative datings of The Waggoner and Home at Grasmere entries – all confirms "that main composition took place in summer 1806" (656). Reed adds further evidence to support this case. He points out that Home at Grasmere is not included in the copy of poems sent to Coleridge in Malta in 1804 (MS M) and this does seem unlikely if the poem were well developed by that time (bearing in mind that Wordsworth was extremely anxious to get on with The Recluse project and Coleridge was requesting that he do so).

Nonetheless, Reed acknowledges that "Various details concerning the date of composition of HG, however, remain unresolved. Among the most obvious of these is the exact character of the development of HG in the summer of 1806" (658). He includes amongst these details: the relative order of MS A and R; the status of MS A. Since MS A is also a copied, rather than draft text, Reed points out that "A MS of not less than that portion of MS A was thus in existence already" (659) although this does not necessarily mean "that HG achieved coherent form before 1806" (659). In summary, Reed allows that:

Some work on HG may well have gone on as early as 1800, and various portions may have been composed, at least in W's mind, between that time and 1806. But no occasion can be fixed prior to mid-1806, on present evidence. (659)

This seems like a fair and judicious conclusion.

The Prospectus which appears at the end of Home at Grasmere MS B (and which was published in 1814 at the start of The Excursion) is problematic in terms of dating. Since these lines were not included in the collection of poems sent to Coleridge (MS M, DC MS 44), Reed suggests they were not written by March 1804. Whilst the earliest date appears to be 1804, therefore, Reed notes that the content seems to suggest something much earlier, even as early as 1798-1800 (665). He gives a probable date of 1804-Sept 1806 and a possible date of late April 1800-Sept 1806.

MS D of Home at Grasmere exists in two blocks of paper stitched together. Of the first block Reed suggests that it was "possibly written out as an adjunct to the copying of Exc" (685) and gives a date of "between late 1812 and late 1816" (685). The second block can be dated to early 1832 by the paper used (the same as that for Prelude MS D written at the same time).


MS A - late June-Sept 1806.

MS R - late June-Sept 1806 but with some later workings towards MS D

Prospectus - 1804-1806 [poss. 1800-1806]

MS B - from line 117, "probably July 1806 or after" (659)

MS D - 1812-1816 and 1832

Evidence: Finch; Butler; Text; Letters; Watermarks and habits of paper usage; MSS.

5. Beth Darlington (Cornell, Home at Grasmere 1977)

The Cornell edition was fortunate in being able to draw upon the immediately preceding work of John Finch (who would have edited it if he had not died in an accident in 1967) as well as James Butler and Mark Reed. Beth Darlington is bolder than her predecessors in outlining the existence of no longer surviving manuscript materials from 1800. Reed had repeatedly gestured towards this, whilst accepting Finch's material conclusions. Darlington states that: "No manuscript survives from this period, but lines in the first complete version of the poem, MS B . . . clearly express events and feelings of March and April, 1800" (8). She compares the mood of the poem to that of the "glad preamble" for the early Prelude and gives other blocks of text as "composed at the same time" (8) – that is in Spring, 1800. Following Butler, the lines concerning John Wordsworth are presented as being written early on, because "after the anguish of John's death in 1805 Wordsworth could never have written about the 'happy band' in this tone" (10).

Following this strong initial presentation of many parts of Home at Grasmere as necessarily written in 1800, Darlington then works through the various positions of Darbishire, Finch and Butler in relation to the manuscript materials, accepting Finch's findings. This leads her to state that:

If we turn back to 1800, we can find no indication that Wordsworth did much work on the poem after making his jubilant start during his first spring at Dove Cottage. Manuscripts from this period, now lost, must have carried versions of most of lines 1 to 457 of MS. B; possibly a passage of uncertain length, the first two lines of which are preserved in MS. A, following line 457; and lines 859-874 of MS B. (13)

Darlington also suggests that an early version of the Prospectus "appears to date from this phase" (13) and that "It is possible that he resumed work on Home at Grasmere in 1801" (13). Unlike Finch then, Darlington places as much weight on the presumed, but not extant, manuscripts of the early period, as she does on the material evidence of the surviving manuscripts which are linked to a later date. (Reed falls somewhere between their two positions).

Turning to 1806, Darlington reconstructs the stages of composition for MS B, in terms of four main phases of transcription.

Phase 1 and 2

Phases 1 and 2 connect work on missing MS material to MSS A and B. Darlington states that:

During July, he must have taken up the manuscripts containing the passages composed in 1800. . . . he achieved the plan and substance of what was to become the first 457 lines of MS. B; these lines he probably copied into MS. A, only one leaf of which survives." (16)

Darlington puts forward the possibility that Wordsworth revised materials and made the MS A copy prior to working on MS B so that "the resulting messy state of the manuscript prompted the new copy, MS. B, which Mary began" (16-17). Mary then copied the first 457 lines of the poem into MS B and added 11 new lines to make a line count of 468.

Phase 3

In the third transcription phase, material already drafted (probably also in 1806 but possibly earlier) in MS R for lines 469-874 was then physically added to the notebook on inserted pages already copied out in Wordsworth's hand with additional lines (describing the "Happy Band") not present in MS R and coming "from a different manuscript, now lost" (18).

Phase 4

The third section of the text from lines 875-958 Darlington suggests was "probably composed after Wordsworth had learned of Coleridge's return to England" (18) again in 1806. There is no surviving draft for this section of the poem.

Phase 5

Finally, the fourth part of the MS B version is given in the Prospectus lines, copied in from earlier versions in DC MS 45 and 24. As Darlington explains, these lines were originally given the early date of 1798 because of their relation to Wordsworth's outline descriptions of The Recluse project at that time. However, she agrees with Finch that the feel of the lines has more in common with Home at Grasmere and that the fact that they were not copied out for Coleridge suggests they were not written at an earlier time. It is worth bearing in mind that both the prior MS versions are copies and there is no surviving original draft for this text. There is therefore considerable ambiguity as to its original date. Darlington states: "Even if 1798 can be ruled out, the range of possible dates for composition . . . remains disquietingly broad" (21). She acknowledges the counter-position as made by Jonathan Wordsworth (see below) and Reed's range of dates and concludes that "the period between spring, 1800, and early spring, 1802, appears the likeliest time" (22).

The fresh transcription of Home at Grasmere material for MS D occurs "sometime between 1810 and 1814" (24) but most likely between 1812-1814. Darlington describes this manuscript as "a curious hybrid" (24) because of its identity in being written at two different times on different paper sewn together. Leaves 5-14 were copied from MS B on paper dated 1810. Leaves 16-30 were copied on paper dated 1828 with leaves 1-3 added later and later work entered on the earlier paper of pages 14-15. In 1831-1832 MS D was finally completed with revisions made to MS R and to MS B for it.


MS A - 1806

MS B - 1806

MS R - probably 1806

Prospectus: 1800-1802

Evidence: Finch, Butler; Reed; Texts; Letters; Watermarks/ habits of paper use; MSS.

6. Jonathan Wordsworth (1980)

In his article " On Man, on Nature and on Human Life" (Review of English Studies 31[1980]) Jonathan Wordsworth makes the argument that MS R is an 1800 manuscript. He works steadily through the past conclusions of editors for Home at Grasmere and draws upon a prior argument (in his TLS article) concerning the authoritative altering of the dates of main composition from 1800 to 1806. He wants to argue on behalf of the earlier parts of the poem, not only, as Butler and Darlington do, that earlier material must have existed but hasn't survived, but that "The crucial question is whether the manuscripts are indeed all later" (21). He points out that the 388 lines of MS R may have been written much earlier than Finch's evidence suggests and claims the 457 lines that "lie behind" (25) MS A as being originally written in 1800, which he adds to the Prospectus (also written in 1800). His argument for MS R is based on content and mood, arguing that after John Wordsworth's death in February 1805 there "could be no return to the passionate optimism of 1800" (24). For the Prospectus he also gives an argument based on the style and tone of Wordsworth's writing, rejecting 1802 as "the least Miltonic of all his major periods" (27). Instead, he compares the Prospectus to the "Glad Preamble" of November 1799 for The Prelude, "written as a separate effusion, and in response to a particular moment of exalted confidence" (27). He argues that the Prospectus could have been written as an introduction to Home at Grasmere rather than at its end. He concludes that "Home at Grasmere is, almost in its entirety, a poem of 1800" (28).

In an Appendix to The Borders of Vision (1982) Jonathan Wordsworth gives the earliest manuscript version of the Prospectus (DC MS 45) in a reading text along with a text for Home at Grasmere, following Cornell. For the Prospectus he again puts forward the view that "There is evidence to suggest that at first the Prospectus was regarded as an introduction to Home at Grasmere" (388). For Home at Grasmere he states that MS A "implies a missing previous leaf that held the Prospectus and lines 1-191" (390) and states of MS R that: "Though for a time regarded by scholars as belonging to 1806, it is a surviving section of what was probably Wordsworth's chief rough-notebook of 1800" (390). This account could be correct, but it implies greater authority for its position than actually exists.

Jonathan Wordsworth's article draws directly upon Butler (see above) and essentially takes Darlington's position one step further, although without fully acknowledging that the defence of MS A and the Prospectus have no material evidence to support them. It is possible that MS R was written earlier since it precedes MS B and is entered on material identical to that on which 1800 draft exists. Finch's evidence for an 1806 date which relied upon The Waggoner entry on the same page was effectively dismissed by Beth Darlington when she states of the poem that it:

can be independently dated January, 1806; this entry, however, is probably a revision of lines which formerly stood on the interleaf facing page 138 of MS. R, now removed. Although it must date from 1806, it does not help to date other composition in the manuscript. (11)

This leaves only the negative evidence that if MS R were written by 1800 Wordsworth would have written the whole text up into a fair copy at that time - which he did not. There is a case then for MS R as representative of an earlier phase of composition


MS A - 1806 in fair copy but 1800 originally

MS B - 1806

MS R - 1800

Prospectus - 1800

Evidence: Textual (internal); Contextual; against Finch, Reed, Darlington.


Butler, James A. "This Sublime Retirement: A Textual and Literary Study of Wordsworth's Home at Grasmere". Diss. Cornell, 1971.

Darlington, Beth,ed. Home at Grasmere: A Textual and Literary Study of Wordsworth's Home at Grasmere". Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977.

De Selincourt, Ernest and Helen Darbishire, eds. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth 5 vols. V. The Excursion; The Recluse: Part I, Book I. Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1949.

Finch, John Alban. "On the dating of Home at Grasmere: A New Approach." Jonathan Wordsworth and Beth Darlington, eds. Bicentenary Wordsworth Studies in Memory of John Alban Finch. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1970.

Reed, Mark. Wordsworth: The Chronology of the Middle Years, 1800-1815. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1967.

Wordsworth, Jonathan.William Wordsworth: The Borders of Vision. Oxford: Clarendon, 1982.

---. "Secession at Grasmere." TLS(26 March, 1976): 354-355.

---. "On Man, on Nature, and on Human Life."Review of English Studies 31.1 (1980): 17-29.