How do William and Mary Work Together?

This is a useful example for exploring how William and Mary worked together when she was copying out his writing. The base text (describing the flight of birds above the lake) is being copied out by Mary (here in black) with Wordsworth's above-line revisions given in red. The section can be found on the image approximately 1/3 of the way down the column.


Above the circuit of the lake their own

Adopted region girding it about

In yet therewith

With wanton repetition high & low


With {[?] large circle evermore renewed

Hundreds of lesser circles high & low

curves & circlets

Backwards & forwards progress intricate

As if one Spirit was in all & swayed 300

{T tis done

And sway'd {their indefatigable flight

(MS A 294-300)

The correction of the first "high and low" to "yet therewith", which is entered in Mary's hand, looks like an alteration made immediately during copying, and may be a copying error on her part; an accidental anticipation of the "high & low" of the line below it. Again at line 300-301 she appears to make a copying error, writing "And sway'd" out twice and so having to cross out the second one and add the two words at the end of the line. The nature of the error suggest that the prior draft may be quite rough. When Wordsworth re-reads the text he corrects the "T" of "their" to make it a capital.

It may be that when Mary finished her block of copying she handed it over to Wordsworth. The ink of the crossed-out words for all of them, except for "circuit", looks to be the same as the ink of her pen. We might speculate then that William picked up her pen and used it to make changes to lines 296-298. Mary's re-written line now contained both "With" and "Yet therewith" so he crossed the first word out and replaced it with '"In". At a level of description William was unhappy with the lines and so he introduced a clearer description of the birds as being in one "large circle" before the secondary description of them, which he also revised.

Finally, at a later time perhaps, Wordsworth read the passage through again and, having changed the description of the birds, decided also to change the initial description of the lake from "circuit" to "area". Whereas "circuit" clearly describes the shape and limits of the birds' movement, "area" makes reference to the physical space and place they occupy. Since the whole passage which follows this one describes the geometric patterns and movements of the birds, the poet may have decided to ground this image.

The reconstruction is largely speculative and there is much that we cannot reconstruct. We cannot tell whether Mary is copying out alone, or with William present (although it seems likely that he is). We cannot tell whether she is reading the text or whether Wordsworth is reading or dictating to her (although there are other manuscripts where clear dictation errors occur so she is probably copying). We cannot tell how long a lapse occurs between one revision and another.