Comparing Handwriting on the Page

Below are three samples from MS B of William, Mary and Dorothy's handwriting in fair copy MS B. You can begin by guessing which is which.

The top sample is that of Mary, the middle sample is Dorothy and the bottom sample is William.


Mary's hand is always fairly distinctive. She writes very neatly in an even hand with letters all about the same height. Her lines are well spaced and her writing is quite rounded. Distinctive letters to compare are those with tails – such as "f"; "g"; "p" and "y". In Mary's hand the "y" and "g" has a short neat tail. The "f" has a very fine, thin loop.


The second sample is from William's fair copy hand. The size of his letters is much smaller than for Mary's hand, with considerable disparity between base letters and those with tails. William makes letters "f", "p" and "g" very long so that the tails define the distance of the line below. His hand is less pleasing on the eye than Mary's, though clear enough.


The third sample is from Dorothy Wordsworth. Her hand is much harder to distinguish from William's when copying. In her Journals Dorothy has a distinctive, large, loose, curved hand but when writing close to William on the page her hand can be hard to distinguish from his, with a similar proportion between base letters and letters with tails, though William's still tend to be longer. Dorothy does have quite a distinctive final "d" however, with a curving left top.

The "&"

Notice also the ampersands (&) used in each sample. This is the easiest and most immediate way to distinguish hands on the page for Wordsworth's manuscripts. Mary, William and Dorothy each enter it differently. For Mary it is an even double loop, at top and bottom (although elsewhere, as in Home at Grasmere MS D, for example, it becomes more like a cross). For Dorothy it is more like a "v" with a line across it because the top loop becomes very small. For William it is a thin vertical line with a circle in it, at times resembling a capital "I" and in rough draft sometimes looking like a loop in a piece of rope.