Dating the Prospectus
As with Home at Grasmere more generally, the dating of the Prospectus lines is problematic. The various alternatives are briefly listed below. See also Darlington, 20-22; Reed, 663-665; Wordsworth, 26-28.
Last Possible Date
Since the Prospectus MSS must date from before MS B, for which they provide the copy text, they cannot have been written any later than September 1806.
Earliest Possible Date.
This is far more problematic. A range of possible dates prior to 1806 have been put forward.
In terms of content, arguments were originally made for 1798 (PW V, 363-364) because of the comparison with Wordsworth's letters of this time in which he first outlined The Recluse project. In particular the key phrase "On Man on Nature and On Human Life" compares with Wordsworth's letter to James Tobin of 6th March, 1798, which states:
I have written 1300 lines of a poem in which I contrive to convey most of the knowledge of which I am possessed. My object is to give pictures of Nature, Man, and Society. Indeed I know not any thing which will not come within the scope of my plan. (EY, 212).
Explicitly, on 11th March he describes the project to James Losh as "a poem which I hope to make of considerable utility; its title will be The Recluse or views of Nature, Man, and Society" (EY, 214).
Against this very early date (prior to any writing of Home at Grasmere) we can consider evidence in terms of content and lack of copies of the lines. It is fair to say that if written in 1798 these lines would have been of value to Wordsworth and yet they are not copied out by Dorothy with other material at this time, nor are they copied in the material sent to Coleridge in 1804. Circumstancially, this suggests that they are written after that time. In terms of content, Jonathan Wordsworth has also argued that the philosophy they present is not that of the "One Life" embraced by Wordsworth in 1798.
Arguments in favour of this date suggest that the Prospectus lines were written at about the same time as early Home at Grasmere material and that the Prospectus can be directly compared with the "Glad Preamble" of The Prelude (dated Nov. 1799-Jan. 1800) in terms of tone and content – both being Miltonic statements of ambition, with the lines being written to stimulate Home at Grasmere rather than as a conclusion to it ("On Man, on Nature, and on Human Life" 27-28).
Darlington suggests a time between Spring 1800 and Spring 1802 but Jonathan Wordsworth refutes this: "Nothing is less likely than that the Prospectus should belong to early spring 1802" ("On Man, on Nature, and on Human Life," 27). He suggests that the Prospectus could have originally be written to be placed at the start of Home at Grasmere not at the end (see above).
After March 1804
Reed suggests this date, because the lines are not included in MS M (the copies of Wordsworth poems sent to Coleridge before he left for Malta). However, Darlington states that "Subsequently Reed pushed the later limit forward to 1802, 'probably before 4 April'" (21).
SUM: Darlington states that "the period between spring, 1800, and early spring, 1802, appears the likeliest time. Lines 1002-1014 were probably added in 1806" (22).