What is a Manuscript?
Which of the following do you think are manuscripts?
a scribbled shopping list
your school exercise book
a poem written by William Wordsworth
a published book of William Wordsworth’s poetry, Lyrical Ballads, dated 1798
a published book of William Wordsworth’s poetry, Lyrical Ballads, dated 2007
a Wordsworth poem copied out by his sister Dorothy
Now review your list.
What can we learn by looking at William Wordsworth’s manuscripts?
Manuscripts can tell us a lot about the way Wordsworth worked. In studying a manuscript we become like detectives, looking for clues and gathering evidence to bring us closer to Wordsworth writing. Here are some things to look out for:
Not all the handwriting is the same: other people, especially Wordsworth’s wife and sister, often helped, either by copying from a notebook, or by writing as Wordsworth dictated.
Also, the handwriting of the same person can look different depending on whether they are drafting, copying or making the final fair copy of a poem. Sometimes you will see the handwriting change in the middle of the manuscript.
Look carefully for changes Wordsworth may have made after copying had been done. They might be crossings out, or words and phrases added. Sometimes whole lines or sections are moved and placed elsewhere.
Words can be misspelled, missed out, or repeated.
If Wordsworth was writing in 2007, how might all of this be different? Why?