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Manuscript of ‘Old Man Travelling’

Sally Bushell from Lancaster University examines the manuscript of ‘Old Man Travelling’ and explains the process by which Wordsworth created the poem.
In this short film, we’re going to look at the poem, “Old Man Travelling” from Lyrical Ballads in 1798. And we’ve chosen this poem for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a really excellent example of Wordsworth choosing as his subject the overlooked, the marginalised figures within society. So it embodies the principles of the lyrical ballads really, really well. Even the title itself, “Old Man Travelling” is incredibly understated. Secondly, it’s a really neat, concise example on the manuscript page of how one poem can emerge out of another.
If you haven’t already read or listened to the poem or undertaken an analysis of it, then I really recommend that you do that at this point, before I talk more closely about where the poem came from.
So you’ve looked at the published version of “Old Man Travelling,” and hopefully had a think about the contents of the poem. What we’re going to do now is go back to where the poem came from and look at its origins within the manuscript. So again, what I’m doing as a scholar is looking at the manuscript page and reconstructing the order of entry and how the poem develops. In this case, we have one base poem, called “Description of a Beggar” and “Old Man Travelling,” which emerges out of that poem. The base poem is going to go on to become a different poem entirely, “The Old Cumberland Beggar,” also in Lyrical Ballads, a separate text.
So Wordsworth begins on the recto page, 3R, 3R and 2V. So this is the recto. This is the verso. And often with a recto and a verso page, you end up with a particular pattern of entry in which the recto is the dominant page and the verso becomes an overspill page, or an area where you redraft or even sketch and do doodles or something like that. And in this case, we see exactly that happening here. So the poem begins to be entered on 3R, the recto page, in quite a neat, clean hand. As Wordsworth starts to write it, though, he clearly becomes dissatisfied with what he’s writing.
We see two huge cross-marks on the page, crossings out individual lines, and two big crosses very clearly indicating that he’s having a problem with this section of the text. At this point, Wordsworth stops and he goes over and he starts to rework a section of the text on the verso page opposite. Now up to that point, he’s been pretty much describing the beggar, this figure from the outside. But at this point, he begins to shift to an interior account of the man that goes on to look much more like the poem that you’ve been reading and thinking about. One line on the manuscript halfway down that page is really significant.
And that’s a little tiny line fitted in there between underneath the cross, which says– and I’m going to have to use my own transcription to read that– “insensibly subdued to settle quiet,” “insensibly subdued to settle quiet.” And that line is actually describing the heart of the old man travelling, his state, his interior state, “insensibly subdued to settled quiet.” So I think that little line there, added in there, stimulates the overspill. He starts to work on the interior state of this man, his interior condition. So he works there. He comes back over to the bottom of “Description of a Beggar,” and he adds it in here.
He still seems to be thinking about these lines as a further development of the beggar, because we have the title on the verso page. Then he turns the page around and he starts to write down the margins. He’s writing his text in the margins. And again, if we use the Cornell description, he’s describing the interior state of that man, “to peace of one insensibly subdued to settled quiet, of a man by whom all effort seems forgotten.” And these lines here, all describing this kind of state of the man. Revises it here. And then finally on the opposite page, at the top of the opposite page, he writes it out as a separate poem.
And he gives that poem a title, “Old Man Travelling, Animal Tranquility and Decay.” When we look at ‘Old Man Travelling,” however, we notice that the last six lines of the poem are written in a slightly lighter colour ink. This raises an ongoing question for manuscripts, which is, you always know when something’s been changed, but you don’t know how long the gap between that change is. And actually, there are probably at least three different times of entry on these two pages. Clearly here, though, we’ve got 14 lines entered in one colour ink and then the last 6 in a different colour ink and in lighter pen. So that suggests it’s entered at a different time.
Now, as you’ll know from your analysis of the poem, those last six lines are crucial, because they change the meaning and in fact they undercut the poem’s assumptions that he’s been making earlier on. In 1798, the first edition of Lyrical Ballads, those lines are given actively. The man is allowed to speak for himself. So I’ll just read those out to remind you. “I asked him whither he was bound and what the object of his journey. He replied, “Sir! I am going many miles to take a last leave of my son, a mariner.” So it continues. So the old man is allowed to speak for himself, “Sir! I am going many miles,” in 1798.
Now, what’s interesting about these added lines, and I only noticed this when I was preparing for the MOOC, is that they aren’t the 1798 version. They aren’t the first draft version of the poem. They’re actually the revision that is made to the poem in 1800. And in 1800, those lines become passive. The poet is speaking on behalf of the man. “I asked him whither he was bound and what the object of his journey. He replied that he was going many miles to take.” So now the poet is still in control. He’s still speaking for the man, instead of the man speaking for himself.
This suggests then that those last six lines in the manuscript are added as part of the revisions that Wordsworth’s making for the second edition of Lyrical Ballads in 1800. What’s really interesting about that is it means there’s no manuscript version for the first active six lines that undercut the poem in 1798. “Old Man Travelling” is a really simple, short poem. But when we look at it in the manuscripts, we can see that it’s an excellent example of how for Wordsworth revision can bring about a whole new poem.

Watch this video in which Professor Sally Bushell examines the manuscript of ‘Old Man Travelling’ and explains the process by which Wordsworth created the poem.

You may want to pay particular attention to the different sections of manuscript text, as you will have a chance to create your own manuscript of ‘Old Man Travelling’.

Now you can try to reconstruct the manuscript.

Print the 6 sections of text in the attachment below and stick them onto 2 portrait sheets of A4, arranged like the pages of a book (left hand sheet is the verso, right hand sheet is the recto) to create your own copy of the manuscript. The important part here is understanding the order in which William Wordsworth wrote the poem. You may wish to watch the video again whilst you are doing this task.

If you do not have access to a printer, see if you can produce a sketch using the relative sizes of each segments of the poem as a template by referring to the manuscript download, and complete the task as above.

We have provided you with a model answer where each box has a number which signals the order in which the text was entered onto the two pages.

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William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place

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