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Cross-written Manuscripts

A task that looks closely at William Wordsworth's own writing over a printed copy of Coleridge's poems.

MS R (DC MS 30) is a manuscript that contains work for ‘Michael’ and ‘Home at Grasmere’ written over across and around a printed copy of Coleridge’s Poems (1796).

The base notebook is an interleaved copy. This means it is a printed book but it has plain pages between the poems. Poets had books made like this so that they could edit them or send them to friends to comment on them. This is probably how Wordsworth came to have the copy. Because paper is very expensive he uses the blank pages initially to draft his own poem, ‘Home at Grasmere’ and also work for ‘Michael’ but he ends up writing over and around the lines of printed text on the pages opposite the interleaved blanks.

In this task, looking closely at one page of the manuscript, you are going to:

  • attempt to transcribe both texts on the MS page – in doing so you will begin to realise how valuable those Cornell transcriptions are.
  • Read the two texts off against each other. What is the relationship between them?

You can find the transcript in the Downloads section below.

Try to read the page of manuscript (MS R, 142). The base page of printed text is a passage within Coleridge’s long poem ‘Religious Musings’. The hand written draft is Wordsworth writing about Grasmere and its community as part of a passage in ‘Home at Grasmere’.

  1. Read the printed text first then try to transcribe the handwritten text. Have a go and see how much sense you can make of it.
  2. When you have had enough, look at the Cornell transcription of this page and compare it to your own.
  3. Now compare the two passages. Are there points where the meanings seem to be similar? If so how is this possible? Or is it just a coincidence?
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William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place

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