A Previously Unknown Version of William Wordsworth’s Poem “November 1813"
William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was one of the most important poets of the 19th century. His collaboration with Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Lyrical Ballads (1798) is often credited with ushering in the Romantic Period of British Literature. Among his most famous works are The Prelude (1850), “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey (1798), and many, many others. Wordsworth was Poet Laureate from 1843 until 1850.
An Explanation of the Poem
This draft of William Wordsworth’s poem is one of the most paradoxical documents in the Frellsen Fletcher Smith Collection. These verses were written after the defeat of Napoleon at Leipzig October 16-19, 1813. The poem was published several times, and the verison published in The Courier in 1814 is closest to the version we have here. The final and definitive published version of this poem differs considerably from the handwritten document in this collection, a version which, according to letter written in 1988 by Jonathan Wordsworth, “contains variants not (to my knowledge) elsewhere recorded.” While the signature at the bottom is William Wordsworth’s, the poem is not in his handwriting, and is “probably a second or third draft dictated by Wordsworth to a friend or secretary.”
According to Jeff Cowton, Curator of the Wordsworth Trust, “The piece itself is a mystery....it is interesting that there is such a variation with the printed work.” Cowton points out that if the poem was first published on 1st January 1814 in The Courier, and this manuscript, according to the date, “was drafted after the publication date - or at the very least on the first of the month - why should the lines be added as an insert at the end? It would make more sense if the manuscript was dated 1813. I guess we must also be open to the possibility that part of the manuscript dates from pre-publication date, and the signature added afterwards.”
It is truly an interesting and puzzling piece, and a one-of-a-kind addition to the Frellsen Fletcher Smith Collection. To learn more about it visit the collection on the 4th floor of Prescott Memorial Library.
- Dr. Rick Simmons, Department of English, Louisiana Tech University