On the back of this letter, dated 14 December 1805, we can see an early copy of William Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Solitary Reaper’, which it describes as ‘inspired by that beautiful passage in Thomas Wilkinson’s tour about the solitary Highland lass singing out her harvest work’. The poem itself was probably composed on 5 November 1805, and sent by Dorothy Wordsworth to another friend, Lady Beaumont, two days later. It was inspired by the work of Thomas Wilkinson, a Lake District landowner who wrote Tours of the British Mountains.
The letter is from Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy, to their family friend Catherine Clarkson.
Though it starts ‘I have for many days been intending to send you a copy of a poem’, the letter first discusses a courier losing a packet of Dorothy and William’s works, Coleridge’s difficulties crossing a Europe divided by the Napoleonic wars, and how the Wordsworth children are.
Towards the end of the letter, Dorothy realises ‘I shall leave no room for the Poem’, and has to cram it in. As she explains as an afterthought, ‘I have written the 4 first lines of the poem as if they were only two.’ Besides differences in punctuation, on line 13, it has the earlier ‘sound’ rather than the ‘voice’ Wordsworth changed it to in the printer’s manuscript. Similarly, line 25 has ‘Maid’ rather than the later ‘Maiden’, a change which particularly affects the metrical flow of the line.