The Prelude

William Wordsworth

Design, illustration and printing commission

Unbound sheets for bookbinders – $320

Designed and printed for The Wordsworth Trust. Edited by Robert Woof with an Introduction by Stephen Gill. With Watercolours by David Esslemont. Published in 2006 by The Wordsworth Trust - $650

Wordsworth’s masterpiece

This edition of Wordsworth’s masterpiece follows the text of one of the Trust’s greatest treasures, the fair copy made by Dorothy Wordsworth in 1805–6 known as ‘Manuscript A’. In 1805 Dorothy wrote to Lady Beaumont: ‘I am now engaged in making a fair and final transcript of the poem on his life, I mean final till it is prepared for the press, which will not be for many years. No doubt before that time he will, either from the suggestions of his friends, or his own, or both, have some alterations to make, but appears to us at present to be finished.’

Greatest poetic achievement

As predicted, Wordsworth continued to revise the poem and it was not published until after his death in 1850. The 1805 version of the poem, now considered Wordsworth’s greatest poetic achievement, did not reach the public until 1926 and was based on Manuscript A, with reference to ‘Manuscript B’, another fair copy made at the same period by Mary Wordsworth. This new edition follows closely the original spelling and light punctuation of Manuscript A and presents Wordsworth’s poem as it stood at a particular point in time when he appeared, to his wife and sister, ‘to be finished’.

A haunting need

Robert Woof’s introductory essay describes the early growth of the poem, tracing the changes that were made between the very first fragments of 1798 and the poem as completed in 1805–6: ‘Many of these changes reveal a different, often expanded and more deeply explored presentation of Wordsworth’s experience as a boy, a young man, a political figure and a potential poet whose subject is a haunting need to deepen his own self-analysis.’

A unique memorial

The Prelude will be a unique memorial to the bicentenary of the poem and to the life and work of Robert Woof, the Trust’s first Director, who died in November 2005. It represents his final achievement as a great Wordsworth scholar.


There are fourteen watercolours, one facing the start of every 'Book' and one used as a frontispiece. They are printed digitally using archival inks. The images are details from a single watercolour. Each of the special bindings will include all fourteen watercolours as separate prints together with a fifteenth that makes up the full picture.

Designed and printed in Minneapolis by David Esslemont. Set in Adobe Bembo and printed from photopolymer plates on Zerkall mould-made acid-free paper in an edition of 200 copies. Ten copies are offered in a special binding by Esslemont.

380 pp., 290 x 185 mm. (11.4 x 7.3 inches).

Copyright © David Esslemont 2022