10th June 1824

Saw the blue-grey or lead-colord Fly-catcher for the first time this season they are calld 'Egypt Birds' by the common people from their note which seems to resemble the sound of the word 'Egypt' they build in old walls like the redstart & Grey Wagtail.
(Clare's Journal)

If ever the painstaking work of transcription is justified, the hours of eye-strain and debate, the weeks and months of detailed labour, often misunderstood or undervalued, it is when the original manuscript of a great writer disappears – perhaps for ever. This is what has happened to MS A47 from the Peterborough archive. It contained the original text of Clare’s long poem ‘Birds Nesting’.
We owe Eric Robinson a great debt, as if he had not struggled to copy this manuscript 50 years ago, it would only have survived in fragments and in unsatisfactory copies by earlier hands.

What happened to the manuscript? We do not know, nor when exactly it disappeared. What we do know however, is that it was loaned to an unnamed scholar by a senior member of the Peterborough Museum Society, and left in a railway compartment between Peterborough and Cambridge.
An excerpt from ‘Birds Nesting’ - Chapbook No. 13 (Arbour Editions)

There is a stranger comes with may
To haunt the homesteads orchard tree
Sings ‘eejip eejip’ all the day
& many cheated folks there be
Whose fancys lead their ears astray
Think bible egypt is its home

& marvel at the mighty way
That birds without a guide will come
It sings its strange & foreign call
All day in motion & at rest
& in the orchards hollow wall
It makes a large & curious nest

Of straw that from the yard it gains
& cobwebs fine as very down
& lays six eggs of tawney stains
Besprent with dots of darker brown
Its back is of a slatey blue
Its paler bosom ashen grey

Its wings are of a darker hue
& now & ever all the day
The orchard trees are its retreats
& there their ever busy guest
A somthing every moment meets
To catch & carry to its next

Neath cot & hovel eaves it drops
& flies & insects often gets
& round the barn hole fluttering stops
Where spiders spread their flimsy nets
& boys from what they’ve seen & heard
Them oft as Spider catchers call

But yet the busy Egypt bird
Remains a guess & doubt with all
& theres a bird I often mind
A bird that rarely ever fails
With Wagtails ‘Marholm Pits’ to find
& like them too with shorter tails

In heaps of stone it finds a way
& builds its nest of twitch & roots
& lays five eggs of leaden grey
With spots as black as ink or soot

(lines 279-318 of ‘Birds Nesting)