Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
Critical Introduction by Thomas Humphry Ward
THE POETICAL MISCELLANIES are among the most characteristic productions of the age of Elizabeth, and no selection from the work of that age could be at all complete without a reference to them. Devised sometimes by an enterprising bookseller, sometimes by a literary editor like Clement Robinson or Francis Davison, they formed collectionscancioneros as it wereof the occasional verse of most of the poets of the day, and they thus preserve for us a mass of poems which, without such an opportunity for publication, the authors would infallibly have let die. Much of what is contained in the later miscellanies, especially in Englands Helicon, was, it is true, reprinted from works already issued; but much, on the other hand, was new. The value of the collections was at once recognised, and no work of any single author of the time had such success as fell to their lot; for example, Tottells Miscellany went through eight editions before 1587, and the Paradyse of Dainty Devises through nine between 1576 and 1606. They were not, however, books likely to survive the shocks of time; and copies of these original editions are in almost all cases excessively rare. Fortunately most of the poems are now put beyond the risk of loss by the careful reprints of modern scholars, such as Sir Egerton Brydges, Mr. Park, Mr. Collier, and Mr. Arber.
The following is a list of the printed Miscellanies which are known to exist:
(1) Tottells Miscellany; properly called Songes and Sonettes, written by the ryght honorable Lorde Henry Haward, late Earle of Surrey, and other. 1557. This, which is of course not strictly Elizabethan, contains the first edition of Surreys and Wyatts poems; poems by Nicholas Grimald, and about forty poems by uncertain authors, among whom are known to have been Thomas, Lord Vaux, Edward Somerset, and John Heywood.
(2) The Paradyse of Daynty Devises, devised and written for the most part by M. Edwards, sometimes of her Majesties Chappel; the rest by sundry learned gentlemen, both of honoyr and woorshippe. 1576. In spite of its fantastic title the poems here contained are mostly didactic and religious. Among the writers may be named Richard Edwards (the M. or Mr. Edwards of the title-page), Lord Vaux, William Hunnis, and Jasper Heywood. The last-named contributes a poem, of too great length and too little strictly poetical merit to be here quoted, which reads like a curious anticipation of Polonius advice to Laertes.
(3) A Gorgious Gallery of Gallant Inventions. Edited by T. Procter and (perhaps) O. Roydon. 1578. An inferior collection.
(4) A handefull of Pleasant Delites, by Clement Robinson and divers other. 1584. The title-page says the poems are newlly devised to the newest tunes, which suggests that many of these collections were primarily song-books.
(5) Bretons Bower of Delites. 1592. Published supposititiously by one Richard Jones, and attributed to Nicholas Breton. It is really a Miscellany, and of the poems it contains only three or four are Bretons.
(6) The Phnix Nest, edited by R. S. [? Richard Stapylton]. 1593. Among the contributors are Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford, Sir W. Herbert, Lodge, Watson, and Peele.
(7) The Arbor of Amorous Devises. 1567. The only known copy of this book has no title-page, but a sale catalogue of 1781, apparently describing a copy that cannot now be traced, quotes it as by Nicholas Breton. As such Mr. Grosart prints it in his collected edition of Bretons works. But, as the printers prefatory letter declares, it is in fact a Miscellany, being many mens work excellent poets. All the poems in the collection are anonymous; one of them is the lovely Lullaby we give later.
(8) The Passionate Pilgrim. 1599. Contains writings of Shakespeare, Barnfield, Marlowe, Raleigh, and others.
(9) Englands Helicon, 1600; edited by J. Bodenham. This is the most celebrated and the richest of the whole class, and is in itself a compendium of all that is best or that at the time was famous among Elizabethan pastorals and love poems. Every living poet of eminence seems to have been drawn upon for a copy of verses, and much was added from the stores of those no longer living. Thus we have poems from Surrey, Spenser, Sidney, Lord Brooke, Greene, Lodge, Marlowe, and even from Shakespeare; from Watson, Drayton, Browne; and much of what has since been rightly and wrongly attributed to Raleigh appears here under the title Ignoto. Some of the most celebrated poems, such as Sidneys Love is dead, we give under their authors names; it is better in this place to quote only from those minor but still beautiful writers who are otherwise not represented in these volumessuch as Breton, the Shepherd Tonie (? Anthony Munday), and Bolton.
(10) A Poetical Rapsody. 1602. The editor of this most interesting miscellany was Francis Davison, who with his brother Walter contributed many poems. The list of other writers includes Sidney, Raleigh, Sir John Davies, Watson, Sylvester, Charles Best, and many more, the editor pretending, after the fashion of those times, to throw the responsibility of inserting the works of such great and learned personages upon the too presumptuous printer. It is interesting to note that Davison, writing in 1602, contrasts the poetry of twenty years before with the perfection which it has now attained; a kind of boast which was commoner at the end of the seventeenth century than at the beginning. We may add that the Rapsody passed through four editions in the reign of James I, and that in that of 1608 the poem of The Lie, which we print under Raleighs name, first appeared.