Posts On Several Occasions: Or, A Specimen Of The Ongoing Development Of The Digital Miscellanies Index, A Freely Available Online Index Of Poetry In Eighteenth-Century Miscellanies

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Friday, 12 December 2014

Teaching Digital Humanities at Reading

Monday, 6 October 2014

National Poetry Day with @dmioxford

Sunday, 28 September 2014

A is for Aphra

Welcome to our new-look blog, and to phase two of the Digital Miscellanies project! I'm Carly, and over the next three years I'll be working with our academic partners and technical developers to expand and remodel the DMI; I'll also be immersing myself in the data to inform my research into the poetry printed in eighteenth-century miscellanies. If you'd like to know more about the work we're doing to develop the Index, have a look at our Work In Progress page.

We're almost a month into the project, and having started out as a somewhat wobbly novice database user, I've hit my stride with creating new records for the Index. I'm adding records for miscellanies published between 1680 and 1699; these records are part of the new content which will be made public when the DMI site is relaunched, with a new search interface, in around two years' time.

The first miscellany I added to the database was a 1685 collection creatively titled Miscellany, Being a Collection of Poems by Several Hands. Its editor was Aphra Behn - playwright, poet, novelist, spy and pioneering self-made woman of the Restoration era. I'm not actually working alphabetically, as the title of this post suggests - I simply searched the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) for late seventeenth-century books with 'miscellany' in the title, and picked an interesting-looking place to start.

Before I go on, let me retract some of the sarcasm in my observation that Behn's Miscellany is 'creatively titled'. In fact, a search of ESTC reveals that the idea of calling a collection of poetry a 'miscellany' was a relatively new one in the 1680s: before the appearance of Behn's Miscellany in 1685, only three other collections of verse had been published with 'miscellany' in the title. The first example of a verse collection advertised as a 'miscellany' appeared in 1673, when the London publisher William Cademan brought out Westminster Quibbles in Verse: [...] Or, A Miscellany of Quibling Catches, Joques and Merriments. Here, though, the word 'miscellany' lurks down in the second subtitle, and on closer inspection Cademan's text isn't even properly miscellaneous: it's a collection of hundreds of jests in the same six-line verse form, or 506 Humorous Sestets to Amuse Your Friends. It wasn't until the publication of Miscellany Poems in 1684 - the first of a series of collections issued by the pre-eminent literary publisher Jacob Tonson - that 'miscellany' became a familiar label for collections of poetry in print.

Behn's Miscellany takes shape around the warp and weft of love themes and fashionable classicism. Translations from Horace, Ovid, Catullus, Virgil and other ancient poets intermingle in the volume with original songs and poems about amorous pleasure and pain. The collection also includes satires targeting degenerate factions at home and degenerate foreigners abroad; elsewhere in the volume, a more personal, sociable world appears in a number of epistles, elegies, prologues and epilogues associated with Behn's own creative life and milieu (one of these is a 'Pindaric' poem in praise of Behn herself, written by the playwright Edward Howard). "The resulting medley", as Barbara Benedict observes (see below), "allows topical and universal interpretations".

However, entering the contents of this miscellany into the DMI database has revealed something interesting - that in the eighteenth century, when readers for whom the topical resonance of the poems had faded might have appreciated their universal meanings, the poems had mostly fallen out of the miscellany tradition. Only eleven of the poems which appear in the 299 pages of verse in Behn's collection were subsequently printed in eighteenth-century miscellanies. Three of these are associated with the Earl of Rochester, including Behn's own elegy on Rochester's death in 1680:

Mourn, Mourn, ye Muses, all your loss deplore,
The Young, the Noble Strephon is no more.

It seems that however well-received Behn's Miscellany may have been at the end of the seventeenth century, it did not leave a legacy for eighteenth-century literary culture. Over the past weeks, my work entering poems into the database - and in the process finding out which ones are already there and which are not - has revealed more of these curiously stunted textual histories, which I hope to write about on this blog in future. As well as being a systematic process, data entry has proved to be a fast-track route into literary history, allowing me to explore the longevity (or otherwise) of seventeenth-century poems in the later miscellany tradition.

Aphra Behn, ed., Miscellany, Being a Collection of Poems by Several Hands (London, 1685). ESTC R3358.

Barbara M. Benedict, Making the Modern Reader: Cultural Mediation in Early Modern Literary Anthologies (Princeton, NJ, 1996). Discussion of Behn's 1685 Miscellany is on pp. 85-87.

Friday, 13 September 2013

The launch of the DMI is days away.

There are still pigeon canapés and punch recipes to be sourced,  and a whole technical development awaiting completion, apparently happening somewhere between Osney Island, Oxford, and Rio! 
For anyone interested in the intellectual content of the launch, here is the programme of events on Tuesday 17 September:

Miscellany of Miscellanies:
Launch Conference for the Digital Miscellanies Index.


10.00 Welcome

10.10 Session 1: Some new findings from the Digital Miscellanies Index

Claudine Vanhensbergen, ‘Unlocking The Cabinet of Love. Pornography, popularity and reputation: a case-study of The Works of the Earls of Rochester and Roscommon (1707-1800)’

John McTague, ‘Popularity and Censorship in Political Miscellanies.’

Adam Bridgen, ‘Death in the Database: Wills in Verse, Verse in Wills, and their place in miscellanies’

Coffee 11.30

11.45  Session 2:  Jennifer Batt and Abigail Williams, Making and Using the Index

12.30 Lunch and trial of database

1.30 Session 3: Miscellaneous miscellanies

Kathleen Lawton Trask, ‘Mock-Litanies in the Digital Miscellanies Index’

Emma Salgard Cunha, ‘A Methodist Miscellany: John Wesley’s Moral and Sacred Poems’

Hazel Wilkinson, ‘Rethinking eighteenth-century Spenserianism through the poetic miscellany

2.45-4.15 Session 4: Miscellanies and eighteenth-century print culture

James McLaverty, ‘Not-So-Miscellaneous Miscellanies, or Keeping Pope in Print’

Suarez 'Copyright in Practice: How Intellectual Property Law Really Functioned in Eighteenth-century England'

Simon Dickie ‘Deformity Poems and Other Nasties.’

4.15 Tea

4.30-5.30 Session 5: The DMI and digital humanities projects

Giles Bergel, Bodleian Broadside Ballads Online

Michelle O Callaghan, Verse Miscellanies Online

Gerald Egan, Digital Anthologies Index

5.30 close of conference

6.30-8.00 ‘Cheerful Companion’ evening entertainment, Senior Common Room.
The Cheerful Companion
An Evening in the Eighteenth Century Parlour, 17 September, 2013, 6.30-8.00pm.
If we were able to step inside the parlours and drawing rooms of the eighteenth century, we’d find evenings busy with home-made entertainments – book groups and tea table parties; amateur dramatics; groups of women reading and weeping their way through popular sentimental fiction, and men at punch parties singing songs about dogs. The Cheerful Companion offers you a peep into this world, a chance to explore the sounds, tastes and feel of a candlelit evening at home in 1740. There will be music and readings from popular eighteenth century miscellanies and songbooks, and the opportunity to practice some needlework whilst sipping punch and nibbling on a devilled egg...

Monday, 17 June 2013

Funeral crashing

As the launch of the Digital Miscellanies Index draws nearer, we are busying ourselves with checking the data already entered into the database – ironing out inconsistencies in proper names, correcting typos, checking that the correct links have been made between miscellanies and poems, or shoring up the authority of attributions that have been made in the database. It’s important work, but it also means that we are working mainly with old and familiar material. So it was a particular delight last week when I discovered a poem I hadn’t seen before – a poem which will not, in fact, appear in the database, for reasons that I shall go on to explain.

I was checking a volume of poems entitled Verses on the Death of Queen Caroline (London, 1738), a title which very aptly describes the contents: 3 poems on the death of George II’s queen, who in November 1737 had suffered a long and painful death caused by complications relating to a mistreated umbilical hernia. Queen Caroline is remembered by historians partly for her intellectual interests (she was the intermediary for the correspondence on Newton and free-will between Liebniz and Samuel Clarke around 1717), partly for her literary tastes (famously granting a pension to the ‘thresher poet’ Stephen Duck), but chiefly for her political influence. None of these things – but especially her proximity to and influence over Robert Walpole – endeared her to the opposition to Walpole’s government.

Verses on the Death of Queen Caroline is a slim folio volume, running to 10 pages. The title page bears an Horatian epigraph, from his lament for Quintilius (Odes, I.24). According to ESTC the volume is ‘sometimes attributed to Thomas Tickell’ but evidence on the attribution of the poems is very hard to find. So far, so unremarkable. Proceeding onwards to the poetry does not alleviate matters much. The first two – ‘Verses on the Death of Her Majesty Queen Caroline’ and ‘To the King’ – are quite flatly conventional. This is certainly no Marvell on Cromwell (it’s not even Tickell on Addison). The following couplet, for instance, doesn’t quite attain the dignity it is grasping for,

See there, extended on the Bed of State,
All that remains----of once so Good and Great! (p. 3)

especially as Caroline’s bodily ‘extent’ is, along with the overpowering mellifluousness of her name, one of the things Swift so uncharitably focusses on in ‘Directions for a Birth-Day Song’ (1729). He imagines difficulties faced by her future undertaker:

May Caroline continue long,
For ever fair and young! –in song.
What though the royal carcass must,
Squeezed in a coffin, turn to dust;
Those elements her name compose,
Like atoms, are exempt from blows.

The third poem, ‘An Epitaph on the Queen,’ is a little more sprightly, taking the Queen’s posthumous critics to task and focussing on aspects of her personality – mentioning her support of Locke and Clarke and Hoadley, as well as her steadfastness in facing a painful death. There is a reason for this increased focus and attention, and that reason lies over the page (even though this poem finishes on the last page of the miscellany). The reader of the copy at British Library shelfmark 603.k.28.(5) is treated to a continuation, handwritten in pen and ink. It is this continuation that brightened my day. Brilliantly, google have seen fit to digitise this very copy, so the manuscript portion is available for all to see (and is embedded above).

The continuation takes the shape of a barbed lampoon, the title of which explains its relation to the poem ending on p.10: ‘A LAMPOON To which The foregoing Epitaph Was drawn up as an ANSWER’. So, the last poem of Verses on the death of Queen Caroline is a parody and a point-by-point refutation of this satire, which claims that Caroline died “unpitied both by Church and State, | The Subject of their Flattery and Hate.” The relationship between these poems, in which a funeral-crasher is reprimanded, is reminiscent of the Tory celebrations of William III’s death in 1702 and Daniel Defoe’s indignant verse response, 'The Mock Mourners' (p.41 of this volume). Thomas Browne’s enjoyable riff on Dryden’s obsequies is also brought to mind. Closer to our own time there was media circus surrounding the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Most recently, there was this:

Apart from the conflicting opinions that always surround prominent political figures, state funerals and excessive displays of public mourning also provoke this kind of indignation, I think, for generic reasons. Such commemorations demand from eulogists, celebrants, organisers or commentators a heightened emotional response that will always look strained and fabricated. How do you write a poem mourning someone you almost certainly didn’t know intimately? Wheel out formulae, stick to decorum and rules. Keep it ceremonial, distant. Hence the Scriblerian distaste for ‘empty’ panegyric like Lawrence Eusden’s (the target of 'Directions for a Birth-Day Song'), poetry that is held to substitute machinery for meaning.

So, like most lampoons, this one is calculated to disrupt various kinds of decorum. It deliberately cuts through the public elegy’s impersonal distance, speaking from a standpoint of personal acquaintance. Caroline is “Fawning and haughty, when familiar, rude, | And never civil seem’d, but to delude.” The bland sublimation typical of eulogies is overturned: the queen is “Flatter’d by those on whom her favours flow’d, | Hated for favours impiously bestow’d” – here ‘favours’ are unmistakably both politico-economic and sexual. In places this poem is not unlike the character sketches found in Pope’s later satires, in style if not always in achievement. That stylistic resemblance may be compounded by the generally ‘Opposition’ politics on show here, attacking those vices most prominently associated with the court Whigs – luxury, avarice, indolence, possessiveness, latitudinarian theology, and freethinking. The final, cutting lines

To her own offspring mercy she deny’d,
And unforgiving, unforgiven dy’d.

are a clear reference to her son, the opposition figurehead Frederick, Prince of Wales, whose more than unfilial behaviour (both to Caroline and George II) meant he was denied admission to see the queen on her deathbed. This lampoon has been attributed to Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, although never with absolute authority. Chesterfield, the author of a handful of poems, certainly has the right political profile; he had joined the opposition following his dismissal for opposing Walpole’s Excise Bill in 1733 and his speech against the Walpolean Bill for the licensing (i.e. censorship) of plays in 1737 earned him one of the few pleasant niches in Pope’s Dunciad in Four Books (IV.43-4).

Arresting and revisionary like all effective satire, this poem is a welcome addition to the miscellany. It makes it rather more miscellaneous, for one thing. But a well as being a generic breath of fresh (or rancid) air, this lampoon has been lovingly transcribed, and deliberately made to appear as if it is part of the same volume: the pagination is continued, enclosed in square brackets as in the rest of the volume; there is a catchword (‘Fawning’) at the bottom of p. 11; like the end of the first poem on p. 7 this one concludes with a ruled line; finally, there is in general a concerted effort to imitate the font and the typographical style of the printed text. It most immediately recalls Pope’s quasi-typographical fair copies of his early Pastorals (see David Fairer, English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century: 1700-1789, p.1). Pope’s manuscripts do a good – probably a better – job of looking like a printed book, but they also stand alone. However, this lampoon’s mimicry of print is even more functional than it was for the sixteen-year-old Pope, tied in to the poem’s occasion. More kin than kind, the lampoon is made to don mourning apparel, and straggles at the rear of this textual funeral procession before making a scene at the wake. The act of transcription puts the manuscript verse in an ironic visual and material relationship with the rest of the volume, throwing its generic incongruity and argumentative impropriety into sharp relief, and also neatly raising the much-rehearsed debate about the surprising formal proximity of satire and panegyric.

If this parasitical paratext is so interesting, then, why it isn’t going into the database? Well, despite doing a rather good impression of being a part of this bibliographical item, it of course only appears in this single copy. The DMI is an index of printed miscellanies, and including this poem would set a troublesome precedent; a few months before the end of a project is no time to be setting precedents. Manuscript verse fragments and other kinds of annotation do come up from time to time, and we have noted them as best we can. Rarely is such annotation as considered and involved as this is, but even so all we can give it is a lengthy note, and this blog post. Otherwise we’d have to start all over again, and I’m not sure any of us can spare another three years.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Digital Miscellanies Index Conference, 17 September 2013

We are excited to announce A Miscellany of Miscellanies: Popular poetic collections and the eighteenth century canon, a conference taking place on 17 September 2013 at St Peter's College, Oxford. Marking the launch of the Digital Miscellanies Index, the conference will showcase the latest miscellanies research.

We welcome proposals for 20 minute papers on eighteenth-century miscellanies and miscellany culture. Please provide the title and a 250-word abstract of your proposed paper; your name; institutional affiliation where applicable; email address; and a brief (100 words) biography. Send your proposal as an attachment to The deadline for receipt of proposals is 28 March 2013.

There will be a conference fee of £20 which will cover lunch, coffee, and tea. The conference and database launch will be followed by ‘The Chearful Companion’, an evening of eighteenth-century music, readings, refreshments and craft. The cost of this event will be an additional £15.

All enquiries should be addressed to the Conference Coordinators, Abigail Williams and Jennifer Batt, at

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Books and their covers

According to The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, the proverbial warning about judging books by their covers dates from the first half of the twentieth century, but as a couple of miscellanies that we've recently been working on show, it's a piece of advice that eighteenth century book-buyers might have been grateful for.

Browsers picking up a copy of The Muse's Mirrour (1783), for example, would have thought they'd be getting a collection of works by the century's most significant authors, the title page boasting pieces by Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Thomas Gray, David Garrick, Laurence Sterne, Edward Young, Samuel Johnson, Charles Churchill, together with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Elizabeth Montagu, Hannah More, and many others.

But it seems likely that any purchaser tempted by such a title page could only have felt cheated on getting the book home and settling down to read it. The two volume collection does include verse by (most of) this dazzling array of authors but those pieces are typically short, fragmentary, and inconsequential. Instead of the panopoly of literary talent that readers might have expected, this collection is actually dominated by verse attributed variously to 'Capt. Thompson', 'E. Thompson', 'E. T.' and 'Capt. E. T--n'. Edward Thompson was a naval officer and poet, contributor to the London Magazine and Westminster Magazine, and author of a two-volume account of life in the navy, Sailor's Letters (1766). Thompson's a very interesting figure, but in the opinion of the booksellers Debrett, Richardson and Urquhart, not sufficiently interesting to generate sales. So, though Capt. Thompson's name is mentioned on the title page, it does get rather lost amongst the hordes of better-known authors who crowd around him, and no reader picking up the collection and judging it on its title page could have expected to have found it so dominated by the sailor's work.

There's a further piece of deception on this title page. The collection is announced as the 'second edition', from which, potential purchasers might be expected to conclude they'd be getting a tried and tested work, one which had proved so popular that its first edition had sold out and a reprint been demanded. On closer inspection, however, it appears that this is not at all the case. This collection is not a reprint of the first edition of The Muse's Mirrour: it is a reissue of that first edition with a new title page. The first edition, published in 1778, had not sold out: five years later, as a way of getting rid of unsold stock, a new title page had been printed and the old book repackaged as a new one. Misleading customers by repackaging old books in this way and claiming that books were new editions when they were nothing of the sort was a fairly common procedure used by booksellers for trying to get rid of stock that hadn't sold.

The title page of a different miscellany, The British Poets (1777), misled readers in yet another way. This also boasted works by a stellar array of poets, but unlike The Muse's Mirrour, the miscellany did actually make good on this promise, delivering Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, Swift's Baucis and Philemon, Pope's Eloisa to Abelard, and Gray's Elegy on a Country Churchyard alongside popular verse from Thomson, Prior, Shenstone and others. No, where the title page of this miscellany is misleading is in the imprint - the bit of text on the titlepage that informs readers who published the book and where they could buy it from. The title page of The British Poets declares that it is 'sold by B. Lintot, A. Millar, R. Tonson, D. Midwinter, and M. Cooper', and at first glance, such an imprint is impressive: Lintot, Millar, Tonson, Midwinter and Cooper are all major eighteenth century publishers and booksellers. But on closer inspection, this imprint becomes impossible: by 1777 Lintot, Millar, Tonson, Midwinter and Cooper were all dead - and in some cases, had been dead for several decades.

Why such a curious imprint? It may simply have been a bid for prestige, designed to align the collection with illustrious publishing firms. But a more intriguing suggestion is that might be a reaction to the change in copyright law that took place in 1774 which did away with the notion of perpetual copyright,wresting the control of major literary works from the hands of these establishment figures and enabling an explosion of cheap reprints. In previous years, with the exception of pirated editions, the only place to buy the works of Milton, Swift, Pope, Thomson et al had been from those booksellers who owned the copyright of their works, and who had fiercely fought to retain that monopoly: now, however, the market was opened up, and once the statutory period of copyright had expired these booksellers were no longer the only ones with the legal right to publish them. The improbable imprint declaring The British Poets to be available from Lintot, Millar, Tonson, Midwinter and Cooper might be intended as a sly dig at the waning power of establishment booksellers. But whatever the motivation for this curious imprint, it must have proved a puzzle for eighteenth century readers: if they wanted to get hold of a copy of this book, where on earth were they to buy it?