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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Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Poem of the Fortnight: Pandering to Pindar

This week we pause in our discussion of individual poems to examine, more broadly, a type of poem: the pindaric. The re-emergence of the pindaric in the seventeenth century and the relative frequency with which it appears in these miscellanies raises questions about whether we should include this label in the list of ‘genres’ on the DMI data-entry interface from which, at present, it is absent.

In my last post, ‘Doggerel Fights’, we met with the pugnacious Pindar of Thomas Brown’s imagination who avenged himself against the feeble imitations of subsequent centuries by beating up a bad modern poet.

Brown tells the hack in question:

Thou write Pindarics, and be damn’d,
Write Epigrams for Cutlers;
None with thy Lyrics can by shamm’d
But Chambermaids and Butlers.

For Brown, the ‘pindaric’ is clearly a distinct poetic genre, like the epigram or lyric. When I enter data for a poem and am given the option to tick as many ‘genres’ as apply, ‘epigram’ appears on the list, as does ‘lyric’, but not that form inspired by Pindar.

According to Encyclopaedia Brittanica, the original Greek pindaric was triadic in structure: strophe (two or more lines repeated as a unit), corresponding antistrophe, and concluding summary line or ‘epode’.

The seventeenth century pindaric was far looser in form, being “irregular rhymed odes in which the length of line and stanza is capriciously varied to suggest, but not reproduce, the style and manner of Pindar”. Abraham Cowley’s book of Pindarique Odes, (1656), is usually credited with the reintroduction of the form, which went on to inspire Dryden’s ‘Alexander’s Feast’, Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’, and Keats’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’.

In my work on the DMI, I have come across many poems, by Cowley and others, which call themselves as ‘pindarics’ or ‘pindaric odes’. In Lycidus or the lover in fashion, (1688) for example, the poem ‘Hail thou sole empress of the land of wit....’ (‘Written by a Lady’), is included under the title ‘A Pindarick to Mrs. Behn on her Poems on the Coronation.’ Another, unattributed, from the same miscellany, calls itself ‘On Beauty. A Pindaric’.

The best that can be done for these, and other such poems, is to click the box for ‘Imitation (in the style of...)’ when prompted to select the applicable genres. But the pindaric is not mere imitation. Cowley and the rest had reinvented the form for an early modern readership, for whom the term had a new resonance, whether or not it was associated with the quasi-mythological figure of Pindar himself.

The system for marking genres in the DMI is subjective at the best of times but here, the limitations of a finite list help us to think more carefully about the classification of these poems. Oddly enough, the discussions raised by its apparent shortcomings raise new questions about what we mean by ‘genre’ in the first place.

Nevertheless, I think perhaps that the pindaric deserves to be included on the list. And in any case, from Brown’s description of Pindar, I wouldn’t like to chance an insult to that form: one risks a bruise or two.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Poem of the Fortnight: Doggerel Fights

Poem of the Fortnight: Doggerel Fights

This week— trouble on Mount Helicon! In another poem unearthed during data entry for A collection of miscellany poems, the poet Thomas Brown attacks the unspecified ‘Mr. D’ for his abuses against poetry, the classical tradition, and (worst of all) of Englishness itself:

Thou Cur, half French, half English Breed,
Thou Mungril of Parnassus,
To think tall lines run up to feed
Shou’d ever tamely pass us.
Thou write Pindarics, and be damn’d,
Write Epigrams for Cutlers;
None with thy Lyrics can by shamm’d
But Chambermaids and Butlers.
In t’other World expect dry blows,
No tears can wipe thy stains out;
Horace will pluck thee by the Nose,
And Pindar beat thy brains out.

The vision of violent poetic justice at the pearly gates is a rather pleasing one, as is the reimagining of the doggerel-writer as a literal dog. Nevertheless, this is something of a case of the pot calling the kettle unpoetic: if Thomas Brown really is the author here (as two miscellanies claim), then he is not himself above a down-stoop to the jejune* ballad meter and all of its attendant levity. Worse still, the second-line/fourth-line rhymes of each quatrain are disyllabic, that is to say weak or, if you’re feeling misogynistic, ‘feminine’. To my ear they are each so forced that I hope for the author’s sake that this is a cunning meta-poetic joke; an attempt to beat the dreadful rhymer at his own unsubtle game.
Perhaps it is inevitable that, in the competitive pursuit of literary fame, one bard will readily rage against a rival. Almost as inevitable as the fact that ‘cutlers’ in the second line of stanza two sets up the rhyme for ‘butlers’ at the end.

What the DMI tells us so far:
  •       The poem appears in four miscellanies, from 1699 to 1736.
  •       The first two are from near-identical editions of A Collection of Miscellany Poems, Letters &c. By Mr. Brown..., 1699 and 1700. Here, the poem is attributed to the poet Thomas Brown (bap. 1663, d. 1704).
  •       After the 1700 edition of Brown’s poems, ‘To Mr D’ appears again in two more miscellanies, The Merry Companion or, a cure for the spleen, (1730) and A Collection of Merry Poems, (1736).
  •        Its title is originally listed as ‘To Mr. D---- upon his most incomparable Ballads, call’d by him Lyric Odes.’ Later, the full surname is added: ‘To Mr. D’Urfey, upon his incomparable Ballads, called by him Lyrick Odes.’ It may not be a coincidence that later addition appears published after Brown’s death (in 1704), in the collections of 1730 and 1736 respectively.
  •       The DMI lists its genres as ‘Lampoon’, ‘Quatrain abab’, and ‘Satire’.
  •       Its themes are ‘Dunces’, and ‘Poetry/literature/writing’.

Poem ID: 7114

For a more in-depth explanation of how the DMI works, see the FAQ page:

*I make no apologies for the use of the word ‘jejune’. It isn’t deployed often enough, and nicely conjures up the wincing disapproval of one of Bertie Wooster’s aunts.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Poem of the Fortnight: 'The Contented Whore'

This is the first of a series of fortnightly blog-posts exploring some of the most interesting and unusual poems that I (Rebekah King) have come across during my data-entry work for the DMI.

Having recently graduated with a master’s degree in English Literature 1550-1700, I’ve become involved in the DMI in the capacity of a foot soldier to the captain-of-the-regiment that is Carly is herself. Over the next few months, I’ll be helping to build the database that will form the foundation of the final DMI site, cataloguing each miscellany and all the individual poems therein.

I am hoping that these short blogs will not only entertain, but will offer an insight into some of the ways in which the DMI may be ultimately used to track a poem and its variants through the printed collections of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Firstly then, here is a pseudo-ballad recorded variously in the DMI as “Song LXVI”,  “Song 136”, “The Contented Mistress”, and “The Contented Whore”. I came across it whilst entering data for 'A collection of miscellany poems' by the poet Thomas Brown:

To Charming Caelia’s arms I flew,
And there all night I feasted;
No God such transports ever knew,
Nor mortal ever tasted.
Lost in the sweet tumultuous joy,
And pleas’d beyond expressing:
How can your Slave, my Fair, said I,
Reward so great a Blessing?
The whole Creation’s wealth survey,
Thro both the Indies wander:
Ask what brib’d Senates give away,
And fighting Monarchs squander.
The richest spoils of earth and air;
The rifled Ocean’s treasure;
‘Tis all too poor a bribe by far
To purchase so much pleasure.
She blushing cry’d--- My Life, my Dear,
Since Caelia thus you fancy.
Give her, but ‘tis too much, I fear,
A Rundlet of right Nancy.

A ‘rundlet of right Nancy’ refers, in this context, to a barrel’s-worth of alcohol. I’m not entirely sure what kind. With his lofty proclamations answered in a bathetic request for drink, it seems that the muse of our would-be Astrophil is less than stellar after all. One wonders whether this is, in fact, the same all-too corporeal Celia of whom the narrator of Swift’s ‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’ speaks, lamenting in his ‘amorous fits’ that ‘Celia, Celia, Celia....’(best not to finish the rhyme, I think). Whoever she is, her ‘blessings’ come at a distressingly reasonable price. What’s a poor poet to do? It is almost as if these women aren’t interested in playing the courtly objects of idolatry in the first place. This is undoubtedly one of the more succinct and successful parodies of the highfalutin love-lyric that I have come across in the database so far.

What the DMI can tell us:

  •  At the time of writing, the DMI claims that the poem appears in eight miscellanies, dating from between 1699 and 1756.
  •  In 1699 the title is given as ‘The Contented Whore’, under which epithet it appears twice more before it becomes ‘Song LXVI’ in the 1729 miscellany of drinking songs 'The Triumphs of Bacchus: or, The Delights of the Bottle'.
  • After that, the original title of the poem is lost but echoed again in 1735 when it is listed as ‘The contented Mistress’, the original ‘whore’ having been, perhaps, somewhat reformed in the intervening years.
  • The first two appearances of the poem claim that it is a translation/adaptation of a work by Martial. These are also the only versions to attribute the English rendition to the poet Thomas Brown (bap. 1663, d. 1704). All subsequent miscellanies from 1727 onwards leave it anonymous or unattributed and remove all references to Martial, along with any Latin epigraphs.
  • The DMI lists the main genres of the poem as ‘Imitation/translation/paraphrase’ and as a ‘Quatrain abab’.
  • Its subject matter is listed as ‘Sex and bawdy humour’ as well as ‘Sex/relations between the sexes’, which, in this instance, seem to be more or less the same thing.

A note on themes and genres in the DMI: At present, the themes and genres of a poem are being chosen manually from a fixed list of prearranged options. Necessarily, these are somewhat limited and limiting, and require highly subjective decisions on the part of the junior researcher (i.e. me). Nevertheless, the broader categories into which we are placing each poem may well allow the user to appreciate its character and position within a literary context, and might even act as a kind of shorthand-blurb for each entry. Some of my subsequent blogs will investigate the issues arising from this more eccentric aspect of the data entry process.

Poem ID: 7093

For a more in-depth explanation of how the DMI works, see the FAQ page:

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

ASECS 2015: a personal round-up

The American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS) annual conference this year landed in Los Angeles - a perfect opportunity for me to escape to the Californian sun learn more about new research on poetry, authorship, and reading, and connect with a wider network of scholars. The conference was - to borrow a metaphor from seventeenth-century miscellany titles - a 'gorgeous gallery' of new perspectives on the eighteenth century, packed into a mazy hotel in downtown LA. As well as contributing to a panel on 'The Art of Collecting Poetry', organised and chaired by Jennifer Batt (University of Bristol), I attended panels on miscellanies, anthologies, authorship and gender, and many other topics, and found much to be excited about in the work being done in these areas. It was a brilliant experience, and I want to pull together some of the threads and highlight some of the papers that have stuck (and will continue to stick) in my mind.

The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library welcomed ASECS delegates for a tour and reception in its idyllic grounds.

Anthologies and miscellanies

My reward for showing up at 8 a.m. on the first morning of the conference was an engaging panel on anthologies. Thora Brylowe (University of Pittsburgh) and Andrea Immel (Princeton University) examined the cultural values embodied in types of anthology less often noted or taken seriously by scholars. (The third speaker on this panel was not able to attend.) Thora explored the interrelationship between reading texts and reading pictures in the design of John Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery and its associated publications; these publications included an anthology of extracts from Shakespeare's plays which corresponded to the scenes illustrated in paintings and engravings commissioned by Boydell. Andrea adroitly interpreted the editorial rationale behind an anthology of verse for children, The Poetical Flower-Basket (volume six of Richard Johnson's Lilliputian Library series, c.1780). She stressed that The Poetical Flower-Basket is not an anthology of 'children's verse' - in fact many of the poems can be found in collections aimed at general audiences - but what makes it suitable for children is the way in which its contents are arranged to provide amusement and instruction.

Detail of John, Fourteenth Lord Willoughby de Broke, and his Family, by Johann Zoffany (c.1766).
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

On the third morning a roundtable on miscellanies organised by the Society for Eighteenth-Century Music cast its net over a wide range of miscellaneous forms, including manuscript collections of texts and music; printed recipe books and collections of verse; and benefit performances considered as 'theatrical miscellanies'. Papers by some of the participants can be read here. The discussion highlighted how compilers of miscellanies also acted as creators: Christa Pehl Evans (Princeton University) showed that Pennsylvania music collector Casper Schaffner edited and reorganised the pieces he copied, and Lucia Quinault (Winchester College) discussed a manuscript miscellany containing poems by the young woman who compiled it. The panel also productively highlighted the difficulty of tracing texts in miscellanies back to their original authors - either because compilers do not (accurately) record authorial attributions, or because genres such as the pasticcio opera make us reconsider our expectation that works have a single authorial source.

Coterie writing and miscellanies 

How can we tell - and how could contemporaries tell - that a miscellany of pieces by several hands was the product of exchange and collaboration within a coterie of writers? This was something of a hot topic. On our 'Art of Collecting Poetry' panel, Betty Schellenberg (Simon Fraser University) provided a very useful checklist of potential indicators that a manuscript or printed collection had its origins in the creative activities of a coterie. Interestingly, one of these indicators was 'a mix of original writing and materials copied from print' - collecting or commonplacing from printed sources could be a social activity as well as a private one. On his roundtable on Richard Savage, Nicholas Seager (Keele University) identified an example of coterie production - Savage's Miscellaneous Poems and Translations (1726; the contents are recorded in the Digital Miscellanies Index here). Nick pointed out that the activities of composing poems and submitting them to friendly critique are among the main preoccupations of this miscellany, and he argued that as a poet Savage needs to be seen in this coterie context. And Judith Hawley (Royal Holloway, University of London) made a meticulous and spirited case for the Scriblerians as a coterie of writers whose collaborative activities and pseudonymous play were recognised and commented on by their contemporaries.

Anonymity and pseudonymity

The implications of anonymity and pseudonymity for the recovery of eighteenth-century women's writing were explored in fascinating ways by two speakers on separate panels. Antoinette Sol (University of Texas, Arlington) discussed the aggressive criticism of female novelists that accompanied the rapid expansion of the market for novels in revolutionary France. In the rush for profits, women churned out novels with the help of assistants, and men used female pseudonyms, sometimes believing that novels appearing to be by women sold better. This 'Wild West of publishing', in Antoinette's words, should make us think twice about inferring an author's gender from the gender of their pseudonym without solid supporting evidence. The next day, speaking on the Aphra Behn Society's panel, Jennie Batchelor (University of Kent) explored the 'culture of pseudonymity' fostered by The Lady's Magazine (1770-1818). The magazine professed to publish only content written by women, and although it did not adhere to this ambition, it nonetheless provided a forum in which anonymous and pseudonymous contributors could explore the possibility of writing without the expectations and prejudices of gender. Find out more about the Lady's Magazine Project here.

The Vicomtesse de Vaudreuil, by √Člisabeth Louise Vig√©e Le Brun (1785). The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

The Art of Collecting Poetry

In the very last slot of the conference, we managed to keep several dedicated people away from the pool for a little longer to hear about collections of manuscript texts, printed texts, quotations, and books. While Betty, whose paper I've already mentioned, focused on personal manuscript collections, Lieke van Deinsen (Radboud University Nijmegen) discussed a publishing programme designed to enshrine a canon of Dutch literature at the outset of the eighteenth century - a very interesting counterpoint to the publishing activities of Jacob Tonson in the same period. Adam Rounce (University of Nottingham) exposed the many thieves and plunderers of Edward Bysshe's seminal collection of poetic quotations in The Art of English Poetry (1702, expanded and much reprinted thereafter; explore the first edition in the Digital Miscellanies Index here and here). He cautioned that the lifting of quotations wholesale from Bysshe makes it hard to argue that subsequent collections of poetic extracts are on-the-pulse witnesses to developing aesthetic tastes in the eighteenth century.

My paper was largely an excuse to make people laugh, and happily it worked: I revealed how Alexander Thistlethwayte (1718?-1771), Hampshire land-owner and book-collector, read poetry with a pen in his hand, annotating critically and eccentrically. He also bound many of his copies of poems into composite books, and I argued that these and other collections like them represent archives of reading which perhaps deserve more attention from scholars than they have yet had. I'll be expanding the paper for an encore here in Oxford in May - hopefully there will be laughter the second time around too!

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.