Led by Dr Abigail Williams (St Peter's College, Oxford) in collaboration with Michael Suarez SJ (University of Virginia) and Adam Rounce (Manchester Metropolitan University), this three-year Leverhulme-funded project will create a freely available online database of the contents of the 1000 poetic miscellanies published over the course of the eighteenth century.

  • Explore the DMI

    The Digital Miscellanies Index is freely accessible to all. See how a vast array of poems and poets featured in over 1500 eighteenth-century miscellanies.

    Search the DMI
  • Work in Progress

    The Digital Miscellanies Index is a work in progress. Find out more about the project and the exciting developments planned for the database.

    Work In Progress

Friday, 13 September 2013

The launch of the DMI is days away.

There are still pigeon canap├ęs 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 miscellanies@spc.ox.ac.uk. 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 miscellanies@spc.ox.ac.uk.

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?

Digital.humanities@Oxford Summer School 2012

Thanks to a bursary from the John Fell OUP fund, this summer I had the opportunity to join researchers from across the humanities - and from across the world - at the Digital.humanities@Oxford Summer School. This intensive week-long course held at Merton College, OUCS, and OERC was split into several strands: you could gain a general introduction to digital humanities, focus on digital editing, or learn about linked data.

“Linking Open Data cloud diagram, by Richard Cyganiak and Anja Jentzsch. http://lod-cloud.net/”

Because we're interested in exploring ways that the DMI project might link up with other, comparable projects, the summer school seemed a great opportunity to find out more about linked data and how our project might make use of the semantic web - a way of constructing and presenting data that makes it machine-readable and enables it to be shared and reused.

My main goal for the week was to gain a sufficient introduction to the semantic web and its challenges and potential to enable me to participate more effectively in discussions with developers about the future of our project and the course, taught by Kevin Page, John Pybus and Alexander Dutton, provided me with an excellent grounding in the basics.

The week was was part theoretical, part practical, with mornings spent in the classroom coming to terms with the mysteries of the Resource Description Framework (RDF) and triples, predicates, ontologies and 303 redirects, learning to read turtle and how to construct SPARQL queries, and seeing how projects such as Claros use the semantic web. Afternoons were spent at the keyboard at OUCS, exploring linked data datasets and tools and trying to turn theory into practice. The most satisfying moment was constructing, by myself, a SPARQL query which returned (pretty much) what I was hoping for, but overall the course provided a great introduction to the semantic web, giving me a basic understanding of its concepts and terminology and the confidence to read more about it.

At DHOXSS, however, the taught courses are only part of the story, and there was also a tremendously rich array of lectures and talks to choose from. Crowdsourcing was one theme that recurred in several lectures, and I was interested to hear about projects which engage the brain power of the crowd, such as What's the score at the Bodleian? (transcribing 19thc musical scores), What's on the menu? (transcribing historic menus), and Digitalkoot (transcribing Finnish newspapers by playing a game involving moles), as well as projects that appeal to the crowd for finance, like Sprint for Shakespeare's bid to preserve and digitize the Bodleian's copy of the Shakespeare first folio.

An opportunity to meet DHers, gain new perspectives and learn about new projects, the summer school was an exhausting, inspiring week, and thanks must go to James Cummings, Sebastian Rahtz et al for organizing it, and the Fell fund for the bursary which enabled my attendance. The dates for next year's school have recently been announced, and for anyone who's interested in the digital humanities, I can't recommend it enough.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Featured Miscellany: The Poetical Calendar

By Kathleen Lawton Trask, University of Oxford

The Poetical Calendar. Containing a Collection of Scarce and Valuable Pieces of Poetry by the Most Eminent Hands. Edited by Francis Fawkes, M.A. and William Woty. In Twelve Volumes. 1763.

Just as miscellanies introduced their eighteenth-century readers to new poems, today they are a rich source for researchers to find not just poems that were not published elsewhere, but also poets who had been overlooked. The Poetical Calendar, a miscellany published in monthly installments in 1763, was the source for several poems in Roger Lonsdale’s important work Eighteenth Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology, which introduced scholars to female poets whose work had long been neglected.

Intended as a “supplement” to Robert Dodsley’s Collection of Poems by Several Hands (1758), The Poetical Calendar was published in monthly installments between January and December 1763. Poets William Woty (institutional readers may see his ODNB entry for more information) and Francis Fawkes (ODNB entry) edited the collection, and contributed many poems themselves. The collection went into a second edition the same year it first appeared, suggesting that this miscellany enjoyed some popularity.

Woty and Fawkes used the month of each installment’s publication as a theme for the installment, including poems that relate to that month in the poems collected. Not only does Volume IV (April) contain pastorals and spring-themed poems such as “April. An Ode,” and “Stanzas on the Spring,” but also poems like “Some Lines Occasioned by a Series of Theological Enquiries” and William Pattison’s “Abelard to Eloisa” that may be thematically linked to the Lenten and Easter seasons.

Among Lonsdale’s discoveries in the June volume was Mehetabel Wright ODNB). Wright was the sister of John Wesley (ODNB) and Charles Wesley (ODNB), the founders of Methodism. Wright rebelled against her strict upbringing and ran away from home twice as a young woman. Ultimately, she returned home pregnant and was forced to marry a man her family chose for her (Lonsdale, p. 110).

Wright endured a deeply unhappy marriage and developed a distinctive, strident poetic voice in her writing, particularly about marriage. One of her best-known poems, ‘Wedlock: A Satire’ begins, ‘Thou tyrant, whom I will not name / whom heaven and hell alike disclaim,’ (Lonsdale, p. 114).

The Poetical Calendar shows Wright in a different mode; it contains three poems about the deaths of loved ones, including the tender, tragic ‘A Mother’s Soliloquy Over Her Dying Infant.’ Two other poems in the Poetical Calendar for June prefigure Wright’s own death: ‘A Farewell to the World’ and ‘An Epitaph on Herself.’ The poems in this installment of the Calendar offer us a glimpse into the details of Wright’s life and how she reacted to the tragedies of her adult life.

You can listen to a reading of Wright’s ‘Wedlock:A Satire’ on YouTube:

Kathleen Lawton Trask, University of Oxford

Thursday, 17 May 2012

What was the X factor of the 18C?

This Saturday we are getting topical, with a talk and concert on Sporting Songs at the Lufthansa Festival in London. Here is a piece about it from today's Guardian How do we know what know what ordinary people performed and sang at home in an era before TV, iPods, recorded music, and public concerts? In the early eighteenth century, readers and musicians had to make their own fun, and they did that through miscellanies, ballads and songbooks – cheap compilations of verse and music designed for home consumption and performance. Sport, smut and political scandal were staple ingredients in these collections, and in a collaboration with folk/early music duo Alva (Vivien Ellis and Giles Lewin) I’ve been testing how far the popular sporting culture of the eighteenth century speaks to that of the twenty-first, in a programme of sporting music for the Lufthansa Festival on 19th May. The repertoire has mostly come from broadside ballads and popular song collections in the vaults of the Bodleian library in Oxford – it’s ironic that music that was once everywhere is now only found in the darkened rooms of a rare book collection. It’s survived thanks to the efforts an extraordinary eccentric collector called Walter Harding a self-taught Chicagoan ragtime pianist, son of an East-End bricklayer, who fell in love with the popular music of the seventeenth and eighteenth century and collected 22 tonnes of it in his suburban townhouse. He left it to the Bodleian in the early 1970s and there it sits, largely unknown and unperformed. But within the yellowing pages and cheap, cracked calfskin bindings of these thousands of volumes we’ve found a whole world of cheering, jeering would be sportmen and spectators. There are songs and ballads that cover modern sports (boxing, cricket, football, fencing, horseracing) but also more offbeat pleasures (bull coursing, cockfighting). We chose pieces that seemed to tell different stories about the age – then, as now, sport is a way of talking about pretty much everything that matters. There’s a preoccupation with national prowess, with what it means to be an Englishman, but also with the dangers of ambition, of success that comes at too high a price. There’s also a good dose of match-fixing, hubristic disaster, and some human tragedy (involving custard). Alva are performing the songs very simply, either unaccompanied, or with just voice and fiddle, as they would have been sung by professional ballad singers in the taverns and on the streets, or by amateurs to entertain friends. But exactly how they were delivered is part of their lost history: the tune is rarely printed, sometimes named, but often not even mentioned, and we’ve had to find tunes to fit them, based on metre and feel and what’s appropriate to their subject. The 18C ballad singer had a massive inbuilt database of tunes, and would have known instantly what to sing to, but we’ve had to use more guesswork. And the relationship between tune and story isn’t obvious either – most of the songs are stories with a tune, but the tune can constrain the delivery. How much should we use gesture and acting? Will the violin get in the way of the delivery of the words? It’s also tricky presenting this noisy, interactive populist repertoire in the formal setting of a modern concert space. Eighteenth century audiences must have had much longer attention spans : many of the ballads have needed a good prune and the odd word change to make sense for a modern audience. But some things never change. The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, and the modern Olympics have their analogies in the eighteenth century popular taste for musical and sporting competitions. We like to follow the rough narrative they provide, to get involved by taking sides, cheering, voting for, or betting on our favourites. Today we cheer and vote in our millions as another hopeless contestant (David) spectacularly fails to make the semi-final of the X Factor, and is pitilessly gonged off by Simon Cowell (Goliath): ‘The audience bayed like the crowds at the Coliseum. ‘Off, off, off!’ they roared. It was all tremendous fun’ (Daily Mail, Feb 2012). If we get some baying and cheering instead of a polite clap we’ll know it worked.