Friday, 24 September 2010

What a crazy few days!

The DMI team are slightly overwhelmed. Not too long ago, we found a poem with a rather startling attribution. It was a bawdy lyric, with the attribution 'by Milton'.

Thinking the attribution seemed thoroughly unlikely (and when we'd finally stopped laughing at someone's attempt to smear Milton) we did a bit of digging and found the poem cropped up here and there in various publications since Milton's time, sometimes (probably wrongly) attributed to Rochester, a couple of times set to music as a song, and at least once, as part of a longer epic translated (apparently) by John Philips. But this peculiar attribution to Milton appeared just once, in the Oxford and Cambridge Miscellany (1708).

One of the things the DMI team are interested in is how poems are attributed: what names get attached to them, how reliable that information is, and how and why mis-attributions occur. The 'Milton bawdy lyric' seemed a good example of that, so we posted it on our blog.

A little while later, the university press office got hold of the story. Having just put together our new project website, we thought it would be a good way of introducing our project to the wider world.

And now the wider world does indeed know something about us...It really has been a crazy last few days!

Not everybody's happy with this, of course. Some people have pointed out that the poem's not by Milton, it's by Rochester (it's (probably) not by him either); that the poem's never been really lost because it's been published in various miscellanies and anthologies occasionally ever since (we never said that it was a new poem, just that it was a remarkable attribution); that people have pointed out the Milton mis-attribution before (on our blog, we're pretty clear about that); that we didn't make clear that the Harding collection of miscellanies is in the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford (sorry!); or that the whole affair's just been a bid for cheap publicity (well, that we can't really deny. A lot more people know about our project now than they did yesterday!).

And we should also point out that the poem's not handwritten nor in manuscript, and the attribution's printed at the top of the page, not written at the bottom as the Independent claimed.

Now all the sensationalized fuss about 'Researcher discovers (or not) poem that Milton never wrote' is dying down, we do hope that this story has caught the attention of people who are genuinely interested in the poetry of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, and that those people will remain interested in our project over the next few years. When it's complete, the Digital Miscellanies Index will be a valuable tool for researchers: it will allow us to look at what was being published, when; which poets and poems were popular at different points across the century; and what kinds of verse (and how many bawdy lyrics) were published at various points.

Bodleian Libraries press release.

Digital Miscellanies Index website.

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