Poetry and Revolution: An Anthology of British and Irish Verse, 1625-1660

By Peter Davidson | Go to book overview

NOTE ON THE TEXT AND
ANN0TATI0N

If Renaissance texts were circulated and read in a diversity of ways which now appear foreign to the reader conditioned by the idea of an invariable progression from author to printer to public, the problems of diversity of kinds of publication apply even more acutely to the period of the reign of Charles I, the civil war and the interregnum. In the late 1620s and for most of the 1630s the pattern of circulation was very much as it had been at the beginning of the century: print, although on the increase, was far from being the exclusive medium for the circulation of poetry. Poems continued to circulate in manuscript just as much as they had done previously. The poems of a Caroline poet now as canonical as Henry King were not printed as a collection with their author's approval: for all but a handful of his poems the modern editor is still dependent on three scribal manuscripts compiled with care apparently under his direction (see nos. 12-14 in this book). The same might be said to apply to Charles Cotton, who published no collection in his lifetime, and even to Sir Richard Fanshawe, a typically transitional figure whose career spanned the mid-century, who clearly tried careful scribal publication in the 1630s, before committing his poems to deliberate and public print in the late 1640s (see nos. 205, 206). Fanshawe went on to take unusual care in correcting his English poems for the press, causing a revised issue of his Horatian translations to be issued within a few months of the first, imperfect appearance of the book. In this particular case, the delay between publication and correction was caused by the imprisonment of the author: a fact which in itself gives some idea of the further random complexities of publication and authorship in a society in turmoil. Fanshawe brings the wheel of possibilities full circle by having made manuscript corrections of printer's errors in the copies of his later books which he gave to his friends. What is true of a poet and translator of the middle rank, is also to a considerable extent true of major figures including Marvell and Milton. Marvell published no collection in his lifetime, although the existence of Marvellian poems such as no. 79 in this book is obviously evidence for the circulation of his works in manuscript. When Marvell's poems eventually reached print, in 1681, the chief reasons for their publication seem to have had, in fact, little or no connection with considerations of literary merit or reputation. For the ' Mary Marvell' who signed the preface, and presumably owned the copy-text, the publication was part of a campaign to assert her married status and her claim on some tenements near what later became the site of the British Library. Even then, two poems on Cromwell (including the far from simply laudatory no. 313) were cancelled from most copies while the edition was going through the press. The circulation of poetry is not only complicated in the period covered by this book by a surviving ambivalence about print or circulated manuscript as the preferred medium: events, censorship and political considerations serve further to complicate the process.

-lxxiii-

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