The Verse Miscellany of Constance Aston Fowler: A Diplomatic Edition

The Verse Miscellany of Constance Aston Fowler: A Diplomatic Edition

The Verse Miscellany of Constance Aston Fowler: A Diplomatic Edition

The Verse Miscellany of Constance Aston Fowler: A Diplomatic Edition

Excerpt

In 1813, the antiquarian Arthur Clifford published a volume of poems from papers he had found in an old chest at Tixall, his ancestral home, outside Stafford, England. The chest to which Clifford was led by an elderly housekeeper contained family letters and poems written by members of the Aston family during the seventeenth century. This volume of poems and two volumes of letters (published two years later), now rare and neglected by historians and litterateurs, present by themselves a fascinating view of early modern family life and relations.

Clifford, however, did not know about another volume, a book kept between roughly 1630 and 1660, by Constance Aston Fowler, the youngest daughter in the family—a handwritten collection of poems that she copied from other sources and composed herself. This leather-bound volume, HM904 in the Huntington Library’s manuscript collection, contains sixtyfive poems, forty-nine of which are in Constance Fowler’s hand, fifteen in her sister Gertrude’s hand, and one plus a part of another in their father Walter’s hand. Only four poems appear in both Tixall Poetry and HM904.

Thousands of commonplace books and manuscript miscellanies can be found here and abroad, ranging from John Milton’s commonplace book to poetic miscellanies containing primarily one poet’s work to manuscript books in which several hands have written out maxims, poems, recipes, and commentaries on current events. What makes HM904 particularly interesting, first, is Constance Fowler’s gender. Arthur Marotti provides a list of diaries, commonplace books, and poetic miscellanies, including HM904, that were kept by early modern women (English Renaissance Lyric, 49–50), and Mar-

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