Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

Metaphors of the Book as Garden in the English Renaissance

Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

Metaphors of the Book as Garden in the English Renaissance

Article excerpt


This article surveys the metaphor of the book as garden in English Renaissance printed collections. It includes as an appendix a listing of every Pollard and Redgrave title using the terms 'garden', 'posy', and so on. The primary emphases are on the paratextual features of these volumes, and on the authors' self-conscious musings on the literal sense of the anthology as a gathering of flowers.

Ye haue here (good readers) a gardeyn or a paradyse rather of nette, propre, quicke, and graue sayenges of renowmed persons, in which to recreate your selfes, it shalbe as I iudge no les profytable, then pleasaunt vnto you.

Richard Taverner, 'To the gentle readers', The garden of wysdom (1539) Pardon, I pray thee, my presumption, and protect me from those Cavelling finde-faults that never like well of any thing they see printed, though never so well compiled: What I have here done, I have done to the pleasure of my friends, and thee, and not to make any profit by them; wherefore my gentle Reader accept kindly, I pray thee, of all, and be not (as hard Censurers) hastie to blast young springing Blossomes in their tender Bud.

      Samuel Pick, 'To the Reader', Festum Voluptatis (1639)
   Eiz to' n leimv na kahisaz
   e[degrees]drepen eteron e Q' e1/2ter v
   airo menoz a[degrees]creum' a  nhevn
   a1/2 domena. yuca. --

   Francis Turner Palgrave, after Euripedes,
        epigraph to The Golden Treasury (1861)

In his Moral Epistle 84, Seneca employs a metaphor that we find reflected in numerous early modern collections of apothegms, prayers, meditations, poems, epigrams, and elegies, and which is embodied, through its etymology, in the anthology: (1)

Apes, ut aiunt, debemus imitari, quae vagantur et flores ad mel faciendum idoneos carpunt, deinde quicquid attulere, disponunt ac per favos digerunt. [...] Nos quoque has apes debemus imitari et quaecumque ex diversa lectione congessimus, separare. (2)

Erasmus echoes Seneca, more than fourteen centuries later, under the heading 'Ratio colligendi exempla' of his De Dvplici Copia Verborum (1528; STC 10472): 'Itaque studiosus ille velut apicula diligens, per omnes au[c]torum hortos volitabit, flosculis omnibus adsultabit, vndique succi non nihil colligens, quod in suum de ferat aluearium' (sig. [T5.sup.r]). (3) In Palladis Tamia (1598; STC 17834) Francis Meres includes his own version of Seneca's passage under 'The vse of reading many Bookes' ('Bees out of diuers flowers draw diuers iuices, but they temper and digest them by their owne vertue, otherwise they would make no honny: so all authours are to be turned ouer, and what thou readest is to be transposed to thine owne vse' (sig. [Mm4.sup.v])), (4) but Meres alters Seneca's subjunctive recommendation (we ought to imitate the bee), to a more pointed exhortation: texts are meant to be mined; their choicest selections are to be appropriated by the lector diligens.

This labour of the compiler/apicula provides the material for a class of texts that has persevered for more than two millennia. The precursors to the enterprise of selecting, extracting, and recombining material, and the horticultural metaphors for that enterprise, can be traced to ancient Greece. What we today call the Greek Anthology is an assembly of several collections of elegiac epigrams, foremost among them the Garland, or SteQanoz, of Meleager (c. 100 BC); Meleager's collection lives up to its title by assigning each author a specific flower, and encodes his critical assessments of the poets in the characteristics of each author's flower, from the lily, rose, and iris to the crocus, pine, and myrtle. W. R. Paton emphasizes that Meleager's 'collection comprises no poems (as far as we know) of [his] age except his own'; (5) falling chronologically and, in MS Palatinus 23 (the primary source for much of the Greek anthology), (6) physically after Meleager, the Garland of Philippus tries, by contrast, to mediate the taste for the old with an interest in the new: 'Plucking for thee flowers of Helicon and the first-born blooms of the famous Pierian forests, reaping the ears of a newer page, I have in my turn plaited a garland to be like that of Meleager. …

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