Academic journal article Studies in Philology

Christ Church, Oxford, and Beyond: Folger MS V.a.345 and Its Manuscript and Print Sources

Academic journal article Studies in Philology

Christ Church, Oxford, and Beyond: Folger MS V.a.345 and Its Manuscript and Print Sources

Article excerpt

Folger MS V.a.345 is an early seventeenth-century English manuscript of about 500 poems, with some additional prose pieces. It is one of the largest surviving manuscript anthologies from the period, drawing its contents from both manuscript and print sources, pointing to the two-way traffic between the two systems of literary transmission. Compiled by someone with Oxford (probably Christ Church) connections, it has not only an unusual number of pieces from printed volumes from the period, especially from books of epigrams, but also a very large number of apparently unique copies of poems that do not appear in any other surviving manuscript or print documents. Reflecting the collecting habits of well-educated gentlemen, who carried over from their university years into their later (typically metropolitan) careers a taste for witty verse and prose that were marks of social distinction as well as of political interests, this collection, like some other contemporary large anthologies which incorporate texts from a field of writing larger than that defined by traditional literary history, engaged in anthologizing practices that were imitated in print culture from the 1640s through the Restoration period.

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FOLGER Shakespeare Library MS V.a.345 is a large quarto literary collection probably compiled around 1630 by a person educated at Oxford (probably at Christ Church). Apart from its blank pages, it has some 315 pages of text with over 500 poems as well as a number of prose pieces. (1) It was written almost entirely in a single hand on ruled paper that left top, bottom, and side margins. The final poem in the manuscript's modern binding is a satiric epitaph on George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who died in 1628 at the hands of an assassin. (2) What makes this collection unusual--and it is one of the largest surviving from the period--are two of its features. First, it represents the intersection between the manuscript and print systems of literary transmission: like other contemporary gatherings of verse, it combines manuscript poetry from both the university and the country's metropolitan center, but it also contains an unusually large number of texts taken from printed editions, especially published collections of epigrams, the verse form to which the compiler calls attention in several pieces. Second, it contains a large number of apparently unique poems that seem not to have survived either in print or in other manuscript documents. (3)

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Many English manuscript collections from the early-modern period contain poems copied from printed exemplars, illustrating the two-way traffic between these two systems of literary transmission, but V.a.345 is unusual in the large number of texts copied from printed sources. (4) The anthology stands midway between the many surviving manuscript collections that proliferated in the 1620s through the 1640s and the printed miscellaneous collections of witty verse that began with the publication of the continually expanding Wits Recreations and the other anthologies and miscellanies produced by enterprising publishers from 1640 through the Restoration period. (5) The compiler of V.a.345 was especially interested in gathering epigrams from a wide variety of published collections as well as from manuscripts: pieces by Sir John Harington, Sir John Davies, Thomas Bastard, John Heath, Henry Parrot, Samuel Rowlands, William Gamage, (6) Henry Hutton, John Taylor, Thomas Freeman, Richard Zouch, and Henry Fitzgeffrey. (7) One of the greatest epigrammatists of the period, the Neo-Latin poet John Owen, is represented in the collection by several translated pieces (pp. 238-40), in many instances in the only surviving manuscript copies. There are other printed sources used by the compiler--for example, William Browne's Britannia's Pastorals (1616), from which four poems are derived, (8) Robert Jones's Ultimum Vale (1605), (9) Thomas Combe's translation of Guillaume de La Perriere's Le miroir politique as The theatre of fine devices (1614), (10) and the 1625 broadside, A delicate new song, entituled, Sweet-heart, I love thee. …

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