Academic journal article Studies in Philology

"Or Rather a Wyldernesse": The Changing Works of Dudley, Third Baron North

Academic journal article Studies in Philology

"Or Rather a Wyldernesse": The Changing Works of Dudley, Third Baron North

Article excerpt

The early modern courtier and writer Dudley, third Baron North, left behind him a wealth of literary manuscripts, including both autograph and scribal versions of his verse, all altered at various stages by North. But a survey of the extant copies of his printed collection, A Forest of Varieties, reveals that North's labor did not end ivith publication: nearly every copy of his book bears further emendations in his hand. This article draws together for the first time the scattered evidence of North's unusual authorial practice. It argues that North was deeply invested in a notion of his writings as inherently protean, and that rather than look for a progress narrative in North's continual small-scale revisions, we must take each distinct version seriously as part of a larger commitment to a body of work that was as changeable as the author himself.


NEAR the opening of his eccentric collection of verse and prose entitled A Forest of Varieties (1645), Dudley, third Baron North (1581-1666), introduces a youthful sequence of love poems with the following warning:

   Many of these Verses I owne not, for I
   In them was scarce my owne; Nor am I hee
   Who made them: but since from such vanitie
   May grow such change, reade through, and change with mee. (1)

In this short rhyme, North depicts "change" as a natural condition of authorship. The only way for readers to recognize his continually transforming identity, North suggests, is to emulate this mutability: "reade through, and change with mee." Yet, North's depiction of his own and his readers' "changes" resonates peculiarly powerfully when we turn to the archive North generated over the course of his long literary career. For not only must we reckon with the remarkable survival of the author's autograph notebook, numerous scribal manuscripts of his verse and prose, and over two dozen exempla from the two editions of collected writings printed during North's lifetime, we must also account for the fact that nearly every member of this profuse body of early modern texts contains alterations inscribed in the author's hand.

North, a contemporary of John Donne who lived to be a contemporary of Abraham Cowley and John Milton, was known during his lifetime as the "discoverer" of the mineral springs at Tunbridge Wells and Epsom; a musician and patron of the composer John Jenkins; and the unfortunate sufferer of "a super-induced Melancholy" caused, he believed, by youthful "abuse of ... Treacle" in an attempt to avoid plague (214). (2) He is best known to today's scholars as the author of an eloquent critique of "strong lines" in an essay on poetic theory addressed to Lady Mary Wroth (Forest 5). (3) Prefacing North's love poems in the Forest, this and other essays look back nostalgically to the poetry of Sir Philip Sidney while casting scorn on contemporaries who reject fluency and accessibility. "[L]ike ill ranging Spaniells they spring figures, and ravished with their extravagant fancies, pursue them in long excursions, neglecting their true game and pretended affection," North scoffs. Criticizing fellow poets who "are never at an end to their labor" and "thinke nothing good that is easie," he proposes instead that "the best eloquence is to make our selves clearely understood" (2-3).

I will argue that the surprising array of manuscripts and books generated by North--discussed together here for the first time--represents a less clearly stated but no less significant theory about literary production. These materials suggest that no single text--or even, as we will see, medium--could embody a version of North's writings that was truly perfected or finished. (4) Though North repeatedly and even obsessively strove to polish the poetry and prose he generated (seemingly effortlessly) over the course of half a century or more, these emendations did not and could not enable North to resolve his writings into an ideal form. …

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