Collections of Songs and Sonnets
It resteth nowe (gentle reder) that thou thinke it not evill doon, to publish, to the honor of the Englishe tong, and for profit of the studious of Englishe eloquence, those workes which the ungentle horders up of such treasure have heretofore envied thee. And for this point (good reder) thine own profit and pleasure, in these presently, and in moe hereafter, shal answere for my defence.
So Richard Tottel, the publisher, introduced his 'miscellany' of poems in 1557, one year before Elizabeth's accession. Its full title was Songes and Sonnettes, written by the ryght honorable Lorde Henry Haward late Earle of Surrey, and other, which again stresses the collection's prestige-value, rather than its variety. This was probably a shrewd guess at the market that helped towards popularity--nine editions between 1557 and 1587. The book sought honour for England, and brought honour to the readers of these poems which were hitherto reserved for private circulation in manuscript between the witty and often aristocratic author and his friends. By the end of the century it is the foolish Slender in The Merry Wives of Windsor who wishes 'I had rather than forty shillings I had my book of Songs and Sonnets here': Tottel had become a handbook for a country wooer. ( Shakespeare's gentle lovers compose their own sonnets --usually bad ones, but their own.) The collections of songs and sonnets, published throughout Elizabeth's reign, are, then, an index of taste and of a progressive popularization; the varying ways in which they court the reading public show how poetry was recommended, accepted, used.
Although Tottel's collection of courtly verse turned out to be surprisingly lucrative, he had good reasons to fear criticism. Its only predecessor, so far as we know, The Court of Venus, had been the object of public attack from a number of moral authors of whom the most distinguished was Sir Thomas North. The collection survives in three fragments, dated by its modern editor, R. Fraser, 1535-9, 1547-9, 1561-5. An entry in the Stationers' Register for 1557 suggests a vanished