Posts On Several Occasions: Or, A Specimen Of The Ongoing Development Of The Digital Miscellanies Index, A Freely Available Online Index Of Poetry In Eighteenth-Century Miscellanies

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    The Digital Miscellanies Index is a work in progress. Find out more about the project and the developments planned for the database.

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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

ASECS 2015: a personal round-up

The American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS) annual conference this year landed in Los Angeles - a perfect opportunity for me to escape to the Californian sun learn more about new research on poetry, authorship, and reading, and connect with a wider network of scholars. The conference was - to borrow a metaphor from seventeenth-century miscellany titles - a 'gorgeous gallery' of new perspectives on the eighteenth century, packed into a mazy hotel in downtown LA. As well as contributing to a panel on 'The Art of Collecting Poetry', organised and chaired by Jennifer Batt (University of Bristol), I attended panels on miscellanies, anthologies, authorship and gender, and many other topics, and found much to be excited about in the work being done in these areas. It was a brilliant experience, and I want to pull together some of the threads and highlight some of the papers that have stuck (and will continue to stick) in my mind.

The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library welcomed ASECS delegates for a tour and reception in its idyllic grounds.

Anthologies and miscellanies

My reward for showing up at 8 a.m. on the first morning of the conference was an engaging panel on anthologies. Thora Brylowe (University of Pittsburgh) and Andrea Immel (Princeton University) examined the cultural values embodied in types of anthology less often noted or taken seriously by scholars. (The third speaker on this panel was not able to attend.) Thora explored the interrelationship between reading texts and reading pictures in the design of John Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery and its associated publications; these publications included an anthology of extracts from Shakespeare's plays which corresponded to the scenes illustrated in paintings and engravings commissioned by Boydell. Andrea adroitly interpreted the editorial rationale behind an anthology of verse for children, The Poetical Flower-Basket (volume six of Richard Johnson's Lilliputian Library series, c.1780). She stressed that The Poetical Flower-Basket is not an anthology of 'children's verse' - in fact many of the poems can be found in collections aimed at general audiences - but what makes it suitable for children is the way in which its contents are arranged to provide amusement and instruction.

Detail of John, Fourteenth Lord Willoughby de Broke, and his Family, by Johann Zoffany (c.1766).
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

On the third morning a roundtable on miscellanies organised by the Society for Eighteenth-Century Music cast its net over a wide range of miscellaneous forms, including manuscript collections of texts and music; printed recipe books and collections of verse; and benefit performances considered as 'theatrical miscellanies'. Papers by some of the participants can be read here. The discussion highlighted how compilers of miscellanies also acted as creators: Christa Pehl Evans (Princeton University) showed that Pennsylvania music collector Casper Schaffner edited and reorganised the pieces he copied, and Lucia Quinault (Winchester College) discussed a manuscript miscellany containing poems by the young woman who compiled it. The panel also productively highlighted the difficulty of tracing texts in miscellanies back to their original authors - either because compilers do not (accurately) record authorial attributions, or because genres such as the pasticcio opera make us reconsider our expectation that works have a single authorial source.

Coterie writing and miscellanies 

How can we tell - and how could contemporaries tell - that a miscellany of pieces by several hands was the product of exchange and collaboration within a coterie of writers? This was something of a hot topic. On our 'Art of Collecting Poetry' panel, Betty Schellenberg (Simon Fraser University) provided a very useful checklist of potential indicators that a manuscript or printed collection had its origins in the creative activities of a coterie. Interestingly, one of these indicators was 'a mix of original writing and materials copied from print' - collecting or commonplacing from printed sources could be a social activity as well as a private one. On his roundtable on Richard Savage, Nicholas Seager (Keele University) identified an example of coterie production - Savage's Miscellaneous Poems and Translations (1726; the contents are recorded in the Digital Miscellanies Index here). Nick pointed out that the activities of composing poems and submitting them to friendly critique are among the main preoccupations of this miscellany, and he argued that as a poet Savage needs to be seen in this coterie context. And Judith Hawley (Royal Holloway, University of London) made a meticulous and spirited case for the Scriblerians as a coterie of writers whose collaborative activities and pseudonymous play were recognised and commented on by their contemporaries.

Anonymity and pseudonymity

The implications of anonymity and pseudonymity for the recovery of eighteenth-century women's writing were explored in fascinating ways by two speakers on separate panels. Antoinette Sol (University of Texas, Arlington) discussed the aggressive criticism of female novelists that accompanied the rapid expansion of the market for novels in revolutionary France. In the rush for profits, women churned out novels with the help of assistants, and men used female pseudonyms, sometimes believing that novels appearing to be by women sold better. This 'Wild West of publishing', in Antoinette's words, should make us think twice about inferring an author's gender from the gender of their pseudonym without solid supporting evidence. The next day, speaking on the Aphra Behn Society's panel, Jennie Batchelor (University of Kent) explored the 'culture of pseudonymity' fostered by The Lady's Magazine (1770-1818). The magazine professed to publish only content written by women, and although it did not adhere to this ambition, it nonetheless provided a forum in which anonymous and pseudonymous contributors could explore the possibility of writing without the expectations and prejudices of gender. Find out more about the Lady's Magazine Project here.

The Vicomtesse de Vaudreuil, by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1785). The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

The Art of Collecting Poetry

In the very last slot of the conference, we managed to keep several dedicated people away from the pool for a little longer to hear about collections of manuscript texts, printed texts, quotations, and books. While Betty, whose paper I've already mentioned, focused on personal manuscript collections, Lieke van Deinsen (Radboud University Nijmegen) discussed a publishing programme designed to enshrine a canon of Dutch literature at the outset of the eighteenth century - a very interesting counterpoint to the publishing activities of Jacob Tonson in the same period. Adam Rounce (University of Nottingham) exposed the many thieves and plunderers of Edward Bysshe's seminal collection of poetic quotations in The Art of English Poetry (1702, expanded and much reprinted thereafter; explore the first edition in the Digital Miscellanies Index here and here). He cautioned that the lifting of quotations wholesale from Bysshe makes it hard to argue that subsequent collections of poetic extracts are on-the-pulse witnesses to developing aesthetic tastes in the eighteenth century.

My paper was largely an excuse to make people laugh, and happily it worked: I revealed how Alexander Thistlethwayte (1718?-1771), Hampshire land-owner and book-collector, read poetry with a pen in his hand, annotating critically and eccentrically. He also bound many of his copies of poems into composite books, and I argued that these and other collections like them represent archives of reading which perhaps deserve more attention from scholars than they have yet had. I'll be expanding the paper for an encore here in Oxford in May - hopefully there will be laughter the second time around too!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Teaching Digital Humanities at Reading

Monday, 6 October 2014

National Poetry Day with @dmioxford

Sunday, 28 September 2014

A is for Aphra

Welcome to our new-look blog, and to phase two of the Digital Miscellanies project! I'm Carly, and over the next three years I'll be working with our academic partners and technical developers to expand and remodel the DMI; I'll also be immersing myself in the data to inform my research into the poetry printed in eighteenth-century miscellanies. If you'd like to know more about the work we're doing to develop the Index, have a look at our Work In Progress page.

We're almost a month into the project, and having started out as a somewhat wobbly novice database user, I've hit my stride with creating new records for the Index. I'm adding records for miscellanies published between 1680 and 1699; these records are part of the new content which will be made public when the DMI site is relaunched, with a new search interface, in around two years' time.

The first miscellany I added to the database was a 1685 collection creatively titled Miscellany, Being a Collection of Poems by Several Hands. Its editor was Aphra Behn - playwright, poet, novelist, spy and pioneering self-made woman of the Restoration era. I'm not actually working alphabetically, as the title of this post suggests - I simply searched the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) for late seventeenth-century books with 'miscellany' in the title, and picked an interesting-looking place to start.

Before I go on, let me retract some of the sarcasm in my observation that Behn's Miscellany is 'creatively titled'. In fact, a search of ESTC reveals that the idea of calling a collection of poetry a 'miscellany' was a relatively new one in the 1680s: before the appearance of Behn's Miscellany in 1685, only three other collections of verse had been published with 'miscellany' in the title. The first example of a verse collection advertised as a 'miscellany' appeared in 1673, when the London publisher William Cademan brought out Westminster Quibbles in Verse: [...] Or, A Miscellany of Quibling Catches, Joques and Merriments. Here, though, the word 'miscellany' lurks down in the second subtitle, and on closer inspection Cademan's text isn't even properly miscellaneous: it's a collection of hundreds of jests in the same six-line verse form, or 506 Humorous Sestets to Amuse Your Friends. It wasn't until the publication of Miscellany Poems in 1684 - the first of a series of collections issued by the pre-eminent literary publisher Jacob Tonson - that 'miscellany' became a familiar label for collections of poetry in print.

Behn's Miscellany takes shape around the warp and weft of love themes and fashionable classicism. Translations from Horace, Ovid, Catullus, Virgil and other ancient poets intermingle in the volume with original songs and poems about amorous pleasure and pain. The collection also includes satires targeting degenerate factions at home and degenerate foreigners abroad; elsewhere in the volume, a more personal, sociable world appears in a number of epistles, elegies, prologues and epilogues associated with Behn's own creative life and milieu (one of these is a 'Pindaric' poem in praise of Behn herself, written by the playwright Edward Howard). "The resulting medley", as Barbara Benedict observes (see below), "allows topical and universal interpretations".

However, entering the contents of this miscellany into the DMI database has revealed something interesting - that in the eighteenth century, when readers for whom the topical resonance of the poems had faded might have appreciated their universal meanings, the poems had mostly fallen out of the miscellany tradition. Only eleven of the poems which appear in the 299 pages of verse in Behn's collection were subsequently printed in eighteenth-century miscellanies. Three of these are associated with the Earl of Rochester, including Behn's own elegy on Rochester's death in 1680:

Mourn, Mourn, ye Muses, all your loss deplore,
The Young, the Noble Strephon is no more.

It seems that however well-received Behn's Miscellany may have been at the end of the seventeenth century, it did not leave a legacy for eighteenth-century literary culture. Over the past weeks, my work entering poems into the database - and in the process finding out which ones are already there and which are not - has revealed more of these curiously stunted textual histories, which I hope to write about on this blog in future. As well as being a systematic process, data entry has proved to be a fast-track route into literary history, allowing me to explore the longevity (or otherwise) of seventeenth-century poems in the later miscellany tradition.

Aphra Behn, ed., Miscellany, Being a Collection of Poems by Several Hands (London, 1685). ESTC R3358.

Barbara M. Benedict, Making the Modern Reader: Cultural Mediation in Early Modern Literary Anthologies (Princeton, NJ, 1996). Discussion of Behn's 1685 Miscellany is on pp. 85-87.

Friday, 13 September 2013

The launch of the DMI is days away.

There are still pigeon canapés and punch recipes to be sourced,  and a whole technical development awaiting completion, apparently happening somewhere between Osney Island, Oxford, and Rio! 
For anyone interested in the intellectual content of the launch, here is the programme of events on Tuesday 17 September:

Miscellany of Miscellanies:
Launch Conference for the Digital Miscellanies Index.


10.00 Welcome

10.10 Session 1: Some new findings from the Digital Miscellanies Index

Claudine Vanhensbergen, ‘Unlocking The Cabinet of Love. Pornography, popularity and reputation: a case-study of The Works of the Earls of Rochester and Roscommon (1707-1800)’

John McTague, ‘Popularity and Censorship in Political Miscellanies.’

Adam Bridgen, ‘Death in the Database: Wills in Verse, Verse in Wills, and their place in miscellanies’

Coffee 11.30

11.45  Session 2:  Jennifer Batt and Abigail Williams, Making and Using the Index

12.30 Lunch and trial of database

1.30 Session 3: Miscellaneous miscellanies

Kathleen Lawton Trask, ‘Mock-Litanies in the Digital Miscellanies Index’

Emma Salgard Cunha, ‘A Methodist Miscellany: John Wesley’s Moral and Sacred Poems’

Hazel Wilkinson, ‘Rethinking eighteenth-century Spenserianism through the poetic miscellany

2.45-4.15 Session 4: Miscellanies and eighteenth-century print culture

James McLaverty, ‘Not-So-Miscellaneous Miscellanies, or Keeping Pope in Print’

Suarez 'Copyright in Practice: How Intellectual Property Law Really Functioned in Eighteenth-century England'

Simon Dickie ‘Deformity Poems and Other Nasties.’

4.15 Tea

4.30-5.30 Session 5: The DMI and digital humanities projects

Giles Bergel, Bodleian Broadside Ballads Online

Michelle O Callaghan, Verse Miscellanies Online

Gerald Egan, Digital Anthologies Index

5.30 close of conference

6.30-8.00 ‘Cheerful Companion’ evening entertainment, Senior Common Room.
The Cheerful Companion
An Evening in the Eighteenth Century Parlour, 17 September, 2013, 6.30-8.00pm.
If we were able to step inside the parlours and drawing rooms of the eighteenth century, we’d find evenings busy with home-made entertainments – book groups and tea table parties; amateur dramatics; groups of women reading and weeping their way through popular sentimental fiction, and men at punch parties singing songs about dogs. The Cheerful Companion offers you a peep into this world, a chance to explore the sounds, tastes and feel of a candlelit evening at home in 1740. There will be music and readings from popular eighteenth century miscellanies and songbooks, and the opportunity to practice some needlework whilst sipping punch and nibbling on a devilled egg...

Monday, 17 June 2013

Funeral crashing

As the launch of the Digital Miscellanies Index draws nearer, we are busying ourselves with checking the data already entered into the database – ironing out inconsistencies in proper names, correcting typos, checking that the correct links have been made between miscellanies and poems, or shoring up the authority of attributions that have been made in the database. It’s important work, but it also means that we are working mainly with old and familiar material. So it was a particular delight last week when I discovered a poem I hadn’t seen before – a poem which will not, in fact, appear in the database, for reasons that I shall go on to explain.

I was checking a volume of poems entitled Verses on the Death of Queen Caroline (London, 1738), a title which very aptly describes the contents: 3 poems on the death of George II’s queen, who in November 1737 had suffered a long and painful death caused by complications relating to a mistreated umbilical hernia. Queen Caroline is remembered by historians partly for her intellectual interests (she was the intermediary for the correspondence on Newton and free-will between Liebniz and Samuel Clarke around 1717), partly for her literary tastes (famously granting a pension to the ‘thresher poet’ Stephen Duck), but chiefly for her political influence. None of these things – but especially her proximity to and influence over Robert Walpole – endeared her to the opposition to Walpole’s government.

Verses on the Death of Queen Caroline is a slim folio volume, running to 10 pages. The title page bears an Horatian epigraph, from his lament for Quintilius (Odes, I.24). According to ESTC the volume is ‘sometimes attributed to Thomas Tickell’ but evidence on the attribution of the poems is very hard to find. So far, so unremarkable. Proceeding onwards to the poetry does not alleviate matters much. The first two – ‘Verses on the Death of Her Majesty Queen Caroline’ and ‘To the King’ – are quite flatly conventional. This is certainly no Marvell on Cromwell (it’s not even Tickell on Addison). The following couplet, for instance, doesn’t quite attain the dignity it is grasping for,

See there, extended on the Bed of State,
All that remains----of once so Good and Great! (p. 3)

especially as Caroline’s bodily ‘extent’ is, along with the overpowering mellifluousness of her name, one of the things Swift so uncharitably focusses on in ‘Directions for a Birth-Day Song’ (1729). He imagines difficulties faced by her future undertaker:

May Caroline continue long,
For ever fair and young! –in song.
What though the royal carcass must,
Squeezed in a coffin, turn to dust;
Those elements her name compose,
Like atoms, are exempt from blows.

The third poem, ‘An Epitaph on the Queen,’ is a little more sprightly, taking the Queen’s posthumous critics to task and focussing on aspects of her personality – mentioning her support of Locke and Clarke and Hoadley, as well as her steadfastness in facing a painful death. There is a reason for this increased focus and attention, and that reason lies over the page (even though this poem finishes on the last page of the miscellany). The reader of the copy at British Library shelfmark 603.k.28.(5) is treated to a continuation, handwritten in pen and ink. It is this continuation that brightened my day. Brilliantly, google have seen fit to digitise this very copy, so the manuscript portion is available for all to see (and is embedded above).

The continuation takes the shape of a barbed lampoon, the title of which explains its relation to the poem ending on p.10: ‘A LAMPOON To which The foregoing Epitaph Was drawn up as an ANSWER’. So, the last poem of Verses on the death of Queen Caroline is a parody and a point-by-point refutation of this satire, which claims that Caroline died “unpitied both by Church and State, | The Subject of their Flattery and Hate.” The relationship between these poems, in which a funeral-crasher is reprimanded, is reminiscent of the Tory celebrations of William III’s death in 1702 and Daniel Defoe’s indignant verse response, 'The Mock Mourners' (p.41 of this volume). Thomas Browne’s enjoyable riff on Dryden’s obsequies is also brought to mind. Closer to our own time there was media circus surrounding the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Most recently, there was this:

Apart from the conflicting opinions that always surround prominent political figures, state funerals and excessive displays of public mourning also provoke this kind of indignation, I think, for generic reasons. Such commemorations demand from eulogists, celebrants, organisers or commentators a heightened emotional response that will always look strained and fabricated. How do you write a poem mourning someone you almost certainly didn’t know intimately? Wheel out formulae, stick to decorum and rules. Keep it ceremonial, distant. Hence the Scriblerian distaste for ‘empty’ panegyric like Lawrence Eusden’s (the target of 'Directions for a Birth-Day Song'), poetry that is held to substitute machinery for meaning.

So, like most lampoons, this one is calculated to disrupt various kinds of decorum. It deliberately cuts through the public elegy’s impersonal distance, speaking from a standpoint of personal acquaintance. Caroline is “Fawning and haughty, when familiar, rude, | And never civil seem’d, but to delude.” The bland sublimation typical of eulogies is overturned: the queen is “Flatter’d by those on whom her favours flow’d, | Hated for favours impiously bestow’d” – here ‘favours’ are unmistakably both politico-economic and sexual. In places this poem is not unlike the character sketches found in Pope’s later satires, in style if not always in achievement. That stylistic resemblance may be compounded by the generally ‘Opposition’ politics on show here, attacking those vices most prominently associated with the court Whigs – luxury, avarice, indolence, possessiveness, latitudinarian theology, and freethinking. The final, cutting lines

To her own offspring mercy she deny’d,
And unforgiving, unforgiven dy’d.

are a clear reference to her son, the opposition figurehead Frederick, Prince of Wales, whose more than unfilial behaviour (both to Caroline and George II) meant he was denied admission to see the queen on her deathbed. This lampoon has been attributed to Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, although never with absolute authority. Chesterfield, the author of a handful of poems, certainly has the right political profile; he had joined the opposition following his dismissal for opposing Walpole’s Excise Bill in 1733 and his speech against the Walpolean Bill for the licensing (i.e. censorship) of plays in 1737 earned him one of the few pleasant niches in Pope’s Dunciad in Four Books (IV.43-4).

Arresting and revisionary like all effective satire, this poem is a welcome addition to the miscellany. It makes it rather more miscellaneous, for one thing. But a well as being a generic breath of fresh (or rancid) air, this lampoon has been lovingly transcribed, and deliberately made to appear as if it is part of the same volume: the pagination is continued, enclosed in square brackets as in the rest of the volume; there is a catchword (‘Fawning’) at the bottom of p. 11; like the end of the first poem on p. 7 this one concludes with a ruled line; finally, there is in general a concerted effort to imitate the font and the typographical style of the printed text. It most immediately recalls Pope’s quasi-typographical fair copies of his early Pastorals (see David Fairer, English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century: 1700-1789, p.1). Pope’s manuscripts do a good – probably a better – job of looking like a printed book, but they also stand alone. However, this lampoon’s mimicry of print is even more functional than it was for the sixteen-year-old Pope, tied in to the poem’s occasion. More kin than kind, the lampoon is made to don mourning apparel, and straggles at the rear of this textual funeral procession before making a scene at the wake. The act of transcription puts the manuscript verse in an ironic visual and material relationship with the rest of the volume, throwing its generic incongruity and argumentative impropriety into sharp relief, and also neatly raising the much-rehearsed debate about the surprising formal proximity of satire and panegyric.

If this parasitical paratext is so interesting, then, why it isn’t going into the database? Well, despite doing a rather good impression of being a part of this bibliographical item, it of course only appears in this single copy. The DMI is an index of printed miscellanies, and including this poem would set a troublesome precedent; a few months before the end of a project is no time to be setting precedents. Manuscript verse fragments and other kinds of annotation do come up from time to time, and we have noted them as best we can. Rarely is such annotation as considered and involved as this is, but even so all we can give it is a lengthy note, and this blog post. Otherwise we’d have to start all over again, and I’m not sure any of us can spare another three years.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Digital Miscellanies Index Conference, 17 September 2013

We are excited to announce A Miscellany of Miscellanies: Popular poetic collections and the eighteenth century canon, a conference taking place on 17 September 2013 at St Peter's College, Oxford. Marking the launch of the Digital Miscellanies Index, the conference will showcase the latest miscellanies research.

We welcome proposals for 20 minute papers on eighteenth-century miscellanies and miscellany culture. Please provide the title and a 250-word abstract of your proposed paper; your name; institutional affiliation where applicable; email address; and a brief (100 words) biography. Send your proposal as an attachment to The deadline for receipt of proposals is 28 March 2013.

There will be a conference fee of £20 which will cover lunch, coffee, and tea. The conference and database launch will be followed by ‘The Chearful Companion’, an evening of eighteenth-century music, readings, refreshments and craft. The cost of this event will be an additional £15.

All enquiries should be addressed to the Conference Coordinators, Abigail Williams and Jennifer Batt, at