This first edition of an admirable and popular poetical miscellany is extremely rare, especially in the state of the copy before us; in which several names upon printed slips have been pasted over others for which they were substituted after the book came from the press, showing that mistakes had been discovered in the first instance, which were detected, and rather clumsily corrected, in some of the later copies.
We know that the collection was edited by John Bodenham from a preliminary sonnet addressed to him by a person who subscribes it A. B., which in terms imputes to him also Wits Commonwealth, 1598, Wits Theatre, 1598, The Garden of the Muses, 1600, and, finally, Englands Helicon, 1600.
Although the second edition of Englands Helicon, in 1614, was reprinted by Sir E. Brydges and Haslewood in 1812, the first impression has never been sufficiently noted. As our copy differs in some respects from others, (as far as we have had an opportunity of examining them,) a few words may be acceptable on some of the separate poems; with the aid, moreover, of MS. Harl. 280, (in the handwriting of Francis Davison, editor of The Poetical Rhapsody, 1602,) containing a list of the productions with the names of the authors, which does not seem to have been made out either from the first or second edition of England's Helicon, but probably from some independent authority. Nevertheless, it accords in many cases.
In the first place, and without resort to this source of information, we may doubt whether E. B. (subscribed to poems on sign. B 2 and B 4) mean Edmund Bolton, because on sign. C 4 we have "a Canzon Pastorall in honour of her Majestie," which has his name at length. Why should initials have been used in the former instances, if they were intended to denote a poet who did not object to see his name at length?
Again, with reference to two poems on sign. E 3 b, subscribed I. M., it seems to have been forgotten that those initials are much more likely to belong to John Marston, than to Gervase or Jervis Markham. Markham could hardly be equal to the later of the two; and Marston, much his superior as a poet, in 1600 was in the zenith of his reputation and popularity.
It has escaped notice also, that both the pieces attributed to "T. Howard Earle of Surrie" in the editions of 1600 and 1614, were in fact by H. Howard Earl of Surrey. Bodenham committed the same oversight in his Bel-vedere, 1600, and it was not corrected in 1812.
On sign. G 3 occurs a production thus headed, "To Phillis the faire Sheepheardesse," with the initials S. E. D. at the end of it; and Ellis (Specimens II. 186, edit. 1811) gives it unhesitatingly to Sir Edward Dyer. Sir E. Brydges and Haslewood, in their reprint of the second edition of England's Helicon, 1614, repeat the blunder. The poem is by Thomas Lodge, and is contained in his Phillis, 1593, (see post.) Moreover, they make nonsense of the two last lines by printing will for "nill," (i.e. ne will, or will not,) as it stands in the original impressions both of Phillis and of England's Helicon.
On sign. H 2 we meet with the celebrated ode, "As it fell upon a day," which we now know was by Shakspeare, and not by Barnfield, in whose name it had been published in 1598, but assigned to its true owner in The Passionate Pilgrim of 1599. In England's Helicon, 1600, the word Ignoto is at the close of it, as if Bodenham had not been able to decide as to the real authorship. On the other hand, when he inserted "the Sheepheard's Ode" on sign. K 4, he gave it at once to Barnfield, because it was indisputably his. Sir E. Brydges and Haslewood did not know from whence it had been procured, but it was from Barnfield's Cynthia, 1595.
The list of authors in MS. Harl. 280, assigns "The Sheepheards description of his Love" (sign. L 2 b) to Sir Walter Raleigh, and the initials S. W. R. were originally placed after it; but a slip pasted over it, on which is printed Ignoto, shows that Bodenham had early seen reason to alter the ascription of it. Precisely the same observation applies to "The Sheepheard's praise of his sacred Diana," on sign. N 3 b.
Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke's claims are confirmed by Davison's list; and a piece on sign. X b, which has no name nor initials, clearly belongs to the same noble poet on the authority of Dowland's First Booke of Songs, 1597. Davison (MS. Harl. 280) gives "Another to his Cinthia," on sign. X b, to the Earl of Cumberland: Bodenham inserted it anonymously.
The additions made to the number of poems in the impression of England's Helicon, in 1614, occur principally towards the close, some of them being by William Browne, and others by Christopher Brooke, who were not known as early as 1600. A few were transferred from Davison's Poetical Rhapsody.