1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Allott

John Payne Collier, "Englands Parnassus" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 3:132-36.



We should not have thought it necessary to speak of this popular, remarkable, but at the same time not very rare miscellany, if we had not wished to supply a deficiency in every account of its contents, namely, the number of times each distinguished poet is quoted in it. It has required a good deal of labor and industry to calculate all and each; but we have gone through the task, and in the outset we supply the list, since it will in some degree enable the reader to judge of the esteem in which the different poets, to whose works resort was had, were held near the close of the reign of Elizabeth. We place them alphabetically, — a course not attempted in the original, where they are arranged, very loosely and irregularly, in subjects (sometimes repeated) under separate headings.

Achelley, Thomas, is quoted 12 times
Bastard, Thomas 10
Chapman, George 69
Churchyard, Thomas 5
Constable, Henry 3
Daniel, Samuel 115
Davys, Sir John 31
Dekker, Thomas 17
Drayton, Michael 163
Fairfax, Edmund 47
Fitzgeoffrey, Charles 17
Fraunce, Abraham 14
Gascoigne, George 42
Greene, Robert 32
Guilpin, Edward 7
Harington, Sir John 106
Higgins, John 18
Hudson, Thomas 45
Jonson, Ben 13
Kyd, Thomas 20
Lodge, Thomas 108
Markham, Gervase 38
Marlowe, Christopher 33
Marsten, John 16
Middleton, Christopher 25
Middleten, Thomas 3
Nash, Thomas 2
Oxford, Earl of 3
Peele, George 13
Roydon, Matthew 12
Sackville, Thomas 20
Shakspeare, William 79
Sidney, Sir Philip 47
Spenser, Edmund 255
Sterer, Thomas 36
Surrey, Earl of 11
Sylvester, Joshua 82
Turberville, George 8
Warner, William 117
Watson 25
Weever, John 13
Wyat, Sir Thomas 5

We are not aware of any inaccuracy in the above enumeration, but those who know the trouble of going through a book of more than 500 pages, most of those pages containing from one to six or eight quotations, will be sensible that mistakes may be easily made. Some citations are placed under the name of the work, as for instance, The Mirror for Magistrates, from which forty-two passages have been selected; in other cases we find only initials used, such as B. S. T., C. H., G. P., G. S., &c., and two passages are assigned to Ignoto, and one to I. Authoris, whoever he may have been. Some of the older poets seem to have been sparingly resorted to, while the then moderns, such as Daniel, Drayton, Lodge, Shakspeare, Spenser, Sylvester, and Warner, have been abundantly laid under contribution. A few of the poets had only just begun to write when England's Parnassus was compiled; and from others, such as Robert Greene and Thomas Nash, few specimens have been taken, because they had written much more prose than poetry.

The great deficiency of the work is a total absence of information as to the titles of the volumes quoted; and a few of the books are now so scarce, if not utterly unknown, that it is a hopeless labor to attempt to trace the passages. Shakspeare's Venus and Adonis, and Lucrece, were frequently used; but his plays were resorted to only in twenty-four places, and those such as had appeared in print in or before 1598. Thus:—

Richard II. is quoted 4
Henry IV. Part I 2
Richard III. 5
Love's Labors Lost 2
Romeo and Juliet 11

His property is indicated either by W. Shakespeare, W. Sha., or W. Sh., at the end of the quotations. We have gone over the whole in the course of the last fifty years, in order, where possible, to detect the productions from which the compiler made his selections. In the cases of our most notorious poets the undertaking was comparatively easy, but although we have marked hundreds of passages in our copy, hundreds more remain unnoted.

As to the name of the compiler, the collector and selector of more than two thousand quotations, we can arrive at no very satisfactory conclusion. The task was in some respects an invidious one. Some versifiers might complain that they were omitted, while others might contend that undue prominence had been assigned to really inferior writers, like Hudson, Storer, or Sylvester. Popularity, however, may in some cases have directed and governed the choice. A few noted poets, such for instance as Whetstone, Hunnis, and Tofte, were entirely neglected; and if a man like Ben Jonson were not in favor with the editor, thirteen quotations, instead of fifty or a hundred, may have marked, not the difference of estimate so much as the difference of esteem.

The name usually assigned to the editor has been Robert Allot, a distinguished publisher of the period; and we have the initials R. A. to two preliminary sonnets, one to Sir Thomas Mounson, and the other "to the Reader." The same two letters are subscribed to four six-line stanzas introductory of Robert Tofte's Alba, 1598; but we find "Robert Allot" at the close of a sonnet in praise of Christopher Middleton's Legend of Duke Humphrey, published in the same year as England's Parnassus. There was, therefore, a versifier named Robert Allot in 1600, and he may have been the publisher. He may also have been interested as a tradesman in the sale of England's Parnassus, together with N. L. (Nicholas Ling), C. B. (Cuthbert Burby), and T. H. (Thomas Hacket?) whose initials, under Ling's device, are at the bottom of the title-page. R. A. may not have liked to appear connected with the volume in the double capacity of compiler and publisher. Until a better claimant be discovered, therefore, we must allow to Robert Allot whatever merit belongs to the selection of authors and their works.

Certainly, whoever superintended it, no work of the same importance was ever worse printed, and the errors have been unavoidably preserved in the ponderous reprint made in 1815, under the title of Heliconia. Not only are the quotations given in a most corrupted form, (let the reader only compare those from Spenser and Shakspeare,) but passages are ascribed to poets who never wrote them, and others deprived of admirable lines to which they were justly entitled. Fourteen lines, the undoubted property of Shakspeare, are handed over at once to Drayton, while Shakspeare is in turn compensated by several pieces really belonging to Spenser and Warner. Some identical quotations are inserted, at least, twice over.

In spite of all its errors, England's Parnassus is a work of much interest and value; and among other advantages derived from it may be mentioned the manner in which it has enabled us, in modern times, to assign to their true authors several productions of curiosity and popularity. We may specify two in particular: one of them, Skialetheia, or the Shadow of Truth, 1598, thought to be anonymous until within the last ten or fifteen years, but which we now know was written by Edw. Guilpin; the other, the drama of The Battle of Alcazar, printed without an author's name in 1594, and properly assigned in the work before us to George Peele.