The chief collector of the materials for this work was John Bodenham, of whom little more is known than that he also exercised his taste in the selection of the productions contained in England's Helicon, 1600 and 1614, (reprinted in 1812.) They are, however, essentially different for England's Helicon consists of entire poems, by various authors whose names are given, while Bel-vedere is made up of single lines and couplets (more being studiously avoided) taken from the works of a long list of poets, whose names are not found in connection with any of the extracts. Bodenham confined himself to productions in ten-syllable verse, for none longer, nor shorter, are to be found in his volume. In what he calls "the Conclusion," which precedes the index, he gives a hint that he was assisted in the undertaking: — "The Gentleman who was the cause of this collection (taking therein no meane paines him-selfe, besides his friends labour) could not be perswaded, but determinately aimed at this observation," viz., the rejection of anything that could not be brought into a line or a couplet.
In order to adhere to this plan, if sometimes four consecutive lines presented themselves, forming two complete couplets, Bodenham did not scruple absurdly to separate them by lines from a different author. We have a remarkable instance of this practice (not hitherto pointed out) on pp. 178, 179, where we meet with the following:—
"There's nought so vile that on the earth doth live,
But to the earth some speciall good doth give."
Good is the end that cannot be amended.
Where good is found, we should not quit with ill.
"There's nought so good, but strain'd from that faire use
Revolts to vice, and stumbles on abuse."
The four lines in Italic everybody will recollect in Romeo and Juliet, Act II. sc. 8, and they are consecutive, both in reason and in fact, but it did not suit Bodenham's friend's views so to print them. Now and then he took similar pains to avoid even a couplet, so that lines, intended by the author to run together, are separated. On p. 29, for instance, we read,—
Where both deliberate, the love is light.
"True love is mute, and oft amazed stands."
Who ever lov'd, that lov'd not at first sight?
Here the first and third lines form a consecutive couplet, which will be easily recognized, not only because they are by Marlow (Hero and Leander, Sest. 1), but because the last line is quoted by Shakspeare in As you like it, Act III. Sc. 5.
Dead shepherd! now! find thy saw of might;
Who ever Iov'd, that lov'd not at first sight.
The poets to whom Bodenham, in his preface, admits his obligations are these — Thomas [Henry] Earl of Surrey, Marquess of Winchester, Countess of Pembroke, Sir Philip Sidney, Earl of Oxford, Ferdinando Earl of Derby, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Edward Dyer, Fulke Greville, Sir John Harrington, Edmund Spenser, Henry Constable, Samuel Daniel, Thomas Lodge, Thomas Watson, Michael Drayton, Sir John Davies, Thomas Hudson, Henry Locke, John Marston, Christopher Marlow, Benjamin Jonson, William Shakspeare, Thomas Churchyard, Thomas Nash, Thomas Kidde, George Peele, Robert Greene, Joshua Sylvester, Nicholas Breton, Gervase Markham, Thomas Storer, Robert Wilmot, Christopher Middleton, Richard Barnfield, Thomas Norton, George Gascoigne, Francis Kindlemarsh, Thomas Atchlow, George Whetstone. He adds that the last five are "deceased," but others whom he calls "modern and extant Poets," such as Spenser, Constable, Watson, Marlow, Peele, and Greene, were also dead before 1600, when Belvedere" was published.
The work came to a second edition in 1610, but the first part of the title, Bel-vedere, was then, for some unexplained reason, dropped.