LITERARY GENEALOGY •
IDENTIFYING SERIES •
COMMENTARY & BIOGRAPHY •
HOW COMPLETE IS IT? •
SOURCES OF TEXTS •
Contents of the Archive
This project follows literary developments set in motion by Spenser's poetry, tracing sequences of poems and commentary linked by relationships to particular persons, places, and institutions. Its contents have been selected to illustate how poets responded to contemporary events in the light of what had been written in the immediate or remote past, and to illustrate evolving habits of reading by gathering in one place much of what was known and said about a large and diverse company of writers.
The core of the archive consists of material closely related to Spenser:
To this core much has been added that derives from Spenser at several removes: poems in Spenserian stanzas, British pastorals, imitations of Milton, Collins, and Gray. Across the 250-year span covered by the archive the strictly Spenserian material gradually becomes a proportionately smaller part of an expanding and diversifying constellation of genetically related poems.
The branches on this genealogical tree, if the metaphor is permissible, consist of series of poems with marked family traits. Some adhere to a regular formula, other series diverge from their origins and assume innovative or hybrid forms. In some series Spenser's writings seem to be in the writer's eye, in others only more immediate predecessors. Series of odes, pastorals, elegies, and narratives developed in ways peculiar to the several genres as well to general period norms for imitation. Elegy, for example, tended to be a conservative form; odes were often used for experiments in form, and pastorals for experiments in content. Many poems participate in more than one series, creating a very tangled web.
But evolutionary metaphors can be misleading since poets select their literary ancestors rather than the other way about. It is misleading to speak of "influence" as though it implies a causal relationship; agency properly belongs with the writer, not the source. Spenser was an original poet, but his strategic importance for English literature lay in the fact that he was an especially skillful imitator whose selection and use of antecedents set an example for others to follow. The same can be said for other landmark poets in the tradition: the most frequently imitated writers tended to be the most resourceful imitators themselves.
Poets are readers as well as writers; they practice selection by reading this rather than that and by reading this way rather than that way. The choices they make, individually and collectively, give writers and traditions their distinctive characters. In selecting the contents for a genealogical study of poetry one therefore looks for series of poems marked by distinctive choices.
There are degrees of distinctiveness. A poet elects to write in a genre, but while selecting a genre implies familiarity with antecedents, a particular relationship to antecedents is not ordinarily implied by the choice. Genres might be distinguished from poetic series, groups of poems sharing a common trait or group of traits derived from a particular source: poems written in Spenserian stanzas derive from Spenser. Even more distinctive is a poetic sequence, a poetic series in which the later members respond in some particular way to the earlier ones, developing a topic of conversation or a literary technique: poems written in response to James Beattie's The Minstrel are not only written in Spenserian stanzas, but develop his theme of "the progress of genius."
These are heuristic distinctions. Literary sub-genres like gothic novels and pastoral elegies are tantamount to literary series when their characteristics are strongly marked and traceable to common origins; literary series are tantamount to literary sequences when members have many points of resemblance. Nor does "distinctiveness" preclude a poem from membership in more than one series or even more than one sequence. Poets are quite capable of mixing modes and carrying on multiple conversations. As a practical matter, however, the literary genealogist begins by looking for a series of poems sharing distinctive characteristics. Once its scattered members are collected, more specific relationships generally appear, relationships illustrating the reciprocity between writing and reading.
The scope of the archive thus includes series of poems derived from Spenser, including formal imitations, but also poems written in Spenserians, Spenserian sonnets, and Spenserian pastorals. In addition it includes a number of related series: imitations of Milton's "L'Allegro and Il Penseroso" and Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard, allegorical odes and pastoral ballads. These series have a more oblique relationship to the common source, but are thoroughly intertwined with the specifically Spenserian series: the same poets contributed to both and both were addressed to the same groups of readers; they develop common topics and share distinctive features. These series of later origin had an impact on how Spenser was read and imitated and vice versa.
What identifies a poem as a member of a poetic series? This question can be difficult to answer even for something as seemingly simple as "poems in Spenserian stanzas" (see below). Early members of a nascent series may be indistinct and are easily overlooked when the series is retrospectively defined based on mature instances. Definition becomes problematic because concepts of imitation are so various. One way to establish norms is by extrapolating criteria from works that identify themselves as imitations. Burlesque poems are particularly useful for extablishing criteria because they exaggerate and because their humor turns on what is taken to be common knowledge. Poets often provide assistance by inserting illuminating allusions and catalogues of names; contemporary reviews and commentary sometimes provide assistance in determining what sorts with what.
Titles often announce a poem as an imitation of Spenser or as a member of a sequence. Thus we have poems "in imitation of Spenser," "in the Manner of Spenser," and "in the Style of Spenser." We have "Il Penseroso" but also "Il Moderato"; the "Pleasures of Memory," but also "The Pains of Memory"; "The Deserted Village" but also "The Frequented Village"; an "Elegy written in a Country Churchyard," but also an "Elegy written in Covent Garden." Following sequences through titles underscores the breadth and variety of imitation; not all works "in the manner" of the Faerie Queene employ archaisms, and not all imitations of Gray's Elegy are in quatrains. Sometimes the relation to the source can be a real puzzle, as in George Woodward's 1730 "Sonnet imitated from Spencer," the first stanza of which reads: "Chloe's as cold as Ice, all Day, | And I still burn like Fire; | Why don't her Coldness melt away | Before my warm Desire?" What of Spenser is being imitated here?
Because the character of Spenser's poetry is so strongly marked many imitations are easy to spot even in the absence of a confirming title. But others do not adopt Spenser's distinctive mannerisms: they might develop a topic or episode from one of his poems in a contemporary idiom or a personal style. Without the confirming title, such poems are difficult to identify as imitations, particularly when the topic is common. Poems in which the imitation consists of a small episode in a longer work, or little more than a passing allusion, make decisions about inclusion problematic. What to do with imitations of Chaucer or Dante? If they seem to be "in the manner of Spenser" they are included here. Even the category of "poems that mention Spenser by name" becomes difficult, since sometimes "Colin" refers to Spenser, and sometimes not. If a work has appeared in someone's bibliography of Spenser imitations it is included here; let the reader decide.
The Spenserian stanza, long regarded as a key marker of Spenserian tradition, is a good example of the difficulties one encounters. Since Spenser invented the stanza that bears his name, every instance of a poem written in Spenserians derives from him, directly or indirectly. Here is something akin to a genetic fingerprint. However, the great majority of poems in Spenserian stanzas are derived from Spenser indirectly, often at multiple removes. One might wish to distinguish between the broader designation of poetry derived from Spenser (a series plain and simple) and a Spenserian tradition more rigorously conceived. Spenser has an obvious bearing on any poem written in Spenserians prior to 1770; after that date the stanza gradually came into general use, so that additional criteria are required to identify a poem as "Spenserian."
Nor was the Spenserian stanza the privileged object it has seemed to later critics and historians: imitations of the Faerie Queene were written in couplets, blank verse, and prose. Giles and Phineas Fletcher, self-professed Spenserians, did not use the nine-line stanza, nor did Milton, nor did Collins, Gray, or the Wartons; even Robert Southey, who repeatedly presented himself as Spenser's heir, seldom adopted it. Prior to the publication of Childe Harold in 1812 the Spenserian stanza seems to have been regarded as a curiosity by the generality of readers and critics. Even beyond that date reviewers were explaining its characteristics to readers and sometimes getting them wrong. Those who used the stanza were originally a select group, even among Spenserians.
Further complicating matters, the term "Spenserian stanza" was not limited to the nine-line stanza of the Faerie Queene. The Fletchers did compose much of their poetry in Spenserian stanzas, though not in stanzas of nine lines. New forms of the stanza continued to appear throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, stanzas that poets and critics would refer to as "the stanza of Spenser." While this inclusive use of the term sometimes stemmed from simple ignorance, evidence suggests that many poets did understand the difference between the nine-line stanza and its variants. Eighteenth-century burlesques of the Faerie Queene, for example, usually use the nine-line stanza while other kinds of Spenserian verse do not. This is because the nine-line stanza, like Spenser's diction, was regarded as obsolete and hence appropriate for burlesque verse; for more dignified poetry one of the more "regular" forms of the stanza would be used. But practices were not always consistent.
Breadth of definition obviously matters when identifying a series. If the Spenserian stanza is taken to include all stanzas with alternating rhymes terminating in an alexandrine (as was standard practice at least into the 1820s), the number of such poems extends well beyond what the bibliographers have recorded. The majority of poems written in "Spenserian stanzas" before 1820 were not in fact written in stanzas of nine lines; if one considers the whole group, the proportion of Spenserian burlesques is much diminished and the character of Augustan Spenserianism begins to look rather different. The variations are of interest in and of themselves, since they also mark series and sequences. The ten-line "Prior" form was commonly used for patriotic odes; the rhyme-royal and ottava-rima forms seem to have been used for high and low topics respectively; the short-lined form used in Gray's "Hymn to Adversity" was adopted in allegorical odes concerned with misfortune. On the other hand, the six-line stanza, the most common variant, was not associated with any particular subject. But here again, usage was not always consistent.
Following convention, I use "Spenserian stanza" to refer to the Faerie Queene stanza and "irregular Spenserians" for stanzas of five to ten lines in alternating rhymes terminating in a couplet, the second line of which is an alexandrine. Common "irregular" patterns include: ababcC, ababccC (the "Fletcher" Spenserian), abababcC (the ottava-rima Spenserian), ababbcC (the rhyme-royal Spenserian), ababcdcdeE (the "Prior" Spenserian) ababcdcdD (the "easy" Spenserian), and ababbcbcDD (the "Rowley" Spenserian). It is tempting to limit the definition of irregular Spenserians to poems in pentameters, though the extensive use of octosyllabic stanzas in descriptive and allegorical odes suggests that were also regarded as "Spenserian." There are thus many variations; William Blake's "Imitation of Spenser" consists of six stanzas in six different patterns, none of the nine-line variety. While the end-couplet-with-alexandrine formula was regularly used in longer Pindaric stanzas, I have included these only when they have some other claim to be regarded as part of a series. On the same basis I have admitted other "irregular" irregular Spenserians: the Prior stanza with octosyllabic lines in the first quatrain, couplet stanzas with the alexandrine.
The waywardness of the Spenserian stanza is typical of series of poems derived from Spenser. Traditions are dynamic: norms are established, norms are violated, violations become norms. What might be regarded as Spenserian at one time might not be considered so at another. There are early eighteenth-century poems "in the manner of Spenser" where the imitation seems limited to the use of stanzas in place of couplets. But stanzas were seldom used in eclogues, allegories, and beast fables, genres that at times constituted the core of Spenserian poetry. Renaissance instances of these genres have been carefully studied, while later examples have been largely ignored. Yet a larger number of eclogues, allegories, and beast fables were published during the eighteenth century when Spenser's reputation was at its apogee. While identifying Spenserianism with the nine-line stanza has the virtue of tidiness, the tradition was much more heterogeneous and dynamic than such retrospective culling suggests.
Pastoral poetry, more than the Spenserian stanza, seems to me to be the quintessential Spenserian marker. Spenser's eidolon was a pastoral figure, and generations of Spenserian poets identified themselves with "Colin." The character of Spenser's verse was identified as simplicity, a pastoral characteristic, though Spenserian simplicity went hand in hand with verbal artifice (in metrics, diction, and allusiveness, Spenserian and Miltonic verse was the most literary strain of English poetry). The disjunction between the speaker's simplicity and the poem's artifice is typical not only of eclogues but of Spenserian odes, sonnets, satires, and narratives. If Colin's melancholia originates in pastoral themes of thwarted love and ambition, it extends across the whole range Spenserian poetry: from Jacobean elegies for Prince Henry, to Augustan burlesques, to the romantic sonnets, to Byron's Childe Harold. The green worlds of pastoral poetry recur in Spenserian poetry in a bewildering variety of forms: in medieval and classical settings, druidical groves, English villages, the Scottish border, the American frontier, the surreal landscapes of allegorical fantasy.
Pastoral poets like Spenser used collections of eclogues to ring changes on a set of related forms and themes, a procedure later imitated by poets like Collins in collections of allegorical odes. Pastoral appears as a genre in formal eclogues, but as a mode in lyrics, odes, dramas, and romances. Because pastoral writers are so form-conscious, sequences of pastorals are often easy to identify: pastoral dramas, dialect pastorals, oriental eclogues, burlesque eclogues. Over the course of generations Spenserian pastoralists developed characteristic settings, names for speakers, and diction. Other sequences are harder to follow and more difficult to identify as Spenserian: the promiscuous swarms of pastoral ballads appearing in eighteenth-century periodicals are a case in point. The tradition of Virgilian pastoral, while it runs through Spenser, also derived directly from the Latin poet; which neoclassical pastorals ought to be considered as Spenserian? In most cases the philological work of sorting out affiliations remains to be done.
Like pastoral, allegory operates both a genre and a mode, and like pastoral it derives from classical sources as well as from Spenser himself, confusing the lines of descent. But unlike pastoralists, allegorists seldom allude to their sources; when a source is identifiable it is less likely to be Spenser than Prodicus, Lucian, Bunyan, or Addison. Allegories written in the manner of Spenser amount to only a drop in a vast bucket; they share so many characteristics with other allegories it becomes difficult to find a marker to define a series. In his 1715 "Essay on Allegorical Poetry" John Hughes equates the prose allegories in the Spectator with the Faerie Queene, and there is reason to suspect that hundreds of later prose allegories derive from Spenser despite the lack of mannerisms or specific imitations. I have included only a selection. Many unremarked eighteenth and nineteenth-century allegorical poems in couplets and blank verse may derive from Spenser and his imitators at one or two removes.
A major development in Spenserian poetry was the advent of the eighteenth-century allegorical and descriptive ode. The origins this mode were multiple and complex, deriving from Pindar and Horace (often in seventeenth-century translations), from Milton's companion poems, Dryden's Alexander's Feast, and (but seldom) from Spenser's "Fowre Hymnes." Many allegorical odes share topics and imagery with contemporary prose allegories. Other odes were "descriptive" rather than allegorical; descriptiveness was, after simplicity, the quality most often identified with Spenser. Allegorical and descriptive odes shared verse forms and diction and seem to have been the means by which stanzas came to be reintroduced to descriptive and narrative poetry. Through the odes of Collins, Gray, and their Della Cruscan imitators Spenserian diction entered into the mainstream of romantic poetry. Thousands of allegorical and descriptive odes were published in the eighteenth century; I have included only those derived in some more or less obvious way from Spenser, Milton, Dryden, Collins, and Gray.
Imitators took less cognizance of Spenser's minor poems. If Spenser introduced the epithalamion into English poetry, few seventeenth and eighteenth century epithalamia seem particularly Spenserian. While the beast fable enjoyed an enormous vogue in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Spenserian beast fables make only sporadic appearances. The arboreal fable in "Februarie" is an exception, spawning a distinct and long-running series of imitations. Spenserian sonnets were briefly important during the sonnet revival of the mid-eighteenth century, though few of the later examples seem to have much to do with Spenser. Unlike the Spenserian stanza, the Spenserian sonnet never became common, acquired distinctive content, or was used in obvious sequences.
If there are traditions for writing poems, there are also traditions for writing about poets. The criticism and biography in this archive is intended to relate information about the poets from primary sources, but also to illustrate the role of tradition in shaping perceptions of writers and literature generally. Modes of criticism and biography evolve over time, a process visible in the chronological series of remarks and biographies. The status accorded individual poets and critics also shifts with changes in taste and changes in the literary system. Retrospective selection raised some writers monumental status while slighting, ignoring, or condemning others. The structures of repetition and variation one finds in textual traditions have equivalents in critical and biographical writing.
Poetry, criticism, and biography are linked in a number of ways. In our period much of the criticism took the form of verse. Most of the prose criticism and many of the biographies are also the work of poets; after 1750 this kind of writing became an important source of income for a number of writers. The information contained in criticism and biographies played a critical role in the production of poetry, signaling to poets who was worth imitating and which modes were acceptable, creating a sense of audience, and suggesting possibilities for literary careers. One object in collecting commentary and biography is to identify what was known when, a matter of some importance since knowledge about poets and poetry was often in short supply. Through the documents gathered here it becomes possible to learn something about who was being read by whom, when, how, and in what circumstances. What a poet has to say about his fellows and predecessors is often a useful guide to interpreting their own writings.
In selecting commentary and biography it seems impossible to propose completeness even as an ideal: major writers like Milton, Pope, or Johnson would require an archive unto themselves. For such writers I have given priority to comments by other authors represented in the database, and among those to the poets. For very minor writers I have been reduced to transcribing whatever scraps I could find. Something can be gleaned from published journals and correspondence, though much of the best material for reception history remains out of sight in manuscript collections or out of reach in books not yet in the public domain. Nonetheless, the amount of material available on even minor writers is such that it is usually possible to trace a reception by quarrying poetry anthologies and biographical dictionaries. Most of these biographies merely pilfer from their predecessors, though sometimes with interesting variations. (I have noticed that sources that usually do little but plagiarize often contain a few original and insightful biographies.)
While commentary and biography are located in different files, there is much biography to be found in the commentary, and much commentary in the biography; both files contain verse not otherwise included in the database; the commentary file contains thousands of additional sonnets, characters, epigrams, and verse epistles.
It would make little sense to adopt 1830 as a cutoff date for commentary and biography since many of the writers were active long afterwards. Instead I have used 1925, while making no pretense of thorough coverage for the later period. Perhaps this can be filled in over time. Antiquaries were thick on the ground in the Victorian era, and for a number of minor writers their work still remains the best available scholarship. While the early biographies do contain some factual errors, they are more likely to be incomplete than inaccurate.
In supplying commentary for the text records, I have relied for matter on contemporary reviews where available, supplemented with brief extracts from essays, prefaces, biographies, correspondence, and literary histories. In some cases there is simply no commentary to be found, though these cases are fewer than one might expect. Criticism was once dominated by philology and influence studies: if imitations were little esteemed, they were at least discussed. The pre-modernist poetic canon was more inclusive than today, because anything was grist for the philologist's mill, but also because even major critics read and discussed minor poets. To make headnotes I have plundered whatever I could from the older literary histories which, being more descriptive than analytical, are well suited to piecemeal quotation.
Archives, like traditions, are the growth of time. This project builds upon more than two hundred years of prior bibliographical research. The task of collecting Spenserian poetry seems to have begun with Joseph Warton, who drew up lists of poems John Nichols's Select Collection of Poems with Notes Biographical and Historical (1780-84) and likely had a hand in the earlier supplements to Dodsley's Collection of Poems. The first anthology to collect Spenser imitations was the eleventh volume of Bell's Fugitive Poetry (1789-97); the other volumes gather other important series of minor poems. Not long afterwards Robert Southey began collecting materials on the Spenserian tradition in his notebooks, and in 1805 the first bibliography of Spenser imitations was published in Henry John Todd's edition of the Poetical Works of Spenser (1805). Throughout the nineteenth century bibliographers and literary scholars paid particular heed to imitations of Spenser, and in the first half of the twentieth century a number of books, articles, and dissertations were devoted to the topic.
While these were the starting points, the archive has expanded to include imitations of Milton, which have also been the subject of bibliographical research, most notably in Raymond Dexter Havens's The Influence of Milton on English Poetry (1922). Other philological studies have compiled lists of imitations of Collins, Gray, and Byron. I have been able to make considerable additions in all areas; much material has appeared on microfilm in recent decades, and few of my sources paid much heed to newspaper verse or American poetry.
The most thoroughly documented area is poems in Spenserian stanzas. For the period before 1770 I have found only a few new imitations of the Faerie Queene, though rather more poems in Spenserian stanzas. For the later period I have been able to make very substantial additions, particularly in the nineteenth century. I believe I have found most of the long poems in Spenserians, though new titles continue to turn up. This is particularly true for the 1820s; while conventional wisdom has it that the poetry market collapsed during economic hard times, the information gathered here suggests that while there were no more blockbusters, more poetry was being published than ever. It is true, however, that fewer and fewer poems were being reviewed, making items in Spenserian stanzas more difficult to locate, especially those in volumes issued in small editions by provincial publishers.
To the thousand and more poems in regular Spenserians identified here several hundred more could likely be added, chiefly lyric odes appearing in nineteenth-century periodicals and collected volumes. After 1815 these become truly legion. Imitations of Milton, Collins, and Gray continue to be added all the time; these were staples of periodical verse, and many periodicals remain to be examined. Some large eighteenth-century magazines are not available on microfilm, and I have made a start, but only a start, on nineteenth-century newspapers. Irish, Scottish, and Canadian newspapers have largely proved inaccessible, and the English and American newspapers that are accessible will take many years to examine. Experience suggests that while there is a dramatic spike in the numbers of poems published in the 1810s and 20s, they are still well undercounted.
For the period before 1700 I have relied more on scholarship and have yet to do the stem-to-stern review of the microfilm required to make the data in the archive really consistent. I do not expect that this would add substantially to the number of text records (except in the case of pastorals) but it would add considerably to the commentary. But I have added already enough seventeenth-century poems to know that there are more to be found. While I am trying to collect mentions of Spenser in verse, this becomes impractical for prose after 1700. Some items not noticed here may be found in Spenser Allusions in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, edited by William Wells (1972). A few additional biographical items may be gleaned from the bibliographies by Frederic Ives Carpenter (1923) and Dorothy F. Atkinson (1937). The growing number of full-text databases makes it easier to find mentions of Spenser by name.
The archive could also be expanded by adding additional series of poems. The most important missing series are imitations of Paradise Lost and Southey's and Scott's romances. While these were a vital part of the literary ecology, I have thus far been unwilling to undertake the labor of transcribing the hundred-plus book-length poems this would require. Imitations of Percy's ballads might also have been included. There were also series of imitations of Shakespeare (after 1750 Hamlet's soliloquy became a perennial object of burlesque, while the Witches in Macbeth figured largely in political satire). There were imitations of Pope's "Rape of the Lock" and Gray's "Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat," but these make but sporadic appearances. There were several dozen imitations of Dryden's lines to Milton ("Three Poets, in three distant ages born") and I wish I had collected these, as also a short-lived but busy series of imitations of "The Erl King." But the really large series are here: in number and complexity nothing else approaches those imitating Milton's "L'Allegro," Gray's Elegy, and Shenstone's "Pastoral Ballad."
The text of the first printing is ordinarily used when available; since the database is organized chronologically this has the advantage of matching the text to the date for the record. The important exceptions are Spenser, for which I have used the 1715 Hughes edition, Pope, for which I have use the 1797 Warton edition, and Milton, for which I have used the 1826 Todd edition. In the case of these frequently-imitated writers it seemed desirable to have more regular spelling to facilitate electronic searching.
The editorial ambitions of the transcriptions are very modest. They are designed for searching and browsing, not intended as a scholarly edition. The print source is cited for purposes of reference, but readers should keep in mind that they may be looking at something rather different, shorn of italics, small caps, ligatures, diacritical marks, Greek and Hebrew characters, page, line and stanza numbers, formatting, epigraphs, notes, and illustrations. I have modernized letter forms ("Jove" for "Ioue," "Work" for "VVork") but otherwise retain the original spelling. I have removed running quotes, spelled out the names of speakers in dialogues, and expanded abbreviations, but with the exception of quotation marks retain the punctuation of the source document where it is legible, which it often isn't. Most of the texts are transcribed from microfilm, which has sometimes involved guesswork, while many of the nineteenth-century texts have been scanned. I have corrected obvious printer's errors.
For biography, correspondence, and criticism I have tried to limit myself to texts in the public domain. Readers should be aware that nineteenth-century editors could be very free with their texts, suppressing, revising, cutting and splicing at will. Authors like Anna Seward handled their own published correspondence in much the same way. Perhaps there is something to be said for presenting these texts in the form earlier generations knew them, but they are no substitute for a modern critical edition. Otherwise, I have limited quotations to short excerpts that would fall under the fair use doctrine. If I have unwittingly violated someone's property rights, please let me know.
Anyone wishing use these transcriptions of public-domain texts for non-commercial purposes has my permission to do so, with or without acknowledgment. I strongly suggest that that they be checked against the originals so that errors can be corrected and that modifications be made as appropriate. Please notify me of transcription errors so that I may make corrections.
The scope of this project has changed since it began as an up-dated checklist of eighteenth-century imitations of Spenser. Its scope and contents will continue to evolve in response to user comments. Please send notices of suggestions, errors and omissions to me at drad@vt. edu.