Edmund Spenser is named in the preface of this notable Elizabethan collection of 2380 verse extracts arranged by topic. The compendium includes 215 passages from Spenser, 269 from Drayton, 215 from Daniel, and 214 from Shakespeare.
William Oldys: "He made it his inviolable rule to admit no quotation of more than one line, or a couplet of ten syllables. This makes him so sparing of his sense, and gives him so dogmatical an air, that his reader is rather offended, than satisfied with his entertainment.... But there is another singularity of a more serious nature in this performance, which is, the collector's having omitted to annex the poets names to his citations; which leaves room to suspect, that he was afraid of being detected of having mangled his originals egregiously in his barbarous manner of curtailing them" in The British Muse (1738) vii-viii.
William Beloe: "In 1600 appeared BELVIDERE, or the Garden of the Muses. There was a second edition in 1610, entitled The Garden of the Muses, without the previous title of BELVIDERE, but they are one and the same Collection, and made by John Bodenham. This is a curious, but at the same time, very whimsical Miscellany, as the author in another edition made it a rule, to give place to no more than a quotation of a single line, or a couplet of ten syllables" Anecdotes of Literature 1 (1807) 245.
Nathan Drake: "This collection, which underwent a second impression in 1610, with the omission of its first appellative, 'Belvedere,' though it contain a vast number of quotations, is, on two accounts, inferior to the [England's] Parnassus. In the first place, no author's names are annexed to the extracts, and, in the second, a much greater defect has arisen from the editor's determination to confine his specimens to one or two lines at most, a brevity which almost annihilates the interest of the work" Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 348.
W. Davenport Adams: "John Bodenham, a literary editor and compiler of the sixteenth century, who published, in 1598, Politeuphuia: or Wit's Commonwealth; in the same year, Wit's Theater of the Little World; in 1600, England's Helicon; and in the same year Belvidere: or, the Garden of the Muses" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 83.
It shall be needlesse (gentle Reader) to make any Apologie for the defence of this labour, because the same being collected from so many singular mens workes; and the worth of them all having been so especially approoved, and past with no meane applause the censure of all in generall; doth both disburden me of that paines, and sets the better approbation on this excellent booke. It shall be sufficient for me then to tell thee, that here thou art brought into the Muses Garden, (a place that may beseeme the presence of the greatest Prince in the world.) Imagine then thy height of happinesse, in being admitted to so celestiall a Paradise. Let thy behaviour then (while thou art here) answere thy great fortune, and make use of thy time as so rich a treasure requireth.
The walkes, alleys, and passages in this Garden, are almost infinite; every where a turning, on all sides such windings in and out: yet all extending both to pleasure and profit, as very rare or seldome shalt thou see the like. Marke then, what varietie of flowres grow all along as thou goest, and trample on none rudely, for all are right precious. If thy conscience be wounded, here are store of hearbs to heale it: If thy doubts be fearefull, here are flowres of comfort. Are thy hopes frustrated? here's immediate helpes for them. In briefe, what infirmitie cans thou have, but here it may bee cured? What delight or pleasure wouldst thou have, but here it is affoorded?
Concerning the nature and qualitie of these excellent flowres, thou seest that they are most learned, grave, and wittie sentences; each line being a severall sentence, and none exceeding two lines at the uttermost. All which, being subjected under apt and proper heads, as arguments what is then dilated and spoken of: even so each head hath first his definition in a couplet sentence; then the single and double sentences by variation of letter do follow: and lastly, Similies and Examples in the same nature likewise, to conclude every Head or Argument handled. So let this serve to shew thee the whole intent of this worke.
Now that every one may be fully satisfied concerning this Garden, that no one man doth assume to him-selfe the praise thereof, or can arrogate to his owne deserving those things which have been derived from so many rare and ingenious spirits; I have set down both how, whence, and where these flowres had their first springing, till thus they were drawne togither into the Muses Garden, that every ground may challenge his owne, each plant his particular, and no one be injuried in the justice of his merit.
First, out of many exellent speeches spoken to her Majestie, at Tiltings, Triumphes, Maskes, Shewes, and devises perfourmed in prograce: as also out of divers choise Ditties sung to her; and some especially, proceeding from her owne most sacred selfe: Here are great store of them digested into their meete places, according as the method of the worke plainly delivereth. Likewise out of privat Poems, Sonnets, Ditties, and other wittie conceits, given to her Honorable Ladies, and vertuous Maids of Honour; according as they could be obtained by sight, or favour of coppying, a number of most wittie and singular Sentences.
Secondly, looke what workes of Poetrie have been put to the worlds eye, by that learned and right royall king and Poet, JAMES king of Scotland, no one Sentence of worth hath escaped, but are likewise here reduced into their right roome and place.
Next, out of sundry things extant, and many in privat, done by these right Honourable persons following:
Thomas, Earle of Surrey.
The Lord Marquesse of Winchester.
Mary, Countesse of Pembrooke.
Sir Philip Sidney.
From Poems and workes of these noble personages, extant.
Edward, Earle of Oxenford.
Ferdinando, Earle of Derby.
Sir Walter Raleigh.
Sir Edward Dyer.
Fulke Grevile, Esquier.
Sir John Harrington.
From divers essayes of their Poetrie; some extant among other Honourable personages writings; some from private labours and translations.
Henry Constable Esquier.
Thomas Lodge, Doctor of Physicke.
Henrie Locke Esquier.
Thomas Churchyard Esquier.
These being Moderne and extant Poets, that have liv'd togither; from many of their extant workes, and some kept in privat.
Thomas Norton Esquier.
George Gascoigne Esquier.
Frauncis Kindlemarsh Esquier.
These being deceased, have left divers extant labours, and many more held back from publishing, which for the most part have been perused, and their due right here given them in the Muses Garden.
Besides, what excellent Sentences have been in any presented Tragedie, Historie, Pastorall, or Comedie, they have been likewise gathered, and are here inserted in their proper places.