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Tottel's Miscellany: Songs and Sonnets of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey,…

by Richard Tottel (Compiler)

Other authors: Nicholas Grimald (Contributor), Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (Contributor), Sir Thomas Wyatt (Contributor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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532425,541 (5)4
An eclectic and seminal collection of poetry from the Tudor period   Songs and Sonnets (1557), the first printed anthology of English poetry, was immensely influential in Tudor England and inspired many major Elizabethan writers, including Shakespeare. Collected by pioneering publisher Richard Tottel, it brought poems of the aristocracy--verses of friendship, war, politics, death, and love--into common readership for the first time. The major poets of King Henry VIII's court, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, were first printed in the volume. Wyatt's intimate poem about lost love that begins, "They flee from me, that sometime did me seek," and Surrey's passionate sonnet "Complaint of a lover rebuked" are joined here by a range of intriguingly anonymous poems from the Tudor era that are both moral and erotic, intimate and universal. For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.… (more)
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Rollins' edition orig. publ. 1928 2 vol.Ex-lib. UM Library ( )
  ME_Dictionary | Mar 19, 2020 |
[Tottel’s Miscellany: Songs and sonnets of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Sir Thomas Wyatt and others].
The Miscellany published in 1557 by Richard Tottel was the first successful printed anthology of English poetry. Bloody Queen Mary was on the throne and protestant heretics were being burnt at the stake in Smithfield market, it is no wonder then that this first anthology featured two named poets who had been dead for 30 years plus one who had recanted his faith, the rest of the poems were published anonymously. Tottel was a publisher under licence from the crown (the only one entitled to publish law books) and so would have been cautious about what he printed and this I think is reflected in the choice of the poems. The Miscellany was a run away success going to a second print just six weeks after the first.

There are 41 poems attributed to Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, 96 to Sir Thomas Wyatt, 40 by N. G. (reduced to ten in the second edition) and 143 are anonymous, making a total of 320 poems. The majority of the poems are love poems following the well known path of courtly-love: the lover and the beloved are characterised by the abject male speaker’s pain and frustration at the inaccessibility of the woman he desires. The lover is a passive aggressive cauldron of desire pain hope, puzzlement, resentment blame and anger. Sprinkled among these poems however are subjects that many of us reading today will find more interesting. There are a few (only a few) political poems, a few poems on the evils of the social world, there are poems that reflect the lives of the speaker and there are even a few written from a female viewpoint. There are a number of epigrams and also some poems that take a particular moral/advisory stance and there are also a handful of poems that could be read as touching on religious issues. Although hardly ever a subject in its own write a number of poems paint pictures of the natural world, however the world of the courtiers predominates.

Richard Tottel wrote a short introduction for his readers. He pointed out that the poems were well written verse and that they used ideas and templates from classical and Italian verse and what was particularly noteworthy of praise was that the noble Earl of Surrey and Sir Thomas Wyatt in particular had adapted the English language to fit the forms used by the Italians. He also said that much could be learned from this new English eloquence. In his own words he said:

“If perhaps some mislike the stateliness of style removed from the rude skill of common ears: I ask help of the learned to defend their learned friends, the authors of this work: And I exhort the unlearned, by reading to learn to be more skillfull, and to purge the swinelike grossness, that maketh the sweet marjoram not to smell to their delight”

Tottel’s introduction hints at one of the major reasons for the books success: that it would serve as a learning tool for aspiring authors, however it goes deeper than this as the book opened up the closed world of the courtiers. The new merchant/legal class could now aspire to know or even to break into the world where power and prestige lay; the Miscellany gave them templates as to how to write their own poetry; perhaps to enhance their social position and perhaps even to act like courtiers. The Earl of Surrey and Sir Thomas Wyatt showed a voice of authenticity, they were nobles to be imitated and they gave the Miscellany a social status that could not have been achieved without them. An essential tool for the upwardly mobile?, a status symbol?

Tottel or an employee or associate did much more than publish the poems: they were revised/amended to fit with the overall scheme of ennobling the English language. There are original versions of Sir Thomas Wyatts poems in various manuscript collection and we are able to see the changes that have been made to enable them to scan more easily. They have been prettied-up in some cases and neither Wyatt or Surrey were around to lodge any objections. Tottel did however elevate the idea of authorship, making it a selling point for his collection, by grouping together all the poems of Wyatt and Surrey. He also provided the poems with titles which would serve to point the reader towards the meaning of the poem, for example:

“The lover shewing of the continual paines that abide within his breast, determinith to die because he cannot have redress”
or
“The lover having dreamed enjoying of his love, complaineth that the dream is not either longer or truer”


Many of the titles point to the poems being about love or courtly love, but this is not always evident from the text of the poem. A few could be read as protests of a more political nature.

The anonymous poems in the collection are not without interest. They are probably anonymous because their authors wished them to be so. Tottel would have had access to the original manuscripts and he probably would have known the authorship of many of them. In the original edition the forty poems published under the initials N.G. belonged to Nicolas Grimald. It has been suggested that he might have been responsible for cleaning up/doctoring the majority of all the poems for publication and that is the reason that he withdrew many of his own from the second edition. However what is clear from Grimald’s poems is that they are markedly different from the rest of the poems in the Miscellany. Grimald was not a courtier, he was a lawyer and would have been excluded from the inner circle of the nobility. He was also a humanist and much of his poetry is dotted with classical references in far greater measure than used by other authors. He was more of an academic and his own poems read well. Many of his poems in the collection are epitaphs of great men, or in praise of living men and women, he does not touch on the subject of courtly love. They can be a bit dry, but in my opinion he is responsible for one of the best poems in the whole collection. His “A funerall song, upon the deceas of Annes his mother” is both moving and clever in its classical allusions.

I read the Penguin Classics version edited with an introduction and Notes by Amands Holton and Tom Macfaul. The poems keep the original wording and spelling, but letters have been modernised. They keep to the order in the original miscellany except for the poems by Grimald which are included as an appendix. There are brief translations on the same page as the poems where the meaning of the words are different from what we might expect and in a separate section at the back of the book there are more voluminous notes on poetic form, classical allusions and authorial identity. All you need really to enjoy the poems and get a sense of their place in the context of the 16th century. The introduction is informative and at the back there is an index of first lines.

The title of the collection starts with the words; Songs and sonnets and it is the sonnet that is the dominant form in the selection (there are over 50 in the collection). Wyatt and Surrey were the first English poets to use the 14 line form with its regular rhyming scheme and many of their pieces are adaptions or translations from Petrarch’s Canzoniere. Ottava rima is another form lifted from the Italians which is well represented, but there are also poems in some form of quatrains, rhyme royal and rhyming couplets, however there is an absence of the older song-forms like roundels and chansons. The Miscellany represented a snapshot of much of the poetry being written in the 16th century. It was certainly influential as the first collection of poetry, it introduced two courtier poets to a wider audience whose work has remained in the canon ever since and it made available forms of poetry which could be imitated by other aspiring authors.

I found it an enjoyable reading experience and soon got used to the more archaic words and spelling. There are an awful lot of the courtly love lyrics that can be little more than a variation on a theme and these might not be to everyones taste, however this is an essential collection for people engaged with the history of English poetry and the literature of the 16th century and might also be used as a collection to dip into for the more general reader. I cannot fault the penguin classics edition and so five stars.

here is a copy of one of the poems from the anonymous section, probably written by an unfortunate person awaiting his fate in the Tower of London.

Comparison of life and death.

THe life is long, that lothsomly doth last:
The dolefull dayes draw slowly to their date:
The present panges, and painfull plages forepast
Yelde griefe aye grene to stablish this estate.
So that I feele, in this great storme, and strife,
The death is swete that endeth such a life.
Yet by the stroke of this strange ouerthrow,
At which conflict in thraldom I was thrust:
The Lord be praised: I am well taught to know
From whence man came, and eke whereto he must:
And by the way vpon how feble force
His terme doth stand, till death doth end his course.
The pleasant yeres that seme, so swift that runne
The mery dayes to end, so fast that flete:
The ioyfull nightes, of which day daweth so soone.
The happy howers, which mo domisse then mete,
Do all consume: as snow against the sunne:
And death makes end of all, that life begunne•

Since death shall dure, till all the world be wast.
what meaneth man to drede death then so sore?
As man might make, that life should alway last.
Without regard, the lord hath led before
The daunce of death, which all must runne on row:
Though how• or when: the Lord alone doth know.
If man would minde, what burdens life doth bring:
What greuous crimes to Go• he doth c•mmi•t:
what plages, what panges, what per•iles thereby spring:
With no sure hower in all his daies to •it:
He would sure think, as with great cause I do:
The day of death were better of the two.
Death is a port, wherby we passe to ioy.
Life is a lake, that drowneth all in payn.
Death is so dere, it ceaseth all annoy.
Life is so leude, that all it yeldes is vayn.
And as by life to bondage man is braught:
Euen so likewise by death was fredome wraught.
Wherfore with Paul, let all men wish and pray
To be dissolude of this foule fleshly masse:
Or at the least be armde against the day:
That they be found good souldiers, prest to passe
From life to death: from death to life again
To such a life, as euer shall remain. ( )
4 vote baswood | Aug 14, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tottel, RichardCompilerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Grimald, NicholasContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Howard, Henry, Earl of SurreyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wyatt, Sir ThomasContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Arber, EdwardEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rollins, Hyder EdwardEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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An eclectic and seminal collection of poetry from the Tudor period   Songs and Sonnets (1557), the first printed anthology of English poetry, was immensely influential in Tudor England and inspired many major Elizabethan writers, including Shakespeare. Collected by pioneering publisher Richard Tottel, it brought poems of the aristocracy--verses of friendship, war, politics, death, and love--into common readership for the first time. The major poets of King Henry VIII's court, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, were first printed in the volume. Wyatt's intimate poem about lost love that begins, "They flee from me, that sometime did me seek," and Surrey's passionate sonnet "Complaint of a lover rebuked" are joined here by a range of intriguingly anonymous poems from the Tudor era that are both moral and erotic, intimate and universal. For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

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