Notes and Queries/Series 2/Volume 1/Number 1/Reprints of Early English Poetry

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search


The late Mr. Edward Vernon Utterson, the editor of the two well-known volumes of Early Popular Poetry (8vo., 1817), had, as is also well known, a private press in his house of Beldornie, in the Isle of Wight; by means of which he reprinted a variety of highly curious poetical tracts, of dates between about 1590 and 1620. Although he never struck off more than from twelve to twenty copies of each (registering the number in type, or in his own handwriting), he was kind enough to present, I believe, all of them to me, aware of the interest I have taken in our early literature. They were either from unique, or from very rare copies, in public or private libraries; and, in some instances, I have not been able to collate my reprints with the originals. It was my general rule to do so; and I am sorry to say that, the service Mr. Utterson thus rendered to the students of our old poetry, was in some degree neutralized by inaccuracies I discovered. The mistakes, I am aware, grew out of the circumstance, that he usually employed a scribe to copy the original; who (like most scribes with whom I have had to do) was not as accurate as he ought to have been, and Mr. Utterson trusted too much to his fidelity. Many allowances ought, in such cases, to be made: I have transcribed not a few MSS. and printed books with my own hand, in order, as I fancied, to be secure upon the point; and, in going over them afterwards, I have been astonished at my own blunders. Of course, the printer too was now and then in fault, and I do not think that Mr. Utterson engaged a very good compositor. Those are commonly the best compositors who have most to do; and the person or persons who put together the letters for a private press, were not very likely to have enough work to keep them in constant employment. Hence they did not acquire a habit of accuracy.

It may seem a little ungracious in me to point out errors of this kind: it is, as our proverb well expresses it, "Looking a gift-horse in the mouth." But as Mr. Utterson's sole object was to benefit others by the communication of valuable materials, within the reach of few, I am confident that his first wish would have been that defects of the kind should, as far as possible, be cured; and when I have formerly made him aware of their existence, he always expressed his obligation and his regret: adding a desire, that if I ever made any public use of his little volumes, I would take care not to omit the correction of errors. In my intercourse with him, I always found him kind, liberal, and disinterested.

I will begin with Richard Barnefield's Cynthia; with certaine Sonnets, and the Legend of Cassandra, which was originally published in 1595. The name of the author will be familiar to most of your readers, because poems by him were inserted by W. Jaggard, in The Passionate Pilgrim, as the compositions of Shakspeare. Mr. Utterson printed from the copy in Malone's Collection at Oxford; and I was the more obliged to him for the reprint of Cynthia, because it contains the twenty sonnets, which were addressed by Barnefield to a person he calls Ganymede. Most of these are of a questionable character, and were cancelled by Mr. Utterson, after they had been composed by his printer; so that, at least, twelve of the copies struck off were without them. Moreover, unusual mechanical care was evinced about them,—a circumstance which may be attributed to the fact, that Mr. Utterson himself looked over the press, before he decided that he would not insert them. He sent them to me with a separate note, and wrote "cancelled" upon them.

We meet with a singular mistake on the threshold, where Barnefield's address to his readers, just after the mention of Spenser, is made to terminate thus:—

"I leave you to the reading of that, which I so much desire may need your delight."

Here "need" ought, of course, to be breed; and it is only by mishearing on the part of the scribe, or the compositor, that we can account for the blunder. Again, in the body of the book (Sign. B. 3. b.), we meet with this line:

"I mixe disdaine with loves congealed & new."

This is evidently nonsense, and the emendation is snow for "& new":

"I mixe disdaine with love's congealed snow."

Here the letter s, in snow, must have been mistaken for the abbreviation of and; and "now" was misread, new. That Mr. Utterson himself took particular pains with this little work is clear, because, in my copy, he has introduced more than one MS. emendation, to remedy the inaccuracy of his printer. There is a small, but remarkable error, within two leaves of the end; and I notice it the more willingly, because it is in a direct, but unavowed plagiarism from Shakspeare; which, although the book was in Malone's hands, seems to have escaped observation. The grammatical peculiarity of the following couplet from Shakspeare's Lucrece, 1594, has been remarked upon:

"And every one to rest himself betakes,
Save thieves and cares, and troubled minds that wakes."

Barnefield, in the next year, has it thus, avoiding apparent tautology:

"Now silent night drew on, when all things sleepe,
Save thieves and cares."

Mr. Utterson's compositor misprinted "cares," eares, materially perverting the passage; and in the first stanza of the same page, he put "cups" for corps:

"And Agamemnon's cups her meate must be."

I never saw Malone's copy of Cynthia, and my corrections are from my own transcript of Mr. Heber's exemplar.

Edward Guilpin's Skialetheia, or the Shadowe of Truth, published in 1598, is another of the reprints from the Beldornie press. If I am not mistaken, it was nearly the last work issued, before the death of the amiable and accomplished proprietor. He received the transcript from Oxford, and unfortunately had it put in type before he had any opportunity of collating it with the original; which we know to be by Guilpin only by quotations from it, with his name, in England's Parnassus, 1600. It consists of epigrams and satires. In Epig. xv., we have "case" for sort, in the 7th line; and the next piece of the same kind is twice addressed to "Rimes" instead of Rivus. In Epig. xxxviii., this line is met with:

"Who piertly iests, can caper, daunce, and sing;"

which ought to be—

"Who piertly jets, can caper, daunce, and sing."

Supposing that, by some chance, we had no original to refer to, we might never have known what the author really wrote; and might have considered a proposition to substitute jets (i.e. struts) for "jests," as purely impertinent and needless. We could not, however, but have treated what follows, in the first satire, as a corruption:

"Would sauce the idiome of the English tongue,
Give it a new touch, bucher dialect"

What could we have made out of "bucher" but butcher? And yet that word would not at all answer the purpose. What, then, says the copy of 1598?

"Give it a new touch, livelier dialect"

It is not difficult to see how a person, transcribing carelessly, might make livelier look like "bucher." Again, in Satire 2., we meet with this passage as reprinted:

".....What fooles are we,
So closely to commit Idolatry!
What, are we Ethnicks that doe honour beasts?"

Instead of which, Guilpin wrote and printed:

".....What fooles are we,
So grossly to commit Idolatry!
What, are we Ethnicks, that we honour beasts?"

We will take another instance from Satire 4., where these lines occur:

"And dogged humor dog-dayes-like dothe prove,
Teaching loves glorious world with glowing tong."

For "teaching," of the reprint, the old copy has Scorching: love's glorious world was scorched with glowing tongue. See, in the next place, how the mistake of a single letter directly contradicts what the poet intended:

"Millions of reasons will extenuate
His fore-ceited malice."—Sat 6.

Now, whatever Guilpin meant by "fore-ceited malice," it is very evident that he meant that millions of reasons will not extenuate it. His words, truly given, are,

"Millions of reasons nill extenuate."

"Nill" is the old abbreviation of ne will, or will not; and the printing of "will," instead of nill, makes the author say exactly the contrary of what he really did say. One more proof shall suffice for Skialetheia: it is taken from the last Satire, and close to the end of it. The line, as reprinted, is this:

"If that some weevil, mouth-worme, barley-cap."

As originally printed in 1598, it is this:

"If that some weevil, mault-worme, barly-cap."

Every body knows what a malt-worm is, especially in connexion with "barley-cap;" but Mr. Utterson's edition misrepresents the text.

Hoping that I shall not be deemed ungrateful to a real and great benefactor of letters, in pointing out these blemishes, I shall hereafter endeavour to continue the subject. I shall probably have occasion to speak of some of my own delinquencies of a similar description.

J. Payne Collier.