The printed verse miscellanies are collaborative ventures that raise important questions for understanding authorship. The early modern period supported a range of different discourses and practices of authorship, both those which foreground individual invention and others that are collaborative. Editors of the early verse miscellanies, such as Tottel, often recognized that authors’ names carried authority in the period, and are credited with helping to enshrine the literary legacy of the poets who define the English Renaissance – Sir Thomas Wyatt, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and Sir Philip Sidney. That said, while authors’ names are sometimes given a prominent place in a number of the miscellanies, it is also the case that the vast majority of the verse collected in the miscellanies is anonymous and unattributed, often as a deliberate strategy of presentation. Verse miscellanies collectively support a range of modes of authorship and poetic making, from the courtly makers, like Wyatt, Surrey, and Sidney, to stationer-poets, such as Thomas Proctor and Henry Disle.

The title page of Tottel’s miscellany, Songs and Sonnets written by right honourable Lord Henry Howard late Earl of Surrey, and other, both focuses on a singular author, Surrey, and acknowledges the presence of the verse of ‘other’ poets in the collection. Hence, the title may occlude Wyatt’s name, but in the epistle he placed alongside Surrey as the foremost exemplar of an emerging tradition of English lyric poetry. Tottel divides the collection according to author: the first and second sections end with the names of Surrey and Wyatt respectively, the third section is allotted to ‘Uncertain Authors’, while the closing section consists of ‘Songs written by N. G.’, Nicholas Grimald. The inclusion of Surrey’s elegies and epitaphs for Wyatt, which are grouped together in Tottel’s Miscellany, equates the concept of literary legacy with the body of the author (Lerer 1997, 202-4). Literary tradition, in turn, is described in terms of a model of literary inheritance that passes from author to author, in this case from Chaucer to Wyatt: for Surrey, Wyatt ‘taught, what might be sayd in ryme:/That reft Chaucer the glory of his wit’. And yet, as Marcy North, has noted, the volume also makes explicit the distinction between attributed and anonymous verse through its division according to known and ‘uncertain authors’ (North, 70-1).

The miscellanies of the late sixteenth century, like Tottel’s Miscellany in the 1550s, locate themselves at the forefront of a new English poetics. Also like Tottel, they do so by promoting a discourse of authorship that claims to enshrine the poetic legacy of a dead poet, and so is concerned with establishing literary lineages and lines of descent. In these miscellanies, Sir Philip Sidney replaces Wyatt and Surrey (May, 431). The Phoenix Nest (1593) opens with a section of elegies commemorating Sidney, although the miscellany does not include any of his poetry. It is England’s Helicon (1600) that opens with a lyric by Sidney who then presides over the collection in his pastoral guise of Astrophel. In a similar fashion, the first 1602 edition of A Poetical Rhapsody is framed by ‘Two Pastorals, made by Sir Philip Sidney, never yet published’. Both volumes consciously fashion Sidney as the literary progenitor of a new generation of lyric poets (Alexander, 64-71).

Englands Helicon foregrounds authorship and takes great care to attribute its poems, either through names or initials. However, it also uses highly stylized designators of anonymity, like ‘Ignoto’. Interestingly, after the volume was printed, the initials ‘M. F. G’, (Master Fulke Greville), underneath ‘Oh woods unto your walks’, and ‘S. W. R’, (Sir Walter Raleigh), underneath ‘Prais’d be Diana’s’ and ‘Now what is love’, were covered by cancel slips labelled ‘Ignoto’. The Phoenix Nest and England’s Helicon included the verse of courtier-poets, whose poetry was typically intended for manuscript circulation, alongside poets who had established their reputation through print – Nicholas Breton, Thomas Lodge, and Edmund Spenser. Poems in The Phoenix Nest are either unattributed or initials are used to designate authors – ‘N. B.’, ‘T. L.’ – often, as Marcy North notes, combined with status markers, such as ‘gent’. These authorial markers are designed to signify ‘courtly decorum’, never fully disclosing authors to the public, instead, through these forms of social discretion, marking out authors as part of the social and literary elite (North, 72). Markers of anonymity functioned in a variety of ways that were not necessarily dependent on the figure of the author. Francis Davison played around with concepts of anonymity and authorship in his epistle before The Poetical Rhapsody. He both insisted on the social capital and necessity of anonymity for the elite, while announcing his own and his brother’s authorship of many of the verses collected in the volume, and inviting other authors to claim their own poems (North, 83-5)

There is a wide social range of authors across and sometimes within miscellanies. Some of the miscellanies, like Tottel’s Miscellany and A Poetical Rhapsody, may advertise the high social status of the poets whose verse they collect in their pages, but the early printed miscellanies as a genre should not simply be viewed as a product of court culture. The collection of broadside ballads included in this edition, A Handful of Pleasant Delights, is not dissimilar to these other miscellanies in the variety markers of authorship and anonymity that are used in the collection. Names of authors are included in the titles of ballads – ‘L. Gibsons Tantara’, which is also signed with the initials, ‘L. G.’ – or at the end of the verse in descriptors that indicate status – ‘Finis quod Thomas Richardson, sometime student in Cambridge’. Pseudonyms – ‘Peter Pick’ – and initials are also used. However, these markers do not signify courtly decorum. Much of the verse the miscellany collects was produced by authors, like ‘I. Tomson’, probably John Thomson, writing for the popular print trade in broadside ballads and not the court and its coteries. Many of the ballads in Gorgeous Gallery were similarly produced by authors writing for the market in broadsides; their authorship goes unrecorded in this miscellany, since the vast majority of poems are unassigned. That said, the authors represented in the volume are socially mixed. Among the anonymous verses are poems by Lord Vaux and Jasper Heywood borrowed from Paradise of Dainty Devices.

Printers and publishers sometimes included their own verse in the miscellanies they produced. The bookseller, Henry Disle, for example, included some of his own poetry in Paradise of Dainty Devises, while Thomas Proctor, a stationer, whose initials appear on the title page of Gorgeous Gallery as the compiler of the collection, also advertises his authorship of a substantial section of volume which bears the heading ‘Pretty pamphlets by T. Proctor’. His initials, ‘T. P.’, are subscribed under a number of the ballads in this second half of this collection. Proctor was an associate of Anthony Munday, another stationer-poet, whose connection with the miscellanies extends to England’s Helicon, in which his verse appears under the pastoral pseudonym, ‘Shepherd Tony’.

Anonymity plays a significant role in women’s authorship. There are a number of anonymous female-voiced poems in Tottel’s Miscellany, Handful of Pleasant Delights, and Gorgeous Gallery that give the woman’s perspective. However, it is difficult to ascertain when, in the words of Jeffrey Masten, women made ‘the transition from being written to writing’ (Masten, 8), and so the gender of the authors of these complaints remains a matter of speculation. There is one poem, however, in A Gorgeous Gallery, ‘The lamentacion of a Gentilwoman vpon the death of her late deceased frend William Gruffith Gent.’, that has been attributed with some confidence to Isabella Whitney (Heale, 244-6). Whitney had a very productive working relationship with the printer of A Gorgeous Gallery, Richard Jones, who published her two collaborative collections of poetry, A Copy of a Letter (1567) and A Sweet Nosegay (1573). Whitney’s volumes are notable for their sharp female-voiced complaints and the discreet use of initials as a modest marker of female authorship.

Further Reading

Gavin Alexander, Writing After Sidney: The Literary Response to Sir Philip Sidney 1586-1640. Oxford University Press, 2006.

Elizabeth Heale, ‘Misogyny and the Complete Gentleman in Early Elizabethan Printed Miscellanies’, Yearbook of English Studies, 33 (2003), 233-47.

Seth Lerer, Courtly Letters in the age of Henry VIII: Literary Culture and the arts of deceit. Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Jeffrey Masten, Textual Intercourse: Collaboration, Authorship, and Sexualities in Renaissance Drama. Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Steven May, ‘Popularizing Courtly Poetry: Tottel’s Miscellany and Its Progeny’, in Mike Pincombe and Cathy Shrank eds. The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Literature, 1485-1603. Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 418-31.

Marcy North, The Anonymous Renaissance: Cultures of Discretion in Tudor-Stuart England. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Wendy Wall, The Imprint of Gender: Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993.