England's Helicon (1600)

Englands Helicon … At London. Printed by I. R. for Iohn Flasket, and are to be sold in Paules Church-yard, at the signe of the Beare. 1600.


Rollins described Englands Helicon (1600) as the ‘most beautiful of the Elizabethan poetical miscellanies’ (Rollins, II.3). It is certainly the most carefully designed. A conscious effort was made to create a specifically pastoral anthology to capitalize on the vogue for pastoral poetry in the late 1590s. Even when poems originally bore little trace of the pastoral mode, they were altered to fit the conventions through new titles, or other devices, such as the addition of speakers, thereby converting them into pastoral dialogues (Pomeroy, 22).

Many of the poems collected in the anthology were previously printed. Poems by Sir Philip Sidney, from his Astrophil and Stella and Arcadia, punctuate the collection and give structure to the pastoral community consciously assembled in the volume. Fellow shepherd-poets include Edmund Spenser, Fulke Greville, Sir Edward Dyer, Michael Drayton, Nicholas Breton, Bartholomew Yong, and Anthony Munday in the guise of ‘Shepherd Tony’. Gavin Alexander has described the anthology as ‘a medley of shepherdly voices inspired by Sidney’s own pastoral performances’, in which imitation takes the form of an ongoing dialogue (Alexander, 32). Many of the poets taking part in this dialogue were now dead, hence this gathering of literary forebears and their heirs represents a continuing tradition of vernacular lyric poetry – an English Helicon.

Englands Helicon advertises its relationship with the printed songbooks of this period. Towards the end of the collection, the reader is advised that certain lyrics are taken ‘Out of Maister N. Young, his Musica Transalpina’ (Nicholas Yonge’s Musica Transalpina (1597)) or ‘Out of M. Morleyes Madrigalls’ (Thomas Morley’s Madrigals to Four Voices Newly Published (1594)). A number of lyrics are also taken from John Dowland’s The First Book of Songs or Airs (1597). It is notable that all of the lyrics taken from the pastoral romances of Thomas Lodge and Bartholomew Yong, Rosalynde (1590) and Diana of George of Montemayor (1598), are inset songs within the prose narrative. Englands Helicon is thoroughly immersed in a culture in which music and lyric poetry were engaged in a fruitful dialogue, and this is evident in not only the sources for many of the poems but also their versification (Maynard, 63).

The dedicatory verse to Englands Helicon is addressed to the wealthy grocer, John Bodenham, and celebrates his patronage of a series of poetic miscellanies and prose commonplace books that included Politeuphuia, Wits Commonwealth (1597), Belvedere, or The Garden of the Muses (1600), Wits Treasury (1598), and Wits Theater of the Little World (1599). The editor is thought to be the stationer Nicholas Ling, whose inverted initials are appended to the prefatory address, ‘To the Reader, if indifferent’. Ling had previously edited Wits Theater for Bodenham and had published the books of a number of the authors represented in the collection, such as Michael Drayton, Robert Greene, Nicholas Breton, Thomas Lodge, and Anthony Munday. Munday had also edited one of the Bodenham miscellanies, Belvedere, and so may have some involvement in the compilation alongside Ling. The ‘I. R.’ responsible for printing this edition is James Roberts, who in 1593 married Alice Charlewood, widow of the printer John Charlewood. Roberts took over Charlewood’s business, following in his footsteps as a leading printer of poetry (ODNB).

Further Reading

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

Winifred Maynard, Elizabethan Lyric Poetry and Its Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.

Elizabeth W. Pomeroy, The Elizabethan Miscellanies: Their Development and Conventions. University of California English Studies 36. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1973.