Phoenix Nest

The Phoenix Nest. Built vp with the most rare and refined workes of noble men, worthy knights, gallant gentlemen, masters of arts, and braue schollers. Full of varietie, excellent inuention, and singular delight. Neuer before this time published. Set foorth by R.S. of the Inner Temple Gentleman. Imprinted at London: By Iohn Iackson, 1593.


The Phoenix Nest (1593) is notably different in terms of the style of poetry that it collects from the previous miscellanies compiled in the period up to the 1580s. The volume marks a shift in poetic style and taste that distinguishes the miscellanies produced in the 1590s and early 1600s. It is the first of the miscellanies to be produced under the direction of a gentleman, rather than a stationer, and it enshrines the new English poetics identified with Sir Philip Sidney. If Tottel’s Miscellany helped to canonise the poetry of Surrey and Wyatt, then Phoenix Nest helped to establish Sidney as the foremost English lyric poet, the phoenix from whose ashes had risen a new generation of poets to continue his poetic legacy (May, 431; Alexander, 67-8). The volume opens with an epistle that defends the reputation of Sidney’s uncle, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. This is followed by a series of elegies and epitaphs for Sidney, which will later be reprinted as a group in Spenser’s Colin Clouts Come Home Againe (1595; sigs. I1r-K3v).

Four of the poems in the collection had previously been printed in Brittons Bowre of Delights (1591), and another appears in Robert Jones’s The Second Book of Songs and Ayres (1601). The remaining poems either derived from manuscript sources or were written for the volume. The compiler, ‘R. S.’, whose initials appear on the title page, has not been identified. As a gentleman of the Inner Temple, it is likely that he had access to networks of manuscript transmission active in London. The authors represented in the volume include those who had established a literary reputation in print, such as Thomas Lodge and Nicholas Breton, as well as those poets who published their work in manuscript channels – Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, Sir Edward Dyer, and Sir Walter Raleigh. The volume has a deliberately courtly cast; its opening elegies for Sidney are followed by a ‘Dialogue betweene Constancie and Inconstancie’ presented before Elizabeth I at Sir Henry Lee’s house. It also takes great care to advertise itself as a gentleman’s miscellany. Many of the authors are presented as university men, others have their initials secured by the title of gentleman – ‘T. L. Gent.’ or ‘N. B. Gent.’

The collection includes a variety of poetic forms, including a novelty or trick poem (‘Her face, Her tongue, Her wit’) and a sequence of riddles, and metrical forms – English sonnets, poems in poulter’s measure and in rhyme royal. Six of the poems were set to music: Sir Arthur Gorges’s ‘Her face, Her tongue, Her wit’; ‘Like to a hermit poor in place obscure’, attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh; ‘Now I finde, thy lookes were fained’; ’A description of love’; ‘Short is my rest, whose toil is overlong’; and ‘Those eyes which set my fancy on a fire’. The collection also looks towards and assimilates a European lyric tradition, with a number of the love poems imitating French and Italian poets, such as Ronsard and Desportes.

Great care went into the printing of the miscellany, suggesting that its publication was overseen by ‘R. S.’ and that he carefully proofed the verses. Pomeroy describes it as ‘One of the most beautiful of the collections’ (Pomeroy, 20). There does not seem to have been any impetus for a second edition, possibly because a printer-publisher did not have a strong hand in orchestrating the miscellany, or perhaps because it did have another life in the later miscellanies, given that a number of its poems were reprinted in Englands Helicon and Poetical Rhapsody.

Extant copies of The Phoenix Nest (STC 21516) are held in the British Library, the Bodleian Library, St Hugh’s College, Oxford, Sion College Library, the Folger Library, the Houghton Library, Harvard, and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. John Jackson, who printed the volume, was one of the partners in the Eliot’s Court Printing House together with Edmund Bollifant alias Carpenter, Arnold Hatfield, and Ninian Newton (Plomer, 175). This critical edition is based on the copy in the British Library.

Further Reading

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

Arthur Marotti, Manuscript, Print, and the English Renaissance Lyric. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1995.

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.

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

H. R. Plomer, ‘The Eliot’s Court Printing House, 1584-1674’, The Library, 4th series, 2 (1921), 175-84

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.

Michael Rudick, ‘The ‘Ralegh Group’ in The Phoenix Nest’, Studies in Bibliography, 24 (1971), 131-37