Poetical Rhapsody

A Poetical Rapsodie, Containing: Diuerse Sonnets, Odes, Elegies, Madrigals, Epigrams, Pastorals, Eglogues, with other poems, both in Rime and Measured verse. For varietie and pleasure, the like neuer yet published … Newly corrected and augmented. London, Printed by William Stansby for Roger Iackson dwelling in Fleetstreet neere the great Conduit. 1611


A Poetical Rhapsody, like A Phoenix Nest is an example of a gentleman’s miscellany. It was compiled by Francis Davison, the eldest son of William Davison, a diplomat and Secretary of State to Elizabeth until his disgrace in 1587. Davison was a distant kinsman of Sir Philip Sidney and enjoyed the patronage of Essex. The volume is dedicated to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, the son of Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, who was viewed as the cultural and political heir to his uncle, Sir Philip Sidney. Davison’s court and Inns of Court connections and kinship network meant that he was able to gain access to unpublished verse circulating in manuscript channels. Davison showcases his connections with court through his inclusion of a number of royal entertainments, and his affiliation with Inns of Court by printing his songs written for the ‘Masque of Proteus’, which was acted before Elizabeth during the Gray’s Inn Christmas revels of 1594 (Maynard, 70-1).

Like Englands Helicon, the miscellany honours and extends a Sidneian poetic tradition. The collection includes a number of poems by Francis Davison and his brother Walter, which are placed alongside those of Sir Philip Sidney, Mary Sidney, and Edmund Spenser, and so represent the Davison brothers as the poetic heirs and guardians of this literary tradition. Francis Davison also continues the metrical experimentation associated with Sidney by including a number of poems in quantitative metres(Alexander, 32-35; Maynard, 74-5). The miscellany as a whole encompasses a wide range of verse forms and includes several translations of works by Greek and Latin writers, including Anacreon, Martial, and Lucretius, as well as revealing the influence of French and Italian writers.

Also like Englands Helicon, Poetical Rhapsody draws heavily on contemporary printed songbooks. Many of the lyrics of the 1602 edition had already been printed in songbooks, such as William Barley’s A new Booke of Tabliture (1596), Michael Cavendish’s Fourteen Ayres (1598), Thomas Morley’s First Book of Ayres (1600), and Philip Rosseter’s A Booke of Ayres (1601). Davison’s miscellany also provided musicians with texts for settings. Robert Jones used seven of the poems by Francis and Walter Davison grouped in the section ‘Sonnets, Odes, Elegies, and Madrigals’ for his The First Set of Madrigals, (1607) (Maynard, 72-4).

Although Francis Davison compiled the collection, his preface complains about the editorial invention of the printer, Valentine Simms. Davison claims Simms added Sir Philip Sidney’s poems to the start of the miscellany as well as the poems of other famous poets, such as Spenser, ‘to grace the forefront’ of the collection and ‘to make the booke grow to a competent volume’. Poetical Rhapsody proved popular, and went into at least four edition that were printed in 1602, 1608, 1611, and 1621. Davison’s editorial role in the composition of the miscellany probably ended after the second 1608 edition, and it is thought he dies some time between 1613 and 1619. His editorial role was taken over by subsequent publishers. In ‘each new edition’, as Elizabeth Pomeroy points out, the ‘arrangement was substantially changed…, probably to give the appearance of an entirely new book’. The final 1621 edition was made up of 250 poems making Poetical Rhapsody the longest miscellany alongside Tottel’s Miscellany. Just as importantly, the inclusion of new poems with each new edition means that the miscellany spans twenty-five years of poetic making (Pomeroy, 28-9).

The basis of this critical edition is the EEBO-TCP XML-TEI file of the third edition, A Poetical Rapsodie, printed in 1611. It contains 248 poems, including the 176 that appear in the 1602 edition, the 64 new poems in the 1608 edition, plus a further eight additional poems. While Davison appears to have been responsible for adding poems to the 1608 edition of Poetical Rapsodie it is unlikely that he contributed to this 1611 edition. Roger Jackson, the stationer who published both the 1608 and 1611 editions of Poetical Rapsodie had, in 1603, inherited the printing rights of John Bailey who had printed the 1602 edition of the miscellany. It is not unusual to find Jackson working with the printer William Stansby who ran the second largest press in London and who is now best known for printing Ben Jonson’s Workes (1616) (Bland, 6).

Further Reading

L: Harl. 280, fols 99-101. A list of the poems in Poetical Rhapsody, in the hand of Francis Davison. These poems are all attributed to ‘A.W.’, who Rollins suggests is not an individual but a number of anonymous writers (Rollins (1932b)).

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

Mark Bland, ‘William Stansby and the Production of The Workes of Beniamin Jonson, 1615-16’, The Library, Sixth Series, 20 (1998), 1-33

John Considine, ‘Davison, Francis (1573/4–1613×19)’,Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/7300]

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

Michelle O’Callaghan, ‘Textual Gatherings: Print, Community and Verse Miscellanies in Early Modern England’, Early Modern Culture: An Electronic Seminar, 8 (2010), http://emc.eserver.org/1-8/ocallaghan.html

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.

Hyder E. Rollins, A Poetical Rhapsody, 1602-1621 2 vols. (Cambridge MA: Harvard, 1932a)

Hyder E. Rollins, ‘A. W. and A Poetical Rhapsody’, Studies in Philology, 29 (1932b), 239-51.