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Literary manuscripts 2010: ‘Poem, Amorous’: Two Bodleian Marvell Manuscripts

by on November 16, 2010

Bodleian Library MS. Eng. poet. d. 49, a hybrid consisting of a printed copy of Miscellaneous poems (London, 1681) with manuscript additions.

The third Literary Manuscript Masterclass of the year was given on 8 November by Diane Purkiss of Keble College and Johanna Harris of Lincoln College.  The subject: two Bodleian manuscripts containing poems by Andrew Marvell.

Dr. Purkiss introduced the first, Bodleian MS. Eng. poet. d. 49, a hybrid volume of 296 pages consisting of an exemplum of Marvell’s Miscellaneous Poems (London, 1681) with numerous manuscript emendations and notes in several hands.  It is a vital source for the recovery of Marvell’s political works, containing a unique variant of his “Horatian Ode”, one of only three copies of “The first Anniversary of the Government Under his Highness the Lord Protector”, and the sole complete text of “A Poem upon the Death of his late Highness the Lord Protector”.  Marvell was already deceased in 1681, so the emendations and manuscript poems contained in this text cannot be in his own handwriting,  but Dr. Purkiss noted that MS. Eng. poet. d. 49 was the source text for Edward Thompson’s 1776 edition of the poems, and had clearly been owned by Thompson. A note signed and dated (1775) by Thompson appears in the manuscript. Furthermore Thompson had advertised the acquisition of “a volume of Mr. Marvell’s poems” from the Popple family, descendants of Marvell’s nephew, William Popple, suggesting that both the emendations and the new or variant poems may have been added by William Popple himself. No surviving manuscript copies are known of poems in Marvell’s own hand.  This hybrid book is all the more important for containing in the manuscript section a number of satires,  political poems variously attributed to Marvell and his contemporaries.

Diane Purkiss writes:
Attributions of the political satires or “Painter poems” to Marvell have developed him as a satirist who reworked the work of others.  Annabel Patterson and Nigel Smith both suggest that the Second and the Third are in part by Marvell, a reworking of part of his earlier satiric and lyric canon, though Smith comments that ‘it is hard to believe that the inept ll. 175-6 or the unmetrical l.286 of the Second Advice could be Marvell’s’. Earlier manuscripts attribute these poems to Sir John Denham, an attribution noted, and dismissed, in Edward Thompson’s annotation in Eng. poet. d. 49.  At the masterclass, John Mc Tague from the Digital Miscellanies project noted that printed 18th-century poetical miscellanies continued the Denham attribution.

It may be that a further search of the elaborate layers of Painter-poem manuscripts might unearth some helpful clues.  Consider Samuel Pepys’ account of how he encountered them first as singles and then together.  Might it be helpful too to think about whether they were mostly transcribed in a group?  And whether either a scribal or printing error had been reproduced uncomprehendingly across the whole series of manuscripts, as Nigel Smith suggests may have happened with ‘To His Coy Mistress’?

It has been suggested that the smaller emendations of the printed text in MS.  Eng. poet. d. 49 are “common-sense” changes, but some present a more complex picture, for instance a change of “desarts” to “deserts” — implying a reference to the verb “desert” as well as the noun for a dry place.  The 1681 Poems reads a well-known crux in “To His Coy Mistress” as “Now therefore, while the youthful hue | Sits on thy skin like morning glew”, which the emendator of MS. Eng. poet. d. 49 has corrected to “. . . glew | . . . dew”.  Dr. Purkiss suggested that this may indicate a common origin with the other manuscript under discussion, Bodleian MS. Don b. 8.

Dr. Harris discussed MS. Don b. 8, a folio manuscript miscellany of 738 pages that includes thirteen poems in the Marvell canon.  It was compiled by Sir William Haward, a friend and fellow M.P. with Marvell.  Most notable amongst its contents is a unique variant of “To His Coy Mistress”, untitled, though Haward in his index to the miscellany has described it as a “Poeme, Amorous”.  It is 36 lines long rather than the canonical 46 and couched in the first person singular.

Significant variants also include “glew” | “dew” as in Eng. poet. d. 49 — though the two versions of the poem are otherwise radically different — and the more thought-provoking “‘Two hundred to adore your eyes | but thirty thousand for your thighs”.  The variants in this poem have been suggested as evidence of memorial reconstruction, but Dr. Harris also noted the insistence of some modern editors that a change of reference from  “breast” to “thighs” was indicative of an emergent homosexual culture in Restoration London — a suggestion not wholly adopted by the speakers.

Neither it nor the version given in Eng. poet. d. 49 have a clear relationship with the printed 1681 Poems and Dr. Harris questioned whether a lyrical poem can be singularly dated in this instance or whether the attributable canon must be elasticised to allow for a larger manuscript corpus of verse.  These questions were only some raised by the two manuscripts, which have yet to be fully understood.  As such, the class reinforced the point never too often made that even the texts of authors central to the canon are not always as stable and clear-cut as they may seem.

The instability of Eng. poet. d. 49 – Dr. Purkiss asked whether we should consider it an authorial text that became a miscellany — its deletions from the printed 1681 edition; its emendations and notes and manuscript additions, up to and including Edward Thompsons 1770s notes while preparing his edition — make it a fascinating crossroads for considering how the Marvell canon was developing in the century after his death.

Kelsey Jackson Williams, Balliol College


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