ETC Reel 1916, no. 7

[Half-title]: Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry. In Two Volumes. Vol. I.

Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry.

With Remarks By Henry Headley, A. B.

London, Printed for T. Cadell, in the Strand. MDCCLXXXVII.

[Dedication page:]

To William Windham, Esq. M.P., of Felbrig, Norfolk.


It is some satisfaction to me in my anxiety for the fater of these volumes, that let the decisions of Criticism be what they will, in being permitted to affix your name to them, I am at least securing a decree of reflected lustre to one page; while every reader who is acquainted with your character, will be pleased to find, that the same generous and watchful attention which you dedicate to the liberty and interests of your Country, you are not backward in extending even to the most distant and collateral branches of its Literature.

Your much obliged
Humble Servant,

Norwich, Feb. 14, 1787

[new page:]


To those who have made the poetry of this country a subject of serious and deliberate investigation, the following Extracts will afford neither entertainment nor instruction, as their own track of reading must have previously familiarized their several contents. From such, therefore, I have not the vanity to expect either thanks or attention: but as enquirers of this kind are comparatively few, a large and a respectable body of the public remains, to whom a work of this nature seems not improperly adapted; a word, that might at once do justice to deserted merit, diversify the materials of common reading, and by opening fresh sources of innocent amusement, tend to strengthen and co-operate with that taste for poetical antiquities which for some time past has been considerably advancing. Those who have long been accustomed to the correctness and refinement of a classical course of study, whose minds are become pampered witht the luxuries of Rome and Athens, soon form a habit of turning with aversion, from those paths of Science which are at first, perhaps, uninviting, and apparently but little congenial with their favourite pursuits; from such readers the moth and the spider are in no danger of molestation: trusting to the taste and the diligence of others, it is through the medium of compilation they are generally made acquainted with the obscurer poets of their country. To constitute a relish for the Black-Letter, a certain degree of literary Quixotism is highly requi- [vii / viii] site: he who is unwilling to penetrate the barren heath and the solitary desert, he who cannot encounter weariness, perplexity, and disgust; he who is not actuated by an enthusiasm for his employment, is no true knight, and unfit for such service. That species of occasional readers to whom business is the object of life, who may chance to while away thier hour of relaxation with a book, it is humbly hoped, will be here as likely to meet with a moral sentiment, a good image, a pathetic incident, or a pointed reflection, that may strike the fancy, the judgement, or the heart, as in any miscellany of modern poetry whatever: perhaps from the advantages of novelty here offered they may stand a better chance of losing their indifference, and after roving with the usual listlessness of a fickle appetite, may at last find a something to settle upon with pleasure. Of similar publications, I do not think it necessary to give a very particular account, indeed I know of no one that comes under that title exactly. What, however, I have chiefly found those which may be perversely considered as similar, I will state as briefly as possible, and how far in the execution of my plan I have deviated from them. The compilations I have hitherto met with, from being either too limited or too extensive, have always appeared to me imperfect. Some,under a variety of quaint and affected titles selected from authors far too well known*[(1) to stand in need of such partial and disjointed recommendation, and who in fact hold a most distinguished rank in the School of People; others I have found mere common-place books of mutilated quotations, adapted to the illustration only of an alphabetical list of given subjects, without (as it should seem) the most distant reference to the beauties of composition. Nor are there wanting those, which seem formed, almost at random, from the great mass [viii / ix] of our Poetry, both ancient and modern, where we must not be alarmed if we neet with our friend, or our neighbour, in the same page with a Shakespeare, a Milton, and a Pope*](2). Selections expressly of beauties+](3) from modern books of credit, unless immediately intended for the use of schools, are in a great degree idle and impertinent, and do but multimply books to no good end; by anticipating him, they deprive the reader of that pleasure which every one feels, and of that right which every one is entitled to, of judging for himself; but in obscure literature of a more remote period, the contents of which are strangely unequal, even where it is the wish of the editor to exhibit them entire, it is safer, previously to allure curiosity by select specimens of prominent excellence, than to run the risque of suppressing it totally by an indiscriminate and bulky republication of the whole: for it not unfrequently happens on the first inspection of such works, in which the beauties bear no proportion to the defects, that by an unlucky sort of perverseness the reader is confronted with a dull passage, or perhaps series of them, the volume is instantly laid aside, and with it every intention of a re-examination. In such cases, therefore, and in such only, Selections [ix / x] seem eminently of use, and were it possible to obtain the opinions of the forgotten authors in question, there can be little doubt of their acquiescing in a revival of their works, however partial, rather than meet the horrors of perpetual oblivion. As far as relates to myself, I have avoided as much as possible, touching those who have laready justly obtained the distinction of being denominated our Older Classics*](4), who, though not universally either read or understood (as must ever be the case with the best elder writers in every country), are notwithstanding familiar to us in conversation, and constantly appealed to in controverted points of poetical taste: these I have studiously avoided, and confined myself in the general, to some of the better parts of the unfortunate few who still remain unpopular, and of whom I may safely affirm, that they may find foils in many writers, who, through accident and partiality, still linger amongst the favourites of the day. There are not wanting those who consider works of this kind, as taking very unjustifiable liberties with the deceased, and who think no good reason can be assigned to warrant the havock that ensues in the formation of them: there is a specious kind of Philanthropy in the argument, and, as such, it deserves attention. Let us for a moment recollect the fate of Cowley.

"------ et crimine ex uno
Disce omnes --------." Virgil.

As the unnatural relish for tinsel and metaphysical conceit declined, his bays gradually lost their verdure; he was no longer to be found in the hands of the multitude, and untouched even in the closets of the curious; in short, the [x / xi] shades of oblivion gathered fast upon him. In consequence, however, of many detached parts of him which teem with the finest pictures of the heart, Bishop Hurd undertook his well-known edition, in which the most exceptionable Poetry (that had operated like a mill- stone and sunk the rest) is omitted, and the generality of his charms preserved, he has now a dozen readers where before he had scarce one. To those who set a value on their hours an accidental fascinating line, or a happy expression, is no compensation for the loss of them: for such readers, many authors must be mangled in order to be read; the cost of working some mines is more than the gold extracted will sometimes repay.--Yet in thus playing the anatomist, every one who has sensibility, must, more or less, feel a melancholy reluctance at rejecting too fastidiously; the very reflection that the writers of these works upon which we now calmly sit in judgement, have no longer the power of personally pleading for themselves, the temporary supports of prejudice, patronage, and fashion, have long subsided for ever; that, in composing them, they might have forfeited their time, their fortune, and their health, and on many of those passages which we now by a random stroke of the pen deprive them of, might have fondly hoped to build their immortality; affords an irresistably affecting specimen of the instability and hazard of human expectations. With the "disjecti membra Poetae" before me, let me be pardoned then, if I have sometimes, as I fear I have, listened to the captivating whispers of mercy instead of the cool dictates of unsentimental criticism: often have I exulted to find an unexpected latent beauty, which on a first perusal had escaped me, that might countenance the preservation of a doubtful passage, which I had just doomed to its former oblivion. The moralizing mood is too frequently [xi / xii] nonsensical; yet there is not something that holds out a strong incentive to the love of fame and the cultivation of the mind, when we thus see its works, though shrouded by occasional depressions, yet resting on the rock of Truth, insensible, as it were to the lapse of Time and the wrecks of years, and surmounting at last every impediment, while the body to which they belonged has for ages been the plaything of the winds, or hardened with the clod of the valley? Let me conclude with an apology to my reader, which I am sorry to be under the necessity of making. In my endeavours to render these volumes worthy of attention, I have been thwarted by a situation peculiarly unfavourable to such pursuits: the repositories, museums, and libraries of the curious, from whence, and whence only, adequate marerials are to be drawn, I have had no access to; a small private collection was my only recource, some few notices from the Ashmolean MSS. in Oxford being excepted. For assistance received I am solely indebted to my very dear Friend Mr. William Benwell, of Trin. Coll. Oxon, whose ingenuity and kindness furnished me with many hints. Should I be so fortunate, however, as to succeed in what is here offered to the Public, it is my intention to extend my plan to two additional volumes, which will include a variety of pieces in a less serious style; to the completion of which neither the attention nor expence will be spared.

Had I given way to the temptations of enriching my work with specimens from Older Dramatic Authors, I must infallibly have inlarged [sic.] my plan for their admission. They afford a field for selection, sufficiently wide of themselves, to form a complete work. I have, therefore, with the exception of two or three instances, totally avoided them.


[a long intro. on older poetry, running from pp. xiii to xxxiii. It contains a chart listing what kinds of poetry various poets wrote:]

. . . .

If we seriously and impartially examine the cluster of poetical names that shone, and were concentered in the space of ninety-one years from the accession of Elizabeth inclusively, to the restoration of Charles the second, and compare them with those who have respectively flourished fromt hat time to this, a period of an hundred and thirty-eight years, we shall find the pahlanx of older classics but little affected by a comparison with the more modern muster-roll. The following scale will tend at one view to illustrate how large and valuable a portion of Literature is comprehended in a very narrow period. Many names are omitted of no particular import individually or collectively considered. [xiv / xv]

Elizabeth began to reigh in 1558.

Epic Poets.Philosophical Dramatic. Historical.

------- & Metaphysical ------- -------

Spencer, ------- G. Gascoyne,Niccols,

Milton, Sir J. Davies, Shakespeare,Sackville,

Davenant. Phin. Fletcher,Massinger,Daniel,

Giles Fletcher,Jonson, Drayton,

H. More. Beaumont &May,

Fletcher, J. Beaumont.


Satyrical.Pastoral. Amatory & Translators.

------- ------- Miscellaneous.-------

Hall, Warner, ------- Fairfax,

Marston, Drayton, Raleigh, Sandys,

Rowlands, Browne, Drummond, Cranshawe.

Donne. Fairfax. Marlowe,









In thus bringing forward the most meritorious and prominent luminaries of a past age, a natural question seems to arise; how happens it that the great parts of Poetry should so soon be filled up, and manifest a degree of excellence, in some respects unequalled, and in others unexceeded, by our later writers? In the following remarks I have endeavoured [xv / xvi] to assign a true reason. I cannot but think, that there exists a very close analogy, between the intellectual and the bodily powers, and that the strength of the one, in its operations, is in a similar manner affected with that of the other. The secondary endeavours of bodily exertion are seldom proportioned to the ardour of the first; the labours of the Husbandman are generally found to be most efficacious in the morning, the sultry noon induces lassitude and weakness, and "the night cometh on in which no man worketh." If we turn our eyes to the mind's works in individuals, instances are sufficiently numerous where its primary effusions remain unequalled by every succeeding one; like the nature of some soils, whose fertility is exhaused by a single harvest, and whose after-crops do but teem with the rankest weeds or the most sickly flowers. The star of Science no sooner appeared in the British hemisphere, than, struck with the luxury of its beams, the minds of men were suddenly aroused and awakened to the most animated exertions, and the most daring flights; silent were the legendary oracles of the Bard and the Minstrel, the dark and long-impending clouds of barbarism were dispelled, and instantly gave way to a clear and healthy horizon. Add to this, we constantly find a period in the annals of every country, at which its people begin to be sensible of the shame and ignominy of ignorance: this no sooner becomes perceived than it is deeply felt; the mind, stimulated by a forcible impulse, catches the alarm, and hastens at once to renounce its slavery; in the struggle and collision that ensues, the Genius of the people frequently takes astonishing strides toward perfection. Not satisfied with a tardy, gradual, and deliberate reform, the cause of learning and improvement is carried far beyond those limits that experience and cooler reason might have fixed for its advances. . . . . [xvi / xvii] . . . . We may yet farther observe, that the military spirit of the day, in Eliza's reign, being put upon the stretch far beyond its usual tone by the perilous and alarming situation of the kingdom, served to excite and to diffuse a general inclination for action, that invigorated attempts of every kind, whether literary or political. The temper of the times was happily and singularly disposed for the reception and cultivation of the classics, which then more immediately began to operate with salutary effects. The manly spirit of expiring Chivalry lent a romantic grace to the prevailing taste, which, associating with the fantastic incongruities of Italian imagery, required nothing but the chastity and good sense of Ancient Learning to add a weight, and a value, to composition which was hitherto unknown. In order to enter more closely into the nature of that species of Poetry which it is the purpose of these volumes to recommend, it will be necessary to consider it under the following heads, Language, Versification, Style, Sentiment, and Imagery. As to Language, it has been very justly remakred by Johnson, that "from the authors which rose in the time of Elizabeth a speech might be formed adequate to all the pur- [xvii / xviii] poses of use and elegance*](5)." This acknowledgement of the Doctor's is confirmed by Dryden: in his Essay on Dramatic Poesie, . . . he says, "I am apt to believe the English Language in them arrived to its highest perfection; what words have since been taken in, are rather superfluous and ornamental." It would have been a matter of national advantage, had Johnson, after an attentive perusal of the Poets of this age, distinguished in his Dictionary those particular obsolete words which, from their sound and significance, merit use and adoption; the sanction of his authority might have gone far towards restoring them to that rank, both in writing and conversation, which they have too long undeservedly forfeited: but, by the contracted list of authors his quotations are drawn from, it is evident he neglected durtying himself in the dust of the Black-Letter, a task which, however uninviting, was indispensably requisite to the completion of his plan, and without which, no man can survey the obscure foundations of our language. . . . [xviii]

. . . .

[xxx:] . . . . When such inconsiderable advances towards rescuing from oblivion, the several writers, from whom the contents of these volumes are drawn, were made by those, who from their situation and abilities were suited to the task: when borther bards were not only remiss in restoring them to popularity, but by their neglect and silence seemed to insinuate they were undeserving of it; we must not be surprized that their merits remained so long unobserved, and that little solicitude was expressed at their fate by the body of the people. I cannot conclude without noticing the late very incomplete and careless edition of the English Poets, commonly called Johnson's Edition, in which so few of our older classics appear. It is well known, [xxx / xxxi] that the Doctor was ever glad to escape the censure which the work had fallen under, by alledging that he had nothing to do with the selection, he had engaged himself only to furnhish a set of Lives to such a list, as the Booksellers, who were the responsible publishers fo the work, should think proper. The excuse is probably true, but surely most unsatisfactory. Johnson was at the time no hungry hireling of a Bookseller's; he most deservedly revelled in the praise of the public, and a competency was secured to him for life by a pension. Was it not therefore incumbent on him, in a work which bore so close a relation to the honour of this country, which, from its elegance and magnitude, afforded the happiest opportunity of uniting our poets, both Ancient and Modern, in one comprehensive view, and of combining their respective excellencies in one common interest? Ancient Poetry, in thus being exhibited to the public eye, would soon have made good her claims to notice, and of herself recovered the long-lost verdure of her bays; whilst the justice of the latitude which is commonly assigned to later improvements, from a fair opportunity of a comparative examination, might have been more strictly ascertained. Dr. Johnson gave up his Life to the Literature of his country; a portion of it would not have been thrown away, had it been dedicated to the completion of such an undertaking. Not that I consider the turn of his mind as peculiarly qualifying him for a critic of such subjects*[(6), which require more imagination than judgement (by no means the Doctor's case); but that what he had to say even on things which he did not properly understand, is always worth hearing, and that the lustre of his great mind sel- [xxxi / xxxii] dom beamed on any thing without lighting us to some new truth, latent trait of character, or peculiarity hitherto unobserved; and let his strictures have been ever so injurious, an elegant edition of the text was at all events secured. In the esteem of the Booksellers he stood very high, perhaps higher than any man of his age; and there cannot be a doubt, but that the management of the work, on the least desire intimated by him, would have been vested in his hands with the utmost gratitude and confidence. The imperfections of the work are still farther to be regretted, when we recollect, that such works are seldom hazarded above one in fifty years, the public cannot digest a repetition of them. As the matter stands, however, a most unworthy rabble have gained a passport to the Temple of Fame, much after the following ridiculous predicament so well described on a very different occasion by Mr. Burke, whose words we may literally apply. "He put together a piece of joinery so closely indented, and whimsically dove-tailed, a cabinet so variously inlaid: Such a piece of diversified mosaic, such a tesselated [?] pavement, without cement, here a bit of black stone, and there a bit of white, **** that it was indeed a very curious shew, but utterly unsafe to touch and unsure to stand on; the colleagues hom he had assorted at the same board, stared at each other, and were obliged to ask, Sir, your name!" To have shed their twinkling radiance, the miscellanies o'er, was the highest honour many of those, who are here adopted as legitimate and established Poets, could affect; to a more conspicuous and dignified hemisphere they had none of the slightest pretensions. The many dogmatical and injurious censures contained in the Lives themselves, for which we have scarce the shadow of a reason assigned, but are generally silenced with the old apophthegm of Homer, [in Gk.], have additionally contributed to the unpopularity of the [xxxii / xxxiii] work; though, as fine pieces of nervous writing, pregnant with valuable detached opinions, happy illustrations, nice discussions, and a variety of curious incidental information, they will ever attract notice: but as judicious and impartial critiques on the merits of the respective writers, as just and discriminative represenatations of the subjects in question, they will never be considered by the generality of readers. Such, however, is the fate of the work, that we seldom see it entire, but meet with its contents wandering separately and disjointed in every catalogue. Like discordant atoms, which, when driven together by a superior force, meet but for a moment to shew their dissimilarity, and, from a natural opposition, refuse to coalesce, but on the cessation of the cause which brought them originally together, hastily fly back again to their pristine conditions. [end INTRODUCTION, xxxiii.]



The abstract accounts here given, from the narrow limits of my plan, must be superficial, and calculated rather to excite curiosity than to gratify it; they do not affect to convey any fresh information, or to abound in anecdotes hitherto unnoticed: it is hoped, however, that they will be deemed necessary by common readers, and no unacceptable relative appendage to the several extracts.


. . . . [xxxv]

[The headnotes go from xxxv to lxvi. Then there is an ERRATA sheet, and a page i begins with a list of SUBSCRIBERS, which goes through p. xii. The table of contents comes next, and it divides poetry into kinds by capitalized headings.]

CONTENTS of Volume the First. [xiii]


Preface. 7

Introduction. 13

Biographical Sketches. 35


The Den of Vices, by Thomas May. Page 1

Orpheus and Eurydice, by P. Fletcher. 4

The Bower of Bliss, by R. Niccols . 6

The Cave of Despair, by G. Fletcher. 10

The Degeneracy of the Times, by W. Browne. 12

The Poet conducted to the Infernal Regions, by Lord Buckhurst. 14

The Battle of Cressey, by T. May. 25

The Shepherd's Life, by P. Fletcher. 35

The Capture of Mortimer, by M. Drayton. 37

The Same, by T. May. 45

The Alarm of Satan, from Marino, by R. Crashawe. 49 [xiii]


The Death of Rosamund, by T. May. Page 65

Cleopatra debating on her own destruction, by S. Daniel. 71

A Ladie being wronged by false suspect, &c. by G. Gascoigne. 73

Doracles and Daphles, by W. Warner 76

[no space]

An Ode to Mars 86

[n.s.] by G. Gascoigne.

An Ode to Concord 87


Matilda poisoned by an Assassin, by Mr. Drayton. 89

Robert Duke of Normandy in Captivity, by R. Niccols. 94

The Meeting of Richard and Isabel, by S. Daniel. 98

The Question, by W. Hunis. 105

Richard 3d, before the Battle of Bosworth, by Sir J. Beaumont. 107

Richard the 2d, the morning before his Murder, by S. Daniel. 111

[end Table of Contents, p. xiv.]

[Half-title:] Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry. In Two Volumes. Vol. II

[same title page as vol. I]

[Nothing between title-page and Contents except one blank page; contents start on p. v:]

CONTENTS / of Volume the Second.




SONNETS. [vii-viii]

[NB: these really are sonnets.]

SPEECHES. [viii]

NOTES. / VOLUME I. [133-150]

NOTES. / VOLUME II. [151-171]

SUPPLEMENT. [173-192]

Notwithstanding the following incidental Remarks bear no relation to particular passages in the Extracts which compose these volumes, yet they are intimately connected with some of the respective Authors from whom those Extracts are taken; and being in themselves both too foreign as well as too extensive for insertion in the course of the notes, it was thought necessary to give them a place here. [173]

(1)] As Cowley, Dryden, Waller, Denham.

(2)]* From this censure it is but justice to except The Muses Library, a work which was intended to exhibit a systematic view of the progress of our Poetry from its origin with the Saxons, to the reign of Charles the IId. It was begun with fidelity and spirit by a Mrs. Cowper, with the assistance of Mr. Oldys; only one volume appeared which is very scarce. The Quintessence of English Poetry, 3 vols. Lond. MDCCXL. [by that he means Hayward's The British Muse] a work comprehending a considerable range of our Poets, is, I think, the next point of merit; the preface is neatly written.

(3)]+ Dr. Goldsmith, who was only unhappy admidst all the works he undertook in his Beauties of English Poetry, disgraced himself by a very superficial and hasty compilation of this kind. [L:1109.p.22, 1767; not on reel.]

(4)]* As Chaucer, Shakspeare [sic.], Jonson, Milton.

(5)]* Fugitive Pieces, vol. II. p. 74 [Miscellanies and fugitive pieces, London 1774, ed. by Thomas Davies and including works by Samuel Johnson. ETC reel 968 no. 2; second edition in 1774 at OU (Ohio Univ.)]

(6)]* The acrimony of Dr. Johnson's poetical censures has been universally reprobated, but the unaccountable infelicity with which he has dealt out his costive [sic., or "coftive," but I doubt it; "costly"?] praise to particular quotations in the course of his Lives is still more extraordinary.

Back to top Back to the  
Twentieth-Century Anthologies Page
  Anthologies and Miscellanies
Laura Mandell, Dept. of English, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056; Laura Mandell's Home Page.