Parnassus Biceps. An unsigned review of Parnassus Biceps; or, Several Choice Pieces of Poetry 1656, ed. G. Thorn-Drury
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278 ] Parnassus Biceps An unsigned review of Parnassus Biceps; or, Several Choice Pieces of Poetry 1656, ed. G. Thorn-Drury London: Frederick Etchells & Hugh Macdonald, 1927. Pp. x + 194. The Times Literary Supplement, 1342 (20 Oct 1927), 734 Most lovers of English poetry are accustomed to think of it in terms of well-definedepochs.Itiswelloccasionallytoconsiderthetransitions–which always appear superficially to be revolutions – from one phase and style to another;sothatwemayrecognizetheunity,aswellasthediversity,ofEnglish verse. Parnassus Biceps is an interesting anthology from this point of view. Mr. Thorn-Drury, the editor of this edition, is a person of taste as well as of admitted authority.1 He observes in his preface that: A word of warning is perhaps advisable to readers who are making their first acquaintance with Parnassus Biceps: the title is bold, attractive, and inonerespectwellchosen,butitmaysuggestkinshiptoEngland’sHelicon, England’s Parnassus, and other anthologies of the age of Elizabeth. Expectationsfoundeduponanysuchideaare,itmustbeconfessed,doomed to disappointment. With the great Queen had passed that indefinable spirit which had permeated the whole nation and inspired its poets. [viii] It might be thought that in the last sentence quoted Mr. Thorn-Drury gives scant justice to the Jacobean and early Caroline verse. This book does not, indeed, represent the twilight of the Elizabethan age; it represents the transition from the metaphysical Caroline poetry to the age of Dryden. That transition, of course, is best shown in the work of Cowley, who is at once the last of the metaphysicals and the predecessor of Dryden. This book is a strange medley of work by men few of whom are as memorable as Cowley, and most of whom are quite forgotten. There are several poems by Bishop King, but all far below his best work;2 and there is an inferior version of Wotton’s “To Elizabeth of Bohemia” (a poem about the versions of which there has been much correspondence in this paper).3 The version here used begins: [ 279 Parnassus Biceps    Ye glorious trifles of the East, Whose estimation fancies raise,    Pearles, Rubies, Saphirs, and the rest Of precious Gems, what is your praise When as the Diamond shewes his raise? Many of the poems are influenced by Donne; some are close imitations. Few, indeed, except one or two charming stanzas by Strode, such as the following , have any literary merit: When whispering straines with creeping wind Distill soft passion through the heart; And whilst at every touch we find Our pulses heat and bear a part.    When threds can make    Our heart-strings shake;    Philosophy can scarce deny    Our soules consist in harmony.4 But the interest of the book is much greater than any single quotations couldjustify.Mr.Thorn-Drury,inhisintroduction,givesustheoutline(from Athenae Oxonienses) of the life of the compiler, the Reverend Abraham Wright.5 Mr. Wright was a parson who suffered somewhat for the Royalist cause; and as his highly entertaining preface tells us, his collection purports to consist of verses by priests and scholars of Oxford. Mr. Thorn-Drury observes that of the two dozen or so of the authors whom he has been able to identify half at least were not in Holy Orders; nevertheless, we conclude that the standard of verse-making among divines was at least as high in 1656 as it has ever been before or since. And Mr. Wright was full of confidence: For as that great Councell of Trent [he says] had a Form and Conclusion altogether contrary to the expectation and desires of them that procured it; so our great Councels of England (our late Parliaments) will have such a result, and Catastrophe, as shall no ways answer the Fasts and Prayers, the Humiliations, and Thanksgivings of their Plotters and Contrivers: such a result I say, that will strike a palsie through Mr. Pims ashes, make his cold Marble sweat; and put all those several Partyes, and Actors, that have as yet appeard upon our tragical bloudy Stage, to an amazed stand and gaze: when they shall confess themselves (but too late) to be those improvident axes and hammers in the hand of a subtle Workman; 1927 280 ] whereby he was enabled to beat down, and square out our Church and State into a Conformity with his own.6 Some of the poems are solemn iambics of protest, as the poem in defence of the decent Ornaments of Christ Church, Oxon;7 others are rather broadside ballads suggesting the taste of a later age: With face and fashion to be known For one of sure...