- "Profit and Delight": Printed Miscellanies in England, 1640-1682
In the mid-1670s, Thomas Martin, a student at New Inn Hall, Oxford, kept a notebook in which he transcribed letters written between himself and family and friends, as well as his own poems and those of other authors — some well-known, others lesser-known. Many of the lines of verse Martin chose to copy had already been published, and he readily carved out chunks of printed texts by the likes of Dryden, Cowley, the Earl of Rochester, and the playwright John Crown in order to mix them in with his own unpublished poems and correspondence. In the process of transcribing selections from a range of published texts, Martin was only too happy to adapt and rework the writings of others.
Adam Smyth begins his excellent, carefully researched, and elegantly written study of miscellanies printed in England between 1640 and 1682 with a detailed examination of Martin's notebook because he rightly sees in it evidence of a time when attitudes toward reading, authorship, and literary property were remarkably different than our own. Indeed, for Smyth the seventeenth-century perception of poetry as "applicable and functional" (xx) that can be glimpsed in Martin's transcriptions of printed verse and more generally in published miscellanies raises important questions about whether our critical methodologies, grounded as they are in oppositions such as "author/reader, original/variant, and writing/reading" [End Page 747] (xxii), keep us from fully grasping how and what such composite texts meant in the age that produced and used them. Smyth seeks to relocate these texts in their material, historical, cultural, and literary contexts, and he provides us with nothing less than a phenomenology of the production, circulation, and significance of some forty-one printed miscellanies published during the four decades in which they first gained popularity, flourished, then "dissipated into other kinds of texts" (3). One of the many strengths of this marvelous study is the tremendous effort Smyth invests in offering up a comprehensive description of a little-studied area of literary activity with which few scholars will be very familiar. Moreover, Smyth is a fine historian of the book and has a good eye for the kinds of bibliographical details that can evoke the materiality of a text's being in the world. Although Smyth engages with the work of other critics on miscellanies and related areas, there is refreshingly little of the scholarly bickering that bogs down so many other studies. Rather, Smyth stays focused on the texts themselves, and he writes with great clarity and authority throughout.
Acknowledging the paucity of scholarship on the printed miscellanies that form the subject of this study, as well as the inadequacy of early commentators' attempts to understand them, Smyth sets out in the first chapter to define and characterize these often seemingly strange multiauthor collections in terms of their contents, functions, and literary origins. One thing that becomes amply clear early on is that our author-centered approaches to literature have poorly prepared us for these texts. There is a great deal of fascinating and sometimes surprising information here. Two tables detailing the number of appearances of poems by writers in miscellanies (as identified by Smyth) and the number of appearances of writers in different miscellanies are of particular interest. In the former, one finds seventy-one poems by the rarely studied writer William Strode, whereas only ten poems by Shakespeare appear. In the second table we learn that poems by Jonson appear in eighteen different miscellanies — the largest number — whereas Donne can be found in only five. Shakespeare's name doesn't even appear in this table, and Smyth is certainly right to note how this data suggests that seventeenth-century readers had a literary canon of writers very different from ours.
Accordingly, these readers and how they read constitute the focus of the second chapter. Smyth begins by examining the available evidence of what kinds of readers printed...