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First published in 1702, Edward Bysshe's The Art of English Poetry presents us with the reading and associational world of an almost unknown man. Coming in three parts: "Rules," "A Dictionary," and "A Collection," The Art of English Poetry was the pre-eminent prosodic handbook, rhyming dictionary and dictionary of quotations of the eighteenth century, being expanded and reprinted nine times. This essay focuses in particular on "A Collection"—a commonplace book of literary quotations—showing its history, construction, and what it has to tell us about the reading habits of the 1690s and the early decades of the eighteenth century.

Edward Bysshe's The Art of English Poetry was first published in 1702; it long survived him. Nothing can be added to the short entry for Bysshe in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography other than the negative declaration that he probably did not matriculate into either Oxford or Cambridge.1 All that can be said of his life, which is not much (even his birth and death dates are unknown2), has to be deduced from his works, which were few and included the compilation and would-be successor to The Art of English Poetry, the British Parnassus (1714).

Though mocked by Charles Gildon as "this ridiculous Author" who speaks from "the shameful Ignorance of a little Pretender,"3 Bysshe was apparently a gentleman4 of some learning: well-read in the poetry and drama of his time, able to quote Boileau in the original,5 and evidently familiar with Latin and possibly Greek.6 Were more to be known of his life, we would be more familiar with his work; at the very least, Bysshe's work gives us the reading history of an almost unknown man. In this essay, I contend that the shedding of light on such a reading history, as afforded by a close reading of The Art of English Poetry, is but one of the ways to understand this difficult yet important work: difficult, because its form is not as familiar as it should be to the reader of eighteenth-century publications today; important, because this ground-breaking work in English marks a defining moment in the development of our understanding of the history of British reading. [End Page 113]

The Critical History of The Art of English Poetry

In the only significant consideration of the whole of Bysshe's work, A. Dwight Culler writes that "The Art of English Poetry is commonly misconceived as a work of criticism instead of reference."7 This statement is both overcorrective and an attempt to pigeonhole Bysshe's work at the expense of understanding what it is that he sets out and manages to achieve. In 1714 Bysshe writes: THE universal Applause with which Books of this Nature have been receiv'd by the Publick, in all Countries, and in all Languages, is a convincing Argument of the Usefulness of them.8 Bysshe's opinion as to the "Usefulness" of his books is important. As, increasingly, the reference works of this period are considered critically by such scholars as Robert DeMaria, Jr., Freya Johnston, and Richard Yeo, it is clear that literary and nonliterary reference works with which we may have only scant familiarity were extremely familiar, indeed formative, to eighteenth-century authors.9 In short, they are a significant overlooked resource for literary criticism. Bysshe's work presents the reader with delimited fragments of poetry and dramatic dialogue—sometimes heavily edited—ordered so as to give the reader easy access to particular "Thoughts." Where Culler sees a work of reference, there is, in fact, a gamut of literary references giving us a purchase on the understanding and literary universe of the individual reader. What also emerges is that they were not conceived as reference works in the way Culler might perhaps mean: that is, only as works of reference, without any critical capability. They are resistant to his taxonomical division of "criticism" and "reference." Culler is, in this anachronistic division, reductive. The Art of English Poetry functions as both, for in it there is no such distinction.

In this essay, I will first trace the influence of The Art of English Poetry through its publication history, then examine how it functions, specifically looking at what Bysshe does with his source texts and the complex approach he has to authority. Finally, I will question this book's role in the politics of canon formation.

The Textual History of The Art of English Poetry

Understanding Bysshe's publication history is essential to appreciating the significance and popularity of his work, showing us—through both iteration and sheer volume—the value his readers placed in Bysshe's own reading. The title of the first edition of The Art of English Poetry presents the book in three parts: the "Rules," "A Dictionary," and "A Collection." This format was something quite untested in English publishing, and, as Culler points out, the "ultimate source of at least three distinct literary genres in their modern English form"10: the didactic prosodical treatise, the rhyming dictionary, and the dictionary of quotations.

The first part, the "Rules," "very likely the most influential prosodic handbook ever written,"11 codifies the English heroic line. The second part, "A Dictionary," is the most significant effort to provide a comprehensive list of English rhymes between the publication of Joshua Poole's English Parnassus (1657) and John Walker's Dictionary of the English Language (1775).12 The third part, "A Collection," which constitutes the majority of the work and with which this essay is concerned, is a dictionary of quotations. The Art of English Poetry was a valuable resource for the poets of the eighteenth century; "A Collection," as we will see, was frequently mined for the "Help" it provided.13 [End Page 114]

The Art of English Poetry was printed on thin paper, suggesting it had a large publication run in that, in spite of its frail physical condition, many copies survive.14 In the first edition, it is printed ("A Collection," closely) on 31 half sheets octavo, representing a significant though not substantial investment for the publisher. As they each have separate pagination, the three parts were also sold separately, although it is unknown for how much. Indeed, "A Collection" was published additionally in 1707 and 1714, so more regularly than the other parts, suggesting that it was the most popular.

Robert Knaplock, Edward Castle, and Benjamin Tooke published the first edition of The Art of English Poetry. This partnership reflects the risk of the investment in such a large and densely printed work. Knaplock was an important London publisher with a wide range of commercial interests.15 His partners were also significant publishers, carrying important lists: Castle published John Aubrey and John Locke; Tooke was later to publish Jonathan Swift.16 This does not prove anything per se, other than indicating that three important early eighteenth-century publishers thought The Art of English Poetry a worthwhile investment, but this in itself is significant.

That the copyright passed to Samuel Buckley at some point before 1705 complicates the picture, as Buckley moved mainly into printing after 1703.17 He must have thought The Art of English Poetry a sound investment to purchase it at this juncture. To revitalize his investment, Buckley published a new "Corrected and Improved" edition in 1705 (A, 1705, title page). The "Rules" and "A Dictionary" were revised in the second edition, which also contained "large Additions" (sig. F4r). "A Collection" had been substantially expanded, and the list of "Amendments" shows that it was carefully proofread (sig. F6r).18 Here it is important to note that Buckley did not sell the book himself; rather, the extant copies show it was "sold by Dan[iel] Midwinter." The Art of English Poetry was not a marginal text, but one sold by a significant figure in the literary marketplace.19

The prefatory material to The Art of English Poetry was not revised after the third edition of 1708, which contained the second and final revisions to the "Rules" and "A Dictionary." Paul Baines deduces from this that Bysshe supervised the revisions at least as far as 1708.20 This must be right as far as it goes. It does seem likely that Bysshe contributed the additional material for each of the editions up to 1718. Ultimately, however, the very form of "A Collection" is receptive to multiple "authorship," being essentially an approach to categorizing literature.

Around this time Bysshe must have turned his attention to the second of his major publications of this type, the British Parnassus. He writes that both books are "in effect but Dictionaries" (BP, sig. inline graphic), both understating the scope of their ambition and causing us to reconsider what might be meant by the term "dictionary" during this period.

In his preface to the British Parnassus, Bysshe tells us that it was "in the Year 1692, [when the fourth earl of Lauderdale21] first propos'd to me the making of a Collection of this Nature" (BP, sig. [inline graphic). It must have been this initial collection from which "A Collection" would be taken. This would mean that it is a product of the reader of the 1690s, and that it took the best part of a decade to construct "A Collection." This would allow a similar period of time for the compilation of the British Parnassus, which consists of the substantially greater [End Page 115] figure of 5,670 quotations.22 Although these quotations are mainly excerpted from the same authors as those found in "A Collection," Bysshe includes more work by a number of recent writers, such as Swift and Alexander Pope.23 Furthermore, Bysshe tells us that he has avoided duplication (BP, sig. [inline graphic]v). If this is true, then it indicates that over two decades Bysshe had embarked on a significant and extensive program of reading in order to create the body of work from which the two "Collections" were drawn, a program he must have continued after the publication of The Art of English Poetry. Thus Bysshe gives us a significant response to and a shaping of the contemporary canon, and shows us how, for him at least, it is confined to neither the authors nor the period of his earlier work. Importantly, this would make Bysshe a reader whose patterns of reading we are able to follow in these critically neglected decades.

The British Parnassus has been seen as a poor relation to The Art of English Poetry, largely because of its material inferiority (it was "abominably printed" in duodecimo by the master printer John Nutt) and the marketing method of the bookseller William Taylor (who reissued it with a cancel title page as The Art of English Poetry Vol. the IIIrd and IVth in 1718).24 It is, however, a significant critical advance on The Art of English Poetry. Bysshe writes of its method and scope:

First then: It is so far the same, that it contains almost all the Heads of that former Collection; yet with the additional Advantage of several Hundreds of new ones: It is collected likewise from the Works of the same Authors, but of several others also, whom I had not then perus'd, as well as some that have written since that Time . . .

(BP, sig. inline graphic)

The greater advance is in what follows:

as a considerable Part of that former Collection consists of Passages translated chiefly by Mr Dryden, from the antient Poets; as Homer, Virgil, Horace, &c. so this in like manner contains most of the very same Passages as they are translated by other Hands [. . .] I leave the Reader to make the Comparison, but for my own Part shall determine the Preference to neither

(BP, sig. inline graphic)

Bysshe offers his readers not only what he presents in The Art of English Poetry—a selection from the "best English Poets"—but also the chance to make informed critical assessments of translation, a particular and popular reading matter of his time.25 In this, the British Parnassus is—as so, to some extent, was The Art of English Poetry before it— a work both of criticism and of reference.

The Art of English Poetry was tranched down from octavo to duodecimo in 1714.26 It was published again in 1718 (reissued with cancel title page 1725); 1724 (reissued with cancel title page 1725); 1737 (reissued with cancel title page 1739); and 1762.27 The use of cancel title pages, Culler suggests, means that the volume sold "a little less readily"28; however, this could simply have been an expedient method of refreshing old stock.

There were a number of imitations of The Art of English Poetry throughout the century, the most significant of which were Charles Gildon's Complete Art of Poetry (1718), the anonymous Thesaurus Dramaticus (1724) (republished as Beauties of the English Stage [1737]), and Oliver Goldsmith's revision of John [End Page 116] Newbery's Art of Poetry on a New Plan (1762). Each prompted the republication of The Art of English Poetry, from which they all were heavily derivative.29

In all, there were nine editions; for each of these, the number of booksellers whose names appear on the title page increases, totaling thirteen in the ninth edition of 1762. This is important because it shows that either the copyright of Bysshe's The Art of English Poetry was valuable enough for booksellers to want to acquire only a share in it; that the book was distributed by an increasing number of booksellers throughout the first seven decades of the century; or, which is most likely, both. After Lord Kames's copyright decision of 1774, of course, The Art of English Poetry became in some ways redundant, as the copyrights of the Restoration became freely available.30

Bysshe's rival Gildon writes that The Art of English Poetry has "spread, by many editions, thro' all England."31 The extent to which it "spread" through the critical culture, and influenced both reading and writing, cannot be known. It is surely significant that, though evidence of its use appears everywhere, nowhere is its influence acknowledged. My consideration of such "silent" and context-free appropriation will form a substantial part of this essay.

However, in "Dialogue II" of The Complete Art of Poetry, The Art of English Poetry is—so far as I can tell, for the only time—explicitly acknowledged in print. Gildon's character "Laudon" stigmatizes the book, saying, "I would not bear the Scandal of having it thought Part of my own Collection."32 We know, however, that The Art of English Poetry was part of the collections of Pope, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Isaac Watts, Samuel Johnson, Goldsmith, Hugh Walpole, and William Blake.33 It has been demonstrated that Richardson used quotations from The Art of English Poetry without knowledge of their original context.34 To realize this is to ungild the lily. Leah Price argues that The Art of English Poetry should be seen as an important source in itself; we could go further and say that it shows us a different way of conceptualizing literature, free from the context of its sources.35

The Intellectual History of The Art of English Poetry

The material record, then, demonstrates that Bysshe's work had substantial influence that can be evinced from its publication history. This should be seen in the light of its relationship to the commonplacing tradition. I have said that The Art of English Poetry was "quite untested" when it was published in 1702, meaning that there had been nothing quite like it in print. There had been previous prosodical treatises in English, such as George Puttenham's The Arte of English Poesie (1589). There had been previous rhyming dictionaries (see note 14). Its predecessors in these forms had not been as extensive or as intellectually consistent as those in The Art of English Poetry, but had established that there was a market for such works. Where Bysshe's work was most markedly new was in the transition into print of a commonplace book in English, as represented by "A Collection."36

Commonplacing, or the ordering of extracts under "headwords," was "the primary intellectual tool for organizing knowledge and thought among the intelligentsia."37 In its written form, the commonplace book was restricted to one person and his or her circle.38 This spotlights the sociological significance of Bysshe's [End Page 117] work being available in print, and the wider epistemological importance it must therefore have had, being intended for a different as well as a much larger readership presumably ignorant of the figure of the author. This shows, too, the transformation of the function of the form in the transition from a manuscript to a print culture. The organization of knowledge by Bysshe in this commonplace book format both regulates how something is known and delimits what is known.

The English Tradition of Commonplace-books

There is nothing to suggest that Bysshe was familiar with any earlier commonplace books, but the form of "A Collection—which in the 1702 edition consists of 1,452 quotations taken from forty-four different authors, arranged under 433 headwords in alphabetical order—is clearly that of a commonplace book, from one (or even a number) of which it was certainly taken. But "A Collection" differs from each of these earlier examples not in that it is arranged alphabetically (although it is therefore not propædeutic), or in that it revitalizes the form in print. It differs in that it is in English.

Bysshe's pedagogic model, Poole's English Parnassus (1657)—of which both Dryden and Watts owned copies39—had also been in English, but it was a very different kind of text, consisting of two sections: an extensive list of synonyms and a dictionary of epithets mixed with undemarcated, unattributed quotations. What should be flagged here is its relative lack of success (being reprinted only once, in 1678), and what the success of The Art of English Poetry says about the relative status of Latin in relation to the vernacular.40 The transition of the commonplace book from the coterie closet into the public sphere, and of the English-language commonplace book from the schoolroom into the domain of polite letters, marks a shift in the status of both English language and literature. Bysshe does not, of course, reject the possible market his works might find in pedagogy, mentioning in the preface to the British Parnassus that his text might be "useful for Schools" (BP, sig. inline graphic. However, even this shows that it was not as pedagogic texts that Bysshe principally perceived his works, or how they were perceived by others.

Ann Moss writes that the commonplace book was by Bysshe's time "a rather lowly form of life, adapted to fairly simple tasks, and confined to the backwaters of intellectual activity," an assessment David Allen would challenge: "we clearly need to return to Georgian England, to consider how a history of reading that positioned the commonplace book centre-stage might contribute to a more coherent and persuasive cultural history of the period as a whole."41 So this is a point we might contest, asserting instead that Bysshe adapts the model for a different kind of intellectual activity. In considerations of the commonplace book at this time, scholars have routinely seen it as treating of crude stuff; but this is to ignore Poole and Bysshe, and what was demanded by the times. In the act of quoting, Bysshe's authorial voice can be heard, sounding the "moral and social expectations"—and the aesthetic—of his day. The traditional literary-historical theory is the story of a lost high culture, the "decline" of the commonplace book; contemporary thought is that of a culture translating forms and texts to speak to a different generation with different "expectations," transforming and revitalizing a tradition. Print creates, as it is demanded by, a readership; we will see how Bysshe creates as he exemplifies a method of reading. [End Page 118]

Had Bysshe had a Lockean index—Locke's New Method of a Common-Place Book had been published in French (which he understood) in 1686 and first in English in The Posthumous Works of Mr. John Locke (1706)—it would have been included for the value it would add. That it would have been useful can be seen by the fact that "R. Phillips," who in 1779 inscribed a copy of the then seventy-four-year-old second edition, had begun to draw up such a list in the back of the volume.42 It should be noted that Bysshe did not seem to advocate nor indeed to include an index of authors. But perhaps we should not perceive a lack: whereas a single-word index is single-minded, the commonplace book is comprehensive, offering the reader choices. In other words, the value we might place on an index, and the usefulness one reader evidently saw in one, might have been outweighed in Bysshe's mind by the circumstance of not having an index. Part of the successful functioning of The Art of English Poetry might incorporate the reader's existing familiarity with the work. The commonplace book, if it is well constructed, sets up readings, further enquiry, and supporting quotations from a variety of choice authors.

This is only partially true, however, in the case of "A Collection," which does not set out to generate "argument" but to encourage "Judgement." It should be noted that Bysshe's critical activity is autocratic; he selects the quotations on which "Judgement" may be expressed. The alphabetical order of the headwords of "A Collection" does not offer, as the rhetorically organized commonplace books do, "a coherent universe of thought."43 Perhaps Bysshe saw that the alphabetical arrangement of his headwords gestured toward ease of use, retaining some trace of the rhetorical model, while offering his choice of texts as a coherent entity. This would partly explain why "A Collection" is not arranged by text, although, most likely, the unpredictability of order in which the texts follow one another reflects the order in which they were extracted from their sources. The content under each headword betrays the accretion of texts on a particular subject, as compiled over perhaps twenty-six years.44

Bysshe was aware of the immediate tradition in which he was working. In the preface to the first edition of The Art of English Poetry, he writes of his motivation:

I consider'd what other human Aid could be offer'd to a Poet, a Genius and Judgement not being ours to give; and I imagin'd he might have both of these, and yet sometimes be at a stand for Epithets and Synonymes.

(A, 1702, sig. *2r)

This is what Poole's English Parnassus supplies. Yet, with his eye on the English Parnassus and its 185 pages of "Epithets," Bysshe continues:

It would have been as easie for me as it has been to others to have threaded Synonymes and Epithets together, and put them by themselves: But when they stand alone they appear bald, insipid, and uncouth, and offend both the Eye and Ear: In that Disposition they may help the Memory indeed, but cannot direct the Judgement in the Choice.

(A, 1702, sig. *2r-*2v) [End Page 119]

This is why Bysshe eschews giving a catalog of epithets, choosing instead to give quotations. He explains his rationale, that a figurative epithet cannot be understood outside its original context:

Suppose, for Example, that among the Epithets to Looks, as Beautiful, Charming, Smiling, &c, I should have plac'd Dispatchful; if among those to Thoughts, as Roving, Silent, Anxious, and many others, I should have brought in Hospitable, the Reader would have been a little puzzled to conceive how Looks could be said to be Dispatchful, or Thoughts Hospitable; and yet how properly are those two Epithets apply'd in these Verses of Milton? When he would express the hearty Welcome that Eve design'd to give the Angel who came to visit Adam and her in their Bower: So saying, with Dispatchful Looks, in haste She turns, on Hospitable Thoughts intent.

(A, 1702, sig. *2v)45

Bysshe's emphasis earlier on "Judgement of choice" and his use here of the word "properly" are fundamental to his undertaking, placing him in the privileged position between the text and the reader, as arbiter as well as transmitter of texts. This supports Moss when she writes that the commonplace book is a "confrontation between the collector and his collection."46 "Choice" is where the individuality of the editor is most intrusive; it is where his influence seeps into the text. The "proper Disposition of the Passages" (A, 1702, sig. *v) shows Bysshe's awareness of how juxtaposition governs new readings of originally discrete texts. Looking at "A Collection" shows how the "Thoughts" of the title might be organized— and, indeed, an alternative way in which the expanding corpus of printed English literature could be seen.

Where Bysshe has continuity with Poole is in the structural limitations of the nonrhetorical form. In the dedicatory letter to The Art of English Poetry Bysshe writes:

here is no thread of Story, nor connexion of one Part with another, to keep the Mind intent, and constrain you to any length of Reading; This is a book that may be taken up and laid down at Pleasure, and would rather choose to lye about in a With-drawing-Room, or a Grove than be set up in a Closet.

(A, 1702, sig. inline graphic)

Although receptive to close readings, Bysshe's text does not demand them. He suggests a mode of reading which is fugitive, albeit coercive in its presentation of fragments of texts.

Bysshe negotiates the move from a manuscript to a print culture, drawing on and modifying elements of the commonplacing tradition to offer the blend of "Judgement" and reference that is central to the reading strategies of "A Collection." We will now focus on the way in which Bysshe deals with individual entries, and what that tells us about textual authority, and notions of authorship, in the early eighteenth century.

The following example is typical of both Bysshe and of an entry in a commonplace book. These are two of the entries under the headword "EXAMPLE." The first quotation, taken (as we are told in the margin) from Charles Sedley ("Sedl:") is from his Anthony and Cleopatra (1677). As can be seen immediately, it contains the headword "Example," [End Page 120]

Example is a living Law, whose sway

Men more than all the written Laws obey.


Quoth Hudibras, the Case is clear,

As thou hast prov'd it by their Practise;

No Argument like Matter of Fact is:

And we are best of all led to

Mens Principles, by what they do.


(A, 1702, sig. H2r)

The second quotation, from Samuel Butler's Hudibras ("Hud;"), is more typical in two ways. First, it exemplifies how this is a collection of "Thoughts" (it does not contain the headword, so it is not self-selecting)47; second, it is what we would now think of as a "misquotation" (Bysshe leaves out an entire line in order to mold the "Thought" that he wants). What Bysshe does is to employ one form of the text to convey his "Thought." He is, as it were, himself the "Conjurer," performing sleights of hand with the selected text.

The "practice" of Bysshe's "EXAMPLE" was followed in many of these "Thoughts," and, through use and imitation, for much of the century. Famously, this "practice" misled Richardson to illustrate the emotions of Clarissa after she is raped with what we might consider misleading decontextualized entries taken from appropriate headwords in Bysshe, such as "Death" and "Despair." Michael E. Connaughton discusses this in some detail;48 it is raised here to show, first, that Bysshe's work is silently influential, and, second, because it suggests that Bysshe codified literature in a way that was perhaps usefully and acceptably read without context.

"A Collection" is a text interesting not only for its longevity and influence. It is in the rearguard of the tradition of the printed commonplace book; it is also in the vanguard of books such as Gildon's Shakespeariana (1718), one of the so-called beauties that were to be published regularly throughout the eighteenth century.49 However, this is to anticipate ourselves, to see in a tradition what was new and experimental in 1702. "A Collection" marks a shift in favor of the authority of the author; we can see this shift in "EXAMPLE," in the introduction by Bysshe of the names of the authors, allowing his readers the chance to display informed "Judgement."

There are significant differences in the epistemological demands made on the reader between the first and later editions, requiring an attentive reading of each. Bysshe's conception of literature is of something that can be taxonomized. In the preface to the first edition, he writes of the quotations in "A Collection" that

I resolv'd to place these, the Principal Materials, under the awful Guard of the Immortal Milton, Dryden, &c.

(A, 1702, sig. *2v)50

In the second edition, Bysshe introduces the names of the works in which the "Thoughts" appeared.51 This practice is followed in the first edition only with Hudibras (whose author alone of all Bysshe's subjects is not given), and the classical translations of Dryden, Thomas Creech, and others ("Dryd.Virg.," "Cr.Luc.," etc.). In the second edition, Bysshe even distinguishes between authors of different acts of the same play (A, 1705, sig. F5r). These are simple but significant advances. It becomes easier to check and correct Bysshe's extracts. This advance makes "A Collection" into a reference work that enables criticism. [End Page 121]

Deconstructing The Art of English Poetry

The foundation for a complete study of Bysshe as a reader would be a reconstruction of his library through the tracing of his sources. What we will consider instead, as an example of how such an analysis could be conducted, are some quotations s.v. "BEAUTY." The size of this category opens up a range of Bysshe's textual practices, on only some of which there is space here to touch. It should be noted that it has not been possible in any case to establish the edition on which Bysshe draws; his quotations are taken from authors regularly reprinted. It has, however, been possible to show editions those from which he does not draw, and this is illuminating.

Although Bysshe provides rudimentary tools for his readers, textual criticism of "A Collection" is not only highly unlikely to have been engaged in by them (even Gildon does not mention it), it is also highly improbable that the material prerequisite to it would have been available to any of them. Bysshe's readers may have been, but were not necessarily, aware of the textual context in which the entries might be found; this is why gradually the tags of author and work are provided. It is therefore important to note that first, the text transmitted by Bysshe was seen in some sense to be authoritative, and second, that Bysshe intervenes in these texts to a considerable degree, sometimes making them conform to his prescription of what poetry should be.

The textual prehistory of "A Collection" is complicated. Bysshe's library cannot easily be determined, and the appearance of authority that "Dryd." or the like would seem to afford cannot be accepted unquestioningly. Not only is the text Bysshe provides modified, it is also only one of a number of possible texts. Dryden's entry for "Beauty" alone has a textual history spanning the previous half century, and Bysshe's not engaging with it should not be seen as a failing. Rather, this shows us the way in which one man, and thereafter his many readers, read this text. Perhaps this model of reading and reception needs to be remembered when we now consider eighteenth-century allusions to texts—particularly lengthier texts, such as Richard Blackmore's, from which Bysshe excerpts a great deal.52 Culler tells us that in the final form of The Art of English Poetry, the figures for the number of quotations represented are: Dryden (1,201), Pope (155), Abraham Cowley (143), Butler (140), Thomas Otway (127), Blackmore (125), William Shakespeare (118), John Milton (117), Nicholas Rowe (116), Nathaniel Lee (104), Samuel Garth (59), Edmund Waller (44), along with a number of quotations from minor Restoration poets.53 This reflects Bysshe's personal literary taste, but may perhaps also represent the state of the contemporary canon in the early eighteenth century.

The quotation s.v. "BEAUTY" taken from Dryden contains no "substantive" changes; this is not the case with Bysshe's extract from Dryden's Virgil (1697). Although a slight change, Bysshe silently amends the final line to avoid the chiming of "en-" with "in."54 Bysshe writes in the preface to the British Parnassus of "Mr. Dryden, and our other best Poets: Who, without pretending to the Gift of Prophecy, we may venture to say, will ever be the Standard of English Rhyme" (BP, sig. inline graphic v). This is of twofold interest: first, it tells us that Bysshe, in his selection of texts, was being prescriptive about "the Standard of English Rhyme" and probably had been in the earlier The Art of English Poetry; second, that even this "Standard" [End Page 122] was silently, if slightly, modified by Bysshe in his textual practice, as can be seen in the example from Dryden's Virgil. Regarding Dryden, despite Bysshe's professed strict observance of the accreditation of texts between collaborators, even in this small sample he credits Dryden with a text written by Sedley.55 Dryden can be seen as being credited with an influence he does not have.56 Interestingly, Bysshe also includes a text by John Cleveland, which same quotation Dryden includes in An Essay of Dramatick Poetry (1668); yet we can be certain that Bysshe takes it rather from Cleveland's Works (1687), because Dryden's text has "accidental" differences, while Bysshe's transcribes exactly. This might suggest that Bysshe's reading of Dryden's critical work has sensitized him to passages he also finds elsewhere. The question of Dryden's influence is complex: Bysshe is not only reading Dryden; he seems to be reading through him.

Where we can also see Bysshe's methods of modifying texts for "A Collection" is in the lengthy extract from Dryden's All for Love (1678), unusually given under a "subheading," "CLEOPATRA in her GALLY" (A, 1702, sig. B4r). This subject has a subheading because it is a renowned site of poetic description, stretching back through Shakespeare to Plutarch.57 What should be noted here is that between lines 5 and 6 of Bysshe's lengthy text, he has edited out dialogue in order to create a unified piece of nondramatic poetry, turning Dryden from a dramatist into a poet.

We can also hear Bysshe in what he chooses to include. The inclusion of the first stanza of Charles Sackville, earl of Dorset's ("Dors.") "To Belinda, Upon her Marrying one that was Blind and Lame" (A, 1702, sig. B4v), indicates a number of important points. First, Bysshe was including recent work by contemporaries and using miscellanies ("To Belinda" is first found in Thomas Brown's A Collection of Miscellany Poems [1699])58; second, Bysshe was perhaps compiling "A Collection" with Whig patronage in mind, including material by a prominent Whig poet and patron which is in some ways alien to the corpus of heroic poetry on which he usually draws. This is an important informing context for The Art of English Poetry, raising questions about the politics behind the compilation, and the role of patronage in the creation of the early eighteenth-century canon.

In this context, consider the work as a whole. The first edition of The Art of English Poetry is dedicated to Edmund Dunch (A, 1702, sig. inline graphic). Dunch lost his parliamentary seat in July 1702. The absence in the dedication of a reference to his being an MP might help date the publication to the latter half of the year. Dunch was, like Dorset, a Whig and connected to the Court through the Churchills, to whom he was related by marriage.59 He was a member of the influential Kit-Cat Club, which was central to Whig literary culture.60 Bysshe's dedication can therefore be seen as a bid for Whig patronage. Throughout his career Bysshe had politically "mixed loyalties."61 Original Letters Written to the Earl of Arlington by Sir Richard Bulstrode (1712), which Bysshe later edited, hints at Jacobite sympathies, in that Bulstrode was a famous Jacobite, giving an edge to Gildon's characterization of Bysshe as a "little Pretender."62

The Art of English Poetry is perhaps best seen, then, as a Whig text, as the inclusion of Milton—a key marker of Whiggish taste—strongly suggests.63 This makes it all the more interesting that Gildon, a prominent Whig writer, should have attacked The Art of English Poetry and particularly its author, to whom he [End Page 123] refers as "this blind Guide to Parnassus."64 There are fundamental differences of opinion between the two men regarding English prosody, but the crux of their disagreement is whether "Colouring" or "Design" is where a poet's "Art'" chiefly resides.65 Gildon copies "three-fifths" of "A Collection" into The Complete Art of Poetry;66 clearly, the dispute is essentially a turf war. We have seen the commercial strength of The Art of English Poetry, and so might view the power of Gildon's personal attack on Bysshe as testimony to it.

Finally, The Art of English Poetry may be understood as much as a product of as well as an influence on its time. Gildon writes of his own work's aim, "to please a very, very few, good Judges, and Men of true Sense, and disoblige all the Ladies and the Beaux."67 He sees himself as going against the grain of public opinion. His reader of Bysshe is "Mrs. Lamode," to whom "this noble Piece of Criticism [is] the infallible Director of her Speculations that Way."68 Gildon figures Bysshe as fashionable; he is unashamedly that. Anticipating Gildon's attack on him for having in "A Collection" small Shakespeare and less Spenser,69 Bysshe writes:

I have inserted not only Similes, Allusion, Caracters [sic], and Descriptions, but also the most Natural and Noble Thoughts on all Subjects of our modern Poets; I say of our Modern: For though the Ancient, as Chaucer, Spenser, and others, have not been excell'd, perhaps not equall'd by any that have succeeded them, either in Justness of Description, or in Propriety and Greatness of Thought, yet the garb in which they are Cloath'd, tho' then Alamode, is now become so out of Fashion, that the Readers of our Age have no Ear for them: And this is the Reason that the Good Shakespear himself is not so frequently Cited in the following Pages, as he would otherwise deserve to be.

(A, 1702, sig. *2v-[*3]r)

Perhaps the commonplace book from which "A Collection" was taken did in fact contain excerpts for which Bysshe thought his age had "no Ear." The British Parnassus is more inclusive; Bysshe was earlier more exclusive. However, Bysshe's prosodical interests lay originally elsewhere, with "our Modern Poets," and what he saw as "the Standard" was what engaged him; the reference to "Chaucer, Spenser, and others" is a feint, the creation of a canon by omission.

Where Gildon deliberately misunderstands Bysshe is in The Art of English Poetry's ambition. Bysshe is clear about the extent of the help he can offer would-be writers, despite what William Hogarth would have him offer—which would seem to be nothing good or useful [see fig. 1]:

I pretend not therefore by the following Sheets to teach a Man to be a Poet in spight of Fate and Nature, but only to be of Help to the few who are born to be so, and to whom audit vocatus Apollo.

(A, 1702, sig. *r)

Bysshe's "Help" is seen by Gildon as fashionable, but ultimately misconceived. Here Bysshe has anticipated this response.

In this study, I have shown that it is precisely because it was so popular that The Art of English Poetry has such critical value today. Bysshe's work was far from being unknown in his day, as it unfortunately is in ours. I have set out to demostrate that The Art of English Poetry is a significant neglected text. Understanding its intellectual history, and that it is (pace Culler) not a work of either criticism or reference, but both, helps us to see the way in which The Art of English [End Page 124] Poetry was used; examining its publishing history reveals how extensive this use was. Engaging in a close critical reading of "A Collection" helps us to deduce Bysshe's practice, from which we can understand that Bysshe and his readers conceptualized literature in a way we do not: as something with which one could engage creatively as well as critically. This makes Bysshe not only an arbiter and transmitter of texts, but also a fashioner of them. The selection and complicated textual history of the quotations in "A Collection" reveal Bysshe as a reader, and this in turn reveals much about the reception history of the works on which he draws (and those from which he does not). As a corrective critical view of the period emerges, Bysshe deserves to be rescued from the ill-deserved reputation created for him by Gildon. Gildon writes of Bysshe in the preface to The Complete Art of Poetry that "I had no Thoughts of interfering with him, and indeed I do not."70 Like much of Gildon's argument with Bysshe, this is simply not true; it is time to stop Gildon's "interfering" with The Art of English Poetry and to recognize the significance of this almost unknown reader who, though neglected, delivers us to the forcing-ground of eighteenth-century text and cognition.

Figure 1. William Hogarth, The Distrest Poet (1740), etching and engraving on paper. Courtesy of the Trustees of the Tate Gallery, London. The Art of English Poetry lies open on the table.
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Figure 1.

William Hogarth, The Distrest Poet (1740), etching and engraving on paper. Courtesy of the Trustees of the Tate Gallery, London. The Art of English Poetry lies open on the table.

Stephen Jarrod Bernard

Stephen Jarrod Bernard is British Academy Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and Junior Research Fellow at University College, Oxford. He has recently completed an edition of the literary correspondences of the booksellers Jacob Tonson the elder and his nephew, Jacob Tonson the younger.


. With thanks to Helen Bernard and Ann Poulter, for their many kindnesses.

1. Paul Baines, "Bysshe, Edward," in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2004), 9: 373. Avrid Gabrielson first makes the point that Bysshe was not a graduate in [End Page 125] Edward Bysshe's Dictionary of Rhymes (1702) as a Source of Information on Early Modern English Pronunciation (Uppsala: Almquist & Wiksells, 1930), 1.

2. Baines, "Bysshe, Edward," 373.

3. Charles Gildon, The Complete Art of Poetry (London, 1718), sig. [D10]v.

4. The title page of The Art of English Poetry (London, 1702; repr. 1705, 1708, 1710, 1714, 1718, 1724, 1737, and 1762) refers to the author as "Edward Bysshe, Gent." (Further references will be cited parenthetically as A, with year of publication.) For a discussion of Bysshe's possible ancestry, see Baines, "Bysshe, Edward," 373. See also Gabrielson, Edward Bysshe's Dictionary, 2.

5. See, for example, A, 1705, sig. F5v.

6. Bysshe's knowledge and understanding of Latin can be seen in the epigraphs scattered throughout his texts. For Bysshe's close reading of the Latin classics, see A,1708, sig. [A5]v-[A6]r. Bysshe's knowledge of Greek must be deduced from his system of metrics, which is based on "Accent." Peter L. Groves points out that this is "a Greek concept irrelevant to Latin," in "The Chomsky of Grub Street: Edward Bysshe and the Triumph of Classroom Metrics," versification 3 (1999). Accessed 1 April 2011.

7. A. Dwight Culler, "Edward Bysshe and the poet's handbook," PMLA 63 (1948): 858-85; quote on 867.

8. Edward Bysshe, The British Parnassus (London, 1714), sig. inline graphic. (Hereafter cited as BP.)

9. See, for example, Robert DeMaria, Jr., Johnson's Dictionary and the Language of Learning (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986); Freya Johnston, Samuel Johnson and the Art of Sinking, 1709-1791 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2005); and Richard Yeo, Encyclopaedic Visions: Scientific Dictionaries and Enlightenment Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001).

10. Culler, "Edward Bysshe," 860.

11. T. V. F. Brogan, English Versification, 1570-1980: A Reference Guide with a Global Appendix (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1981), 243.

12. John Walker, A Dictionary of the English Language (London, 1775), title page. For the context in which this part of The Art of English Poetry was published, see DeWitt T. Starnes, Renaissance Dictionaries: English-Latin and Latin-English (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1954), 355.

13. See A. Dwight Culler, introduction to Edward Bysshe The Art of English Poetry (1708), ed. H Richard Archer et al. (Los Angeles: Clark Memorial Library, 1953) on "the most important part of Bysshe's work" (ii).

14. This is remarked upon in the "Note" prefixed to the facsimile reproduction of the first edition, The Art of English Poetry, 1702 (Menston: Scolar, 1968), [1]. This is the only time since 1762 that the whole of any edition has been reproduced; the "Rules" were reprinted in 1877 in Thomas Hood's Practical Guide to English Versification To which are added, Bysshe's "Rules for making English verse" (1877) and reproduced in facsimile in Culler, Edward Bysshe.

15. See H. R. Plomer, A Dictionary of the Printers and Booksellers Who Were at Work in England, Scotland and Ireland from 1668 to 1725 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1922), s.v. "KNAPLOCK (ROBERT)."

16. See ibid., s.v. "CASTLE (EDWARD)" and "TOOKE (BENJAMIN)."

17. See ibid., s.v. "BUCKLEY (SAMUEL)."

18. Culler gives figures for the number of quotations contained in each edition: 1,452 (1702), 2,123 (1705), 2,517 (1708), 2,693 (1710); thereafter, each edition was printed from its predecessor until 1718, when 176 quotations were added ("Edward Bysshe," 868; 861-62; 862). If Bysshe were involved in this expansion, it would set back his conjectured death date by some years (see Baines, "Bysshe, Edward," 373); see also A,1705, sig. F6v.

19. Plomer, Dictionary, s.v. "MIDWINTER (DANIEL)."

20. Baines, "Bysshe, Edward," 373. [End Page 126]

21. Which "Lauderdale" Bysshe refers to is conjectural. The third earl died in 1691; however, Bysshe might be referring to the earl at the time he wrote, Sir John Maitland, who had succeeded to the title in 1695; see Derek John Patrick, "Maitland, Richard, fourth earl of Lauderdale," ODNB, 36: 231.

22. This figure is taken from Culler, "Edward Bysshe," 868.

23. BP, 1714, sig. [d3]v. Eighty-four authors are cited in the British Parnassus, compared with forty-six in the last revised edition of Art of English Poetry; see A, 1718, sig. [A]v.

24. See Culler, "Edward Bysshe," 862, 868; 862. See Plomer, Dictionary, s.v. "NUTT (JOHN)" and "TAYLOR (WILLIAM)."

25. A, 1702, title page. For the perception of the role of translation in this period, see Stuart Gillespie, "Translation and Canon-Formation," in The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English 1660-1790, ed. Stuart Gillespie and David Hopkins. 5 vols. (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2005), 3: 7-20.

26. Not 1725, as William St. Clair claims in The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004), 494.

27. The most recent edition may not have been that consulted by a reader. The first edition in the Bodleian Library (shelf mark 280 j.947) contains annotations made perhaps thirty-five years later, when in 1737 Henry Linton, the annotator, dates the book.

28. Culler, "Edward Bysshe," 862.

29. See ibid., 867-72.

30. See St. Clair, Reading Nation, ch. 6.

31. Charles Gildon, The Laws of Poetry Explain'd and Illustrated (London, 1721), sig. F4v.

32. Gildon, Complete Art of Poetry, sig. [D10]v.

33. See P. Dixon, "Edward Bysshe and Pope's 'Shakespear,'" Notes and Queries 11 n.s. (1964): 292-93; see also Michael E. Connaughton, "Richardson's Familiar Quotations: Clarissa and Bysshe's Art of English Poetry," Philological Quarterly 60, no. 2 (1981): 183-95; and Culler, introduction, i.

34. See, for example, Connaughton, "Richardson's Familiar Quotations," 188.

35. Leah Price, The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel: from Richardson to George Eliot (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000), 166 n62.

36. "A Collection" was not always the third part. Beginning with the third edition of 1708, it appears to have been moved to the central position in the work, between "Rules" and "A Dictionary'; see the English Short Title Catalogue for physical details.

37. Peter Beal, "Notions in Garrison: the seventeenth century commonplace book," in New Ways of Looking at Old Texts: Papers of the Renaissance English Text Society, 1985-1991, ed. W. Speed Hill (Binghamton, NY: Renaissance English Text Society, 1993), 131-47; quote on 134. Until recently, the standard history of European commonplace books was Joan Marie Lechner, Renaissance Concepts of the Commonplaces (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1962). This has been superseded, both in scope and in theory, by Ann Moss, Printed Commonplace-books and the Structuring of Renaissance Thought (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996); and David Allen, Commonplace Books and Reading in Georgian England (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010). For a short general survey of commonplace books in Britain, see Edgar Mertner, "Topos und Commonplace," in Toposforschung: eine dokumentation, ed. Peter Jehn (Frankfurt am Main: Athenäum, 1972), 20-68. For a description of the way in which an exemplary (if atypical) model of a commonplace book functions, see Yeo's straightforward exposition of John Locke's A New Method of a Common-Place Book of 1706 (111-13); on the history of this work, see Beal, "Notions in Garrison," 140.

38. Beal, "Notions in Garrison," 133. Commonplace books that were not printed contemporaneously are not unusual. See, for example, "Milton's Commonplace Book" and "Additions to the Commonplace Book," in The Works of John Milton, ed. Frank Allen Patterson et al. (New York: Columbia, 1931-38), 18: 128-227. Beal gives a selection of other English commonplace books that still have not been printed (145-46). [End Page 127]

39. Culler, "Edward Bysshe," 859.

40. English quotations first find their way into a printed commonplace book in Nicholas Ling's Politeuphia, Wit's Commonwealth (1597); Robert Allott's England's Parnassus (1600) is a thorough revision of the canon in favor of English writers.

41. Moss, Printed Commonplace-Books, 279; Allen, Commonplace Books, 10.

42. See Bodleian Library, Oxford, shelf mark Vet.A4e.2902. The inscription is on the verso of the title page. The index runs from "Absence" to "Bowl," covering only the first thirty-seven pages (it is found on sig. [L2]v-[L3]r). Charles Gildon, Shakespeariana (London, 1718) (although not his Complete Art of Poetry, with which it was sold) does include a six-page index of subjects (sig. [Q2]r-[Q4]v).

43. Moss, Printed Commonplace-Books, 190.

44. Bysshe arranges "A Collection" under "subjects." In the first edition of the Art of English Poetry, twenty-seven of these subjects are substantially longer than the others, containing eight quotations or more.

45. The quotation is first found in John Milton, Paradise Lost A Poem Written in Ten Books (London: Samuel Simmons, 1667): V.331-32 (sig. [Q4]v).

46. Moss, Printed Commonplace-Books, 258.

47. This can also show the knowledge that Bysshe expected his reader to have. See, for example, the quotation s.v. "ALECTO" (A, 1702, sig. A3r-A3v). Without some classical knowledge, it would not be clear from the quotation who or what Alecto is or was.

48. See Connaughton, "Richardson's Familiar Quotations," 185-90. For a similar exercise in hunting down "Bysshe" quotations in Richardson, see Judith Hawley, "Laurence Sterne and the Circle of Sciences: A Study of Tristram Shandy and its Relation to Encyclopedias" (DPhil thesis, University of Oxford, 1990), 280-95.

49. The "star" system adopted in Pope's edition of Shakespeare (1725) is cognate.

50. This was changed in the 1705 edition to include "Shakespear" in the first position (sig. F4v). Linton [?] (see St. Clair, Reading Nation, ch. 6) annotates this page, correcting an omission.

51. Linton's [?] pencil annotations throughout the first edition, seemingly copied from a later edition of Bysshe, indicate the Shakespeare plays from which the texts are taken (see, for example, s.v. "Astonishment" [sig. A7v]).

52. There are 125 quotations from Blackmore in the final revised edition of 1718 (Culler, introduction, ii); see also Abigail Williams, Poetry and the Creation of a Whig Literary Culture, 1681-1714 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2004), 194.

53. Culler, "Edward Bysshe," 868.

54. See A, 1702, sig. [B5]r; and Dryden, The Works of Virgil (1697), sig. Ddv (Æneis, 1: 824-31).

55. See Culler, "Edward Bysshe," 868; and The Poetical and Dramatic Works of Sir Charles Sedley, ed. V. De Sola Pinto. 2 vols. (London: Constable, 1928): 1: 259.

56. Also, Virgil's signature ("Virg.") is on sig. [B5]r omitted after Dryden's name (sig. Av, etc.).

57. See Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (1623), sig. [X4]r; and Plutarch, The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romanes, trans. Thomas North (1579), sig. [NNNNv]r.

58. See Thomas Brown, A Collection of Miscellany Poems, Letters, &c, 2nd ed. (1700), sig. H1v-H2v.

59. See Harold Love, "Sackville, Charles, sixth earl of Dorset and first earl of Middlesex," ODNB, 48: 528-30 (529-30); and R. O. Bucholz, "Dunch, Edmund," ODNB, 17: 254-55.

60. See Augustan Critical Writing, ed. David Womersley (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1997), xix; see also Williams, Whig Literary Culture, 220-40.

61. Baines, "Bysshe, Edward," 373. [End Page 128]

62. See J. D. Davies, "Bulstrode, Sir Richard," ODNB, 8: 660-62; quote on 661; and n3.

63. See Williams Whig Literary Culture, 226-27.

64. Gildon, Complete Art of Poetry, sig. [D11]v.

65. See Groves, "Chomsky of Grub Street"; A, 1702, sig. [*3]v; and Gildon, Complete Art of Poetry, sig. [a6]r-[a8]v.

66. See Culler, "Edward Bysshe," 868.

67. Gildon, Complete Art of Poetry, sig. [D11]v.

68. Ibid., sig. [D10]r.

69. See ibid., sig. [a6]v.

70. Ibid., sig. [a6]r. [End Page 129]

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