Robert D. Hume and Harold Love (eds), Plays, Poems, and Miscellaneous Writings associated with George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham, Vol. 1
pg vii Preface
George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham (1628–87), was one of the most scandalous and controversial figures of the Restoration period. He is now thought of by literary scholars principally as the author of The Rehearsal (first performed in 1671), an enormously successful burlesque play that ridiculed John Dryden and, more broadly, the rhymed heroic plays and Cavalier tragedies and tragicomedies of 1660– 71. Historians remember Buckingham as an opponent who helped topple Clarendon from power in 1667, as a member of the 'Cabal' ministry (1667–74), and as an ally of the Earl of Shaftesbury in the Whig attempt to debar the Roman Catholic Duke of York from the succession during the political crisis of 1678–83. Modern-day lovers of scandal think of the duke as the rake who lived openly with the Countess of Shrewsbury and killed her husband in a notorious duel in 1668. Buckingham had a prominent place among the 'court wits' (Rochester, Etherege, Sedley, Dorset, Wycherley); he was closely associated with such writers as Butler and Cowley; and he was a conspicuous champion of religious toleration who numbered among his friends such serious thinkers as Martin Clifford, Thomas Sprat, John Wilkins, and William Penn. The extent and variety of the works that constitute the Buckingham canon may surprise many readers.
Scrutiny of the Table of Contents of this edition might suggest that Buckingham was the sole or collaborative author of six plays, nine pamphlets, and squibs of various sorts, plus twenty-two poems, and compiler of a fairly massive commonplace book. The difficulty from an editorial point of view is that there is no way to determine exactly what he contributed to each of these works. Indeed, in an alarming number of cases we have no assurance that even a collaborative attribution can be justified. Many members of the nobility and gentry were averse to print publication. Only two pieces saw print in Buckingham's lifetime in authorized editions with his name attached—A Short Discourse upon the Reasonableness of Men's having a Religion (1685) and a sarcastic two-page 'Letter' to the ' Unknown Author' of an attack on that pamphlet. All other printings in the duke's lifetime appeared either anonymously pg viii(e.g. The Rehearsal in 1672, The Chances in 1682) or in overtly clandestine form (e.g. his 'Speech in the House of Lords' of 16 November 1675, published with or without the duke's cooperation under the imprint 'Amsterdam 1675'). No literary holographs survive. Some of the squibs and poems exist in scribal copies, often without date or attribution. No cumulative edition appeared until a two-volume Miscellaneous Works, Written by His Grace, George, Late Duke of Buckingham finally came out in 1704–5. Collected and edited by Tom Brown (not a scholarly person), it was more a miscellany than a 'Works'. Only about a quarter of the contents actually have any connection with Buckingham. The edition was not only posthumous but slovenly and without verifiable authority. It is the only source for a number of Buckingham attributions—which may be accurate, erroneous, or simply fraudulent.
Three of the plays are unquestionably collaborative (Sir Politick Would-be, The Country Gentleman, and The Rehearsal). In the first and third of these cases we can only speculate about the nature of Buckingham's contribution. Two of the plays (The Chances and The Restauration) are adaptations from the 'Beaumont and Fletcher' canon. The poems exhibit the attribution problems and false ascriptions that plague the canon of Rochester and all others in the court-wit circle who wrote anonymously and circulated scribally. The present edition is a companion venture to Harold Love's The Works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (Oxford University Press, 1999) and, like that edition, it makes no claim to being a safety-first enterprise. Following that precedent, we have been cheerfully inclusive rather than exclusive, but without in this case trying to insist upon the probability of Buckingham's authorship. In the absence of a substantial corpus of definitively attributed works (apart from correspondence) we do not possess the basis for quantitative stylometric analysis of authorship in questionable cases. Barring the wholly unexpected appearance of a cache of helpful manuscripts, letters, and diaries, most of the attribution problems surrounding Buckingham will remain insoluble.
The case of the 'Commonplace Book' requires special comment. More than a century ago extracts were published from a MS book in the possession of the then Earl of Jersey, said to have been found in Buckingham's pocket when he died. Virtually all Buckingham scholars have presumed that its contents—chiefly maxims, similes, and philosophical reflections—were composed or excerpted by the duke, and that the original poems it contains were of his composition. Alas, the handwriting is not Buckingham's and a much fuller version of this compila-pg ixtion may be found among the Panshanger MSS in the Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies—a manuscript miscellany in the hand of Sarah Cowper (1644–1720). She was the wife of the duke's political associate Sir William Cowper, and a close friend and neighbour of the duke's ally and confidant Martin Clifford, to whom she quite explicitly attributed most of the items in the 'Jersey' manuscript. We have concluded that the 'Jersey' version might be Clifford's collection, or a joint enterprise between Clifford and Buckingham, or perhaps the work of an unidentified author. We have included the relevant sections of the Cowper MS in this edition, but make no claim for Buckingham's 'authorship'. The most we can say is that he might have contributed material; the collection comes from his circle and very likely reflects his influence; and he probably owned a copy of the 'Jersey' version.
The net result of a sceptical investigation into Buckingham attributions is sobering. We cannot confidently claim 'sole authorship' for any of his works, with the probable exception of the brief reply to the 'Unknown Author' in 1685. One might reasonably ask why this assemblage of 'works' should be published as 'Buckingham's'. We would offer two answers. First, the best of the pieces are very fine indeed, and all of them possess historical significance. Second, 'authorship' was differently understood in the late seventeenth century than it is now, and all this material has plausible associations with the Buckingham circle.
There are essentially two ways to look at the problems of editing 'Buckingham'. The editor may simply despair and abandon the enterprise. Alternatively, the editor may relinquish any claim to being able to identify with confidence the origins of what are often anonymous and misattributed texts. Taking this approach, one does not necessarily expect to be able to discern the authorial intentions of a particular individual who wrote the texts. Seventeenth-century readers were unquestionably interested in attribution, but in a high proportion of cases they found themselves grappling (sans introduction and annotation) with anonymous texts. Encountering the works comprised in this edition, the seventeenth-century reader might sometimes have associated them with the Buckingham circle and to some degree with the duke himself—but quite often not. What an editor can legitimately claim to present is not so much works 'written personally by George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham' as a mélange of disparate texts subsumed for commercial convenience in his own time under an iconic brand name.
pg xWriting as it was practised in the gossipy, libellous, coterie circles in which Buckingham lived was simply not the kind of activity practised by a writer like Dryden—and certainly not the activity conceived by Romantic and post-Romantic individualists. As with playwriting in the time of Shakespeare, the imposition of ahistorical views wreaks havoc on our understanding of what writing meant to those who were doing it. We are aware of no term that conveys the nature of the undertaking. Art historians talk about painting from the 'School of Rembrandt' (for example). What might be dubbed 'contributory authorship' has been practised in many realms but has been studied largely in terms of attempting to distinguish individual contributions—which basically misses the point of the enterprise.
No single concept of authorial responsibility accounts satisfactorily for the heterogeneous set of texts now inextricably entangled with Buckingham's name. He was a contributory author, an adapter, a collaborator, sometimes the sole composer of surviving texts. He was also a patron, respondent, catalyst, and in the case of An Account of a Conference perhaps simply the inspiration for another writer. Authorship often fails to reduce to a tidy dichotomy of 'wrote it' vs 'did not write it'. In a context of coterie collaboration, adaptation, and scribal publication we will be wise to accept the inevitability of radically varying and frequently indeterminate degrees of agency for such authors as contemporary rumour and later scholarship have delivered to us. We have inherited a canon of sorts. The best we can do is to disclose the attribution evidence and admit the nature and degree of uncertainty attaching to each text.
Some readers may be disconcerted by 'associated with' in the title of this edition. That phrase was arrived at only after considerable debate and soul-searching. We wanted to signal as precisely as possible the highly unusual authorial status of the contents. 'Plays, Poems, and Miscellaneous Writings' seemed unexceptionable, and 'George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham' would be hard to avoid without abandoning the enterprise entirely, but how should the two be yoked? To say 'by' or 'of ' would imply a claim for sole authorship that we are very far from making. If we said 'attributed to' we would be directing attention to precisely the issue we cannot solve, and might seem to be presuming attribution of the unthinking kind we wish to put under question. If we were to say 'from the circle of' we would make the contents seem arbitrary—why not include anything we can find of Clifford's, or whatever we fancy of Butler and Cowley? We considered pg xi'by and associated with', but this seemed to imply that we can distinguish the two, which is not true. If some readers are puzzled or irked by Plays, Poems, and Miscellaneous Writings associated with George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham then perhaps our title has served its function. Far from wanting to feign certainty or to hide the problems, we would like to invite users to recognize that we are dealing here with a concept of authorship radically foreign to the assumptions most of us bring to literary texts.
R. D. H. and H. L.pg xii