Tom Cain and Ruth Connolly (eds), The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick, Vol. 1

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A new edition of Herrick's poetry is well overdue. It is more than half a century since L. C. Martin's 1956 edition of The Poetical Works appeared in the Oxford English Authors series, and just over fifty years since J. Max Patrick's Doubleday edition, too long for a poet who has for many years been seen as one of the masters of the English lyric. Over those years critical interest in Herrick has expanded enormously, and we hope that this edition will consolidate and strengthen that interest. It differs from earlier editions in a number of ways, primarily by offering Herrick's poems not only as they appeared in 1648 in Hesperides, but, in Volume II, in versions of the manuscript texts in which a significant number of them circulated in his lifetime, a form of 'publication' on which his reputation was based for most of his creative life.

Expectations of a scholarly edition have changed considerably since Martin and Patrick published. The Commentary on Hesperides, placed in Volume II so that it can be read side-by-side with the poems, is considerably longer than theirs, not only because contemporary readers rightly demand more attention to matters of political, historical, and biographical significance, but because work on the edition has revealed just how allusive a poet Herrick is. The secular 'Humane' poems in Hesperides are full of biblical references which range from the blasphemous through the playful to the poignant, and all but a few would be hidden from most modern readers without explanatory notes. This is probably even more true of Herrick's hundreds of Latin—and occasionally Greek—echoes, imitations, and translations.

Another expectation of an edition such as this is that more attention than used to be the case should be given to the material circumstances of printing and publication, especially of a book of such historical significance as Hesperides, the first 'Collected Poems' to be published by an English poet. We give a detailed history of the original printing, identifying its anonymous Royalist printer, John Grismond, and reconstructing the printing process in his shop in 1647. We have also collated far more copies of Hesperides than before: indeed, all fifty-seven surviving copies that could be traced. In keeping with the importance of the 1648 edition, we have reproduced much of the typographical design, and retained its spellings. Unlike Grismond, however, we have numbered the poems throughout. Other changes to the original text are set out in the collation (1.450–5).

The Introduction to Volume I concentrates more than might be expected on Herrick's biography, for three reasons. One is the simple absence of a reliable biography; another is the related one that his poetry, though it may seem to be less engaged with contemporary affairs than poets like Milton or Marvell, was nevertheless shaped by contingent events, personal and public, in less tangible ways. But the most important reason is that Herrick's verse is dominated to a greater extent than most poets by a constructed persona, a 'Robert Herrick' who is close to the historical figure and yet distinct from him. He invites us to read his poetry as autobiography, not in the sense pg viiiin which, for example, Donne's poetry might be said to transact episodes of profound emotional experience, but as projecting a coherent character, playful, generous, self-mocking, modest, and occasionally pious. Biography cannot test the veracity of that persona, but it helps the reader to relate the historical life to the poetic one.

Previous editions have given only cursory attention to the manuscript culture of the period, in which Herrick was a prominent figure. He was fifty-seven when he published Hesperides, and wrote, it seems, only one poem after that. Because of the date of publication, he tends to be seen wrongly as a poet of the 1640s and the Civil War. In fact, his creative life extended from around 1610 until 1648, and he was at the centre of groups copying his and others' poems in Cambridge and London during the 1620s. Where editors have paid heed, however briefly, to this manuscript poetry they have often printed eclectic texts, and attributions have been made on doubtful grounds. As with the rise of interest in the history of the book, so the growth in recent years of scholarly attention to the circulation of manuscripts has led to a demand for more rigorous and imaginative scrutiny of that culture. Volume II of this edition is one of the first that brings such editorial methods to an early modern manuscript poet, giving texts of what we consider to be the best witnesses to each poem that we can confidently attribute to Herrick. It also breaks new ground by giving prominence to the musical settings through which many of those poems became known, and we hope that the settings and commentaries we give will encourage performance as well as reading.

Tom Cain, Ruth Connolly

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