Ruth Connolly

Herrick: his Manuscripts, Audiences and Editions

Herrick: his Manuscripts, Audiences and Editions

Robert Herrick had an lengthy career as a coterie poet before he ushered his poetry into print in 1648, becoming one of the few authors in the period who oversaw the printing of his own work. The new edition of his Complete Poetry, currently underway at Newcastle, aims to produce 2 volumes of his work, one volume consisting of  Hesperides and His Noble Numbers and a second which will represent his manuscript poems, most of which made their way into print in Hesperides. 

There are over 500 manuscript witnesses to his poems but, similarly to Donne, only one is in Herrick’s own hand. The remaining are distributed throughout manuscript miscellanies and songbooks produced by students at Oxford, Cambridge and the Inns of Court, Herrick’s family and patrons and by musicians at Court. One question that arises in relation to this specific publication and transmission history is  how to treat his manuscript poetry, particularly when there are contemporary printed versions available which received the author’s endorsement and which were presumably printed from the author’s own holographs. 

The Newcastle project is using a modified Lachmannian “author-centred” approach which traces each manuscript poem back to a lost holograph and forward, where relevant, to the version printed in Hesperides but is also aware of the value of the social text. This paper will consider the potential for the application of a more socially oriented approach in editing Herrick’s manuscript poetry and how this may contribute to the stated aims of the project, which is to allow the reader to see how Herrick’s verse circulated in manuscript in the pre-1648 period and who compiled, read and performed his work.

Making Books, Shaping Readers

School of English, O' Rahilly Building, University College Cork, Ireland.