Anthologies and Miscellanies:Some preliminary work toward a site philosophy

Notes on the categories employed in this site:

Put simply, the categorical distinctions drawn in this site between miscellanies and anthologies have to do with the ways in which the poems are collected in each volume. That is, miscellanies tend to group by subject or theme [1]; to collect just a few poems from each author, such that the poems themselves are given primacy (thus miscellanies tend not to contain headnotes and often list the name of the author after the poem; whereas the organization of the anthology quite often has the figure of the author at its center); and to collect in such a way that the ordering appears random and gives the volume a semblance of eclecticism.

As Laura Mandell notes, "the basic distinction is Southey's, who distingushes miscellanies or dried bouquets of poems of historical interest from anthologies or 'living' collections of poems of aesthetic interest in the preface to his Specimens of the Later English Poets of 1807), which he sees as a continuation of Ellis." "In tracking the variety of collections of British poets, I distinguish among 1) miscellanies that contain women and do not claim to represent the British literary tradition (collections published throughout the eighteenth century which continue as "gift books" and collections devoted to special themes in the nineteenth) [some of these that I have found published by book-sellers outside of London during the late 18th- and early 19th-centuries are politically radical]; 2) the general collections, sometimes the size of anthologies such as Thomas Campbell's Specimens of the British Poets (1819) and sometimes of multiple volumes, such as Johnson's Works of the English Poets, and later Anderson's and Chalmers's collections, that claim to be inclusive as a way of covering their omissions, women among them; 3) disciplinary anthologies that are very selective but which claim to represent all poetry of aesthetic value (they include very few or no women; the women writers that they do include are usually only contemporaries, and sometimes they actually say that women only began publishing "now"); and 4) and oppositional anthologies containing "others" whose works are seen as interesting not because of aesthetic value but because they represent the plight of those others (Bonnell and Thorton's Poems by Eminent Ladies; Alexander Dyce's Specimens of British Poetesses)."

On the history of the anthology:

The anthology evolved out of the convergence of two forms: the miscellany and the biography of famous, literary people, the earliest anthologies incorporating into headnotes or footnotes excerpts from biographies such as Biographia Britannica and George Ballard's Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain.

But incorporation of biographical material into headnotes is not enough to turn a collection of poems into an anthology. The earliest miscellanies published during the first half of the eighteenth century often contain, and boast of containing, original poems: Pope's "Rape of the Lock" and Johnson's "London" are first originally published in collections. After midcentury, the medium begins to change. However, the collections of poems published by Dodsley, Pearch, and Nichols (1748-83) are miscellanies rather than anthologies even though the editors add biographical notes to those editions published between 1780 and 1783 (and from then on), because, as in the multivolume collections, the editors exersize no principle of selection; sheer inclusiveness is their aim. Dodsley attempts to collect every bit of ephemeral poetry published during the previous 20 years; Pearch picks up those poems that Dodsley's collections omitted and those published since Dodsley's volumes were completed; Nichols introduces his volumes--not by claiming, as Norton anthologies typically do, to gather together the most important works--but, on the contrary, by pointing out their originality: "[N]ot a single poem is intended to be printed [here], which is either in `Dodsley's Collection,' the Supplement to it by Mr. Pearch, or in the Sixty Volumes of the `English Poets.'" (What, you might be wondering, after those 70-odd volumes, would there be left to publish? And the answer upon perusing Nichols's volumes is, uncategorically, not much.)

On the distinctions between anthologies and miscellanies:

In contrast to the miscellany's aim of including recently written poetry that has not anywhere else been collected, the anthology properly speaking presents the best selection possible. The English Anthology compiled by Joseph Ritson claims to be the first anthology, providing "a selection of English poetry . . . upon a plan hitherto unattempted, at least in this country"; according to Ritson, it contains "every poem of value in the language" (i, emphasis added). As Henry Headley puts it in his 1787 anthology Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry, "select specimens of prominent excellence" (ix) are offered to "[t]hat species of occasional readers to whom business is the object of life" (vii).

What exactly would it mean to present poetry upon a plan hitherto unattempted for consumers in a hurry to get their poetry when not doing real business? It means economizing symbolically. Miscellanies indiscriminantly list poems, so that an author's work appears scattered throughout. The leisurely aristocrat can get an idea of the author's works by reading all of the volumes of poems available. The businessman who reads anthologies needs to read less as if he were reading more; he needs to be able to convert his labor into surplus value. Economizing symbolically means presenting fewer works that are worth more; in the case of the anthology, it means presenting a few works as if they were all the works one could read.

Thomas Hayward's 1738 edition called The British Muse is a contender for being an anthology. Unlike previous British miscellanies, this collection publishes writers (and I'm quoting words from the title here) "according to the Order of TIME in which they wrote; to shew the gradual IMPROVEMENTS of our Poetry and Language"--it is organized indeed according to a distinctively anthological principle of compilation, organized to dramatize national poetic history. The anthology, unlike the miscellany, goes back in time and periodizes literary history, most often by monarch's reign.

This last section authored by Laura Mandell.

[1] For example, if the poems in William and Robert Chambers's Readings in English Poetry (1865) had been collected only according to the second table of contents in that volume, its "classified index of subjects," it would have been classifiable as a miscellany in these terms, for it would have subsumed author, poem, and chronology to the thematic.

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Page Created:  4.30.97
Last Updated:  9.2.97