Bucks County Community College
Pastoral writing, idealizing of country life, was very popular throughout the English Renaissance. In his Arte of English Poesie (1589), George Puttenham noted the genre's pretense to simplicity, as pastoral poets "under the vaile of homely persons and in rude speeches . . . insinuate and glance at great matters." Verse written in the persons of shepherds hopelessly pursuing "nymphs" appeared in a variety of printed books, including translations from Italian poets like Tasso, collections of songs, and dramas such as Shakespeare's As You Like It.
The first great English pastoral is Edmund Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender (1579). It is presented as a narrative in twelve monthly eclogues that explore the trials of love, the nature of poetry, and religious themes. January and December tell of Colin Clout, a shepherd boy who suffers for loving Rosalinde. The Shepheardes Calender was a landmark publication in English literary history, and the Folger Library has an especially rare copy of the first edition, with the final quire in an early uncorrected state.
But pastoral verse also continued to circulate widely in manuscript after Spenser's work reached print. Many handwritten pastorals, for various reasons, never found their way into print, or were never intended for it. Three examples drawn from the Folger manuscript collection display painstaking and refined composition, physical as well as poetical. Such rustic verse should not be dismissed as merely derivative or formulaic.
Several translations of Spenser's work into Latin survive. One, entitled "Kalendarium Pastorale, seu Spenceri Pastor, Romano indutus centenculo," is attributed to Theodore Bathurst, and it reveals the circular nature of poetic imitation. Spenser himself was imitating classical authors who wrote in Greek and Latin. This translation back into Latin finally reached print in the 1653 edition of Spenser's poems. A manuscript copy of this work by an unknown scribe survives at the Folger (MS.J.a.2). The only indication of an early owner or participant in the creation of this manuscript book is the name "Fra: Corbett" written on an endpaper. It is bound with a group of academic plays in a miscellany made in Cambridge, England in the early 1600s. The copy exemplifies a work in progress, and perhaps the process of university scholarship, as well. The page is ruled in anticipation of marginalia. The marginal notes in Latin appear in at least two inks, but the hand seems identical to that of the scribe who painstakingly recorded the poem. The January eclogue takes up two neatly copied pages. It has all the qualities of a fair copy, replete with ample marginal space for glossing.
Another bound manuscript volume at the Folger also includes pastoral verse in a poetic miscellany. Folger MS V.a.161 may be the work of Richard Barnfield, an obscure poet of the 1590s, whose name appears on page 17 of the slim volume. It appears in italic at the end of a dedicatory poem written in a secretary hand titled "To the right Wor[shipfu]ll Sir John Spenser Knighte Alderman of the honnorable Citty of London and lorde treasurer of Lady Petunia." Barnfield's The Affectionate Shepheard: Containing 'The Complaint of Daphnis for the Love of Ganymede was published in 1594, and gave rise to objections by the poem's dedicatee, Lady Penelope Rich, and her lover, Charles Blount, that Barnfield had used them as models for Queen Guendolena and Ganymede, two characters in the first part, By contrast, V.a.161 is a more private, personal pastiche of songs, a snippet of Ovid, a playful conceit, a poem by Ben Jonson, and even a bawdy lyric:
A lustie nutt browne wenche scant woorth [th]e naminge
went downe a staier bearinge a candle flaming:
A swagering gallant comming her t'encounter
att first approache coragiously would mount her:
She strongly made resistaunce and did sweare
she would burne him by that candle she did beare:
Hee blew [th]e candle out to breake hir vowe
she kept her promise still, immagine how.
The delicate paper book of eighteen leaves is bound in a vellum leaf from an illuminated Latin Psalter. Barnfield's penmanship and authorship cannot be confirmed as not a single confirmed autograph survives (his will is endorsed by his monogram). At least one critic is convinced Barnfield had nothing at all to do with the manuscript or its contents, although the poems have been printed in several editions of his collected works. Manuscripts such as V.a.161 force us to deal with the slippery and fascinating process of attributing authorship.
A third pastoral in manuscript at the Folger also bears signs of polish and presentation, with an elaborately decorated title page that mimics some of the conventions of print publication. William Basse's collected pastorals are bound into Folger MS V.b.235. In this case, the binding is the work of a much later collector, presumably interested in early works of literature, for the same volume also contains a manuscript copy of a play by John Dryden.
Unlike the other two pastoral verse examples, Basse's Pastorals appears intended to be a single autonomous composition. The characteristics of a published book, including a date of publication and an imprint colophon , have led some to speculate that this manuscript was prepared for a printer. An ink sketch of two shepherds which precedes the first "Eglogue" is evocative of the woodcuts that appeared in early editions of Spenser's pastoral masterpiece and also seems an attempt to position the work to find its place in literary history.
Barrell, John and John Bull, eds.. A Book of English Pastoral Verse. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.
Bradner, Leicester. "The Latin Translations of Spenser's Shepheardes Calender." MP 33 (1935-6), 21-6.
Grosart. Alexander B. Complete Poems of Richard Barnfield. London: J. B. Nichols and Sons, 1876.
Kermode, Frank. English Pastoral Poetry from the Beginnings to Marvell. London: Harrap, 1952.
Love, Harold. Attributing Authorship: An Introduction. New York: Cambridge, 2002.