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The Collation

Folger-Penn Press interview and excerpt: Megan Heffernan, Making the Miscellany

In 2015, The Folger Shakespeare Library and the University of Pennsylvania Press established a cooperative agreement to publish volumes emerging from work substantially shaped by engagement with the Folger collections, often under the aegis of Folger Institute funding. Authors published under the agreement address topics and methodological approaches as broad as those of the collections and research activities of the Folger itself. We are proud of the central role that research inquiry at the Folger plays in so much influential scholarly writing, and we are delighted to introduce a new format for showcasing our authors’ processes.

Below, we pose a series of questions to Dr. Megan Heffernan that get at the heart of her research at the Folger, followed by an excerpt from Dr. Heffernan’s new book, Making the Miscellany: Poetry, Print, and the History of the Book in Early Modern England.


When you started this research project, how much clarity did you have about what you were looking for, both in terms of number of examples and specific materials?

Dr. Heffernan: My book grew out of a fascination with George Gascoigne’s A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573), a compilation of poetry, drama, and prose fiction that played mischievously with the ideological and discursive contours of the printed book in sixteenth-century England. The larger project became a bid to understand the literary and cultural forces that drove the publication of poetry in a moment when the design and form of the printed book was very much in flux. This was an age before England had developed a native vocabulary for categorizing poetry books, particularly in the case of collections that never aspired to represent literary authorship. Before the category of the miscellany was fully worked out in the later seventeenth century, the book of compiled poems was an ad hoc production that suited the practical needs of compilers. As a result, organizational features like poem titles and headings, tables of contents, running titles, and indexes hold a largely understudied and undertheorized archive of how English lyrics were understood by their first readers. My challenge was limiting the scope of the history that I was telling to a core set of case studies. I found so much material that could have made its way into this project if the chapters had shifted.

Once you started working with the Folger collections, did your research questions change? Did your assumptions about what arguments were going to be supported by the evidence change?

Dr. Heffernan: I was very fortunate to have two stints at the Folger, a short-term fellowship a year after I finished my dissertation and a long-term fellowship about halfway through my tenure clock. Both opportunities broadened the kinds of questions that I was able to ask. First, I learned to see that the questions that I was pursuing about the conceptual categories for understanding the poetry book were really the product of a later literary history. I had tremendous fun reading the papers of John Payne Collier, the infamous Shakespeare forger who played an important role in the consolidation of the miscellany as a genre in the nineteenth century. The Folger holds his unpublished autobiography (M.a.230), written out by hand when he was 92! Second, I was able to read widely, filling out details in many chapters and completing the research for a new chapter on printed sonnets, which I never would have been able to conceptualize without extended and firsthand access to those books. I am so grateful for the generosity of the library and Institute staff, as well as the fellowship committees that lent this vital support to my work.

A letter from John Payne Collier to an unidentified recipient discussing his work on the “Blue Series of Seven English Poetical Miscellanies.” This set would become integral to a modern understanding of the literary history of Elizabethan poetry books, but it emerged out of the particular circumstances of Collier’s life. It was published on subscription after he had been exposed for forgery and was looking to recover income as an antiquarian and editor. Dated March 20, 2866. Folger MS Y.c.1055 (191).

Transcription of the above letter:

28 Mar 1866
Dear Sir,
I weighed the parcels myself, and not one of them was 4 oz.
As to “the want of a Preface” to the “Gorgeous Gal-lery,” I never undertook to write one, especially gratis-One of these days I may (I do not say I shall) produce a general Introduction to the whole series of “Poetical Miscellanies”—I already do enough unpaid-for work surely.
Yours very truly
J. Payne Collier
I am very sorry that the Rev. Mr Gordon had to pay extra: it was an over-charge by the Post Office, as I apprehend.
If you will kindly pay me for a “Preface” I will write one willingly.

What couldn’t you find that you expected to find? Can you give us examples?

Dr. Heffernan: This is a tough question to answer from the perspective of hindsight. I think I was probably hoping for more explicit evidence of an early modern understanding of the miscellany. Of course, that turned out to be the history I was telling, but I needed to figure out how to tack back and forth between practical approaches to gathering and organizing poems in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the later emergence of literary historical categories for making sense of those books in the eighteenth century and beyond. Without anything like an early modern theorization of the poetry book, the evidence for my argument came to rest in aspects of design that were often overlooked or even criticized by later generations of historians and editors.

In what ways did the Folger scholarly community advance your work?

Dr. Heffernan: In many ways, the Folger’s community was the first audience for much of my thinking. Over the course of this book, I frequently found myself describing my encounters with archives, trying out readings, and revising the arc of my argument in both formal and informal conversations. It’s important to remember, too, that scholarly community is so much broader than researchers and readers. Folger staff members hold an unrivalled memory of the institution and were instrumental in how my thinking developed through a daily engagement with collection materials.

What advice do you have for early career scholars working at the Folger or peer collections?

Dr. Heffernan: Libraries are living collections. They consist equally of books and the networks of thinking that grow out of those materials. Talk to everyone! Go to tea, share your daily reading with folks as you’re packing up to leave the library at the end of the day, listen to stories about what other readers are finding. Share what you’re encountering with librarians and curators and see what they have to say about the materials you’re pursuing. As you dive into this world, let yourself be guided by the experience of being in the collection. Follow research paths that interest you, even if they don’t check a box on a list of items that you had planned to see. Chances are you’re finding unexpected ways to answer questions related to your work. And along the way, be on the lookout for materials that interest you even if they don’t have direct relevance to your current project. You might happen upon the germ of your next piece of work.

Do you have other illuminating questions that we should be asking?

Dr. Heffernan: I quite honestly don’t think that I do. Thanks for giving me the chance to reflect on how important the Folger has been to my career. I could never have written this book without the vast and varied community created by your library.


Below, find an excerpt from Dr. Heffernan’s book, Making the Miscellany: Poetry, Print, and the History of the Book in Early Modern England, p. 77-80.

The poetics of books like The Paradyse of daynty devises grew out of the exigencies of compiling poetry for print: the habits of titling, attributing, and arranging that helped publishers promote their volumes of gathered poems to buyers. But in the process of transmitting and then retransmitting this work, the organizational features that were at first external supplements became essential guides for poetic reading and interpretation. In the case of The Paradyse of daynty devises, we have evidence of how readers treated the headings as integral to the bodies of poems. A slim poetry manuscript owned by John Leche, now held at the Folger Shakespeare Library, was copied out of multiple books printed in the 1560s and 1570s.1 While the first six poems were transcribed without headings, as was common in contemporary poetry manuscripts, the scribe’s method changed for the remaining twenty-two poems, all of which were sourced from the 1576 edition of The Paradyse of daynty devises. In addition to the poem texts, Leche copied the headings from The Paradyse, including the moralizing verses like “Who wyll aspire to dignitie / By learning must advanced be” and “Though Triumph after bloudy warres, the greatest brags do beare: / Yet Triumph of a conquered minde, the crowne of Fame shall weare.”2 Leche treated these poems and their titles as parcels that should not be dissolved. In handling The Paradyse differently from his other sources, he carried the design of the printed book forward into the new context of the manuscript, even while he was tearing his source apart.

This manuscript copy of poems from The Paradyse was, admittedly, the result of a slightly unschooled reading. Besides being copied in secretary and italic hands that were slightly too careful, several pages in Leche’s manuscript have real problems with spacing, with insufficient room marked out for titles and poems that break off abruptly before concluding.3 Yet this inept transcription was also the expression of an unlikely fidelity to the material arrangement of the printed book, and it helps in identifying the 1576 first edition of The Paradyse of daynty devises as the scribe’s exemplar. The most stunning instance of fidelity to the source appears in the poem title “Finding worldly ioyes but vanities, he wysheth death,” or, as this scribe wrote, “worlaly ioyes,” with the ascender on the d separating from the lobe and becoming a separate a and l.4 The scribe was slavishly following the 1576 edition of The Paradyse, where the compositor made the same mistake (see Figures 9 and 10).5

Fig. 9 (left): Transcription of the compositor’s error, “worlaly ioyes” in John Leche’s poetry manuscript, Folger MS V.a.149, fol. 21r.
Fig. 10 (right): Leche’s source, The Paradyse of daynty devises (London: Henry Disle, 1576), Huntington Library, RB 13658, sig. C3r.

The “worlaly ioyes” heading captured the scribe’s indiscriminate reading of the printed compilation, his sense that the title should be approached in the same fashion as the body of the poem. As a kind of textual care that betrays, perhaps, a degree of illiteracy, this blunder was the trace of an indiscriminate reading practice that flattened out the distinction between poem texts and the frames that gathered them together. The copying reader found meaning in the textual features that Disle and Edwards introduced when they incorporated the moralizing poems into a compilation with a consistent tone and style.

Ultimately, Leche’s manuscript helps us see how sixteenth-century readers valued continuities of poetic style and topic. Learning from The Paradyse’s consistently moralizing contents, this scribe affiliated that compilation’s poems with didactic writing from other volumes all published within the span of a few years. His overly careful copying of the book’s textual apparatus was, in its way, the expression of a desire for as much moral advice as he could glean, extracting it not only from poems but even from the features of the material text that were themselves poetic readings. In the longer history of printing English poetry, The Paradyse of daynty devises charts a new way forward for a poetically engaged textual design. Instead of positing either a fanciful figure or an abundant variety, the compilation was depicted as distinct from the material clusters or parcels in which compilers first received work. The conceit of The Paradyse of daynty devises was distributed on to each individual poem—and even to each heading and attribution—such that it was possible to change the order and arrangement of the compilation without disturbing the common ethos. The material connections between poems were irrelevant because they so obviously belonged together. The result was a compilation that could be endlessly reimagined, even while aspects of its design were carried over in later print editions and manuscript copies. With this shift away from an earlier, more literal approach to the process of making the book, the conceptual category for understanding the compilation began to be uncoupled from material order and arrangement.

  1. The manuscript opens with the translation of St. Bernard’s verses in Thomas Tusser’s Five Hundreth Points of Good Husbandry (1573), Thomas Churchyard’s dedicatory verse in praise of learning in Huloet’s Dictionarie (1572), two poems without identifiable print sources, and the opening address from Barnabe Googe’s newe Booke called the Shippe of safegarde (1569). One of the two unknown poems later appeared in The Trevelyon Miscellany, a massive and elaborately illustrated manuscript that also copied work from printed books (Thomas Trevilian, The Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608: A Facsimile of Folger Shakespeare Library MS V.b.232, ed. Heather Wolfe [Seattle: Folger Shakespeare Library; distributed by University of Washington Press, 2007], fols. 180r-180v).
  2. Folger V.a.149, fols. 17v, 22r.
  3. Leche may well have been a student practicing his penmanship with the example offered by The Paradyse because several initial letterforms are given in a rough emboldened script, perhaps as experiments with how to capture the typography of his source.
  4. Folger V.a.149, fol. 21r.
  5. The Paradyse of daynty devises (1576), sig. C3r.


Fascinating! Paradise is one of my favorite Elizabethan miscellanies. As it was for the Elizabethans themselves. All of its poems are song lyrics, which is important to bear in mind. A couple of the anonymous poems have been attributed to the controversial Earl of Oxford–

Richard Waugaman — June 15, 2021