This handwritten collection of poems and prose contains William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2, as well as works by other Elizabethan authors including John Donne, William Strode and William Herbert. The small notebook is signed on the first page by its original owner, ‘I A’ of Christ Church College, Oxford.
What are commonplace books?
Personal anthologies like this are known as commonplace books, and were popular in 17th-century Britain. Their owners used the books to collect inspiring quotes and passages, which they copied from sources ranging from poems and prayers to recipes and medical texts. As such, they reveal the owner’s personal tastes, experiences and interests. This particular book contains mainly poetry.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2
A number of Shakespeare’s sonnets, especially Sonnet 2, have been found in commonplace books from the 1620s and 30s.
Sonnet 2 is one of the so-called ‘Fair Youth’ group of Sonnets, which are addressed to a young man. The poem tries to persuade the youth to marry and reproduce, to defy the process of ageing. It asks him to imagine himself as a 40-year-old with ‘sunken eyes’, who can only renew his beauty by having a child.
But in manuscripts like this one, the addressee is changed from male to female by adding the title, ‘To one that would die a Mayd [virgin]’. This revision makes it seem like a more conventional poem about seducing a woman. This version also differs in other ways from the 1609 printed edition. The word ‘pleasure’ is used instead of ‘praise’, and ‘like’ has been repeated, as if the poem was copied quickly without concern for accuracy.
Which other poems are digitised here?
- Walton Poole celebrates the attractions of a lady with ‘blacke’ hair and eyes, who somewhat resembles Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’ (ff. 23r–24r).
- John Donne’s racy ‘Elegy: To His Mistress Going to Bed’ is included here, although it was banned from the first print edition of Donne’s Poems (ff. 27r–28r).
- ‘A Maides Deniall’ was written by William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke (f. 125r–v). Some critics suggest that Herbert, who was notoriously reluctant to marry, might be the mysterious young man of Shakespeare’s ‘Fair Youth’ sonnets.
his booke witnes
by his Maiesties
ape Gorge Harison
an la butterie
MS. C 210
XCVI ID I.
Should by th[a]t darknes suffer an Eclippese
Nor it is fitt th[a]t nature should have made
Soe bright a sunne to shine without a shade
It seemes that nature when she first did fancie
Your rare composure, studied Niegromancie
And when to you those gifts she did imparte
She used alltogether the blacke arte.
She drew the magicke circle of your eyes
And made your haire the chaine wherin she ties
Rebellious harts, thos blew veines which appeare
Twined in Meanders licke to either spheare
Misterious figures are and when you list
Your voice commandeth like an Exorcist.
O if in magicke you have skill so farr
Vouchsafe to make mee your familiar
Nor hath kinde nature her blacke arte revaeald
On outward parts alone some ly concealed
As by the springhead men may often know
The nature of the stre^ames th[a]t run below
Soe your blacke haire and eyes doe give direction
To make mee thinke the rest of licke perfection
The rest where all rest lyes th[a]t blesseth man
That Indian mine th[a]t streight of Magellan
That world-dividing Gulfe w[hi]ch who so ventures
With swelling sayles, & ravisht sensces, enters
Into a world of blisse; Pardon I pray
If my rude muse presume here to display
Secrets unknowne, or have her bound ore past
In praysing sweetnes which I neere shall tast
Starved men know ther^es meat, & blind men may
Though hid from them yet thinke theire is a day
A rover in the marke his arrow stcikes
Sometime as well as hee th[a]t shootes at prickes
And if I might direct my shaft aright
The black marke would I hitt & not the white.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
On Ms Mallet unmasked.
- - - - - - - - - -
Skelton some rimes and Elderton a ballet
Here theame enough for all, hers Maddam Mallet
Whom poets all scorne, but our riming muses
Makes choice of this occation and doth chuse
To writ of her whom all the towne admires
For going, speaking, looking, strange attiers
For bein what she is an uncoth thinge
Made up by naturs hasty handelinge
The moddle of whose wit is gracie so bigg
As a flie blow nitte or Kernell of a figge.
Shoulde dote on mee? as if they did contrive
The divell and shee to damne a man alive
This spouse of Antichrist, and his alone,
Shees drest sox like the whore of Babylon,
Why doth non welcome ra^ither purchase her
And beare about this rare familiar?
Six market dayes, a wake, & a fayre too
Will quitt his charges and the Ale to boote
Not tygresselike she feeds upon a man
Worse than a tyger or a leoparde can.
Let mee goe pray & thinke upon some spell
At once to beidd the divell and her farwell.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Com Maddam come all rest my powers defy
Untill I labor, I in labor ly
The foe oft times having the foe in sight
Is tyrde with standing though he never fight.
Off with th[a]t girdle like heavens zone glistering
But a far^re fairer world incompassing.
Unpinne th[a]t spanglinge brest plat th[a]t thYou weare
That I may see my shrine that shines soe faire
Unlase your selfe for that harmonius chime
Tels mee from you th[a]t now tis your bedtime
Off with that happie buske which I envy
That still will bee and still can stand soe nigh.
Your gowne going off such beauteous state reveale
As when from flourie meads hills shadowes steale
Off with that verie corronett and show
The ha^yrie diadem which one you doth groew
Now off with those sho^oes, and then softly tread
In this loves hallowed temple this soft bedd
In such white robes heavens Angells use to bee
Received by men, thou Angell bringst with thee
A heavenly Mahomets Paradice & though
All spirits walke in white wee easeily know
By this these Angells from an evill spxrite
They sett our haire but these our flesh upright
Licence my roving hands & let them goe
Behinde, before, betwen, abo ^ above, below.
O my America my new found lande
My Kingdome safest when with one man ^ tis mand
My mine of preciouse stones, my Empeiry
How blest am I in this discovering, theey
Full nakednesse, all eyes are due to thee
All soules unbodyed bodyes unclothed should bee
To x tast whole Joyes, gemms th[a]t you women use
Are as Atlantas bal^les cast in mens veiws
That a fooles eye lightnening on a gemm
His greedy ey might court thes ^ & not them
Like unto bookes with gawdie covernings made
For laymen, are all women thus arayed
Them selfes are musike bookes which only wee
(Whom their impxuted grace will dignifie)
Must see reveald, then sweet th[a]t I may know
As liberally as to a midwife shew
Thy selfe, case all, yea this white linnen hence
Ther is nox pennance due to innocence
To enter into these bonds is to bee free
There where my hand is set my seale shall bee
To txeach thee, I am naked first; why then
What needst thou have more covering then a man
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Iter boreale . R. Cor.
- - - - - - - -
Fowxre Clearkes of Oxford Doctors txxwo and txxwo
That would bee Doctors, having lesse to doe
With Austein, then with Galxen, in vacation
Change’d studies, and turne’d bookes te recreation,
And one the 10th of August Northwarde bente
A J^ourney not soe soone conceive’d as spent.
The first halfe day they rode, they light upon
A noble clergie-host Kitt Midleton
Who numbring out good dishes with good tales,
The maior part of cheere waiyde downe the scales
And though the countenance make the feast (say bookes)
Wee xxxx nere found better welcome with worse lookes
To one that would die a Mayd.
When forty winters shall beseige thy brow
And trench deepe furrowes in that lovely feild
Thy youth faire liverie soe accounted now
Shall bee like like [sic] rotten weedes of noe worxth heild
Then being askeit where all thy beauty lies
Where all the lustre of thy youthfull dayes
To say within thes hollow suncken eyes
were an all-eaten truth, and worthles pleasure.
How better were thy beaties use
If thou couldst say this prittie childe of mine
Saves my account and makes my old excuse
Making his beauty by succession thine
This were to bee new borne when thou art old
And see thy bloud war^me, when thou feelst it cold.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
┼ J.D. to his paper.
- - - - - - -
Flie paper kisse those hands
when^ce I am barde of late,
shee quickly will unloose thy bands
O wish mee then thy state
Appeare unto her eyes
Though they doe turne to fumes
For happy is that sacrifice
That heavenly fire consumes.
Yet even in thy depart
With a soft dying breath
Whisper thes truthes unto her hart
And take them one her death
A Maides Deniall
Nay pish, nay pray, nay faith, & will you? fie
A Gent: & use mee thus, In faith He ay
God’s body what a man’s this? nay fie for shame
Nay faith away, nay fie, introth you are to blame:
Harke somebody comes, hands offe I pray,
He pinch, He scra^tch, ile spurne, nay runne away,
In faith you strive in vaine, you shall not speed,
You mare my ruffe, you hurt my back, my nose ^ will bleed
Looke how the doore is open, somebody sees;
What will they say, in faith you hurt my Knees -
Your buttons scratch, o what a quoile is here,
You make mee sweat in faith, here is goodly geare
Nay faith lett mee intreat y[o]u leave, if you list,
You hurt my head, be teare my smocke, but had I wist
So much before I would have Keept you out,
It is a proper thing you goe about,
I did not think you would have done mee this,
But now I see I tooke my aime amiss,
A little thing would make us not bee freinds,
You have used mee well, I hope youle make amen^ds
Hould still I’le wipe your face, you sweat amaine,
You have gott a goodly think with all this paine,
O God how hott am I, w[ha]t will you drinke,
If you goe sweating downe w[ha]t will they thinke,
Remember S[i]r how you have used mee now.
Doubt not ere long but I will meete with you,
If any manx but you had used mee so,
Would I hav putt it upp infaith S[i]r no:
Nay goe not yet stay here & supp with mee,
And then at cards wee better will agree.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Mr Hericks welcome to sacke
- - - - - - - - - - - -
So soft streames meet so springs with gladder smiles
Meete after long divorcment made by Iles
When love the child of likeness urgeth on
Their Christall water to an union
So meet stolne kisses when the moony night
Calls forth firce lovers tho their wisht delight
So Kings and Queenes meet when desire convinces
All thoughts save those th[a]t tend to getting Princes.
As I meet thee soule of my life & fame
Eternall lampe of love, whose radiant flame
Out darts the heavens Osyris & thy gemmes
Dart forth the splendor of his midday beames
Welcome o welcome my illustrious spouse
Welcome as are the ends unto my vowes
- Full title:
- A verse miscellany including 14 poems (plus one of doubtful authorship) by Carew, 22 poems by Corbett and 36 poems (plus three of doubtful authorship) by Strode.
- 17th century, Christ Church College, Oxford, Oxfordshire
- Manuscript / Book / Duodecimo / Commonplace book
- William Shakespeare, John Donne, William Herbert, Walton Poole
- Usage terms
Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.
- Held by
- British Library
- Sloane MS 1792
- Article by:
- Richard Price
‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’? Here, Richard Price reveals how through a process of close reading he ‘translated’ – or ‘transformed’ – Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 into a modern love poem.
- Article by:
- Toby Litt
- Renaissance writers, Poetry
Toby Litt shows how Donne creates a mischievous relationship with his readers, as the poem builds energy and plays around with time and space.
- Article by:
- Hannah Crawforth
- Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage, Poetry
Hannah Crawforth explores how Shakespeare used and radically changed the conventions of love poetry, and how modern poets have reinvented his Sonnets for themselves.
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