This handwritten collection of poems and prose belonged to Margaret Bellasys (or Bellasis), probably the daughter of Thomas Bellasys (1577–1653). It includes William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2, as well as copies of works by John Donne, Philip Sidney, William Herbert and others.
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.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2 (f. 143r)
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.
However, in commonplace books like this – where the poem is out of context – the gender of the addressee becomes unclear. It then seems like a more conventional poem about seducing a woman.
Here the sonnet has the Latin title, Spes Altera, meaning ‘in hope of another’. It also differs in other ways from the 1609 printed text. For example, the eyes’ ‘deep trenches’ have become ‘deepe furrowes’ and youth’s ‘treasure’ is changed to ‘lustre’.
Which other poems are digitised here?
- The poem which starts ‘Why should passion leade the blinde’ is now known by the title, ‘Of a fair Gentlewoman scarce Marriageable’ by William Herbert , 3rd Earl of Pembroke (ff. 95v–96r). Some critics suggest that Herbert, who was notoriously reluctant to marry, might be the mysterious young man of Shakespeare’s ‘Fair Youth’ sonnets.
- Donne’s ‘A Valediction Forbidding Mourning’ appears with the title ‘Compasse’ (ff. 126r–27r).
- Below Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2 is a bawdy poem about Lord Lampus, who died while having sex (f. 143r).
Such was my fancy once but shall be never
As thou wast, art; & maist th[o]u be so ever.
Heare Lovers sweare in their Idolatry
That I am none, but greife discovers me.
And yet I greive the lesse, least greife remove
My beauty & make me unworthy of thy love.
Me in a glasse I call the[e], but the alasse
when I would kisse, tears dims my eies & glasse.
(Deere) cure this loving madnesse and restore
My selfe to me, my hart, my all, and more,
So may thy cheekes out-weare the scarlet dye,
Thy face out-lustre the most glorious skye.
So may thy much amazing beautie move,
In women enuie; and in all men love
And change, & sickenesse be as far from the
As thou by com[m]ing neare keepe them from me.
Why should passion leade the blinde
Because thy sweet hart is unkinde.
Shee’s yet too young to tast delight
And ^ is not fledge for Cupid’s flight.
She cannot yet in height of pleasure
Pay her lovers equall measure.
But like a Rose new-blowne doth feed
Thine eye alone but beares no seed.
Autumne will shortly come & greet her
Making her tast, & Colour sweeter.
Then will her ripenesse, taste, be such.
As she will fall even with thy touch.
On A purse-Taker
I keepe my horse, I keepe my whore,
I have no wealth, yet I’me not poore.
I travell all the world about,
And yet was borne to ne’re a foot.
W[i]th partridge plump, & woodcocke fine
At midnight oft I use to dine.
And when my whore is out of case,
My hostesse daughter takes her place.
The maids sit up, & take their turnes,
If I stay late the tapster mournes.
The cooke-maid will not yeild to sin,
Though tempted by the Chamberlin
And when I knocke, oh! how they hustle,
The Ostler yaunes, the Geldings iustle.
And then I call bring forth my horse, S[i]r
And after comes, deliver your purse, S[i]r
The port, fancy: passion lendeth parts
As various as o[u]r states, o[u]r ends, o[u]r harts.
The Musicke th[a]t twixt Sceanes is interlac’d,
Short-mingled-mirth, to sweaten lifes distast.
Our mothers wombes the tyring-houses be
where we are drest to act lifes Tragedie
Heavens sharp-iudicious-eye, Spectator is,
That censures every sceane we act amisse.
Our winding sheets th[a]t shroud us from the Sunne
Are like drawne curtaines, when the play is done.
T’untire us then ^ retire we to our tombe
where all’s put of we tooke fro[m] mothers wombe
An after banquet makes this play complete
wormes are o[u]r guestes o[u]r Carkase is their meat
Thus ’gan o[u]r play, thus ends it, & thus I
My play have ended: & now praying die.
Compasse. St Dun.
As vertuous men passe mildly away
And whisper to their soulis to goe.
While some of their sad freinds doe say
Now his breath goes, & some say noe.
So let us melt, and make no noise
Nor teares, floods, nor sighes, tempests move,
‘T were prophanation of our ioies
To tell the Laietie of our Love:
Movings o’ th’ earth, cause harmes & feare
Men reckon what they did & ment
But trepidations of the Spheere
Though greater far are innocent.
Dull sublunarie lovers Love
Whose soule is sence, cannot admit
Absence, because, it doth remove
Those thinges that elemented it.
But we by love soe much refin’de
That o[u]r soules know not what it is
Enter - assured of the minde
Carelesse eyes, hands, lips, doe misse.
Our two soules therefor w[hi]ch are one.
Though I must goe, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion
Like Gold to ayerie thinnesse bet.
If there be two, they are two soe
As stiffe twin’d compasses are two
Thy soule the fixt foot makes me show
To move, yet doth if th’other doe.
And tho’ itt in the Center sit
Yet while the other far doth come
It leaves, & harkens, after it
And growes erect, as th[a]t comes home.
Such then be thou to me, who must
Like th’other foote obliquely run
Thy firmenesse makes my circle iust
And makes me end where I begun.
He is starke mad, who ever sayes
That he hath beene in Love one houre.
Yet not, that love soe soone decayes
But if it will, ten in lesse space devoure.
Who will beleeve me if I sweare
That I have had the plague, a yeere.
Who would not laugh at me, if I should say
I saw a flaske of Powder burne a day.
Oh what a trifle is a hart
If once into loves hands it come.
All other greifes allow a part,
To other greifes, and aske themselves but some.
They come to us, but us, love drawes
He swallowes us, and never chawes
By him as by chain’d shot all ranks doe dye.
He is the Tyrant Pyke, our harte’s the frye.
If’t were not soe, what could become
Of my hart when I first saw thee.
When threscore winters shall beseige thy brow
And trench deepe furrowes in th[a]t lovely feild
Thy youths faire Liv’rie soe accounted now
Shall be like rotten weeds, of no worth held.
Then being ask’d where all thy beautie lies
Where’s all the lustre of thy youthfull dayes
To say w[i]thin these hollow-sunken eies,
Were an all-eaten truth, & worthlesse praise.
O how much better were thy beauties use
If thou couldst say, this pretty childe of mine
Saves my account, & makes my old’ excuse
Making his beautie by succession thine.
This were to be new borne, when th[o]u art old
And see thy blood warme, when th[o]u feelst it cold.
Heere sixe foote deepe, in his last sleepe,
Lord Lampas lies.
His end he made, w[i]th his owne blade
Through’s M[ist]r[e]s thighes.
If through th[a]t hole, to heaven he stole
This I dare boldly say
He was the last, who that way past
And first th[a]t found the way
A Table of the Characters
1. Of the Flatterer page 1
2. Of the Covitous page 4.
3. Of the Prodigall page 8
4. Of the Lustfull [?] page 11
5. Of the Braine-sicke page 14
6. Of the Proud page 18
7. Of the Ambitious page 22
8. Of the Timorous - suspitious page. 26.
9. Of the Angry man page 31.
0. Of the Inconstant page 34
 Of the Envious. page 40.
 Of the Idle page 43
 Of the usurer page 47
 Of the Hipocrit page 51
5 Of the Profane page 56
6 Of the vain-glorious page 59.
7 Of the Dremor [?] page 63
8 Of the very-well lo_ [?] Page 67
9 Of the ____dy page 70.
- Full title:
- Characters and Poems selected from various English Authors, about 1630; formerly belonging to Margaret Bellasys, probably the eldest daughter of Thomas, first Lord Fauconberg.
- c. 1630
- Manuscript / Book / Duodecimo / Commonplace book
- William Shakespeare, John Donne, Philip Sidney, William Herbert
- Usage terms
Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.
- Held by
- British Library
- Add MS 10309
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
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