Poems by Shakespeare, Donne and others in Margaret Bellasys's commonplace book, c. 1630


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)

A number of Shakespeare’s sonnets have been found in commonplace books from the 1620s and 30s, and Sonnet 2 appears far more than any others.

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

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.


     Spes Altera

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.


     Comit. Somers:

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.

[1]0.   Of the Inconstant page 34

[11]    Of the Envious. page 40.

[12]    Of the Idle page 43

[13]    Of the usurer page 47

[14]    Of the Hipocrit page 51

[1]5    Of the Profane page 56

[1]6    Of the vain-glorious page 59.

[1]7    Of the Dremor [?] page 63

[1]8    Of the very-well lo_ [?] Page 67

[1]9    Of the ____dy page 70.

Margarett Bellasys:

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

Full catalogue details

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