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17th and 18th Century Poetry from the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds

Editorial Board:

  • Chris Sheppard, Curator of Manuscripts, the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds
  • Professor Paul Hammond, Department of English, University of Leeds
  • Professor Laura Runge, Department of English, University of South Florida
  • Professor Nigel Smith, Department of English, Princeton University
  • Many thanks to the late Professor Harold Love (Emeritus Professor in the School of Literary, Visual and Performance Studies, Monash University) for his valuable contribution to this project.

Source Library:

The Brotherton Library, University of Leeds

Nature of the Material:

Original manuscripts from the Brotherton Library Collection of 17th and 18th century verse. All of the manuscripts have been captured in their entirety. Most of the volumes contain verse. All of the manuscripts have been described and indexed in general terms and all of the verse is accessible through the integrated BCSMV database.

Scope of Collection:

This groundbreaking project offers literary scholars the opportunity to examine complete facsimile images of 190 manuscripts of 17th and 18th century verse held in the celebrated Brotherton Collection at the University of Leeds. These manuscripts can be read and explored in conjunction with the powerful BCMSV database, described in a survey of first-line indices for poetry of the long eighteenth century (c.1660-1830), as "the most sophisticated and flexible index yet created for a collection of manuscript poetry". The database includes first lines, last lines, attribution, author, title, date, length, verse form, content and bibliographic references for over 6,600 poems within the collection.

The 'content' field contains a summary of the subject matter and/or genre of the poem, in the cataloguer's own words and is especially helpful when searching for themes. An attempt has been made to use the same terms for the same concepts and to include terms such as 'love', 'religious', 'satire', 'pastoral'. Also noted are proper names central to the subject of the poem, and classical or biblical sources.

There are verses by Colvil, Dryden, Fairfax, Marvell, Pope, Rochester, Swift, and others, as well as anonymous items, popular tags and epitaphs. Many of the manuscripts are miscellanies and commonplace books which have never previously been indexed and made available. Much of the poetry is unpublished or appears with significantly differences in manuscript.

Sample volumes include Patrick Cary’s beautifully illustrated Ballades dedicated to the Lady Victoria Uvedale, containing 13 secular verses each preceded with an illustration by Cary and a couplet caption (Lt 68); and Lady Hester Pulter's Poems breathed forth by the nobel Hadassas - a collection of poetry, c.1645-1665 (Lt q 32), comprising a single volume and several loose sheets, predominantly in a scribal hand with insertions and revisions in two other hands, one perhaps autograph. It also includes part of a novel, The Unfortunate Florinda.

For a later period there is Lt 54 – a poetical miscellany in four hands, c.1680-95, which is a substantial book of 463 pages, obviously prepared for a wealthy patron, starting with a 10 page copy of Dryden’s Mac-Fleckno; and a poetical commonplace book (Lt 103), in several hands, c.1740-1804, partly compiled by Eliza Marriott, and with poems by Mrs Carter, William Mason, Thomas Yalden, Henry Lemoine, William Hutton, Frederick Howard, Joseph Trapp and Alexander Pope.

Alongside original compositions are painstakingly copied verses, translations, songs and riddles. The whole collection is situated within an assortment of manuscripts, some entirely dedicated to poetry, while others contain medicinal recipes, household accounts, draft letters, musical scores and plays. There are also several printed works, with handwritten verse additions.

In addition to being a valuable source for literary scholars, the collection will also be of great interest to social, political and cultural historians. It is rich in verse satires and these are often more frank and outspoken than their printed counterparts, which had to be heavily censored to avoid recriminations. Manuscript verse satires circulated within close groups of friends avoided the need for such prudence. The manuscripts are also full of information concerning the tastes and interests of their owners.

Full listings of the manuscripts, manuscript types, authors, first lines, verse titles and colour images available can be found via the Contents page in the online edition. Please sign up for a free trial to examine the contents thoroughly.

The manuscripts and verses are introduced by essays produced by members of our Editorial Board. Biographical details of key authors are available and there is a section on palaeography, providing transcriptions and alphabets of 17th century texts.

'On the Use of First-Line Indices for Researching English Poetry of the Long Eighteenth Century, c. 1660-1830, with Special Reference to Women Poets' by Michael Londry, 2004, from The Library: The Transactions of the Bibliographic Society, Volume 5, No.1, pp. 12-38 (please see this link for further details).