Alan Rudrum, Joseph Black, and Holly Faith Nelson, eds. The Broadview Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Verse and Prose. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2000. 1303pp. ISBN 1 55111 053 9.
University of San Diego
Appelbaum, Robert. "Review of Alan Rudrum, Joseph Black, and Holly Faith Nelson, eds, The Broadview Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Verse and Prose." Early Modern Literary Studies 7.2 (September, 2001): 11.1-6 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/07-2/appelrev.htm>.
The new Broadview anthology of seventeenth-century poetry and prose comes as welcome relief. The volume is huge, over 1300 pages in length, including the writings of over 100 authors, ranging from the big names like Donne and Milton to obscure names like Laurence Clarkson and Mary Howgwill. It includes a large number of female authors, some of whom a number of scholars (beginning with me) will probably have been unfamiliar with: for example, Mary Howgwill, a prophetic writer and Quaker. In spite of its size, however, the anthology is relatively light in weight; it is easy to carry around and easy to use. Unlike, say, the new Riverside Milton, this compendious volume is actually easy on the eyes, and usefully rather than overwhelmingly annotated. Moreover, it has been released at a reasonable price. The Witherspoon and Warnke anthology of the seventeenth century went out of print some time ago, and since then no all-purpose volume on this crucial literary period has been available, although Herschel Baker's still useful The Later Renaissance in England, going up to 1660, has recently been reprinted by Waveland. Those of us who teach the seventeenth century as a period at long last have what we need, in a convenient form, at minimal expense.
Or so it seems. I will myself be using this text the next time I teach a survey of the seventeenth century, but I will be spending a lot of time trying to compensate for the weaknesses of the volume, bringing in texts excluded from the volume, supplementing its generous yet often weightless headnotes with real historical information, and often arguing against the ideological thrust of the book as a whole. Any anthology is likely to be controversial, particularly in the choices of texts it makes. But it is surprising to me that a volume this large, attempting to be as inclusive as this one tries to be, should nevertheless make so many poor choices in its text selection and contextual apparatus, or fail so egregiously to represent the era as an era.
Let me hasten to reiterate that for some purposes the anthology has much to recommend it. The selection of poetry, for example, is just about what most teachers would expect and hope it to be. This includes Lanyer, Jonson, Donne, Herrick, Herbert, Crashaw, Dryden, Bradstreet, Rochester, and Behn. From Herrick we get thirty-eight poems, all the usual joyous stuff and some of the mediocre but telling religious stuff as well. From Rochester we get precisely those pornographic and ostensibly nihilistic poems that have revived interest in him among postmodern scholars. The Milton section judiciously includes all the major lyrics and a complete reproduction of Samson Agonistes, while skipping the epics--which can easily be separately acquired, of course--so as to make room for other works by other authors. Moreover, the selection of female authors is so copious that the volume may render earlier, specialized anthologies of seventeenth century women writers obsolete; and the collection of political writings brings the verse and fiction of the period into a focus that no literary anthology of the period has ever attempted before. The Broadview anthology is a significant resource, not only for undergraduates but for their professors as well.
The poor choices its editors have made, however, along with a somewhat dubious design, are nevertheless glaring deficiencies. So, I think, is the spirit of the volume. I cannot imagine a stuffier version of the seventeenth century. There are no prose fictions of any length in the volume, and, from an age of autobiography, very few lively autobiographical selections. And so, though we get the usual haughty and often off-putting Essays from Bacon, the engaging narrative of New Atlantis is omitted, as is the highly teachable The Man in the Moone by Francis Godwin, or any of the longer fictions (i.e. more than two pages) by Margaret Cavendish. Nor are any satiric prose works from people like Dekker and Middleton included. We have Lucy Hutchinson's autobiography, and excerpts from the autobiographies and diaries of Bunyan, Lady Anne Halkett, and William Laud, the doomed Archbishop. But a number of far more entertaining and almost certainly more relevant autobiographical material is omitted. In a 1300-page volume supposedly representative of the seventeenth century, the Diary of Samuel Pepys is reduced to a single entry, the usual Fire of London sequence. For a volume intended to provide the reader with a sense not only of the high literature of the period but its historical experience, such an omission is unforgivable. Meanwhile, though we get material from the stunningly obtuse William Laud, largely for purposes of historical coverage, the brilliantly sketched and even more historically telling autobiographies of people like Thomas Shepard and Joseph Hall have been omitted, not to mention the notorious, ground-breaking autobiography of (again) Margaret Cavendish. The controversy-stimulating cosmopolitanism of the period is all-but neglected too. Thomas Coryat's awesome description of courtesans and the Jews in Venice (in defense of English xenophobia and prudery) is missing; John Smith's narrative of the starving time in Virginia is missing; John Robinson's letter to the Leyden pilgrims, about to settle in New Plymouth, is missing. But the volume opens with the stuffy epistolary observations of a courtly gentleman at leisure (John Chamberlain), the boring (and de-contextualized) sermon of a divine whose most important work lay in a different area (Lancelot Andrewes), and the stupefyingly dull rehearsal of stereotypes ("characters") by an undistinguished hack (Nicholas Breton).
The problem is manifold. In the first place, the selections are frequently made with an eye toward impressing scholars of various stripes, who have already been educated in the Witherspoon and Warnke version of the period and now need a more inclusive text, than toward engaging students in the texts of what is after all a remote era. Let's face it. The seventeenth century is no longer integral to the English curriculum the way it used to be, and if we are going to make our subject appealing to a wider audience we have to liven things up. On its own terms the literature of the seventeenth century is already lively--this is a decade of controversy and armed conflict, of enormous social change, of the modern revolution in science and the invention of modern political thought. Virginia! New England! The slave trade! Shipwrecks! Half a dozen significant wars of religion, colonial conquest, and trade! Why shouldn't an anthology reflect that (often unpleasant but still very real) vitality? And why shouldn't it reflect that vitality with the needs and experience of the modern undergraduate or beginning graduate student in mind? But apart from the usual still moving and often naughty poems of the age's best poets, and a handful of more dramatic selections from late in the century (excerpts from Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative, for example) what we get from the Broadview Anthology is predominantly a sanctimonious seventeenth century, presided over by High Church divines, sour-grapes-espousing cavaliers, self-righteous Quakers, and (I'm sorry to say this, but there is no other way to put it) prissy women. And what we don't get, for all the careful editorial work, is a sense of context. What we don't get is a sense of the scene of writing of seventeenth-century poetry and prose.
- In some ways, then, the Broadview Anthology is bound to make the college teacher's tasks harder rather than easier. The anthology itself refuses to bring the era to life; it fails to provide a pedagogically useful historical context; it fails to select many of the texts that are most likely to engage not only the beginning student's interest, but even her appreciation of the variety and vitality of the literary culture of the era; and it even often fails to supply interpretatively necessary information. (We hear in the headnote, for example, that Lancelot Andrewes was a politically and theologically neutral divine, which is a lot of hogwash, and then fail to be told that the sermon on "Peace" included in the volume was designed directly to support James I's policy of peace with Spain.) Unfortunately, for all the heroic labours of the editors and the courage and perspicacity of the publisher, we still need a new anthology of seventeenth-century writing.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.
© 2001-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS)