Andrew Carpenter, ed. Verse in English from Tudor and Stuart Ireland. Cork: Cork UP, 2003.

Felicity Henderson
Cambridge University

Henderson, Felicity. Review of Verse in English from Tudor and Stuart Ireland. Early Modern Literary Studies 10.3 (January, 2005) 11.1-7<URL:>.

  1. ‘Pray read and try, / You’l be immerst in pleasure by and by’ (322). So wrote John Chishull in his dedicatory verse to Faithfull Teate’s long devotional poem Ter Tria in 1669 – but the sentence applies equally to Andrew Carpenter’s Verse in English from Tudor and Stuart Ireland. Along with Chishull and Teate’s poems, Carpenter has collected a wide array of verse; and whether it is the ranting of Ralph Birchensa against Irish ‘rebels’, George Brady’s elegy on Katherine, Countess of Cork, or anonymous verses lampooning the senior fellows of Trinity College Dublin, there is certainly something in this anthology to immerse any reader in pleasure.

  2. Some familiar names appear here, including Sir John Harington, Nahum Tate, Katherine Philips, Spenser and, of course, Swift. Several are not normally thought of as Irish poets, and would not have considered themselves as such. Carpenter’s brief introduction to each poet outlines their connections with Ireland, making it clear that this is a collection of verse in English written in or about Ireland rather than English verse written by Irishmen – though of course there is much of the latter in the anthology. Katherine Philips spent a year in Dublin (1662-3), during which she produced her celebrated translation of Pompey. Sir John Harington went to Ireland as a commander of horse in the army led by the Earl of Essex in 1599. As might be expected, their verses reflect widely different experiences of Ireland. Philips’s poetical addresses to her literary friends in Dublin tell of a sophisticated courtly society; Harington’s lines compare the soft life of the English court at home with the privations he has suffered at war in Ireland.

  3. The diversity of the collection, in content, style and author, is one of its strengths. Carpenter has not hesitated to include extracts from longer poems, reproducing enough of Teate’s Ter Tria to demonstrate its charm and hopefully encourage readers to look at the entire text on Early English Books Online. He has also found source material in unusual places. One of the shortest verses is a couplet inscribed ‘on a monument in the church at Gowran, County Kilkenny’ erected by James Keally in 1646 for himself, his two wives and children:
    Both wifves at once alive he could not have:
    Both to injoy at once he made this grave. (263)
    Manuscript collections have provided unique occasional verses, elegies, satires and lampoons, often anonymous. For example, Sir William Petty’s verse miscellany (British Library Add. MS 72899) includes A Letter from a Missionary Bawd in Dublin, to her cheif in London giveing an account of the propogation of lewdness and scandall in Ireland (423). Though Restoration manuscript miscellanies are full of satires on London ladies and their noble lovers, this is apparently the only surviving example from Dublin (where lewdness and scandal flourished at least as well as in London, if the poet can be believed).

  4. Several broad themes run through the diversity of material. Divided chronologically into five parts, from Tudor verse (1485-1603) to verse from Jacobite and Williamite Ireland (1685-1701), the anthology spans a period marked by war and upheaval in Ireland. Such stirring events provoked a range of responses, and those printed here are bitter, mournful, vitriolic, and celebratory in turn. The anonymous author of Ormondes Breakfast cast his report of the Irish royalist army’s defeat at the battle of Rathmines in 1649 in the form of ‘a Dialogue between a Chevalier and a Roundhead’. He begins
    Reader, This is but private Soldiers chat,
    As rough, as is his Amunition Hat:
    Do thou but only looke for Truth & Sence,
    For hee knowes neither wit, nor Eloquence. (284)
    Recounted in plain language by the two soldiers, the fortunes of war take on a grim immediacy, reinforced by the detailed list of ‘Prisnors taken’ that appears in the middle of the poem.

  5. In the course of his snarling attack on the Irish after their defeat at Kinsale in 1601, A Discourse occasioned upon the late defeat, given to the arch-rebels, Tyrone and ODonnel, by . . . Lord Mountjoy, Ralph Birchensa makes it perfectly clear where the blame for Irish rebelliousness lies:
    Idolators, superstitious men,
    False worshippers, sworne slaves unto the Pope,
    Trusting to dreames and fained prophesies,
    Observers of old writs that have no ground:
    More ignorant than beasts are in their kinde,
    Willing to lose what chiefe they ought to finde. (111)
    Attacks such as this litter the anthology. The English hatred and fear of Irish Catholicism is well-documented here, from Birchensa’s vitriol to an anonymous ballad provoked by the hysteria surrounding the Popish Plot, and printed in London in 1682.

  6. Politics and religion are just two of the recurring themes Carpenter outlines in his useful introduction to the volume. He begins by discussing the types of people who were writing in and about Ireland in English during the period, remarks on the most important sources, and picks out some themes for comment and elucidation. The introduction is pitched at an audience not necessarily familiar with the conditions of early-modern verse production in general, or with verse from Ireland in particular. This and the biographical introductions to each poet make the material much more accessible for an undergraduate audience. Carpenter’s extensive explanatory footnotes also aid the interpretation of poems, though in some cases his glosses seem superfluous (for example, ‘Silvan’ is accompanied by the note ‘sylvan, of the woods’ (75)). The list of sources at the end of the book is useful and in some cases extremely interesting, although the information might more helpfully have been presented as footnotes to individual poems.

  7. The minor, miscellaneous and ephemeral verse from Tudor and Stuart Ireland illustrates the period uniquely and vividly. It is also great fun to read. This is a varied collection of energetic and interesting texts, and it deserves a wide readership among scholars of early-modern history and literature.


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© 2005-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).