"Making the Miscellany"

RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage reviews books, reports, new periodicals, databases, websites, blogs, and other electronic resources, as well as exhibition, book, and auction catalogs pertaining directly and indirectly to the fields of rare book librarianship, manuscripts curatorship, archives management, and special collections administration. Publishers, librarians, and archivists are asked to send appropriate publications for review or notice to the Reviews Editor.

Megan Heffernan. Making the Miscellany: Poetry, Print, and the History of the Book in Early Modern England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021. Hardcover, 336p. $65.00. (ISBN: 978-0-812-25280-4). Published in co-operation with the Folger Shakespeare Library. Reviewed by Elizabeth DeBold.

Studies of early print culture are often divided in focusing on either form or content when considering the cultural impact of print. Megan Heffernan, in a richly complex offering on the recursive relationship between poetry and the book in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, balances handily between literary and material analyses to show how both contributed to the birth and theorizing of the poetic miscellany as a genre. Heffernan, currently an Associate Professor of English at DePaul University, has focused her career on these intersections of physical form and literary arrangement, and has published widely on miscellaneity, manuscripts, fragments, and printing. She is currently working on her second book project, titled Resilient Books: Archival Science in an Age of Precarity, which focuses on the history of conservation.

In consideration of printed miscellanies, Making the Miscellany argues that we must attend to not just the (often anonymous) poets, nor solely the influence of the other silent agents of bookmaking who participated in their creation in early modern England, but both simultaneously. Poetic compilers, she argues, were hugely influential in a way that has heretofore been only briefly considered, just as the poets themselves exerted comparable influence on the format of these books. In tracing the overlapping literary and material histories of poetic design, her argument for the intentionality of the miscellany's "mixture and disorder" becomes clear. Heffernan brings components of manuscript studies to bear in her deft analysis of printed works, focusing in depth on their contextual reading. While the idea of miscellaneity may today seem straightforward, it was in fact the design choices made at this crucial point in time, when the story we tell today is so often about the birth of authorical agency, which have contributed to how people have thought about miscellaneity from the eighteenth century onwards. Heffernan reads these poetic compilations at both a micro- and macro- level, considering how poems were arranged and combined as individuals and as larger textual bodies; the ornaments, headings, and other printed companions appearing on their pages; and how they absorbed and reflected one anothers' influence. Her work is a crucial contribution to literary analyses that have tended to disregard the influence of printers and manuscript makers, as well as to histories of the book that have not fully considered the responses and pressures of authors and editors to the printed texts.

Divided into five sections, plus one brief coda, Heffernan moves forward in time from the sixteenth century through the beginning of the seventeenth, examining several key case studies. Her first chapter, "Plain Parcels," examines the hugely influential "Songes and Sonnettes," originally compiled by legal printer Richard Tottel beginning in 1557. Heffernan examines the creation of "Songes and Sonnettes" in light of both its poetic form and its existance as a collection of poetry. Heffernan acknowledges the book's importance in the history of literary analysis, but also views its arrangement as a printer's response to poetic form; she notes that Tottel's exploratory, experimental arrangement "urges a critical method that can reunite modes of poetic and textual interpretation in a formal history of the book." She reads the textual layout and arrangement of these compiled poems carefully, noting the "pressure that the plain design of the printed book placed on the formal composition of individual poems." Tottel's printing added a descriptive, summarizing heading over each verse, which Heffernan views as making links and continuities between the poems he arranged. Revisiting and comparing this sixteenth-century book to its nineteenth-century edition produced by critic and forger John Payne Collier, Heffernan uses this chapter to show how later editions, and a later understanding of the miscellany as a genre, obscured these earlier experimentations and the contributions of Tottel and his contemporaries. Chapter 2, "Stationers' Figutes,"  holds Tottel's "Songes and Sonnettes" up against other poetic publications from the sixteenth century. Resisting the traditional narrative that places authors and authorship at the center of discussions about poetry at this time, Heffernan widens her net and argues that compilers, printers, and other bookish agents crafted the structure of their physical volumes as a response to their very content. Crucially, she points out that many printers sought to create books that would be protected from those who engaged in "commonplacing;" cutting up texts, or even copying texts out, as individual pieces from the whole. Heffernan focuses the reader's attention on the influence of the printed book on the practice of compiling poems.

In chapter 3, "Gascoigne's Inventions," she moves to consider the relationships between poetry and textual arrangement in two editions of George Gascoigne's poetry, which Heffernan argues shows a response to the "essential disorder of early printed books." She concludes that ultimately, authorial identity may be found "in the service of the textual object, not the other way around." Chapter 4, "These Ensuing Sonnets," turns to the 1590s, the point in time when compilations of sonnets were at their most popular. Heffernan here examines several different poets, publishers, and printed books, including Sidney's editions (and his sister Mary Sidney Herbert's later interventions), and Samuel Daniel's "Delia." Here, she notes, the numbering and index-oriented system of wayfinding for readers provided a different type of arrangement; one which hid the work of compiling, now preceded by the author's will. Chapter 5, "Books Called Poems," moves into the seventeenth century to examine the work of printer John Marriott, but also to consider the influences and habits of the creators of manuscript miscellanies. Here, Heffernan focuses on the poems of John Donne and, briefly, William Shakespeare. In examining the way that Donne's poetry, only compiled in print posthumously, was arranged and used to memorialize the poet, Heffernan finds the beginning of a new, "flexible model of authorship" used to make connections between potentially disparate poems. Making the Miscellany concludes with a brief consideration of the fierce debates surrounding the editing of Shakespeare's poems in the eighteenth century. Re-ordered through a later, more modern idea about how textual design ought to reflect a more authentic authorial intent, further hiding the more fluid and inventive contributions of earlier compilers.

Heffernan's work is not an introductory text, and those seeking a general explanation of miscellanies, the history of printing, manuscript circulation, textual editing, and other similar themes should seek elsewhere and return later. Readers without a strong background in sixteenth-century poetry or literary analysis may wish to support their reading with some additional contextualization, too. Heffernan’s mingling and interpretation of print and manuscript sources and how they speak to one another, sometimes a point of difficulty for bibliographers or historians of the book, is exceptional. However, it is also worth noting that this is a book primarily focused on print miscellanies; while potentially useful for those working on manuscript, it does not provide a full explanation of potential issues involved in manuscript arrangement (nor does it claim to).

Generally, Heffernan’s contribution knits together not only an early modern bookscape, which in her telling no longer seeks to divorce poets from printers, but many wider and at times too-often disjointed fields. Making the Miscellany is a wonderful contribution to both literary analysis and the history of the book. Her carefully constructed methodological offerings are well-timed to work with other new bibliographical methods, and scholars of which will doubtless use them in concert. While she notes that playbooks have had a similar treatment to that which she now provides for poetic miscellanies, other genres and publications will certainly benefit from a deeper consideration of how form and content inform and play upon one another at other times and places. As a complex, advanced piece of scholarship, this is crucial for book historians, bibliographers, and literary historians. Her surfacing of the different library collections she used, in both captions and the main text, is particularly commendable, leading to further questions about how we view miscellanies in our present day through both institutional and private collections. A truly interdisciplinary triumph of the highest degree.

- Elizabeth DeBold, Newcastle University

Note: the reviewer is a former employee of the Folger Shakespeare Library, and was present while Dr. Heffernan was conducting research for this monograph on a long-term fellowship.