Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Wntr 1998 v38 n1 p127(21)
Robert Herrick and the Makings of 'Hesperides.'
Abstract: Robert Herrick's poems have been classified as minor poetry due to their alleged lack of uniformity and continuous conscious purpose. However, some of Herrick's critics defended the poet by pointing out to the cohesiveness displayed by his poetry, 'Hesperides' in particular. His defenders further argued that Herrick's 'Hesperides' should be read in its entirety and upon the terms that the poet himself has articulated for it to be appreciated. A reevaluation of Herrick should consider the 'uncertain place' that books of lyric poetry had in 17th-century England.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1998 Rice University
When T. S. Eliot asked "What Is Minor Poetry?" and answered, by way of example, Robert Herrick's poems, he pointed in particular to lack of uniformity in Herrick's work. Contrasting Herrick's poetry and George Herbert's The Temple, where "many of the poems strike us as just as good as those we have met within anthologies," Eliot decided that "there is no such continuous conscious purpose about Herrick's poems."(1) By pronouncing that the aesthetic quality of Herrick's poetry wavers, Eliot echoed a criticism that dates back at least to 1675, when Edward Phillips complained of the book's "trivial passages."(2) Although Eliot's essay states clearly that what he meant "to dispel is any derogatory association connected with the term 'minor poetry,' together with the suggestion that minor poetry is easier to read, or less worth while to read, than 'major poetry,'"(3) a number of Herrick's critics have rushed to his defense by trying to demonstrate that Herrick's poetry, particularly Hesperides, does have a "continuous conscious purpose." As Ann Baynes Coiro writes, the "consensus of recent criticism is that there is some cohesive pattern to Hesperides," and the publication of Coiro's book, Robert Herrick's "Hesperides" and the Epigram Book Tradition, has doubtless reaffirmed and expanded that consensus.(4) Coiro proposes "that Hesperides should be read in its entirety" because Herrick self-consciously fashioned it in "the epigram book tradition" and, maybe more basically, because Herrick's "poetry should be read upon the terms he himself makes explicit."(5) Coiro locates some of these "terms" in "To the soure Reader" (H-6):
IF thou dislik'st the Piece thou light'st on first; Thinke that of All, that I have writ, the worst: But if thou read'st my Booke unto the end, And still do'st this, and that verse, reprehend: O Perverse man! If All disgustfull be, The Extreame Scabbe take thee, and thine, for me.(6)
Several times Coiro cites "To the soure Reader" as evidence that "Herrick intended that his book be read 'unto the end' (H-6) and in sequence,"(7) but the poem is more conditional than imperative. "If" introduces three clauses in these six lines, and each "if" exposes the poet's lack of control over his readers' reception: the first, as Gordon Braden has noted, acknowledges that a reader might "light'st on" any poem at random rather than read the book "in its entirety" and "in sequence";(8) the second "if" clause, far from being a clear authorial injunction, offers reading "my Booke unto the end" as one option within a range of possibilities; and the third, perhaps most surprisingly, equates the sour reader's judgment with actuality - "If All disgustfull be" (rather than "seem") places the fault in the poems themselves rather than in the "Perverse man." By the final line, when the poet sinks to the sour reader's evaluation and ends his poem in a "disgustfull" curse, the poem has clearly displayed how even a sour reader participates in the making (or unmaking) of a book of poetry. Since a number of poems in Hesperides, such as "To the soure Reader," encourage readers to dismiss parts of the book and to shape it to their individuated tastes, defenses of Herrick's book "in its entirety" and "in sequence" seem more fitting as responses to critics like Eliot and Phillips than as responses to Hesperides.
To take another example, "To Cedars," instead of insisting that Hesperides be admired as a whole, hopes that a single poem from the volume might be worth saving:
IF 'mongst my many Poems, I can see One, onely, worthy to be washt by thee: I live for ever; let the rest all lye In dennes of Darkness, or condemn'd to die.
Unlike later critics who argue for, in Coiro's phrase, "the integrity of Hesperides," this poet is perfectly willing to disintegrate his book; as long as "one, onely" be preserved by cedar oil, the rest may be forgotten. The poetry of Hesperides is overwhelmingly concerned with its own survival, and this brief poem identifies some strategies for overcoming the challenges confronting a seventeenth-century book of lyric poems. First, as Hesperides playfully and anxiously restates, "Lines have their Linings, and Bookes their Buckram" (H-559); that is, books not only contain material, they are material. And because the material that they are is perilously fragile, endangering the material they contain, the book depends upon the kindly intervention of readers - and cedars, whose oil might make a piece of paper last. Second, the wish that "one, onely" might survive explains the logic of "many Poems" and of a book of 1,130 heterogeneous works. A sour reader can reject a tightly integrated collection with a single gesture of disapproval, but if, as Leah S. Marcus argues, "Leafing through the 1648 edition itself, we receive a strong, immediate impression of extreme diversity in terms of the book's typography and the length, shape, and subject-matter of individual poems,"(9) then rejection of Hesperides requires many rejections of many, varied works; or, put more positively, a large and diverse collection affords generous readers more opportunities to approve and to rescue "eternall Poetrie" (H-794, line 3) from a book that will almost certainly not be "eternall." An apparent lack of uniformity thus seems less an artistic flaw that must be condemned or that Herrick must be defended from and more a hedge against the instabilities of seventeenth-century material culture, a hedge that indicates the liminal place of Hesperides in a history of printed books.
Elaine Scarry has shown how John Donne frequently refers to the physical existence of his writing,(10) but as unique as Donne may have been in other ways, his contemporaries were also very aware of the materiality of poetry in manuscripts and printed books. In particular, the relative newness of single-author books of poetry in early-seventeenth-century England heightened their awareness of format, as the relative oldness of such books in the twentieth century often dampens ours. For Herrick, this awareness verges on obsession as his poems continually draw attention to the paper and ink of Hesperides. That a volume containing thirteen poems entitled "To His Booke" is conscious of its format hardly needs arguing, but Hesperides meditates specifically on the physical vulnerability of its printed pages. "To the Detracter" begins by fretting about the poems' being scratched:
WHere others love, and praise my Verses; still Thy long-black-Thumb-nail marks 'em out for ill: A fellon take it, or some Whit-flaw come For to unslate, or to untile that thumb! But cry thee Mercy: Exercise thy nailes To scratch or claw, so that thy tongue not railes: Some numbers prurient are, and some of these Are wanton with their itch; scratch, and 'twill please.
"To his Booke" (H-603) also warns of "the cutting Thumb-naile," repeating this poem's uneasiness about transmitting poetry in a medium so easily mutilated. But before crying for "Mercy" and reconceiving scratching so that it becomes a pleasing response to salacious poetry, "To the Detracter" curses the body part that had offended the printed page and attempts to repay physical harm with physical harm. "Another" [To his Booke] fantasizes about an even worse indignity and, like "To the Detracter," curses the offending body part:
WHo with thy leaves shall wipe (at need) The place, where swelling Piles do breed: May every Ill, that bites, or smarts, Perplexe him in his hinder-parts.
Despite (or because of) all of its high-flown convention about the eternalizing power of poetry, Hesperides remains constantly aware of the ignoble uses to which its printed pages may be put. Another "To his Booke" describes the book as a fugitive always fleeing from those who would abuse it:
MAke haste away, and let one be A friendly Patron unto thee: Lest rapt from hence, I see thee lye Torn for the use of Pasetrie: Or see thy injur'd Leaves serve well, To make loose Gownes for Mackarell: Or see the Grocers in a trice, Make hoods of thee to serve out Spice.
Anthologies present Herrick as "the happiest of English poets,"(11) reinforcing his popular image as a carefree lover of May-poles, sack, and imaginary mistresses, but Hesperides is a dangerous world for paper - always on the run from those who would slice it with a thumbnail, smear it with excrement, or wrap fish in it - and is, as a result, filled with dangers for the poetry printed on that paper.
The anxiety Hesperides expresses about its format seems justified because, as a number of historians have chronicled, print did not necessarily confer status or long life, especially to lyric poetry.(12) Arthur F. Marotti states that twentieth-century assumptions about the preservative qualities of print were not universally held in Renaissance England:
Although we associate print with the preservation of texts that, if confined to the system of manuscript transmission, faced the danger of being lost, it is important to recognize that many printed works were conceived of or treated as ephemeral. Especially when published in short octavos and quartos, poetry anthologies and small editions of individual authors had small chance of surviving given how they were treated by contemporary readers ... The treatment of lyric poems as ephemera, encouraged by the circumstances of their original production and reception as well as by their transmission in loose papers by writers who did not necessarily even keep copies of what they had written, carried over into the cultural situation of printed texts as well.(13)
Marotti cites as an example John Lyly's "disingenuous" letter "To the Gentlemen Readers" of Euphues: "Gentlemen use books as gentlewomen handle their flowers, who in the morning stick them in their heads and at night strew them at their heels . . . [A] fashion is but a day's wearing and a book but an hour's reading."(14) Lyly tries to neutralize the physical threat to his book by addressing it explicitly and ironically in his prefatory letter, but the danger is too urgent for Herrick to confine within a preface; his book continually struggles to last longer than "an hour's reading."
In Hesperides such a struggle involves re-imagining the medium. Since paper is an untrustworthy medium for "eternall Poetrie," Herrick strategically reconceives of the poems as inscribed on more permanent substances, substances that could never be used as fish wrap or toilet tissue. Latent within Herrick's selection of the epigram as the predominant poetic form of his book is a desire to preserve his writing on something more lasting than paper, for as George Puttenham's The Arte of English Poesie makes clear, Renaissance poets remembered that epigrams might be written across many more durable surfaces: "this Epigramme is but an inscription or writting made as it were vpon a table, or in a windowe, or vpon the wall or mantell of a chimney in some place of common resort."(15) Coiro notes that "[v]irtually every attempt at a definition of the epigram has been based on its origins carved in stone,"(16) and the epigram's vestigial associations with walls and wood lend stability to the paper of Hesperides. In particular, epitaphs, which Puttenham defines as "a kind of Epigram,"(17) call up the pretense of engraving on stone. "Upon a Wife that dyed mad with Jealousie" takes special care to move the space of the poem from page to grave site:
IN this little Vault she lyes, Here, with all her jealousies: Quiet yet; but if ye make Any noise, they both will wake, And such spirits raise, 'twill then Trouble Death to lay agen.
Herrick's octavo has become "this little Vault"; "Here" no longer means here on page fifty-five of Robert Herrick's Hesperides, but here outside the tomb, so close that "ye" must be "Quiet yet" to avoid waking the dead. That the many epitaphs of Hesperides so often rehearse the conventional formula "here lies" - as in "HEre she lies, a pretty bud" (H-310, line 1), "HEre a pretty Baby lies" (H-640, line 1), "HEre lies a Virgin" (H-764, line 1), "HEre lyes Johnson" (H-910, line 1) - bespeaks not only a preoccupation with death and memorials but also a preoccupation with "here," a printed page that in the fiction of epitaphs can become marble: "THis Stone can tell the story of my life" (H-978, line 1).
In addition to transforming the medium of its poems from paper to stone, Hesperides also conceives of its own poems as monuments certain to outlast their book. "His Poetrie his Pillar" subtly modifies the prevalent Renaissance trope that a poem can be its author's or addressee's concrete memorial:
Behold this living stone, I reare for me, Ne'r to be thrown Downe, envious Time by thee. Pillars let some set up, (If so they please) Here is my hope And my Pyramides.
(H-211, lines 17-24)
"His Poetry his Pillar" has for obvious reasons been linked forward to the last titled poem of Hesperides, "The pillar of Fame" (H1129), but its phrase "living stone" also reaches backward to the book's beginning and William Marshall's frontispiece, which Coiro accurately summarizes: "the bust of a living Herrick is mounted on a monument."(18) Laura Kendrick describes a paradox that sheds light on both the frontispiece and "living stone": "Age and immobility are powerful signs of authority in cultures that value tradition, yet all texts must change or move with the times, must be appropriated and transformed in one way or another, if they are not to become incomprehensible, irrelevant, and useless."(19) Above all else, Hesperides tries to avoid becoming "incomprehensible, irrelevant, and useless"; as Coiro observes, "the immortality of poetry is arguably the most important principle of Herrick's aesthetic."(20) Herrick seems to understand that, like his image on the frontispiece, his poetry must be simultaneously monumental and malleable, stone and living: an author can create a monumental book, but only generations of readers, through their reiterations and appropriations, will keep it alive. And since generations of readers will reiterate and appropriate monuments - precisely as Herrick appropriates the "Pyramides" at the end of his poem - a poet who wants to keep his work "living" should also make it "stone."
Unlike his "son" Robert Herrick, Ben Jonson often seems serenely confident that his Workes (1616) will survive and that he need not please the crowd to ensure its lasting.(21) Jonson might have expected it would be revered exclusively for its plays and poems, but scholars have recently privileged Jonson's book as a founding event in the intertwined histories of print and authorship.(22) Herrick's "Father" (H-575, line 57) and "Saint" (H-604, lines 4, 11) redefined the possibilities of authorial control in his Workes, taking as the artist's province details of book production usually left to artisans. Jonson's book has therefore been identified as a crucial point in the genealogy of print authorship in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, a development in which authors increasingly asserted their proprietary rights by overseeing (authorizing) the publication of their works and in which readers generally became more passive.(23) This trend perhaps culminates in Roland Barthes's famous model of modern authorship and readership, "the pitiless divorce which the literary institution maintains between the producer of the text and its user, between its owner and its customer, between its author and its reader."(24) The gap Barthes describes may have begun to widen significantly during the seventeenth century, but books like Hesperides suggest that it did so by fits and starts. Although Herrick followed Jonson by controlling as much as possible the printing of his book, his awareness of the physical vulnerability of printed books forces him to understand the limits of an author's power both in perfecting a printed book and in governing its reception. Hesperides therefore seems to be a transitional book, a book in which an author alternately asserts his control over his perfected text and then, because he knows that even a perfected book will not necessarily live, relinquishes control to readers who are encouraged to help make the book.
The perfected book is a recurring fantasy of Hesperides, and it is first articulated before the book proper even begins.(25) At the periphery of Hesperides, Herrick - or a first-person singular voice that attempts to identify itself as the author - complains about the book's errata, which were generated, the voice claims, by the printer:
For these Transgressions which thou here dost see, Condemne the Printer, Reader, and not me; Who gave him forth good Grain, though he mistook The Seed; so sow'd these Tares throughout my Book.
In a move worthy of Jonson, this poem extends the authorial voice to a page generally segregated from the "literature" of the book, the page of errata, and it establishes as the author's property "my Book" in an ideal, prelapsarian form, before it was corrupted by an inept printer. At the same time, however, this poem shows a preoccupation with deflecting the condemnation of readers that has little in common with Jonson's ostentatious disdain for most of his readers. Marcus observes that this poem shows "the poet's insistence on surveillance over the book,"(26) but it also shows the poet's uneasy anticipation of his readers' surveillance. The poem is, finally, equivocal about the author's agency: it claims the book for him, and it shows his watchful eye over its production, but the poem's primary purpose, after all, is to admit that even before the book proper has begun, it has got out of its author's control. Given his inability to maintain control in his collaboration with the printer, the author is understandably worried about his collaboration with the "Reader" who stands ready to "Condemne."
As Roger B. Rollin has pointed out, Herrick's eagerness to stave off his readers' condemnation continues throughout Hesperides: "More than most poets of his age - or of any other - Herrick displays not only a heightened awareness of his readers, but a desire to have them respond positively to his book. And if that response can be enhanced by such devices as direct address, authorial marginalia, or the calculated placement of individual poems, Herrick will oblige."(27) Herrick must be so obliging because although a number of poems claim that Hesperides is "perfected," others, like "To Momus," admit that Herrick's book relies on readers for a continuous process of perfecting:
WHo read'st this Book that I have writ, And can'st not mend, but carpe at it: By all the muses! thou shalt be Anathema to it, and me.
Hesperides portrays the role of the printer as simply setting in print a book delivered by the poet in its ideal shape; and as the poem on the errata page demonstrates, the printer sometimes is unable to carry out even that task of accurate transcription. By contrast, Hesperides often requires readers to make improvements to the book as they see fit, thereby making accomplices of potential detractors. "To Momus" expects readers to help perfect the book rather than blame its imperfections, to continue a process of mending that seems to include correcting the work of both printer and poet. "To the generous Reader" leaves no doubt that readers are expected to make allowances for the possible weaknesses in the poetry of Hesperides:
SEe, and not see; and if thou chance t'espie Some Aberrations in my Poetry; Wink at small faults, the greater, ne'rthelesse Hide, and with them, their Fathers nakedness. Let's doe our best, our Watch and Ward to keep: Homer himself, in a long work, may sleep.
Unlike the poem on the errata page, which tells readers to "Condemne the Printer" and then lists the "Tares" he sowed, this poem asks readers to overlook "some Aberrations" and "small faults" attributable to the poet, although it never indicts him by specifying where such aberrations and faults might lie. If the errata page foregrounds the author's surveillance over his work, this poem emphasizes lapses in that surveillance and asks generous readers to compensate for them. To do so, generous readers must take on a dual identity: they are both the poet's lenient judges who "Wink at small faults" and his collaborators who "Hide" "the greater" from readers who might not be so generous; so they must "SEe, and not see." As they blinker themselves and other readers, generous readers mend Herrick's book by selecting the poems it should include, a job usually considered an authorial privilege and very often attributed to Herrick himself.(28) By the end of the poem, when the success of "my Poetry" demands doing "our best," the responsibilities of writer and readers are thoroughly entangled.
The frequent merging of reading and writing in Hesperides illustrates that if the conventions for print authorship had not yet been firmly established in 1648, neither had the closely related conventions of print readership. Renaissance reading habits were intimately linked to writing - in the margins of printed books, but also in readers' own books, their "tables." Peter Beal writes that the seventeenth century "has justly been described as embodying a 'notebook culture,' for the practice of keeping notebooks and commonplace books in general was one of the most widespread activities of the educated classes in contemporary England."(29) Because commonplace books were so prevalent, Max W. Thomas explores how these documents might afford a glimpse into Renaissance concepts of authorship and readership: "It might even be possible to see the compiler of the commonplace book as the paradigm for reading/writing practices in the Renaissance, insofar as the two practices cannot be separated and operate in tandem."(30) Thomas's compiler obscures the distinction between Barthes's author-producer and reader-consumer, for a compiler is "not as someone who acts as a terminus; rather someone who channels the energies of poetic discourse and then reintroduces them into the cultural flow from whence they were written/read."(31) Where Barthes's divorced author and reader are points at either end of a closed segment - author as the origin, producing from nothing, and reader as the end, producing nothing - Thomas's Renaissance compilers are points on a line that stretches to vanishing point in either direction.
This configuration helps make sense of the apparent lack of originality in Hesperides, a book which, as Braden demonstrates, so frequently and shamelessly quotes both the general ideas and specific diction of classical poetry.(32) Braden contends that "spotting these quotations was perhaps the major enterprise of nineteenth-century criticism of Herrick," and he cites as an example an article published by Alfred Pollard in 1898: "Herrick, the most spontaneous of poets, perhaps by virtue of his very spontaneity, acquired a trick of throwing into verse the ideas which met with his approval in his desultory reading - he may be said, indeed, to have kept a poetical commonplace book, his authors supplying the commonplaces and he himself the poetry."(33) Pollard's description makes Herrick's writing a function of his reading; as Thomas puts it, "the structure of poetic authority is based on a reading practice in which authority is derived from other writers."(34) Hence the writer of Hesperides is also an exemplary reader - adapting, translating, redacting other texts and, most importantly, keeping them alive.
As Herrick, in Thomas's terms, derives his authority from other writers, he offers his own writings as a source of authority. Claims to authority in Hesperides tend to be inseparable from invitations to share that authority, a gesture that may be clearest in the many sententiae scattered throughout the poems of Hesperides. In his discussion of Renaissance commonplace books, Beal details "the almost universal taste for such things as proverbs, maxims, apothegms, aphorisms and sententiae - literary forms which were felt to encapsulate, briefly and pithily, universal perceptions and wisdom about human experience, both public and private."(35) Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century humanists taught the value of gathering collections of these sententiae as aids for writing, and Beal adds that authors and printers sometimes marked sententiae for compilers: "there was the practice of certain authors and printers to have anything approaching a sententia in their work deliberately highlighted for special attention by the use of italics, inverted commas, pointing hands in the margin, or other markings."(36) Hesperides draws attention to its sententiae with italics as in "Ambition" (H-661): "IN wayes to greatnesse, think on this, / That slippery all Ambition is." Some epigrams are entirely italicized, such as "Patience in Princes" (H-998): "Kings must not use the Axe for each offence: / Princes cure some faults by their patience." These sententiae do not presume to be original. In fact, italics sometimes indicate the most literal translations and most precise borrowings and, in turn, display them to be translated or borrowed.(37) Exactly when Hesperides makes these oracular pronouncements, its italics offer them back to the "cultural flow" from which they were plucked. Thomas argues that "[t]he impulse to the sententious is an impulse to gather auctoritas, to tap into its didactic power,"(38) but Herrick's sententiae are specifically portable auctoritas: imported from other texts into Hesperides and conspicuously available for export out of Hesperides.
By making some of his poetry easy to cite, Herrick increases the chance that some of it, maybe "one, onely," will survive, especially since some seventeenth-century readers treated their notebooks better than they treated their printed books,(39) but he also relinquishes his authorial right to supervise the proliferation of his poetry. Although those who copy his poetry will feel free to make changes to it as they see fit,(40) these changes seem only to constitute minute, material examples of readerly mending that Hesperides expects and even hopes for, as poems such as "To Sir George Parrie, Doctor of the Civill Law" indicate:
I Have my Laurel Chaplet on my head, If 'monsgt these many Numbers to be read, But one by you be hug'd and cherished.
Peruse my Measures thoroughly, and where Your judgment finds a guilty Poem, there Be you a Judge; but not a Judge severe.
The meane passe by, or over, none contemne; The good applaud: the peccant less condemne, Since Absolution you can give to them.
Stand forth Brave Man, here to the publique sight; And in my Booke now claim a two-fold right: The first as Doctor, and the last as Knight.
Besides repeating Herrick's willingness to dismiss the rest of his book if "But one" poem be "hug'd and cherished," "To Sir George Parrie, Doctor of the Civill Law" uses Parry's occupation to exemplify how an ideal reader might preserve Herrick's poetry: "first as a Doctor," astutely judging which verses need absolving - literally, "loosening from" the book; "and the last as Knight," defending what he has helped create. By ceremoniously bestowing on Parry this "two-fold right," Herrick reveals his uncertainty about the efficacy of the nascent conventions of print authorship and reveals that those conventions developed gradually and haltingly in the seventeenth century. Thirty-two years after his "father" published Workes, a book that proudly declared its status as the author's property and offered nothing but contempt to readers who might like to make changes to an already perfected monument, Herrick seems far less sure that a claim of authority will be self-fulfilling. Since in 1648 generous readers seem at least as likely as authorial audacity to preserve his poems, Herrick occasionally bargains away proprietary privileges - the inheritance his "father" left - to keep his work alive.
Herrick's shrinking of authorial dominion paradoxically entails enlarging his book: attempting to accommodate not only his own wishes but also the wishes of actual and imagined prospective readers necessitates a large and varied collection. Such a collection improves the odds that "one onely Poem" will be transformed by a reader's favor and will survive, a hope repeated at the end of "To Joseph Lord Bishop of Exeter":
If then, (my Lord) to sanctifie my Muse One onely Poem out of all you'l chuse; And mark it for a Rapture nobly writ, 'Tis Good Confirm'd; for you have Bishop't it.
(H-168, lines 7-10)
A book that invites readers to tear any single poem from its printed context need not have "some cohesive pattern," and in fact, Braden implies that Hesperides is incoherent. Comparing Hesperides to Martial's Epigrammata, Braden claims that both books demand anthologizing and that a very long book of very short poems makes reading from start to finish inherently difficult: "Stylistic brevity, by its very nature, exhausts the attention, both of reader and of writer, instead of sustaining it; one is always starting over again, only to go not very far. The result over a long haul tends to be a collection of generally interchangeable poems, largely independent of each other."(41)
Yet Coiro's book demonstrates very convincingly that a number of the poems are neither "interchangeable" nor "independent" but rely on their specific placement within Hesperides. "To the most accomplisht Gentleman Master Michael Oulsworth" (H-1092) provides very strong evidence that Herrick carefully arranged at least some parts of Hesperides because it promises Oldisworth: "That Fame, and Fames rear'd Pillar, thou shalt see / In the next sheet Brave Man to follow thee" (lines 5-6). The poem's clear reference to its place is almost startling; it consoles Oldisworth for putting his poem so near the end of the collection by promising that he can be fixed on "The pillar of Fame" which appears "in the next sheet." As Coiro explains,
We do not see ["The pillar of Fame"] on the next page, however, as the poem might lead us to expect . . . "The pillar of Fame" does indeed follow "To the most accomplisht Gentleman Master Michael Oulsworth" on the next sheet of the gathering as it would have appeared before being folded, bound, and cut. It is therefore a reference to the actual printing process, and this epigram is presumably one of the very last poems Herrick wrote for publication.(42)
Probably more clearly than any other poem in Hesperides, the poem to Oldisworth shows Herrick using a poem's place in the collection, what Neil Fraistat has called its "contexture,"(43) as an additional field of reference to inform the poem. Far from expressing anxiety about its medium, this poem links the production of the book itself to the production of meaning.
But the poems urging readers to take "one onely Poem" from the book make clear that poems in Hesperides do not always require a single, definitive place in Herrick's volume. Consider that, although a dedicatory poem "TO THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS AND Most Hopefull PRINCE CHARLES" precedes Hesperides, "To his Muse" implies that for the future Charles II, Herrick's book would contain only one poem:
GO wooe young Charles not more to looke, Then but to read this in my Booke: How Herrick beggs, if that he can- Not like the Muse; to love the man, Who by the Shepheards, sung (long since) The Starre-led-birth of Charles the Prince.
This poem denies rather than exploits connections to other works within the collection, and it bases the authority of "the man" only on a past oral performance that inevitably eludes a printed book. Alongside poems like the poem to Oldisworth that display - fleetingly - "the integrity of Hesperides" are instances of the book's self-fragmentation: a divided book (Hesperides being only the first part of the volume it shares with Noble Numbers); dispersed objects of desire (Julia, Sapho, Anthea, Corinna, Lucia, Electra, Silvia, and seven more) who are themselves broken in blazons; sententiae set apart from their poems and poems split into sententiae; a book separated from its author's life by the final poem ("To his Book's end this last line he'd have plac't / Jocund his Muse was; but his Life was chast." [H-1130]); that final poem itself, the only one in Hesperides without a title, divided only by white space from "The pillar of Fame," and clearly distinct from the 1,129 poems before it. These and other fissures permit the detachment of disagreeable parts. As "The Scar-fire" (H-61) says of a burning house, "Better tis that one shu'd fall / Then by one, to hazard all" (lines 7-8). Hesperides seems, then, at once integrated and perforated: at times it obviously adheres to an emerging aesthetic that privileges connecting individual poems tightly to their collection; and at other times, because the material practices of reading and writing in seventeenth-century England could threaten the survival of a definitive, authorial design, it allows readers to shape its structure, even allowing them to decide where "Aberrations" and "defects" may lie and which "one onely Poem" may be worth preservation.(44)
Because both of these protocols operate at once, Hesperides cannot be quickly declared "coherent" or "incoherent." With the exception of Braden, recent critics generally do not claim that Hesperides is incoherent, particularly since the publication of John L. Kimmey's often cited article, "Order and Form in Herrick's Hesperides."(45) But a number have attempted to reveal the coherence of Hesperides, and as Claude J. Summers observes in his review of Coiro's book, none has been entirely successful: "Hesperides has defied the repeated attempts of critics to discover its principles of organization and structure."(46) Summers differentiates Coiro's book from the previous "repeated attempts," and he praises it lavishly, calling it "richly rewarding" and "a valuable contribution."(47) But Summers also "quibbles" with some readings, claiming that they slight the book's lyrics and overstate the extent of Herrick's self-parody, and he concludes that the book is "too extreme to command acquiescence in every detail."(48) Coiro's book may seem "too extreme" because, like the earlier "repeated attempts," it presumes to have found a single organizing principle underlying Herrick's thick book. This way of reading Hesperides assumes an author able to ponder 1,130 factorial possible combinations of poems and able to order them so that the resulting resonances compose a grand design. Once the author's agency has been so enlarged - surely beyond human capacity - readers are left only to "discover" (in Summers's word) or "establish" (in Coiro's) the authorial pattern in his book. The single pattern remains elusive, however: readers who claim to have discovered or established the coherence of Hesperides have consistently had difficulty persuading other readers that the problem has been definitively solved. No solution so far fits every poem of Hesperides into one plan, so troublesome loose ends always remain to frustrate the critic who would prove Eliot wrong once and for all by showing that Hesperides is indisputably "coherent."(49)
These attempts to discover Herrick's plan in Hesperides mark the historical and cultural distance between a seventeenth-century book that allows a tremendous degree of agency to readers and a twentieth-century critical practice that allows them almost none. When, for instance, Rollin states that his recent essay "Robert Herrick's Fathers" "brings to light latent patterns of order and meaning in Herrick's collection," he takes no credit for helping to make "patterns of order and meaning," only for bringing them to light.(50) Their critical communities may require them to disavow creativity just as they are exercising it most strenuously, but readers who find Hesperides coherent collaborate with Herrick as "To the generous Reader" enjoins: they "see" (point to poems that fit their patterns) and "not see" (ignore the poems that do not fit). Herrick's contradictory imperative might stand as a succinct prescription for all literary criticism, but Braden objects to this kind of selective vision in his review of Coiro's book. He notes that the book assumes "inclusive authorial wisdom," and he suspects that "the critic is trying too hard to save the phenomena";(51) and indeed, the insistence on coherence does not leave room for authorial lapses as a generous reader should - after all, "Homer himself, in a long work, may sleep." But more generally, that insistence begins to outline how print authorship has developed since 1648, how natural Barthes's "pitiless divorce" became during the intervening centuries. Twentieth-century critical practice typically quarantines "reading" from "reading into," but Hesperides does not always maintain that distinction. From the dedicatory poem, where Prince Charles makes Herrick's poems "Immortall Substances" (line 10), Hesperides often figures reading as transformative, a trope that allows readers to free the poems from the decidedly mortal substances of paper and ink. Critics tend instead to describe their readings as revelatory, and by doing so, they portray in miniature how print authorship expanded between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries and how it circumscribed print readership.
Critics who argue for the coherence of Hesperides attempt not only to reveal an author but to reveal an author who is not "minor." Consequently, much recent criticism of Herrick is characterized by the prefix re-. This criticism argues that we should reconsider, rethink, review the status of Herrick and his Hesperides, and an assertion that Hesperides is coherent supports the argument by making Herrick the author of one large "major" work rather than the author of many small "minor" works. Rollin's introduction to "Trust to Good Verses": Herrick Tercentenary Essays, a collection that has contributed significantly to the "'revisionist' view" of Herrick and Hesperides, is representative:
Taken together, the essays which follow consolidate a "revisionist" view of Robert Herrick. In essence this view maintains that Herrick is a serious and significant artist rather than a minor if skillful craftsman; that his Hesperides is an encyclopedic and ultimately coherent work rather than a miscellany of charming but trivial poems; and that many of these poems exhibit patterns of intellectual significance and emotional depth beneath their polished and seemingly simple surfaces.(52)
In describing this "revisionist" enterprise Rollin refers specifically to famous detractors (notice Eliot's "minor," Phillips's "trivial") and sets up a series of binary oppositions, presumably contrasting the "revisionist view" and an assumed earlier view. But eleven years after the publication of that influential collection of essays, Herrick and Hesperides still apparently had not been sufficiently revised or recovered or redeemed, for Mary Thomas Crane announced that Coiro's book "ought to spark a serious reappraisal and reevaluation of Herrick," again connecting the coherence of Hesperides to the redefinition of what Crane calls Herrick's "uncertain place in our poetic canon."(53)
These attempts to redefine Herrick's place do not, however, question the wisdom of applying standards of coherence to a book written and published while those standards were being actively negotiated. A "serious reappraisal and reevaluation of Herrick" might instead begin with a reappraisal of the "uncertain place" held by books of lyric poetry in seventeenth-century England, because Hesperides - not surprisingly - responds to the challenges of reading and writing in the seventeenth century far more effectively than it conforms to conventions finally fixed only after its publication. Responding to those challenges may even preclude perfect coherence: again, a collection of interdependent poems transmitted in a fragile medium might share a common grave (a recurring image in Hesperides)(54) as a collection of divisible units need not. A thoroughly coherent book, a book in which most, if not all, individual works rely on the significance of a single printed context, would place an all-or-nothing bet on the lasting power of Herrick's medium, the even quality of his poetry, and the indulgent acquiescence of his readers three things Hesperides continually doubts. Herrick's book might rather be described as multiply coherent, permitting multiple readers to participate in the making of multiple patterns. In the words of "Upon the much lamented, Master J. Warr" (H-134), it is "Not one, but many Monuments" (line 8). Reconsidering Herrick's place thus involves recognizing him as something other than the producer of a perfected book and ourselves as something other than its passive recipients; it involves recognizing how Hesperides, as it attempts to forestall its destruction, extends the process of its own making.
1 T. S. Eliot, "What Is Minor Poetry?", in On Poetry and Poets (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1957), pp. 34-51, 42, 43. No italics have been added to this or any other quotation in the essay.
2 Edward Phillips, Theatrum Poetarum, or A Compleat Collection of the Poets (London, 1675), p. 162. See also F. R. Leavis's use of "trivial" to describe some of Herrick's poetry in Revaluation: Tradition and Development in English Poetry (London: Chatto and Windus, 1936), p. 36.
3 Eliot, p. 34.
4 Ann Baynes Coiro, Robert Herrick's "Hesperides" and the Epigram Book Tradition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 3-4.
5 Coiro, pp. 3, 4.
6 Robert Herrick, "To the soure Reader," in The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick, ed. J. Max Patrick (New York: W. W. Norton, 1968), p. 13. Subsequent references to Herrick are from this volume and will be cited parenthetically by poem number.
7 Coiro, p. 118.
8 Gordon Braden, The Classics and English Renaissance Poetry: Three Case Studies (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1978), p. 182.
9 Leah S. Marcus, "Robert Herrick," in The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry, Donne to Marvell, ed. Thomas N. Corns (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), pp. 171-81, 172.
10 Elaine Scarry, "Donne: But yet the body is his book," in Literature and the Body: Essays on Populations and Persons, ed. Elaine Scarry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 70-105, 75-6.
11 The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 2 vols., ed. M. H. Abrams (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993), 1:1354.
12 Elizabeth Eisenstein, for instance, contrasts the longevity of manuscripts and printed books in The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1979), 1:114-5:
By and large, printing required the use of paper - a less durable material than parchment or vellum to begin with, and one that became ever more perishable as the centuries have passed and rag content has diminished. Whereas the scraping and reuse of skin does not obliterate letters completely, the scrapping or reconversion of discarded printed matter leaves no palimpsests behind. When written messages are duplicated in such great abundance that they can be consigned to trash bins or converted into pulp, they are not apt to prompt thoughts about prolonged preservation.
13 Arthur F. Marotti, Manuscript, Print, and the English Renaissance Lyric (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1995), p. 227.
15 George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, ed. Gladys Doidge Willcock and Alice Walker (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1936), p. 54.
16 Coiro, p. 45.
17 Puttenham, p. 56.
18 Coiro, p. 123.
19 Laura Kendrick, "The Monument and the Margin," SAQ 91, 4 (Fall 1992): 835-64, 835.
20 Coiro, p. 15.
21 The central quotation from Horace on the title page of Workes reads " - neque, me ut miretur turba, laboro: Contentus paucis lectoribus" [I do not work so that I might be admired by the crowd; I am content with a few readers]. See Marotti for more on Jonson's "belligerently anticommercial attitude" (p. 241), especially pp. 238-47.
22 See as examples Richard C. Newton, "Jonson and the (Re-) Invention of the Book," in Classic and Cavalier: Essays on Jonson and the Sons of Ben, ed. Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1982), pp. 31-55; Joseph Lowenstein, "The Script in the Marketplace," Representations 12 (Fall 1985): 101-14; and Sara van den Berg, "Ben Jonson and the Ideology of Authorship," in Ben Jonson's 1616 Folio, ed. Jennifer Brady and W. H. Herendeen (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1991), pp. 111-37.
23 Comprehensive accounts of this development, varying in scope, include Eisenstein, Marotti, Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin's The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing, 1450-1800 (trans. David Gerard, ed. Geoffrey Nowell-Smith and David Wootton [London: NLB, 1976]), and Roger Chartier's The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the Fourteenth and Eighteenth Centuries (trans. Lydia G. Cochrane [Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1992]). Readings of significant events in the history of print authorship during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in England include Newton, Lowenstein, van den Berg, Mark Rose's 'The Author as Proprietor: Donaldson v. Becket and the Genealogy of Modern Authorship" (Representations 23 [Summer 1988]: 51-85), Margreta de Grazia's Shakespeare Verbatim: The Reproduction of Authenticity and the 1790 Apparatus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), and my essay, "The Writing Poet: The Descent from Song in The Poems of Mr. John Milton, Both English and Latin (1645)," MiltonS 34 (1996): 179-97.
24 Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1974), p. 4.
25 For other expressions of this fantasy, see "His request to Julia" (H-59), "To Vulcan" (H-613), and "Posting to Printing" (H-1022).
26 Marcus, p. 174.
27 Roger B. Rollin, "Sweet Numbers and Sour Readers: Trends and Perspectives in Herrick Criticism," in "Trust to Good Verses": Herrick Tercentenary Essays, ed. Roger B. Rollin and J. Max Patrick (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1978), pp. 3-11, 6.
28 Coiro writes: "Robert Herrick is the only Renaissance poet who gathered together the work of his lifetime into one polished, self-presented and self-presenting volume" (p. 4). Marotti, citing Coiro, also emphasizes Herrick's selecting the works of Hesperides (p. 262).
29 Peter Beal, "Notions in Garrison: The Seventeenth-Century Commonplace Book," in New Ways of Looking at Old Texts: Papers of the Renaissance English Text Society, 1985-1991, ed. W. Speed Hill (Binghamton: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1993), pp. 131-47, 131.
30 Max W. Thomas, "Reading and Writing the Renaissance Commonplace Book: A Question of Authorship?", in The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature, ed. Martha Woodmansee and Peter Jaszi (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1994), pp. 401-15, 415.
32 Braden, The Classics and English Renaissance Poetry, pp. 154-254. On the larger vexed issues of authorship and "originality" during the Renaissance, see Harold Ogden White, Plagiarism and Imitation During the English Renaissance: A Study in Critical Distinctions (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1935); Stephen Orgel, "The Renaissance Artist as Plagiarist," ELH 48, 3 (Fall 1981): 476-95; and Jean-Claude Carron, "Imitation and Intertextuality in the Renaissance," NLH 19, 3 (Spring 1988): 565-79.
33 Quoted by Braden, The Classics and English Renaissance Poetry, p. 173.
34 Thomas, pp. 411-2.
35 Beal, p. 135.
36 Beal, pp. 135-6.
37 Braden argues that since italics do not always indicate translations, they "are not a tip to the researcher" (The Classics and English Renaissance Poetry, p. 174). They are instead, as Beal suggests, a tip to the compiler, who would expect - rightly - that many italicized sententiae would be englished fragments of classical literature.
38 Thomas, p. 415.
39 Beal cites the example of Edward Pudsey, who asked in his will for special care to be taken of his notebooks (p. 133).
40 Beal writes: "I know of no example of two commonplace books being an exact duplication of one another. Somehow, inevitably, the personality of the writer or compiler will interpose, varying his selection, changing or annotating the text or adding further material" (p. 133).
41 Braden, The Classics and English Renaissance Poetry, p. 181.
42 Coiro, p. 142.
43 For Neil Fraistat's discussion of "contexture," see his "Introduction: The Place of the Book and the Book as Place," in Poems in Their Place: The Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections, ed. Neil Fraistat (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1986), pp. 3-17.
44 Herrick could have learned from Martial and other classical poets to allow readers to participate in the structuring of Hesperides. Braden quotes and translates from Epigrammata:
Si nimius uideor seraque coronide longus esse liber, legito pauca: libellus ero. terque quaterque mihi finitur carmine paruo pagina: fac tibi quam cupis ipse breuem. [10.1]
[If I seem too big, a long book with a delayed conclusion, just read selections, and I'll turn into a booklet. Quite a few pages end with a short poem - make me as small as you like.]
(The Classics and English Renaissance Poetry, p. 181)
45 John L. Kimmey, "Order and Form in Herrick's Hesperides," JEGP 70, 2 (April 1971): 255-68. Coiro states that her book is "following John L. Kimmey's seminal argument" (p. 3). Leah S. Marcus's recent book, Unediting the Renaissance: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), continues the work of Kimmey and Coiro by arguing that Hesperides and Noble Numbers are "part[s] of a single whole" (p. 187). Unlike earlier critics, however, Marcus is acutely sensitive to the materiality of Herrick's book - she notes that "the title page of Noble Numbers is the final leaf of the same octavo gathering as the last pages of Hesperides proper" (p. 187) - and, rather than simply claiming Hesperides is integrated, she suggests that "modern edited versions" tend to overstate the "authorial stability" of a book that vacillates "between exuberant revelry in the newly discovered pleasures of printed authorship and retreat into willed anonymity" (p. 192).
46 Claude J. Summers, review of Robert Herrick's "Hesperides" and the Epigram Book Tradition by Ann Baynes Coiro, ELN 27, 3 (March 1990): pp. 80-82, 80.
47 Summers, p. 82.
49 The reviews of Coiro's book indicate that not even the most comprehensive and ambitious attempt to date can resolve all of the nagging problems of coherence in Hesperides. In addition to Summers's review, see Braden's review in CLS 27, 2 (1990): 172-5, and Mary Thomas Crane's review in RenQ 42, 2 (Summer 1989): 363-5.
50 Rollin, "Robert Herrick's Fathers," SEL 34, 1 (Winter 1994): 41-60, 41.
51 Braden, review, p. 174.
52 Rollin, "Sweet Numbers," p. 3.
53 Crane, p. 363.
54 See, for example, "A Country life: To his Brother, Master Thomas Herrick" (H-106), "Upon the death of his Sparrow. An Elegie" (H-256), "The Entertainment: or, Porch-verse, at the Marriage of Master Henry Northly, and the most witty Mistresse Lettice Yard" (H-313), "His Winding-sheet" (H-515), and "To Electra" (H-875).
Randall Ingram is assistant professor of English at Davidson College. He is writing a book on seventeenth-century English books of poems.