The Sole Edition of Aphra Behn’s “Miscellany” –With Intriguing Contemporary Provenance & Annotations

Behn, Aphra (1640-1689); Rochester, Wilmot, John, Earl (1648-80); et al.

Miscellany, being a collection of poems by several hands. Together with reflections on morality, or Seneca unmasqued.

London: printed for J. Hindmarsh, 1685


Octavo: 18 x 11 cm. [16], 299[1], [14], 301-382 pp. Collation: A4, a4, B-U8, X4, Y-Z8, Aa-Cc8, Dd2 (with blank leaf a4) Complete.


Bound in contemporary English black morocco, boards panel-tooled in gilt, full gilt back, edges and dentelles rolled in gilt, unlettered, original nonpareil endpapers present, AEG. Wear to extremities, minor chipping to caps, joints worn and just starting, but which remain sound and functional. Interior: Intermittent pale damp, more pronounced to last three gatherings, paper flaw to tail fore-corner of N3, just touching a couple letters, small hole affecting a letter to D5, some ink bleed-through of manuscript corrections.

An important poetical miscellany, compiled and edited by Aphra Behn. The collection includes 12 poems by Behn as well as her prose translation and reworking of La Rochefoucauld's  “Maximes” entitled “Seneca Unmasqued.” Behn is also the author of the six-page dedicatory letter to Sir William Clifton.

This volume –together with “Poems on Several Occasions”(1684) and “Lycidus” (1688)- is one of only three lifetime publications by Behn to include a substantial number of her poems. It is of further interest for the inclusion of five poems by other women writers: three songs written by “Mrs. Taylor”, who has been tentatively identified as Elizabeth Taylor, later Mrs. Elizabeth Wythens (see Kissing the Rod, pp. 294-5, and below), and two poems by “A Lady of Quality”. Among the other original contributions to this miscellany are poems by the Earl of Rochester, the Earl of Dorset, George Etherege, Thomas Otway, Nahum Tate,

Thomas Creech, H. Crisp of King's College, Cambridge; there are a number of imitations or translations of Horace, Ovid, Catullus, and Tibullus.

Provenance & Annotations:

This copy has manuscript corrections to the poems of Henry Crisp (Crispe), about whom very little is known. Born at Canterbury circa 1656, he was admitted to King’s College, Cambridge from Eton in 1676 and became a fellow there in 1680; in December 1685 he was ordained and thereafter served in rural parishes until his death on the 23 February, 1736-1737. His poetry has received very little study, but the annotations in this copy allow us to attribute with relative confidence two formerly anonymous poems to the canon of his work (“On the University of Cambridge: a Dialogue between Tutor and Pupil,” dated 1684, and “Corina Enjoyed,” a translation from Ovid’s Amores), and to suggest more cautiously a third, “A Letter from one in the University to his Friend in the Country,” which is significantly corrected (but not initialled) and fits his circumstances in the first half of the 1680s, shortly before his departure from the University. That Crisp’s name is concealed for some poems while he is identified in print for others may be explained by the provocative content of his anonymous verse: “Corina Enjoyed” is rather more lewd than his other translations in this collection, while “On the University of Cambridge” contains sharply critical comments on two contemporary figures at the University, including the Vice Chancellor of 1683-1684, Henry James, described as a man “scarce fit to govern boys” (p. 246). Although the publisher has omitted the names of those denounced, their initials have been added to this copy by the well-informed annotator, allowing at least one of them to be identified.

Aphra Behn's Contributions:

The twelve poems by Behn, in the order in which they appear in the Miscellany, are:

1. On the Death of the late Earl of Rochester, By Mrs. A.B. “Mourn, Mourn, ye Muses, all your loss deplore,” (5 stanzas, 85 lines) (pp. 45-49)

2. A Letter to Mr. Creech at Oxford, Written in the last great Frost “Daphnis, because I am your debtor” (83 lines with a 13 line “Postscript”) [without printed attribution to Behn]

3. Song, By Mrs. A.B. “Cease, cease, Aminta to complain” (3 stanzas, 24 lines)

4. A Song, By Mrs. A.B. “While, Iris, I at distance gaze,” (3 stanzas, 24 lines) 

5. A Paraphrase on the Lord’s Prayer. By Mrs. A.B. “Our Father, O Wondrous condescention of a God!” (11 stanzas, 120 lines)

6. Selinda and Cloris, Made in an Entertainment at Court. By Mrs. A.B. “Selinda. As young Selinda led her Flock,” (12 stanzas, 84 lines)

7. A Pindaric to Mr. P. who sings finely. By Mrs. A.B. “Damon, although you waste in vain,” (2 stanzas, 35 lines)

8. On the Author of that Excellent Book Intituled The Way to Health, Long Life, and Happiness. By Mrs. A. B. “Hail Learned Bard! Who dost thy power dispence,” (66 lines)

9. Epitaph on the Tombstone of a Child, the last of Seven that died before. By Mrs. A.B. “This Little, Silent, Gloomy Monument,” (14 lines)

10. Epilogue to the Jealous Lovers. By Mrs. A Behn. “And how, and how, Mesieurs! What do you say” (27 lines)

11. Ovid to Julia. A Letter, By an unknown hand. “Fair Royal Maid, permit a Youth undone” (90 lines) [without printed attribution to Behn]

12. A Pastoral to Mr. Stafford, Under the Name of Silvio, on his Translation of the Death of Camilla: Out of Virgil. By Mrs. Behn. Thyrsis and Amarillis. “Thirsis. Why Amarillis dost thou walk alone,” (13 stanzas, 140 lines)

The poem "A Letter to Mr. Creech at Oxford, written in the last great Frost." refers to a note intended to be left for Creech at Jacob Tonson's bookshop, but not delivered because of a coaching accident. The poem "Ovid to Julia.  A letter, by an unknown hand.” was later was reprinted with substantive variations as "Bajazet to Gloriana." Bajazet is identified as John Sheffield, Lord Mulgrave, and Gloriana as Princess Anne, whom he sought to marry.  

The “Miscellany” (1685):

“In the 1680s Aphra Behn published widely in many genres, including fiction, poetry, and drama; she also edited Miscellany (1685) and Lycidus (1688), two miscellanies which included poetry and poetic translations by a number of contributors. By editing miscellanies, Behn demonstrated her membership in a number of literary circles and her professional investment in literary production. The range of contributors to Behn's volumes, the subjects of the poems included, and their placement in relation to each other in the miscellanies, suggest that Behn was deliberately defining her place in political and literary culture. Behn's selection and arrangement of the contents both construct and reveal relationships between Behn's works and texts by others, indicating the extent to which Behn was an important participant in the political and literary culture of the 1680s…

“As an editor of print miscellanies, Behn reflects on her own position as a playwright, translator, lyric poet, political poet, and editor, presenting herself as a poet who is "friends" with her contributors, who include well-known poets and dramatists. Behn's miscellanies have been significant sources of copy-texts for editors of her contemporaries; poems by Rochester, Dorset, George Etherege, Thomas Otway, and Nahum Tate first appeared in print in Behn's miscellanies. Behn also, however, reached outside these literary circles to collect and incorporate works by women other than herself. While emphasizing her own position within a system of professional and public literary production, no matter how tangential, disputed, or insecure it may have been, Behn also opened space in her collection to writers whose works circulated in nonprofessional, more "private" networks. Her miscellanies increasingly placed works by women writers in poetic exchanges in which both men and women take part, and in which women are subjects as well as objects. Some of Behn's own poems take part in poetic dialogues, and their contexts can offer new perspectives for understanding them…

“Behn published ‘Miscellany’ in 1685, a year after the first volume of the influential Dryden-Tonson ‘Miscellany Poems’. Although Behn's name is not on the title page of ‘Miscellany’, her centrality to the volume as editor, contributor and subject is made clear. She signs the dedication to Sir William Clifton, "A. Behn." Her name, as "Mrs. Behn" and "Mrs. A.B.," appears frequently in the Table of Contents, as author of poems, songs, and translations. The collection also incorporates a poem addressed to Behn, under her poetic sobriquet of "Astrea," though it is not placed at the beginning of the volume as a commendatory poem… The last third of the volume, Behn's translation from the French of Rochefoucauld's ‘Maximes’, is entitled ‘Reflections on Morality, or Seneca Unmasqued’ and preceded by a long preface addressed to ‘Lysander.’…

“In spite of the heterogeneous nature of the collection, a significant number of the pieces in ‘Miscellany’ are poems by, about, or addressed to Behn's personal, literary, and political friends and associates; overall the volume incorporates several patterns and thematic clusters of works focusing particularly on love, politics, and poetics…

“Pastoral poems on love, both romantic and erotic, are important in ‘Miscellany’; many are translations of passages from Ovid, Horace, Catullus, and Propertius, some of which include satiric attacks on women. Six of the first eight poems deal with heterosexual desire and love. The first three pieces are anonymous translations by Latin authors, followed by a wedding pastoral and a verse letter counseling marriage.

“The eighth poem is ‘Song, By the Earl of Rochester,’ (‘My dear Mistris has a heart’). This poem has not been found in any text predating Rochester's death and its first known appearance in print or manuscript is in Behn's volume. In spite of Behn's connections with Rochester, this ‘Song’ is the only poem by Rochester which Behn includes in either of her miscellanies of the 1680s.

“At this point, the Table of Contents registers an interesting transition, identifying the next poem thus: ‘Poems on several occasions, by several hands: On the Death of the late Earl of Rochester. By Mrs. A.B.’. On page 45, where Behn's elegy begins, ‘Poems on several Occasions, by several hands:’ appears in large roman type while the rest of the title is in smaller italic type, the typography indicating a new section heading or subtitle, though the pagination is continuous. The elegy on Rochester's death is the first poem by Behn to appear in the collection and seems to signal a second beginning of the miscellany.

A significant literary relationship commemorated in ‘Miscellany’ is Behn's friendship with Rochester and his associates. The volume includes not only the ‘Song’ by Rochester and Behn's elegy on his death, but another elegy, ‘On the Death of the Earl of Rochester. By an Unknown Hand’ (136-9). Two manuscript collections of poetry attribute this piece to Sir Francis Fane, who had written a masque included in the published version of Rochester's Valentinian (1685), for which Behn supplied a prologue. In 1686 Behn contributed a commendatory poem to Fane's tragedy ‘The Sacrifice’, which she later included in Lycidus.

“Other literary relationships represented are Behn's associations with playwrights and court poets. The volume includes Edward Howard's pindaric to Behn, thanking her for the commendatory poem she had contributed to his unsuccessful play ‘The Six Day's Wonder, or The New Eutopia’ in 1671 (probably from that period), Behn's ‘Selinda and Cloris, made in an Entertainment at Court’ and her ‘Epilogue’ to Thomas Randolph's ‘The Jealous Lovers.’ There is a ‘Song’ by Dorset (‘Let the ambitious favour find’) and another by Etherege (‘Ye happy swains whose hearts are free’). But Miscellany includes many fewer theatrical pieces than does Covent Garden Drolery, perhaps because Behn was writing less often for the theatre after the two acting companies united in 1682.

“In addition to her associates at court, Behn knew a number of men associated with Oxford and Cambridge. The most well-known academic figure mentioned in the volume is Thomas Creech of Oxford, addressee of Behn's familiar ‘Letter to Mr. Creech,’ and translator of Lucretius' ‘De Rerum Natura’ in 1682, to the second edition of which in 1683 Behn had contributed a commendatory poem. Several poems in the volume refer to the interest in Lucretius' ideas which Creech's translation had popularized. ‘Miscellany’ prints six passages from Horace's Odes which Creech had not included in his translation published in 1684. The first passage is entitled ‘Out of Horace, omitted in Mr. Creech. Ode 3. Book 3.’ Included among subsequent poems are five other passages that Creech omitted from Horace because of ‘the Modesty of the Youth’. Because Creech uses different poetic forms for each ode it is not easy to judge from internal evidence if Creech supplied Behn with these passages for her ‘Miscellany.’

“Behn's ‘Miscellany’ is different from other contemporary printed miscellanies in its inclusion of numerous works by women. Behn contributes twelve poems, the ‘Epistle Dedicatory’ at the beginning of the volume, and the ‘Preface’ to and translation of ‘Seneca Unmasqued’. There are five poems by other women, two of whom are not named. One poem is ‘The Female Wits, A Song, By a Lady of Quality.’ The title ‘Verses made by Sappho, done from the Greek by Boileau, and from the French by a Lady of Quality’ emphasizes women's simultaneous attraction to, and alienation from, the classics. Sappho, frequently invoked as both model and warning for women poets, could be read by most women only in translation.

“The only signed poems by a woman other than Behn are three poems by ‘Mrs. Taylor,’ about whose identity there is some uncertainty. In ‘A Dictionary of British and American Women Writers 1660-1800’ Janet Todd suggests ‘Mrs. Taylor’ is Behn without arguing why Behn might have wanted to publish three fairly conventional poems pseudonymously in a collection which includes so much of her own acknowledged work. Jeslyn Medoff identifies Mrs. Taylor as ‘Elizabeth Taylor (later Mrs. Wythens and then Mrs. Colepepper,)’ as does ‘The Feminist Companion to Literature’, giving Mrs. Taylor's sobriquet as ‘Olinda.’ Margaret Ezell notes that a contemporary manuscript miscellany includes poems by ‘Mrs. Taylor,’ who ‘may, or may not be’ the same Mrs. Taylor. Altogether, Behn's ‘Miscellany’ includes works by three women poets (or possibly four, if there are two different ‘Ladies of Quality’).

“Behn's poems cover a wide range, including love lyrics, elegies, and pastoral dialogues. Most poems by other women focus on love--its attractions and dangers. ‘Verses made by Sappho,’ a love lyric, beginning ‘Happy who near you sigh’ emphasizes the power of passion over the speaker. The first of the three lyric songs by Mrs. Taylor asks ‘Ye Virgin Powers’ to defend her from love; the next two are even more wary about the dangers of love.

‘The Female Wits. A Song, By a Lady of Quality’ criticizes bold women who ‘scorn to climb by Reason's rules’ as men do to attain ‘Fame’, instead relying on ‘a good bold Faith’ which will deceive themselves as well as others. The poem ends, ‘What matter tho the Witty few, / Our emptiness do find, / They for their In'trest will be true, / Cause we are brisk and kind’. ‘The Female Wits’ is the only poem in the volume identified as being by a woman in which writing by women is criticized or seen as in any way exceptional.

“Behn's political alignments are indicated by her inclusion of a number of poems about the Popish Plot. Three poems in a row include attacks on Titus Oates, while other pieces make less direct but scathing allusions to the Popish Plot and the series of plots which followed. Several contributions criticize the Duke of Monmouth, Behn's target in earlier works. Poems in ‘Miscellany’ refer to other political and public events, including the death of Hobbes. A poem on the Duke of York's stormy voyage to Scotland makes links to the exclusion debates. Given the significance of political poetry in the collection, the absence of any reference to the death of King Charles in January of 1685 suggests that the collection may have been prepared by that time; Behn's elegy on his death was printed in broadside by February 28.

“The last poem in the volume, Behn's most explicitly political piece, praises Lord Stafford, a Catholic lord arrested in 1678 and executed in 1680 because of Titus Oates's perjury. Behn responds to a piece in Dryden's second miscellany, ‘Sylvae’ (1685), which includes a translation from Virgil's Aeneid of ‘The Episode of the Death of Camilla’ by ‘Mr. Stafford,’ (481-94), who is John Howard, the son of Lord Stafford. ‘A Pastoral to Mr. Stafford, under the name of Silvio, on his Translation of the Death of Camilla: out of Virgil. By Mrs. Behn. Thirsis and Amarillis.’ is a pastoral dialogue. Amarillis commends ‘Silvio of Noble Race’ for his poetry, and then, in a passage which unequivocally identifies Amarillis with Behn, praises his ‘Noble Father’. The next lines refer to Behn's political work in the mid 1660s as an agent for King Charles's government in the Low Countries, where she knew Stafford:

  Once Thirsis, by th'Arcadian King's Commands,

   I left these Shades, to visit forein [sic] Lands;

   Imploy'd in public toiles of State Affairs,

   Unusual with my Sex, or to my Years;

   There `twas my chance, so Fortune did ordain,

   To see this great, this good, this God-like man:

   Brave, Pious, Loyal, Just, without constraint,

   The Soul all Angell, and the Man a Saint;

   His temper'd mind no Passion e'er inflam'd,

   But when his King and Countrey were profan'd; ...

   His vertues were his Crime, like God he bow'd

   A necessary victim to the frantick Croud. (295-96)


“Amarillis goes on to praise the son's ‘Poetic Fire,’ commending Silvio's description of Camilla, the heroic woman warrior in ‘The Aeneid’:

   Never was fighting in our Sex a Charm,

   Till Silvio did the bright Camilla Arm;

   With Noble Modesty he shews us how

   To be at once Hero and Woman too. (297)

“By emphasizing female heroism in Camilla as well as her own service as a government agent in the Low Countries almost twenty years earlier, Behn draws attention to her place as an exception, suggesting that exceptional women, like Behn, have important roles to play in society. The long account of Behn's personal knowledge of Lord Stafford when she was a young woman emphasizes not only her grief at his unjust execution but her own association with Catholics of power and, she believes, heroism.

“Like most seventeenth-century collections, ‘Miscellany’ includes numerous anonymous poems. Some contributors are identified by initials, or as a ‘gentleman,’ ‘person,’ or ‘lady.... of quality,’ or as ‘an unknown hand,’ while other poems are unattributed. Two of the unsigned poems have been ascribed to Behn and accepted by recent editors. ‘A Letter to Mr. Creech at Oxford, Written in the last great Frost,’ an account of a coach accident which prevented a meeting, commemorates her social relationship with Creech. ‘Ovid to Julia. A Letter, by an unknown Hand,’ recounting Ovid's banishment for loving a woman above his station, may be based on a contemporary scandal. Greer suggests that the anonymity of these poems was a protective strategy because of the ‘political sensitivity of references,’ an argument which seems more relevant to ‘Ovid to Julia’ than to the Creech poem, which Behn did, in a sense, sign. Following the line ‘I rest your humble servant’ is an ‘A.’ which seems to be an informal signature; the catchword on this page and the first word overleaf is ‘Postscript.’ (Aphra Behn's Miscellanies: The Politics and Poetics of EditingJournal article by Anne Russell; Philological Quarterly, Vol. 77, 1998)

Wing M2230; Case 177; O'Donnell, Aphra Behn, BA2; CBEL II, 335 and 756