Using current scholarship on verse miscellanies to contextualize a comparison of Robert Dodsley's Collection of Poems by Several Hands (1748) and Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765), this article considers how the verse miscellany was used to different purposes by editors in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. It was, variously, a space in which to preserve poetry, to test readers’ appetites for the unfamiliar, and to establish or challenge poetic taste. Most of all, however, the verse miscellany functioned as a virtual space of the Enlightenment that encouraged literary experimentation and innovation. Editors like Dodsley and Percy used paratext not only to justify their specific poetic choices, but also to establish identity of their collection. In Dodsley's case, obvious editorial interventions are absent and the typography is elegant, while for Percy, the paratext is busy and noisy, an alternative space in the miscellany through which the collection's antiquarian character is expressed. Both collections test their reader's willingness to engage with less well-known material. This article suggests that although the two poetic collections seem to have little in common, they are both concerned with ideas of literary preservation and loss, on the one hand, and cultural progress and decline, on the other, that helped to establish the poetic miscellany as a key print genre of the Enlightenment.
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Research Article| September 01 2021
Alison Horgan; Miscellaneous Spaces of Enlightenment: Dodsley, Percy, and the Midcentury Verse Miscellany. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 September 2021; 45 (3): 197–212. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-9273048
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