Reviews

Nicholas Oldisworth's Manuscript, Edited by John GouwsNicholas Oldisworth's Manuscript (Bodleian MS. Don.c.24),
edited by John Gouws

Another important new edition of a hitherto unknown early modern poet writing in English is Nicholas Oldisworth's Manuscript (Bodleian MS. Don.c.24), edited by John Gouws. Approximately 120 poems by Nicholas Oldisworth (1611-45) exist in an autograph fair copy in the Bodleian Library at Oxford; now, for the first time, they have been scrupulously edited, with textual notes at the bottom of each page and helpful commentary at the end of the volume. The poems themselves show the influence of Jonson, as well as the need to assert an independent poetic identity: the very first piece in the volume, the most widely dispersed of Oldisworth's poems and the only one to appear in print (in 1658), is itself a metapoetic poem entitled "A Letter to Ben. Johnson. 1629" with verse paragraphs beginning with a hyperbolic demand that Jonson "Die." Oldisworth's poems are largely secular, occasional, and personal; and like other University poets of the period, Oldisworth displays learning, wit, and urbanity. His poems also show considerable range: some are written for royal occasions; others are complimentary epigrams on relations, friends, and neighbors; others are epitaphs; and there are songs and lyric poems. The affectionate dedicatory epistle to his wife, in which he presents himself as her "true friend," stands out as a poem that evokes personal and domestic matters in the midst of the disruptions of Civil War England, as it revises the tradition of literary friendship. The volume's introduction by Gouws discusses what little is known about Oldisworth's life, including his years at Christ Church, Oxford where he found himself at the center of the distinct poetic community (including Richard Corbett, William Strode, and William Cartwright) dominating Caroline Oxford; and it helpfully places Oldisworth in the coterie culture of manuscript poets in seventeenth-century Oxford. The edition is valuable in making available a seventeenth-century English poet whose verses reflect both his University and rural communities (since he was from rural Gloucestershire). The edition also contributes to our understanding of manuscript poetry and circulation in seventeenth-century England.

Source:
David Loewenstein. "Recent Studies in the English Renaissance." SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 51.1 (2011): 199-278. Project MUSE. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.