The Dryden-Tonson Miscellanies 6 vols
Edited by David Hopkins, Stuart Gillespie
Routledge – 2008 – 3,256 pages
This collection is a facsimile reprint of the initial publication of the Tonson miscellanies (in the first four of which Dryden played a prominent role as contributor, editorial adviser, and recruiter of contributors).
In 1679 the enterprising young publisher Jacob Tonson entered into a business relationship with John Dryden, the most eminent English poet of the late seventeenth century. This was to last until Dryden’s death in 1700, by which time Tonson was well established as the major English literary publisher of his day. Jacob Tonson (the Elder) has been called ‘the first modern publisher’. One of the keystones of his publishing enterprises was the series of verse miscellanies of which the first editions appeared between 1684 and 1709. Unlike some later collections, these were not compilations of previously-published material, but of new work commissioned or collected expressly for these volumes by Tonson and – until his death – Dryden. As the label implies, their appeal was partly that of variety: they each contained many (50-110) mostly short poems in a wide range of genres, including topical satires, theatrical prologues and epilogues, songs, personal poems, and especially translations from the more accessible Latin and Greek classics (see sample contents lists in Appendix). They achieved immediate success, long-term popularity, and an extremely influential role in forming the tastes of readers and the practices of writers.
Today, the miscellanies provide crucial insight into the development of English poetry at the beginning of the Long Eighteenth Century. Early volumes print work by such poets as Sir Charles Sedley, Rochester, Aphra Behn, and Thomas Rymer. The middle volumes see the emergence of a new generation of younger writers, many of them protégés of Dryden, including Joseph Addison, William Congreve, and Matthew Prior. The final volumes include some of the earliest work of Alexander Pope, Nicholas Rowe, and Jonathan Swift. The miscellanies represent a wide spectrum of political affiliations, and include work by, and addressed to, women. The Tonson miscellanies thus provide a unique decade-by-decade record of the complex transition between the ‘Restoration’ and ‘Augustan’ (or more neutrally seventeenth to eighteenth-century) phases of English literary culture.
1684: Miscellany Poems. 1685: Sylvae: or, The Second Part of Poetical Miscellanies. 1693: Examen Poeticum: Being the Third Part of Miscellany Poems. 1694: The Annual Miscellany … Being the Fourth Part of Miscellany Poem. 1704: Poetical Miscellanies: The Fifth Part. 1709: Poetical Miscellanies: The Sixth Part