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Lyrics from the Song-Books of the Elizabethan Age   By: (1857-1920)

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NOTE. Two hundred and fifty copies of this large paper edition printed, each of which is numbered.

No. 221.


Edited by A.H. BULLEN.

LONDON: JOHN C. NIMMO, 14, King William Street, Strand, W.C. 1887.

CHISWICK PRESS: C. Whittingham and Co., Tooks Court, Chancery Lane.


The present Anthology is intended to serve as a companion volume to the Poetical Miscellanies published in England at the close of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries. A few of the lyrics here collected are, it is true, included in "England's Helicon," Davison's "Poetical Rhapsody," and "The Ph[oe]nix' Nest"; and some are to be found in the modern collections of Oliphant, Collier, Rimbault, Mr. W.J. Linton, Canon Hannah, and Professor Arber. But many of the poems in the present volume are, I have every reason to believe, unknown even to those who have made a special study of Elizabethan poetry. I have gone carefully through all the old song books preserved in the library of the British Museum, and I have given extracts from two books of which there is no copy in our national library. A first attempt of this kind must necessarily be imperfect. Were I to go over the ground again I should enlarge the collection, and I should hope to gain tidings of some song books (mentioned by bibliographers) which I have hitherto been unable to trace.

In Elizabeth's days composers were not content to regard the words of a song as a mere peg on which to hang the music, but sought the services of true born lyrists. It is not too much to say that, for delicate perfection of form, some of the Elizabethan songs can compare with the choicest epigrams in the Greek Anthology. At least one composer, Thomas Campion, wrote both the words and the music of his songs; and there are no sweeter lyrics in English poetry than are to be found in Campion's song books. But it may be assumed that, as a rule, the composers are responsible only for the music.

It was in the year of the Spanish Armada, 1588, that William Byrd published "Psalms, Sonnets, and Songs of Sadness and Piety," the first Elizabethan song book of importance. Few biographical particulars concerning Byrd have come down. As he was senior chorister of St. Paul's in 1554, he is conjectured to have been born about 1538. From 1563 to 1569 he was organist of Lincoln Cathedral. He and Tallis were granted a patent, which must have proved fairly lucrative, for the printing of music and the vending of music paper. In later life he appears to have become a convert to Romanism. His last work was published in 1611, and he died at a ripe old age on the 24th of July, 1623. The "Psalms, Sonnets, and Songs" are dedicated to Sir Christopher Hatton. In the dedicatory epistle he terms the collection "this first printed work of mine in English ;" in 1575 he had published with Tallis "Cantiones Sacræ." From the title one would gather that Byrd's first English collection was mainly of a sacred character, but in an epistle to the reader he hastens to set us right on that point: "Benign reader, here is offered unto thy courteous acceptance music of sundry sorts, and to content divers humours. If thou be disposed to pray, here are psalms; if to be merry, here are sonnets." There is, indeed, fare for all comers; and a reader has only himself to blame if he goes away dissatisfied. In those days, as in these, it was not uncommon for a writer to attribute all faults, whether of omission or commission, to the luckless printer. Byrd, on the other hand, solemnly warns us that "in the expression of these songs either by voices or instruments, if there be any jar or dissonance," we are not to blame the printer, who has been at the greatest pains to secure accuracy... Continue reading book >>

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