A commentary on and edition of the shorter poems of William Browne of Tavistock in British Library MS Lansdowne 777
The aim of this thesis is to provide an annotated edition of the manuscript poetry of William Browne of Tavistock. Apart from The Inner Temple Masque, and the facsimile edition of Britannias Pastorals Books I-II published by Scolar in 1969, Browne's poetry has not been edited since 1894. My edition is based on the Lansdowne 777 manuscript of Browne's poetry held by the British Library, and also draws on all the available miscellany copies of his poems, both manuscript and print, as listed in the Index of English Literary Manuscripts. A detailed introduction discusses the Browne manuscripts in the light of recent research into seventeenth-century manuscript transcription and transmission. The introduction begins with a biographical section, which updates the still standard essay by Bullen in the 1894 edition of Browne's poetry to take account of the findings of twentieth-century research. In my 'Manuscript Poetry' section, I note that most criticism of Browne's work focuses on his main published poems, Britannias Pastorals and The Shepherds Pipe, and addresses only those few of his manuscript poems which fall within the main critical categories applied to his printed poetry; treating him as a pastoral, Spenserian poet, nostalgic to the point of anachronism, or - especially in recent studies - as a political writer disaffected with the Jacobean government. I argue that attention to the range of Browne's manuscript verse discloses an oeuvre more varied and with closer affinities to contemporary poetry than has often been supposed, and suggest that recent research into seventeenth-century manuscript poetry provides an appropriate critical context for considering the extent of Browne's unprinted work. While questioning some of the claims of recent scholarship about the disjunction between print and manuscript in the early seventeenth century, I consider how an enhanced understanding of the role of manuscripts in this period can help to account for some curious aspects of Browne's poetic career, such as his comparative neglect of print-publication after 1616, and his popularity within the system of manuscript transmission.