David Pierce
York, England | Published: 17 March, 2024 | Views:
ISSUE 19 | Pages: 168-180 | PDF | DOAJ | https://doi.org/10.24162/EI2024-12547

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This essay was prompted by a review by the Scottish poet, Robert Crawford, of Clare Bucknell’s recent book, The Treasuries: Poetry Anthologies and the Making of British Culture (2023). It provides a reading of Bucknell’s book in the light of other anthologies. So it is not in itself a review but, rather, a series of reflections on the construction and nature of anthologies stimulated by my reading of Bucknell’s book. Crawford insists on the omissions in Bucknell’s account from a Scottish perspective. But I want to take in a wider perspective, one that includes national identity. Initially, I focus on the index and on the entry for Palgrave’s father and his Jewish name. This leads to a discussion on the authoritative appearance of The Golden Treasury and perhaps on what it is hiding. The essay takes issue with the partial view of English poetry, where Wordsworth is afforded the most poems, and eighteenth-century poets hardly feature. The second half discusses Bucknell’s chapter on the popularity of poetry therapy and her omission of any discussion of recent women’s poetry. The anthology she dismisses out of hand is Yeats’s The Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892-1935. Such a conclusion invites a response at some length. The focus then shifts to another Irish writer, William Allingham, and his largely forgotten anthology, Nightingale Valley, which was published the year before The Golden Treasury and which Palgrave sought to better. In his thought-provoking choices, which includes possibly the first printing of Blake’s poems in an anthology, Allingham provides a counter to those who read poetry and literature simply in terms of the way they reflect history. In doing so he affords a valuable critique of The Treasuries and The Golden Treasury from over a century and a half ago.

Este ensayo surgió a raíz de una reseña a cargo del poeta escocés Robert Crawford del reciente libro de Clare Bucknell, The Treasuries: Poetry Anthologies and the Making of British Culture (2023). Proporciona una lectura del libro de Bucknell a la luz de otras antologías. No se trata de una reseña, sino que aporta una serie de reflexiones sobre la construcción y la naturaleza de las antologías fruto de mi lectura del libro de Bucknell. Crawford insiste en las omisiones del relato de Bucknell desde una perspectiva escocesa. Pero pretendo adoptar una perspectiva más amplia, una que incluya la identidad nacional. Inicialmente, me concentro en el índice y en la entrada del padre de Palgrave y de su nombre judío. Esto lleva a una discusión sobre la supuesta autoridad de The Golden Treasury y quizás sobre lo que esconde. El ensayo discrepa de una visión parcial de la poesía inglesa, donde Wordsworth aporta la mayor cantidad de poemas y donde los poetas del siglo XVIII apenas aparecen. La segunda mitad del ensayo analiza el capítulo de Bucknell sobre la popularidad de la terapia poética y su omisión de cualquier discusión sobre la poesía femenina reciente. La antología que ella descarta es The Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892-1935 de Yeats, una conclusión que invita a una extensa respuesta. A continuación, la atención se centra en otro escritor irlandés, William Allingham, y su antología en gran parte olvidada, Nightingale Valley, que se publicó el año anterior a The Golden Treasury y que Palgrave intentó mejorar. Con sus provocadoras elecciones – que incluyen posiblemente la primera impresión de los poemas de Blake en una antología – Allingham reaccionó contra quienes leen poesía y literatura simplemente en términos de su reflejo de la historia y, de esta manera, ofreció, hace más de siglo y medio, una valiosa crítica de The Treasuries y The Golden Treasury.

Antologías; ideología; nacionalidad; identidad; género; historia; legado


A year after it was published in 2022, my new Yeats book, Yeats Revisited: The Continuing Legacy, has continued to reverberate for me. Reading Robert Crawford’s review in the London Review of Books (15 June 2023) of Clare Bucknell’s book, The Treasuries: Poetry Anthologies and the Making of British Culture (2023), made me wonder if literature was best approached seated on the train looking forward or back. The confident Bucknell takes us forward; Crawford, with the history of Scotland behind him and ever alert therefore to what’s missing in the landscape, takes us back. I enjoyed reading both of them, for it is not easy, whether constructing or deconstructing an argument, to get it right. Here in this essay I want to offer a wider perspective, one not limited to a single book and one that includes a discussion beyond the confines of the Scottish debate. So it is not in itself a review but, rather, a series of reflections on the construction and nature of anthologies stimulated by my reading of Bucknell’s book.

Let me begin with the final pages of The Treasuries. In book reviews it is rare to observe anyone commenting on the index. It is as if the work of indexers, who are often never mentioned by authors or their publishers, adds little or nothing to an appreciation of the contents of a book. The Treasuries has an index which is worth its weight in gold. It consists of seventeen out of three hundred and forty-four pages, which is roughly five percent of the book’s length. Twenty years ago, the index for one of my books cost me over £800, which seemed a lot of money at the time but which I later realised, when I did the sums, was precious little considering the hourly rate paid to the indexer. Normally, whenever I undertook to compile an index myself, I tended to limit it, where I could, to an author rather than to a subject index. For I was always conscious that, when the proofs came, there was the additional task of completing the index, which would take me the best part of a week or more if I included subjects.

Palgrave Father and Son

The Treasuries features an index which is comprehensive, reliable and for the most part error-free. It also has the capacity to allow for quiet moments of pleasure. This is not the pleasure of the text, to which Roland Barthes famously drew attention in the 1970s, but the pleasure of the index (1975). It is more, for some items in Bucknell’s index return us to the text itself in case information was somehow missed. Take for example an entry which looks innocent enough: “Cohen, Francis see Palgrave, Sir Francis” where we learn that Cohen is now “Palgrave, Sir Francis ( Cohen)” (2023: 339), the father, that is, of the celebrated anthologist. From sources not in Bucknell we learn that Cohen converted to Anglicanism and changed his Jewish name to Palgrave, which was his wife’s mother’s maiden name. Later, he enjoyed an addition to his name when he was knighted for services to the preservation of national archives, and he played a key role in the establishment of the Public Record Office in 1838. All his four sons led distinguished lives whether as a Jesuit priest in Uruguay, an important economist, the Clerk to the House of Commons, or as an anthologist famous wherever English literature is read.

Bucknell allows Palgrave’s father his own space as it were. Burying his Jewish treasure and taking on his wife’s mother’s maiden name is not something she dwells on. She simply quotes a comment in an unpublished Canadian doctoral thesis that his un-English name stood in the way of success (2023: 112). The reader is invited perhaps to speculate further. Palgrave’s son kept his mother’s maiden name “Turner” in the initials: F.T. So, “Francis Turner” affords a further reminder of his English identity and a line of continuity with his country and of distance from his family’s past, which included financial ruin. I suspect few of the soldiers who carried his anthology into the trenches in the First World War knew anything about the name change or his family’s Jewish past.

In pursuing such a line of thinking I found myself wondering about the buttoned-up, authoritative look of The Golden Treasury and how it always conducts itself properly in interpreting the country to itself.[1] With each succeeding generation of readers it has acquired assent normally reserved for the unwritten rules of the British constitution. But it is interesting to note that, according to Bucknell, Palgrave senior was not a fan of anthologies, calling them “sickly things”: “The splendid bouquet decays into unsavoury trash, and as trash is thrown away” (107). In the final, charged sentences of his Preface, Palgrave junior insists on “Poetry”, which invariably carries an initial capital, “leading us in higher and healthier ways than those of the world, and interpreting to us the lessons of Nature” (xii). Not “sickly”, therefore, but “healthier” is a nice retort if he was thinking of his father.

Like his father, Palgrave is a recorder of the history and culture around him, but he also takes care to put down a marker to prevent confusion. As Bucknell emphasises in an ensuing chapter, after a privileged education at Charterhouse and Balliol College, Oxford, Palgrave learnt through contact with the first Working Men’s College in Camden and with Christian Socialists such as F.D. Maurice that education, particularly through literature, could change people’s lives. As Bucknell rightly observes, Palgrave developed in the 1850s a “conviction that literature, and poetry in particular, ought to have a central place rather than a peripheral one in the growth of popular education” (125).

Bucknell carefully traces Palgrave’s ideas among his peers in the lead-up to The Golden Treasury. Alfred Lord Tennyson features prominently and is often referred to as a collaborator:[2] according to Christopher Ricks, “Tennyson’s taste was discriminating, catholic, and in both senses decisive”.[3] Bucknell makes the point, something which I return to below in connection with William Allingham’s anthology, that Palgrave emphasised “the pleasure of free intellectual discovery; on roaming at will, rather than being told where to go” (134). In addition, we learn from Palgrave’s Preface that the poems were loosely grouped around topics or ideas “in gradations of feeling or subject” (xi), Bucknell also notices that in his dedication to Tennyson, he thought of his anthology as “a storehouse of delight to Labour and to Poverty” (vii).

At this point I would like to have seen her explore in more detail how Palgrave’s intentions are reflected in the choice of poems or the poets he most relied on, indeed what he meant by “gradations of feeling or subject”. There is another issue that concerned me. In the 1861 edition I counted some forty-one poems by Wordsworth, twenty-one poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley, thirteen by Walter Scott, eleven each by Robert Burns, Thomas Campbell, and John Keats. Wordsworth has nearly twenty more poems than Shakespeare and thirty more than John Milton. In this light, The Golden Treasury is an anthology dominated by the Romantics. With the exception of Thomas Gray, the eighteenth century is largely missing except for one poem by Alexander Pope and none by Swift. Among other notable omissions from the most popular anthology to be published in Britain, and which is still being reprinted, are John Donne, William Blake, and poetry by women. Of course, tastes change and some of these poets are now celebrated in schools and universities. It surprises me that Bucknell does not explore any of this unevenness or shifts in popularity, preferring instead to tell us that Palgrave’s anthology was very popular among working-class readers, who saw it as enabling them to get on in life. Without any sense that she might be espousing middle-class Victorian prejudice, she ends her chapter on a high. The Golden Treasury, she tells us, continued being “a storehouse not only of civilizing cultural riches, but of glimpses of another sort of life” (2023: 214).


That said, one of her best chapters is entitled “Anxiety: Beauties of the Poets (1780-1820)”. Here Bucknell provides an engaging survey of the revolutionary period albeit in terms of mood rather than crisis. Following W.H. Auden’s remark, the post-war period in Britain has often also been seen as an “age of anxiety”, but Bucknell tracks an earlier period through its cultural rather than its economic insecurity. She anchors her remarks in well-chosen observations, and in doing so she avoids slipping into generalisations which rely too heavily on historians and others. Such a move is not without risks, not least in limiting history to the exploration of mood or changes in character or – passages in the mind of the nation if we followed Palgrave.

So, while not exactly cutting-edge, in her remarks on anxiety there is something of interest. A brief allusion to the establishment of limited copyright in law in 1774 allows her to discuss its effect on the London publishing world. Thereafter came pocket editions and the “reading explosion” of the late eighteenth century as it was called, assisted in part by booksellers such as George Kearsley. She then reflects on the reaction by those who sought to distinguish themselves from a less-refined reading public. Bucknell doesn’t spend time on the class implications of all this, but she does point out that, a century and more later, in their 1928 Pamphlet Against Anthologies, Laura Riding and Robert Graves expressed a similar kind of snobbery.

The bulk of her chapter on anxiety focuses on “beauties” volumes. Bucknell stresses the importance of the reading public and the popularity of these volumes which contained selections of leading writers, often with anything unseemly removed. The Beauties of Sterne, for example, ensured that only safe passages of Tristram Shandy were included either in the 1782 edition or the more liberal 1807 edition. In neither of the editions does the word “clock” appear, so there is no reference to Tristram’s conception or to his difficult birth by forceps nine months later. The censors ensured that “beauties” was met with approval by a female and “chaste” readership, “chaste” being an adjective of choice for the arbiters of taste in the late eighteenth century. Bucknell enjoys quoting from the editor of the 1782 edition on how chaste readers might have been put off by the obscenity associated with the novel and not “suffered to penetrate beyond the title page”. She then adds “for fear they might encounter a few too many hints about penetration of a different kind” (2023: 89). This leaves it open as to who is thinking this, the eighteenth-century editor or Bucknell herself.

* * *

The English Mind

Underlying Bucknell’s thesis is an attempt to provide a three-hundred-year-old narrative of British culture as observed through its anthologies. According to Palgrave in his Preface to The Golden Treasury, “The English mind has passed through phases of thought and cultivation so various and so opposed during these three centuries of Poetry, that a rapid passage between Old and New […] will always be wearisome and hurtful to the sense of Beauty” (1861: xi). Bucknell stays close to the project initiated by her mid-Victorian predecessor, and, as I suggest, the reader throughout feels something of this continuing ideological pressure. But, today, for many of us, the issue of continuity, especially when “British” is so often carelessly allied to “English” when it should be distinguished, needs more than passing notice. In part this is so because some of our best modern English writers do not stop at borders and some of our best Scottish writers do.

In the four decades after Palgrave and with the imperial venture in full swing, Arthur Quiller-Couch in a classic anthology, The Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (1901), moves seamlessly between English and British and includes many Irish poets such as William Allingham, Douglas Hyde, George Russell, and W.B. Yeats. In Dublin in May 1897, Yeats and Maud Gonne took part in a march behind a suitably black-draped coffin to commemorate the 1798 Rebellion against British Rule. Two decades later came the 1916 Easter Rising, followed in 1921 by Irish independence for twenty-six of the thirty-two counties of Ireland. Step forward another six decades, the world has moved on but not entirely. Indeed, if we needed a small but graphic illustration of the fraught nature of what is increasingly a disunited kingdom, listen to Seamus Heaney’s objection to his inclusion in the 1982 Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry: “[B]e advised / My passport’s green. / No glass of ours was ever raised / To toast the Queen” (1983: 88). Whatever Palgrave and Quiller-Couch were up to or indeed sought, anthologies have the habit of not quite drawing a line under the past.

Women Missing

As Crawford rightly insists, missing from Bucknell’s account are some of the essential (dis)connections in the historical record. Apart from the 1890s – a remarkable decade which has the look of an anthology in itself – the other equally surprising omission is any detailed discussion of women’s poetry in the last fifty years. Instead, Bucknell devotes a final chapter to the growth of poetry therapy, to how people come to poetry to feel better. With her eye trained on continuity from the past, Bucknell observes that “Modern self-help culture is the direct descendant of the instrumental, personal way of reading and using literature” (2023: 268). According to Bucknell, the question poetry therapy asks is not what this poem means but what this poem means for me. She then cites, among other anthologies, Neil Astley’s Staying Alive series for Bloodaxe Books (2004, 2011, 2020) and Wendy Cope’s 101 Happy Poems (2001).

Using for her guide the work of Robert Haven Schauffler in the 1920s and his pioneering book The Poetry Cure: A Pocket Medicine Chest of Verse (1925), Bucknell provides a brief discussion of poetry therapy today, making reference to self-help poetry, pop-up “poetry pharmacies”, literature as guides to living, bibliotherapy, books on prescription, psychotherapy, and curating for oneself.[4] Bucknell’s approach is essentially descriptive rather than analytical. In a final paragraph, as if she is in a hurry to complete her project, she proclaims: “Anthologies are utopian. Since at least the early modern period, they have been tools for projecting and imagining, laying down the outlines of an ideal culture” (2023: 283).

I found this a slightly unsatisfactory way for Bucknell to end her book, and, moreover, quite disconcerting. It is as if everything she has laid out in the glorious procession of anthologies from the seventeenth century onward has found its high water-mark in this final judgment, the dragon slain. But, needless to say, it has not. If the comment is designed to refer to the chapter on poetry therapy, then this too is strange, because it could suggest that the journey inward offers a counter to the public world, a world in which anthologies, as she underlines throughout, have played a conspicuous public role. It would also signal that poetry is in retreat from the world, or how turning to poetry offers a recourse when the going gets tough, whether intellectually or emotionally. Such a move is not something the muscular Victorian Palgrave would have countenanced. As he reminds us in his comments on the Romantic poets, Wordsworth and Shelley “interpreted the age to itself” (1861: 320).

Let me repeat: The Treasuries is an enjoyable and often informative read, but it needed something more assuredly persuasive, not least an answer to the obvious questions for sceptics like myself: how do we account for this extraordinary turn or movement that has pushed aside more traditional forms of reading and criticism? What has happened to the “excluded middle” between writer and reader where the imagination of the culture can flourish independent of psychology, medicines, and talk of cures? In the quotation above, Bucknell’s deployment of the adjective “instrumental” and of the verb in “using literature” is sadly revealing.

Of course, while anthologies often have an eye on the future few can be described as utopian. They tend to set down a marker or work to clear the ground. To take a notable example from the first third of the twentieth century, An Anthology of “Nineties” Verse (1928) by A.J.A. Symons, this captures a period “Condemned as over-daring in its own day, it is dismissed as over-circumspect in ours” (1928: xvii). It was a decade which saw the principles in art resting upon “a fallacy already exploded” (1928: xxi). Poets such as Aubrey Beardsley, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, Oscar Wilde and the Rhymers such as Ernest Rhys and Yeats who met in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese public house on the Strand in London were given to experimentation and challenging conventions in art and society. They belonged to “the tragic generation” in Yeats’s inimitable phrase.[5] But, leaving on one side William Morris, “utopian” is not a word Symons or Yeats or their premier historian, Holbrook Jackson, would have been inclined to deploy.[6] Indeed, against any idea of poetry as therapy, Symons would have followed the poets of the Nineties and confirmed that “Art was itself and nothing more” (1928: xix).

Bucknell’s remarks in her chapter on poetry therapy bring to mind how she might have introduced a chapter on women’s poetry, some of which does indeed lay down the “outlines of an ideal culture”. In a comprehensive bibliography at the end of A History of Twentieth-Century British Women’s Poetry (2005), Jane Dowson and Alice Entwistle publish a list of sixty-nine titles in their section on anthologies. Not all of them are restricted to Britain but most of them are, and the ones that are not, such as Cora Kaplan’s Salt and Bitter and Good: Three Centuries of English and American Women Poets (1975), are reminders of the borders that no longer act as borders. Moreover, in her Introduction Kaplan sees no reason to spend time distinguishing English from American poets. On the contrary, she takes care to underline “the uncompleted struggle to express the central significance of women’s experience […] expressed as dilemmas about ‘universal’ human problems” (19-20).

The sheer number of women writing poetry in the recent past has been frequently commented on by critics. According to Peter Forbes in his Introduction to Scanning the Century, “By the end of the century, there were as many good women poets writing as there were men” (2000: xxxvii). It escaped the attention of some otherwise fine critics. Of the ninety-two poets selected for Book VI of John Press’s 1996 addition to Palgrave’s anthology, just fourteen are women.[7] But, as Jane Dowson implies, in her sharply focused summary of relevant changes from the 1980s to the noughties, we are already beyond generalisations about numbers.[8] Or we should be, but somehow the figures keep returning even as women poets are being promoted to the top appointments such as Carol Ann Duffy in 2009 for Poet Laureate or Alice Oswald in 2019 for Professor of Poetry at Oxford.

Anthologies raise particular issues which never seem to go away, but they are in fact, at least on one level, general issues of a formal nature. Most anthologies contain a paragraph defending inclusions or exclusions and arrangement. Palgrave encountered a tension between the best and the representative. Some publishers or editors, such as Kaplan or Jeni Couzyn, restrict their anthologies to a selection of authors. Others, like Fleur Adcock, who edited The Faber Book of Twentieth-Century Women’s Poetry in 1987, favour not a select number but a collection and take on board the difficulty of arranging material which embraces “so many styles, traditions and national or regional characteristics” (9). Unsurprisingly, Adcock candidly admits that this meant there was no ideal way it could be done. When so much is being written and anthologised from this viewpoint, I would have liked to have seen Bucknell inserting a chapter on contemporary women’s poetry and reflecting on its place in The Treasuries and on Palgrave’s omission of women from his anthology.

W.B. Yeats

Everyone has their own take on anthologies and they prompt different kinds of responses. Writing in 1939, on the eve of war and after a decade when poetry had difficulty separating itself from politics, Robert Lynd observed that “Poetry has become a battle-ground in recent years; and there is almost as great a cleavage of opinion about poetry as about politics” (1939: xii). Bucknell’s book reminds me of another anthology compiled in the 1930s, namely Yeats’s The Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892-1935 (1936), which I write about extensively in Yeats Revisited. Lynd took exception to Yeats’s omission of the Great War Poets, and few today would disagree. For Bucknell, Yeats’s book offers nothing more than fragments of a personal kind and a “string of biases” (2023: 282, 284). The charge is a familiar one, but it is worth remembering that Yeats occupies a site that belongs to the outsider or outlier in modern literature. And we should not forget that he includes Herbert Read’s recently published poem “The End of A War” in his collection, the War poet’s reflections on the permanent end of war altogether. Oxford University Press must have accepted Yeats would not follow the line from Palgrave to Quiller-Couch, and yet they chose him for such a prestigious undertaking, knowing that in 1900 Methuen had published his Book of Irish Verse. Indeed, throughout his career Yeats’s focus was on developing an Irish tradition. As it happens, in this collection, which he arranged according to date of birth, he accidentally drew further attention to Emily Brontë’s Irishness not so much in the choice of three of her poems (whose deathly focus subject matter is not specifically Irish) but in their position before “The Memory of the Dead”, a much-loved poem by John Kells Ingram commemorating the 1798 Rebellion.

In gathering together the poetry of his friends and associates, Yeats’s 1936 anthology sets a deliberate and slightly perverse course against the English colonising power. It can be readily admitted that there is something unusual about the outside dates, for who could be so precise about that first date, “1892”, which he tells us, perhaps with tongue-in-cheek, was three years before the death of Tennyson (v)? The new collection betrays his personal preferences as well as his Irish roots. “Conveys” is a better word than “betrays”, for Yeats expresses no guilt about his choices. The accusation of bias did not concern him. He was beyond that. In “Under Ben Bulben”, one of his last poems and written in 1938, the outsider’s advice (in many ways vacuous) to a younger generation of poets is “Scorn the sort now growing up”. This is Yeats, warts and all, the voice of the bard. If he had spent any time perusing Quiller-Couch’s anthology, he might have reproduced his comment on how “the lyrical spirit is volatile and notoriously hard to bind with definitions” (1936: ix).

We might also notice that Yeats includes poems by the leading Scottish communist poet, Hugh MacDiarmid, one of which is close to the ribald verse of the people, another on Lenin’s tomb. MacDiarmid is missing from Bucknell’s account. Apart from his attraction to “vivid speech”, what Yeats also possibly admired in MacDiarmid was a shared pre-modern view of a “ghostly voice” behind folk song. Not “ghosts” but “ghostly”. You can believe in the adjective without believing in the noun; Yeats believed in both. Ghosts point in both directions, both back and forward, and so does Yeats. Bucknell could have made something of the adjective as a relic from the past because in an earlier chapter she discusses superstition in the ballads and popular imagination of the eighteenth century. But “ghostly” continued and indeed continues to this day.

Yeats belongs to a distinct emphasis in modern poetry on the “auditory imagination” or “talk”. Hence the significance of the first word in his poem “After Long Silence”, namely “speech”, a poem that opens his own selection in the anthology. We could make more of this for Yeats’s emphasis on speech and the spoken word recalls the origins of poetry in folk-song and an oral tradition. Although poetry is written down, for Yeats it is designed to be spoken or chanted. “Write for the ear” is his advice in “An Introduction for my Plays”, an essay he composed in 1937, “so that you may be instantly understood as when actor or folk singer stands before an audience” (1961: 530).

I was intrigued by Bucknell’s discussion in her penultimate chapter on the Mersey sound, where her focus is also on the spoken word. Such an emphasis adds something original to her book and offers a reminder of a significant moment in our recent past and the need to listen to other people’s experience and imagination. Even if the poetry of the Liverpool three (Adrian Henri, Brian Patten and Roger McGough) is of its time in the decade of the 1960s, McGough’s work still resonates for me. It’s a small detail, but, in her stress on the spoken word, Bucknell might well have included relevant passages from the Afterword of Michael Horovitz’s Children of Albion: Poetry of the Underground in Britain (1969) and how poetry in performance “jumps the book”, something which was particularly true when listening to Adrian Mitchell reading his work (323). The one reference to this collection is reserved for a dismissive comment in a footnote where she refers to the author’s “ungrammatical, slangy, countercultural style” designed, she assumes, to annoy the critics.

Continuity used to be an easy thing to grasp in an English context. The Harvard-educated American T.S. Eliot thought so with his famous list beginning “Derby Day, Henley Regatta, Cowes, the twelfth of August, a cup final […] Wensleydale Cheese, boiled cabbage” (1948: 51). With his remark about the English mind, Palgrave didn’t need to enlist any examples to support his opinion. But if English history teaches us anything it is that discontinuity constantly threatens to undermine certainties, so that today there are few people, outside a small select group, who would understand the significance of the twelfth of August. In terms of a wider global culture, modernism has exerted a disruptive force that shows no sign of abating. Hence our continuing interest in the writings of Joyce, Woolf and Eliot himself. On the other hand, because of their nationalist agenda, the Scots and the Irish and the Welsh have it slightly easier, although not entirely as Yeats reminds us.

The Treasuries, then, belongs with an older and familiar viewpoint. It brought to mind The English Vision: An Anthology (1935), Herbert Read’s prose anthology of the English character compiled at a time when Hitler was coming to power. Read’s book is like a clarion call in “the uncertain and catastrophic times which lie before us” (vi). He was anxious to revive the English spirit with a book which would “compendiously remind them of those traditions of liberty, justice and toleration which have always guided our destinies” (vi). By way of contrast, you couldn’t imagine the author of The Treasuries being unnerved by contemporary history or indeed by Yeats’s line about things falling apart.

William Allingham

So, what Bucknell gives us is not so much a clear-eyed view toward the destination or omega point of English/British history, but something less dramatic, namely a series of not uninteresting excursions into the work of anthologists from differing periods. As for Crawford, he is to be congratulated for mentioning William Allingham’s Nightingale Valley (1860). A first edition, we can note in passing, is very difficult to track down in the world of antiquarian books or indeed the great libraries of the world.[9] This beautiful, pocket-sized, anthology by the Ballyshannon poet (and Yeats’s forerunner), which Palgrave, a year later, thought to better, lays stress on pleasure, music and how poems can find contexts through the persuasive art of juxtaposition, freed from history’s constraints and impositions. My own Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century: A Reader (1999), which is arranged by strict adherence to years and decades, would have been improved if I had been familiar with Allingham’s anthology.[10]

For probably their first time to appear in print in any anthology, Allingham includes several poems by Blake, the great Romantic poet missing from Palgrave. For a long time Allingham was interested in Blake, an interest he shared in the 1850s with his friend William Rossetti. In a letter to Thomas Woolner on January 8 1851 there is a reference to Rossetti’s Blake manuscript, which he had sent by private hand and was anxious to know if it had arrived.[11] In his Notes to Nightingale Valley he includes over two pages on Blake’s biography as if he was familiar with the story but as if the details were unknown to his readers. Like Palgrave, the eighteenth century is largely missing from Allingham’s anthology, but he does give us a sprinkling of women poets such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Felicia Hemans. More so than Palgrave, he is a careful arranger. And, in contrast with Palgrave, he only needs eighteen poems by Wordsworth to complete his selection. His choice of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 98 (“From you I have been absent since the spring”), positioned immediately before Blake’s “The Tiger” as he calls it, is intriguing, and it sets up for the reader not only a contrast between absence and personal loss in the one and the frightening presence of evil in the other but also an insightful link, whether accidental or intentional, between the word “pattern” in Shakespeare and “symmetry” in Blake.[12]

In his overall assessment of Nightingale Valley, Marvin Spevack is right to say that “Allingham makes no attempt at a historico-chronological arrangement”. But he is wrong to say that “Nor does there seem to be any perceptible logic in the arrangement” or that “The poems just flow” (2012: 16). Further proof, if that is what it is, can be seen in a later arrangement by Allingham where Tennyson’s “Ulysses” is followed by Ariel’s song (“Full fathom five”) from The Tempest and then Keats’s “To Autumn”. In Palgrave, Keats’s poem is followed, somewhat lamely, by Campbell’s “Ode to Winter”. It is also worth noticing that Allingham concludes his collection with Robert Herrick’s “Lyrics for Legacies”, which turns a page on Tennyson’s gloomy poem, “The Death of the Old Year”.

An exhibition at The Grolier Club in New York in 2015 was devoted to William and Helen Allingham, but missing from their catalogue is any mention of Nightingale Valley (Moore 2015). Mark Samuels Larsner in his modern bibliographical study includes the anthology but in his comments he is fairly dismissive: “On a less lofty level, Allingham’s 1859 anthology, Nightingale Valley, is considered of interest primarily because it can be catalogued under another, more important William – BLAKE – to whom the editor devoted much attention and space” (1993: 10). So perhaps Bucknell can be excused for neglecting Allingham. On the other hand, John Ruskin, according to Allingham, called it “the best collection he ever saw”.[13] Throughout his anthology what Allingham gives us are provocative echoes and riffs, which are a delight for the sensitive reader as the field of English literature is reconfigured.

I am reminded of A Golden Treasury of Irish Verse edited by Lennox Robinson in 1925, who also refuses a chronological arrangement, preferring instead to allow thought or mood “to link poem to succeeding poem” (1925: 11). But there the comparison ends, for Robinson, in the decade following the 1916 Easter Rising, feels obliged to tell his reader that he has included “no poem merely because its patriotic sentiments have made it popular”. Allingham was imbued with a less-defensive but no less complex and rooted kind of nationalism. As he suggests in the Preface to Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland (1864a), “the furthest possible thing from the present writer’s intention” is to be “doctrinaire”, a word set in italics (viii). Bloomfield is “Irish born and English bred” (6), and Allingham is always conscious when thinking of the passion generated by landlordism and relations between Ireland and England of the need to “amend the future page” (49). Some lines and images are difficult to forget. In the aftermath of an eviction scene Allingham’s sympathies with the dispossessed shine through: “If Irish still, yet Ireland’s nevermore” (146).

Bloomfield’s creator offers us an example of a form of cultural nationalism coinciding with a wider brief stretching beyond the shores of his native country. And, if such a leap is not too far-fetched, this seems to link with something else – a refusal to order or block his material historically into authors and their poems. In this way Allingham offers a cautionary tale to later anthologists, who are often preoccupied with something else, namely rank-ordering the best poems by the best authors. In The Ballad Book (1864) he continues by insisting that the best ballads such as “Little Musgrave” or “The Wife of Usher’s Well” have “no connection of the slightest importance with history” and that truly historical ballads are “one and all inferior” (vi).

Without labouring the point, in recalling the trefoil of pleasure, preservation, and canonicity which gathers under the banner of anthologies and which I write about at length in the Irish context in The Joyce Country (2021), Allingham’s contribution has for too long been overlooked and rightly belongs to the golden treasuries (89-98).[14] Heaney and Ted Hughes tried something different in The Rattle Bag (1982), but their overriding theme was pleasure particularly from non-canonical sources.[15] In their collection, there was no room for canonicity, therefore, or preservation, only (like Allingham) the unexpected and a “slight whiff of the counter-cultural”, as Heaney suggested to an audience in 2003.[16] Allingham’s anthology is useful counter to those who read poetry and literature simply in terms of the way it reflects history. We can now see that actively reconfiguring the past is also a way of shining a fresh light on the relationship between text and context. At one level, his unassuming model provides a valuable critique of The Treasuries and The Golden Treasury from over a century and a half ago. Equally, without the appearance of Bucknell’s book I might never have embarked on a reconsideration of the construction and purpose of anthologies in the modern period.


[1] Francis Turner Palgrave, The Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language (Updated by John Press) (1861; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). In this article I restrict my comments to the 1861 edition of Palgrave’s anthology. For Palgrave’s changes to later editions, see The Golden Treasury edited by Christopher Ricks and published by Penguin in 1991.

[2] For a recent, detailed discussion of Palgrave and his collaboration with Tennyson and others, see Marvin Spevack “The Golden Treasury: 150 Years On” in British Library Journal 2 (2012). This excellent article, which a dear friend and Blake scholar, Professor Jim McCord, alerted me to, is missing from Bucknell’s index.

[3] F.T. Palgrave, The Golden Treasury (ed. Christopher Ricks) (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991), 446.

[4] For poetry pharmacies, see William Sieghart, The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried-and-True Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind and Soul (London: Penguin, 2017).

[5] For Yeats’s comment, see The Trembling of the Veil (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1925), reprinted in Autobiographies (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1955).

[6] Holbrook Jackson, The Eighteen-Nineties (London: Grant Richards, 1913). In his later survey, Dreamers of Dreams: The Rise and Fall of 19th Century Idealism (London: Faber and Faber, 1948), “utopian” appears as another word for “frivolous”, which is how Thomas Carlyle dismissed the attack on commercialism by Morris and John Ruskin (92).

[7] Book VI consists of poems published between 1939 and 1992 and written by British and Irish poets born after 1910. I am not sure this addition to Palgrave has much merit. In 100 Poets: A Little Anthology (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021), John Carey manages to include just eleven women from a list of poets he describes as “mostly but not exclusively English and American”.

[8] See her chapter “Poetry on Page and Stage” in Mary Eagleton and Emma Parker, eds., The History of British Women’s Writing, 1970-Present (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

[9] Giraldus (William Allingham) (ed.), Nightingale Valley: A Collection Including A Great Number of the Choicest Lyrics and Short Poems in the English Language (London: Bell and Daldy, 1860). The subtitle to Yeats’s A Vision, which was published by T. Werner Laurie in 1925, carries a reference to Giraldus: “An Explanation of Life Founded Upon the Writings of Giraldus and upon Certain Doctrines Attributed to Kusta Ben Luka”. It is not clear if Yeats’s use of Giraldus owes anything to Allingham. In a letter dated Christmas 1859, Dante Gabriel Rossetti asked Allingham “Why Giraldus?” See Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti to William Allingham 1854-1870 (ed. George Birkbeck Hill) (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1897), 219. For a further, inconclusive, discussion, see Edward Larrissy, Yeats the Poet: The Measures of Difference (London: Routledge 1994), 147.

[10] David Pierce (ed.), Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century: A Reader (Cork: Cork University Press, 1999). I deliberately used the word reader and not anthology for it lacks the authority we associate with anthology. At the book’s launch in Dublin in spring 2000, John Montague told me it reminded him of a “baby” Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day, 1991). I begged to differ. My book was designed for the school library, the other for the research library.

[11] Letters to William Allingham (eds. H. Allingham and E. Baumer Williams) (London: Longmans, Green, 1911), 284. In August 1849 Allingham spent time at the British Museum with Coventry Patmore “to look up Blake”, but without success. William Allingham: A Diary (eds. H. Allingham and D. Radford) (1907: Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), 53. For more information, see D.F. McKenzie ‘William Allingham’s Notebook of Poems by Blake” in Turnbull Library Record 1:3 March 1968 (National Library New Zealand).

[12] It is unclear where Allingham got his four stanza version of Blake’s “Tyger” poem or why he calls it “The Tiger”. Apart from two changes in punctuation, the first stanza, which includes the word “symmetry”, is identical to the one we are familiar with today.

[13] Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti to William Allingham 1854-1870 (ed. George Birkbeck Hill) (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1897), 222. Editor’s note to letter dated Christmas 1859. (First publication date for the anthology is 1860.)

[14] David Pierce, The Joyce Country: Literary Scholarship and Irish Culture (Brighton: Edward Everett Root, 2021): 89-98.

[15] Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes (eds.), The Rattle Bag (London: Faber, 1982).

[16] See ‘Seamus Heaney: Bags of Enlightenment’, The Guardian 25 October, 2003.

Works Cited

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| Received: 23-10-2023 | Last Version: 09-02-2024 | Issue 19, Think Piece