Englands Parnassus, or, The choysest flowers of our modern poets, with their poeticall comparisons
In 1600 Robert Allott published a miscellany consisting of short passages of English poetry, “The Choysest Flowers of our Moderne Poets,” arranged into nearly 200 subject areas. Little is known about Allott except that the previous year he assembled a similar book of prose extracts titled Wits Theater of the little World. Altogether the miscellany contains 2,350 quotations from a rather limited range of authors—fortunately including many of the great writers of the period, including (with number of quotations): George Chapman (83), Samuel Daniel (115), Thomas Dekker (18), Michael Drayton (163), Edward Fairfax (62), John Harington (196), Ben Jonson (13), Thomas Lodge (131), Christopher Marlowe (33), William Shakespeare (91), Philip Sidney (68), and Edmund Spenser (225).
To prepare England’s Parnassus, Allott used very recent printed books among his sources as well as some manuscript materials from authors that must have been personal acquaintances. For example, the Edward Fairfax quotations come from Godfrey of Bulloigne, printed in 1600, and his Shakespeare quotations from Romeo and Juliet are drawn from the much better 1599 quarto edition. Additional Shakespeare sources are his early poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece and three other early plays: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Richard II, and 1 Henry IV. One remarkable selection is a twenty-four-line entry attributed to Christopher Marlowe, known only by its appearance in England’s Parnassus and now simply titled “Fragment.” It is thought that the manuscript copy was provided by George Chapman, who possessed some of Marlowe’s papers and completed his Hero and Leander.
In his classic critical edition of England’s Parnassus (1913), Charles Crawford was appreciative but quite critical of Allott’s efforts, saying that it is “an honest book, but it was compiled by an incompetent man, who had the great disadvantage of having to contend with a careless printer who took no interest in his work.” There are more than 100 wrongly ascribed quotations, including the most notable from Shakespeare. The fifteen-line opening from the “This royal throne of Kings, this sceptered isle…” speech by the dying John of Gaunt in Act II, Scene 1 of Richard II is attributed to Michael Drayton.
The present copy has the bookplate of H. Bradley Martin, whose collection of highly important English literature sold at Sotheby’s, New York, on April 30–May 1, 1990.