, Volume 96, Issue 4, pp 641-649,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 28 Jan 2012

New Light on the Author of the Twenty-Four Poems in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Digby 102

Abstract

The twenty-four poems preserved in MS Digby 102 are anonymous. Josef Kail, their first editor, in 1904 drew a profile of the author that has remained unchallenged for more than a century. Over the years, Kail’s conclusions were copied virtually without comment in anthologies and incidental thematic publications on individual poems. In 2009 two new critical editions of the complete sequence appeared virtually simultaneously and wholly independently from each other. One is by Helen Barr, the other I wrote as my doctoral thesis (Verheij 2009). On the subject of the identity of the author of the Digby poems we reached very nearly identical conclusions, albeit along wholly different lines. In this paper, which draws extensively from my thesis, I propose to deal in some detail with only my line of argument, Helen Barr’s conclusions of course receiving due recognition. I examine in close detail the poet’s profile as drawn by Kail of ‘a priest, most probably an abbot or a prior’, who ‘as such … occupied a seat in parliament and voted with the Commons’. In succession, all possible parliamentary roles for the writer are considered and dismissed. Internal thematic indications combined with external evidence of certain historical occurrences then lead to an alternative profile of a poet who worked and lived in close proximity to the Westminster centre of political power.