home | index | concordance | composite list of variants | help

Bibliographical Description of the O'Flahertie Manuscript of Donne's Poems.

Shelfmark: Houghton Library, Harvard University, ms. Eng. 966.5 (Norton ms. 4504); DV siglum H6 1632

Format: 4o (17.7 x 14.1 cm; 6-15/16 x 5-1/2 in.); 236 leaves1

Contents: 1st free endpaper [added by binder] blank; 2nd free endpaper [added by binder] pasted-in engravings2; p.[i] original handwritten title page indicating completion of the ms. “ this 12 of October 1632”; p. [ii] blank; pp. [iii]-[vi] scribal “Table [of contents]”;  p. [vii] handwritten note of Thos. Burton; p. [viii] blank ; pp. 1-52 text; pp. 53-56 blank; pp. 57-87 text; p. 88 blank; pp. 89-108 text; pp. 109-112 blank; pp. 113-56 text; pp. 157-60 missing; pp. 161-87 text; p. 188 blank; pp. 189-242 text; pp. 243-44 blank; pp. 245-314 text; pp. 315-16 blank; pp. 317-339 text; p. 400 blank; pp. 401-18 text; pp. 419-20 blank; pp. 421-40 text; pp. 441-60 blank; pp. [461]-[64] [added by binder] blank [see index of poems.]


1The manuscript originally comprised 234 leaves; 4 others were added (2 at the front, 2 at the back) when it was bound in its present form.  The 2 leaves containing pp. 157-60 were lost prior to the current binding.   Beginning with the first page of poetic text, the original scribe numbered the pages in the upper outside corner of each page, and this is the only reliable numbering in the volume.  Folio numbers were penciled into the lower inside margins of the original leaves at some time after the loss of pp. 157-60, but the leaf that should have been numbered  6 (pp. 3-4) was skipped and the number 6 written on leaf  7 (pp. 5-6), leaving every leaf from 7-169 under-numbered by 1; both leaf 169 and leaf 170 are numbered 170, with the result that the foliation finally becomes accurate at that point.     

2Recto contains pasted-in  frontispiece from 1651 Letters . . . (Peter Lombart’s engraving of Donne at the age of 49); verso contains pasted-in frontispiece from 1632 Death’s Duell (Martin Droeshout’s engraving of Donne in his winding sheet). 


The largest surviving manuscript collection of Donne’s poetry, H6 has played an important and enduring role in establishing the text of Donne’s poetry.  An 18th-century partial transcription of the manuscript (Harvard Univ. ms. Eng. 966.2) indicates that H6 was once owned by Thomas Parnel, Arch Deacon of Clogher, and after his death passed to Thos. Burton of Dublin, whose note on p. [vii] of the ms. is consistent with this assertion.  By the late 19th century, the artifact had passed into the possession of the Rev.T. R. O’Flahertie of Capel near Dorking, Surrey, and by 1906 was in the collection established by C. E. Norton at Harvard (see p.[ii]).  Grierson,  in his edition of 1912 (Q), was the first modern editor to consult the manuscript for an edition, assigning it to his loosely configured Group III (which also included B13[Skipwith], HH1 [Bridgewater],  H3[Carnaby],  NY1[Cave], O21[Phillipps], H7[Stephens], B46 [Stowe 961], and NY3[Westmoreland]) and noting that it had been used in the second 17th-century edition of  Donne’s collected Poems (1635, siglum B) both to correct the text and to augment the canon of the first edition of 1633 (A).  In her Divine Poems (1952), Gardner reiterated this view and further described H6 as an expanded copy of the Luttrell ms. (C9), which had come to light since the publication of Q.  Gardner’s pronouncements subsequently became the prevailing wisdom, being accepted by later editors as well as by both Keynes and Beal.  The Variorum editors, however,  have pointed to divergent readings in such lines as Har 191and EpLin 8 as evidence that H6 cannot derive from C9, but must instead derive from a common original, which was very likely compiled over the years by the same scribe who, envisioning an edition of the poems after Donne’s death, wrote out H6 as a fair copy to submit to the printer (see DV 2:430).  This account explains how H6 can include earlier states of the text (see, e.g., DV 7.1, lxii) despite its late date of completion (“this 12 of October 1632”)  (p. [i]). 

While documenting the extensive use made of the manuscript in revising and expanding the contents of B (which included adopting H6’s generic section headings throughout), the Variorum has also identified a few individual readings in A that must derive from H6 (see DV 2: lxxvii-lxxix),  a fact suggesting that shortly after completing his manuscript H6’s owner attempted to register it with the Stationers, learned of the Marriot edition already in press, and subsequently struck a deal that allowed Marriot immediate access to the artifact, which arrived on the scene too late for extensive use in A, but did supply a few targeted corrections.   We do not at present know exactly what was done with H6 after its use in the construction of B, but the Variorum volume on the Elegies shows that either it or its cognate C9 supplied editorial emendations for the Restoration edition (G) in 1669 (see DV 2:lxxxii and 434).  After resurfacing at Harvard in the early 20th century, the manuscript was used as the copy-text for a number of poems in Bennett’s  edition in 1942 and most recently has provided copy-texts  in both volumes 6 and 8 of the Variorum.

In the three-and-three-quarters centuries since its completion, several persons have corrected, added to, or otherwise annotated H6.   The first of these was the original scribe himself, who sought to perfect and expand his manuscript collection even as he permitted Marriot to use it in the preparation of B.  Some of this scribe’s notes may have been entered even before he initially met with Marriott (e.g., his “Quere if Donnes or Sr. Th: Rowes” beneath the heading of the “Satyricall letter . . .” on p. 82), but in others he corrects the text of his manuscript against A (e.g., the change of the original “by my selfe murderd” to A’s “by selfe-murder redd” in Lit 6 on p.1).  Moreover, as is demonstrated in the Holy sonnets volume of the Variorum, the H6 scribe copied the verse letter ED into his collection from A (DV 7.1:xcv-xcvi), and Stringer has recently argued that H6’s copy of Sidney derives from B (see JDJ 27 [2008], 197-211).  A few corrections by a second annotator are also scattered throughout the volume (the marginal “clods” for the original “Clouds” in Lit 128 [p. 6] exemplifies  this hand), and two other sets of notes (possibly in the same hand) indicate in either black or red ink whether each poem has been printed (“P.”) or remains “Not Printed.”   We may be certain that the annotations in red ink were entered after the publication of G in 1669 (see the note on p. 82), and this prompts the speculation that they might represent the beginnings of an effort by Parnel to follow Swift’s advice about publishing an edition from H6 (see Burton’s note on p. [vii]).    Finally, there are a further few textual/bibliographical notes entered in a neat penciled hand that is apparently that of C. E. Norton (see the reference to “Chamber’s ed. ii.266” on p. 148), who similarly annotated other Donne mss. in his possession.

Counting the 7-sonnet Corona as a single poem and excluding the dubious Citizen and Julia, H6 contains 168 Donne poems , a few poems by others, and collections both of Donne’s Paradoxes and his Problems.  The contents are organized under generic section headings, as follows:

  • Diuine Poems. 
  • 27  canonical poems (counting Corona as 1)
  • 6  canonical poems (including Metem)
  • 17  canonical poems (plus Citizen and Julia)
  • Epicedes and Obsequyes
    Upon the Deaths of Seuerall personages

  • 9  canonical poems (including  EtAD)
  • Letters to Seuerall/ Personages.
  • 32  canonical poems
  • Sonnets and Songs
  • 55  canonical poems
  • Epithalamions
  • 3  canonical poems
  • Epigrams
  • 19  canonical poems (Martial entered on last page of preceding section [p. 336])
  • Paradoxes.
  • 10  canonical
  • Problems
  • 19  canonical (plus “Description of a Scot…” and “Character of A Dunce”)


Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the photographs of  H6 were shot by the Harvard College Library Imaging Services in the spring of 2009 and are here presented by permission of Harvard University.