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Bibliographical Description of the Westmoreland Manuscript of Donne's Poems.

Berg Collection, New York Public Library [no shelf mark]; DV siglum: NY3 c. 1620

Format: 2o (approx. 29.4 x 19.5 cm; 11-9/16 x 7-5/8 in.);  51 leaves in 5 gatherings ([ff. 1-7v];  [ff. 8-19v]; [ff. 20-31v]; [ff. 36-43v]; [ff. 44-51v]); lower ¾ of leaf 45 cut away; original cream vellum bindings

Contents: inside front cover: ms. title-page and early handwritten bookplate; [f. 1] blank except for Edmund Gosse’s signature; [f. 1v] blank except for generic descriptor of contents; [ff. 2-11] text; [f. 11v] blank; [ff. 12-23] text; [f. 23v] blank; [ff. 24-32] text; [f. 32v] blank; [ff. 33-47] text; [ff. 47v-51v] blank; inside back cover: Gosse’s bookplate [see index of poems.]

Notes: The Westmoreland (NY3) is one of the most important manuscripts of Donne’s works that have come down to us.   It is canonically pure, and preserves generally (and, in some cases, uniquely) sound, early versions of the texts it contains, a number of which are found in no other seventeenth-century artifact.  It also possesses high extrinsic authority, being written (as we now know) in the hand of Donne’s friend Rowland Woodward and undoubtedly standing very close to Donne’s own papers.  Prior to acquistion by the New York Public Library in the late 1920s, the manuscript  was owned by Edmund Gosse, purchased from the library of  the Earls of Westmoreland about 1892 (Herbert  Grierson, The Poems of John Donne [1912], 2:lxxxi).  Gosse occasionally drew material from the manuscript in preparing his 2 vol. Life and Letters of John Donne (1899), printing—among other items—NY3’s unique set of Holy Sonnets, which includes three that exist in no other manuscript  and that had never been printed before Gosse obtained the artifact (for a discussion of Gosse’s rather careless handling of these poems, see DV, vol 7.1, lxxix-lxxx).  On the basis of its contents, Gosse conjectured that the manuscript had been prepared for Woodward, who was for a time secretary to the first Earl of Westmoreland; but some time between 1952 and 1965 Alan MacColl identified the handwriting of the manuscript as that of Woodward himself—one of only a handful of such identifications to have been made among the scribal mss. of Donne’s poems (see Helen Gardner, John Donne: the Elegies and the Songs and Sonnets [1965], lxxii).  Grierson listed NY3 among his Group-III manuscripts, but by 1952  Helen Gardner (Divine Poems) had assigned it to its own category as the sole member of Group IV, a classification it has retained in subsequent editions.   For a detailed discussion of the artifact’s contents, physical makeup, and processes of compilation and inscription, see DV 7.1:  lxvii-lxx.

The small lower-case ps beneath the poem titles on folios 6, 17, 19, 21, 24, 25v, 28v, 30v, 32, 38, 46, and 46v are in the hand of one of the manuscript’s later owners and indicate that the poems so marked had appeared in one of the published editions (i.e., had been "printed"). These ps are excluded from the transcriptions and from the concordance.

Counting the 7 sonnets of La Corona as a single work, NY3 contains 79 of Donne's poems, 1 verse letter addressed to Donne (“Thou sendst me prose & rimes”), and 10 prose paradoxes, organized into generic groups as follows:

  • 5   Satires
  • 13 Elegies (concluding with the funereal "Sorrow, who to this house”)
  • 1 Epithalamion
  • 20 Verse Letters (“Thou sendst me prose & rimes” is 6th in the sequence)
  • 19 Holy Sonnets (the last 3 are unique to this artifact)
  • La Corona (comprising 7 individual sonnets)
  • 10 Paradoxes (prose)
  • 20 Epigrams
  • 1 lyric (“To a Ieat ring / sent to me”)

Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the photographs of NY3 were shot by the Photographic Services department of the New York Public Library in the spring of 2009 and are here presented by permission of the NYPL. The bibliographical account of the artifact provided here is indebted to Ted-Larry Pebworth, “Notes on the Westmoreland Ms.,” unpubl. paper, April 1991.