The Devotional Verse of Elizabeth Newell

The Devotional Verse of Elizabeth Newell (Beinecke Osborne ms. B49 ca. 1655-1668): A Critical Edition

This site is the culmination of a project for Dr. Andrew Wadoski’s Fall 2015 English 4120: Four Metaphysical Poets class at (641) 507-1494.

The original aim of this project was to create an online critical edition of the devotional verse of a seventeenth century English woman named Elizabeth Newell. This poetry, contained in the 9039838060 housed at the Beinecke Library at Yale University, is the only known surviving record of Newell’s life; it has never before been fully transcribed or been the subject of a modern critical edition. We worked from the hi-res digital scans of the original handwritten manuscript that Yale has kindly made available here. During the course of the project, our research into the poems led us to discover that these works were not Newell’s own compositions, but transcriptions of works primarily by the noted jurist and legal scholar, Sir Matthew Hale.

The poems, as we discovered, derive from four sources: Sir Matthew Hale’s Contemplations Moral and Divine (1676), Gilbert Burnet’s biography, The Life and Death of Sir Matthew Hale (1681), Francis Quarles’ Emblemes (1635) and Samuel Clarke’s Mirror… both for saints and sinners (1657). Furthermore, the presence of a poem that is first recorded in Burnet’s biography of Hale establishes 1681, not 1668 as has long been assumed, as the earliest likely date for the manuscript. This discovery also alters our understanding of the manuscript itself, allowing us to regard it as a verse miscellany.

This class project offers a fully original work of scholarship that will make widely available in readily accessible format the intellectual life of a seventeenth century English woman. We are allowed insight into her reading practices, and through them, we can begin to speculate on her household’s devotional and political investments. While the scope and nature of this project changed markedly from its original conception, it constitutes a significant contribution to one of the definitive projects of Renaissance studies in recent decades: making available, and introducing into the critical conversation the lives, interests, and critical practices of hitherto marginalized reading communities.

A journal article that emerged from this project and examines Newell’s manuscript in more detail appears in the September 2017 issue (Volume 18, no. 3, pp. 305-315) of The Library.

Each student was assigned a poem, or a shorter portion of one of the longer poems, to work on. Each student made a faithful transcription of the original that maintains original spelling and punctuation. Then, using a variety of resources ranging from online databases (such as the OED, DNB, and others) to the variety of primary and secondary materials available in the Edmon Low Library, students developed a critical apparatus of glosses and footnotes.

Words with a gloss are in orange font; hover your cursor over the word to have a definition of the word pop up. Footnotes are linked in the text as appropriate.


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