The Brotherton Collection of 17th and 18th century English literature includes over 180 manuscripts that contain nearly 7000 poems and verses. These manuscripts were gathered together to form a discrete collection of verse.
The manuscripts range from large verse miscellanies and commonplace books through religious and political texts to individual leaves containing only a single poem. The poems range from well-known poems by canonical authors to amateur verse, and cover a huge variety of topics.
Manuscript was frequently used as a mode of publication for material which could not be printed legitimately because of its satirical, political, or erotic content. In the reign of James I political satire circulated in manuscript rather cautiously, but during the Restoration period oppositional poetry would be passed from hand to hand in the London coffee houses, sometimes at the so-called ‘treason table’. These manuscripts normally took the form of ‘separates’, usually single sheets folded several times to facilitate concealment.
Other manuscripts were working copies, covered personal or idiosyncratic topics never intended for broad circulation, or were written by people–most women for example–who were not in a position to publish.