Sidney and (NOT)Publication

        Sidney's Astrophil and Stella apparently was written during the late 1570s and early 1580s, while his family was tentatively negotiating a marriage for him with, among other potential brides, Penelope Devereaux.  Because she married the wonderfully named Lord Rich in 1581, sonnet 37, at least, can be dated to that year on internal evidence ("Rich she is," l. 14).  The full "cycle" or narrative sequence of 108 sonnets and eleven songs would have circulated in manuscript, like the poems of Wyatt and Surrey pre-Tottel, until after Sidney's death in 1586.  In print, the book is extremely rare, one of the book collector's most sought-after prizes in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries' era of "bibliomania."  The editio princeps (London: Thomas Newman, 1591) playfully toys with anonymity in a fashion that reflects the nobility's reluctance to embrace the medium of print, and in fact, it was "suppressed" in obedience to the political power of Sidney's extended family: Syr P.S.  His Astrophel and Stella.  Wherein the excellene of sweete poesie is concluded.  To the end of which are added, sundry other rare sonnets of diuers noble men and gentlemen.  As a result, only two copies survive in England (British Library and Cambridge University Trinity College Library), and in some North American private collections.  The second edition, whose printer chose the shield of anonymity, probably was printed for Matthew Lownes in 1597 and entered into the Stationer's Company register on 23 October 1598.  Copies of the second edition, which includes poems by Samuel Daniel and others, survive at the British Library, Oxford University Bodleian Library, some English private collections, the Folger Shakespeare Library in D.C., and the Henry E. Huntington Library in California.  Our Rare Book Collection's earliest edition of A&S is included in a 1655 compilation that also contains his "Defense of Poesy," which we will read just before the midterm exam, and The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia.  The Arcadia is a prose romance he wrote while "rusticated" from court to the family estate for too vigorously opposing the proposed marriage of Queen Elizabeth to a French Catholic nobleman, the Duke d'Anjou.  In this, the Arcadia shares with Wyatt's "Mine Own John Poins," a history of being composed while its author was banished from court, but they are strikingly different projects.

        Contrast Sidney's total neglect of print publication during his lifetime with his friend and poetic colleague, Edmund Spenser, who actively sought public fame and court advancement by publishing print editions of his works.  His first (Shepherd's Calendar, 1579) was dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney as a courtly patron, and contained political satire couched in the then-popular, nostalgic pastoral mode (pastor = Latin "shepherd").  Spenser's sonnet cycle, Amoretti (1595), was written about his courtship of the woman he actually married, and he published it (and "Epithalamion") the year after their marriage.  Imagine "Astrophil" writing a poem to "Stella" in which he rapturously anticipated the birth of the child they would have after she stopped saying "No, no, no, no, my dear, let be" ("Fourth Song" l. 6).

        If you are interested in learning more about how the publication of Elizabethan English literature was transformed by print publication, and especially how printers' reliance on courtly patrons like Sidney changed to a pursuit of ordinary reading patrons by means of advertisements, see:

Voss, Paul J.  "Books for Sale: Advertising and Patronage in Late Elizabethan England."  The Sixteenth Century Journal, 29:3 (Autumn, 1998), pp. 733-756.  Stable URL:

For an excellent analysis of how even England's first printer took advantage of the "small 'p'" patrons to dominate the nation's emerging marketplace for mass-produced books (vs. custom-made one-off MSS), see:

Rutter, Russell.  "William Caxton and Literary Patronage."  Studies in Philology 84:4 (Autumn 1987): 440-70.  Stable URL: