England's Parnassus

England's Parnassus, 1600. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Robert Allott (1597-1600 fl.) was an English poet and anthologist, the editor of a famous miscellany of Elizabethan poetry, entitled England's Parnassus; or the choycest Flowers of our Modern Poets, with their Poeticall comparisons, Descriptions of Bewties, Personages, Castles, Pallaces, Mountaines, Groves, Seas, Springs, Rivers, &c. Whereunto are annexed other various discourses, both pleasant and profitable. Imprinted at London for N. L., C. B., and T. H., 1600.


No biographical facts have come down about Allott. Brydges surmised that he was the Robert Allott who held a fellowship at St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1599.[1] There was also a publisher of this name in the early part of the 17th century; but we have no means of identifying the editor of England's Parnassus with either.[2]

2 sonnets by a Robert Allott are prefixed to Gervase Markham's Devereux (1597); his name is appended to a sonnet and 6 Latin hexameters prefixed to Chr. Middleton's Legend of Duke Humphrey (1600); and a Robert Allott is noticed in John Weever's Epigrams’ (1599). In each of these cases the Robert Allott is doubtless to be identified with the editor of England's Parnassus, to whom we might also attribute with safety the 6 Latin hexameters (signed "R.A.") prefixed to Wits Commonwealth.[2]

England's ParnassusEdit

England's Parnassus is a thick octavo volume of some 500 pages. The extracts are arranged alphabetically under subject-headings, and the author's name is appended in each case. Mr. Collier has succeeded in tracing most of the extracts to the particular works from which they are taken. From his tabular statement we find that Spenser is quoted 225 times, Shakespeare 79, Daniell 115, Drayton 163, Warner 117, Chapman 69 (really 83; vide Appendix to Swinburne's Essay on Chapman), Ben Jonson 13, Marlowe 33.[2]

Critics have commented severely on Allott's carelessness; but perhaps the charge has been somewhat overstated. There are certainly some glaring instances of inaccuracy, as when Gaunt's dying speech is attributed to Drayton, and the opening lines of Spenser's "Mother Hubberd's Tale" to Greene. But England's Parnassus’ has been the means of preserving some exquisite verse. The fragment of Marlowe beginning "I walked along a stream for pureness rare" was originally printed in this collection; nor is it necessary to hold with Dyce (preface to Marlowe's Works), that Allott "never resorted to manuscript sources." Moreover, some of the entries enable us to assign to their proper owners books of which the authorship would be otherwise unknown.[2]

The compiler's name is not given on the title-page, but the initials "R.A." are appended to the 2 preliminary sonnets. Oldys, the antiquary, in the preface to Hayward's British Muse (1738), asserted that he had seen a copy containing the signature "Robert Allott" in full; and it has been solely on Oldys's authority hitherto that the compilation of this valuable anthology has been attributed to Allott. The fact has been overlooked that Dr. Farmer, in a manuscript note in his copy of England's Parnassus (preserved in the British Museum), states that he, too, had seen the name "Robert Allott" printed in full.[2]

Wit's TheaterEdit

In 1599 was published a thick duodecimo, entitled Wits Theater of the Little World, a prose "collection of the flowers of antiquities and histories." Wits Theater is a collection of moral sayings gathered from classical authors, anecdotes of famous men, historical epitomes, and the like. It contains plenty of curious information, but is hardly less wearisome than Meres's Wit's Treasury.[2]

There is no name on the title-page, and the dedication in most copies is addressed "To my most esteemed and approved loving friend, Maister J.B.," and bears no signature. One bibliographer after another ascribes the book to John Bodenham. But there is a copy (preserved in the British Museum) in which the dedication is signed ‘Robert Allott,’ and "J.B." is printed in full, "John Bodenham." It is thus clear that Allott was the compiler of Wits Theater,’ and that the book was produced under Bodenham's patronage. Bodenham, it can be shown on other grounds, was not the compiler of the prose and verse miscellanies of the beginning of the 17th century, which, like England's Helicon and Wits Theater, have been repeatedly associated with his name; he was merely their projector and patron.[2]



Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[3]


  • PD-icon.svg Bullen, Arthur Henry (1885) "Allott, Robert" in Stephen, Leslie Dictionary of National Biography 1 London: Smith, Elder, p. 336 . Wikisource, Web, July 3, 2016.


  1. (Restituta, iii. 234.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Bullen, 336.
  3. Search results = au:Robert Allott, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, July 3, 2016.

External linksEdit

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: Allott, Robert.

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