A number of early Elizabethan poems and songs were printed and published together by one printer Mr. Richard Tottel, under the title Songes and Sonnettes, written by the ryght honorable Lorde Henry Howrad, Late Earle of Surrey and others. The volume is popularly known as Tottel’s Miscellany. It is found to contain poems, mainly from Wyatt and Surrey and from some other poets, most of whom are yet to be identified distinctly. The volume proved to be immensely popular and passed through several editions within a short span.
The first thirty-two pages of the Miscellany contains thirty-six poems by Surrey. These are followed by Wyatt’s poems. In fact, the sonnets of Wyatt and Surrey seem to go together in Tottel’s Miscellany.
The other contributors to Tottel’s Miscellany include Nicholas Grimald, with forty poetical pieces, Thomas Lord Vaux, with two, John Heywood, the dramatist, with one, and Edward Somerset, with one. One hundred and thirty poems also included the Miscellany, are by uncertain poets, some of whom might have been identified as William Thynne, Sir Thomas Bryan and Thomas Churchyard. These poems by the uncertain authors are not of the same type or quality. There are love poems, sonnets in the Petrarchan convention of Wyatt and Surrey as also the songs of complaints about feminine fickleness and frailty. Those anonymous poets appear to follow Wyatt and Surrey and to repeat even their thoughts, ideas and conceits time and again.
The historical importance of Tottel’s Miscellany is, however, immense. It is the first surviving printed communication of poetry to a great variety of readers. The collection presents different types of works and thereby indicates different poetical influences and inclinations at work in the early days of the Renaissance. It is supposed to be a belated manifesto of the new poetry in the Elizabethan age.
It may be noted that, without this Tollel’s Miscellany, much of the early poems of the Elizabethan age would have been lost. Tottel’s Miscellany, helped by the process of printing, at least, managed to preserve the works that had to create a remarkable tradition in English poetry, In this Tottle’s preservation of the sonnets of Wyatt and Surrey may be mentioned in particular.