Adam Smyth. "Profit and Delight": Printed Miscellanies in England, 1640-1682. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2004. 246pp. ISBN 0 8143 3014 2.

Gillian Wright
University of Birmingham

Gillian Wright. "Review of Adam Smyth,"Profit and Delight": Printed Miscellanies in England, 1640-1682." Early Modern Literary Studies 13.1 (May, 2007) 10.1-4<URL:>.


  1. Adam Smyth's book on print miscellanies of the mid-to-late seventeenth century fills a scholarly gap which had been apparent since the publication, a decade earlier, of such landmark studies as Mary Hobbs' Early Seventeenth-Century Verse Miscellany Manuscripts (1992), Harold Love's Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England (1993) and Arthur Marotti's Manuscript, Print, and the English Renaissance Lyric (1995). If the main thrust of Hobbes', Love's and Marotti's arguments was to insist on the literary and sociological importance of manuscript composition and circulation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, their work also, sometimes incidentally, brought to light the world of the seventeenth-century printed miscellany, which previously -- like its manuscript counterpart -- had been subject to scholarly neglect and even derision. This neglect has now been admirably rectified by Adam Smyth's Profit and Delight, which provides an entertaining and eminently knowledgeable guide to printed miscellanies of the period 1640-1682.

  2. Profit and Delight falls into four chapters. After an opening survey, mapping out the scope and self-construction of the forty-one miscellanies included in Smyth's study, there follow sections on 'Readers and Readings', 'Printed Miscellanies and the Transmission of Texts' and 'Politics, Themes and Preoccupations'. In line with previous scholarship on manuscript miscellanies, Smyth insists on the relative unimportance of the author principle within printed collections, which, as he points out, frequently fail to attribute the authorship of poems and often evince a distinctly reckless attitude towards textual fidelity. Instead, Smyth prefers to privilege compilers and, especially, readers in the production, circulation and consumption of poetic texts. In generous and compelling detail, Profit and Delight attends to both the production and the reception of miscellany texts, as well as to the fluid and shifting boundaries between manuscript and print during the period under consideration. Printed compilations of the 1640s and 50s are read in relation to the manuscript miscellanies of the 1620s and 30s, whose elite status, Smyth argues, was invoked by the more commercial print miscellanies in order to construct and entice their own aspirant but less well-connected readerships. At the 'reading' end of the process Smyth cites and analyses evidence from books and manuscripts now held in an impressive array of British and American repositories, teasing out the reception practices of these miscellanies' historical, as opposed to their projected, readerships. Pleasantly, for instance, he is able to show that while printed miscellanies typically construct their readers as smart, sexy young men about town, there is in fact substantial evidence that many of the earliest owners and readers of miscellany volumes were women.

  3. Many of the broad arguments of Profit and Delight will be unsurprising to anyone who has followed the scholarship on seventeenth-century miscellanies and manuscript transmission over the past decade and a half. That miscellany compilers were no respecters of textual originals, that they were interested in sex and drink, that they tended to favour the royalist side in the Civil War: all this will be familiar ground to the well-informed reader. Smyth's contribution to scholarly knowledge lies principally in the wealth of detailed examples which he brings to bear to illustrate his arguments. But these detailed examples also enable him to complicate and interrogate received narratives in several important respects. Smyth's extensive knowledge of manuscript and printed miscellanies enables him, for instance, to challenge the commonly-held assumption that textual transmission between the two media occurred in only one direction: showing that manuscript compilers were as ready to draw on printed sources as print compilers on manuscripts. His comparison of compilation practices in both media also equips him to question the conventional binary distinction between the 'fixity' of print and the fluidity of manuscript; neither, the evidence suggests, can be taken for granted.

  4. Like many genres traditionally frowned on by literary scholars, print miscellanies are heavily implicated in the politics of their day. It is one of the many strengths of Profit and Delight that it analyses the link between royalism -- both pre- and post-Civil War -- and the forms and preoccupations of miscellany contents with acute attention to detail, providing a complex, carefully historicised account which resists the temptation to homogenise its subject matter. It is mildly disappointing, however, that comparatively little attention is paid to the politics of post-Civil War printed miscellanies. Smyth's brief acknowledgement that after 1660 miscellanies 'were no longer a means to voice direct opposition to government' (140) hints at further questions which this study, perhaps understandably, does little to address. Far from exhausting its subject, this witty and innovative monograph, like the miscellanies themselves, provides a tantalising glimpse of textual riches, and leaves its readers curious for more.
Works Cited

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