Skip to main content Accessibility help

Early Editions of ‘Upon the Image of Death’

  • Dara Kaye

After Jesuit priest Robert Southwell's execution in February 1595, his letters and poems surged in popularity, and demand for his newly printed works quickly outstripped supply. Moeoniae, a collection of twenty-two poems ‘both Diuine and Wittie’ printed as an addendum to his popular Saint Peter's Complaint, had two editions in 1595 alone, and at least one more before the end of the century. Poem number 18 in Moeoniae, ‘Upon the Image of Death’, also appears in the seventeenth-century Waferer Commonplace Book (British Library Add. MS 52585) but only in one other manuscript collection with the rest of his poems. Modern Southwell editions have quarantined the poem under headings such as ‘Poem of Dubious Authorship’. And yet the poem, a meditative confession and plea for grace in the face of mortality, does display some elements of Southwell's style, and is particularly compelling if in fact it was written in the years Southwell struggled to provide spiritual guidance to his loyal congregation while evading capture and execution. This paper investigates the relationship between the commonplace book, the Moeoniae print editions, and the manuscript poetry collections from which ‘Upon the Image of Death’ is conspicuously absent, and offers a new annotated edition of the poem.

Hide All


1 Moeoniae title page.

2 See, for example, White's 1964 article ‘Southwell: Metaphysical and Baroque’.

3 Southwell quotations are from McDonald and Brown (1967), unless otherwise noted.

4 See also ‘I die alive’, ‘What joy to live?’, ‘Lifes death loves life’.

5 The poem's association with Mary Stuart and celebration of martyrdom ensured that this poem was not printed in the early modern period. See Davidson and Sweeney (2007) pp. 158–9.

6 I am indebted to McDonald and Brown (1967) for noting the swash font in C and 1599 (p. lxxii).

7 Neither the STC, McDonald's Bibliographical Study, nor the textual notes in any edition of Southwell's poems available at the British Library provide a reason for dating the third edition to 1599, some seemingly following the STC without comment, disregarding the ‘?’ appended to the date. Further research is needed to confirm or revise the chronology.

8 The executor of Southwell's brother-in-law's estate was an Arden Waferer (Woudhuysen 1996, p. 244). I have so far been unable to determine what, if any, was the relationship between Arden and the Waferer book; but the uncommon name and Catholic connection make an association inviting.

9 See Frye, 1965.

10 Through Shakespeare's Eyes, p. 13. As supporting evidence for this statement, Pearce help-fully provides a footnote to his own previous book, The Quest for Shakespeare.

11 Bodleian MS Eng. poet. b. 5, compiled 1651–4 by the Catholic yeoman Thomas Fairfax, and possibly others in his circle (see Brown, 2003). That copy of ‘Upon the Image of Death’ deviates from print editions in several places. The Fairfax book also contains, along with works by other authors, thirty-one of Southwell's poems, including some, like ‘Decease release’, which existed only in manuscript. Despite the availability of twenty print editions of Southwell's poetry, the Fairfax book reveals that it continued to circulate in manuscript well into the seventeenth century, and a comparison of that manuscript with other manuscripts and print editions ‘shows that in almost every case its readings are closer to those of the best manuscript tradition than to those of Busbie's text’ (McKay 1970, p.187).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

British Catholic History
  • ISSN: 2055-7973
  • EISSN: 2055-7981
  • URL: /core/journals/british-catholic-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed