1. Beginning with memorial anthologies mourning the death of Sir Philip Sidney, NOTE 1 a seemingly endless spate of memorial anthologies issued forth from the two English Universities, a tradition that continued well into the eighteenth century. By and large, these are volumes of little interest to a modern reader. Leicester Bradner has described them as: NOTE 2
...a long line of memorial and congratulatory volumes which fill dismal pages of the British Museum Catalogue. Births and deaths in the royal family seldom failed to call forth the worst horrors of Latin verse from loyal students and dons, with accessions to the throne and victorioius battles filling up the gaps...their value as poetry is nearly always negligible.
At least if applied to Oxford’s Sidney anthology, Bradner’s appraisal would be grossly unfair. That anthology was assembled at a time when the University was still feeling genuine shock and grief at Sidney’s loss and contains some poetic gems, contributed by men who had known, admired, and imitated him and who regarded him as one of themselves. In general, however, it is deadly accurate. These anthologies were vehicles for showcasing the learning and talents of their individual contributors, although in this case “talent” all too often does not mean what we would regard as poetic ability, but rather mere cleverness, including the ability to write acrostic verse, shape-poems, and performing similar stunts of Latin versification. So, yes, their value is negligible. Somewhat more interesting, perhaps, is that these anthologies were also a vehicle by which a University could reassuringly exhibit its loyalty to the crown and its doctrinal orthodoxy (which amounted to the same thing), and anyone who has read H. C. Porter’s Reform and Reaction in Tudor Cambridge (Cambridge, 1958) will have a good idea of why such displays of institutional loyalty were sometimes prudent. In consequence, these volumes tended to contain a good deal of material which was, frankly, propaganda, so they provide grist for students of the use of Anglo-Latin poetry for propagandistic purposes, always a rewarding subject for investigation.
2. A second reason for paying attention to these academic anthologies is that from them minor works by major writers can sometimes be excavated. No such writer was more indefatigable in contributing to these anthologies than Robert Burton, author of The Anatomy of Melancholy. Epigrams as well as a few longer pieces can be found in no less than sixteen anthologies issued by the University of Oxford, as well as two issued by his own college, Christ Church, covering a period extending from 1603 to 1638. These have been diligently identified and collected by William Edward Buckler in an appendix to his 1862 Hertford edition of Burton’s comedy Philosophaster (pp. 123 - 148). Although Buckler’s presentation remains serviceable, there is need for a modern edition because he did not provide an English translation and furnished no annotation.
NOTE 1 The Cambridge anthology Peplus illustrissimi viri D. Philippi Sidnaei supremis honoribus dicatus, edited by Alexander Neville, was published at London on the day of Sidney’s funeral. This was followed by a New College (Oxford) anthology, Peplus illustrissimi viri D. Philippi Sidnaei supremis honoribus dicatus, and finally by the 1587 University of Oxford one, Exequiae Illustratissimi Equitis D. Philippi Sidnaei, Gratissimae Memoriae ac Nomini Impensae, edited by William Gager.
NOTE 2 “A finding List of Anglo-Latin Anthologies,” Modern Philology 17 (1929) 99f. As an extreme example of this traditions tenacity, Bradner even mentions a Harvard anthology, Pietas et Gratulatio, dedicated to George III in 1761.