Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Allott, Robert

ALLOTT, ROBERT (fl. 1600), was 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.’ The compiler's name is not given on the title-page, but the initials ‘R. A.’ are appended to the two 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. Mr. J. P. Collier, however, in his reprint (Seven English Poetical Miscellanies, 1867), suggests that the initials ‘R. A.’ belong to Robert Armin, author of the ‘Nest of Ninnies.’ He reasons thus: Robert Allott prefixed some complimentary verses to Tofte's ‘Alba’ (1598), and therefore we should have expected to find some extracts from ‘Alba’ in Allott's anthology; as we find none, it is unlikely that Allott was the editor. Mr. Collier's memory was at fault. There are no such verses by Robert Allott, although, as Mr. Collier himself points out in another place (Bibliogr. Account, ii. 111), there is a sonnet by a certain ‘R. A.,’ whose identity we have no means of discovering.

In 1599 was published a thick duodecimo, entitled ‘Wits Theater of the Little World,’ a prose ‘collection of the flowers of antiquities and histories.’ 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 seventeenth century, which, like ‘England's Helicon’ and ‘Wits Theater,’ have been repeatedly associated with his name; he was merely their projector and patron [see Bodenham, John].

No biographical facts have come down about Allott. Brydges (Restituta, iii. 234) surmised that he was the Robert Allott who held a fellowship at St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1599. There was also a publisher of this name in the early part of the seventeenth century; but we have no means of identifying the editor of ‘England's Parnassus’ with either of his namesakes. Two sonnets by a Robert Allott are prefixed to Gervase Markham's ‘Devereux’ (1597); his name is appended to a sonnet and six 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 six Latin hexameters (signed ‘R. A.’) prefixed to ‘Wits Commonwealth.’

‘England's Parnassus’ is a thick octavo volume of some five hundred 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. 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 printed for the first time 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.

‘England's Parnassus’ has been twice reprinted; first in Park's ponderous ‘Heliconia,’ 1815, and again, for private circulation, by Mr. Collier, 1867.

Allott's other production, ‘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.’

[Corser's Collectanea, i. 35–7; Collier's Bibliographical Account. ii. 108–11; Collier's Seven English Poetical Miscellanies, 1867; Appendix to Swinburne's Essay on the Poetical and Dramatic Works of George Chapman, 1875.]

A. H. B.