John Taylor's Pot-Poetry

Craik, Katharine A.
October 2005
Seventeenth Century;Autumn2005, Vol. 20 Issue 2, p185
Academic Journal
This essay considers considers two pamphlets from the early career of John Taylor the Water Poet, The Pennyles Pilgrimage (1618) and The Praise of Hemp-seed (1620), and explores Taylor's description of writing as a branch of domestic industry whose virtues reside in plainness rather than fineness. Most early modern theorists of poetry privileged ingenium or natural wit, arguing that literary excellence originated in the smooth, spontaneous workings of the imagination. Drawing resourcefully from contemporary theories of authorship, including Ben Jonson's, Taylor proposed instead that literary value depended upon exercitatio , the intellectual and physical labour involved in writing. It is argued that the familiar contemporary figure of the pot-poet enabled Taylor to contribute in important ways to contemporary debates about literary worth. Although pot-poetry was associated with both social roughness and aesthetic worthlessness, this category of literature nevertheless provided Taylor with a vocabulary to describe and enact new strategies of professionalism in print.


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