John Cleveland



The Poems of John Cleveland, ed. John Berdan (New Haven, 1903)

Character (1647)

[John Cleveland], The Character of a London Diurnall, with several select Poems by the same Author (1647)

Morris & Withington

The Poems of John Cleveland, ed. Brian Morris and Eleanor Withington (Oxford, 1967)


Eleanor Withington, ‘The Canon of John Cleveland's Poetry’, Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 67 (1963), 307-27, 377-94.


The Canon

John Cleveland, Fellow and Rhetoric Reader of St John's College, Cambridge, Royalist poet and satirist, was one of the most popular poets of his day. His frequently witty verses, both amatory and political, were widely circulated in manuscript, particularly in the universities and London society, and printed editions of his works proliferated from 1647 to 1668.

Unfortunately Cleveland showed little interest in regulating or controlling his own texts. The editor of his verse posthumously published in 1659, for instance, recorded that the poet had no ‘considerable collection of his own papers, they being despersed among his friends’. The result of this — despite this editor's claim that Cleveland's ‘Genuine Muse’ could not be mistaken ‘as not to discern his pieces from any of the other Poems’ — is a somewhat confused canon, in which poems by Cleveland were liable to get mixed up with poems by others or with poems that were dubiously or erroneously attributed to him, in both manuscript and printed sources. Although a substantial nucleus of poems can be attributed to him with reasonable confidence, probably no comprehensive canon can be established definitively, and the authorship of certain poems is likely to remain uncertain.

For present purposes the verse canon accepted in the edition by Morris and Withington is represented here, but for one of their inclusions plus one other widely circulated poem consigned to the ‘Poems Doubtfully Attributed to Cleveland’ category (ClJ 172-225). For a discussion of the numerous other poems doubtfully or spuriously attributed to Cleveland, see Withington.

Prose Works

Besides a small body of letters he wrote in English, some of which, including his successful petition to Cromwell for release from prison (ClJ 257-260), had some circulation in manuscripts, there was a limited manuscript and subsequently printed circulation of various Latin orations and formal epistolæ written by Cleveland as part of his academic duties on behalf of St John's College, Cambridge (see ClJ 226-269 passim). It is perhaps not surprising that these texts have received little scholarly attention hitherto, or a distinct canon of them established. Entries below record known manuscript copies of orations and epistolæ clearly identified as his in contemporary printed editions of his works. There are, however, several other such texts which may well have been written by him and which appear, otherwise unidentified, in relevant manuscript sources — most notably in the octavo collection of his verse and prose now at Yale, Osborn MS b 93. These items have been given entries below subject to clearer identification in due course (orations or epistles perhaps by him may be in the Yale MS, pp. 156-154 rev., 196 rev., 200-201 rev., 217-213 rev. and 228-218 rev., for instance).

One other Royalist prose text, Majestas Intemerata. or, The Immortality of the King ([London], 1649), has usually been attributed to Cleveland (see Wing C4679). An annotated printed exemplum owned by Peter Beal is inscribed on the title-page ‘By Francis Whyte of Greyes Inne’. Francis White, from Broughton, Leicestershire, was admitted to Gray's Inn on 20 April 1638.


For brief anecdotes about Cleveland in British Library Sloane MS 1757, f. 11r, see Hilton Kelliher, ‘Anecdotes of Jonson and Cleveland’, N&Q, 217 (1972), 172-3.

Peter Beal