Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, Fourth Earl of Middlesex Sixth Earl of Dorset



The Poems of Charles Sackville, Sixth Earl of Dorset, ed. Brice Harris (New York and London, 1979).

Harris (1940)

Brice Harris, Charles Sackville, Sixth Earl of Dorset: Patron and Poet of the Restoration (Illinois Studies in Language and Literature, Vol. 26, Nos. 3-4, Urbana, 1940)


Authorial Manuscripts

Of Dorset's poems — ‘the effusions of a man of wit’, as Dr Johnson called them — three are known to survive in his his own hand. His drafts of two poems — his Pindaric Petition to the Lords in Council (*DoC 241) and On the Statue in the Privy Garden (two drafts: DoC 210-11) — are found among the Portland Manuscripts. They are apparently derived from the papers of one of Dorset's earliest publishers, Jacob Tonson, who has endorsed two of them in his own hand. Yet another autograph draft has a no less interesting provenance. It is a draft of A Song to Chloris, from the blind Archer, now in the Gluck Collection at Buffalo, New York, which was once owned by Alexander Pope, who has inscribed it ‘Earl of Dorsett./ Original/ A. Pope’ (see *DoC 252). Pope is known to have docketed in a similar way autograph poems by others of his association (for instance, one by Swift, illustrated in Sotheby's sale catalogue, 27 November 1945, lot 520). This, albeit limited, evidence of some measure of access to Dorset's literary papers is interesting in the light of Pope's autograph notes attributing to Dorset certain poems in his printed exemplum of A New Collection of Poems relating to State Affairs (London, 1705) in the British Library (C.28.e.15).

Other manuscripts that have at times been considered as possibly autograph (by Harris and others) prove to be not in his hand. One is a copy of On the Countess Dowager of Manchester on a single folio leaf (DoC 171). Another is a copy of a poem otherwise unassociated with Dorset, The Bashful Lover (‘Phyllis, I pray, why did you say’), which is written on a blank page in ‘A Booke of severall Accompts of Tho: Earle of Dorsett. Ld. High Treasurer of England. 1607’ (see Harris, pp. 188-9). This manuscript is among the Sackville muniments now in the Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone (U 269 A1/1, p. [6]).

Letters and Documents

Examples of Dorset's handwriting of a non-literary character are not rare, for besides various of his personal papers which survive, he signed many official and business documents, notably in his capacity as Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household (1689-97) and occasional acting Regent for King William III. Those Sackville family muniments from Knowle which are now in the Centre for Kentish Studies, Maudstone, include:

Official and parliamentary papers, draft letters and Privy Council warrants, as well as letters by members of his family and friends, between 1685 and 1703 (U 269 053-082)

Dorset's accounts kept by various accountants, 1671-1705 (U 269 A7)

Some of Dorset's correspondence (U 269 C102-141).

The last includes (U 269 C114 and C124) a series of undated autograph drafts of love letters by him (?to the Countess of Falmouth), all badly damp-stained.

Yet other of Dorset's letters are widely scattered. They include:

An undated letter by Dorset to his son, owned by Mrs Stopford Sackville, Drayton House, Northamptonshire (recorded in HMC, 9th Report, Part III (1884), Appendix, p. 7)

Four autograph letters to his protégé Matthew Prior, 1694-8, in the Library of the Marquess of Bath at Longleat House (Prior Papers, Vol. II, Nos 2 and 64; Vol. 14, Nos. 9 and 15), the last three edited in HMC, 58, Bath III (1908), pp. 71, 190, 199-200

Two undated autograph letters to John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, in the British Library (Harley MS 7003, ff. 268r-70v)

:An autograph letter to [?Lord Halifax], 27 August/7 September [1706], in the British Library (Add. MS 7121, ff. 29r-30v)

Various in the collection of the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth House (Halifax Papers, D. 2)

Various, to Joseph Williamson and others, 1670-71, in the National Archives, Kew (SP 29/274/210 and SP 29/295/78)

An autograph letter of 1690 (Sotheby's, 36 October 1916, lot 111, to Dobell).

Numerous official letters and documents signed by Dorset include examples in:

Bodleian Library, MSS Eng. hist. d.139, ff. 57r-8v, 65r-6v, 99r-101v; Rawl. C. 984, ff. 100r, 107r, 109r

British Library, Add. MSS 7121, ff. 29r-30v; 22183, f. 139r; 28941, f. 206r; 32476, f. 52r; 38704, f. 18r; 40166, f. 66r; and Egerton MSS 3516-3660 passim (MSS of the Earl Manvers of Thoresby Park, recorded in HMC, 9th Report, Part II (1884), Appendix, p. 3780

Harvard, bMS Am 1631 (110); fMS Eng 870 (23)

Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Simon Gratz Autograph Collection, British Statesmen, Case 9, Boxes 35 and 38

Parliamentary Archives, (petition of 22 February 1702/3)

Maine Historical Society (Coll. 420, Fogg v. 28)

National Archives, Kew, L.C. 7/1; LC 7/3, part 1, ff. 7r, 21r, 70r (concerning the theatre, 1695); SP 31/4, f. 196; SP 32/7/17; SP 44/238, pp. 384-7; SP 44/102, pp. 136-7

Yale, Osb MSS 4508

Greenwich Hospital (a scroll of inscriptions by original donors in October 1694, including Dorset pledging £500)

Further documents by Dorset were offered for sale at Sotheby's, 17 February 1890 (Alexander Foote sale), lot 285; 19 December 1905, lot 315, to Scott; 27 July 1937, lot 344, to Grimble; 15 December 1987, lot 3; and 17 February 1993, lot 220, to Burgess Browning; at Christie's, 16 April 1980, lot 15 and 29 April 1981, lot 2; and at Christie's, New York, 19 December 1986, lot 224.

Scribal copies of some documents origiinally signed by Dorset are preserved in ‘A booke of Entrys Conserning the Knight Harbinger's Place’ at Columbia University (Montgomery MS, 1688-1702, Dorset, Special Collections). Copies of other official documents by him, together with business documents relating to him, are in the British Library (Add. MSS 36913, f. 278r; 38484, ff. 25r6, 282r; 38485, ff. 78r, 139r-51r [court records of his manor at Ringmer, 1692-1705]; Stowe MSS 208, f. 38r, 597, f. 666r) and among the Finch Manuscripts in the Leicestershire Record Office (recorded in HMC, 71, Finch II (1922), p. 348).

Various of Dorset's letters and papers are edited or cited in Harris (1940) [see particularly pp. 19, 32, 48, 58-9, 62-3, 65, 72, 88, 91, 117, 130-2, 167] and in Charles J. Phillipps, History of the Sackville Family, 2 vols (London, [1930]) [see particularly I, pp. 445, 449, 461, 473-4, 482 and, for facsimiles of different versions of Dorset's signature, pp. 483-4].

Dorset also lived for much of his life in Copped (or Copt) Hall in Essex (where for a time the poet Sir Fleetwood Sheppard (1634-98) also lived). Family archives from Copped hall (chiefly relating to the Conyers family) are now preserved in the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford (D/DW). However, although they contain some Restoration verses (by Waller, Buckingham, Marvell and others), they apparently retain nothing by Dorset.

Books from Dorset's Library

Although Dorset must have had a substantial library, there seems to be little trace of it today, possibly because he was not accustomed to signing his books. An apparently single exceptioni is a quarto manuscript described in Harris (p. 160): ‘In English and French, written about 1635, it contains the arms of the contemporary Sovereign and Knights, and Statutes of the Order [of the Garter] in 1522, with the additions to 1571. It is bound in green leather [morocco] with a gold ornament, and bears Dorset's armorial bookplate’. This manuscript is now in the Bodleian Library (MS Rawl. Statutes 29).

Manuscript Copies of Dorset's Verse

Apart from the autograph poems noted above, Dorset's verse is known from manuscript copies which circulated widely in his own lifetime — possibly through deliberate dissemination on his part — repeated transcripts finding their way into manuscript miscellanies and collections of poems on affairs of state, or else from early printed collections which were based on such copies. According to Matthew Prior, Dorset ‘cared not what became of [his poems], though every body else did’ and he made no attempt to acknowledge them himself — if only ‘out of vicious modesty’, as was Dryden's view (see Harris, pp. xi-xii). For further discussion of relevant manuscript collections of Restoration poems, see the section below on John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester.

The Canon

Perhaps the greatest problem facing an editor of Dorset — as indeed so many other poets of this period — is the canon. With the solitary exception of A Rodomontade on his Cruel Mistress (‘Seek not to know a woman, for she's worse’) — which Harris admits into the canon but which was originally written by Ben Jonson (see JnB 425-430) — the canon accepted for present purposed for the main body of entries (DoC 1-304) is based on that established in Harris.(This largely agrees with that outlined in Helen A. Bagley, ‘A Checklist of the Poems of Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset and Middlesex’, Modern Language Notes, 47 (1932), 454-61, and see also R. G. Howarth, ‘Some Additions to the Poems of Lord Dorset’, MLN, 50 (1935), 457-9). In addition, Harris (pp. 181-95) lists and discusses (but does not print the text of) some twenty-two poems ‘doubtfully or wrongly attributed to Dorset’ and these poems too have been recorded below (DoC 305-368). In fact the roll-call of dubious or spurious poems could be extended considerably. The entries for these therefore include a number of additional poems ascribed to Dorset not mentioned in Harris


‘A New Court Ballad for ye year 1714. Written [by Charles Montagu, Earl of Halifax] in Imitation of ye Lord Dorset's, To all you Ladies far &c’. (‘To all you Tories far from Court’) occurs in eighteenth-century miscellanies in the Bodleian (MSS Eng. poet. e. 87, pp. 43-7, and Rawl. poet. 155, pp. 12-16) and is printed in Phillips, History of the Sackville Family, pp. 441-2. A Latin translation of Dorset's A Song on Black Bess (‘Methinks the poor town has been troubled too long’), written by one Kerny, a kinsman of Sir Robert Southwell, was originally enclosed with a letter by Sir Peter Pett to Sir William Petty, 29 January 1673/4. Among the muniments of the Earl of Shelburne, Bowood House (Petty Papers, Vol. 6, 2nd Series, No. 48), this is now in the British Library (in Add. MS 72850).

Peter Beal