The fascinating history of poetry anthologies and their influence on British society and culture over the last four centuries.
For hundreds of years, readers have encountered literature for the first time through anthologies of poetry. In the eighteenth century, young ladies were introduced to the 'safe' bits of Shakespeare or Milton through censored collections; Victorian working-class men and women enrolled at adult learning colleges to be taught from The Golden Treasury; soldiers nursed copies of The Oxford Book of English Verse in the trenches of World War One; pop-loving teenagers growing up in Liverpool in the 1960s got their first taste of the counterculture from the bestselling The Mersey Sound.
But anthologies aren't just part of literary history. Over the centuries, they have shaped British society and culture, creating new reading publics and generating conversations around politics, national identity, morality, class, gender and sex. The Treasuries, by the literary scholar and journalist Clare Bucknell, is the story of the poetry anthology in English: an accessible social history that explores the impact of a handful of widely read books across four centuries. Ranging from the seventeenth-century Poems on Affairs of State series, which opened up the salacious world of King Charles II's court to gossip-hungry outsiders, to twenty-first-century collections which turn to poetry as a form of life-affirming therapy, The Treasuries reveals the extraordinary amount we can learn about our history by looking back at the anthologies that brought readers together and changed the way they thought.