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First-Line Indexes of English Verse, 1650-1800: A Checklist



Although in medieval libraries, manuscripts were often cataloged by their incipits, the indexing of verse by first lines is, except in songbooks, relatively new. Not until the 1880s did the British Museum Department of Manuscripts construct its massive first-line index, the earliest of the great indexes of manuscript verse.[1] In 1890, Lord Crawford could still claim that arranging his bibliography of ballads by first line was an “innovation.”[2] Since that time, the British Museum index, and Margaret Crum’s of verse in Bodleian manuscripts, have become the best known of the first-line indexes, but many others also have great scholarly usefulness.

The first line provides a convenient handle for identifying a poem, and unlike a title, a poem’s first line usually remains stable from version to version. For a period when verse circulated anonymously, first-line indexes may lead one to a copy of a poem that is attributed, annotated, or otherwise usefully contextualized. These indexes facilitate locating many early texts of a poem so as to trace its transmission, textual history, and reception. First-line indexes thus can help one assess the character of a particular manuscript or printed miscellany or periodical. They may even be pressed into service as quotation dictionaries, since many memorable verse passages occur at the start of poems.[3]

Please send additions and corrections to; they will be greatly appreciated.
Last revised 15 June 2005
(see revision history at the end).

The researcher willing to trace a poem, an author, or a collection through the indexes listed here has a good chance of learning something new.

This checklist attempts to itemize first-line indexes with at least 1000 lines. I have excluded single-author indexes, not because they are unimportant but because they are normally part of easily located critical editions. Some single-author indexes are, to be sure, important beyond their authors because they index a wide range of doubtful attributions, e.g., John Butt’s index in The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, vol. 6, or Harold Williams’s in The Poems of Jonathan Swift.

Traditionally, literary historians and music historians have proceeded on separate tracks, with separate ranges of bibliographical resources. But because many a poem has been made into a song, ballad, or hymn, I have interfiled indexes of vocal music with indexes of poems.

In searching an electronic index, one should choose keywords from salient first-line words whose spelling is stable; avoid words likely to have been blanked or contracted. In searching any first-line index, ascertain the alphabetizing principles that shaped it: whether initial articles are indexed or ignored, whether old spellings are treated as if modernized, whether abbreviations and contractions are treated as if expanded, whether sorting is word by word or letter by letter. Consider whether the index includes non-English as well as English verse and whether it includes excerpts as well as complete poems. Remember, too, that all first-line indexes are incomplete: entire manuscripts or printed volumes may escape the indexer, and the indexer may easily overlook individual poems. In searching an electronic textbase of complete works like EEBO-TCP or Literature Online, it is possible and often desirable to go beyond the first line in choosing search terms.

Michael Londry has published an important discussion of first-line indexes, with commentary on many of the ones listed here: “On the Use of First-Line Indices for Researching English Poetry of the Long Eighteenth Century, c. 1660-1830, with Special Reference to Women Poets,” Library 8th ser. 5.1 (March 2004): 12-38.

For the period 1650-1800, a general index of verse remains a desideratum.[4]


Indexes to Manuscript Verse

Bodleian Library, Oxford. See Crum

British Library [British Museum]. Department of Manuscripts. First-line index of (mostly English) poetry; includes last lines as well. 17 vols., unpublished; compiled in the 1880s and later expanded to include accessions up to 1894. Some 17,000 entries. Of exceptional importance. The user should if possible consult W. H. Kelliher’s “Some Notes on the Handwritten Index of English Poetry, 1550-1800,” in vol. 5 of his own continuation, listed below. Kelliher has suggested to me that the compilers of the 1880s index unfortunately missed some 10 percent of the verse in the 1166 manuscripts they were indexing and that a substantial amount of manuscript verse exists in manuscripts they missed.  A 1963 film of the 1880s index is variously cataloged in American libraries as “Index of Initia of English Poetry,” “English Poetry First and Last Line Index,” “First-Line Index of English Verse in the British Library,” or the like.

British Library [British Museum]. “Index of First Lines and Titles of [music manuscript] Acquisitions post Hughes-Hughes Catalogue.” A file of roughly 2500 slips formed evidently in the early twentieth century, and labeled “not complete.” The index is available for consultation by application at the music enquiries desk in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room. In the same box, there is a separate first-line index of some 600 items in the Bunting Collection (MSS Add. 41508-10).

British Library [British Museum]. See also Hughes-Hughes; Kelliher; Noblemen’s and Gentlemen’s Catch Club

Crum, Margaret. First-Line Index of English Poetry, 1500-1800, in Manuscripts of the Bodleian Library, Oxford. 2 vols. New York: Modern Language Association, 1969. A most important listing of nearly 23,000 items by first line, with several useful supplementary indexes; covers acquisitions up through April 1961. Corrections are recorded in an interleaved copy, and later acquisitions are indexed in a card file “First Line Index,” both kept in Duke Humfrey’s Library in the Bodleian.

Folger Shakespeare Library. See Yeandle

Harvard University Library. See Seng

Henry E. Huntington Library. First Line Index of Manuscript Poetry in the Huntington Library. Intro. William Pidduck. Microfiche. Marlborough, Wilts.: Adam Matthew Publications, 1992. About 2500 items. See also Guide to the First Line Indexes of Manuscript Poetry in the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Huntington Library (Marlborough, Wilts.: Adam Matthew Publications, 1998).

Hughes-Hughes, Augustus. Catalogue of Manuscript Music in the British Museum. 3 vols.  London: British Museum, 1906-09. About 28,000 first lines and titles in three indexes. A supplement is listed above, under “British Library.”

Jorgens, Elise Bickford. English Song, 1600-1675: Facsimiles of Twenty-Six Manuscripts and an Edition of the Texts. 12 vols. New York and London: Garland, 1986-89. The first-line index in vol. 12 lists about 1550 lines.

Kelliher, W. H. “Index to English and Anglo-Latin Verse Composed between 1500 and 1800 in British Library Manuscripts Acquired 1894-2000.” 2002. Over 10,000 first lines listed in 5 typescript volumes, shelved in the reading room of the British Library Department of Manuscripts. Vols. 1-3: index of first (and last) lines; vol. 4: indexes of authors, including authors of works translated; vol. 5: a valuable index of “contents and associated names,” i.e., “proper names of persons, places, institutions, literary works and fictional characters that form the subjects of or are closely associated with the poems concerned”; also, notes on the 1880s British Library [British Museum] index (listed above) and a supplement to it. All told, a crucially important updating of the 1880s index.

Leeds University Library. See Pickering

Lindsay, Alexander. Index of English Literary Manuscripts, III (1700-1800). Part 4, Sterne-Young. London: Mansell, 1997. Provides an important cumulative first-line index to Parts 1-4 (the eighteenth-century portion of the Index), listing 6300 first lines.

Love, Harold. “First-Line Index to Selected Anthologies of Clandestine Satire.” English Clandestine Satire, 1660-1702. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2004. 303-414. About 3750 lines, indexing “the principal scribal sources of clandestine satire and the broader field of libertine and state verse, and … the most important printed source—the original Poems on Affairs of State series in the four-volume set of 1702-7…. An edition on microfilm of a large selection of these sources is planned from Adam Matthew Publications, to which the present index will be a finding list. It is also hoped that both a fuller form of the first-line index and the indexes to individual sources can eventually be made available on the internet” (303). For a draft of the latter indexes, see Sherlock.

Nelson, Carolyn. First-line database of English manuscript verse in the Osborn Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale University. Publication forthcoming; indexes about 22,500 poem texts. A splendid achievement, indexing all complete poems listed in all manuscripts described in Osborn Collection finding aids as including verse. The small amount of Yale manuscript verse not in the Osborn Collection is not indexed. 

Noblemen’s and Gentlemen’s Catch Club. The unpublished “General Index” to its printed and manuscript music, listing some 2600 first lines, is British Library Music H.2788.kk; the 20 (presently uncataloged) manuscript volumes of “Catches Canons & Glees” are British Library Music H.2788.p-z, aa-ii. There is unfortunately no concordance to shelfmarks for the club’s printed volumes, also indexed here, though these volumes are believed to be in the British Library as well; see Pamela J. Willetts, Handlist of Music Manuscripts Acquired, 1908-67 (London: British Museum, 1970), 94.

Pickering, Oliver. Leeds Verse Database (formerly BCMSV). Online catalog of 6600 seventeenth- and eighteenth-century manuscript poems in English from the Brotherton Collection at the University of Leeds: Access by first two lines, last two lines, attribution (as given in the manuscript), author (as attributed by the cataloger), title, date, length, verse form, and content. The fully searchable contents notes on each poem are “a particular feature of the data base.” First lines can be conveniently searched in the “start” field of the advanced search option, which accepts as keywords one or more of the first three words of the poem in modernized spelling.

RISM [Répertoire internationale des sources musicales / The International Inventory of Musical Sources]. Series A/II: Music Manuscripts after 1600. 11th cumulated ed., on CD-ROM. München: K. G. Saur, 2003. See Also available, with somewhat fewer search options, as part of the online “International Inventory of Musical Sources after 1600,” issued by NISC International, Inc. Indexes 456,000 works in manuscripts from 684 libraries and archives in 31 countries. Many vocal works are indexed by first line and therefore can be searched using salient first-line words. For more information on the database, see 

RISM [Répertoire internationale des sources musicales / The International Inventory of Musical Sources].  The UK and Ireland RISM Music Manuscripts Database: Music Manuscripts (1600 to 1800) in British and Irish Libraries. In progress, 2004—. A project of Royal Holloway College, University of London, directed by David Charlton. Many first lines are entered in the titles field.

Rosenbach Museum and Library. See Wolf

Seng, Peter J. “Index to English Language Manuscript Verse. Houghton Library, Harvard.” 1986-88, unpublished (eventually to be available online at Not an official product of the Houghton, this index exists in various printouts at the Houghton, the Beinecke, the British Library (Department of Manuscripts reading room), and Connecticut College. Over 11,000 first lines.

Sherlock, Meredith, with Harold Love. “Indexes to Source Manuscripts” used in Love’s edition The Works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999). Between them, these indexes list about 2200 lines.

Trinity College Dublin Library, Department of Manuscripts. “Verse: Cumulative First-Line Index.” An unpublished file of about 3700 slips in a single alphabet. William O’Sullivan began the index, probably in the 1960s, and it remains a work in progress: separate first-line indexes for a number of other manuscripts, totaling roughly 4000 more slips, are in a group entitled “First Line Indexes of Poems for Typing (before cumulation).”

University of Nottingham Library, Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections. An electronic index to an estimated 4500 poems in the Portland (Welbeck) Literary Manuscripts is part of the online manuscripts catalog First lines, along with much else, can be searched from the “Advanced Search” option.

Wolf, Edwin, 2nd. First-line index, unpublished, in the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia, compiled in the 1930s and 1940s for the Rosenbach Company. Most of the indexed manuscripts are of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century verse and are now in the Folger, with some few still at the Rosenbach Library and others at Princeton, Yale’s Osborn Collection, Chicago, the Huntington, Harvard, and the Morgan. About 4000 cards, filed alphabetically by last word of the first line.

Yale University Library. See Nelson

[Yeandle, Laetitia]. First Line Index of Manuscript Poetry in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC. 3 reels of microfilm. Marlborough, Wilts.: Adam Matthew Publications, 1998.  Some 10,000 entries indexing English verse, nominally pre-1700 though some eighteenth-century verse is in fact included. See Guide to the First Line Indexes of Manuscript Poetry in the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Huntington Library (Marlborough, Wilts.: Adam Matthew Publications, 1998). Many of the indexed pre-1700 manuscripts have been published on microfilm by Primary Source Media (now Gale Group). A small cardfile of additions to this index is maintained in the library. Also in the library is an index of post-1700 manuscript verse in English (about 2500 entries), along with briefer indexes to manuscript verse in French, German, Italian, Latin, Spanish, and Welsh.


Indexes to Printed Verse (or printed and manuscript verse combined)


Adkins, Nelson F. Early American Periodicals Index to 1850. New York: Readex Microprint, 1964. Part C includes a first-line index to poetry (cards C151-290) listing upwards of 80,000 poems, about 10 percent of which are from eighteenth-century periodicals. There are separate author and title indexes to poems, as well as a much smaller index to songs (cards E8-11). The index is not easy to use (or indeed easy to find, since the microcard technology is obsolete), but it does provide another point of access to American periodical verse 1728-1850. See the review in Robert Balay, Early Periodical Indexes: Bibliographies and Indexes of Literature Published in Periodicals before 1900 (Lanham and London: Scarecrow Press, 2000), 31-32.

Backus, Edythe N. Catalogue of Music in the Huntington Library Printed before 1801. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1949; first-line index, 381-773, includes an estimated 11,500 lines. Excludes publications without musical notation; includes magazine music.

Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads: The Allegro Catalogue of Ballads. 1999. Indexes and provides a scanned image of 30,000 broadside ballads. Can be searched by words in the first line; access also by title, subject, author, printer or publisher, tune, shelfmark, date, and “iconclass.” The addition of full-text searching capability is proposed; see

Bodleian Library. OLIS [the Oxford University libraries’ online catalog]. Provides first-line access to single-sheet songs, though this material is not yet fully entered into the catalog. Search first-line words as if they were title words.

Bodleian Library. See also Harding

Boys, R. C., and Arthur Mizener. Index, unpublished, of poems in the miscellanies listed in Arthur E. Case’s A Bibliography of English Poetical Miscellanies. 35,000 slips at the Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas; commonly known as the Boys-Mizener Index. Although a remarkable achievement, this index does not cover every book listed in Case. On the other hand, it covers some volumes within Case’s scope but not in Case. Mizener indexed the pre-1700 miscellanies; Boys indexed those published 1700-1750. Mizener regarded his section as virtually complete, while Boys estimated that his part of the project was 85-90 percent complete.[5] As  they found miscellanies not in Case, Boys and Mizener interpolated additional numbers into Case’s numbering system. Many of these new numbers are listed in an unpublished (dittoed) paper by R. C. Boys: “Mizener and Boys First-Line Index—Poetical Miscellanies: Preliminary List of Miscellanies (1700-48) Added to Case’s Bibliography, Not Including Those Collections Which Had Editions Earlier than 1700 (see Mizener’s list for these),” which is filed with the Spencer finding aid “English Poetical Miscellanies not in Case.” The added sigla for pre-1700 miscellanies may be decoded conjecturally with the aid of the ESTC. The Boys-Mizener index must be used along with Boys’s annotated copy of Case (Spencer C6101), to which is appended Boys’s usefully annotated copy of his “A Finding-List of English Poetical Miscellanies 1700-1748 in Selected American Libraries,” ELH 7.2 (June 1940): 144-62. The Spencer Research Library does not necessarily hold the miscellanies indexed, though its collection of English poetical miscellanies is substantial.

British Library. British Library Integrated Catalogue. First lines of separately published songs may be searched as titles.

British Library. Certain important collections of early song sheets are arranged alphabetically by first line, and such collections can serve as first-line indexes, e.g., the nine substantial volumes classed as G.306-14.

British Library. See also Chappell; Parkinson

Chappell, W., and J. Woodfall Ebsworth. The Roxburghe Ballads. 8 vols. Hertford: Ballad Society, 1869-95. The Roxburghe collection, originally formed for Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, is in the British Library and includes nearly 1500 printed ballads, mostly from the seventeenth century with some earlier and later. The individual volumes have indexes of first lines, titles, tunes, and burdens in a single alphabet. Vols. 4-8, “Illustrating the last years of the Stuarts, in their political and social history,” add ballads from other collections and attempt a tighter chronological and political focus, emphasizing the post-1660 period. There is no index to the entire set, unfortunately, and the reader is advised to spend some time with the introductions to the various volumes.

Corry, Mary Jane, Kate Van Winkle Keller, and Robert Keller. The Performing Arts in Colonial American Newspapers, 1690-1783: Text Database and Index. New York:  University Music Editions, 1997. CD-ROM database including a first-line index of some 12,000 lyrics.

Crawford and Balcarres, James Lindsay, Earl of. Bibliotheca Lindesiana: Catalogue of a Collection of English Ballads of the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries, Printed for the Most Part in Black Letter. 1890. Rpt. in 2 vols. New York, Burt Franklin, n.d. Indexes more than 1400 ballads, mostly from the period 1660-1689 (1:xiii).  Since 1988, the Bibliotheca Lindesiana collection of ballads has been deposited in the National Library of Scotland as the “Crawford English Ballads” collection.

Day, Cyrus Lawrence, and Eleanore Boswell Murrie. English Song-Books, 1651-1702: A Bibliography with a First-Line Index of Songs. London: Bibliographical Society, 1940. Limited to printed works containing both words and music, excluding single sheets and sacred music; despite the title, coverage for later editions of items first published before 1703 extends to 1730. The first-line index (163-400) lists 4150 items.

ECCO: Eighteenth Century Collections Online. The Gale Group (Thomson Gale), 2003—. Fully searchable digitized works as filmed in the microfilm series The Eighteenth Century. Presently monographs filmed up to the end of 2002 are included in ECCO; eventually the monographs in the rest of the film series will be included, but—except for works by some 20 authors deemed major—only one edition of each work will be included.

EEBO-TCP: Early English Books Online/Text Creation Partnership. In progress, 2000—. A textbase of fully searchable transcriptions of texts, 1473-1700, that have been digitized in ProQuest’s Early English Books Online. The e-texts have links to their digitized sources in EEBO. When complete, EEBO-TCP is intended to hold transcripts of some 25,000 of the titles in EEBO. Titles selected for encoding are limited to first editions of texts by authors listed in the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature and to anonymous titles listed there.

Elias, A. C. Jr. An unpublished index to several thousand poems in eighteenth-century Irish periodicals; the index lists the first two lines and the title of each poem, with notes on attribution and occasion. See Elias, “A First-Line Index of Poems in Irish Periodicals to ca. 1760,” East-Central Intelligencer ns 8, no. 1 (Jan. 1994): 19-20; queries to Elias, 318 W. Highland Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118 or

Ellinwood, Leonard, and Elizabeth Lockwood. Dictionary of North American Hymnology. Ed. Paul R. Powell and Mary Louise VanDyke. Boston: Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, 2003. “A comprehensive [CD-ROM] bibliography and index of 1,876 hymnals published in the United States and Canada from 1640 to 1978”; includes more than 1,000,000 first lines, with first lines linked to the bibliography of hymnals. Access also by author, year published, title, refrain, keywords, etc. An earlier version of this index, edited by Ellinwood, was published on 179 reels of microfilm as Dictionary of American Hymnology First Line Index (New York: University Music Editions, 1984).

Ellis, Frank H. Editorial papers, Smith College Library. Photocopies, filed by first line, of manuscript and early printed texts of some 2000 mostly political poems, 1697-1714, not edited in Ellis’s Poems on Affairs of State: Augustan Satirical Verse, vols. 6-7. The Ellis papers also include a file drawer of various first-line indexes, some brief and others substantial, to various manuscript and printed collections of verse.

English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). Songs and single-sheet poems normally have their first lines quoted in the notes field; search NGW (“notes general word”) and two or more salient words in the line.

Folger Shakespeare Library. First-line index to music in single songs, largely of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century; this index also includes uncataloged music, mostly of the twentieth century. About 3700 first lines in all.

Foxon, D. F. English Verse, 1701-1750: A Catalogue of Separately Printed Poems. 2 vols. London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1975. First-line index of about 6400 items (2:1-60); Foxon excludes American imprints, broadside ballads, slip songs, chapbooks, engraved sheets, and libretti (1:xii-xiii).

Greene, John C. The Belfast Newsletter Index, 1737-1800. Records over 1000 poems, most searchable by keywords in their first lines. Many of the poems were reprinted from contemporaneous periodicals, so a listing here is a hint of what may be found elsewhere. See Greene, Belfast Newsletter Index Database, 1737-1800,” East-Central Intelligencer ns 14.1-2 (Feb. 2000): 16-17.  The Belfast Newsletter itself is available on microfilm.

Harding, Walter N. H. Index, unpublished, to his voluminous collection of rare miscellanies and songbooks acquired by the Bodleian Library, Oxford, in 1976. The “ante 1800” portion of the index includes an estimated 48,000 cards. Harding’s collection and index include single sheets and some periodical verse. The index can be seen in the Music Reading Room of the New Bodleian. Codes used in the index are listed in a loose-leaf notebook kept by Harding and, somewhat more legibly, on index cards transcribed by someone else. Occasionally a code seems not to have been recorded in the notebook, and occasionally the same code seems to have been used for two different books. Some poems are indexed by volume title rather than code; perhaps no codes were ever assigned for these volumes. On the Harding Collection, see Walter N. H. Harding, “British Song Books and Kindred Subjects,” Book Collector 11 (Winter 1962): 448-59; and also Jean Geil, “American Sheet Music in the Walter N. H. Harding Collection at the Bodleian Library, Oxford University,” Notes 34.4 (June 1978): 805-14.

Harvard University. MS first-line index (1748) of a collection of sheet ballads and songs. This collection “contained upwards of a thousand articles.” 162 pp. Houghton Library 25242.6*, not seen.

Hunter, David. Opera and Song Books Published in England, 1703-1726: A Descriptive Bibliography. London: Bibliographical Society, 1997. Includes an index of about 2300 first lines from the 180 publications described, 473-500.

Huntington Library. See Backus

Julian, John. A Dictionary of Hymnology, Setting Forth the Origin and History of Christian Hymns of All Ages and Nations. Revised ed. London: John Murray, 1907, and several times reprinted. Includes indexes listing about 27,000 first lines (1307-1504, 1730-60).

Kallich, Martin. British Poetry and the American Revolution: A Bibliographical Survey of Books and Pamphlets, Journals and Magazines, Newspapers and Prints, 1755-1800. 2 vols. New York: Whiston Publishing Co., 1988. Indexes over 5000 poems by title or first line.

Keller, Robert M., Raoul F. Camus, Kate Van Winkle Keller, and Susan Cifaldi. Early American Secular Music and Its European Sources, 1589-1839: An Index. Annapolis: Colonial Music Institute, 2002. Web-based bibliography:; also published on CD-ROM. Combines and enlarges Kate Van Winkle Keller and Carolyn Rabson, National Tune Index: Eighteenth-Century Secular Music (New York: University Music Editions, 1980), and Raoul F. Camus, National Tune Index: Early American Wind and Ceremonial Music: 1636-1836 (New York: University Music Editions, 1989). Includes 75,000+ entries from a wide range of printed and manuscript materials. “All American imprints of secular music to 1800 are included.”

Kroeger, Karl. American Fuging-Tunes, 1770-1820: A Descriptive Catalog. Music Reference Collection 41. Westport, CT, and London: Greenwood, 1994. Includes a first-line index listing over 700 song texts (over 1300 instances), all from printed sources (208-17). Fuging is a kind of sacred choral music.

Kroeger, Karl, and Marie Kroeger. An Index to Anglo-American Psalmody in Modern Critical Editions. CD-ROM. Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2001. Can be searched by first line. Indexes some 2,000 items between 1535 and 1820.

Lemay, J. A. Leo. “A Calendar of American Poetry in the Colonial Newspapers and Magazines and in the Major English Magazines through 1765.” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 79 (1969): 291-392; 80 (1970): 71-222, 353-469. First-line index, 80:410-442. The Calendar was also separately published (Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1972). About 2100 entries.

Library of Congress. See Sonneck

Literature Online. ProQuest Information and Learning Company. 2002. This Chadwyck-Healey full-text database includes some 30,000 poems from the period 1650-1800.

Magdalene College, Cambridge. See Weinstein

McDonald, Gerald D., Stuart C. Sherman, and Mary T. Russo.  A Checklist of American Newspaper Carriers’ Addresses, 1720-1820.  Worcester, MA:  American Antiquarian Society, 2000. First-line index of 1000 poems soliciting gratuities from newspaper subscribers.

National Library of Scotland. See Crawford

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (Lincoln Center). Vocal music index, unpublished. This card index analyzes printed collections of music and also indexes sheet music; it includes a significant amount of pre-1800 music, some of it otherwise uncataloged. The index is currently maintained and occupies 1149 drawers.

Olson, Wm. Bruce. Broadside Ballad Index: Contents Listing of Most 16th and 17th Century Broadside Ballad Collections, with a Few Ballads and Garlands of the 18th Century. Some 3770 first lines indexing published collections and some manuscripts; tends to exclude political ballads and other items not clearly meant to be sung, so that the collections treated are not indexed in their entirety. Useful cross-references. The most recent (2002) version of the late Mr. Olson’s index is not currently available on the Web, but a 1997 version is at

Opie, Iona and Peter Opie. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. 2d ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997. Has a full bibliography of early texts of each poem and a 1200-item first-line index.

Osborn, James M. An unpublished index, on cards, to 205 British periodicals (1681-1800); it includes a first-line index to perhaps 5000 poems. The Osborn index is what remains of an unfinished subject index to eighteenth-century British periodicals compiled in the British Museum, the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and the Yale University Library during the late 1930s and early 1940s. The index is owned by James E. Tierney, Department of English, University of Missouri, St. Louis, MO 63121, and serves as the foundation for a much more comprehensive electronic subject index of pre-1800 British periodicals that he is now compiling. This electronic index, however, will not include first lines. See further Tierney, “A CD-ROM Subject Index to Pre-1800 British Periodicals,” East-Central Intelligencer ns 5.3 (Sept. 1991): 8-13. Queries to

Parkinson, John A. “18th Century Song Collections: A Classified Index.” Unpublished typescript, undated (latter part of the 20th century). Indexes about 9000 items from more than 100 songbooks having songs by more than one composer, 1702-99. Access by “title” (which is usually the first line); there are also indexes by composer and, for songs taken from operas, by opera. Available on the open shelves of the British Library Rare Books and Music Reading Room, MUS 782.42. Parkinson was a member of the Music Library staff of the British Library.

Ram, Titia. Magnitude in Marginality: Edward Cave and “The Gentleman's Magazine”, 1731-1754: Containing a First-Line Index of All the Poems, with Notes and References on Authorship. [?Utrecht]: Gottmann & Fainsilber Katz, 1999. First-line index with 5000 items (183-491).

Rollins, Hyder E. An Analytical Index to the Ballad-Entries (1557-1709) in the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London. Foreword Leslie Shepard. Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1924; Hatboro: Tradition Press, 1967. Over 3000 items. The first-line index excludes those ballads indexed under their first lines in the main (title) index.

Roud, Steve. Broadside Index. 2004. CD-ROM, updated annually. “Designed to include all the songs which have appeared on English-language broadsides, chapbooks, and songsters (up to about 1920), plus music hall, ballad opera, parlour ballads, and so on.” The Broadside Index, with upwards of 125,000 records, has a companion Folk Song Index and Fable Index. Contact Roud, Southwood, High Street, Maresfield, East Sussex TN22 2EH, or

Rubin, Emanuel Leo. “The English Glee from William Hayes to William Horsley.” 2 vols. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Pittsburgh, 1968. Vol. 2 includes among its numerous indexes a first-line index of some 2500 glees, mostly from the period 1760-1800; each entry includes a musical setting for the first line, as well as the composer, arranger, poet, title, and published source.

Rubin, Emanuel. The English Glee in the Reign of George III: Participatory Art Music for an Urban Society. Warren, MI: Harmonie Park, 2003. The “Title Index” (447-77) includes about 2200 first lines.

S., E. “State Poems.” Notes and Queries 5th ser. 6 (1876): 401-02, 422-23, 441-42, 463-65, 484-86, 531-33. Indexes nine collections of political verse published 1683-1707; 1100 first lines.

Schnapper, Edith B. The British Union-Catalogue of Early Music, Printed before the Year 1801: A Record of the Holdings of Over One Hundred Libraries throughout the British Isles. 2 vols. London: Butterworths Scientific Publications, 1957.Though the catalog, widely known as BUCEM, is arranged by composer, anonymous songs are indexed by first line. There is a separate title index of vocal works (2:1105-78), and in this index, first lines are used for untitled songs. Thus first lines must be checked both in the main alphabetical listing and in this “title” index.

Simpson, Claude M. The British Broadside Ballad and Its Music. New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1966. The “Index of Titles, First Lines, Tune Names, and Refrains of Ballads” from 1550 to 1740 includes about 2500 first lines.

Smith College Library. See Ellis

Smyth, Adam. Index of Poetry in Printed Miscellanies, 1640-1682. 2001, 2005. An index to 4600 poems in 41 miscellanies.

Sonneck, Oscar George Theodore. A Bibliography of Early Secular American Music (18th Century). Rev. and enlarged by William Treat Upton. Washington: Library of Congress Music Division, 1945. Rpt. New York: Da Capo Press, 1964 with a preface by Irving Lowens. Original preface is dated 1902, 1905. The index of first lines (537-70) includes an estimated 1400 items. Presumably supplanted by Keller et al.

Sonneck, Oscar George Theodore. Library of Congress Catalogue of Opera Librettos Printed before 1800. 2 vols. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1914; rpt. New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1968. Includes an aria index by first line, 2:1641-1674.

Temperley, Nicholas. The Hymn Tune Index. An online database listing “all hymns printed anywhere in the world with English-language texts up to 1820, and their publication history up to that date.” This is an on-going update of Temperley’s The Hymn Tune Index, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), which includes an index of roughly 11,000 “text incipits” (i.e., the first two lines), 2:351-581. In the printed version, it is necessary to search the incipits by “text code,” the first letters of the first six words with normalized spelling; e.g., All people that on earth do dwell = APTOED (see explanation at 1:102-03).

University of Kansas Library. See Boys

University Library, Cambridge. The Madden Collection of 16,000 eighteenth- and nineteenth-century broadside ballads (mostly 1750-1850) is supported by a title index, but in a substantial proportion of cases, the first line serves as the title. The Madden Collection has been published on microfilm (Woodbridge, CT: Research Publications, 1987) with a good printed index: Madden Ballads: Temporary Title List to the Microfilm Collection ([Woodbridge, CT: Research Publications, 1991]).

Weinstein, Helen. Catalogue of the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge. Vol. 2, parts i-ii: Ballads. [Cambridge]: D. S. Brewer; Wolfeboro, NH: Boydell & Brewer, 1992, 1994. Vol. 2.ii includes an index of 2100 first (and second) lines, plus indexes of titles, tunes, music, refrains, etc.

[Wilkinson, C. H.] Unpublished index to D’Urfey’s compilations Songs Compleat and Pills to Purge Melancholy (about 1100 lines). Worcester College Oxford MS 303. The same manuscript includes first-line indexes for Le prince d’amour (1660), Holborn Drollery (1673), and The Marrow of Complements (1655). G. Thorn-Drury’s (briefer) first-line indexes to other seventeenth-century anthologies are in Worcester College MSS 262 and 263.

Worcester College Library, Oxford. See Wilkinson




For various kinds of help I am grateful to numerous librarians holding both the indexes and the verse indexed, to Nicolas Bell, W. H. Kelliher and Carolyn Nelson, and especially to James E. May, who encouraged this project throughout.


Revision History


Originally published in the East-Central Intelligencer ns 17.3 (Sept. 2003): 1-10.

2 Jan. 2004: added entries for Ellinwood; Julian; Ram. Revised entries for Kelliher; RISM; British Library Public Catalogue. Revised several URLs.

25 Jan. 2004: added entry for E. S., “State Poems”

12 Oct. 2004: added reference to Londry and entries for ECCO, EEBO-TCP, RISM’s UK and Ireland database, Parkinson, and Rubin’s English Glee in the Reign of George III; revised entries for Trinity College Dublin, Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads, Bodleian Library OLIS, British Library Integrated Catalogue (formerly British Library Public Catalogue), Olson, Pickering, Roud, and May and Ringler.

15 June 2005: added Folger printed music index, Harvard ballad index, Love, and Univ. of Nottingham online manuscripts catalog; updated Harding, Parkinson, Sherlock, and Yeandle (Folger manuscripts) entries, and several URLs.

[1] W. H. Kelliher, “Some Notes on the Handwritten Index of English Poetry, 1500-1800, in British Library Manuscripts Acquired before 1893,” in Kelliher, “Index to English and Anglo Latin Verse,” vol. 5 (see full listing under “Indexes to Manuscript Verse”).

[2] Bibliotheca Lindesiana: Catalogue of a Collection of English Ballads (1890; rpt. New York: Burt Franklin, n.d.), 1:[vii].

[3] See Anthony W. Shipps, The Quote Sleuth: A Manual for the Tracer of Lost Quotations (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1990), 73-79, 167-72. Shipps’s bibliography of general first-line indexes valuably supplements the present checklist.

[4] Steven W. May and William A. Ringler Jr., Elizabethan Poetry: A Bibliography and First-Line Index of English Verse, 1559-1603, 3 vols. (London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004) includes some 32,500 entries from 3400 books and 750 manuscripts and demonstrates what a comprehensive approach could make possible in the later period.

[5] Spencer Research Library “Catalogue IV,” quoting correspondence from Boys and Mizener. They donated their respective sections of the index to the Spencer in 1968.