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Celebrating 150 years of F T Palgrave’s

The Golden Treasury

With a new foreword by Carol Ann Duffy
The History of The Golden Treasury

On 15 July 1861, Alexander Macmillan, founder of Macmillan & Co, wrote to Francis Turner Palgrave sending condolences on the death of his father Sir Francis Palgrave, saying “.. it is a loss to English literature that cannot be made up”. He compares the effect of the loss to that of his own brother, Daniel, co-founder of the firm, in 1857 “who had been to me, in many respects, …… as a father”. He then proceeds to inform F T Palgrave that “I quite hope to have the book published this week and all the presentation copies delivered”.1

Two days or so later, on approximately 17th July 1861, the book that was to become one of the best-known anthologies of English Poetry was born. Compiled by Alexander’s friend F T Palgrave and published by Macmillan this was - The Golden Treasury of Songs & Lyrics in the English Language.

This was the origin of a comprehensive selection of poetry that has had a great influence on the poetic taste of several generations world wide and which has been in print for 150 years.

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Francis Turner PalgraveIf this collection proves a storehouse of delight to Labour and to Poverty, -- if it teaches those indifferent to the Poets to love them, and those who love them to love them more, the aim and the desire entertained in framing it will be fully accomplished.
- Francis Turner Palgrave, in a note to Alfred Tennyson, Poet Laureate

The Golden Treasury

The Birth of a Gem

/Henrietta St Building In the 1860s when F T Palgrave came to Macmillan, the firm was seeking to grow beyond its Cambridge base. Alexander Macmillan was keen that his company should publish books that appealed to three sectors of the reading public: a general public, a “thoughtful” class and a learned class and his intention was that Palgrave’s selection of poetry should appeal to all these sectors. On 5th June 1860 Alexander Macmillan wrote to Palgrave. “My dear Palgrave. Will you come next Thursday at 5 & I will arrange to be free for a talk with you about The Golden Treasury, as Woolner calls it,..…we will try and make a gem of it.”2

Alexander Macmillans study in 1880sThe reference to the Thursday gathering was to Alexander’s literary evenings which were held in the London offices on a Thursday evening from 1858 onwards. The firm was still based in Cambridge so Alexander made a weekly trip to the newly opened branch in 23 Henrietta St, Covent Garden. Here he held round table gatherings of writers, artists and scientists on Thursday evenings at which he was “at home to all and sundry, when tea and stronger fluids, with occasional tobacco, were going on”.3 Out of these gatherings came ideas and recommendations for new books and magazine articles.

At Thomas Hughes’ suggestion a round table was made for these gatherings and signatures of some of those who attended were engraved on its bevelled edge. Amongst the signatures on the table was that of F T Palgrave.

A Golden Selection

F T Palgrave was both a civil servant and an academic, who recognised the importance of the study of English Literature and of the classics, and of poetry and fine arts in education. In 1849 F T Palgrave was teaching English History, Literature & composition at Kneller Hall, Twickenham which at the time was an experimental government training college for workhouse teachers. Whilst there he struck up a friendship with Tennyson which led to walking tours together and visits to Tennyson’s home at Farringford, Isle of Wight.

Woolners Vignette3D Original EditionThe poems in the Golden Treasury were carefully selected and checked, with help from Tennyson as well as Thomas Woolner and George Miller, a colleague from the Education Department.4 They were intended to reflect the best in lyrical poetry and ordered into 4 books set in chronological periods. The title page contained an engraved vignette by Woolner. The book was produced in a compact format, bound in green cloth, priced at 4s 6d and printed by R Clay, Son & Taylor of Bread Street Hill, London. Palgrave’s intention was that it should appeal to the general public and by creating a love of poetry become a “national anthology”.

In particular it helped to popularise Wordsworth and other romantic poets. It led to a series on poetry and English literature, “The Golden Treasury Series“, that continued in print with Macmillan for 100 years.

Palgrave’s selection excluded both living and foreign poets, although Alexander Macmillan tried to persuade him to include Tennyson. “I wish you could get a few of Tennyson’s – though you exclude living writers, is not he an immortal already?” (NB Tennyson was included by F T Palgrave in the Second Series of the Golden Treasury to be published on 13 October 1897, which contained a new selection of poetry that had been missed from the first series).

Sold out by September… Editions Book

The first print run of the Golden Treasury was cautious. “The number we have printed is 2000. I have been uncertain for a time as to which 2 or 3 thousand to print & forgot when speaking to you about it that I had decided on the more prudent course”5 (AM to FTP 27 May 1861). However this quickly sold out and by 13 September Alexander Macmillan wrote to say that “we are quite out of print now having only some 50 or 60 copies in morocco”.6 On October 1, paper duty was removed and Macmillan printed a further 1,250 with corrections and, followed by another 3,750 in November and a further 3,000 in December 1861. By the end of the year, 10,000 copies had been printed. In December 1861 a portion from Euripides was added to the front of the book and Palgrave continued to make additions and alterations to the selection of poetry.

The reprint in July 1884 contained many further additions and the book became part of the Golden Treasury series. By the time that the 2nd edition was issued in 1891 there had been over 100,000 printings.

Palgrave’s handwritten calculations on the numbers of poems added can be seen in his own copy of the signed Limited Large Format edition of 1890 which is now held in the British Library.7

“Golden Opinions of our Little Book” - An Ideal Size and Format

Not only did F T Palgrave have strong ideas about the selection of the poetry, he also had significant input on the way that the poems were presented in the book, the size and format of the book and its price. His relationship with Alexander Macmillan contributed to its success. The outgoing letters from Alexander Macmillan to F T Palgrave are now held in the Macmillan Archive at the British Library and together with the Original Manuscript also held at the British Library, a picture can be drawn up of F T Palgrave’s involvement in the design of the book.

Palgrave was precise in how he wanted the book to look and feel and the way that the poems should be presented. He wanted a good quality book that was affordable for the pocket but also looked appealing. He wanted the paper to be similar to that used for Bradshaw’s railway map. As to the format, he suggested that Macmillan use a similar size to that used for Murray’s edition of Byron “a small octavo of a very pretty shape and size and type”8 4 Jan 1861 (Berg collection). Alexander replied that this was a charming size, (known as Potted Octavo).

The emblem or device on the front cover was to be used for other books in the Golden Treasury series and incorporates the butterflies, bees, acorns and stars used in the standard Macmillan device with the initials “GT” for Golden Treasury.

Palgrave had strong views on how the poems were to be presented. They were to be compressed occupying less space on a page making them attractive to read. The Notes appear at the end of the book and the author appears at the end of each poem in order to focus attention on the work itself.

On page 83 of the original Manuscript he has a page of notes explaining the opening heading of each book within the collection. There is Latin here as well, along with a note in brackets that reads “Macmillan would have…” and then he goes on to say why he doesn’t want to do it that way.

This attention to detail by Palgrave paid off and contributed to the success of the book.

In August Alexander Macmillan wrote to Palgrave “I get golden opinions of our little book”. At the same time Alexander was considering issuing a cheaper edition of the book but by the end of the month he was saying “the question of a cheap edition may well stand over for a while – everyone says it is very cheap”.9

By November Alexander was writing to Palgrave “we have sold about 5000 and have 2000 left. Have ordered another 3000 to be got on with in case of a rush about Christmas” 10

No ‘cheap edition’ ever appeared. Instead, the book was added to and revised. The format and size was maintained apart from limited edition of larger format editions which were printed for the luxury market in 1890 & 1891. 500 of these were signed by Palgrave himself.

Palgrave Signature


More poets added…

On 13th October 1897 in response to many appeals for the inclusion of later poets, a second series of the Golden Treasury was published as part of the Golden Treasury series – containing a further selection of poets including Lord Alfred Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles Kingsley, Coventry Patmore, Thomas Love Peacock, the Rossettis who had died in the intervening period, as well as a few poets still alive. It followed the same format as the first series and was priced also at 4s 6d. F T Palgrave wrote a new preface to this edition.

Only 11 days after publication of the 2nd series Francis Turner Palgrave died on 24th October 1897.

The First & Second series was subsequently published as a one volume edition by Macmillan in 1909. In 1926 a 3rd edition edited by Laurence Binyon was published with the original Books 1 – IV and a further supplementary 5th volume.

By the end of the Second World War, Macmillan had sold over 650,000 copies of the book and it has gone on to sell steadily all over the world. It has been adopted as a school text in the UK and overseas market.

Macmillan Editions
Later collections by other publishers have included a further selection of more recent poets.

In 2000 a facsimile edition of the first issue of the first edition with a foreword by Andrew Motion was published by Palgrave when St. Martin's Press Scholarly and Reference (US) and Macmillan Press (UK) united their world-wide publishing operations to become Palgrave Macmillan in January 2002, when the rights to use the Macmillan name internationally were reacquired.

In 2011, the facsimile is again being reissued to celebrate the 150th anniversary with a new foreword by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.

Related Links

The Macmillan History timeline

Elizabeth James: Macmillan, A Publishing Tradition.
Available on Palgrave Connect - access to the book available for subscribers only

The Palgrave Society

University of Reading Library Macmillan Collection

The Tennyson Society

GLAM Group for Literary Archives & Manuscripts

SHARP Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing


1. Alexander Macmillan (AM) to Francis Turner Palgrave (FTP), The Macmillan Archive, Private Letter Book V, British Library Add MSS 55840 p 133
2. AM to FTP, Private Letter Book IV, BL Add Mss 55839 p 41
3. Charles Morgan: The House of Macmillan, Macmillan & Co Ltd, 1943
4. MS copy of The Golden Treasury, British Library Add Mss 42126
5. Ibid p 58
6. Ibid p 252
7. British Library Shelf No c.131.c.12
8. FTP to AM 4 Jan 1861
9. AM to FTP, Private Letter Book IV, BL Add Mss 55840 p 214
10. AM to FTP, Private Letter Book VI. BL Add Mss 55841