Lowth and Handel

Handel’s Choice of Hercules (1750) is based on a poem by Robert Lowth, called ‘The Judgement of Hercules’ (1743). The poem was published in Glasgow, and the title-page reads that it was written ‘By a Student of Oxford’.

Eventually, Lowth changed the title of his poem, for on 5 August 1774 he wrote to his publisher James Dodsley:

The Bp. of Oxford presents his Compts. to Mr. Dodsley: he sent him some time ago his Corrections of ye. Choice of Hercules, wch. he hopes came in time. He was forced to give ym. by memory; not being able to find his corrected Copy of at least 30 years standing, wch. he has just now light upon.

Was the idea to republish the poem inspired by the popularity of Handel’s oratorium? But a more fundamental question is how Handel came to know about Lowth’s poem. Had it been brought to his attention by James Harris (1709-1780)? Harris is described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as a “philosopher and musical patron”, and he was a close friend of Handel. But by 1750, he was not yet personally acquainted with Lowth.


Burrows, Donald, and Rosemary Dunhill (2002),  Music and Theatre in Handel’s World. The Family Papers of James Harris. 17321780. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid (2011), The Bishop’s Grammar. Robert Lowth and the Rise of Prescriptivism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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