Union First Line Index of English Verse

13th-19th Century (bulk 1500-1800)

The purpose of the Union First Line Index, hosted by the Folger Shakespeare Library (Washington, D.C.), is to enable literary research by providing a database of the first lines of manuscript and printed verse held by the contributing institutions or listed in published bibliographies. Researchers can enter keywords as search terms; search by First Line, Last Line, Author, Title, Shelfmark, Women only; limit searches to specific institutions; and sort search results in various ways.

Originally compiled by Carolyn W. Nelson as a series of Excel spreadsheets, the Union First Line Index is based on freely-available first line indexes from various institutions and individuals including, as of December 2009: Bodleian, Beinecke (Osborn Collection), British Library, Folger Shakespeare Library, Harvard, Huntington, Leeds (Brotherton Collection — 17th and 18th century only), Harold Love and Meredith Sherlock (Clandestine Satire), and Steve May’s Elizabethan Poetry. First lines from Hilton Kelliher’s British Library index of 1894-2009 acquisitions were incorporated in February, 2010, first lines from the Wing Short-title catalogue were added in March, 2010, and first lines from STC were added in June, 2011. Additional contributing institutions or individual participants may be added at a future date. The Excel spreadsheets were turned into a web-enabled database by the Folger.

Many inconsistencies and ambiguities appear in the Union First Line Index since the various contributing libraries and individuals have followed different styles and conventions. First lines are usually modernized and cannot be trusted as direct transcriptions. Some entries were made directly from the original items, while other entries were based on published and unpublished indexes created by others. Thus, individual records should be used in conjunction with original sources (or digitized or microfilmed versions) and original indexes and institutional catalog entries or finding aids, which may provide fuller information.

The online availability of the Index through the Folger does not imply the transfer of intellectual property rights.