Misc. Poems

Note: pages in our 18c Leverhulme study section were originally published on the website in 2010. Links have since been checked and updated.

Miscellany Poems (1734) and OED3

As described on the previous page, Jane Adam’s Miscellany Poems was not quoted in OED1 (nor, consequently, in OED2). The OED3 revision, however, has included two quotations from her work to date (September 2009): for pilotless and rebel-like:1

  • ‘Like Humanity, Either my Helm was broke, or I was Pilotless’ (Adam’s quotation, from Miscellany Poems, p. 159, is OED3’s second quotation after the first cited date of 1606)
  • ‘God protects that the imperious Flood Should ne’re get loose as long as Nature stood, Nor, Rebel like, usurp o’re Eart again’ (Miscellany Poems, p. 62)

Both quotations give a good idea of the style and subject matter of these poems – on religious themes, filled with religious imagery, and often reminiscent of Milton – and both bump up the revised OED’s use of female-authored sources and of 18th-century quotations, playing a tiny part in redressing the imbalances of the previous versions of OED. This page explores in detail how OED3 has used Adam’s evidence to enhance its new treatment of the entries for these two words.


In OED’s first edition, pilotless was tacked to the bottom of the entry for pilot, illustrated with two quotations dated 1605 and 1885. Revising this entry for the 1982 volume of the Supplement in 1982, Burchfield added 10 new quotations: one from Walter Scott’s Letters of 1806 (from an edition published in 1932, i.e. not available to OED1 editors), and nine others from 20th-century sources, many of them referring to aircraft.

When OED2 was published in 1989 these two treatments were blended together into a single entry. But the result was clearly unsatisfactory: a gap in quotation evidence between 1605 and 1806, and a superfluity of 20th-century examples.

OED3 (draft entry June 2009) has revised by dividing the entry into two, distinguishing between ships (sense 1) and aircraft (sense 2), and recognizing figurative usages too (under sense 1), of which Adam’s is an example. It has dropped several of Burchfield’s quotations and added two 18th-century ones, so that the quotations are now much more evenly distributed chronologically and OED1’s characteristic deficit in eighteenth-century quotations has been made good. The new entry reads:

1. Of a ship or shipping channel: without a pilot; not served by a pilot. Freq. fig.: without guidance or direction; leaderless.
1606 J. SYLVESTER tr. G. de S. Du Bartas Deuine Weekes & Wks. (new ed.) II. iii. 60 Though Rudder-les, not Pilot-les, this Boat. 1734 J. ADAMS Misc. Poems 159 Like Humanity, Either my Helm was broke, or I was Pilotless. 1795 Let. from Chancellor 149 We are invited to submit the conduct of our pilotless bark to Heaven. 1806 SCOTT Let. 20 Sept. (1932) I. 317 The pilot-less state in which the political vessel has remained since his [sc. Pitt’s] death. 1883 Harper’s Mag. Aug. 441/2 The pilotless narrows which lead to Fiddler’s Green, where all good sailors go. 1945 H. KNIGHT in Penguin New Writing XXIII. 47 Pilotless men whose personalities have been disintegrated by concussion and too many action stations. 1991 J. KINSELLA Eschatologies 44 A marooned pilotless ferry on the distant bank.
2. Of an aircraft: that flies without a pilot, under automatic or remote control.
1909 Westm. Gaz. 22 Oct. 7/2 We only just missed the new spectacle of a pilotless aeroplane. 1922 Glasgow Herald 15 Nov. 9 The [U.S.] Army Air Service announces that successful tests have been made with automatically controlled pilotless aeroplanes. 1966 M. WOODHOUSE Tree Frog v. 35 The curious blind look of all pilotless aircraft which stems from having no cockpit. 1994 Nature 31 Mar. 388/3 The Second World War German V-1 was not a rocket..but a jet-propelled pilotless aircraft.

It seems likely that all these quotations, other than Adam’s, are from male-authored sources; since OED does not distinguish the gender of authors, however, we cannot be sure of this without looking up the original texts cited.

Rebel-like was originally one of two combinatorial forms for rebel listed at the end of the entry for rebel in OED1 (from King Lear and from a 17th-century translation of Juvenal); Burchfield added a good number of other combinatorial examples in the Supplement though none for rebel-like itself.

OED3 (draft revision September 2009) has antedated the Lear example with one of 1589, dropped the 17th-century quotation, and added the Adam example, along with two other quotations only, dated 1855 and 2003. The big date range and small number of quotations indicates that this is a rare word so Adam’s evidence is particularly useful here.

Last updated on 8 October 2019


  1. Both attributed to ‘J. Adams’, owing to the fact that the title page of Miscellany Poems reproduces Jean Adam’s name in Anglicized form as ‘Mrs. Jane Adams’.