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In "The Meaning of Copy-Text" (SB, XXII, 311-318), Paul Baender traces the historical development of the term "copy-text" and argues that the word has now become "ambiguous and misleading." Bibliographers can readily concur with his view that one must be prepared "to redefine or abandon words that have lost general relevance and common meaning" without at the same time finding his dissatisfaction with this particular word convincing. As he has shown, its significance has shifted somewhat in the years since McKerrow invented it, as a result of changes in editorial thinking; but its essential meaning has not altered nor, it seems to me, has it become outmoded or irrelevant.

Mr. Baender begins by commenting on "the two most common meanings of copy-text" — "basic text" and "printer's copy" — and says that they "are not necessarily incompatible meanings, and they may in effect mean the same thing" (p. 312). It is true that some writers have occasionally employed the word to mean "printer's copy," but the general use of the word by bibliographers for over half a century has been in the sense of "basic text." To speak of "the two most common meanings of copy-text,"


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therefore, is somewhat misleading. If the meaning of a technical term is established through its use by a group of authorities in a particular field who have occasion to employ it, then "copy-text" has never meant anything but the text which an editor takes as the basis for his own text; and those who have used "copy-text" to mean "printer's copy" have used it erroneously. Whether or not more people outside the field are beginning to use the word erroneously is a separate question, and one that need not affect its use in technical contexts — just as the term "first edition" often means something quite different to the general public from what it means to the bibliographer. On the other hand, if the usage among bibliographers themselves begins to shift, one cannot simply dismiss the new usage as erroneous or the word as ambiguous; instead one must scrutinize the concepts involved in an effort to discover what conceptual changes may have produced the blurring of a previously useful distinction.

When Mr. Baender asserts that "basic text" and "printer's copy" sometimes may "in effect mean the same thing," it is significant that he employs the phrase "in effect," for the two expressions refer to distinct and radically different concepts which cannot, without some sort of qualification, be said to "mean the same thing." "Copy-text" (which I shall use in the standard sense of "basic text") is an abstract term; "printer's copy" is concrete. "Copy-text" refers to that form of a literary text which an editor has decided, on whatever grounds, is the best one for him to follow as the basis for his edition; "printer's copy" refers to the unique document which a printer follows in setting type. "Copy-text" signifies an arrangement of words, abstracted from their physical embodiment; "printer's copy" signifies one particular physical document.[1] In those cases in which an editor makes no emendations in his copy-text, the printer's copy will consist of an unaltered transcription or photographic reproduction of one copy of the copy-text. The fact that the text embodied in the printer's copy can be identical with the copy-text should not lead one to conclude that the two terms can sometimes mean the same thing, since the two concepts remain as distinct as ever: the copy-text may exist in numerous embodiments (copies of an impression, transcriptions or reproductions of a manuscript), but only one embodiment of it is the printer's copy. If a bibliographer uses both terms to mean the same thing, he has necessarily altered the meaning of at least one of them, for the concepts themselves still exist unaltered. This sort of shift in meaning, therefore, is not the kind which emerges from an evolution in thought and fundamental changes in concepts; it is simply a change in terminology, which may or may not have resulted from a misunderstanding of the concepts distinguished by the original terms. It does not really make any difference, of course, what terms are finally


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attached to the concepts; the point is that the concepts remain, whatever they may be called.

This line of reasoning suggests a few further comments on what Mr. Baender considers the two main reasons for the "ambiguity" of the term "copy-text." First is "the prestige that copy-text has acquired," which causes the word "to imply authority beyond its denotation, as though the term itself ratified an editor's choice of text" (p. 312). It is often the fate of widely accepted and respectable technical terms to be employed by uninformed persons as a substitute for thought; but it is difficult to see how this situation can be corrected by abandoning or altering those terms. The concept referred to by "copy-text" could be referred to by any term; but all terms would be subject to abuse by incompetent editors, and "copy-text" at least has the advantage of a tradition. To say that "the stature of copy-text in current usage makes the hypothetical edition sound as prestigious as the word is in our respect" is to suggest that a label can successfully hide the thought which lies behind it. But if an edition does not deserve the "prestige" conferred upon it by the designation "copy-text," the sloppiness of the argument defending it cannot stand for long, regardless of the terminology employed. Whether or not "copy-text" is a "banner-word" which "tends toward the superlative," it cannot be held responsible for the foolishness of some of the arguments in which it appears.

The second, and more serious, reason adduced for the ambiguity of "copy-text" is that it is "not suited to the full range and complexity of editorial problems" (p. 312). Mr. Baender points out that McKerrow, when he originated the term, was "operating on a single-text or best-text assumption" (p. 314) and that Greg's more eclectic approach still maintained "with respect to accidentals . . . a single-text criterion." Such a view, however, oversimplifies Greg's position, for his statement that "the copy-text should govern (generally) in the matter of accidentals" was descriptive, not prescriptive. Whenever there is strong evidence, he was saying, for emending the copy-text — whether in substantives or in accidentals — that evidence should of course be followed; but when the evidence is inconclusive, one's chances of adopting what the author wrote — both in substantives and accidentals — are greatest by following the copy-text.[2] Greg's point, quite simply, was that one will normally have far less conclusive evidence with regard to accidentals than to substantives and will therefore follow the copy-text for accidentals more often than for substantives.

Mr. Baender offers two illustrations of situations that he finds beyond the range of "copy-text." The first concerns several authoritative, and substantively variant, texts which derive independently from a lost original (p. 312). Since in his view the "eclectic" (i.e., critical) approach of Greg and Bowers "in the long run rules out the designation of a single text, basic text, or copy-text when there is more than one text of substantive authority"


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(p. 314), it would be "misleading," he feels, to label one of these texts as copy-text. Nevertheless, the editor must follow something, and what he follows is by definition his copy-text. There may well be instances of such divided authority that one text serves as copy-text for certain passages, another text (or several other texts) for other passages. But whether one regards this situation as involving two (or several) copy-texts, or one copy-text with emendations, is merely a statistical matter, a question of relative proportions. If "copy-text" is used to mean the text an editor follows except in those readings which he deems it necessary to emend, he cannot find himself without a copy-text — that is, if he produces his edition at all. To argue that the selection of one copy-text out of several authoritative substantive texts "misrepresents its stature vis-a-vis the others" does not make any allowance for the editor's statement explaining his position; even in simpler cases one cannot hope to understand the relationship among the texts merely by noting which one is copy-text, without turning to an editorial statement.

The second situation cited by Mr. Baender is one in which a second printing of a plated book involves substantive revisions extensive enough to require the resetting of entire pages, and in the course of the resetting a number of accidentals are inadvertently altered. In such a case, "the modern editor," in order to "avoid the awkward procedure of inserting the authoritative second-edition [or second-printing] readings in a reproduction of the first" (p. 313), uses a photographic reproduction of a copy of the second as printer's copy and restores in it the accidentals of the first. The illustration is similar to an actual instance referred to later (p. 315), in which a periodical version is copy-text but the "first book setting" is used as the basis of printer's copy since it contains three hundred authoritative substantive variants. Such practice, we are told, represents "sound editorial procedure despite this convention of copy-text." It is difficult to understand, however, in what way the "convention of copy-text" is a hindrance here, for no theoretical question is involved — only the practical question of how most efficiently to prepare printer's copy. If, because of a large number of authoritative revisions, the easiest method of preparing printer's copy is to photograph a copy of some text other than the copy-text and mark it to conform to the copy-text wherever its variants are not judged authoritative, there can be no objection to the procedure on theoretical grounds: the copy-text is still the "basic text," and the mechanical details by which the printer's copy is made to reflect that copy-text are irrelevant. The only objections which could be raised would have to be on practical grounds; and, from a practical point of view, the procedure is indeed a dangerous one. A classic illustration is described in Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts's account of the history of the Billy Budd text: F. Barron Freeman, instead of making an independent transcription of the manuscript for his 1948 edition, used a copy of Raymond Weaver's


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1928 edition which he had attempted to correct by comparison with the manuscript; the result was that Freeman overlooked more than three hundred of Weaver's errors and therefore incorporated them in his own edition.[3] The supposed practical advantages of working in certain cases from a text other than the copy-text may often prove to be illusory; the effort of making certain that the authoritative copy-text readings are reinstated may be more troublesome and risky than the inconveniences sometimes associated with using a reproduction of a copy of the copy-text in the first place.

Although Greg's discussion of copy-text was limited to works which exist in more than one edition but in no manuscripts, there is no reason why his principles cannot be applied to any situation, regardless of the range of pre-publication forms which survive. It is quite true, as Mr. Baender says, that "the survival of pre-publication forms does not in all cases merely add another stage for a retrogressive pursuit of copy-text" (p. 316) — but surely Greg, if he had discussed the matter, would not have suggested that it does. The fact that a manuscript exists is obviously not sufficient justification in itself for choosing its text as copy-text; no two authors work in the same fashion, and the precise relationship of the manuscript to the earliest printed text must be ascertained in every case. Whenever there is persuasive evidence that an author worked in such a way as to make the earliest printed text closer to his hypothetical fair copy[4] than the extant manuscript is, the choice for copy-text would naturally be the printed text, not the manuscript. But when the evidence is inconclusive, one's best course of action is to select the earliest text as copy-text — for Greg's principle, to use the adjective which Mr. Baender aptly applies to it, is "prudential" in nature, instructing one how to proceed when there is otherwise no means for deciding. The greatness of Greg's theory of copy-text is precisely that it does apply to all situations.

It is well, however, to keep in mind the distinction between "copy-text" as a descriptive term and as a theory of editing. As a term, "copy-text" simply means the text an editor chooses as the basis for his own text; Greg's theory sets forth a particular rationale for making that choice. So long as it is clearly understood that one is working within the framework of Greg's theory, it does no harm to use "copy-text" as a convenient shorthand for "copy-text according to Greg's rationale." If one is to speak of two current senses of "copy-text," this meaning — not "printer's copy" — can more properly be thought of as the second. All I am suggesting here is that, both as a term and as Greg's theory, "copy-text" has by no means


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outlived its usefulness. Though other words could be employed to make the crucial distinction between "copy-text" and "printer's copy," those terms are at once simple, suggestive,[5] and well-established; though other methods of selecting a copy-text could be devised, Greg's applies to all situations with impeccable logic. That an editor may use the word "to support doctrinaire procedures or to suggest a rationale he did not provide" (p. 318) casts no aspersions on the integrity of the word or the theory, but only of its user. Far from agreeing that the definition of "copy-text" as "basic text" is a "hindrance to precise editing," I should prefer to claim that any usage which blurs a basic conceptual distinction is a hindrance to precise thought and expression.