University of Virginia Library


The central questions of editing can be simply put. Answers to them require thought and do not always come easily. But the editorial debate that has appeared in print in recent years has sometimes made the search for answers more complicated than necessary by diverting attention to issues that exist only as a result of misconceptions. Although there has thus been a certain amount of wasted effort, one at least can now be fairly sure of the problem spots. I shall therefore take advantage of the existence of all this discussion, and analysis of the discussion, by offering a compressed statement regarding the basic areas of difficulty. I need not elaborate on the points here, because the arguments have been rehearsed in detail, and often more than once, in what has appeared during the last several years. A concise expression of some basic propositions can serve a purpose, indeed, because of the very voluminousness of the published discussion. And I think that a further purpose can be served, at this stage,


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by making no reference to the CEAA or to Greg's rationale. Such a body of emotional reactions and stock responses has by now grown up around them that simply to mention them in a theoretical discussion deflects some readers' concentration in unprofitable directions.[71] Whether or not some ideas have been attributed to Greg that are not actually to be found in his writing is obviously a different question from whether or not those ideas are sound; but sometimes the two questions have become confused. There can be no doubt that Greg's rationale has been of crucial importance in the development of modern editorial thinking; but that thinking has carried Greg's line of reasoning beyond the point at which he left it. To keep returning to the question of whether Greg's rationale is applicable to periods later than the Renaissance, as some critics do, is a rather pointless way of proceeding, or at least places the emphasis on the wrong part of the issue. The important question is whether a particular way of thinking (which happens to have been influenced by Greg, but that is beside the point) offers a reasonable approach to editorial matters. The published debate suggests, I think, that the principal problems fall into three groups, and I shall describe what appears to me to be a reasonable approach to each of these three areas.

The first set of questions consists of the preliminary ones that any editor must decide at the outset, questions about what kind of edition is to be undertaken. The most basic distinction is between editions in which the aim is historical—the reproduction of a particular text from the past or the reconstruction of what the author intended—and those in which the editor's own personal preferences determine the alterations to be made in a copy-text. Scholarly editions conform to the first approach, and presumably scholarly editing is what this whole debate has been about. Yet elementary as this distinction is, it has been lost sight of in some of the discussions. Historical scholarship naturally involves judgment and subjective decisions. But there is a difference between using one's informed judgment to attempt to decide what readings reflect the author's intention and making subjective decisions reflecting only one's own tastes and inclinations; and this difference has sometimes been ignored by those who are eager to stress the subjective element in critical editing. After one has decided to undertake a scholarly edition, and understands what that means, one still has to decide whether the edition is to be critical (that is, using editorial judgment to determine when, and whether, emendations are to be made in the text) or noncritical (that is, reproducing exactly one particular text, without alteration). Choice


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between these alternatives will be affected by the nature of the text to be edited: pieces of writing to be presented as documents are most appropriately provided in noncritical texts, whereas those to be presented as finished works are most usefully offered in critical texts.

This is really all that needs to be said in a general way about the choice among different kinds of editions—the absence of any reference to modernizing, to the nature of the intended audience, or to whether or not writings are "literary" being meant to suggest that these matters need not be taken into account. However, so much has been said about them— they have proved to be the most prominent red herrings of editorial debate—that it now seems impossible to pass over them with no comment at all. Regularizing and modernizing (their aims may be different, but they amount to the same thing) are ahistorical in orientation and therefore have no place in the historical approach to texts—which is to say, in scholarly editions. Punctuation and spelling have been the subject of a disproportionately large amount of editorial discussion, principally as a result of a doubly-mistaken assumption: that punctuation and spelling are somehow not full-fledged elements of a text, giving an editor license to be freer with them than with the words, and that most readers will have difficulty reading—or may refuse to read—texts that do not exhibit in punctuation and spelling the consistency or the particular practices they are accustomed to. The defensible position in each case is the opposite: that punctuation and spelling are integral parts of a text, affecting its meaning and impact,[72] and that readers do not generally find it a great difficulty or inconvenience to read a text containing spelling and punctuation from an earlier time. If readers are not so easily put off as some editors think, and if there is at least a chance (to understate the case) that alterations in spelling and punctuation may distort the meaning, then why should editors go to the trouble of regularizing and modernizing? And if one follows this line of thinking, the question of intended audience becomes irrelevant, because a text prepared for scholars will also be the appropriate one to present to students and to the general public. The intended audience may indeed be a factor—for economic reasons—in deciding whether a detailed apparatus is to be published with the text; but there is no reason why it should be a factor in determining the treatment of the text itself.[73] Neither should the question whether the work is belletristic have a bearing: it is delusory to think that punctuation


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is more crucial to written "literature" than to the written communication of historians, philosophers, or scientists. That the line between "creative" writing and "factual" writing cannot be clearly defined is well illustrated by Hayden White's comments on what historical narratives "most manifestly are"—"verbal fictions, the contents of which are as much invented as found and the forms of which have more in common with their counterparts in literature than they have with those in the sciences."[74] Even scientific writing, though it may be different in some respects, uses words and punctuation to communicate ideas, and anyone wishing to understand a scientific work will need—just as much as readers of "literary" works—a text that is reliable in its punctuation as well as in its words.

The second large group of questions concerns the nature of authorial intention and how one is to handle the difficult distinction between intention and expectation. First it should be said that these are questions entailing critical judgment and are relevant only to critical editing. If one is producing a noncritical text, one is concerned to reproduce what actually appears in a particular document or impression, regardless of the extent to which it reflects the author's intentions. Of course, critical judgment about intention may enter into the choice of document or impression to reproduce in the first place and into the annotation supplied with the noncritical text, but it will not have a bearing on the readings of the text itself. In a scholarly critical edition, on the other hand, the aim is to emend the selected text so that it conforms to the author's intention; one can never fully attain such a goal (or know that one has attained it), but at least one can move toward it by applying informed judgment to the available evidence. Obviously many writers have different intentions at different times, and in such cases one must decide which version of a work one wishes to edit, for no one critical text can reflect these multiple intentions simultaneously. But when an authorial revision does not indicate a new conception of a work but simply a continuation of the process of perfecting the expression of the same conception, that revision can legitimately replace the earlier reading in a single critical (that is, eclectic) text. Judging when such eclecticism is justified and when it is not remains a difficult decision, but it is central to critical editing.[75] A related and equally basic problem is determining


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what relation authorial expectation bears to intention. Sometimes one hears the argument that a first-edition text should be preferred to the manuscript printer's copy because the author expected certain alterations to be carried out in the publisher's office. Each case must of course be looked at individually, but two general considerations should be kept in mind: first, that readers of a scholarly critical text are primarily interested in what the author did rather than what a publisher's editor did; and, second, that authors give their "approval," in various ways and for various motives, to alterations that they do not really prefer (as anyone who has written for publication knows all to well). Whether one is speaking of changes in wording or changes in punctuation, it is too simple a view to claim that a particular author expected certain kinds of alterations to be made and therefore that the published text takes precedence over the manuscript text; in a specific instance the published text may indeed deserve to take precedence, but one must be extremely cautious about attributing authorial intention or preference to alterations simply because they were passed, in one fashion or another, by the author. Thus scholarly critical editors frequently find themselves trying to reverse the activities of earlier publishers' editors. In this connection, some comments recently made by Robert Gottlieb, president of Alfred A. Knopf, are particularly striking because they emphasize respect for the author's text and define the role of the publisher's editor as essentially one of encouragement and support. "Even now," Gottlieb says, "it irritates me to know that Dickens changed the end of 'Great Expectations' because someone told him to. It's bad enough that the change was a mistake, but it's even worse to know that someone convinced him to make it."[76] What the scholarly critical editor must do, as Gottlieb does here, is to consider the motivation underlying textual changes; such an editor must try to disentangle the author's own wishes from the other elements


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that shaped the published text. Authorial intention cannot be equated with expectation or with acquiescence, nor can one accept an author's statement of intention at face value. A critical edition, if it is to be worthy of its name, must examine such matters critically.

The third of these large central questions is the problem of the socalled "indifferent" variant: that is, how is the editor to choose among variants in those cases in which critical analysis of the evidence finds the variants equally balanced and provides no basis for a critical choice of one over another? This problem has been much discussed under the guise of examining how to select a copy-text. It is not necessary to have a copytext at all, of course, unless there are in fact some indifferent variants. If at every point of variation in wording, punctuation, and spelling one is able to make a critical decision as to which variant represents the author's wishes, one has no need to fall back on the concept of a text with presumptive authority. Obviously one might, in such a case, choose a particular text to mark up to reflect these editorial decisions, but that text would only be serving as a convenient basis for producing printer's copy for the new edition and as nothing more. The reason so much attention has focused on the choice of copy-text is not that it is a necessary first step in critical editing but that in most cases variants appearing to be indifferent do seem to occur, so that one needs a principle for favoring one text over another. Generally speaking, an editor has less to go on when judging variants in punctuation and spelling than when judging variants in wording, and for that reason the text chosen as copy-text often supplies most of the punctuation and spelling for the critical text. But the editor is free, of course, to make rational decisions regarding spelling and punctuation when the evidence permits; conversely, variants in wording can sometimes seem indifferent, and the impasse is resolved by adopting the copy-text reading. It is not logically necessary, therefore, to distinguish spelling and punctuation from wording in arriving at a rationale for selecting a copy-text, for a copy-text is simply the text most likely to provide an authorial reading (in spelling, punctuation, or wording) at points of variation where one cannot otherwise reach a decision. The way in which spelling and punctuation may sometimes usefully be segregated from wording results from the fact that persons involved in textual transmission have frequently regarded spelling and punctuation as elements that they could alter more freely, or be less careful about, than the words; in situations where this generalization can be thought to apply, therefore, it will be one of the factors involved in editorial decisions. As for a general rationale for choosing a copy-text, one can draw on testimony from all periods, as well as on common sense and everyday experience, to show that texts can be expected to deteriorate as they are transmitted. It follows, therefore, that a copy-text should be an early


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text—one as near to the author's manuscript as possible, if not that manuscript itself—whenever the individual circumstances do not suggest a different text as the more reasonable choice. When they do, then by all means another text should be chosen: the purpose of the general guideline is not to restrict thought or to force particular situations into a common mold. One begins with the variants about which one can reason (from both external and internal evidence) and reach a conclusion; for any remaining variants, one must be guided by the trustworthiness—in general or in particular respects—that one can attach to each text. If this process leads to the choice of a later rather than an earlier text as more trustworthy, then one of course chooses the later text; accepting the general observation that texts deteriorate in transmission does not mean that individual decisions cannot constitute exceptions to the generalization.

These comments on three central questions have been, as I say, intentionally brief and unadorned, both to show that the issues are essentially clear-cut (even though carrying out a responsible editorial policy may require some difficult decisions and certainly requires knowledge and insight) and also to demonstrate the cumulative effect of recent editorial discussion, for these comments, after all, grow out of that discussion and try to build on it. However ineffective some of the discussion has been, the level of discussion now is undoubtedly higher than it would have been without these years of debate. I hope that my summary can serve to suggest the most fruitful directions in which the discussion can proceed from here.