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What i should like to offer on this occasion is an account of the editing of Darwin's correspondence as a venture in applying principles and methods of textual editing to historical documents—in this case, letters— that for the most part were never intended for publication.

When the Darwin Correspondence project began, the members of our editorial staff were entirely innocent of any knowledge of the techniques which had been so well developed in literary editing. Their training had been in science or the history of science and they had the typically relaxed and loosely formulated attitude of most non-literary scholars to the texts they were handling, that is to say, their habits and training focussed mainly upon providing the texts, more or less as they found them, with sound explanatory footnotes.

At that time, as General Editor of The Works of William James, of which Professor Bowers was Textual Editor, I became acquainted with his work and became convinced that his editing philosophy and techniques should be applied to the Darwin correspondence and I set out to convert my colleagues to the new editorial policy. In accomplishing this, I was powerfully assisted by an advance copy of G. Thomas Tanselle's paper on "The Editing of Historical Documents."[1] That article more than anything else persuaded them of the soundness and indeed the necessity of treating our material according to the standards of modern textual practice. With Professor Bowers' help we then set about writing a style manual for our edition. I should perhaps emphasize that he has no responsibility for any of the shortcomings of our work. Although his paper on the "Transcription of Manuscripts: The Record of Variants"[2] was our Bible, there is no reason to assume that it was immune to the fate of any bible in the hands of its disciples.


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Before describing the specific practices and problems we have encountered in our editing, it will be helpful to set down the kinds of documents that constitute the raw materials of the Darwin correspondence:

1. Original manuscripts, mainly holographs on both sides of the correspondence, constitute by far the greatest number of letters. Of the more than 14,000 that have so far been located, roughly 5,000 Darwin letters and 4,000 letters to Darwin are located in the Darwin Archive at Cambridge University. The rest are located in over 200 widely scattered libraries and private collections.

2. Photocopies of about 5,000 letters have been obtained from repositories in some 20 countries. Transcriptions made from these are checked by the editors against the originals, insofar as this is practicable. Most of them are located in readily accessible collections, the largest among them being in about a dozen libraries, including the American Philosophical Society Library, The British Library, and The Royal Society.

3. Manuscript copies made for Francis Darwin when he was preparing his editions of his father's life and letters. The originals were borrowed from the recipients and most have been preserved and located, but a substantial number of the copies are the only versions we have to work with.

4. Published letters form a fourth category. Some of these were intended for publication by Darwin, others are printed mainly in the biographies of contemporaries. Again, in many cases, the originals have been lost.

5. In the Darwin Archive there are several hundred drafts of letters in Darwin's hand. In many cases, the final version has not been found.

6. Memoranda. These are communications from Darwin correspondents containing information about subjects in which he was interested, often sent in response to his queries. These are not in epistolary form, though usually signed.

7. So-called "third-party" letters. These are letters forwarded to Darwin because he had made some request of a recipient acting as an intermediary, or because they contained information about subjects in which he was known to be interested.

8. Letters known only from entries in bookseller and auction catalogues. These range from full facsimile reproductions to paraphrases and summaries.

Even from this bare list it is obvious that a proportion of the material available does not lend itself to the preparation of texts that can make a claim to being definitive in the sense that they represent Darwin's final


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intentions. This is difficult enough with holographs or photocopy versions. When all that is available is a draft, or a published or handwritten copy over which Darwin had no control, the level of editorial intervention and conjecture inevitably rises. With summaries in sales catalogues there is nothing to do but to reproduce them as they are printed, except when there is evidence from other sources that the date, the name of the recipient, or errors of transcription can be supplied or corrected.

Before discussing the editing of the holograph letters, which, I am glad to report, form at least 90 per cent of the material at hand, some brief remarks about how we are handling the more refractory kinds of textual material may be of interest.

Of these, the texts closest to what Darwin finally wrote are, one may assume, his drafts. These provide some of the most troublesome problems of transcription, not only because they are even more difficult to decipher than his normal handwriting, but because the alterations frequently consist of deletions and interlineations within interlineations containing still other alterations. When the substance and sequence of what Darwin was striving for have been established to an editor's satisfaction, there is the additional problem of rendering the alteration note in a form that will be intelligible. In our computerized typesetting program we originally devised a set of codes for the different types of alterations which enabled the computer to extract and print out an alteration automatically. The codes worked well for simple deletions and interlineations, but when we applied them to more complicated nests of alterations what came out was hopeless gibberish. Although it is no doubt theoretically possible to solve this problem, we became convinced that the note produced would be so complex that the liability to error in production and proofreading would be too great to risk. We have therefore, as a result of this problem, and also because the number of codes needed to deal with all the varieties of alteration became very large, given up on coding for automatic reproduction. We now write the notes out manually, using the system Professor Bowers has employed for The Works of William James.

The dependability of the substantive content of Darwin's drafts can sometimes be inferred from surrounding letters to and from his correspondents, but of course in any strict sense, the text Darwin actually sent off in the mail cannot be reconstructed. In some cases it is not even known that a final version was posted. We have nevertheless included all drafts in our edition because of their relationship to his work and his other correspondence. From this one may infer, correctly, that we have adopted a very broad definition in what we consider to be correspondence.


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The next closest to authentic Darwin texts are the copies of his letters made for Francis Darwin. The copyists he employed were clearly instructed to make completely literal transcriptions of the originals. The first difficulty in editing them arises from the fact that errors in reading Darwin's handwriting were bound to occur in the copies. When Francis corrected them one can usually trust his revision because, having served for years as his father's assistant and secretary, he knew his hand better than anyone else. But the problem is complicated by the fact that, in letters that he decided to publish, Francis modernized the spelling and punctuation of the originals to conform to his or the publisher's style. In such cases the editor can usually retain the copyist's renderings if they conform to Darwin's habits, such as his use of the ampersand or when there is independent evidence from another letter or document that the "corrected" version has departed from what Darwin wrote. There are, as well, instances when both Francis and the copyist were wrong, as for example when both refer to a 'Dr. Hanley', whereas from another letter, and independent research, we can be reasonably sure that the correct name is 'Hawley'. On the whole, however, I believe we can claim that the texts we have reconstructed from the copies have a fairly high degree of reliability in both substantives and accidentals.

Letters that exist, so far as we know, only in published form present similar problems. For the most part it is necessary to accept the printed version of the text, but sometimes there is solid evidence from an independent source for changing it. This is the case when obvious misreadings of Darwin's handwriting can be identified from other letters on the same subject, or from other material in the Darwin Archive. For example, in one letter the printer made nonsense of a sentence by reading 'Oracle' when Darwin wrote 'Orache' (a species of weed). Some of the published letters were written by Darwin for publication in periodicals like Gardeners' Chronicle and Nature. With these, our first problem was to decide whether to include them at all in our edition, since many of them might well be considered short informal articles or reports of research despite their epistolary form. In the end we decided to include them because many of them elicited responses, and printing them provided background and context for such related letters.

Another case in which the problem is not so much one of editing the text, but whether it should be included in the edition, arises in the case of memoranda sent to Darwin by some of his correspondents. Some memoranda are signed and can with good reason be considered letters that simply lack a salutation and valedictory. Many of them were almost certainly enclosures in letters that were not preserved. Other documents of this kind have the epistolary form but have every aspect of being


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memoranda in that their content consists almost exclusively of lists of various kinds of data. In the end we gave up trying to be consistent. We have omitted some memoranda because we think that they can be adequately handled by the printed summaries in our Calendar of the correspondence. Others have been included because of the extensive use Darwin made of them. But this practice has now raised a serious problem of space in the case of the letters and memoranda from one of Darwin's most important correspondents, Edward Blyth. Some of these are over 20 folio pages long, full of information on the natural history of India. Some have several pages of notes by Darwin pinned to them. In the year 1855, the correspondence of which I have just been editing, the ten letters and memoranda of the Blyth correspondence total over 150 manuscript pages. As a practical matter, including them makes a serious problem for the length of the volume as well as being a burden to the general reader. We have not yet decided how much to include, nor on what criterion to base the decision. An appendix for the memoranda, using small type, may be an answer. But whatever is decided, if they are omitted from the edition, the full texts of the memoranda will be edited and put on the magnetic tapes that are now being prepared of the entire correspondence with a grant from the Mellon Foundation.

Memoranda are only a small part of the correspondence Darwin received and preserved during the 61 years to be covered by the edition. In the early years he saved in their entirety mainly family letters and those from scientists like John Stevens Henslow and Joseph Dalton Hooker, who were close friends. From the letters of others it was his practice to cut out those portions that he thought important for his work in progress, and to file them in portfolios of notes according to their subject matter. After the publication of the Origin he saved a large proportion of the letters he received without making excerpts, discarding only the envelopes.

The letters to Darwin are being edited in their final form—that is, without recording alterations, but the spelling and punctuation of the originals have been retained. The editorial problems of this portion of the correspondence are mainly concerned with recording the annotations Darwin made on them. These consist of marginal scoring, underlining, and comments, which are usually brief but sometimes run to several pages. Determining the precise location and extent of the texts to which annotations apply is often a matter of editorial judgment. The annotations, which are transcribed as exactly as possible, are recorded immediately following the texts of the letters. Each comment is located by paragraph and line number, and any alteration Darwin made in writing them has been recorded in formulaic style according to the Bowers system.


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In this system the final version is printed, and the alterations made in the original version are put in brackets at the places in which they occur. For example an entry that reads:
6.1 See Daubeny ['vol. 1' del] for *description of volcanoes in [interl] South America 6.3 ink
means that Darwin noted in ink, in the margin of paragraph six of the letter, between lines 1 and 3, 'See Daubeny vol. 1 for South America' and then deleted 'vol. 1' and inserted 'description of volcanoes in' after 'for'. The asterisk before 'description' marks the beginning of the interlined phrase, which ends at the bracket. Since the vast majority of interlineations are of single words, we have used the asterisk only when more than one word is affected in order to reduce the number of insertions of this intrusive symbol. The final text of Darwin's comment can be read by simply skipping the bracketed material.

The "third-party" letters provide no special editing problem other than the decision to include or exclude them. For the period before the publication of the Origin it has been possible to include almost every extant communication to or from Darwin, including the third-party letters that were not intended to be sent to him in the first place. After 1860, however, the volume of correspondence that has been preserved is so great that some selection will have to be made. But all the omitted letters will be transcribed and edited for the magnetic tape record.

The Darwin manuscript letters consist of two kinds. The majority are holograph letters, but some are written in the hand of an amanuensis and signed by Darwin, often with emendations or postscripts in his own hand. When the writer can be identified—as is the case with those written by his wife, or his son Francis—this is noted. Since these letters bear his signature, they have been transcribed literally, even though some of the spelling and punctuation is not in Darwin's usual form. Under the circumstances, cases in which an editorial intervention can be justified are rare.

The holograph letters pose several difficult and time-consuming problems that are not strictly concerned with establishing the text. Darwin seldom dated his letters fully, contenting himself with a minimal '11th' or 'Monday'. Nor did he generally identify addressees by name unless they were members of the family or intimate friends such as Lyell, Hooker, and Huxley. After envelopes were adopted, they were not usually preserved with the letters. As a result the identity of the recipients of a great many letters must be established from their content, from surrounding correspondence, or from other sources.

In establishing the text the major problem is Darwin's difficult handwriting.


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To decide what he actually wrote, it is frequently necessary to consider his intent from the context, from related letters, or, often, from independent sources. For example, in a letter to Richard Owen, Darwin says he is enclosing a pamphlet on scarlet fever. Gavin de Beer in his transcription made this out to be 'scarlet ferns'. The original seemed to us to be, fairly certainly, 'fever', but it was the knowledge that there actually was a pamphlet on that subject, sent to him by another correspondent, that established the reading beyond doubt. We have had to make decisions of this kind in literally hundreds of cases. Even when Darwin's general intent is clear, there are instances when alternative readings are possible. To take a familiar example, when Darwin clearly intended to write 'ever' but the word looks more like 'even' it is nevertheless correct to transcribe it as 'ever'. But in some cases it is possible that two similar words are equally plausible renderings of what is written. In such cases the rendering adopted is indicated as conjectural with the alternative recorded in the apparatus.

For our edition we decided to print in "clear" or "reading" text, in which the alterations are recorded in a separate apparatus from which the original form of the text can be reconstructed. This decision was made because the readers interested in Darwin are varied in background and interests and we wanted to produce an edition for both a general and a scholarly audience. To some extent, this decision made editing the text even more complex, because it necessitated coming to a decision about what could be left in our transcription and still have it a reading text, and what could be removed to the apparatus while preserving the quality and characteristics as well as the authorial integrity of the text as Darwin had left it.

With some exceptions to be noted and justified below, we have retained Darwin's spelling and punctuation. As Frank Sulloway has demonstrated, the Darwin correspondence provides very convincing evidence of the importance of preserving the spelling.[3] For instance, during the voyage of the Beagle, some documents can be dated as early or late in the voyage because Darwin changed his spelling of certain words. At one point, probably after reading some of the early voyages of exploration, he suddenly began to spell 'Pacific' with a final 'k'. This furnished part of the evidence that he first arrived at his theory of coral reef formation while he was still in South America, before he had seen any such reefs. Other spellings were changed late in the voyage after he bought a dictionary at Cape Town. Still others, like 'neighbourhead' and 'thoroughily' occur in the correspondence as late as the 1850s. In our edition, some misspellings have been preserved, even when it is clear that they are unintentional, as in 'lawer' or 'reollect, because such errors sometimes indicate


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haste, excitement, or, in a series of letters, a habit of carelessness in writing to a particular correspondent or on a particular subject. In deciding whether to keep such unintended misspellings in the text, or to correct them silently with a record of the original in the apparatus, the editors have used their judgment as to whether they were of some possible significance. If they are considered innocuous slips, they are corrected and a record of the correction is made in the alterations apparatus. Similar discretion has been exercised in distinguishing between "mendings" and "alterations" as when an 'h' is touched up to make it clearly into a 'k'. Capital letters have been transcribed as they occur except in certain cases, like 'c' and 'm', which are frequently written somewhat larger than normal in the initial letters of words. In these cases, Darwin's, or the writer's, normal practice is followed. Since Darwin frequently capitalized nouns there is sometimes doubt as to his intention in the case of 'C' and 'M'. The capital is then retained.

Darwin occasionally wrote an 'a' in a word so that it looks more like an 'e'. Usually this can be treated as a result of haste and corrected silently, but there are cases in which we know the 'e' is part of a misspelled word, as in 'seperate', which occurs often and consistently. Sometimes it is not possible to make a decision based on normal use when the word in question is an unusual one like a species name, or one which occurs very rarely. A recent instance of the latter occurred in transcribing 'Birmingham', in which it was necessary to decide whether the first vowel was an 'e' or an undotted 'i'. In such cases it seems reasonable to give Darwin the benefit of the doubt.

In some instances, that are not misspellings in a strict sense, editorial corrections have been made silently. Darwin consistently wrote 'bl' so that it looks like 'lb' as in 'albe' for 'able', or 'troulbe' for 'trouble'. Because this occurs so consistently in different words, the editors consider that it is most unlikely to be misspelling but rather a peculiarity of handwriting, perhaps related to a form of dyslexia. Consequently such words are transcribed as normally written without any alteration being recorded, though the reversal has been signalled in the Note on Editorial Method. Similar treatment has been given to Darwin's habitual slurring in writing 'vey' or 'vy' for 'very', and 'ing' endings as 'ng'.

Elsewhere, however, there are words that contain a misformed letter that could affect the meaning. This happens when Darwin has crossed an 'l' so that it looks like a 't'. Usually it is obvious that the letter is intended to be 'l', as in 'stippers' and 'istand'; such non-words have been transcribed with an 'l'. But because it is possible that a 't' could be misinterpreted as a crossed 'l', as for instance in 'meat', all such cases have been recorded in an alteration note. Knowledge of this tendency is sometimes


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helpful in considering whether a copyist has transcribed a crossed 'l' as a 't'; for instance the proper name 'Staney' in a letter would almost certainly have been intended to be 'Slaney', the family name of Shrewsbury friends.

Our most exasperating problems have been concerned with transcribing Darwin's idiosyncratic punctuation. In his early letters Darwin sprinkled his sentences with points, some of which could be intended as periods or full-stops, even though no capital letter follows them. Others can serve grammatically as commas, and, since in Darwin's day commas were used more frequently than now, we have so interpreted many of them in our transcriptions. Some turned out to be bleeds from the versos of the manuscript leaves. But after accounting for as many as we could in some rational way, there were many for which no grammatical function could be conjectured. These have been omitted, with the omissions recorded in the alterations apparatus.

Some additional examples will give some notion of punctuation about which decisions had to be made:

Inverted question marks, possibly a vestige of his South American days, are not infrequent in the early letters; occasionally commas and semi-colons are reversed; sometimes colons and semi-colons are used where we would use commas; an "equal" sign occasionally serves as a hyphen; semi-colons and other punctuation marks sometimes occur directly under question marks. Commas, well-formed and seemingly deliberate, sometimes occur in places where they serve no purpose. Dashes of varying lengths sometimes serve as periods, and, more often, follow them as well. Sometimes, when they are longer than usual and are followed by a space somewhat longer than usual, and there is a change of subject, this combination can reasonably be taken as a sign indicating a new paragraph. We have dealt with these various idiosyncratic usages by leaving as many in the text as we could without appearing foolish or pedantic, and consigning the rest to the apparatus where being foolish or pedantic does little harm. In lengthy letters of the 1830s, new paragraphs have usually been inserted whenever the subject changes, because it seems reasonable to assume that, before the penny post, space was precious and paragraphing was a wasteful habit.

It is, I believe, a common phenomenon that editors working together on complex projects find that they rarely disagree on matters of substance but that the decisions that generate heated differences usually involve punctuation and spelling. This has certainly been the case with the editorial staff of the Darwin Correspondence project.

Most of our differences now seem trivial, but one of them may be of some interest. It arose early in our project when we discovered that in


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Darwin's well-known sentence 'I look at a strong tendency to generalize as an entire evil', the manuscript clearly and unambiguously read 'generatize'. The issue was whether this was a neologism Darwin had invented to describe naturalists who created new species and genera in order to have their names affixed to them as their discoverers. Darwin despised such "species-mongers," and the context, though not strongly supportive, gave some reason to think Darwin might indeed have intended 'generatize'. But we later found so many cases of crossed 'l's, in 'stippers', 'istand', 'capilat' and the like, while no other use of 'generatize' was ever found, that only one editor held out for the neologism. Peace was established by changing the text to 'generalize' and noting the possibility of 'generatize' in a footnote. To commemorate the controversy, one of our editors has named his kitten 'Stippers'.

I could cite many other cases that were difficult to settle, but I believe I have produced enough to show the general nature of the problems involved in transcribing and editing Darwin's letters. If we had adopted the straight descriptive or formulaic system in editing, we might have avoided some of the problems, but the resulting text would be extremely burdensome to any but the most dedicated scholars. Using the clear-text system enabled us to preserve to a substantial degree the character and quality of the original, and provided an apparatus that made possible a reconstruction of the changes Darwin made in producing his final version. But the clear-text system also increases the number of problems that have to be solved about authorial intent in deciding what is to be left in the text and what for one reason or another can be put into the apparatus. With the formulaic system, intent must sometimes be considered in deciphering what Darwin wrote, but everything else that he wrote can be kept as it is whether Darwin intended it or not and it is left to the reader to make what he can of the text. With the clear-text system the editor takes on this task for the reader, and thereby increases the risk that subjective and arbitrary interpretations will creep in. In consequence, a clear-text edition of manuscripts like the Darwin letters is close to being a critical edition insofar as the reading text contains corrections made by the editors of Darwin's aberrations and errors.

In our editing of the correspondence the general adoption of the Bowers principles and system of transcription provided a uniform and consistent style manual for the editors and proofreading staff. We found no text that could not be transcribed by using it, though we have not yet succeeded in teaching the computer to master it. Most importantly, applying it has demonstrated to us that it has important substantive consequences in faithfully reproducing Darwin's trains of thought, his


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associative processes, his struggle for clarity of expression, and many other aspects of his writing habits that help us better to understand his mind at work.