University of Virginia Library

Editor's Introduction

1. The 1928 Sandars Lectures: Their Occasion and Significance

Having been called to review the contribution to English studies of his late friend and fellow bibliographer Ronald Brunless McKerrow, Sir Walter Wilson Greg observed that “the whole significance of his teaching” lay in “the importance he attached to the derivations of the text.”[1] McKerrow's celebrated Introduction to Bibliography (first published in 1927)[2] considers


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the investigation of the mechanics of printing chiefly as a means to illuminate the question of how nearly a printed book may represent the author's original manuscript. The opening of the third part of the Introduction clearly states the raison d'être of the volume:

All that has been written hitherto in this book has been, or should have been, directed, immediately or remotely, to the elucidation of the single problem of the relation between the text of a printed book and the original MS. of its author.[3]

It is interesting to note, however, that the discussion of this topic occupies only a slender section of the book, covering a total of twenty-five pages. But the reason McKerrow dealt with the subject at all is essentially that his mind was never content to rest on what was already a great achievement. He was able to use the occasion of the 1928 reprint of his Introduction to make “a few corrections and small additions” (p. viii), while his election as the prestigious Sandars Reader in Bibliography in 1928 allowed him to explore at length the textual questions he had sketched out in the book.[4]

In the course of three memorable lectures, he presented to his audience, as he stated with characteristic modesty, “a little more methodical survey of the whole subject than, so far as I know, exists at present, and one which may perhaps make the problem of emendation, in certain respects, a little clearer.”[5] What McKerrow did not emphasise on this occasion was that, after he had laid down the principles in the Introduction, he was starting to move on, and to show the practical applications of his teaching. In so doing, he would, in fact, overthrow much current dogma on the editing of Elizabethan dramatic texts.[6] He had to advance his argument by degrees, with clear, wellstated evidence at each step. The lectures could not see the press as they had been delivered. Even if apparently neutral, much of their content (his rehabilitation of Elizabethan printers in particular) was a direct attack on contemporary textual criticism, and McKerrow's exposition had to be as judicious and precise as possible. When, in 1930, he sent a copy of his talks to the Cambridge University Library, in compliance with the readership terms, he enclosed a note to Alwyn Faber Scholfield, then librarian to the University, that spoke of his delay: