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Leviathan: The English and Latin Texts, ed. Noel Malcolm by Thomas Hobbes (review)

From: Parergon
Volume 30, Number 1, 2013
pp. 243-246 | 10.1353/pgn.2013.0059

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If the Earl of Clarendon might turn in his grave at the thought of Leviathan being so easily available and so widely taught in universities, this edition, appearing under Oxford’s Clarendon Press imprint, would make him spin. For it is the centrepiece of the ambitious collected works of Hobbes (26 volumes plus cumulative index), under the general editorship of Noel Malcolm, Keith Thomas and Quentin Skinner. The Molesworth edition (1839–45) now threatens to be totally superseded. To make matters insupportable for the Earl, this is the Leviathan of Leviathans. It is a superb achievement, a rare combination of expert and detailed scholarship, sustained historical insight and elegant writing.

The Introduction (vol. I ) is in its own right a major study of the work. Part I, the ‘General Introduction’ provides a rich if succinct compositional context, including a discussion of principal themes, the iconography of the title page, critical contemporary responses, and the background to the Latin version. It will not pass without debate, for example, in minimizing the relevance of ‘The Engagement Controversy’, to which Hobbes alludes in his ‘Review and Conclusion’; and perhaps in treating Hobbes’s praise of ‘Independency’ as anomalous (pp. 61–65). The overall vision of Leviathan as a philosophical exploration of the reciprocal offices of sovereign and subject per se by a committed royalist capable of thinking beyond party affiliations, will not surprise, but is very effectively reinforced.

Part II, the ‘Textual Introduction’ deals with the physical identity of the work, its manuscript and attendant materials, and the early printed versions: ‘The Head’ (1651), ‘The Bear’ (1670/78?), and ‘The Ornaments’ (1695– 1702?); the names being derived from title-page variation. The probable dating of ‘Bear’ and ‘Ornaments’ is largely the result of Malcolm’s previous assiduous research, extending his discussions of printing, typeface variation, paper, and printers’ networks in Aspects of Hobbes (Clarendon Press, 2002). Similarly close attention is devoted to the published Latin Leviathan (1668, 1670, 1676, 1678). In turning to the later printed history, Malcolm considers some eighteen editions, including ones in French, Italian, and German: respectively (Tricaud, 1971; Tricaud and Pécharman, 2004; Micheli, 1976; Santi, 2001; Schlösser and Klenner, 1996). Most have involved errors or silent alterations to the original. The famous Oakeshott edition (Blackwell, 1946) still valuable for its ‘Introduction’ is noted only as being almost Molesworthian in the scale of its silent editorial interventions (p. 303), whereas the Tuck edition (Cambridge, 1991) stands up well to scrutiny. Malcolm presents a cogent, if methodologically technical argument, for why this critical edition is needed as a correction to the previous one (Rogers and Schuhmann, 2003).

Volumes II and III provide parallel texts of the English (1651) and the Latin (1668) printings with all variations acknowledged. The Latin is no simple rendition of the English. Hobbes had thought carefully about rewriting, prompted partly by his exaggerated sense of isolation in England and more specifically, as correspondence makes clear, by his continental admirers having some trouble with the original. His friend, Henry Stubbe, made a partial translation (1656–57), and was questioned over the enterprise by Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor, the Independent Dr John Owen (I , 165–66). Owen (excepting Hobbes’s rude remarks about clerics) was by no means as hostile to Leviathan as many were, and Stubbe’s work continued for a while, but nothing of it survives. Eventually, Hobbes set about the task himself.

There are differing patterns of association and shades of meaning when Hobbes’s conceptual vocabulary is shifted from English to Latin, and the tone of the Latin lacks much of the satiric edge of the English. Many changes are minor but there are significant doctrinal adjustments and elaborations. To note just one: Malcolm points to an extensive clarification of sovereignty over the Church (Leviathan, cap. 42). If the sovereign is a woman, argues Hobbes, it may be objected on Pauline authority that she must be silent in church, so restricting her power. In fact, Hobbes seems to be more dismissive of the Pauline hurdle than Malcolm suggests, brushing it aside, by remarking that he knows that female silence has been the case, but insisting that authority is neither male nor female (‘Authoritas...

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