- Editing Early Modern Texts: An Introduction to Principles and Practice
In 1995 Michael Hunter published in The Seventeenth Century an article called “How to Edit a Seventeenth-Century Manuscript,” and he has now produced a small manual giving expanded advice on the scholarly editing of “early modern” texts, printed as well as manuscript. Rather unexpectedly and unrealistically, he claims that “Most of all, the book is aimed at users of editions.” It is true that any “user” who can be persuaded to read through these pages will be a more perceptive one. But prospective editors will surely be the primary audience, and they will find here a quick, and largely sensible, survey of matters they need to think about. They should, however, read critically: as with all introductions, beginners (for whom introductions are intended) will be misled if they take for granted that they are being presented with an infallible synopsis of accumulated knowledge and experience.
They will have no way of knowing, of course, when a summary of previous work is inadequate (as is the account of the Greg-Bowers approach in chapter 5) or wrong (as when in chapter 3 the “theory of copy text” is said to treat accidentals as “trivial”). But any reader of a logical turn of mind will be able to tell, for example, that certain distinctions are not sufficiently sharp — such as that between theoretical issues (which do not vary according to the historical period addressed) and practical considerations (which may well vary), or between transcription (where the aim is to make no alterations) and critical editing (where the aim is to introduce alterations). And careless wording can lead readers to unintended inferences, as when Hunter seems to condone the view that editions “aimed at scholars seriously interested in the author in question” will need to be “supplemented for a general readership by more popular editions”: one must then ask whether he is defining general readers as unserious and why an editor should cater to unserious needs. Nevertheless, the book does contain a number of helpful discussions, such as the historical account of electronic editing and the treatment of modernizing. Indeed, if it exposes more beginning editors to the idea that modernizing “is liable to obscure aspects of the meaning of the original” and if it causes them to question whether “modernisation serves much purpose at all,” the book will have provided a useful service. [End Page 488]
G. Thomas Tanselle retired in 2006 as senior vice president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He is coeditor of the Northwestern-Newberry Edition of the Writings of Herman Melville, and his other publications include Textual Criticism and Scholarly Editing, A Rationale of Textual Criticism, Textual Criticism Since Greg, Literature and Artifacts, Royall Tyler, and The Life and Works of Fredson Bowers.