- ASKÊMATA [Exercises]. Vol. 2.6 of The Shaftesbury Standard Edition: Complete Works, Correspondence and Posthumous Writings
Outside the British National Archives in Kew, the two private notebooks Shaftesbury labeled "Askêmata" or "Exercises" were until now available only in two versions: a 1900 edition so rearranged and expurgated as to be misleading and virtually useless by today's standards, and a 1993 French translation by Laurent Jaffro. But with volume 2.6 of the Shaftesbury Standard Edition (SSE), the German team at the helm of this project gives us the first reliable—and eminently clear and usable—scholarly English version of these alluring, thorny, private documents, alongside six shorter, related texts from the Shaftesbury papers, as well as a detailed scholarly apparatus. This is sure to be the authoritative edition for decades to come, one that opens the field for new work on texts that are by turns passionate, hauntingly beautiful, and alienating in their austerity.
The scholarly framework of this volume includes not only the meticulously edited and annotated text of the Askêmata but also a helpful thirty-nine-page introduction; a bibliography with suggestions for further reading; a "Conspectus" showing headings, pages, and years for the entries; footnote identifications and translations into English of all quotations in Greek and Latin (though not of secondary sources cited in French), which indicate Shaftesbury's reading and underlining in his personal copies; and a "Critical Apparatus" that elegantly locates in the back of the volume noteworthy textual features that cannot reasonably be accommodated within the main text.
It is to the great credit of the SSE team that they have chosen to include their vastly helpful annotations as footnotes rather than endnotes, which makes the whole of this daunting text readable in a reasonable and peaceful manner, with a minimum of flipping to and fro. The volume reproduces select photographs of the manuscripts, including pages with enigmatic pictographic symbols, as well as Shaftesbury's drawing of a hand, casting those symbols away, that he placed at the end of the pocket-sized volume of stoical resolutions he appears to have carried on his person.
Before the volume came to print I was given the chance to compare its typescript to my own extensive notes and transcriptions made while working with the Askêmata in the British National Archives, and have found our texts to correlate in every respect. But even so, intractable problems presented by the arrangement of the entries in the physical volumes remain. In writing these volumes, Shaftesbury adapted the commonplace-book method he learned from Locke, and the manuscript bears evidence that some passages were reworked and copied out fair, while others were composed more spontaneously at the moment of entry. For example, Shaftesbury would begin an entry under the heading "Naturall Affection," write until he completed his thought, and then begin a new entry (say, on "Deity") on the next page. When he later resumed writing on "Naturall Affection," he would turn back to the end of the earlier entry on that head, begin his new entry there (to show connection of topic and also, probably, to conserve paper), and then flip forward past other entries and continue it at the next blank page. [End Page 320]
The editorial conundrum, then, is whether to preserve Shaftesbury's organization, creating a text like the original, in which readers must flip forward scores of pages to complete a thought (this was Jaffro's solution); or to connect the dots, as it were, compiling all the entries under "Naturall Affection" in one continuous section and noting the dates of the various entries. The latter approach has been the choice of the SSE team. The chronological breaks under each head are, thankfully, indicated in the text, but what one cannot see without careful sleuthing is that when Shaftesbury finished his first entry on "Naturall Affection," the...