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Preface Karl D. Uittì LMOST THIRTY YEARS AGO, Edward Billings Ham, the scholar in whose memory the present issue of L ’Esprit Créateur is being offered warned fellow philologists and, above all, stu­ dents about to embark on editing a medieval text against “some of the needless complications which textual theorists have been multiplying in recent years.”1The “scientific systems” propounded by the likes of Dom Henri Quentin and Walter W. Greg, and the attention they (and others of their ilk) attracted during “the late 1920’s and 1930’s” (p. 203), increased the amount of “theoretical clutter and chaff” which, along with radical conservatism (i.e., the elevation, at least in Old French studies, of Joseph Bedier’s editorial practice into an “-ism”—bedierisme —mechanically applied by numerous epigones), threatened, Ham feared, to scare off future editors of talent and flair and to deprive the indispen­ sable art of textual criticism of the intellectual challenge and disciplinary rigor which most properly adhere to it. Ham thought very highly of A. E. Housman. Those of us who had the privilege of studying under him remember his frequent, and amusing, citing of Housman’s various essays on the subject of editing. His abovementioned paper—first delivered as a public lecture in the Romance Philology Group lectures at the University of California (Berkeley) on 22 August 1957 and printed, we note, quite fittingly in the testimonial issue of Romance Philology dedicated to his teacher at Bowdoin, Charles H. Livingston—is larded with quotations from Housman’s “The Applica­ tion of Thought to Textual Criticism” (1921) and from his edition of Manilius. From the latter (1, pp. xxi-xxxiv [Ham, pp. 204-05]): An editor of no judgment, perpetually confronted with [only] a couple of MSS to choose from, cannot but feel in every fiber of his being that he is a donkey between two bundles of hay. What shall he do now? . . . He confusedly imagines that if one bundle of hay is removed he will cease to be a donkey. So he removes it. Are the two MSS equal, and do they bewilder him with their rival merit and exact from him at every other moment the novel and distressing effort of using his brains? Then he pretends that they are not equal: he calls one of them “the best MS,” and to this he resigns the editorial functions which he is himself unable to discharge. . . . Suppose, if you will, that the editor’s “best MS” is in truth the best: his way of using it is nonetheless ridiculous. To believe that wherever a best MS gives possible readings it gives true readings, and that only where it gives impossible readVOL . XXVII, NO. 1 5 L ’E sprit C ré a t e u r ings does it give false readings, is to believe that an incompetent editor is the darling of Providence, which has given its angels charge over him lest at any time his sloth and folly should produce their natural results and incur their appropriate penalty. Chance and the common course of nature will not bring it to pass that the readings of a MS are right when­ ever they are possible and impossible whenever they are wrong: that needs divine interven­ tion; and when one considers the history of man and the spectacle of the universe, I hope one may say without impiety that divine intervention might have been better employed else­ where. . . . Those who employ language less as a vehicle than as a substitute for thought are readily duped by the assertion that this stolid adherence to a favorite MS, instead of being, as it is, a private and personal necessity imposed on certain editors by their congenital defects, is a principle. . . . It is [thus] rendered possible, in a world where names are mis­ taken for things, not only to be thoughtless and idle without discredit, but even to be vain of your vices and to reprove your neighbor for his lack of them. It is rendered possible to pamper self-complacency while indulging laziness; and the “scientific critic,” unlike the rest of mankind, contrives to enjoy in combination the usually incompatible luxuries of shirking his...


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