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  • The Dividing Line Histories of William Byrd II of Westover ed. by Kevin Joel Berland
  • Timothy Sweet
Kevin Joel Berland, ed., The Dividing Line Histories of William Byrd II of Westover (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013). Pp. 528. $59.95.

Present-day undergraduate anthologies of American literature give us two versions of William Byrd: the ambivalent agent of empire and frontier chronicler in the Heath Anthology, which prints selections from the History of the Dividing Line and the Secret History of the Line; and the self-scrutinizing, though not always self-aware, slave-holding patriarch in the Norton Anthology, which prints selections from the Secret Diary. To these versions, Kevin Joel Berland adds a third: the skillful and deliberate rhetorician.

At least eight distinct editions of Byrd’s History of the Dividing Line have appeared since 1841 when Edmund Ruffin first published an excerpted and [End Page 553] modernized version, based on the Westover family manuscript, in the Farmer’s Register. Berland notes that doctoral research undertaken by Darren Fields has shown that most subsequent editions derive from Ruffin’s, though Louis B. Wright’s edition for the Harvard-Belknap Prose Works of William Byrd (1966) was based on a collation of the microfilm of the Westover manuscript with Ruffin’s text. To produce this new documentary edition, Berland has made a fresh transcription of the Westover manuscript, now held by the Virginia Historical Society (VHS), and collated it with the only other full-length manuscript, held by the American Philosophical Society (APS), as well as with two partial manuscripts. The textual history of the Secret History of the Line is less complicated for lack of extant witnesses, the only full text being a manuscript that was donated to the APS by Thomas Jefferson in 1817. The Secret History was first published in 1929, in a facing-page format with the History, in an edition sponsored by the North Carolina Historical Commission. The Commission’s motivation seems to have been at least partly to address its state’s reputation, for as that volume’s editor William K. Boyd notes, the Secret History is largely free of the criticisms of North Carolina that pervade the History. In any case, most complete editions since then have included both works, inviting comparison.

Berland’s apparatus of unobtrusive carats, broken underlining, and footnotes alerts us to authorial craft while presenting a clean reading text. The Westover manuscript, Berland’s copy-text for the History, was a scribal copy that became a working manuscript as Byrd continued to make revisions in his own hand. Internal evidence in both the History and Secret History as identified by Berland also indicates that Byrd continued to work on them long after 1728. Indeed, in 1736 Byrd wrote to English naturalist Peter Collinson offering to send a manuscript he described as “the skeleton and groundwork of what I intend,” and asking about the possibility of commissioning illustrations from Mark Catesby (50). While many of Byrd’s revisions are small stylistic adjustments, some are more revealing and suggest larger patterns of accretive revision over earlier versions that have since been lost. For example, consider the insertion of a single word in the account of marriage law in North Carolina: “a Country Justice can tie the ^fatal^ Knot there as fast as an Arch-Bishop.” This revision, missing from the APS manuscript, has been presented, though unmarked, in all published editions (98). As the writer James Kirke Paulding remarked in 1816 after being permitted to read the Westover manuscript, then still in the family’s possession, Byrd was “a sly joker on womankind” (475). Few readers since Paulding, however, have had the opportunity to observe Byrd in the process of deliberately crafting the persona of misogynistic “joker” by means of this late revision. Berland’s transcription also alerts us to numerous passages that have been scratched out of the VHS copy and revised in Byrd’s hand, as, for example, in a reflection near the end of the History on the physiological effects of eating bear meat: “all the Marry’d men of our Company, were joyful Fathers within forty weeks after they got Home, and...


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pp. 553-555
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