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  • A Brief History of the Northwestern-Newberry Edition
  • G. Thomas Tanselle and Meaghan Fritz

The fifteen-volume Northwestern-Newberry Edition of The Writings of Herman Melville, completed in the fall of 2017 with the publication of “Billy Budd, Sailor” and Other Uncompleted Writings, had its beginnings in the early 1960s as part of a broad academic movement. In 1962 a series of conferences was held under the auspices of the American Literature Group of the Modern Language Association of America, responding to a widespread recognition among American literature scholars of the need for reliable texts of the major American writers. The result was the establishment in early 1963 of a Center for Editions of American Authors as an MLA committee with several functions: to promote responsible editorial standards for producing unmodernized texts reflecting their authors’ intentions; to secure grants that would assist in paying for the research involved and then to allocate the money to individual editions; and to provide an inspection service that would review editions before publication and allow them to include an emblem reading “An Approved Text” if they met the required standards of editing and presentation of evidence.

In the summer of 1963, a few months after the CEAA was set up, it began holding a series of fifteen planning sessions for individual editions. Through the advocacy of Harrison Hayford, a Northwestern University English professor and Melville scholar who was a member of the original CEAA committee, the first of those sessions was devoted to Melville. Hayford then proceeded to work out an agreement for the sponsorship and publication of a Melville edition among Northwestern University, the Newberry Library, and Northwestern University Press; and he oversaw grant applications, where the textual situation was summarized this way: “The reasons for the urgency in Melville’s case are readily stated. Melville is now widely regarded as our greatest imaginative writer. . . . Yet there is no scholarly complete edition of his works. Indeed, the only relatively complete edition, published in London in 1922–1924, is [End Page 9] available only in the major libraries, and is in any case not textually reliable; its textual principles are indeterminate, and no effort was made to find and follow Melville’s own intentions—spelling, for example, was completely Anglicized. At present, scholars, along with classroom teachers and the common reader, must piece together Melville’s works from a motley assortment of uncertainly reliable separate editions. The respectably scholarly editions among them were prepared on various textual principles and are not in any case readily identifiable by nonspecialists. Teachers are likely unwittingly to assign a bowdlerized Typee, an abridged Moby-Dick, or a garbled Billy Budd.”

Official word of the award of a grant to the Melville edition from the United States Office of Education (in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare) came in early 1965. (The CEAA’s first grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities did not arrive for another year; and because the Melville edition had already received funds, it was not included among the eight editions, involving 150 scholars and eight university presses, to which the $300,000 grant was allocated: those for Crane, Emerson, Hawthorne, Howells, Irving, Thoreau, Mark Twain, and Whitman.) With a grant in hand, the Melville edition could proceed under the editorial team Hayford had already established. He was to be General Editor, assisted by two of his former students: Hershel Parker as Associate General Editor and G. Thomas Tanselle as Bibliographical Editor. Hayford had recently completed (in 1962) a complex editorial project with Merton M. Sealts, Jr., a landmark edition of Billy Budd, Sailor that included the first careful transcription of Melville’s uncompleted manuscript; he and Parker had already started work on the Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick (which was published in 1967); and Tanselle had begun research and writing on American publishing history, descriptive bibliography, and editorial theory.

The editorial procedure recommended by the CEAA, and followed by the Melville edition, was derived from W. W. Greg’s 1950 essay “The Rationale of Copy-Text,” as adapted by Fredson Bowers for use in connection with nineteenth-century writings. (The CEAA did not set it out in published form until...


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