The Smoochy Knights Errant of Textual Scholarship

July 7, 2011

“Editors are Knights Errant whose quest is to discover damsels called True Virgin Texts as Intended by Authors. Many of these Virgins were hidden away by a passel of villains variously known as the Scribes and Printers, Lost Documents, Ghosts, and Imperfect Transmission. In such cases a Knight-Editor believes that his Lady, True Virgin Text, is to be found somewhere in the Castle of Primary Sources. She may be intact, but all too often she is decrepit or lacuna-scarred or covered with emendations and disguises. She may even be buried below the Castle in its Dungeon of Lost Sources. But he hopes to rescue her and, with the Kiss of Scholarship, to restore her virgin purity despite what the Demons of Textual Tampering may have inflicted upon her. However, his task is not easy: he may have to seek her through the Maze of Stemma and Suppressed Passages or to find his way through a Wood of Errors where he may encounter the Dragons of False Attribution and Facile Conjecture. And he must be ever on guard against the deceptions of Pretenders disguised as the True Virgin Text. Indeed, these strumpets will try to lure him into the Bowers of Felicitous Emendation.

Obviously the Knight-Editor must carry the Spear of Exact Scholarship and the Buckler of Skepticism; and he must wear the Armour of Integrity. But at the outset of his quest he faces trial by two Tempters: one of these is evil, and the other is good. But outwardly they look alike, and he therefore knows not how to choose between them. The one calls out, ‘Take with you the Swords of Criticism. Without these weapons you will never find the True Virgin Text‘; but the other Tempter warns, ‘Beware of the Swords of Criticism. Touch them not. They belong to Another Discipline, and if you bear them you may be diverted from the Paths of Objectivity into the Slough of Impressionism and the Bogs of Distortion. Yea, the Swords of Criticism will turn their edges against you and force you into the clutches of the Harlot False Text and her Paramour, Interpretative Annotation.'”

[J. Max Patrick, “Critical Problems in Editing George Herbert’s The Temple“, The Editor as Critic and The Critic as Editor: Papers Read at a Clark Library Seminar, November 13, 1971, J. Max Patrick and Alan Roper, Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1973: 3-4.]

Editorial theory is, like, so dull.

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