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The Editing of Old English: Papers from the 1990 Manchester Conference.

Two books with the title The Editing of Old English were published in 1994, this one and a collection of essays by me (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995). Neither the editors of this volume nor I had any idea we were duplicating titles, and I regret any confusion that scholars and bibliographers may experience as a result.

The focus and thematic unity of Scragg and Szarmach's volume are admirable. It is a genuine exploration of what the Old English edition should be in the twenty-first century. The collection begins with a reprinting of Helmut Gneuss's valuable 'Guide to the Editing and Preparation of Texts for the Dictionary of Old English', which has defined the parameters of most Old English editing since its publication in 1973. I would urge (re)readers of Gneuss's 'Guide' to consult also his recent essay 'Old English Texts and Modern Readers: Notes on Editing and Textual Criticism' soon to appear in Words and Works: Studies in Medieval English Language and Literature in Honour of Fred C. Robinson. This study speaks to the issues raised in some of the strongest essays in Scragg and Szarmach's volume, such as those of Joyce Hill, Malcolm Godden, Michael Lapidge, and Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe, as well as in E. G. Stanley's Sir Israel Gollancz Lecture of 1984. Hill, in 'AElfric, Authorial Identity, and the Changing Text', argues convincingly that 'modern concepts of authorship and textual integrity are not applicable to the Anglo-Saxon period' (179), in view of the inherent lability of Old English texts, including, even, AElfric's works. Along with much else of value, she shows us how AElfric's injunctions to scribes are to be rightly understood. Lapidge, 'On the Emendation of Old English Texts', puts the full weight of his authority as an editor of Anglo-Latin texts (whose editors have traditionally not hesitated to emend and reconstruct) behind a plea for more interventionist, reconstructive Old English editions. And Godden ('Editing Old English and the Problem of Alfred's Boethius') shows just how exciting a bolder, more interventionist strategy could be in a new edition of the Old English Boethius. One's mounting wish as one reads the essay that Godden would himself undertake such a project is happily granted in a climactic footnote on page 172 announcing his plans for a new edition of Boethius.

A. N. Doane, 'Editing Old English Oral/Written Texts', is very much in favour of conservative, minimalist editing, for only by following rigorously the original manuscript version of the text can we achieve, he feels, a faithful oral actualization of it. Surprisingly, his illustrative example of such an edition (the verse charm 'Widh Faerstice') is radically interventionist, with insertion of many wide spaces and clause alignments, silent resolution of abbreviations, excision of an acute accent, and contrastive use of italic and roman type. His principles (as opposed to his practice) could only be satisfied by a facsimile. In 'Paleography and the Editing of Old English Texts' Alexander R. Rumble takes a similarly conservative view and even makes a whimsical plea for the use of wynn instead of w in modern editions. (Why not insular r and low and long s as well?)

In a good exercise in reading Old English texts 'in their most immediate context' Graham Caie argues that 'Judgment Day II', 'Lord's Prayer II', 'Gloria I', 'Exhortation to Christian Living', and 'A Summons to Prayer' (the latter two edited and translated by me as a single poem in the volume bearing the same name as this one) form, in their manuscript context, 'a unified devotional exercise connected with the sacrament of penance' for use by a priest. Evidence supporting this view is the blank space left in 'A Summons' line 1 for the insertion of the name of the person addressed by the priest using the texts.

Two essays deal with editing Beowulf. In a characteristically learned, astute, and judicious assessment of Thorkelin's and Kemble's editions of the poem, J. R. Hall whets our appetite for his comprehensive study-in-progress of what modern scholars can find out about the original text of Beowulf from the work of Conybeare, Madden, Grundtvig, Thorpe, and Kemble. D. R. Howlett's 'New Criteria for Editing Beowulf is long on learning and short on common sense. He is concerned to show that Beowulf was composed mathematically:

Counting the syllables one finds 162 in the lines about Hrothgar's prosperity and the construction of Heorot. The golden section of 162 falls at 100 and 62. The one hundredth syllable is dha at the beginning of the crux of the chiasmus. There are eighty-seven syllables in the Creation Lay, of which the central, forty-fourth, is the first of the word sunnan. The entire poem is composed like this. (81)

If Howlett would pause a while from counting syllables to read Beowulf, he might discover that it is a rather interesting poem with important things to say.

In the longest essay in the volume, J.D. Pheifer points out expertly deficiencies in Gustav Loewe's and Wallace Martin Lindsay's pioneering work on Latin and Latin - Old English glossaries and explains what is needed in future editions of glossaries. In two essays on the editing of Old English textbooks, Clare A. Lees and Hugh Magennis raise an important issue for Old English teachers. Magennis's thoughtful and eminently practical suggestions are valuable and show a much surer sense of the special needs of a student as opposed to a scholarly edition than does Lees.

Antonette diPaolo Healey gives superb illustrations of what lexicographers need in an edition, while Marilyn Deegan and Peter Robinson show us the value of computers - especially in collating manuscripts for editions. In the remaining essays in the volume - Theodore Leinbaugh on AElfric's Saints' Lives, Kathryn Sutherland on Elizabeth Elstob, David N. Dumville on editing for historians, and Richard Dammery on editing the Anglo-Saxon laws - readers will find valuable observations on important issues. The volume is framed with a witty introduction by Paul Szarmach and an informed and thoughtful afterword by Donald Scragg.

FRED C. ROBINSON Yale University
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Author:Robinson, Fred C.
Publication:Notes and Queries
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1996
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