Tuesday, May 17, 2011


It turns out that TLS has printed my letter about Tanselle's tacit defense of Fredson Bowers's editing of William James. I confess that what I put on the blog was a slightly improved version over what I sent to TLS and what got printed. I added "indeed" to the last sentence.

I moved this long suppressed but finally published essay from January as a comment on G. Thomas Tanselle’s review of Sukanta Chaudhuri’s THE METAPHYSICS OF TEXT in the 29 April 2011 TLS, where he ends a paragraph this way:

“We should remember that Fredson Bowers, the most prolific producer of final-authorial-intention texts, said in his edition of William James that the apparatus of variants is of ‘equal ultimate importance’ with the main text, because of the story it tells.”

This example is unfortunate, as I know from studying the manuscript of Pragmatism in the 1970s. In the early 1980s my commissioned article on “The Reviewing of Scholarly Editions” was called “distinguished” but nevertheless rejected for fear a passage on Pragmatism would displease Fredson Bowers. It was published at last, unrevised, in Editors’ Notes for Fall 1991. In that temperately worded passage I explained that Bowers was obscuring the evidence by calling “the manuscripts ‘something close to drafts,’ in so ‘rough’ a state of inscription that they cannot ‘be thought of as normal authorial printer’s copy.’” As I pointed out, “the manuscripts are not rough drafts at all, but perfectly legible fair copy, from which the first printers set very nicely. The printers made a few errors, of course, and since Bowers had relegated the manuscript to an inferior status he did not collate it carefully and did not notice misreadings which have persisted through every printed version”—compositorial misreadings such as “geometrics” for James’s “geometries.”

When Tanselle says that “the apparatus of variants is of ‘equal ultimate importance’ with the main text” of William James’s works, he is not taking account of some words in James’s manuscript which appear neither in the main text nor in the apparatus—those words which Bowers did not print because he wrongly rejected the actual printer’s copy (stint marks quite visible) as too “rough” to become his own copy-text. James’s manuscripts ought to have been copy-text for Bowers’s edition, for words in the manuscript, quite lost from Bowers’s edition, would indeed tell a story, if they had a chance to speak.

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