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Russian Scandal or the Hits and Misses of Editing

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Author Topic: Russian Scandal or the Hits and Misses of Editing  (Read 257 times)
« on: September 27, 2009, 02:24:10 pm »

Nowadays the term more often used is "Chinese Whispers" of course. . . .

When contributing Tennyson's "Higher Pantheism" to the R3ok forum, we initially simply copied it from an Inter-net address supplied on the first page of Google:

What a mistake that was! Becoming suspicious of the "accuracy" of the punctuation we consulted our own shelves and the Oxford edition of Tennyson's Poems and Plays, edited by Warren and Page. Specifically this is "based upon Sir T. Herbert Warren's Poems of Tennyson (1912) revised and enlarged by Frederick Page, first published by Oxford University Press in 1953, issued as an Oxford University Press 'paperback' in 1971, and last reprinted in 1991."

Comparing the eighteen lines of the poem, we found seventeen differences. Let us list all of them for members' astonishment:

Line 3 - two differences:
    Is not the Vision He, though He be not that which He seems?
    Is not the Vision He? tho' He be not that which He seems?

Line 7 - two differences:
    Dark is the world to thee; thyself art the reason why,
    Dark is the world to thee: thyself art the reason why;

Line 8 - six differences:
    For is He not all but thou, that hast power to feel "I am I"?
    For is He not all but that which has power to feel 'I am I'?

Line 9 - one difference:
    Glory about thee, without thee; and thou fulfillest thy doom,
    Glory about thee, without thee; and thou fulfillest thy doom

Line 10 - two differences:
    Making Him broken gleams and a stifled splendor and gloom.
    Making Him broken gleams, and a stifled splendour and gloom.

Line 11 - two differences:
    Speak to Him, thou, for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet -
    Speak to Him thou for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet -

Line 15 - two differences:
    Law is God, say some; no God at all, says the fool,
    Law is God, say some: no God at all, says the fool;

Well! Seventeen altogether!

And even after all that there remain two very dubious passages. The first is this (lines thirteen and fourteen):

    God is law, say the wise; O soul, and let us rejoice,
    For if He thunder by law the thunder is yet His voice.

What can that semi-colon possibly be doing?

And the second dubious passage is this (lines fifteen and sixteen - here in the Oxford version):

    Law is God, say some: no God at all, says the fool;
    For all we have power to see is a straight staff bent in a pool;

Again a suspicious semi-colon, the one after "fool".

What should we do now?

1) We might consult the edition in which the work is said to have first appeared (The Holy Grail and Other Poems - 1869); but that itself may contain errors of editing.

2) Or we might consult the poet's manuscript; but again he may himself have made some errors - obvious or not - in the preparation of a fair copy.

3) Or thirdly we might consult an edition rather later than the first, in which if we are fortunate we might find corrections to the first edition and no new errors.

Not wishing to delve too much further into the murk of Tennyson scholarship, we decided upon the third course, and looked next at the 1870 edition of Strahan and Company of Ludgate Hill:

Members will observe here that line eight, for example, is different from either of the two versions given above; but surely the position of that question mark is wrong! And for the rest, the 1870 text is like that of the Inter-net version in some cases, and like that of the Oxford version in others! And the two dubious passages to which we drew attention are in it and remain just as dubious.

So next we turn to an American version, also published in 1870: the edition of Fields, Osgood, and Company of Boston, with whom alone according to the poet should rest the right of publishing his books in America:

Here we find a fourth version of line eight, in which that question mark has been replaced by one of exclamation!!

Line ten is a third version because of its American spelling of the Oxford text.

And we are glad to see that one of our suspicious semi-colons, that in line thirteen, has as we suggested been changed to a comma by the unnamed but evidently sensible editor of the American edition.

Finally we examined the 1921 Poems of Tennyson from the Oxford University Press, only to find that they range from 1830 only to 1868 and The Higher Pantheism is absent therefrom.

Now doubtless the same sort of utter confusion - probably worse - has arisen in respect of all the works of great writers and composers past and present. The eminent Mr. Baziron a member of this forum has members will remember often drawn attention to errata in the various Bach editions and even occasionally in the manuscripts. How much worse must things be in the case of those composers whose handwriting was not neat!
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