Scholars and Gentlemen: Shakespearian Textual Criticism and Representations of Scholarly Labour, 1725-1765

By Simon Jarvis | Go to book overview

7
Johnson's Theory and Practice of Shakespearian Textual Criticism

JOHNSON, AS we have seen, was no less preoccupied with the effects of interest and vanity as motives to scholarly work than was William Warburton. But Johnson had been engaged in textual criticism in various ways for over twenty years by the time his edition of Shakespeare appeared in 1765, and, like Warburton, he wished to defend its worth from the charges which, as many passages in his preface show, he expected a textual critic even at this date to have to face. Unlike Warburton, Johnson did not think a vehement assertion of the comprehensive capacities which were necessary to textual criticism wholly adequate to the task. Instead, the preface to Johnson's edition of Shakespeare repeats, in its discussion of the work of previous editors, the double manœuvre which we have already seen at work in Johnson's view of scholarship in the Ramblers and elsewhere. Johnson offers a Warburtonian insistence upon the comprehensive capacities necessary to the qualified textual critic, in order to rebut any notion that the task is a merely laborious or minute one; and those editors who fail to evince such capacities are taken to task for their failings. As in Warburton's account of scholarship, minute bibliographical labour is admitted to be an unavoidable component of competent textual criticism. But Johnson emphasizes, in a way which none of his predecessors had found possible, the necessarily syncretic character of textual criticism. Such an emphasis admits the partial inefficacy of the Warburtonian attempt to show all necessary qualities and kinds of knowledge united in the editor as laborious genius. For Johnson no one editor can unite these qualities and varieties of learning, whose provision must instead depend on the co-operation of individual minute enquirers. Equally importantly, the syncretic character of competent textual criticism means that no one body of theoretical principles, no 'Art of Criticism', could be allowed to determine editorial method: not only knowledge, but reason itself is syncretic for Johnson.

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