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

By Simon Jarvis | Go to book overview

Conclusion: Textual Criticism and Enlightenment

A CENTRAL argument of this study has been that neither the rise of historicist approaches to the idea of linguistic correctness nor the advent of bibliographically grounded approaches to textual criticism can be understood if they are taken as the inventions of accidentally enlightened pioneers, on the one hand, or as the symptoms of the descent of an 'Enlightenment' epistemological world-view or schema, on the other. Instead, both of these shifts in philological practice are inseparably bound up with the changing representations of literary labour in general, and of the labour of minute criticism in particular, by means of which eighteenth-century editors understood their task and its place in the world of learning. A full discussion of the way in which this process worked in the later years of the century is beyond the scope of this book. But it can be shown that the historicist approach to language and anti-eclectic approach to bibliographical evaluation, which at the beginning of the century had seemed to so many critics to be low and interested incursions upon a public culture, had by the end of the century become the marks of scholarly respectability.

One aspect of Edmond Malone's altercation with Joseph Ritson at the close of the century illustrates this reversal well. Ritson was the son of a servant and a 'friend of liberty', circumstances hinted at in Malone's remark that he will leave Ritson's 'vulgar ribaldry' to 'rest with the low societies among whom it has been picked up'.1 The contrasting status of the two critics was also alluded to in Ritson's Shakespearian epigraph to his Cursory Criticisms on the Edition of Shakespeare published by Edmond Malone ( 1792): 'A FAULCON, TOW'RING IN HER PRIDE OF PLACE, | WAS BY A MOUSING OWL HAWK'D AT AND KILL'D.'2 The bibliographical collection and collation which Malone takes for granted as an essential

____________________
1
Edmond Malone, A Letter to the Rev. Richard Farmer, D.D. ( London, 1792; repr. London, 1971), 4.
2
Joseph Ritson, Cursory Criticisms on the Edition of Shakespeare published by Edmond Malone ( London, 1971), title-page. Johnson had earlier used the same quotation to describe Heath's attack on Warburton: Samuel Johnson, Johnson on Shakespeare, ed. Arthur Sherbo ( 2 vols., New Haven, Conn., 1968), i. 100.

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