Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Editing Clare: Words

Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Editing Clare: Words

Article excerpt

By middle-life Clare had had too much of editors. Not that he failed to be grateful to Taylor and Hessey, Mrs. Emmerson, Van Dyk and all the others who had brought his poems to publication, but he had begun to feel that he didn't need them. Indeed, he felt that his work had lost in publication perhaps more than it had gained and he wanted to see for himself what he could do as editor of his own work. In The Midsummer Cushion, never published in his lifetime, and in The Rural Muse, he was reaching out for that possibility, but his physical and mental health was declining and the job was turned over to Mrs. Emmerson. From Clare's manuscripts, one can see that he did not possess all the accomplishments required of a nineteenth-century professional editor. But he had a clearer knowledge of his own strength as a poet than his editors or even than most of the editors of his poetry in the twentieth century. Perhaps the clearest evidence is his punctuation which has been praised by modern leading poets and by most of those whom I regard as the more sensitive of his critics: Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, and Tom Paulin among the poets and R.K.R. Thornton and Robert Heyes among the critics.

In this essay, I want to concentrate on his vocabulary. When Geoffrey Summerfield and I first began to compare Clare's manuscripts with the published versions in 1963, his vocabulary, first arrested our attention. We saw, for example, how many of Clare's words had been accidentally misread and how many had probably been deliberately altered. To be honest, we were appalled, and drew attention to these differences, not only in an article, "John Taylor's Edition of Clare's The Shepherd's Calendar" [R.E.S., ns XIV, No. 56 (1963) 359-69] but also in an edition published in 1964 by Manchester University Press of The Later Poems of John Clare. That volume and our edition of The Shepherd's Calendar published by Oxford University Press the same year pioneered a new approach. With the change of fashions in editing, before they could be properly understood, the 1964 editions were almost forgotten. Perhaps we caused offence to editors like the Tibbles and Geoffrey Grigson who had established a position in Clare studies, but we did at least draw attention to some of the problems. We also criticized Clare's early editors--Taylor and Hessey, Van Dyk and Mrs. Emmerson, and, by implication, all the journal-editors during his lifetime. And perhaps, inexperienced and taken up with our own discoveries, as we were, we failed to give proper credit to these early editors for what they had achieved, I have been apologizing for decades for our lack of generosity but not for all the criticisms. The problems are complex and I still hope to write a book on the subject.

The editors of the OET Clare have themselves made mistakes. Look at the corrections in Middle Poems V, the last of nine volumes, just published. I trust that no-one will reprint any of our texts without looking first at those corrections. Nor would I claim that even the latest corrections are final, though every word has been read and reread by at least three people in all the later volumes.

These reservations being made, concentrating on vocabulary alone, I would like review what Summerfield and I found when we began to study the Clare mss. at Northampton, Peterborough, and London in 1963, and compare them with existing editions. The Tibbles altered Clare's works freely or respelled them. When they could not find a way of paraphrasing Clare, they would cut out lines, often without revealing that they had made a deletion. Sometimes they omitted dialect words, either because they considered them to be vulgar or because they misread them. These misreadlugs are relatively frequent when the dialect word is close to a standard spelling. A common example is misreading 'leaving' for 'learning.' But many misreadings are due to the Tibbles' preferring Taylor's editions to Clare's manuscripts. …

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