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

By Simon Jarvis | Go to book overview

5
The 'Art of Criticism': Shakespearian Editing as the Display of Comprehensive Taste and Learning

FEW EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY editions of Shakespeare can have been so little illuminated by chroniclers of the subject as William Warburton's. McKerrow devotes only a single paragraph to Warburton's edition,1and such brief accounts of his editorial work as exist elsewhere are often concerned principally to insist upon his low rank in a notional league table of early eighteenth-century editors: for Ernest Walder, Warburton was 'decidedly the worst' of such editors, as he is 'surely the worst' for Arthur Sherbo.2 Even a more balanced account such as that by Brian Vickers nevertheless expresses puzzlement as to 'what Warburton thought he was doing, and why'.3 It is not the purpose of this discussion to right an imaginary wrong, but to suggest that Warburton's supposed vanity and ignorance do not of themselves explain either the claims made in his preface or the character of his edition. Discussions from which Warburton emerges as no more than a laughable eccentric leave the contemporary reputation of the writer whom Pope described as 'the greatest general critic I ever knew', whom Gibbon thought of as 'the tyrant and dictator of

____________________
1
R. B. McKerrow, ' The Treatment of Shakespeare's Text by his Earlier Editors ( 1709 1768)', in P. Alexander, ed., Studies in Shakespeare: British Academy Lectures ( Oxford, 1964), 103-31 (p. 127).
2
Arthur Sherbo, The Birth of Shakespeare Studies (East Lansing, Mich., 1986), 12; Ernest Walder , Shakespearian Criticism ( Bradford, 1895; repr. New York, 1982), 109. For further examples, see D. N. Smith, Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century ( Oxford, 1928), 44; Allardyce Nicoll, ' The Editors of Shakespeare from First Folio to Malone', in Israel Gollancz, ed., 1623- 1923: Studies in the First Folio ( London, 1924), 174. Fuller accounts appear in Robert M. Ryley, William Warburton ( Boston, Mass., 1984) and in A. W. Evans, Warburton and the Warburtonians ( London, 1932).
3
Brian Vickers, ed., Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage, 1733-1752 ( London, 1975), 15.

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