Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties

By Edmund Wilson | Go to book overview

"THE MOST UNHAPPY MAN ON EARTH"

A NEW EDITION of Swift's Journal to Stella, edited by Harold Williams, has been brought out by the Oxford University Press. The editing of this series of personal letters, discovered and published after Swift's death, has presented special problems to scholars. Not only do "the crowded, minute handwriting, the constant practice of abbreviation, the frequent scorings and blottings, often," as Mr. Williams says, "leave the true reading open to difference of opinion"; but the cipher of Swift's "little language," the curious baby-talk that he had apparently invented for Stella in her childhood and into which he still lapses in the journal, written when she was thirty, has never completely been penetrated. Mr. Williams is not the first editor who has restudied the difficult texts of those letters--twenty-five out of sixty-five--of which the originals survive, and who has attempted to reproduce them accurately, instead of more or less freely rewriting them or improvising when in doubt, as was the habit of certain earlier editors. But he has done on the journal a more thorough job than any of his predecessors. Unless more original letters turn up, this must remain the definitive edition. No document needs annotation more, and Mr. Williams has explained everybody and everything to which Swift refers in his chronicle of his visit to London in 1710-13, so crowded with dinners

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