The Complete Poetical Works of Edmund Spenser

By Edmund Spenser | Go to book overview

PREFACE

THE text of Spenser given in this volume is the result of a double collation. First, the copy to be sent to the printer was collated throughout with the original editions in the British Museum; then the proof-sheets of the greater part, as they came from the press, were collated with other copies of the same editions obtained in this country. The Faery Queen (except for a few pages), Complaints, Colin Clout's Come Home Again, Astrophel, and the Four Hymns were thus collated a second time, and, in effect, the Shepherd's Calendar, too, though, for that, recourse was had not to the original itself, but to the photographic facsimile of Dr. Sommer. Daphnaïda, the Amoretti and Epithalamion, the Prothalamion, the four Commendatory Sonnets, and the matter in the Appendix could not be collated twice, because copies of the original editions were not in this country accessible.

For most of these separate volumes or single pieces there could be no dispute about the text to be adopted as standard, for they were published but once during the poet's lifetime, and the collected folios of 1609 and 1611, issued ten years after his death, could pretend to no superior authoritativeness. For them the standard text was manifestly that of the first edition. Three, however, were published during his lifetime more than once: the Shepherd's Calendar in 1579, 1581, 1586, 1591, and 1597; Daphnaïda in 1591 and 1596; the first three books of the Faery Queen in 1590 and 1596. Concerning these there might be doubt. As to the Shepherd's Calendar, whoever will study the long list of variants of all kinds in the successive editions of that volume will probably note (1) that the first edition contains several perfectly obvious misprints or blunders corrected in the later; (2) that of those changes in the later editions which are not the mere correction of obvious blunders in the first, a considerable proportion are changes which mar the style; (3) that most others are changes which are neither for the better nor for the worse, which are mere changes; (4) that not more than one or two could fairly be called improvements. A poet, for instance, who has written

'Up, then, Melpomene! thou mournefulst Muse of nyne!'

does not deliberately change thou to the; and if a poet has written of Abel

'So lowted he unto his Lord,
Such favour couth he fynd,
That sithens never was abhord
The simple shepheards kynd,'

he does not take the trouble to change sithens never to never sithens. When one notes, too, that these changes are mostly such as might result from careless reading of copy, and that those which cannot be misreadings merely reduce archaic irregularities to the level of academic evenness, one inclines to attribute them to the printer. When one notes, finally, that the first edition contains fewer obvious blunders and misprints than the later, these later will hardly seem more trustworthy. The same is true of Daphnaïda: the two or three changes found in the second edition by no means bear the mark of authenticity. If, indeed, we had any fair reason to suppose that Spenser, like Ronsard and Tasso, was given to the revision of his work, that after he had once completed a poem and seen it in print, he would study it anew with an eye to perfecting it in detail, we might give more credit to the variants of these later editions. Such revision as we know him to have

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