Simon Jarvis. Scholars and Gentlemen: Shakespearean Textual Criticism and Representations of Scholarly Labour, 1725-1765. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1996. xii+234 pp. ISBN 019818295 3 Cloth.
Bryan N.S. Gooch
University of Victoria.

Bryan N.S. Gooch "Review of Scholars and Gentlemen: Shakespearean Textual Criticism and Representations of Scholarly Labour, 1725-1765." Early Modern Literary Studies 2.3 (1996): 9.1-6 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/02-3/rev_goo2.html>.

  1. Simon Jarvis' Scholars and Gentlemen is a welcome look at the fluid nature of eighteenth-century English bibliographical, lexicographical, and editorial practices; it comes to terms, in a cogent and detailed way, with the professional attitudes of the major participants and illustrates how different practices have produced quite different results. Indeed, as Jarvis properly points out (188), an understanding of scholarly purpose is essential in coming to grips with the direction of editing and textual work from the beginning of the century (when such effort was regarded by some as professional pedantry largely beneath the notice of gentlemen-scholars whose wider view had more to offer) to the latter half (when concern for philological minutiae could be seen to underpin more general judgement and when detailed editorial scholarship gained some respectability). Important in Jarvis' consideration is the notion that in providing apparently reliable editions of, say, Shakespeare, scholars were laying the anchors for English stylistic and lexicographical practice, as well as establishing a standard of procedure. What supports Jarvis' argument throughout the book is his own thoroughness, his extensive range of reference, and his careful documentation: he nicely demonstrates the principles he admires.

  2. Following an introduction that not only sets out the focus and limits of the present study but also reveals Jarvis to be thoroughly conversant both with his primary material and recent scholarship, he plunges into the harmful dualism of the early years, marked by the conflict between the drudge and the gentleman, a world in which a gentleman might be a scholar but a scholar was not necessarily a gentleman, as distinguished not only by rank but by generalist interests. Here, of course, Richard Bentley is the prime example of the specialist, and Jarvis wisely does not minimise the acerbic nature of the debate that raged around the principles of classical and biblical scholarship. Challenges to received texts -- sacred or secular -- were viewed by many as not only unwelcome but unhealthy, and the battle as to what kind of view would prevail -- whether that of the lover of apparent minutiae or some other approach -- inevitably spilled over into the field of Shakespearean criticism. Here, too, the question was not just what text might be the fittest copytext, but also what changes (silent or noted) might be made, given applicable sets of principles with all their dangers of inconsistency, partiality/personal agenda, and simple misjudgment. And if one of the aims was to form a body of examples that would stand as models of style (how does one define/illustrate the best style?) surely Shakespeare could provide a substantial number, as well as, in the eighteenth-century's view, a quantity of infelicities (many of which could be conveniently blamed on players and compositors).

  3. Jarvis takes a solid look at Alexander Pope's work (see Chapters 2 and 3), at his principles and results, noting Pope's reservations about minutiae (63), and brings into play Lewis Theobald's criticism that Pope somewhat neglected his editorial/annotational function. Indeed, while for some readers the focus might more properly fall on Pope here, I really do not see that one can discuss the latter without considering Theobald's objections even though Jarvis later, quite properly, concentrates on Pope's detractor. What works so well is Jarvis' sense of context, and his instinct for putting the bits together is entirely sound. Consider, for instance, Pope's dislike of Shakespeare's tendency to create verbs from nouns (not to be taken as an authority for modern-day, casual verbing); Theobald allows the practice (see 69), recognising that the notion of proper syntax has varied from era to era. The anonymous An Answer to Mr. Pope's Preface . . . (1729) is also considered (see Appendix 1), and as Jarvis' explanation of the details of Shakespearean editing continues, so does his expansion of the cultural context for his own discussion, and hence Pope's The Dunciad, Variorum (1729) and The New Dunciad (1742) have their place in the scheme.

  4. Chapter 4 brings Theobald fully onto the stage and throws on him a rather better light than Pope's tinted glow ever allowed. Jarvis notes, for instance, Theobald's conviction that knowledge and specialisation are necessary if one is to engage in textual criticism (90), his concern for bibliographic, textual authority (95), his usually eclectic approach to his task (97-8), and his concern for improving the language (102). The discussion moves assuredly between general points and specific examples, and it is the latter, rightly, which clearly generate the former.

  5. William Warburton's efforts (little regarded by some and ridiculed by others, though praised by Pope, Edward Gibbon, and Samuel Johnson) occupy Chapter 5. Warburton is given fair treatment, particularly his notion that elevated taste and scholarly detail could be brought together (111); the editor must be a specialist to be a good generalist (115). But contention did not disappear; Warburton's divergence from Thomas Hanmer (also a target in The Dunciad) and Theobald is apparent, and Jarvis enunciates Warburton's principles with clarity and economy before turning, in Chapter 6, to Samuel Johnson, first with respect to the Dictionary (1755), its precepts, and the notion of a national language, and then, in Chapter 7, with regard to his work on Shakespeare. Again the discussion is superbly detailed. While consideration of the Dictionary may seem digressive after the previous chapters' focus on Shakespearean textual issues, the truth is, I suggest, that one cannot really understand Johnson's editorial principles without coming to terms with his lexicographical tenets, his capacity for labour, the degree of his knowledge, his sense of his own capacities, and his tendency to inconsistency. But if inconsistencies are something of a Johnsonian joke (see the passage Jarvis quotes in which Johnson states that he includes, as examples, no passages from living authors except, as it were, on special occasions -- that is, when he wants to 132), the fact is, as Jarvis properly notes, when it comes to editing Shakespeare there are some slips 'twixt cup and lip. That Johnson saw himself as others regarded him, as a diligent professional, is certain (139). What he desired, ideally, was the realisation of a Warburtonian notion: a scholar with a capacity for particular and even minor detail as well as a far-ranging, general sensibility and judgment (141), yet, Jarvis claims, Johnson was reluctant to use his authority to redirect linguistic practice (151). Johnson was hesitant to dismiss the past out of hand, to banish archaisms without question; his own editing -- here Shakespeare is the example -- confirms his rather generous view of predecessors' work, and his inclusive approach -- "syncretic," as Jarvis would have it (see 159), and his eclecticism comes clearly into view in the details that are provided, as do other issues, including the problem of silent emendation.

  6. Jarvis' concluding chapter, "Textual Criticism and Enlightenment," introduces the end-of-century friction between Joseph Ritson and Edmund Malone and brings the volume to a comfortable close. This is a book about literary and, more precisely, editorial history; it is also about social history and scholars and gentlemen whose work still concerns the academy today. Jarvis has performed his task admirably; for the care and wealth of detail, despite the occasional sense of repetition (cf. Chapter 7, 131-2, 135, 139, and 149) and a need, I suggest, for the expansion or clarification of the notes regarding collations (Appendix 2), the reader can be most grateful. The bibliography is, in itself, a useful source that students will value, and the index functions as it should. Scholars and Gentlemen is not a quick read, but it is, nonetheless, a rewarding one which will pay fair dividends even to those whose principal realm is not editorial practice.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the editor at emls@arts.ubc.ca.

© 1996, R.G. Siemens (Editor, EMLS).
(December 31, 1996)