“What Are You Reading” Workshop, NLS Dec 7th 2011
Insights into Scholarly Editing at the NLS
At the third “What Are Your Reading” workshop at the National Library of Scotland (7 December 2011), presented by EdRLS editors, Penny Fielding started by emphasizing the complexity and difficulty of choices in preparing a a scholarly edition, taking as an example the striking and memorable incident of Alison thrusting the sword into the frozen ground in The Master of Ballantrae, which Colvin did not include in the Edinburgh Edition (1896), where it is printed prefaced with the note “The present text follows a copy of the first edition corrected by the author before his death”.
Gill Hughes then talked about the three basic choices of ‘base text’ for an edition: the final manuscript prepared by the author, the first edition, or the last lifetime edition produced with the author’s input.
Richard Dury: gave an overview of the history of composition and publication of Kidnapped, in particular of the difficult coordination of overlapping publication by Young Folks magazine and in book form by Cassells.
The particpants, in three groups guided by the presenters, studied the variant readings of a page of Kidnapped (from chapter 1, 2, and 3 according to group). The aim was to explain how the differences had arisen and – taking the role of volume editor – advise on any emendations to the base text.
For the purposes of the exercise the 1886 Cassells edition was taken as the base text and compared with the MS (a reading text version of the manuscript), and YF (the Young Folks serialisation). The aim was not to choose a base text, but to give the participants the experience of making editorial choices.
Chapter 1 group
Here are some observations of the group that was looking at the page from Chapter 1.
a certain morning early in the month of June: ”early” is not in the MS, but is in YF and Cassells (left). The group agreed that this must have been an addition by RLS on the YF proofs. One could see the reasons: it emphasizes the beginning of the story at the beginning of the day, the month and the summer, and it is vaguely reminiscent of a folk song.
“Well, Davie, lad,” said he: in MS and in YF this is “, Davie lad“, so the added comma looks like a change made by the Cassell’s printer and not noted by RLS–or made by the printer and accepted by RLS–or made by RLS himself on the Cassells proofs. (This shows the difficulty of reconstructing what happened.) One member of the group could see justification for the change, seeing “lad” as equivalent to “my lad”; the others saw “Davie lad” as a unit (like “Chrissie lass”, or “Davie bach” in Anglo-Welsh), with the “lad” part reinforcing the suffix of endearment. Here, the editors would want to look at other examples of the construction by RLS and others and possibly then propose an emendation to the base text.
Chapter 2 group
This group had some interesting points where the MS differed from the printed versions: in some cases the MS reading seemed better, in other cases it seems to contain an error that has later been corrected.
bats flew in and out: the MS has “flew in out“. This might seem a straightforward correction of an accidental omission of a small word while writing. However there was an interesting discussion about (i) whether “in out” was a possible phrase, or (ii) whether perhaps RLS wrote “in”, wasn’t sure about it, and wrote “out” and forgot to cross out the first alternative. Backing up this possibility was the suggestion that at dusk, bats would be flying out from their place of daytime rest.
I lifted my hand with a faint heart under my jacket, and knocked once: the MS has “hand” followed by a comma, removed in YF and Cassells. Participants here were split between those who could see this as the intervention of RLS not wanting too long a pause after “hand” (wanting the important pause to be after “jacket” as David hesitated), and others who thought this could be a mistake in copying the MS because the comma usefully removes the possible ambiguity of “lifted with a faint heart”.
Mr. Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws: MS has “Balfour of the Shaws”. Participants were not quite sure of the MS reading here: could it be an old Scottish expression? Could it show Davie’s uncertainty about the title? The group also had an image of the MS and could see that this also might have been a mistake, later corrected by the author: RLS writes in the MS “Balfour of the” and comes to the end of a line, then as he moves the pen across the page he imagines he’s written the words “house of” and starts the new line with “Shaws”.
Chapter 3 group
This group also had some interesting cases of differences in the MS that were changed for the printed versions.
Half-a-dozen dishes stood upon the shelves: MS has “stood upon the bink” (as recently discovered in preparation for this event), a Scots word meaning “shelf” or “dresser”. The feeling of the members of the group at the NLS was that this was probably a change made by the author, but they would like to emend the text to “bink”, on the grounds that the early proofing was not really part of “the initial creative process”.
I’ll take the ale, though: MS has “beer“; clearly a change made by the author to the YF proofs, the group thought. Some members noticed that earlier on (third paragraph of this chapter), when Davie enters the kitchen he sees on the table “a cup of small beer”. Some thought it was better to follow the MS, to keep consistency and use “beer” in both places; others saw “ale” as an older and more traditional word that was used here to show Ebeneezer’s more old-fashioned way of speaking in comparison with David. So in the first case (“shelves” vs “bink”) the members of the group wanted to keep the MS reading, and in the second, some wanted to take the variant in the printed versions as better.
The discussion of the passages went on too long for a proper conclusion. But one general reaction was surprise that on every page there were so many and often important variants; another reaction was an understanding of the complexity of preparing a scholarly edition.