Verse > Edmund Spenser > Complete Poetical Works
Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1908.
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.  1
  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 undertaken, however, was confined to bringing unpublished manuscript, as the phrase goes, ‘up to date,’ for printing. We have no reason to suppose that, if the printed poem were reissued, he at all concerned himself with revision of its text. For the Shepherd’s Calendar and Daphnaïda, therefore, the text adopted is in each case that of the first edition.
  For the first three books of the Faery Queen the problem is somewhat different. Since these were not an independent poem, but merely the first installment of his magnum opus, Spenser found occasion, when he republished them in 1596 along with the first issue of the second three books, to make certain changes. He altered the original conclusion of Book III, that it might lead up more directly to Book IV. Certain inconsistencies of detail having perhaps been pointed out to him, he got rid of them with as little effort as might suffice—somewhat clumsily. He rewrote a line or two which did not please him. In one place he inserted a new stanza. These changes, not more than a dozen or so in all, are unmistakably his work. Unfortunately, there are many others in this second edition which resemble only too closely the variants in later editions of the Shepherd’s Calendar. They bear every mark, that is, of being mere blunders of the printer due to hasty reading of copy: they do not spoil the sense, but they are too trivial and purposeless to be ascribed to the poet himself; sometimes they spoil the poetry. Under these circumstances the problem of the editor was not simple. He could not follow the first edition and ignore the authentic changes of the poet; nor did he wish to follow the second into all the changes that were mere printer’s blunders; nor, of course, was there any certain test by which the changes of the poet might be distinguished from. those of the printer. In the end, it seemed best to adopt the readings of the second edition as generally authoritative, but occasionally to retain those of the first when they were beyond fair question more characteristic, when, that is, one could not believe that Spenser would deliberately change from the earlier to the later.  3
  It is not only in verbal readings, however, that the two editions differ; they differ also in spelling. The spelling of 1590 is somewhat like that of the Shepherd’s Calendar, markedly archaic; that of 1596 is like that of the second three books of the poem, published at the same time, very much more modern. The difference extends to the forms of words: hether usually becomes hither; lenger, longer; then, than, etc. Now, it may be that the poet, having adopted for his second three books more modern spelling, and, in some cases, more modern forms of words, authorized his printer to reprint the first books in that style. Nobody who knows his work will for one minute suppose that he went through the first books himself and made all the changes necessary, together with hundreds of others absolutely unnecessary—for a good quarter of the differences in spelling are altogether without significance. In any case, the first edition of these books is printed much more correctly than the second; it represents a definite stage in Spenser’s spelling and use of archaic word-forms; and there appears to be no compelling reason why, when an editor adopts the changes in phrasing, not more than two or three to the canto, which appear in the later edition, he should also adopt extensive changes in spelling which are of altogether doubtful authenticity and which serve no other purpose than to give a kind of external uniformity of appearance to the first and the second three books. The spelling of 1590 has therefore been retained.  4
  The cantos on Mutability first appeared in the folio of 1609. In general, however, that and the folio of 1611 do no more than emend for the first time (without known authority) certain readings of the earlier texts which are untenable. Some of these emendations have been adopted—for want of better. Another set, adopted or suggested at random by various modern editors, calls for particular notice. Here and there in the Faery Queen, in perhaps twenty cases, the system of the stanza is shattered by an impossible rhyme, by a rhyme-word which does not even make assonance with its fellows. In some instances the blunder is beyond all correction; in most the correction lies open to every eye. Play is set down where the rhyme calls for sport; enclose where the rhyme calls for contain, spyde for saw, place for stead, etc. Some editors have treated these cases capriciously, now correcting, now leaving uncorrected; some have systematically refrained from correction, on the ground that the carelessness was probably of the poet’s own commission. And so it may have been: in copying his manuscript fair he may have set down one word for another of the same meaning, or if he worked his stanza out in his mind before committing it to paper, he may have blundered in the mere writing. To maintain, however, that when he set down play as a rhyme to support, resort, port, he did not really intend to set down sport, is to credit him with singular obtuseness, and to print play, when there is at least an even chance that the blunder was the printer’s, is surely to push fidelity to one’s text beyond the bounds of reason. In these cases, therefore, the word demanded by rhyme and declared by sense is in this edition unhesitatingly adopted. All such emendations, and others, are noted, of course, in the List of Rejected Readings.  5
  For the spelling, it is that of the original texts, but with three modifications: (1) the old use of capitals is made to conform to modern practice; (2) contractions are commonly expanded (e. g. Lo to Lord); and (3) in some few cases, when the old division of words might puzzle the reader, it is disregarded—e. g. for thy (therefore) is uniformly printed forthy. The punctuation is modernized—with care not to falsify the sense.  6
  The Glossary was built up on the principle of recording all words and phrases which in modern poetry would be obsolete or markedly archaic. Later, some of this material was transferred to the Notes. The scheme of division is that all words obsolete in form will be found in the Glossary, and such words, modern in form but obsolete in sense, as are of frequent occurrence. Rarer examples of modern words in obsolete senses will be found in the Notes, with due machinery of cross references. It is hoped that without much difficulty the ‘general reader’ may be able to acquaint himself with the exact meaning of any word or phrase which puzzles him. If he is annoyed by the inclusion of much that he could understand unaided, he is begged to remember that one purpose of Notes and Glossary is to furnish an approximately complete list of Spenser archaisms.  7
  The debt of the editor of any classic to his predecessors must necessarily be great. That of the present editor was too great to be acknowledged in detail. To indicate in the Notes and elsewhere the source of every explanation or idea would have been to load them with the names of most who have labored in this field: all that could be done was to mark direct quotations. For some of the matter here offered for the first time he is furthermore indebted to various learned colleagues and friends, who helped him to what he could not find unaided; to others he owes much in the way of criticism and direct assistance. His thanks are particularly due to the Principal Librarian of the British Museum and to the Librarian of Harvard College for the use of those early editions of Spenser without which he could never have undertaken the most important part of his work.
R. E. N. D.      
  MADISON, WISCONSIN, March 1, 1908.

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