Tyrwhitt’s Rowley, or ‘what the author wrote’



As named authors fronted definitive collections of their own literary works on an increasingly frequent basis, scholars waged an anxious war over the right way to edit an English classic.2 Each question raised a further battle. Are vernacular authors different from classical and scriptural ones? Which were the more reliable copy-texts: manuscripts, which often survived in a heavily degraded state, or the somewhat slapdash print editions? Is textual scholarship a necessary tool in the recovery of authorial intentions or a pedantic encumbrance? Who is more qualified for the duty of bringing a work back to life: a dull critic or an empathetic poet? The best known of these skirmishes involved Richard Bentley and Lewis Theobald on one side and Alexander Pope on the other. The fame of Pope’s merciless lampoon of Theobald as the King of the Dunces in The Dunciad, as well as the vociferous backlash against Bentley’s heavy-handed emendation in his edition of Milton, might well indicate that the scholars lost; in the popular imagination, they certainly did. Textual critics were widely depicted as duncical, vainglorious parasites who usurped the role of the author. Within the nascent field of professional editing, however, the battles between learning and taste engendered a dualistic adaptation of classical humanism, a compromise between a cluttered and a clean page.


Review Journal Historical Scholarship Authorial Intention Verbal Text English Poetry 
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Copyright information

© Daniel Cook 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of DundeeUK

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