« PreviousContinue »
overlooked, that the record has often passed, in its last stage, through the hands of a common stone-mason or engraver. have now before us a rubbing of the plate which bears the foundation-inscription of a building consecrated to learning. printed copy, corrected with the utmost care, was delivered to the engraver; but there the process of supervision accidentally ceased, and the rubbing exhibits precationirus for precationibus, balanced by dabet for daret, besides two or three other errors. How much more scope must the facile progress of the pen give for careless, stupid, and wilful alterations: for all these three causes have been at work from the time when the autographs. were first copied. Those autographs are irrecoverably lost; and it is a fond fancy that their recovery would give us perfect texts. Have our readers any idea of the aspect which a page of the "Quarterly Review' would present if it were printed verbatim et literatim from the 'copy'? Publish it not at Charing Cross, tell it not in the ancient sanctuary of Whitefriars! Keep back the evidence of compositors and readers'! Let the case rest only on those published confessions, which are entitled, by a euphemism often most unjust to those deserving fellow-workers of the author, 'errors of the press,' where it should be errors of the head, the eye, the hand-from the thought of the coming phrase outrunning the writing of the last, the leaving the hand to finish a word from which the attention has passed on to the next, the mental confusion of sounds, even in the silence of the study.
We may console ourselves for this candid exposure of the faults of our autographs by the abundant return in kind which is made to us in every proof, even after it has passed the ordeal of correction by a reader devoted to this work alone, whose very care, however, often adds to errors that escape his vigilance those arising from his own preconceptions and misconceptions. How much more must this have been the case with a manuscript which was the product of only one hand, sometimes that of a crude learner, sometimes of a mere slave, like the librarii employed by Atticus? Nor do we want direct testimony to the errors which thus crept into the earliest copies. We find Theophrastus writing to Eudemus about a corrupt passage in a work of their common master, Aristotle; and Cicero complaining to his brother Quintus in these emphatic terms- De libris Latinis quo me vertam nescio, ita mendosi et scribuntur et veneunt.' Cobet cites the remarkable testimony of Philemon from Porphyry's Homeric Questions. In discussing an error in the text of Herodotus, Philemon remarks that many errors had been transmitted to his time in the works of Herodotus, Thucydides, Philistus,
Philistus, and other distinguished writers, and that all the poems (including those of Homer) were full, not only of mistakes in writing, but of false corrections of rustic stupidity (Taрadioрowμάτων πάνυ ἀγροίκων). If such were the originals and the earliest copies, what must be the result of the perennial sources of error that have gone on swelling from age to age?—the faulty pronunciation of the later Greeks; the confusion of letters joined together in the ancient copies; the mistakes in deciphering contracted writing and conventional signs; the conjectures made to supply illegible words and erasures, and to fill up or close up hiatuses; and, above all, the importation of marginal glosses into the text, often at places different from those to which they refer? Add to all these the confusion worse confounded' of the attempts made at correction by those who had neither knowledge nor discernment. Glance into a cell of the monastery on Mount Athos, where one sleepy monk goes on mechanically writing, with thoughts far away, to the droning dictation of another; or enter the school of some quick-witted Alexandrian professor, teaching his enthusiastic pupils to replace such nonsense by what he vainly deems his own sense; or to the chamber of some lonely student, with no check to guard him against the temptation of foisting in as many of his own fancies as he pleases on the passage from the MS. on his left hand to the blank paper under his right. Shall we any longer wonder that Cobet dispels the vain fancy of the trustworthiness of MSS. by the declaration which every one who has had any experience of their collation will endorse: Nullum unquam vidi codicem, qui sine multiplici emendatione legi intelligique posset. Vel antiquissimus et optimus quisque sæpe turpissimis erroribus, quorum nunc tironem paulo diligentiorem puderet, inquinatus est. The result is, that criticism is no mere refined accomplishment, by means of which ancient texts are made a little better or a little worse, according as the emendator may be more or less acute and judicious: it is at once a science and an art, the aid of which is absolutely necessary to make the ancient copies legible at all. It is truly ludicrous to hear the reverence expressed for MSS. by those who have never seen an ancient Codex, and who could not read one if it were to save their lives by benefit of clergy; and not less so to see their perfect contentment with a printed text which has itself been made up by innumerable emendations; for such is the case with every edition in common use.
The prevalent prejudice against the need of criticism is, if possible, surpassed by the misconceptions of its functions. The chief error, common to its idolaters and detractors, is that of
regarding it as a game of ingenuity rather than a labour of scientific skill; only what the former extol as a sort of inspired felicity, the latter despise as a system of guess-work, as rash in its assaults on the most venerable authority as it is trifling in the points it handles, spoiling the sacred text of Homer or schylus to foist in a digamma or to remove a ye. Such was Bentley in the sight of Pope, when the author of the Essay on Criticism' would revenge the castigation of Atterbury :
'Avaunt! is ARISTARCHUS yet unknown?
For Attic phrase in Plato let them seck,
Or chew'd by blind old Scholiasts o'er and o'er.
Sees hairs and pores, examines bit by bit.
The body's harmony, the beaming soul,
Are things which Kuster, Burman, Wasse shall see,
Had Pope lived to know how the revelations of the microscope have helped the cosmical view of nature as a whole, he would have learned, if not the value of minute criticism, the danger of an illustration.
The contrary prejudice, that criticism is a sort of inspired gift, granted but to a chosen few, is a superstition hurtful to the progress of sound scholarship. Doubtless this, like every branch of science, is advanced by a share in that mens divinior which is quick to perceive remote analogies, to bring into contact the scattered elements whose combination flashes forth light, and to justify theories by the manifest fitness of their results. Of this faculty Bentley and Porson possessed, like Newton and Davy, an ample share; but the reconstruction
of Terence and the settlement of the Iambic Trimeter were no mere happy guesses, any more than the discovery of the law of gravitation and the invention of the safety lamp. The witness borne to a work of genius by the instantaneous assent that it commands is often confounded with its instantaneous production. The inspirations of scientific truth visit only minds which are so familiar with the elements of knowledge as to be ever ready for the one decisive impulse that gives their final shape. When the limpid fluid that fills a glass is seen to flash into perfect crystals at a single shake, it seems to the ignorant the work of magic; but the fluid was first saturated with the substance, and had subsided by long rest to that precise temperature and condition at which but a touch was needed to call forth the forms of beauty.
Turning from the necessity of criticism to its methods, we again encounter two opposite errors. While some throw all into confusion by an unbridled license of conjecture, others are content with collecting a rude mass of various readings and undigested comments, which only create perplexity and disgust. But the antidote to the latter mistake has been found in the application of the rule, 'testimonia ponderanda sunt, non numeranda.' It is apparent, from the very nature of the case, that of the immense number of the ancient MSS., most have been copied from a few archetypes, with new errors continually added to the old ones, so that the mere accumulation of readings was simply the multiplication of false witnesses. How few are the various readings that really deserve the name may be seen from a close examination of the ancient commentaries of Aristarchus and others on the 'Iliad' and 'Odyssey.' Patient investigation has not only confirmed this, but has enabled us to classify the MSS. into families, or, as they are called, recensions, to select the few which approach to the character of archetypal codices, and even to indulge the hope of finding some one ancient copy of at least some authors to which we may trace the origin of all the rest. Thus Cobet expresses the firm conviction that all the extant plays of Eschylus and Sophocles have come down to us through the single copy which is now preserved in the Laurentian library, beautifully written on parchment in about the 10th century, and that all the other MSS. in existence have been derived from this one codex. If this be true, what becomes of the mass of various readings which editors have collected, or of that singular agreement of the MSS.' which they are wont to regard as decisive evidence for any reading? In these researches, religion has been the guide of scholarship;
for it is the free but reverent criticism of the text of the Greek Testament that has led to the most thorough investigation of the authority of codices, and the canons of Griesbach are still the only systematic expression of the laws of textual criticism. And in this field England has a Tregelles to rival a Tischendorf.
But the furthest results to which the collation of codices can be carried must still leave ample room for emendation; and it is in vain for those who are disgusted at the wanton license of conjecture to fall back upon the doctrine, that no alteration must be made without the sanction of MS. authority. Besides requiring what we have shown to be an impossibility, this doctrine leads to an interpretation as reckless as the criticism which it scorns. Let the right be granted to a modern scholar to attempt that which in ancient times—
'Non Di, non homines, non concessere columnæ,'
to make a great writer utter moderately good sense; how is even this precious result to be obtained? By dealing with the thoughts of the writer as recklessly as the critic is said to tamper with his words-by kind condescension to the 'brave neglects' of Homer, and the forgetfulness of Herodotus-by placing senses upon words which they came to bear only centuries later-by inventing rules of syntax and prosody far more arbitrary than any canon of the critics. The result is to pervert grammar and common sense in order that a corrupt text may be left undisturbed, as when the principles of law and justice are wrested to protect the guilty. Such a method may confirm ignorance, but it can never advance sound scholarship.
What we desire to impress upon the new generation, whose tastes and habits of study may still be moulded, and to commend respectfully to those accomplished scholars whose services to criticism would be invaluable, is the simple doctrine that in this, as in every other branch of human knowledge, industry, common sense, and sympathy with human nature, are the conditions of success. Let the bugbears be chased away, that the materials of criticism are ponderous and unmanageable, that its methods are vague and uncertain, that its art is a gift of rare genius; let us give the ancients credit for being men who thought and wrote as men what human intelligence may comprehend; let that intelligence be applied to the habitual converse with them, in their works, which Cicero has described as the perennial source of a pleasure that no changes can take away; and all the clearness of vision, all the purity of taste, all the elevation of soul, which is the fruit of daily and nightly converse with those