Thursday, November 04, 2010

Isaac Disraeli: Against Second Editions?

Isaac Disraeli
(Image from Wikipedia)

Holbrook Jackson notes in his curious book on Bibliomania that the bibliophile Isaac Disraeli warns against second editions of books, for
. . . the author omits, as well as adds, or makes alterations from prudential reasons, and these displeasing truths which he 'corrects' as he might call them, are so many losses to truth itself. (Bibliomania, 1930, 495)
Mr. Jackson likes to quote using italics, but he has made slight, if probably insignificant, alterations to Mr. Disraeli's text, as we see by carefully inspecting the original:
. . . the author omits, as well as adds, or makes alterations from prudential reasons; the displeasing truths which he corrects, as he might call them, are so many losses incurred by Truth itself. (Isaac Disraeli, Curiosities of Literature, 1835, 5b)
Is Mr. Jackson merely careless in quoting this? One might find the differences insignificant, but note that "Truth" is deflated to "truth." Is that mere orthography, a shift in capitalization style between 1791, when Mr. Disraeli first published, and 1930, when Mr. Jackson 'quoted' the passage? Or had the concept of truth by Mr. Jackson's time lost status as a concept, no longer a proper noun indicating The Truth?

Or did Mr. Disraeli himself, in a later edition, de-capitalize the word? Probably not, and not only because we've already inspected the 1835 edition above, which retains the capitalization, but also for another reason, as we shall see by following the lead of an 'initially' anonymous fellow in Sweden ("SHK" aka "mr.h") -- call him 'The Swede' (though he's actually Welsh) -- who quotes the Disraeli passage in context within his "Bibliographical Notes" to Mr. Disraeli's Curiosities of Literature:
It has frequently happened, […], that in second editions, the author omits, as well as adds, or makes alterations from prudential reasons; the displeasing truths which he corrects, as he might call them, are so many losses incurred by Truth itself. There is an advantage in comparing the first with subsequent editions; for among other things, we feel great satisfaction in tracing the variations of a work, when a man of genius has revised it. There are also other secrets, well known to the intelligent curious, who are versed in affairs relating to books.
About this passage, 'The Swede' remarks:
It is apt, perhaps, that this text only appears in 19th-century versions of the article. Whether D'Israeli dwelt on these points in relation to his own work-in-progress is open to question. Certainly the 18th century editions of the Curiosities have a callowness about them which might have displeased their ageing author enough to offset the 'losses to Truth' he sustained by 'correcting' or suppressing some of its text.
Now, that is interesting. And perhaps intentionally ironic of Mr. Isaac Disraeli. He added this passage to 19th-century editions, for 'The Swede' tells us that it was not in the 18th-century editions. 'The Swede' does not know if "D'Israeli dwelt on these points in relation to his own work-in-progress," but the contrary is rather harder to affirm since Mr. Disraeli would have been consciously adding this passage to a later edition and could hardly but have appreciated the irony. Perhaps the irony is one of those "secrets, well known to the intelligent curious," to which Mr. Disraeli alludes.

But this still leaves us in darkness as to the truth of Truth from Mr. Isaac Disraeli to Mr. Holbrook Jackson.

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At 6:50 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

is this a second edition of your post in the Milton List, or vice versa?

At 7:58 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Nice piece.

Send this in to Notes and Queries


At 8:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The Milton List was the latter version.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Carter, you really think that this little amusing inquiry deserves the attention of Notes and Queries?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:58 PM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

I don't know. My philosophy is "they can only reject it." It is after all sufficiently learned and clever.

This would be good for Emanations, BTW. What do you think of a section of short pieces--striking for their originality, finesse, density, or peculiarity?

Notwithstanding the good points you make, this one is has about it a stratospheric quality—somewhat nonfigurative, almost abstract. As it appertains to Notes and Queries, we might ask if is it sufficiently activated by those qualities we associate with that organ? That is, the quest for irrelevant trivia and points of departure for further adventures in one-up-man-ship? I think the answer is "yes" (but in a good way, Jeffery). And it is entertaining as well, especially as, I think, "careful" people will read it without feeling in any way offended. I don't think this last quality has been true of some of the pieces I've sent to Notes and Queries: "Philosophical Antecedents to the Second Amendment," or my gloss on Hawthorne's "The Grey Champion, “ a story which celebrates our independence from the ugliness and fatuous pomp of High-Church Anglican tyranny.

At 4:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the interesting comment.

I think that my post works well as a thought in process, but since I'd need to look more deeply into the notions touched upon -- by looking more into the alterations in Mr. Disraeli's book -- then any submission now would be premature. See the post after this one, for example.

I like your idea for Emanations, though.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:12 PM, Blogger Poseur said...

I am enjoying immensely this delicious opuscule of yours, as D'Israeli himself would have put it. It is something like the great delight that D'Israeli finds in scholastic disquisitions; the ones that have angels dancing on the head of a pin (a phrase that, incidentally, in a Notes & Queries style, D'Israeli took from eighteenth-century commentary and satire and made so popular that it was imagined to be an actual scholastic question). As to the question of second editions, D'Israeli was plainly NOT opposed to new editions, and it's not just the empirical fact of successive editions of Curiosities of Literature (eight different editions by 1794 if you consider volume one and two were published separately, and almost as many prefaces). D'Israeli, indeed, was only opposed to the treatment of a second edition as a substitute rather than a supplement or imperfect and always prudential 'correction' of the first edition. He didn't treat new editions in the way you mention, because for him there was no sense of perfection and obscuring in his understanding of reading and the reader's role. His Curiosities of Literature is a great call to readers to be intelligently curious, which countless people heeded between the years 1791 and c1926 (when Kipling published a story called The Propagation of Knowledge in the Stalky & Co series that you should love reading, if, as I am guessing, you haven't). Rather than thinking of first editions as the only heap-- for wouldn't that be giving too much leeway to unintelligent bibliomania?- D'Israeli considered all the opuscules, all the traces, rags and discards of an author to be the material of literature with which the character of an author, that is, his or her physiognomy and genius visible and invisible, was to be traced, understood, even naturalised. This is what D'Israeli meant by 'intelligent curiosity' and 'secrets': an archaeology of literary objects, in which all his evasions, anxieties and 'prudential reasons' of an author would make way for the piles of Truth that, as Michel Foucault put it, we selectively sort through in order to arrive at that hallowed object, the Author. You may seek out the first edition in 1793 or second in 1794 of the second volume of Curiosities of Literature, and find their a startling facsimile of corrections Pope made on his translation of Homer's Iliad and D'Israeli's "Explanation of the Facsimile" to see what I mean. D'Israeli then has different aims to Holbrook Jackson, although the correction for D'Israeli is just one way in which the author's biography can be traced. In the chops and changes of Curiosities of Literature, for example, we may read the author's polite conversion away from the radical literary culture associated with French Revolution, or the traces of his Jewish identity in protean form - intelligent truths worth finding in showering one's curiosity on more than one edition.

At 5:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Mr. McCarthy, thank you for a delightful response, one far more learned than my original post.

I had long wondered about the genealogy -- or is it philology? -- of those angels dancing on the head of a pin.

You are correct that I haven't read the Kipling piece (though the title sounds familiar), and I likely would enjoy reading it.

I am, as you perhaps surmised, an intensely curious person, albeit one whose curiosity often leads into fields of a complexity beyond my ken. Augustine warned against such a tendency, as I discovered in reading Hans Blumenberg nearly thirty years ago (and more recently blogged upon).

Thanks again for the wonderful comment, which is of the class that makes blogging worth the effort.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:06 AM, Blogger Poseur said...

Thankyou so much for straying into these areas and opening up those vistas of knowledge! I often find research is like wandering into a cave, poking somewhere, and watching the cave roof, and a new catacomb opening before one's eyes.

Please keep up your wandering, as it's so refreshing to find it practiced with such joyful ebullience!

Yes, it would both genealogy and philology to trace those sayings like angels dancing on the head of a pin. Probably more the latter, and there may be a technical word that's escaping me. Another saying in that basket, incidentally, is t he one about an apple falling on Newton's head and creating the theory of gravity. D'Israeli's quite surprising!

I can understand your caution, but I would never want to deprive you of that fabulous curiosity. It may be a medieval sin, and you can refer to Augustine, but it was a great pleasure and joy reclaimed after the Renaissance and in the Romantic period.

There's no doubt that I'll keep reading your blogs, looking for curiosity at work.

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I do intend to continue blogging, despite increasing demands on my time at work, but I fear I won't always be spelunking in the most curious caverns.

Sometimes, as in today's blog (February 7th, 2012), I'll be dealing with purely practical topics, though mostly out of curiosity, for I'm an impractical man.

By the way, you seem like the sort of individual who might have an interest in Carter Kaplan's Emanations (see above).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:32 PM, Blogger Poseur said...

Thankyou for suggestion. I just looked up Emanations. On first look I am loving the Lovecraftian vibe of it all. I also like that Carter Kaplan is a devotee of Milton, Locke, & Blake and Co., as they're all my especial favorites. And I will definitely need to read through the first Emanations and then see if I have something appropriate to submit for possible inclusion the new collection that's being put together. Regardless, I will look forward to reading the new collection too.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The first edition is a bit uneven, but there are some real gems. Butterworth's short story "Das Neue Leben" is excellent, though it feels like the first chapter to a longer work. Some of the poetry is also excellent, and most of the essays are superior.

One therefore has three categories in which to submit.

At any rate, Mr. Kaplan is a man to know, particularly given your interests.

Jeffery Hodges

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