BMCR 2007.09.24

Response: Burnett on Butterfield on Archie Burnett, The Letters of A. E. Housman

Response to 2007.08.40

Response by

I am grateful to David Butterfield for his favorable review of my edition of Housman’s letters (BMCR 2007.8.40). He has carried out some original research and made numerous contributions to knowledge that will find their way into a second edition if there ever is one. And if there is a reprint, minor misprints will be corrected. I wish, however, to respond to a number of points he makes.

1. The letters to Elizabeth Wise are not, as he states, in the British Museum. Most of them are at Bryn Mawr College, and two are in the Lilly Library, Indiana University.

2. The textual note to the letter to Harris Rackham (2. 142) contains no reference to Maas’s edition because it is not included in that edition.

3. Butterfield identifies my not numbering the letters as ‘the most significant editorial shortcoming of the work’. But numbering letters in scholarly editions is not at all conventional. See, for example, the Oxford editions of Dickens’s or Yeats’s letters, or the Harvard edition of Byron’s letters and journals, or the Princeton edition of Dr Johnson’s letters, in none of which are letters numbered.

4. In my ‘Note on Editorial Principles’ I state that ‘casual slips and other minor blemishes are silently corrected’. Butterfield’s response is ‘And yet we often find B’s footnotes recording that Housman had written ‘don’t’ for ‘don’t’ or, for example, incorrectly accentuated his French. One naturally wonders what casual slips and minor blemishes actually are for B.’ They are very minor: no more than a letter or two of the alphabet cancelled by Housman. I record slips in which it is possible to complete a word with certainty, and I record Housman’s errors for the two reasons given in the ‘Note on Editorial Principles’: to show him as less rigorous when writing informally than might be expected; and so that such errors will not be be mistaken for misprints or the editor’s errors.

5. I make the claim in the edition that Housman’s letters were ‘never intended for publication’. Butterfield ‘cannot believc that Housman did not occasionally have in mind readers of his letters other than their addressees’. I, for my part, cannot believe that Housman would have left so many errors and formal inconsistencies in his letters had he envisaged publication.

6. I date a note to Gow about a meeting of the dining club ‘The Family’ (2. 536) ‘Not before 1919’, 1919 being the year Housman joined the club. Butterfield takes the view that since it ‘has almost the exact wording of a note sent to the same individual on January 15, 1935 . . . it is probably from a late period (if the meeting of ‘The Family’ is on a Friday, as typically, I suggest the year is 1930).’ But if one allows a five-year gap between two virtually identical notes announcing when and where ‘The Family’ will meet, that would seem rather to indicate a standardized form of communication that it is therefore impossible to date with any precision.

7. The renderings of φαινομέναι (I. 599), μ’ έσο]υ (2. 410), λοιπουνται (2. 411), and Καρικου (2. 420) are all Housman’s: they are not editorial errors.