BMCR 2008.07.38

Classical Books: Scholarship and Publishing in Britain Since 1800. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, Supplement 101

, , Classical books : scholarship and publishing in Britain since 1800. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. Supplement ; 101. London: Institute of Classical Studies, 2007. vi, 187 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 25 cm.. ISBN 9781905670154 £26.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Historians of early modern Europe have long recognized the importance for intellectual history of printed classical texts, commentaries, and lexica. This book, the result of a conference at Cambridge in 2006, treats some products of what is very nearly our own era. By examining British classical publishing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it defamiliarizes the tools that most of us use every day and helps us see that they are not unmediated representations of their authors’ ideas. Because many of us can pull down Jebb’s Sophocles, Dodd’s Bacchae, or a Cambridge Green and Yellow from our shelves, we do not think of them as significant in their own right. They are our tools—and what does a hammer mean ?

As the subtitle of Christopher Stray’s “Introduction” suggests, the tools in our libraries form a neglected genre. He highlights three themes that run through the contributions to this volume: the link between educational institutions and classical publishing, and especially between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and British classical scholarship; the importance for the period under consideration of commercial publishers like Macmillan, Heinemann, or Longmans; and the history of books themselves, “from conception to writing, from printing to publication to purchase and use” (p. 4). That history, I might add, can be employed in two ways: books can become thematic devices unifying a narrative centered on their authors, editors, and readers, or books can themselves become objects of study revealing the conscious or unconscious thoughts and social institutions of the people who use them. The essays in this volume use both approaches, although the former predominates.

The first three essays deal with authors and episodes from the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century, when British universities and scholarship developed academic journals and societies, written examinations for degrees, and many other essentially modern institutions and practices. The conflict in mid-century Oxford between the partisans of research and the advocates of traditional, humane learning and teaching, between Pattison and Jowett, marked the transition. David McKitterick’s “Publishing and Perishing in Classics: E. H. Barker and the Early Nineteenth-Century Book Trades” reveals the now alien manners and customs of scholarship in the generation following Porson: forged reviews (often by the author himself), bitter invective, and a marginal academic life that could end, as Barker’s did, with a letter from debtors’ prison applying for the Registrarship of the University of London. (“Make no allusion to my being here,” Barker wrote to one of his recommenders.) McKitterick’s essay is densely documented and evidently represents the visible tip of an iceberg of labor on a nearly forgotten figure in classical scholarship whose life nevertheless reveals the conditions from which modern classical scholarship and publishing emerged.

If Barker, who died in 1839, looks back to the eighteenth century, William “Dictionary” Smith, who lived until 1893, represents the present that each of us experiences whenever we look up something in the OCD. His Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1840-42), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1844-49), and Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1852-57) are still worth consulting. In “Sir William Smith and his Dictionaries: A Study in Scarlet and Black,” Christopher Stray gives a valuable account of the genesis, composition, and afterlife of these imposing reference works. They began as inexpensive volumes published in parts and created in the atmosphere of dissenting scholarship, the Penny Cyclopedia, and the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge; they ended as expensive, black-bound, red-edged volumes embedded in the consciousness of British classical scholarship.

In the 1850s at the beginning of each term at the University of Edinburgh, professors stood at the doors of their lecture rooms with black velvet bags to collect from each student three guineas tuition money. One of them, Professor of Greek George Dunbar, asked two questions in addition: “Have ye got ma’ Grammar?” and “Have ye got ma’ Dictionary?” In “‘Sneaking, Foul-Mouthed, Scurrilous Reptiles’: The Battle of the Grammars, Edinburgh 1849-50,” Mick Morris examines the dispute between Dunbar and another Hellenist, Archibald Carmichael, over whose Greek grammar would be prescribed at the Royal High School of Edinburgh. As Dunbar’s beginning-of-term inquisition shows, more was at stake than mere academic reputation. There was money to be gained or lost. Like most academic quarrels, that between Dunbar and Carmichael amuses when seen from a distance, but Morris uses it to illuminate differences between Scottish and English education, the position of ancient Greek in Scotland—then as now, many fewer studied Greek than Latin (p. 64)—the importance of the textbook market to professors’ livelihoods, and what actually went on in Scottish classrooms and lecture halls.

Between the first three essays in this volume and the last three (or four) come two papers which bridge the gap between the nineteenth century, when scholars could write from debtors’ prison and professors collected tuition in bags, and the twentieth, in whose closing years most professional classicists now living received their training. Stray’s second contribution, “Jebb’s Sophocles: An Edition and its Maker,” presents a lively, intelligent account of both commentator and commentary; as Stray correctly argues, they cannot easily be separated. Jebb’s is a Sophoclean edition of Sophocles, lucid, masterful, and coherent (p. 92), and his edition, Stray demonstrates, is a work of art in itself, in which layout, typefaces, and content all work to illuminate Jebb’s concept of the plays.

In ” Unvollendetes : The Oxford Plato Lexicon,” the first of his two contributions, Graham Whitaker anatomizes a failure. The Oxford Plato Lexicon illustrates the patient vision of classical scholarship; conceived by Jowett in the nineteenth century, the project endured in various forms until nearly the end of the twentieth. Whitaker has explored archives from Oxford to Tübingen and corresponded with survivors of the project’s curators. Although the details of academic and scholarly administration make dismal reading without the triumphant ending that would make all the labor they record worthwhile, Whitaker manages to convey both the potential significance of the project and the visions (and perhaps that plural was part of the problem) of those who gave portions of their lives to it. It is, in the end, an inspiring failure.

OCTs. The CAH. Oxford “reds.” Cambridge “Green and Yellows.” Acronyms or nicknames attest the familiarity of these volumes in the English-speaking world, yet any of them except the CAH, which followed the authoritative precedent of the Cambridge modern and medieval Histories, might well have suffered the fate of the Plato Lexicon. The last three (or four) contributions can notice these well-known tools, perhaps, because they and the genres they represent are now moving from classical scholarship’s present practice to its history. We are not yet in a position to write a history of JSTOR or LIMC, or to assign them meaning in the narrative of our practice, but we can find historical context for printed books that generations of scholars have used.

Whitaker’s second paper, “. . . Brevique adnotatione critica. . .: A Preliminary History of the Oxford Classical Texts,” again uses archival research to illuminate the history of a project, from false starts and formats that never were (Jebb’s Thucydides, W. W. Goodwin’s Aeschylus, marginal summaries in English), through the development of a successful editorial philosophy and audacious, not to say disreputable, marketing (pp. 119-121), to initial critical reaction. The article concludes with a list of OCTs by publication year up to 1939.

P. J. Rhodes opens his account of the Cambridge Ancient History with a disclaimer that in another context might begin a justification of misdeeds: “I have written for the revised CAH—but as an ordinary contributor, who obeyed orders but was not involved in drawing up the orders” (p. 135). He has no cause for apology, certainly not for this lucid account of how the CAH grew from the Cambridge Modern History and Cambridge Medieval History, and of the evolution of its concept of readership and purpose. Because Rhodes writes as an insider, who actually helped create the subject of his essay, he is justified in responding to criticisms of the CAH by those he characterizes as “extreme relativists” (p. 140), for whom “there can be no such thing as an authoritative history; the attempt to provide one is unsound; and when the work is shared out among different contributors the result is neither the authoritative history that is elusively aimed at not the individual history that one person might construct.” His response—pluralism but not relativism—is eminently British and sensible, and probably right.

John Henderson follows his recent ‘Oxford Reds’: Classic Commentaries on Latin Classics, a study of books that formed a set, if not a sequence or a series, with “The ‘Euripides Reds’ Series: Best-Laid Plans at OUP.” As his title declares, the maroon (with one exception) octavo editions of individual plays of Euripides published by Oxford between 1938 (M. Platnauer’s Iphigenia in Tauris) and 1984 (R. Seaford’s Cyclops) were indeed a series. Henderson, then, has much the same story to tell as Whitaker told about the OCTs: initial planning, development of an editorial philosophy, and critical reaction. His story, like Whitaker’s, depends on diligent burrowing in OUP archives. Henderson lets the facts speak for themselves, with ample quotation from press documents; his job is to make the facts into a story. His own summary description of his characters will give the flavor; he sings “of E. R. Dodds (who will star as hero), of Denys the Denys Page (blue meanie anti-hero), and of J. D. Denniston (rising Olympian and tribal elder above the fray—or make that fiddling—actually he played cello—while the Attic burned?); and their train (or rout)” (p.145). Henderson’s precious, punning style is too familiar by now to need comment; it entertains when it doesn’t make a reader’s work more difficult. Pat Easterling provides as coda to the entire volume and complement to Henderson’s essay a paragraph-length “Note on Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics” and a copy of the original “Notes for Editors” from 1971.

In his “Introduction” Christopher Stray contrasts the history of science, with its abundance of both general and detailed studies, with the history of the humanities. This book, as he recognizes, merely opens questions for further investigation—of series like the Macmillan red editions or Penguin classics, of authors like Thomas Kerchever Arnold or Edith Hamilton, and of journals from the British Classical Journal, which appeared from 1810 until 1829, to—well, to BMCR. Stray and his fellow-contributors have provided an exemplary set of keys to topics that will repay any scholar who chooses to go down the corridors that lead to them.


Christopher Stray, “Introduction: A Neglected Genre”

David McKitterick, “Publishing and Perishing in Classics: E. H. Barker and the Early Nineteenth-Century Book Trades”

Christopher Stray, “William Smith and his Dictionaries: A Study in Scarlet and Black”

Mick Morris, “‘Sneaking, Foul-Mouthed, Scurrilous Reptiles’: The Battle of the Grammars, Edinburgh 1849-50”

Christopher Stray, “Jebb’s Sophocles: An Edition and its Maker”

Graham Whitaker, ” Unvollendetes : The Oxford Plato Lexicon”

Graham Whitaker, ” . . . Brevique adnotatione critics. . . A Preliminary History of the Oxford Classical Texts”

P. J. Rhodes, “The Cambridge Ancient History

John Henderson, “The ‘Euripides Reds’ Series: Best-Laid Plans at OUP”

Pat Easterling, “A Note on Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics”