Monday, October 06, 2008

editors asleep etc.

Wearying minutiae – I continue reading "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (or "Ancyent Marinere") a book in each hand: in one, my course text, William Richey & Daniel Robinson's New Riverside Edition of the 1798 Lyrical Ballads (Houghton Mifflin 2002), in the other, Paul H. Fry's Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism (Bedford/St. Martin's 1999). Noting with amusement divergent editorial glosses. Of
The Sun came up upon the right,
Out of the sea came he;
And broad as a weft upon the left
Went down into the sea
Fry writes, "weft: Threads carried by a shuttle across the warp," while Richey & Robinson give us "weft: a large flag used on ships for signaling distress." 

On balance, I'd have to hand this to Fry: while "weft" in the nautical sense is indeed archaic, STC's language in the 1798 "Marinere" is studded with archaisms; but while the 11th Brittanica confirms "weft" as a distress flag, there's nothing about it necessarily being "large" – indeed, what makes a flag a "weft" is that it's knotted in the middle. So the weaving image seems more probable to me. (Obviously, my copy of The Road to Xanadu, which probably clears all this up, is in the office.)

But here's something truly irritating: in a edition like these – intended for undergraduate classroom use, obviously – the poem texts ought to be as reliable  & straightforward as possible, & their provenance (their "copy texts") ought to clearly signalled. Richey & Robinson are pretty good at this: in keeping with their goal of providing student with a straightforward reading text of the 1798 Lyrical Ballads, they give us the 1798 Bristol "Rime of the Ancyent Marinere," & in an appendix they give us the 1817 Sybilline Leaves "Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

Fry's a little more ambitious: while he doesn't go so far as Martin Wallen's Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner." An Experimental Edition of Texts and Revisions 1798-1828 (Station Hill, 1993), a multi-tiered edition indebted to Jerome McGann's editorial theory, Fry gives us facing page texts of the 1798 "Marinere" & the 1817 "Mariner," which is handy indeed for thinking about the differences the added marginal glosses & the de-archaicized language make in Coleridge's poem.

But as I trundled thru the poem, comparing the editorial glosses of Richey/Robinson's 1798 text to Fry's 1798, I suddenly realized that the line numbers were out of sync: Fry had somewhere added 14 lines to the poem, so that his 1798 text ends at line 672, while R/R's ends at line 658. Here's the difference: in Part III of Fry, one finds this:

Are those her naked ribs, which fleck'd
The sun that did behind them peer?
And are those two all, all the crew,
That woman and her fleshless Pheere?
And those her ribs, which fleck'd the Sun,
Like the bars of a dungeon grate?
And are these two all, all the crew
That woman and her Mate?

This Ship, it was a plankless Thing,
A rare Anatomy!
A plankless Spectre – and it mov'd
Like a Being of the Sea!
The Woman and a fleshless Man
Therein sate merrily.
His bones were black with many a crack (etc.)

Fry gives no indication of where he got that first indented (Fry's indentation) stanza (tho it's obviously a revision of the stanza it follows); the latter 6-line stanza is footnoted thus: "Lines 185-90 were first published in 1912, but Coleridge had wanted them inserted in LB 1800." (The remaining 4 of Fry's additional 14 lines are found towards the end of Part VI, where he inserts – as an additional stanza – a revision that STC had pencilled into a copy of the 1798 LB.)

All I can say, frankly, is WTF?? If you're giving us – us being undergraduates – a "clean" text of the 1798 "Marinere," why in the world are you dithering with post-1798 revisions? More specifically, why are you inserting them into the text of the poem, rather than noting them in footnotes? And why are you letting them bollox up the line numbering, so that the Bedford/St. Martin's line numbers of the 1798 "Rime" now differ from every other edition of the poem on the market?

And where does it stop, short of a variorum? Jack Stillinger claims that STC produced no fewer than 18 different versions of the poem. Why not just settle on 2 – the 1798 & the 1817 – present them cleanly, & draw attention to your favorite revisions & variations in the footnotes?
All this line-grubbing an indication of just what a sad funless bastard I am these days. J. & the kids off this afternoon to wave posters & shout at passing motorists while Sarah Cheney – er, Palin – visits Boca today to raise money for McBush.

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