A comment on the authorship article

I found a very interesting article which talks about the problems that many authors had with their sponsors and publishers. Because it is very long and the full text does not only talk about John Clare, I decided to cut down the parts that didn’t refer to him, and just select the ones that belonged to him. So here is the selected part:

“(…)To these we might add John Clare’s ‘I found the poems in the fields, / And only wrote them down.’ (1) More prosaically, in his autobiography, he said that ‘I always wrote my poems in great haste and generaly finishd them at once wether long or short for if I did not they generaly were left unfinishd’. (2)

Our views of Romantic texts have been reshaped on all sides by the editorial practice and theory of a recent generation of Romantic editors.(…) In the case of Clare, by contrast, our reading of the poet’s texts has overwhelmingly been shaped by the largely untheorised, and rarely fully explicit, editorial practice embodied in the monumental ongoing Oxford edition of his complete poetry under the editorial direction of Eric Robinson.

Zachary Leader’s Revision and Romantic Authorship (7) takes its bearings from this new textual situation, and sets out to revise our views of Romantic notions of authorship by focusing on the different forms of textual ‘revision’ practised by Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Mary Shelley, Keats and Clare. His study takes the form of densely documented investigations of the publication and editorial practice of the six authors within their early-nineteenth-century context.

It is his controversial treatment of the editorial case of John Clare that concerns Clareans, however. Arguing that ‘[n]owhere in the writing of the English Romantic period do questions of [editorial] imposition figure more prominently than in the revision of the poems of John Clare, the work mostly of Clare’s publisher, John Taylor’ (p. 206), Leader gives the most persuasive account yet of Taylor’s role as Clare’s editor and sponsor. Relying heavily on McGann’s notions of the social constitution of literary texts, and of the historical primacy of early printed editions of poets in general, Leader argues for the authority of the first published editions of Clare’s work. In doing so, he follows the lead established by Tim Chilcott in his study of Taylor, (8) but flies in the face of the almost unanimous critical and editorial orthodoxy of the present. ‘At long last’, Andrew Motion declared of the recent Oxford editions, scholars have established Clare’s ‘authentic texts’. (9) Modern Clareans, almost without exception, privilege the greater authenticity in every sense of un-Taylored, ‘pre-edited’ Clare. As a result modern editors have sought to purge Clare’s texts from all contaminating traces of Taylor’s editorial intervention and to restore, where possible, the (implied) purity of the poet’s original manuscript texts, however messy, unfinished and unrevised they may be. It is this editorial practice, embodied by the big Oxford edition of Clare’s work under the direction of Eric Robinson and endorsed by Motion, which is contested by Leader.(…)”

As he said, he “found the poems in the fields” and most of them were unfinished.

The Romantic texts don’t stay in the same form they originally were at one time, but they are reshaped by the editorial practice, as it happened to Lord Byron, Jonathan Wordsworth, Shelley or Keats.

In the case of Clare, as the texts says, all his complete poetry has been edited by the direction of Eric Robinson that’s because Clare’s publisher, editor and sponsor, John Taylor, changed most things of his original work. He had the authority of modifying those texts, so that they aren’t “authentic”. In the process of searching information about this author, Taylor is usually mentioned because of his “bad” intervetion. 

Then, modern editors had intervined to restore the purity of the poet’s original texts, although they were unfinished. This editorial practice was done by the already named Eric Robinson (Oxford Edition).

 As you may know, this has been a very controversial thing, because according to the opinion of many people is not the same reading an original poem, than an edited one. They say that it loses its essence, the soul of the author. Personally I understand that it is not equal, but on the other hand if the only poems we have, are modified and you want to read them you would have to resignate.


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