Your browser is not supported. This might affect how the content is displayed.

Discoveries: Textual Essay

Lorna Hutson

There is no manuscript of Jonson’s Discoveries. The text was first printed in the third section of the third volume of the 1640-1 edition of Jonson’s Works , four years after Jonson’s death in 1637. The other texts in the third section of volume 3 are Horace and Grammar, and Discoveries follows on from Grammar, collating M-R4, pages 385-132 (see Greg, 1939-59, 1079-82 ; Giddens, 2003, 57 ).

Although it is quite likely that Discoveries was printed from an autograph manuscript, it is peculiarly hard to infer Jonson’s intentions for the presentation and publication of the text we now have for three main reasons. The first is that, as for the rest of the plays, masques, poems, and prose of the third volume, Jonson did not live to see Discoveries through the press. The second is that, unlike the rest of the plays, poems, masques, and prose in the 1640-1 edition (with the exception of Grammar) Discoveries is generically unique among Jonson’s writings, and so has no counterpart in the earlier folio. Thus while we might be able to infer the extent to which plays, poems and masques in the 1640-1 folio were produced in accordance with Jonson’s typographical, orthographical, and other choices as expressed in 1616, we have no model for how Jonson himself might have wanted to present a printed text of Discoveries (which appears to be an unfinished or incomplete collection of observations from reading, topically arranged). At the same time, the evidence we have suggests that Jonson had intended to publish Discoveries in some form. Related to this second reason is a third. The personal commonplace book or set of notes and observations that comes into print (as opposed to the commonplace book specially designed for print, for which see Moss, 1996 ) is itself a puzzling and slightly anomalous phenomenon. As Beal observes of the seventeenth century manuscript commonplace book, it is essentially a private compilation (Beal, 1987-93, 133 ). Whatever the extent of Jonson’s preparation of his manuscript for publication, the printed text we have includes what appear to be private jottings or provisional notes (see, for example, at 1846, ‘Quintilian of the same heresy, but rejected’; or, at 1115, ‘See where* he complains of their painting chimeras’, where Jonson in the first instance appears to jotting down a reminder of Quintilian’s view, and in the second to be reminding himself to look up Vitrivius’s De architectura). That these notes occur amidst what seems elsewhere to be a more formally, publicly and even pedagogically oriented ordering of the text makes it hard for editors to infer a consistent organisational rationale on which to base conjectural readings and decisions about whether or not to reorder material or reassign marginal notes.

The text in its present form, as Schelling (1892, v) , long ago observed and many editors have found, ‘courts rearrangement’, and the decision not to rearrange or intervene can often feel like a decision to follow the vagaries of chance or even compositorial confusion rather than conscious authorial choice. Editorial decisions to emend or rearrange have, consequently, tended to be justified either by appeals to neglect and haste in printing, or to the hazardous transmission of Jonson’s ‘loose papers’ (H&S, 8.558 ) from one place to another after his death. Furthermore, appeals to haste or neglect at the press, commonly invoked since Swinburne’s fulminations against the ‘scandalous neglected text’ and its ‘palpable and preposterous misprint[s]’ (1888, 133, 136 ) seemed to have been lent support by the discovery, in 1930, of documents relating to a legal dispute over rights in Jonson’s works which interrupted the printing of the third volume, apparently badly affecting in particular the printing of The Sad Shepherd and Discoveries (H&S, 9.96 ; edited by Eugene Giddens in the Textual Database). This essay, then, will not so much ascertain the extent to which the printing of Discoveries conformed to, or deviated from, Jonson’s intentions (which are very hard to conjecture) as it will attempt to show how previous editorial decisions about emendation have been affected by two narratives, one of the haphazard transmission of Jonson’s papers, and another of violent disruption in the processes of printing.

There are three sections. The first considers the problem of ascertaining the extent to which the text as we have reflects the author’s organization and choice of presentation. The second uses recent evidence (Giddens, 2003 ) that casts into doubt previous accounts of the effect of the legal dispute on the printing of Discoveries to reconsider earlier editorial decisions based on the assumption of printers’ errors. The third presents a collation of stop-press corrections, and concludes from these and from uncorrected errors what can be said about the care or otherwise with which Discoveries was printed.

Layout and organization: the commonplace book in print

The Introduction to Discoveries addressed the question of the extent to which a book of translations and transcriptions from the writings of others might be said to be the work of the named author on the title-page. That question is also inseparable, however, from questions that arise with respect to the text’s passage into print, and its layout on the page, and the extent to which what we have in F2 conformed to Jonson’s intentions, or to directions given in Jonson’s manuscript. Sometime before his death, Jonson seems to have entrusted certain of his unpublished writings to Sir Kenelm Digby, who then, according to a Chancery bill lodged on 20 January 1640 [1641] by the stationer Thomas Walkley, delivered them to Walkley ‘to have them published and printed according to the intencon of the said Benjamin Johnson’ (H&S, 9.98 ; Textual Database, ‘Legal Disupte’). We will return to the legal dispute which prompted Walkley’s claim, but for the moment Walkley’s invocation of Jonson’s ‘intencon’ raises the question of the extent to which we may be able to judge from internal evidence whether the organization of Discoveries (the order of the text, the relationship of marginal notes to the topics covered), can be regarded as intended by Jonson, rather than the product of processes of editorial intervention in the transmission from Digby’s custodianship to the printshop.