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The Making of the Oxford Ben Jonson

Martin Butler

  On 21 March 1903, a thirty-seven year old London schoolmaster called Percy Simpson (1865-1962) wrote to the Delegates of the Clarendon Press asking whether they had considered publishing a critical edition of Ben Jonson:  

Dear Sir,

The recent editions of Kyd and Lyly published by the Clarendon Press point to a possibility of Ben Jonson taking his place in this series; a scholarly reprint of his works is greatly needed. I venture to ask whether the Delegates contemplate such an edition. My excuse for writing is that, for twelve years, I have made a special study of this writer and that I should like to approach the Delegates with definite suggestions for an edition. But it is useless to offer these if the ground is already occupied.

Simpson was correct that the publication of F. S. Boas’s scholarly old-spelling edition of Kyd (1901) and R. W. Bond’s edition of Lyly (1902) had put the Clarendon Press at the forefront of a step-change in critical editing.   But for Jonson, the ground was indeed occupied: Charles Harold Herford (1853-1931), Professor of English Literature at Manchester University, had made just such a proposal merely six months earlier, and signed an agreement for it on 6 February 1903.   From the Press, C. E. Doble replied that the Delegates no longer had a free hand, but promised to make ‘careful enquiries’. After consultations, Doble reported on 18 June that Herford ‘will most gladly avail himself of your co-operation’ and be ‘very glad to have skilled assistance, more especially in the formation of the text; and we hope that you may be able to co-operate with him in all parts of the work, so that the edition may practically be a final one.’   Simpson immediately wrote to Herford:  

I have lately been in communication with the Delegates of the Clarendon Press in the hope that I might add an edition of Ben Jonson to their new series of seventeenth-century dramatists. In a letter which I have received this morning the Delegates refer me directly to you. They say that they have arranged you to bring out the edition, and they suggest that I might ‘cooperate’ in the work; they farther indicate that this is a point which you are willing to consider. If this is so, I may say quite frankly that I should be proud to be associated with such a scholar as yourself. The Delegates add that you are willing to make an appointment with me to discuss the question. I am a schoolmaster, and the month of examinations is near; but I will gladly try to arrange a meeting. Saturday is a holiday with me, & I could come to Manchester to see you some Saturday afternoon or evening ...

Perhaps all that I can add here the nature of my Jonson studies to be [sic]. I have worked carefully through all his writings in the last twelve years. I have a collation of the text which I could soon make absolutely complete (it includes not only the old texts, but a number of MSS, and is minutely done), and I have worked out a rough commentary on most of the plays & the prose-writings. My collection of notes on the ‘Discoveries’ is, I believe, exhaustive. I have also read widely in Elizabethan literature & collected a great amount of illustrative material. I should add that I am a classical scholar.

Herford replied by return, asking for some sample work,   and Simpson mailed off a packet of annotations to Bartholomew Fair. On 3 July Herford informed the Delegates that Simpson’s work could not be bettered ‘for the elucidation and illustration of the text’, and proposed that they should become joint editors.   He would write the introductions and life, and Simpson would take over the texts and notes. A week later he repeated this proposal to Simpson, and suggested that his payment for this should be £200.   So began the most significant new departure in Jonson editing since William Gifford’s edition of 1816.

Herford told the Delegates he had ‘no doubt that [Simpson’s recruitment] would conduce to the prompt appearance of the edition’, but he could scarcely have been more wrong. In fact, it put back the completion of the Oxford Jonson nearly fifty years. Herford’s idea was for a substantial edition in nine volumes, but which had relatively modest textual ambitions and would be accomplished in comparatively short order. Although he was an experienced editor, Herford was best known in this capacity for his supervision of the popular ‘Eversley’ Shakespeare series, for which he turned out a play every two to three weeks, and for contributions to the ‘Warwick’ Shakespeare, much used in schools.   With the surgeon and amateur scholar Brinsley Nicholson, he had collaborated on the two Jonson volumes in the ‘Mermaid’ Series, The Best Plays of the English Dramatists (1893). For this he wrote the general introduction while Nicholson did the text, and since the Mermaid Plays were aimed at the well-informed but non-specialist reader, Nicholson’s editing was essentially a light adaptation of Gifford.   Herford’s original plan for the Oxford Jonson was to reprint Francis Cunningham’s 1873 revision of Gifford’s text, to which end he had already paid 10s 6d for the publication rights, and maybe to update parts of it, for example by incorporating C. M. Hathaway’s edition of The Alchemist, which had just appeared from Yale University Press.   He had agreed a completion date of 31 December 1907, but in the event the edition ran to eleven volumes, the last of which did not appear until 1952, twenty years after his death. Fortunately for Oxford University Press, Percy Simpson lived to a great age, and was research active well into his eighties.

Ian Donaldson (1995), 224 has described the Oxford Jonson as the last of the great Victorian editions. Its roots lie in the 1880s, when Herford was writing his essay on Jonson for the Dictionary of National Biography (1891), and Simpson began compiling his commentary. But having originated in the 1880s, the edition eventually emerged at a very different point. Herford was a prolific and highly respected late-Victorian intellectual, with a stream of books behind him, and with interests that ranged from the Renaissance to the Romantics, and across European and especially Germanic and Italian literature (Robertson, 1931). His role in the edition was, essentially, the work of biography and interpretation: the original scheme preserved in the OUP files states blandly that each text would have ‘an appreciation by Professor Herford’. Simpson, though, was a different kind of scholar, as (eventually) the Oxford English Faculty’s first Reader in Bibliography, and author of the first serious academic study of Proof-Reading in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries (1935). The edition’s long gestation, and the differences between the first two volumes, which focus on Jonson as personality and man of letters, and the increasingly minute work of textual analysis and commentary in volumes 3-11, resonate with the huge shift in English studies towards less comprehensive and more highly specialized notions of scholarship. In particular, they point towards the emergence of analytical bibliography, with its more demanding scrutiny of the text, as a discipline and force in university English.

Simpson’s developing understanding of the labour involved in editing, of the standards of accuracy, rigour of analysis, and the criteria against which his work was to be judged, were at odds with Herford’s, a difference which became more pronounced as the edition proceeded. In 1926, he confided to W. W. Greg (who had critiqued various choices in the two volumes just published, and particularly the decision to treat A Tale of a Tub as Jonson’s first play) that ‘I hope I shall live to see a second edition of vols I and II and – between ourselves – that I shall edit it’.   The fairly extensive correspondence between the editors that survives suggests that, after their initial meetings, Herford and Simpson had surprisingly little face-to-face contact, and it is symptomatic of the disconnections lurking beneath the edition that as late as 1909 Herford was still vaguely suggesting that it might be a good idea if Simpson were to read his draft of the life before it went into proof.   The separation of responsibilities, and the tensions between the editors’ rival conceptions of their task, mirrored their competing understandings of the nature and aims of English studies. In 1924, Herford complained that Simpson was wasting too much time on minor details, such as trivia in The English Grammar: ‘The little chapter on “apostrophus” seems hardly worth the trouble it has cost you; I mean, it is so slight’.   However, Jonson’s views on the apostrophe were key for Simpson, since they underpinned his understanding of his elisions, and led him into devising the system of square and angled brackets which he imposed on all the texts.   This editorial discontinuity is disguised by the modern convention of referring to the whole edition as ‘Herford and Simpson’, even for the volumes printed long after Herford’s death, but when Simpson’s final instalment appeared in 1952, Herford’s two 1925 volumes must have seemed to belong to a different scholarly world. Simpson was only eight years younger, yet the fact that he lived so much longer meant that his share of the edition became part of the twentieth-century bibliographical revolution. Indeed, even though the Oxford Jonson fell short of what were eventually to evolve as the key principles of the New Bibliography, it was still a landmark project and, arguably, the period’s single most important editorial testing-ground and standard-setter. These faultlines in the edition testify to structural changes in the academic world that were to transform the pursuit of English literature in the fifty years following the first contract.

Work on the edition was further slowed by Simpson’s difficult personal situation. He was a schoolmaster, teaching classics and English at St Olave’s School, Southwark – coincidentally, the same school where Peter Whalley, editor of the 1756 collected Jonson, had been headmaster.   He only had limited time in which to pursue his scholarship, and his health was not good, or so he told the Press. It quickly became apparent that his progress was glacial. The editorial staff began to fret about completion as early as 1904, when news came in of a rival edition being commissioned by Methuen from H. C. Hart,   and Humphrey Milford (then assistant to Charles Cannan, who was secretary to the Delegates) suggested it would be good to get ahead by setting up Every Man In His Humour at once. He asked Simpson to guarantee that printing would go forward on a regular basis, and sounded a note of mild alarm about his plans: ‘What do you mean by “slightly adding to the marginal notes”?’   ‘How soon will you and Herford be ready to begin printing?’ he enquired again eighteen months later.   In 1912 – five years after the supposed deadline – Henry Frowde (Publisher to the University and manager of the Press’s London office) wrote to Cannan that Simpson had told him he was just finishing the first play, The Case is Altered, which was exactly where he had said he was the year before, and at this rate might take another ten years to finish.   As it turned out, this was a considerable underestimate: a year later, Simpson told Cannan he was still working on Case.   Milford was at his wits’ end: ‘I agree that something should be done, but I cannot think what. I don’t for one moment believe that Simpson could produce a complete text of a single play. But you [Cannan] might write and ask.’  

Herford was starting to get impatient too. In 1909 he told Simpson that he had more or less finished his part, and ‘I personally feel I have given about as much time to BJ as I ought, considering the other things which I hope to have time & strength still to do.’ He suggested that they publish a ‘cheap text’ and allow the ‘editio major’ to come along after. It would be better to finish soon, since ‘the longer we go on the more fresh comment and criticism accumulates to be taken note of & tho’ this may often benefit the edition, still there must be a limit.’   Two years later he reiterated ‘I am personally rather anxious to get on to other enterprises’, and warned that ‘every year’s delay of course increases the likelihood of other people making contributions which have to be reckoned with, & compel the editorial dog to go back to his vomit’.   He continued to write at intervals about feeling disheartened by the unfinished task, complaining that his papers were yellowing, and that he wanted to make the final revisions but didn’t dare in case they needed redoing all over again a few years later.  

Eventually it became clear that nettles had to be grasped, and the Delegates started casting around for ways of getting Simpson out of schoolmastering. In 1910 they unsuccessfully lobbied the head of the Oxford English School, Sir Walter Raleigh, to find him a lectureship, and later it was hoped he might obtain the new chair at East End College (the future Queen Mary University; in fact, the job went to Sidney Lee).   Eventually Simpson moved to Oxford in the summer of 1913, though only to a temporary appointment teaching textual scholarship, a new and experimental subject, which underlined his comparatively marginal status in the university. As Frowde said, he was ‘bravely burning his boats without any kind of a guarantee from anybody’; ‘we shall have to keep him alive’.   He was finally made a University Lecturer and the first librarian of the English School in 1914, though he remained without a fellowship until 1921. This was at best partial help, as Simpson’s duties as teacher and librarian were just as onerous as schoolmastering – not least the labour of compiling lists of students studying English at different colleges and appealing to their tutors to encourage them to sign up to the new library   – but at least the Press had him more under their eye, and he was able to develop his own lines of research. In 1919 he published a free-standing edition of Every Man In, essentially as a trial run for the editorial methods of the main work, and in 1924 co-edited with C. F. Bell a catalogue of Inigo Jones’s masque designs (co-published by the Walpole and Malone Societies) which represented a first pass at material that, twenty-five years later, would feed into his commentaries on the masques. On the other hand, such intermediate projects made the Press anxious that he ‘will never do anything in the big way’, and they fretted about his readiness to be distracted by ‘fresh scents’.   As R. W. Chapman (secretary to the Delegates after Cannan) eventually acknowledged, it was not until Simpson’s retirement from teaching in 1935 that the work could really power forward systematically.  

A second crucial change was the Press’s decision to issue the edition serially.   The intention had always been to publish all nine volumes simultaneously, and have each text prefaced with Herford’s introductions, to which end in 1920 Simpson was trying to finish off The Case is Altered, Every Man In, and Every Man Out for a planned volume 2.   But by hiving off Herford’s contribution into volumes 1 and 2 (published on 2 July 1925) the Press cut the knot and managed to issue at least some of the material. Herford was pleased that ‘the end of our long common labour is in sight’, though he continued to worry that lumping the life and introductions together made more visible any inconsistencies between them that he had been unable to iron out.   This was indeed a weakness that W. W. Greg at once seized on, in an extended critique printed in 1926, pointing out that statements made about dating in the introduction to A Tale of a Tub contradicted those made in the life, and that some parts of the introductions were unintelligible without the supporting detail of the commentary. He suspected that, while the text represented Herford’s views, the sometimes conflicting footnotes were the voice of Simpson; ironically, he agreed with Herford that Simpson’s view of the Jonsonian apostrophe was over-complicated.   Clearly, the value of Herford’s contribution – which today seems almost completely detached from the rest – was weakened by the circumstances in which it appeared. Greater integration of his labour with Simpson’s would have done more justice to the learning and achievements of both (and not least to the biographical and biographical discoveries that Simpson had himself made).   Another enduring consequence of this decision was the trail of corrections, supplementary notes, and appendices that snake through the rest of the edition and were never satisfactorily drawn back into the overall structure, obscuring some of the detail and making the completed product seem less authoritative than it aspired to be.

After the first two volumes appeared, Simpson plugged away at the rest for almost thirty years. The first text instalment, volume 3 (A Tale of a Tub, The Case is Altered, Every Man In Q and F, and Every Man Out) followed in 1927, and volume 4 (Cynthia’s Revels, Poetaster, Sejanus, and Eastward Ho!) in 1932; the latter includes Simpson’s tribute to Herford, who had died the previous year. Volume 5 (Volpone, Epicene, The Alchemist, and Catiline) appeared in 1937, and volume 6 (Bartholomew Fair, The Devil is an Ass, The Staple of News, The New Inn, and The Magnetic Lady) a year later. The exceptionally bulky volume 7 (The Sad Shepherd, Mortimer, the entertainments, and the masques) then appeared, amazingly, in 1941, in the middle of the war. OUP declined to begin setting volume 8 (the poems and prose) until the war was over, although Simpson had completed his work for it by March 1941: it was eventually published in 1947.   The three volumes of textual survey, stage history, commentary, and index finally appeared in 1950-52, by which time the junior editor was aged eighty-six.

The Oxford edition had turned out to be far more elaborate than OUP had bargained for. By 1925 it was evident that ten rather than nine volumes would be needed, then teeth were gnashed at Walton Street in the 1940s when Simpson started delivering his vast commentary, for which an eleventh volume had to be added. In 1949 Dan Davin (at this time assistant secretary to the Clarendon Press) told Simpson that the commentary was now up to 1800 pages and ‘naturally enough we are not particularly happy about the series expanding itself’. For his part, Simpson explained that all sorts of new information had come to light, and complained about the ‘cramping effect’ of the Press’s treatment of his notes.   No less problematic was the cost of producing these extraordinary volumes, and maintaining the uniformity of design and binding, given the twenty-seven-year lapse between volumes 1 and 11. For the first text volume, R. W. Chapman tried to rein in Simpson’s enthusiasm for proof correction, saying he was ‘rather afraid of your standard in these matters, which . . . has only been approached by Ben Jonson himself.’   The printer made an allowance of ten shillings of correction per sheet, but so intricate were the texts that with each volume vast bills came back for excess changes. The printer charged £49 excess for volume 3, £43 for volume 8, and £75 for volumes 9 and 10; to put this in perspective, Simpson’s payment for each volume was just £50.   Special difficulties were created by the staggered nature of sales and the epic timescale of the series’ appearance. As sales of the early volumes fell off, so the later volumes were printed in smaller numbers, and in the 1940s, with huge unsold quantities on hand, the Press tried to cut some of their losses by selling the series only in partial sets and pulping the unwanted volumes down to a common level. Yet when the post-war volumes appeared and new readers began to collect the series, sales of the early sets rose again, and reprints had to be organized of volumes that had previously been pulped. And as if this were not enough, some booksellers complained that the new reprints were not of uniform size with the originals and made the sets irregular, which was an unavoidable problem that had to be endured until all the odd volumes from old stock were used up.   In 1938 Simpson told Greg ‘The Press, you may be interested to hear, loses £400 on each of my volumes’, adding ‘of course, that is what a University Press exists for’.   This is unlikely to have been how OUP saw it.

The fact that Simpson seemed to be working according to a different clock from everyone else continued to unsettle the Press. Several times they thought about encouraging him to take a collaborator, or appoint a deputy in case he should die before the edition was finished. Although he and Herford turned down the idea of having the philologist Henry Bradley edit the Grammar, preferring to attempt it themselves,   Herford floated the idea of a third editor in 1911 and again in 1913.   Milford suggested looking for a research assistant, ‘a competent young scholar’ to do some of the historical collation for a fee of £100 or so, and he arranged for one of OUP’s staff to collate some modern editions at the British Library.   However he had to cut down the ‘formidable’ list of collations that Simpson asked for, and by this time he was privately coming to believe that the whole thing would end up being completed by Greg after Simpson’s decease.   Later F. P. Wilson was mentioned as a potential replacement to have on standby should Simpson’s health give out, though in the event the nonagenarian Simpson almost outlived him.  

Initially, all of these proposals foundered on Simpson’s intense personal investment in the work and the astonishing range of skills that he brought to it: his expertise in the archives, his familiarity with classical languages, and his knowledge of the period. Yet Simpson’s attempt to manage independently so complex and multi-sided a project was potentially self-defeating. He was endeavouring to sustain on his sole account tasks that today would be undertaken by a team of scholars reinforced by institutional funding and research leave. By contrast, the only external support that he ever had was £1,000 over two years from the Leverhulme Trust to help him work on volumes 5 and 6 after his retirement. He was, too, a self-taught editor, less confident with bibliographical analysis than Greg or McKerrow, and content to take much more at second hand than they would have done. He lacked all the standard modern editorial aids, such as mechanical collators, and his collations were based on his own laboriously handwritten copies of the quartos.   Symptomatically, he told F. P. Wilson that his treatment of the Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue manuscript in volume 7 was inaccurate because he only had to hand an incomplete photostat of the original and had relied on notes on the whole thing made thirty years earlier.   He was, in many ways, learning on the job, and was deflated by the stream of error that crept into it, blemishes which he described to Wilson as ‘a crop of tares amongst the wheat’ and which were intermittently corrected in later issues.   His papers as Faculty librarian include scrappy corrections to volume 4, some of which never made it into the revised text.   Of course, the range of material he consulted was far less extensive than it would be today. The original expectation was that he would merely write a ‘bibliographical note’ on the texts,   and he only collated eight copies of the first folio and eleven of the second. Except for a fruitless trip to Dublin in 1904 and an expedition to French archives in 1948, he never left Britain in pursuit of the work.   All the American materials were consulted by correspondence or in photostats, and he was dismissive of the work of overseas Jonsonians such as Henry Dinsmore Briggs, whom he called a ‘second-rate American’.   Nonetheless, the trail of corrections and second thoughts than runs through the edition suggests a scholar struggling to keep his grip on a challenging project that kept expanding inexorably.

In 1929, R. W. Chapman received a confidential letter from Simpson’s wife, Evelyn. Twenty years his junior, she had married Percy in 1921. A remarkable scholar in her own right, she was the first woman to be awarded a D.Phil. by Oxford University, and had published authoritative books on The Elizabethan Translations of Seneca’s Tragedies (1912) and A Study of the Prose Works of John Donne (1924). She confided in Chapman about the difficulties that Percy was having with his vast labour, and suggested that the work for the later plays might be entrusted to her, as textually they were much simpler than the preceding, leaving her husband free to get on with the plays for volumes 4 and 5. However, she warned Chapman that the suggestion would have to be made as if on the Press’s initiative: Percy would not contemplate the idea if she put it forward herself. Chapman annotated the letter: ‘this should be a tonic. Perhaps P. S. is bringing up his children to finish the work.’ He wrote to Percy as she suggested, and soon afterwards a second letter came from Evelyn, thanking him for his discretion and saying that the proposal had gone down very well at home.   Thereafter Percy continued to manage the plays down to Catiline, while Evelyn took over much of the rest. Within a year she had done The Sad Shepherd for volume 7 and two others for volume 6, and in 1935 was preparing the first play in volume 6, Bartholomew Fair (though Percy apparently did the collation for The New Inn).   The work of collation they divided between them – he collated seven copies of the second folio and she collated four   – and she went on to assist with collecting and writing materials for the commentary, such as the section on disputed attributions of the poetry.   She also acted as apologist and defender for the edition, printing essays in 1937 and 1942 which responded to critiques by the Belgian scholar Henry de Vocht and by Greg.

Evelyn’s name first appeared on the title-page for volume 6, in 1938. This was the most suitable place, for she had taken over the main responsibility for this section, and was to share the burden with Percy in the rest. It remains a matter of regret, however, that the entrenched phrase ‘Herford and Simpson’ tends to efface her contribution, if not erase her altogether, while overstating the extent of Herford’s involvement.   Indeed, she was studiously self-effacing in her reply to de Vocht, merely saying ‘I have been allowed for the last ten years to give some assistance in the preparation of the Oxford edition of Ben Jonson’.   Not until her edition of Donne’s sermons (10 vols, 1953-62) – begun with G. R. Potter, who died after only one volume was published – did Evelyn really receive full academic credit for a major project in her own right. Although she received the British Academy’s Mary Rose Crawshay prize in 1955, awarded for work by a woman on English literature, one senses that her gender militated against adequate scholarly acknowledgment of her role in the Jonson, and that in some ways it has continued to do so. Notably, in his review of volumes 9 and 10, Greg stated outright that ‘I shall speak throughout of Dr. Simpson in the singular. It is manifest that the substance of the work is Dr. Percy’s, and it may be assumed without disparagement that Dr. Evelyn’s part has been mainly one of consultation and revision’. He further remarked that the ‘very able co-editor [could] have done somewhat more to impart a final polish to the work’ (Greg, 1950-2, 275n, 276). This reduction of Evelyn to the role of editorial polisher has only intermittently been challenged to this day.  

Greg’s presence looms large over the whole edition. The Simpsons had the somewhat double-edged benefit of pursuing Jonson during precisely the same period when Greg was vigorously engaged in his foundational work on English drama, out of which developed the manifestos and editions which eventually became theoretical rationale and practical example for the New Bibliography. Greg was intensely interested in the Jonson edition, as it represented the most important current editorial venture in the area he knew best, and he corresponded intermittently with Percy, sending him a trickle of bibliographical titbits, and loaning proofs of his Bibliography of the English Printed Drama .   In many ways, the Jonson edition was a key stimulus during the years when Greg was working out his theories, and in his reflections on the Simpsons’ successes and shortcomings one can hear the emergence of ideas that would eventually come together in his foundational statement of bibliographical principles, ‘The Rationale of Copy-text’. But he could be an uncomfortable colleague, as he had a powerful sense of mission, of the need to set high standards and promote respect for analytical bibliography as a tool for serious textual work. He was understandably intolerant of vagueness or mistakes, and was prone to comment without reserve on work that he considered less than rigorous – as, famously, in his coruscating review of John Churton Collins’s edition of Robert Greene, which he called ‘a gross insult to English scholarship’ (Greg, 1906, 251). His robust style comes out sharply in a private note that he sent to F. P. Wilson in 1932, when he noticed that Percy had whimsically retained the running title Cynthia’s Revels over the first verso of Poetaster, in imitation of a technical slip in the folio. The question of whether this was pedantry or heavy-handed bibliographical humour was totally lost on Greg, who merely exploded: ‘The ass has reproduced an error of F1, even though his pages don’t correspond!’  

Greg reviewed all the Jonson volumes as they appeared, and while he clearly respected the labour on which they rested, he was critical of their occasional amateurishness and his reviews tended to focus combatively on points where they fell short of the standards of accuracy and understanding to which he aspired, subjecting Percy’s moments of weakness to sharp public rebuke. Already in 1926 he was complaining that the editors ‘kick off badly’ with their misdating of A Tale of a Tub, and he listed a whole trail of what he termed ‘blundering’ in their treatment of chronology, a topic which he then developed into a full-scale counter-essay on Jonson’s system of expressing dates.   On volume 4, he called Percy’s account of the Cynthia’s Revels quarto ‘bibliographical nonsense’, which it was, but when Percy tried to put it right in his appendix to volume 5, with only partial success, the next review was scarcely less sharp (Greg, 1933, 104; 1938, 218). Worse was to come with the masques volume, on which Greg wrote a long and substantial essay, ‘Jonson’s masques: points of editorial principle and practice’, articulating some basic reservations about the procedures which this group of texts had brought into focus. In particular, he censured the Simpsons’ preference for the folios as copy-texts over and beyond the claims of the quartos – a criticism which implied that the authority on which the whole edition was based was fundamentally misconceived – and he cavilled at their use of brackets to mark Jonson’s elisions, which to him seemed unnecessarily pedantic. He summed up, ‘the editing throughout gives me a feeling of fussy interference’ (Greg, 1942).

Stung by what came across as a wholesale attack on their work, Evelyn replied in print with a spirited, if deferential rejoinder (E. Simpson, 1942), but her real sense of grievance and conflicting loyalties was expressed privately, in a letter that she sent to Greg, evidently without Percy’s knowledge:  

Dear Dr Greg

Thank you very much for your letter. I can say in a letter what I would not say in print, that certain of your criticisms represent, in stronger form, my own ideas about the presentation of our edition. For example, I really dislike the too frequent insertion of such obvious vowels as ‘o’ in ‘to’, where there is elision, & I had asked my husband to refrain from it where it seemed unnecessary. Again with regard to The Golden Age Restored [where Greg had questioned Percy’s re-ordering of the final lines] I tried to get him to word his statement less dogmatically. I should prefer, in a number of places, to make it clear that what we intend is a reasonable deduction from the facts at our disposal, not an assumption of intimate knowledge of Jonson’s doings. But he is nearly seventy-seven, & I do not like to press opposition on matters which really seem to me trivial.

These concessions acknowledged both Evelyn’s sense of obligation to her husband and her uncertainties about the project in which she was engaged. Greg’s critique had brought into focus reservations about the value of the work which she had partially formulated for herself, leaving her deflated and doubtful:

As to a definitive edition, I doubt whether there can be any such thing with an author like Ben. Editors, even the best of them, are fallible, & though we have struggled hard & given years of honest work to each volume, I can see for myself that the result has not been all that it might have been.

She was, though, equally adamant that Greg had not treated them fairly: ‘What I felt about your review as a whole was that you had taken up too much space over very minor errors, & that it was likely to give the impression – which I am sure you did not intend – that our work was a mass of errors . . . Some of the points which you made in your article seemed almost too trivial to be worth answering.’ And then came a personal rebuke, which suggested how far the Simpsons, engaged in a lifetime’s dedication to a single huge project and without the private income that made Greg’s vast scholarship possible, were anxious that their efforts were not really appreciated:

There is a minor point which my husband would not like me to mention, but it irritates me. He has been D.Litt. of Oxford for the last 6 or 7 years, but you always refer to him as ‘Mr Simpson’, though we always describe you as Dr Greg. You could ascertain his degree from the cover of the number of R.E.S. in which your review appeared, or from Who’s Who. I prefer to be called ‘Mrs Simpson’, except in American publications, where I wish to be known as ‘Dr Evelyn Simpson’ when I write on Donne. ‘Dr & Mrs Simpson’ should be the form of reference to us in our joint work on Jonson.

In her next communication, Evelyn apologized for ‘the querulous tone of my last letter. Please take no notice of my very trivial grievances’.   Greg did take sufficient notice to refer studiously to ‘Dr Simpson’ in all his subsequent reviews, though he remained a stern critic. When reviewing the later volumes, he returned to his attack on Percy’s handling of The Gypsies Metamorphosed which had formed part of his critique of volume 7, pointing out that in the volume 10 commentary on Gypsies Percy ‘makes no attempt to correct the somewhat misleading account of the text of that masque that he gave in Volume VII, and not everything that he has here added will bear examination’ (Greg, 1950-2,, 279). The following year Oxford University Press published Greg’s own edition of The Gypsies Metamorphosed, which gave a vastly more analytical and nuanced account of the textual witnesses and the masque’s various versions than Percy had managed to construct, and effectively dislodged the Oxford text as the definitive edition of this masque. The differences between these two editions – one technically dazzling but formidably presented and challenging to navigate, the other procedurally flawed but striving to present a complex text in comparatively readable form – strikingly convey the diverging conceptions of the editorial imperative that the two men had come to embody.

Despite Evelyn’s rebuttals, it remains clear that Greg’s general criticisms had gone to the nub of the matter, for Percy’s inflexible attitude towards copy-text is, in terms of today’s bibliographical desiderata, his edition’s main shortcoming. From the beginning Percy believed that the 1616 folio represented the culmination of Jonson’s achievement, and that Jonson had overseen its production with meticulous care (the idea first surfaced in 1904, in his correspondence with the German scholar Willi Bang).   Consequently, he saw the function of his edition as being to represent Jonson’s texts in a manner that conformed as closely as possible to this putative ideal – a decision which, as Fredson Bowers was to point out, turned what should have been an edition of Jonson into what was in places an edition of a single exemplar of some of his texts (Bowers, 1978). Percy largely discounted the importance of the quartos as textual witnesses, even when they should have been the preferred choice for copy-text, and he rather neglected the manuscripts, despite the very substantial work that, notwithstanding, he performed on them.   Moreover, his assumption that Jonson had personally overseen the printing and visited the printing house once a day to check proofs (H&S, 9.72) created a rigid approach to the variants, since he tended to assume a simple binary and one-way traffic between ‘uncorrected’ and ‘corrected’ readings, the second state always representing Jonson’s own authoritative emendations of errors by the printer. This made it hard for Percy to recognize that there might be more than two states, that other people might have made the changes, and that the direction of change might sometimes be for the worse rather than the better. There is a palpable air of shock in his textual introduction to Catiline, reflecting his astonishment at finding that what he expected to be a pristine text in the folio in fact contained dozens of trivial inaccuracies (H&S, 5.414-5).   Although Percy did eventually acknowledge that levels of stop-press correction varied across the folio, and hence that Jonson’s attention to detail fell away over time, his suppositions about Jonson’s regular presence in the print-shop led to some seriously defective analyses. Most notably, he completely misread the variants in the quartos of Cynthia’s Revels and The King’s Entertainment, errors which Greg immediately skewered, as (for The King’s Entertainment, though with greater tact) did A. K. McIlwraith.  

Percy also mistakenly believed that the large-paper copies of the folio preserved Jonson’s final thoughts, hence his eccentric re-ordering of the end of The Golden Age Restored and his preference for certain scarce readings in Epicene: ‘the differences in my opinion exhibit Jonson’s last surviving touches’, he told the Press early on.   He even preserved occasional errors in the text, or failed to correct a few obvious misprints, in the belief that Jonson had (as it were) approved them by giving his imprimatur. He particularly boasted that he had deliberately followed all the errors left by Jonson in his holograph of The Masque of Queens (although his sensitivities as a classicist meant that he could not bring himself to leave uncorrected errors in Greek-derived words in The Alchemist: see H&S, 7.269, 9.72). Similarly, he was wedded to the idea that he ought to imitate the look of Jonson’s texts, a wish that effectively worked to contaminate the conventions of a critical text with those of a type facsimile. From the beginning, the Oxford printers struggled to interpret Percy’s layouts and fulfil his requirement to mimic the folio. As Kenneth Sisam told Chapman in 1926, they were trying to set the plays in volume 3 on the basis of ‘facsimile copy’ but were unable to make it consistent because the early texts were themselves not standard. This suggests that the printers were working from facsimiles of the 1616 folio (for Every Man In), the 1640 folio (for Tale of a Tub), and the 1609 quarto of Case is Altered, each of which chose a slightly different type size for character names and speech headings.   Sisam warned Percy that they could not produce ‘a standard edition which is partly type facsimile and partly not’, so the printers adopted a template based on the 1616 folio.   Yet even in the later volumes Percy was drawn towards preserving features that were essentially insignificant printer’s accidentals, such as swash capitals, simply because they were in the folio, or bracketing alterations to the running titles as if they were textually significant (for example, at 7.115, where his running title bizarrely reads ‘<A> Panegyre’). This led Greg to complain of ‘an increasing tendency to substitute the methods of facsimile reprint for those of critical editing’, and warn that, since the edition was not a facsimile, such interventions were in fact ‘fictitious’ (Greg,. 1942, 163-4).

Evelyn responded to Greg that their intention was to reproduce the text exactly as Jonson had given it to the printer, but Greg had hit the nail on the head when he implied that Percy was too invested in his idea of Jonson the man, and that his editorial choices were coloured by protectiveness towards his author and assumptions about his infallibility, views that, of course, had no place in the textual principles which Greg was in the process of developing. When, in response to Greg’s criticism, Percy revised his view of the Cynthia’s Revels variants, suggesting that, as they were Jonson’s (so he supposed), then they must have been ‘original errors’ and not the corrections that he first took them for, Greg coolly retorted that ‘If literary judgement is prepared thus to reverse its verdict in textual matters, one cannot help wondering what authority it can claim’ (Greg, 1938, 218).   His view of the Simpsons’ decision to print the Masque of Queens from Jonson’s holograph rather than the quarto, and to give it in an uncorrected literal transcript, was that ‘one gets the impression . . . that the grounds of their choice have been what I may perhaps describe as emotional (reverence for the ‘sacrosanct’ holograph, the ‘unique’ manuscript) rather than rational’. So too his objection to Percy’s fussy square and angled brackets was, implicitly, that he was trying to impose a consistency on Jonson’s textual habits which was absent from the texts; and he further deplored Percy’s tendency to ascribe problems in the texts to Jonson’s supposed victimization by incompetent printers or unscrupulous publishers, such as John Beale and John Benson, of whom Percy painted extravagantly black portraits (Greg, 1942, 149; 1950-2, 277-8).   In her response Evelyn complained that she and Percy were being accused of ‘moral and aesthetic failures rather than . . . genuine editorial blunders’, and retorted that Greg was covertly hostile to Jonson and wanted to make him a villain rather than a victim, but this only underlined how raw was the nerve that he had struck (E. Simpson, 1942, 298-9). Much the same could be said for Percy’s vigorous onslaught on Henry de Vocht’s attempt to question the authority of the folio, printed in an appendix to volume 9. Although De Vocht’s case was deeply flawed, his argument for promoting the quartos was not as wholly off the mark as Percy made it out to be: but to attack the folio was to undermine both the dramatist and his editorial champion.

By and large, Greg’s reservations about the Oxford Jonson have been borne out by subsequent scholarship. Particularly, he recognized from early on that Percy’s approach to the text was driven by a predetermined idea of Jonson’s authorial personality, with the result that his textual work was compromised by a barely concealed undertow of intentionality. In Percy’s editing, a balanced analysis of evidence, which acknowledges the way that texts are shaped by material and contextual factors, is sacrificed to assumptions about what must have been Jonson’s normative preferences when putting his works into print. As Percy’s editorial practice was outpaced by Greg’s increasing theoretical sophistication, so the gaps emerging between them point up the extraordinary speed with which, in the early twentieth-century, analytical bibliography was developing, as well as the patchy and incomplete way that it penetrated into the wider critical consciousness. The curious result was an edition which, while widely acclaimed as standard, was nonetheless some way short of perfect from a strictly bibliographical point of view. It is symptomatic of the unevenness of developments in English studies that, despite its flaws, the Oxford Jonson was for a long time hailed as definitive and regarded with something approaching reverence by the large community of critics who were not themselves textual specialists.  

Still, it remains, on the whole, a heartening thing that Jonson inspires affection, and even devotion, in his editors. For all their differences, this is a characteristic which links Percy Simpson with Gifford. And of course it doesn’t need Freud to point out the similarities between Percy himself and the version of Jonson which he produced – voluminously learned, deeply scholarly, enjoying the life of books, writing endless letters to friends on literary matters, rather detached from the real world, and deeply committed to an impossible ideal of textual purity. For all its flaws, blind spots, moments of amateurishness and parochialism, his edition is a remarkable achievement that inevitably manifests within itself the tensions of its circumstances of production. It is intensely professionalized, and innovates in many areas that were to become lines of enquiry for the future (not only bibliographically, but in its attention to the retrieval of the works’ historical context, and to such things as Jonson’s library and marginalia). At the same time, it is determinedly conservative in its assumption that the only audience that matters is fellow scholars who are capable of truly understanding the reach of Jonson’s achievement – as, notoriously, in its unyielding refusal to make any concessions to readers without the necessary classical languages – and in its ability to sustain its scholarly mission across the early twentieth century as if the two world wars which disrupted its progress had barely happened (one thinks of Percy and Evelyn heading off to the Bibliotheque Nationale in 1948, now that normal service had been restored, to look for ambassadors’ reports of the masques).   And it did all this at a time before the profession of literary scholarship had become as fully institutionalized as it is today, with almost no support from funding agencies and no research team, and reliant on a private individual’s selfless dedication and the goodwill of a Press that was, not always happily, prepared to keep faith with a project which took fifty years to complete.

Ironically, the pace of change meant that before the edition was finished it was already partially obsolete. The final volumes were delivered into a world of expanding student numbers and fading knowledge of the classics, the scholars and students of which were already starting to look for different kinds of texts. It was also a world in which the possibilities for serious textual work were being revolutionized by cheap travel, a resurgent American academy, and the invention of new mechanical aids to collation, creating conditions in which bibliographical research could go forward with vastly more resources and with greater technical and theoretical sophistication than Percy could muster.   The great beneficiaries of this were Fredson Bowers’s collected editions of Dekker (1953-61) and Beaumont and Fletcher (1966-1996), which set more rigorous bibliographical standards than Percy had managed to achieve, though with an austerity of presentation which reflected the continuing institutional divide between textual work and other kinds of critical scholarship. Lacking any mediating commentary or historical introduction, Bowers’s editions starkly encapsulated the problem of how the insights of analytical bibliography were to find purchase in the wider critical consciousness. All these various changes mean that, despite its many virtues, the Oxford Jonson has not had the longevity that was the case with Gifford’s edition. But this is merely to say that it has been overtaken by a modern knowledge economy that, in a small way, Percy and Evelyn had helped to create. By those who know about it, their stewardship of Jonson will continue to be regarded with gratitude, and even a little awe.

This essay was first published in The Review of English Studies, 62 (2011), 738-57. Tom Lockwood’s help has been crucial in its writing: I am most grateful for his generosity in transcribing some of the documents cited below from the Beinecke Library collections and other sources, and for his insightful commentary. I am also indebted to David Bevington, Ian Donaldson, Chanita Goodblatt, Stephen Grant, Martin Maw (archivist of Oxford University Press), and Graham Sherriff (of the Beinecke Library). All OUP archive material is printed by permission of the Secretary to the Delegates of Oxford University Press. I am especially grateful to Mary S. Fleay for permission to quote from Percy and Evelyn Simpson’s unpublished papers, and to Joy Newsam for permission to quote from the papers of Sir Walter Wilson Greg.

Beinecke Library, Yale University; Osborn MSS 8, Box 10, Folder 13. This, and the letter of 19 June, are drafts in Percy Simpson’s hand; I have cleaned up the various changes.

Simpson’s copy of Boas’s edition of Kyd, with his annotations, is now in the Beinecke Library (Osborn pe 412).

Oxford University Press, Archives, 811352.8.

Beinecke Library, Osborn MSS 8, Box 8, Folder 11: C. E. Doble to P. Simpson, 26 March and 18 June 1903.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 10, Folder 13 (draft letter).

Osborn MSS 8, Box 9, Folder 3: C. H. Herford to P. Simpson, 23 June 1903.

OUP Archives, 811352.8, typed extract from letter from C. H. Herford, 3 July 1903.

Beinecke Library, Osborn MSS 8, Box 9, Folder 3: Herford to Simpson, 10 July 1903. The original agreement with Herford was an advance of £50 per volume on a royalty of 12.5% (7.5% for any reprint). Simpson was paid £200 at the outset for nine months’ work on the text. The agreement was cancelled in 1927, and thereafter Simpson was simply paid £50 on the completion of each volume. See OUP Archives, 811352.8, Proposal acceptance form 201 (21 November 1902), and attached record of interview with Simpson, 8 May(?) 1927; R. W. Chapman to C. H. Herford, 28 February 1922.

Herford’s correspondence with Macmillan regarding the Eversley Shakespeare is in the British Library, Add MS 55030.

Nicholson died before the second volume was completed, as a result of which volume 2 was a simple reprint of Gifford.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 9, Folder 3: Herford to Simpson, 2 August and 4 November 1903.

Beinecke Library, Osborn Shelves Greg, Box 9, Folder 10 (labelled ‘Box 10’), P. Simpson to W. W. Greg, 31 March 1926.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 9, Folder 3: Herford to Simpson, 11 January 1909. Simpson’s first overnight stay with Herford was not until the end of 1906 (Herford to Simpson, 26 December 1906).

Osborn MSS 8, Box 9, Folder 3: Herford to Simpson, 2 December 1924.

Simpson’s initial discussion is at H&S, 2.428-31, with a long follow-up account in the textual introduction to Sejanus (4.338-42). See also 3.295-6, 5.414, and 9.50. Simpson raised the topic in a preliminary way in the notes to his free-standing edition of Every Man In His Humour (Oxford, 1921), 120, and again in a combative debate with M. A . Bayfield over Elizabethan versification in the Times Literary Supplement, 17 June and 5 September 1918. See also Bayfield’s extended discussion in A Study of Shakespeare’s Versification (1920), 294-313, which draws on private conversations with Simpson.

I owe this serendipitous connection to Tom Lockwood.

Volume 1 of Hart’s edition was printed (1906), but Hart died and the rest was never completed.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 9, Folder 6: Milford to Simpson, 23 February 1904.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 9, Folder 10; Milford to Simpson, 20 September 1905.

OUP Archives, 811352.8, Frowde to Cannan, 15 May 1912.

OUP Archives, 811352.8, Simpson to Cannan, 3 April 1913.

Oxford University Press, Letter Book 51; Milford to Cannan, 19 March 1913. I am grateful to Tom Lockwood for this reference.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 9, Folder 3: Herford to Simpson, 11 January 1909.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 9, Folder 3: Herford to Simpson, 21 February 1910.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 9, Folder 3: Herford to Simpson, 4 October 1913, 25 April 1914.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 10, Folder 1: Raleigh to Simpson, 15 March 1910; OUP Archives, 811352.8, Frowde to Cannan, 20 June 1913.

OUP Archives, 811352.8, Frowde to Cannan, 20 June 1913.

See Oxford English Faculty Library, Percy Simpson Papers, Box 1, items 2-35.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 10, Folder 10: R. W. Chapman to Simpson, 21 May 1929, 6 April 1934.

OUP Archives, 811356, Box OP646: R. W. Chapman to David Garnett, 13 November 1936.

The first mention of ten volumes is a note of Simpson’s (undated, but c. 1925) in OUP Archives, 811352.8. He expected volume 5 to end with Devil is an Ass, vol. 6 to have the remaining plays and some masques, and vol. 7 to have the remaining masques, the poems, and the prose.

OUP Archives, 811352.8, Simpson to Chapman, 7 April 1920.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 9, Folder 3: Herford to Simpson, 1 July 1925, 3 March 1924.

Greg, (1926b), 129-45. The most conspicuous faultline in the two volumes is the four appendices in volume 2, which interrupt the sequence of Herford’s literary introductions and were written by Simpson. They discuss particular biographical and textual issues: Jonson’s knowledge of the alchemist in Giordano Bruno’s Candelaio, possible satire on Inigo Jones in Bartholomew Fair, the material common to The New Inn and Fletcher’s Love’s Pilgrimage, and the authorship of the additions to The Spanish Tragedy. With the exception of the Spanish Tragedy question, these were all topics that might have waited for the commentary. Amongst notable revisions of Herford’s views in later volumes of the edition is the rejection of his ascription to Donne of poems 38, 40 and 41 in The Underwood: compare H&S 2.383-4 with 11.66-70.

Herford’s contributions to volumes 1 and 2 were the life and the introductions to the works (with the exception of those for Discoveries and the English Grammar, which were written by Simpson). Simpson’s part consisted of the more miscellaneous ‘research’ materials. In addition to writing the four appendices mentioned in note 36, he edited Jonson’s letters, the legal and official records, the list of Jonson’s library, and the biographical papers (the ‘Conversations’ with Drummond and documents from Aubrey and Archdeacon Plume, plus the supposed ‘Memorandums of the Immortal Ben’, now known to be a fabrication).

Beinecke Library, Osborn Shelves, Greg, Box 9, Folder 10 (labelled Box 10): Simpson to Greg, 19 September 1941; Folger Shakespeare Library, Y.d.609(26), P. Simpson to F. P. Wilson, 9 March 1941. Volume 7 was actually delivered to OUP before the onset of war, and took over two years to produce: see Folger MS Y.d.609(31), Simpson to Wilson, 1 October 1941.

OUP Archives, 811360, Box OP2759: Davin to Simpson, 4 October 1949; Simpson to Norrington, 29 January 1949.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 10, Folder 2: K. Sisam to Simpson, 13 February 1924.

OUP Archives, 811354, 811359.5, and 811360 (printers’ invoices).

OUP Archives, 811352.8, memo by A. N., 23 October 1950; 811359.5, Box OP2759, letter from Hatchards, 6 December 1971.

Beinecke Library, Osborn Shelves, Greg, Box 9, Folder 10 (labelled Box 10): Simpson to Greg, 3 November 1938.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 8, Folder 10: Cannan to Simpson, 10 March 1905; Box 9, Folder 3: Herford to Simpson, 13 March 1905.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 9, Folder 3: Herford to Simpson, 4 April 1911, 30 December 1913.

OUP Archives, 811352.8, Simpson to Cannan, 3 April 1913, and 2 September 1913; OUP Letter book 51: Milford to Cannan, 2 October 1913.

OUP Letter Book 51: Milford to Cannan, 19 March 1913. I am grateful to Tom Lockwood for the references from the Letter Book.

OUP Archives, 811352.8, record of interview with P. Simpson, 8 May(?) 1927.

See Bland (2004), n.88. Bland notes that one example survives, at the University of Chicago Library, MS.1008 (a transcript of Every Man In; the catalogue currently identifies the hand as that of F. I. Carpenter, but this appears to be an error). Bland gives a severe account of Simpson’s shortcomings as an editor.

Folger Shakespeare Library, Y.d.609(31): P. Simpson to F. P. Wilson, 1 October 1941. The manuscript is in the Duke of Devonshire’s collection at Chatsworth. Simpson made his notes at Chatsworth in 1905, though the manuscript was temporarily relocated to the Bodleian at his request in 1938 (Osborn MSS 8, Box 10: E. S. Strong to Simpson, 18 August 1905; T. S. Wragg to Simpson, 21 July 1938).

Folger Shakespeare Library, Y.d.609(19): P. Simpson to F. P. Wilson, 23 October 1940 (Simpson is referring specifically to volume 4, where the incidence of error was highest). The Folger documents are items of correspondence that were interleaved in Wilson’s copy of the Oxford Jonson when it was bequeathed to the library.

Oxford English Faculty Library, Percy Simpson Papers, Box 2, Jonson correspondence, items 4-5 (a collation of the Corpus Christi College quarto of Sejanus).

Osborn MSS 8, Box 9 Folder 3: Herford to Simpson, 12 February 1904.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 8, Folder 5: Alfred de Burgh (Librarian, Trinity College Dublin) to Simpson, 30 March 1904; Osborn MSS 8 Box 9, Folder 3: Herford to Simpson, 20 April 1904; OUP Archives, 811360, Box OP2759, P. Simpson to K. Sisam, 1 February 1948.

Osborn MSS, Greg, Box 9, Folder 10 [labelled Box 10], Simpson to Greg, 21 August 1925. Simpson drew on Briggs’s work on the attribution of Jonson’s dubia, though he rejected several of his conclusions.

OUP Archives, 811352.8, E. Simpson to R. W. Chapman, 16 January 1929, 21 March 1929.

OUP Archives, 811352.8, R. W. Chapman, note of meeting with Percy Simpson, 1 April 1930; 811355, Box 2759, P. Simpson to Sisam, 20 December 1934. The New Inn is mentioned in Percy’s report to the Leverhulme Trust (see the next note).

Osborn MSS 8, Box 10, folder 13 (Percy’s draft report to the Leverhulme Trust on his work for 1935-7).

H&S, 11.66-70: developed from Evelyn’s essay ‘Jonson and Donne’, (E. Simpson, 1939). The notes on Underwood 79 were developed from Evelyn’s essay ‘Ben Jonson’s A New-Yeares-Gift’ (1938). She also wrote a long essay on ‘Jonson’s later plays and masques’ which was never published (Osborn MSS 90, Box 25, folder 317). There is surprisingly little in her essay on ‘Jonson and Dickens: a study in the comic genius of London’ (1943) which feeds into the commentary, despite the overlap with the account of Dickens’s performance as Bobadill in the stage history for Every Man In (H&S, 9.181-4). Usefully, the typescript of the essay on the late plays contains pasted-in extracts from the marked-up proofs to volume 7, the annotations to which demonstrate that she and Percy both read proof.

In fact, Herford had been uneasy about having his name attached posthumously to the later volumes, which by rights he felt should simply be published as Percy’s: OUP Archives, 811355, Box 2759; letter from Evelyn Simpson, 8 April [no year].

‘The folio text of Ben Jonson’s Sejanus ’, Anglia , 61 (1937),[Textual essay bib] 398. Evelyn was responding to de Vocht’s edition of Sejanus in Materials for the Study of Old English Drama, 11 (1935), and to his broader arguments in his editions of Poetaster and Volpone, and his Comments on the Text of Ben Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humour: A Research about the Comparative Value of the Quarto and the Folio, Materials, vols. 9 (1934), 13 (1937), and 14 (1937).

The exception is the work of Chanita Goodblatt: see Goodblatt (2009a) and (2009b) .

Osborn Shelves, Greg, Box 9, Folder 10 [labelled Box 10], P. Simpson to Greg, 3 November 1938; Oxford English Faculty Library, Percy Simpson Papers, Jonson correspondence file, 2-3 (Greg to Simpson, 10 June 1934, 11 June 1937). Greg had edited Every Man In, Every Man Out, and The Sad Shepherd as part of Willi Bang’s Materialien zur Kunde de alteren Englischen dramas (the first series of ), vols. 10 (1905), 11 (1905) and 17 (1907).

Folger Shakespeare Library, Y.d.609(22): Greg to Wilson, undated.

Greg (1926c), 139; (1926d), 340-7. Greg first sketched the editors’ problems with chronology in Greg, 1926e,, though not all of his arguments stand up to scrutiny: see Butler (2003), reproduced in the CWBJ Electronic Edition as ‘The riddle of Jonson’s chronology revisited’.

Osborn Shelves, Greg, Box 9: E. Simpson to Greg, 15 August 1942.

Osborn Shelves, Greg, Box 9: E. Simpson to Greg, 30 August 1942.

Osborn MSS 8, Box 8, Folder 3: Bang to Simpson, 14 January 1905.

Percy gave reverential treatment to the small number of manuscripts which he believed had come directly, or nearly so, from Jonson himself. He printed verbatim transcripts of The Masque of Queens holograph and the scribal manuscript of Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue, and did not really evaluate them in a balanced way against the printed texts. Conversely, his reverence for the folios led him to underestimate the rich patterns of manuscript circulation associated with Jonson’s miscellaneous poetry. At H&S, 9.8, he comments that the ‘chief value’ of the manuscripts is the recovery of Jonson’s ‘first drafts’.

For Percy’s partial revision of his earlier assumptions, see H&S, 9.72.

McIlwraith, (1943-4),. Percy acknowledged McIlwraith’s corrections in his general survey of the text, though his comment that Bodleian and Wise copies of the quarto are the most correct implies that he was still thinking in terms of a hierarchy of individual copies rather than formes (H&S, 9.11).

OUP Archives, 811352.8, P. Simpson to Cannan, 20 February 1904. This view of The Golden Age Restored – which has wrong-footed a lot of subsequent critics – persists into the final volumes, even though by this time Percy knew that there were no other authorial corrections to the later sections of the folio: see H&S, 9. 72.

See the correspondence of 18 September 1931 between Chapman and the printer, which says ‘the size of the original rotographs influenced our selection of type faces’ (OUP Archives, 811355, Box 2759). In volume 11, Jonsonus Virbius was set up directly from the original edition of 1638: Tom Lockwood notes that Percy’s copy, with his annotations for the printer, is in the Beinecke, Osborn pb102.

OUP Archives, 811354, Box OP 2759: Sisam to Chapman, 30 January 1926; Sisam to P. Simpson, 2 February 1926.

Greg’s point was that the variants had nothing to do with Jonson, but were created by the printer when for purely technical reasons he had to reset sheet F of the quarto. But Percy, inevitably, wanted to interpret them in terms of Jonson’s perfecting of his text.

Beale was the printer for the abortive 1631 folio, of which only Bartholomew Fair, Devil is an Ass and The Staple of News were completed in Jonson’s lifetime. Benson published two collections of Jonson’s poetry in 1640 which Percy Simpson argued (incorrectly) were ‘pirated’ editions. Greg’s sense that Percy misunderstood the ramifications of the Benson affair has been amply confirmed by subsequent scholarship: see J.W. Bennett (1968) and W. P. Williams (1977).

Greg’s critique of the Oxford edition was reinforced by Johan Gerritsen in two short pieces (Gerritsen, 1957, and Gerritsen, 1959). But Gerritsen never published any more of this work, though his critique was partially developed in Bowers (1978) and Howard-Hill (1972b).

The Great War impacted tragically on Herford, who lost his son in the fighting; it was all the more painful as his wife was German, and much of his life’s work was bound up with the study of Anglo-German literary relations. Evelyn Simpson served as a nurse in Flanders, and wrote a memoir about it (as Evelyn Spearing, From Cambridge to Camiers under the Red Cross, 1917). She lost some of her as yet unpublished critical work when Louvain University Press was deliberately destroyed by German forces in 1914, along with the rest of the city of Louvain. But there is scant trace of such things in the Jonson edition.

The preface to volume 1 registers the difficulties Percy had in securing material that had been squirrelled away by private collectors, especially in America. By the time volume 11 appeared, some of these documents had resurfaced in public archives, such as the Folger Shakespeare Library, and many more books from Jonson’s library had turned up at auction. The correspondence that documents Percy’s negotiations with the New York collector William Augustus White (who owned some of Jonson’s letters, now in the Folger) is in the Beinecke, Osborn MSS 8, Box 10. Henry Clay Folger was keen to rebuild Jonson’s library, though he only managed to secure a small selection of volumes from it (private information from Stephen Grant).

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