Saturday, May 14, 2016


Unbridled Conjectural Criticism

Roger Dawe, "A.Y. Campbell: Method in Madness or Madness in Method?" Lexis 19 (2001) 119-130 (at 119):
Campbell is the most extreme example of unbridled conjectural criticism known to me.
Id., p. 130:
We must not be too unkind on the huge amount of irresponsible re-writing which is Campbell's hallmark. He was, after all, engaged on the same quest as the rest of us, the search for a purer text, and if he was intolerant of criticism in private, he seems to have accepted it more equably in public: I only know of CR 51, 1937 where criticism, from Fraenkel, had stung him into a reply. Since what a man writes in notes to himself is his own affair, it would not be appropriate for me to exemplify at length some of the juicier verdicts on other scholars which are to be found in Campbell's handwritten marginalia. Readers of this paper will not easily guess which highly distinguished scholar was dismissed as an 'imbecile'. When we set this kind of comment against his confirmation of some of his own more spectacular conjectures as 'absolutely certain' we are bound to ask whether this approach to textual criticism was the offshoot of a general eccentricity, or whether it was just an isolated trait. I have asked three scholars who knew him personally, and in the light of their recollections of the man himself, and indeed of his contribution to Horatian studies, the 'isolated trait' alternative seems to be the right one. So if we look for the reasons which led to Campbell's extraordinary behaviour as a critic, we shall not find them in his character, but in two aspects of his method. First, he tended to treat a corrupt text as if it were blank, and put into it whatever he felt would make good sense. He did not hesitate to 'improve'; the word Verschlimmbesserung might almost have been coined with him in mind. Second, he seems to have had no first-hand acquaintance with MSS. in their raw state, no real idea of what sort of corruptions occur in actual practice. He played with letters...when even to play with sounds would have been an improvement. His knowledge of the MSS. of the play he was treating was entirely second-hand....It is, on the whole, a sad story. Campbell had a critic's eye for the incongruous. He was sound on language, and well read in Greek literature. He passionately wanted Aeschylus to speak to us with a clear voice. Posterity will judge his performance with the sort of awe with which men regard huge natural disasters such as earthquakes. But perhaps after the earthquake rebuilding can be done on sounder foundations.
Eduard Fraenkel, review of Q. Horati Flacci Carmina cum Epodis, edidit emendavit adnotavit A.Y. Campbell (Liverpool: University Press, 1945), in Journal of Roman Studies 36.1-2 (1946) 189-194 (at 194):
Looking back at Professor Campbell's work as a whole I do not find it easy to make out what exactly his reasons are for so largely rewriting so many poems of Horace. Does he hope to improve our minds by shaking us out of our complacent feeling of security and goading us to an anger which will make us come to grips with the real difficulties of the text? Or is he perhaps pulling his reader's leg all the time? However this may be, I have tried to take his book seriously because I believe that deep beneath its scarred surface the central fire of true scholarly ardour is still burning.

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