Thursday, December 07, 2017


I Creep Upon the Earth

A.E. Housman (1859-1936), M. Manilii Astronomicon Liber Quintus. Accedunt Addenda Libris I II III IV (London: The Richards Press, 1930), p. vii:
Unable to soar in the void, I creep upon the earth; and there I make the acquaintance of stony facts.
Id., p. xxv:
Breiter's chief purpose was to explain for novices the astrology of the poem, but his knowledge of the subject was neither original nor adequate. Verbal interpretation is often lacking, critical discussion is generally shunned, and Latinity gets little attention. Falsehoods, blunders of every sort and size, self-contradictions, misinterpretations, miscalculations, misquotations and misprints leave few pages undisfigured.
Id., p. xxvii:
The Latin commentary was separately published in 1921 with no small magnificence by the royal academy of sciences at Amsterdam. What it most resembles is a magpie's nest. With the rarest exceptions, all that it contains of any value, whether interpretation or illustration, is taken from others, and usually without acknowledgment. A reader new to the author and the editor might mistake van Wageningen for a man of learning; but with my knowledge of both I can trace every stolen penny to the pouch it came from.
Id., pp. xxxiii-xxxiv:
'Operam maximam eamque satis fastidiosam posui in primo emendationis cuiusque auctore inuestigando'. I am one of the few who can echo these words of Lachmann's: most editors have souls above such things, and some of them so much prefer error to knowledge that even when we patient drudges have ascertained the facts for them they continue to disseminate misinformation. There is another set of facts which I am almost alone in commemorating, for it is desired to suppress them. Many a reading discovered by conjecture has afterwards been confirmed by the authority of mss; and I record the occurrence, as instructive, instead of concealing it, as deplorable. The resistance of conservatives to true emendation is perpetual, and to enjoy credit in the future they must obliterate their past. When therefore a conjecture has turned out to be a manuscript reading, and they have gnashed their teeth and accepted it as such, they try to make the world forget that they formerly condemned it on its merits. Its author, who bore the blame of its supposed falsehood, is denied mention after the establishment of its truth; and the history of scholarship is mutilated to save the face of those who have impeded progress.
Id., p. xxxv:
It surprises me that so many people should feel themselves qualified to weigh conjectures in their balance and to pronounce them good or bad, probable or improbable. Judging an emendation requires in some measure the same qualities as emendation itself, and the requirement is formidable. To read attentively, think correctly, omit no relevant consideration, and repress self-will, are not ordinary accomplishments; yet an emendator needs much besides: just literary perception, congenial intimacy with the author, experience which must have been won by study, and mother wit which he must have brought from his mother's womb.

It may be asked whether I think that I myself possess this outfit, or even most of it; and if I answer yes, that will be a new example of my notorious arrogance. I had rather be arrogant than impudent. I should not have undertaken to edit Manilius unless I had believed that I was fit for the task; and in particular I think myself a better judge of emendation, both when to emend and how to emend, than most others.

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