Studies in Philology
A Manual for Historians
E Bruce Brooks
This primer began as a prefatory essay to the Prolegomena to Classical Chinese Texts, but it soon outgrew that purpose, and is here presented as a book in its own right. It is meant for students of texts and text formation in all languages.
1. It will be obvious that no one can use a text as evidence unless the nature of the text has been examined. Is it what it purports to be, or is it a later forgery? Is it one thing, of whatever date, or is it a growth text which took shape over time? The great Renaissance scholars Joseph Scaliger and Richard Bentley made their reputations by detecting forgeries current in their own time; in China, Sung Lyen made a catalogue of spurious or doubtful texts in 1358, and the great classifier Hu Ying-lin wrote a brief typology of forgery in the preface to a work of 1586. In the European nineteenth century, and into the first years of the twentieth, it was well understood that one of the basic skills of the historian was the recognition of myths and the detection of spurious documents. Such handbooks as those of Langlois et Seignobos (1898) or John Martin Vincent (1911) devoted nearly half their pages to this aspect of the historical art, recognizing also the special skill of reconstructing a text from its variant manuscripts. One of the triumphs of 19c text criticism was the edition of the Greek New Testament produced by the combined labors of Westcott and Hort in 1881.
2. That understanding has been all but lost in recent decades. Shu documents exposed as forgeries in the 18th century were still being widely accepted in the 20th. What were recognized fifty years ago as interpolations in the Gospel of Mark are now treated by commentators simply as part of the text. The Homeric Question, never definitively answered, has recently gone unasked. In all the areas of humanistic endeavor, credulity and enthusiasm have tended to replace the former critical spirit: the disposition not to be deceived about the nature of the text one is reading. Where the art of textual discrimination is still practiced, it tends to be practiced in a corner; thus, Emanuel Tov's excellent book on text criticism is confined to Biblical Hebrew, and does not invoke parallels, or provide examples, from any other language. And virtually no manual, in any language, takes consecutive account of text growth as distinct from text corruption.
3. The correction of scribal errors has become a well understood matter. Some practitioners, despite the strictures of Housman, still elevate guidelines like lectio brevior potior ("the shorter reading is the better") into rules, even though Griesbach, who formulated that particular rule, immediately gave examples of cases where it is rather the longer reading that is more likely to be original. But there is also a tradition of reasonable practice. Its true guideline was formulated in 1849 by Constantin Tischendorf: "That reading is best from which the others can most readily be seen as derived." In other words, the soul of the matter is the recognition of directionality: which way does the indebtedness between two texts run?
4. Tischendorf himself recognized that this principle was the basis of everything else in the text critic's toolkit. It is also capable of being extended to cases where we have no manuscript variants, only the text itself. If a passage is inconsecutive or discordant in context, and if the text flows more smoothly once it is removed, we are probably dealing with an interpolation, even if no manuscript without that passage can be cited. With authorial amendments and afterthoughts made before publication, or with proprietary extensions and reconsiderations added to a text while it is still in their keeping, and has not yet been handed over to the copyists, we have only this extended Tischendorf principle to guide us. But as with text criticism, which is in large part an art of experience, skill in the detection of textual events occurring before the multiplication of that text by copyists (or by a modern rotary press) can be developed.
5. It is the purpose of this manual to state the basic principles of this dual art: the text criticism of manuscript variants (the reversal of corruptions; sometimes called "lower criticism") and the discovery of text events occurring earlier in the growth process (sometimes called "higher criticism"). Examples are not confined to one language, but are drawn equally from Chinese, English, Latin, and Greek, with a few citations from Sanskrit, Hebrew, and French. The intent is to show that this art is universal, and that above the language-specific level of phonology and palaeography, the same large principles govern. There is also a concealed lesson: In this, as in other ways, China is part of the world.
This book is addressed to philologists proper, especially for its inclusion of growth texts along with the typology of scribal errors, but chiefly to historians, who might benefit from reacquiring a critical sense toward the texts on which they rely, and a knowledge of how misleading texts may be dealt with. Readers in any discipline may benefit from a sense of comradeship with colleagues who are laboring, in other languages and other traditions, toward essentially the same end: to recover a a text, and ultimately an accountable history, from the impostures of people at the time, and from the reinvention of the past by its own later generations.
E BRUCE BROOKS is Research Professor of Chinese at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Text Preliminaries: A Manual for Historians
Approximately 320 pages.
Tentative $49.95 cloth. ISBN 978-936166-50-3
Tentative $26.95 paper. ISBN 978-036166-90-9
Release Date: To Be Announced
When announced, this book may be ordered from the University of Massachusetts Press
26 March 2012 / Contact The Project / Exit to Publications Page