29 NOVEMBER 1968, Page 30

Useful sampler

Sir: In his review of Henry James : The Critical Heritage (11 October), Professor Ashley Brown appears to deplore close textual study of literary works, because 'it seldom adds any- thing to our own critical understanding' and also (apparently) because textual editors some- times employ machines like that devised by Professor Hinman. In other words, such enter- prise is aimless and perverse.

I am no textual editor, but I know that modern textual editing is not aimless. The use of machines (also the computer) has two scholarly aims: speed and accuracy. Professor Brown seems to be no enemy to speed, or he would have been more accurate. Professor

Hinman's 'collating machine' was not designed to compare certain 'vagaries . . . from one edition to another' but differences in the same edition, e.g., the Shakespeare folio. Some differences involve 'vagaries' of typesetters working on different formes, others the practice of printers correcting during a run but binding up uncorrected sheets.

This may not move Professor Brown very deeply. If he will sit down with a Shakespearian quarto and a modern edition, he will see some differences important to the 'critical under- standing' of some readers: in text, stage direc- tions, and act and scene divisions. To me it is outrageous, not that we now have a carefully edited text of Hudibras, but that we have none by high modern standards of Shakespeare and Milton, to name but two writers important to 'critical understanding.' Most of us suspect critical understanders who use the Modern Library text of Donne or Sergeaunt's of Dryden, and we are profoundly grateful to the Hinmans and Kinsleys, whom we can trust to be accurate in what the seventeenth cen- tury would have termed their curious and painful labours. Pace critical Luddites.

Earl Miner Department of English, University of Cali- fornia, Los Angeles