This week our conversations always seemed to gravitate back to the topic of editorial editions and the choices that go into making these editions. Margreta de Grazia and Peter Stallybrass’s discussion of the “multiple-text issue” (255) was particularly relevant because it highlighted how complicated creating a “faithful” edition can be when there are so many different versions of a text. Although I cannot imagine anyone wanting to create an editorial edition of The Philadelphia Vocabulary since it is an English-Latin dictionary and not a creative work, I still wanted to examine the “materiality of the text” (256) as compared to a later version of the book.
On archive.org, there is a version of The Philadelphia Vocabulary printed in 1806 (Northeastern’s copy is published almost twenty years earlier in 1787). Opening up to the title pages, the pages are very similar and yet it is clear that the style of printing has changed quite a bit in those twenty years:
Although the woodcut and almost all of the words are exactly the same on each title page (the printer/publisher information being the exception), the pages feel very different from each other. The 1787 page is very open, with a spaced-out font and a lot of unused space. The 1806 version, on the other hand, is much more claustrophobic: everything is just much closer together and fills the page more completely. The 1806 version also discards the use of the long s, the random capitalization, and Roman numerals, contributing to a more “modern” feel. If I were to make a definitive edition of The Philadelphia Vocabulary, which title page would I use? Would I create a new one entirely? I personally like the quirks of the 1787 title page, but I’m not sure that there is any real justification for that.
Looking at page 15 of each book, which both start the chapter “Of Trees and Shrubs,” there is more of that feeling of almost-but-not-quite sameness. Again, the layout and the words on the page are almost exactly the same except for tiny details: the 1787 page has wider margins, has a printer’s mark at the bottom of the page, and only says “Vocabulary” in the running head as compared to the 1806 full “The Philadelphia Vocabulary” running head. The only other difference seems to be in font: the 1787 version uses italics whereas the 1806 version uses small caps.
In a dictionary all of these differences seem fairly mundane, but they could still change the way the texts are approached. For example, depending on a person’s preferences and training, the 1787 version of The Philadelphia Vocabulary could have felt much more manageable to a student than the 1806 version because of its open feel and room for handwritten notes. The 1806 version, on the other hand, could have felt more accessible because of its modern printing style and uniformity of text. If the “materiality of the text” can have any bearing whatsoever on a dictionary, then I think it is important for editors to at least consider these aspects when creating an edition.
Unfortunately, both versions of The Philadelphia Vocabulary have standard spelling throughout, so I couldn’t examine that when looking at the texts’ materiality. However, I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Boeckeler’s article and the idea of these spellings as “orthographic puns” (6). I found her argument of texts being “self-consciously engaged in visual wordplay” (3) to be very convincing and I would’ve loved to use it when examining my pet book. Although the idea is not applicable to The Philadelphia Vocabulary, when thinking about my pet book and all of its Latin text I began to wonder about printing history in other languages. Did other languages also have a period of non-uniform spelling? Something to Google search later…
Boeckeler, Erika. “Playfull Typography in the Hamlet First Quarto (1603).”
de Grazia, Margreta and Peter Stallybrass. “The Materiality of the Shakespearean Text.” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 3, 1993, pp. 255-283.