The Early English Text Society in the nineteenth century : a chapter in the history of the editing of Middle English texts
Despite the importance of the subject to the discipline of Middle English studies, little research has been published on the history of the editing of Middle English texts. This thesis supplies a small, but essential portion of that history by examining the editorial practices that were used to produce the editions of Middle English texts published by the Early English Text Society in the nineteenth century. Then the dominant publisher in its field, EETS identified and printed almost the entire Middle English canon during a crucial time in the development of English studies the period in which it moved from being an almost exclusively amateur pursuit to one accepted and practiced by professional academics in the universities. To provide a context for my examination of EETS editions, I first investigate the financial and material conditions under which EETS' publications were produced and examine the ideas which guided EETS' editorial policy in the light of contemporary theories about the editing of Middle English texts. I then examine nine editions in detail, analysing the various methods by which the text is established and formal manuscript detail is represented in print. The analysis contained in these nine studies is based on the evidence I compiled by comparing sample extracts of the printed text and associated paratext of each edition with the manuscript evidence originally available to the editor. I then use the information gathered about these individual editions as part of an assessment of the editorial practices that define the nature of EETS' nineteenth-century editorial output as a whole. I find that a conservative editorial approach that valorises the evidence of individual manuscripts characterises the majority of EETS' publications, but that the Society also produced a great variety of editions that diverge from this approach, including several of the earliest applications of recension to Middle English texts published in England.