1751 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Hughes

John Upton, in A Letter concerning a New Edition of Spenser's Faerie Queene (1751) 1-2.



I can assure you I should never have entertained a thought of printing a new edition of our poet, had not the learned and anonymous author of the Remarks on Spenser's poems [John Jortin] given up this task, and declared "that it required more time and application than he was willing to bestow." When men of real learning talk and act thus modestly, what opinion can we have of such hasty editors, who with as little learning as "application" can let themselves out to the hire of booksellers? Poverty can be the only excuse. But this was no excuse to Mr. Hughes, nor to Mr. Pope; whom I don't compare as poets, for the interval was very wide between: but with respect to their editorial skill, the one of Spenser, the other of Shakespeare, what Falstaff says is applicable to them both, "that the weight of an hair will turn the scales between their aver-dupois." Methinks every reader would require that the last editor should consult every former edition, and that he should faithfully and fairly exhibit all the various readings of even the least authority; he would require too, that an editor of Spenser should be master of Spenser's learning: for otherwise how could he know his allusions and various beauties? When and in what manner to omit them, or to lay them before his reader? — But enough already concerning editors and editions, critics and critical science, has been spoken in a treastise intitled Critical observations on Shakespeare.