The Letters of David Garrick
edited by David M. Little, edited by George M. Kahrl
Harvard, 3 vols., 1500 pp., $30.00
It is volumes such as these that fill an English scholar with despair. I hesitate to think of what they cost—nearly fifteen hundred beautifully printed, meticulously proof-read pages: excellent paper, fine binding, and although the price is not cheap, it cannot be regarded as anything but reasonable. Yet production must represent but a fraction, the tiny peak of an iceberg, of the total cost. The long years of two scholars’ labor, the associates, the secretaries, the journeys, the mountain of bibliographical paraphernalia that is required by all great co-operative works of definitive scholarship, this factory method which American scholars have brought to such perfection must have been prodigiously expensive.
Factory scholarship began in America with W. S. Lewis’s monumental edition of Horace Walpole, the most meticulous work of editing done this century. His methods had been adopted for the papers and correspondence of Boswell, Burke, Johnson, and a dozen others and there are now factories of scholars scattered throughout American Universities. Only a very rich, scholarly society could afford such lavish methods: in England they do not exist. Almost every great collection of eighteenth-century British correspondence has been edited by an American scholar. In the great co-operative enterprises British scholars occasionally assist: but they neither initiate nor direct. Nor do they choose the subjects. Indeed who does? Some, of course, choose themselves—Boswell, Johnson, Walpole, Burke. After all they left hoards of papers and their roles in literature are so well established that definitive editions of their works are immensely desirable and well worth the money that an affluent society can lavish on them.
Such men, however, are rare; and the few others like them, as yet unprojected, are rapidly being claimed: Fielding is now under way, Fanny Burney too. Will scholars hungry for a project soon be casting a thoughtful glance at Garth or Arkenside or Dyer? And the quaint thing is that there exists no definitive edition of the letters and papers of any British statesman except Oliver Cromwell; no definitive edition of the letters and works of any major British philosopher, except Burke. What would one not give to have the same lavish attention, the same devoted years of scholarship dedicated to an edition of Thomas Hobbes or Francis Bacon or John Locke that are here given to David Garrick. This may seem churlish, for Garrick is a central figure not only in the history of the British theater and of Shakespearian promotion but also in eighteenth-century literary society. After all he was the life-long friend of Samuel Johnson, and the intimate of the entire Johnsonian circle: and better still, he was a close friend of the Duke of Devonshire who played a large role in British politics in the mid-eighteenth century. David Garrick’s letters could be a treasure trove.
They are, but for completely different reasons. There is practically nothing here that one might expect—no revelations about Johnson, Boswell, Wilkes; no insights into literary life, no gossip about high politics: nothing much …