In response to:
The Fruits of the MLA: II. Mark Twain from the October 10, 1968 issue
To the Editors:
It seems appropriate that Edmund Wilson’s commentary on MLA, CEAA, and PMLA (“The Fruits of the MLA: I. ‘Their Wedding Journey”‘) appeared in the same issue with various evaluations of the “overreaction” in Chicago. As Mayor Daley displayed his authoritarian personality by the distortion of institutional authority, it seems to me, in like manner, certain MLA authorities have perverted their role of teacher-scholar.
While their desire to “purify” the texts of American literature is both legitimate and worthy, they have used their standing as scholars and their positions in the university establishment to create a monopoly on what is in reality a national resource, in the public domain. They hold that passing a public domain text such as The Scarlet Letter through the Hinman Collating Machine gives them copyright protection; they choose to forget their action restricts the free use of a national treasure that is our common property.
The Federal government, recognizing the value of authoritative texts of Hawthorne, Melville, Howells, Twain and other great American authors has appropriated funds to help accomplish this program. With the acquisition of such funds, some scholars, by changing hats and becoming administrators, have lost perspective in the heady atmosphere of money, influence, and power. Perhaps, defensively or in unconsciousness awareness that most academics turned administrator will trade an ounce of power for a pound of principle, they have joined forces and retreated to their own medieval castle of academic respectability. The moat is MLA, PMLA, and CEAA; the wall, cooperating university presses (supported by tax exemptions); the portcullis, scholarship; and the keep, the CEAA imprimatur and copyright. (Is the Hinman Collating Machine alive? Does it breath? Is it an author? How about Hawthorne’s thumb smudges?)
Of what are these self-appointed authorities afraid? (Daley’s yippies?) If they are so desirous of providing authentic texts to American and world readers, why don’t they release their work immediately to the public so that their purity may be shared at a low price and right now? In fairness, we should receive what we, as taxpayers, are paying for. It’s unbelievable that Howells’s Their Wedding Journey costs the reading public $10.00 a copy when the following formula is considered: a professor, paid by state funds (X), performs research financed by federal funds (Y), that is published by a public press (Z)–X+Y+Z = $10.00 cost to the public.
These MLA “cops” are slugging with their billy clubs of bibliographic obfuscation and cordoning off their ivory tower from all of us yippies. Popishly, they have issued an encyclical establishing the forbidden ground for editors and publishers alike. With good behavior, a publisher might qualify for their blessing and be allowed to display their sacred seal. Needless to say, the recipient must pay tribute to CEAA.
I for one, however, will continue to edit, publish (without the CEAA seal), and read as I like.
William H. Y. Hackett, Jr.
The Bobbs-Merrill Company,
Indianapolis, Indiana 46268
P. S. For Mr. Edmund Wilson’s information we have announced the publication of the Greylock Edition of Melville which will include all of Melville’s work and will be published in both cloth and paper editions. Two titles are now available: Moby Dick edited by Charles Feidelson, and The Confidence Man, edited by H. Bruce Franklin.
December 19, 1968