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McKerrow, Ronald Brunlees (1872–1940), bibliographer and literary scholar
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Part of a letter from Kenneth Sisam to W. W. Greg

[The Clarendon Press, Oxford?]—Maas is particularly interested in the considerations which lead an editor of Shakespeare to follow the copy-text.

(For the date and the identification of the correspondents cf. 1/87, which was probably typed with the same typewriter (note especially the capital ‘K’).)



Maas is, of course, not a Shakespearian scholar and knows nothing of “bibliography”. But he has an acute mind for any inconsistency, and tireless industry. He has made some excellent criticisms on McKerrow’s proofs and Introduction to Richard III. The point which really interests him is one in which I refuse to become enmeshed i.e. the basic considerations which lead a Shakespearian editor to stick to the copy-text. Exactly when does he alter the copy-text? Under what conditions does McKerrow discuss in notes {1} the variant readings of the Quarto? On all these points he thinks there is a lack of clear statement and consistent practice in the proofs. The first issue—the different approach to the text of the modern school of Shakespearians—is the one he would like to discuss with you some day; because he is interested in the general principles of textual criticism, and the extent to which they can be applied outside the classics.

[Typed in the margin:] x except the critical introduction {2}



{1} The three lines from ‘enmeshed’ to ‘notes’ have been marked with a pencil line in the margin.

{2} The initial 'x' is raised above the line. These words apparently refer to something in the next paragraph, of which only the top of a superior ‘x’ can be seen.

Letter from F. C. Francis to W. W. Greg

The British Museum.—Answers questions about The English Schoolmaster (1580) and refers to McKerrow’s books and papers.



The British Museum, London, W.C.1
4 Nov. 1942

Dear Greg,

Had your letter been here half a day later The English Schoolmaster {1} would have been on his way to more desirable quarters! {2} Thank goodness, all the case books will soon be got away.

It does contain Psalms. Here is the list of them

  1. Psalm 119, pt 1 & 2, in prose in “Cranmer’s” version. [Next came Proverbs, c. 4, in the Geneva version.] {3}

  2. Psalms 1, 4, 50. vv. 1–11, 51. vv. 1–10, 67, 104. vv. 1–9, 112, 113, 120, 126, 148. vv. 1–6, all in Sternhold and Hopkins[’] version. {4}

It seems odd to find the two different prose versions being used. But the whole book is a curious and interesting one.

I hope to be able to let you have proofs for the Jubilee volume soon; but I am still awaiting an† vital contribution {5}.

I am glad to know that you have a note ‘on the stocks’!

You would have been mildly interested in the suggestions propounded in the paper by O. M. Willard, which I read at the last meeting of the Society. It is an attempt to work out statistically a relation between the size and number of original editions of pre-1640 books and the numbers of surviving copies. The whole thing is rather flimsy, but it does at any rate make one cock a more wary eye at the records of copies both in STC and elsewhere.

Yours sincerely
F. C. Francis.

P.S. I started on a brief list of McKerrow’s books, last week end; but it is still doubtful if Mrs McKerrow wants to sell. She feels, I think, that she doesn’t want to do any thing which the boys may regret later. But many of the books are only useful to a specialist.

P.P.S. I am mildly interested in Charles Crawford; is there much known about him? McKerrow has some of his MS. notes.


Letter-head of The Library. Francis’s name appears below the word ‘Editor’, with the address shown.

{1} Presumably Le maistre d'escole Anglois, or The Englishe Scholemaister, by Jacques Bellot (1580) (STC (2nd ed.) 1855).

{2} Greg had presumably asked that the book should not be evacuated out of London.

{3} The square brackets are in the original.

{4} Greg has written in pencil in the margin ‘Day’s’ followed by an indistinct word.

{5} See Oliver M. Willard, ‘The Survival of English Books Printed before 1640: a Theory and some Illustrations’, The Library, 4th series, xxiii. 171–90.

† Sic.

Letter from R. B. McKerrow to Julia Greg

30 Manchester Street, Manchester Square, W.—Accepts a dinner invitation and praises her son’s article in The Library.



30 Manchester Street, Manchester Square, W.
6 May ’08

Dear Mrs Greg,

I am very glad to be able to accept your kind invitation to dine with you on Saturday next {1}.

Everyone is delighted with Walter’s article in the ‘Library’, really a most brilliant piece of work and one that must give him a permanent position among the foremost of Shakespearian scholars. I think Trinity should be proud of their Librarian.

Thanking you for the invitation.

Yours very sincerely,
Ronald B. McKerrow


Greg has written at the head in pencil: ‘False dates in Sh. Quartos | ‘Library’ April 1908’.

{1} 9th.

Letter from Alice Walker to Sir Walter Greg

Leddon Cottage, Welcombe, Bideford, Devon.—Discusses the implications for the Oxford Shakespeare of the work of Bowers and his students.



Leddon Cottage, Welcombe, Bideford, Devon.
17 June 1951

Dear Sir Walter,

Thank you very much indeed for the loan of University of Virginia Studies III {1}. I shall be returning it tomorrow. I was very glad to have the opportunity of reading at greater leisure the articles of Professor Bald and Professor Bowers and was, of course, especially glad to have a copy of your paper.

I am very much interested in the work of Professor Bowers and his students. It is, in many ways, a mercy Dr. McKerrow got no further with his project than he did. The trouble was, I think, that he knew quite well he oughtn’t to start publication until at least the preliminary work was done for all the plays, but had already spent so long on laying the foundations that he felt he must make a start. I am sure it was a mistake. I doubt if it is any use attempting an edition on the Clarendon Press scale until it is known how far copies of the Folio and quartos differ among themselves and until we have better date {2} for discriminating between the work of compositors and collators in Folio texts printed from corrected quartos. I am getting on as best as I can with the latter line of investigation, but it is hampering not to have facsimiles of all the quarto editions used for Folio texts.

Professor Nicoll crawled over the Othello muddle. I have since heard that the Shakespeare Survey Board celebrates April 23rd (when the meeting was held) rather well and doubtless some poor and unhappy head was responsible for the confusion.

I hope you have enjoyed your visit to the sea.

With many thanks,

Yours sincerely,
Alice Walker.


Typed, except the signature.

{1} Studies in Bibliography, vol. iii (1950–1). The volume contained three papers: ‘Editorial Problems—A Preliminary Survey’ by R. C. Bald, ‘The Rationale of Copy-Text’ by W. W. Greg, and ‘Some Relations of Bibliography to Editorial Problems’ by Fredson Bowers.

{2} A slip for 'data'.