Humans are much interested by large animals and particularly by predators. We indulge, indeed, a sort of reverse sentimentality about such animals, gloating over their violent acts of capture, full of self-congratulation at our inevitably mixed feelings.

The focus seems to go well beyond that degree of attention which might be explained by the threat of such animals. Snakes and spiders present a real danger and we seem to be adapted to recoil from these creatures and think of them as little as we can, and when we do reflect on them to do so with contempt.

Is our interest in megafaunal predators adequately accounted for by a shallow, mentalising identification with the superior power? There is certainly something in the suspicion of wish fulfilment, but after all there is something to the depth of our positive feelings that goes, I think, well beyond the individual animal species concerned; what interests us at root is the ecosystem in which there are such large creatures, not just those creatures themselves. And even if we grant that part of our affection might be fantasy politics, in which "I" figure as King of the Jungle, this projective theatricalism is in itself uncompelling in strength, and in any case undermined by the fact that it is not just large predators that stimulate these thoughts. Indeed, it seems to be large organisms altogether, herbivores and even trees cause similar reactions in us. – Predators are a particular highlight in a general phenomenon. We tend towards a strongly positive, practically uncritical, estimation of large forms of life. Why should this be?

The answer, I suggest, is that the ecosystems in which large organisms are to be found are also favourable to human beings and offer a promising niche for invasion by our own reproduction. – Where there are large creatures, there must be rich resources to support them, rich resources that could be made available to our own selves. In other words, we hanker after environments with large creatures, including, and prominently, large predators, because they offer great opportunities for our own predation and expansion. If a system is capable of supporting an apex predator of great bulk, there is the possibility that we, personally, could be come that apex predator.

By contrast, systems with few or no large predators, few or no large organisms, are almost always very unpromising for the human organism.

Proof of this can be found in the fact that we are not particularly interested by the small hawks and small cats which are in some less productive areas the higher predators. Charming, but contemptibly so.

Vultures, and other carrion eaters, though not particularly large, may seem to be an interesting exception to this rule. These creatures tend to repel rather than exciting our imaginations. This, I suggest, is because larger carrion consumers are typical of desert situations where there are few larger predators and indeed very little life of any kind. Carrion is a feature of austere ecosystems where a fallen body is extremely visible, for lack of cover, and not quickly digested by smaller organisms. Such places are usually very hostile to human life.

What we require is a locale in which there are numerous organisms, many of them large, and, surprisingly, some of these predatorial. And finally, we would prefer this locale to be wild, for an ecosystem where other men are the apex predators is already a saturated niche.

State funding of poets, poetry, and the academic criticism of poetry should cease. The public standing of poetic effects would then subside to a more tolerable level. We should still probably have too many people calling themselves poets, and we would probably still think rather too much of their output, but these errors would be less harmful. Even popular song, the most dominant source of poetic effect in our time, and not in receipt of state funds, draws some considerable fuel from the status of literary poetry. It too would fade in the absence of high prestige being assigned to poetics through state support and through the social eminence of the academy and its offshoots. These are all highly desirable outcomes; the illusion of transcendence is a poison to mind, impairing the aggregate judgment of our democracies, not to mention many disadvantages felt only personally by those so deceived. A civilised amusement promoted beyond its merits becomes a public nuisance.

Why are the rich such patsies for utopian fantasies of all kinds, for snake oil in politics, engineering, and science? If there is a foolish, half-baked proposal to “change the world” why does it find so many supporters amongst the rich, and proportionately so few amongst the middle classes and the poor?

Because the rich believe the world to be infinitely plastic, and they believe this because that is the substance of their daily experience; the world bends to their will, food drops into their mouths on demand, they move across the surface of the earth with little resistance as if gravity and friction were all but completely absent. They want for nothing, and fear little.

The rest of us, by contrast, are pessimistic; we see the world as inflexible, because that is our experience. We move in a viscous and obstructive environment in which, like small flies in air, treacle to them, we must struggle to make progress. But like those flies, we are also supported by the stable conditions that impede us. Hence the paradox that the poor are often very conservative as well as bitterly realistic. What little advantage we have is threatened by change, for change is, in our experience, driven by others, frequently rich others, and for their own advantage not ours.

Sentimentality may be described as: 

The attribution of a degree of significance or value to a phenomenon without sufficient evidence.

This definition is sufficiently general to capture all cases and provides a criterion for the determination of borderline disputes. Furthermore, though abstract it is not without important implications that are consistent with our intuitions, and revealing of aspects that are otherwise obscure.

For example, any appeal whatsoever to transcendent significance is classed as sentimental since the evidence of transcendence is weak at best and by rigorous standards quite non-existent. Thus the definition captures the palpable similarity between notoriously sentimental material such as romantic literature, on the one hand, and less obviously sentimental material such as religious texts on the other, a similarity that is otherwise hard to articulate since the immediate materials vary considerably in character and may even seem contradictory or at least very confused.

For example, religions in many instances forbid or restrict carnal affection, bringing them into conflict with the sensuous appeals of the romantic novelist, while at the same time employing the language of uncontrolled romantic love and loyalty to describe the relation between the human and divine. Consequently, while there is a strong affinity between romantic writing and religion in one area, this resemblance is cancelled out by the moral controls implied in another. Nevertheless, the intuition of resemblance remains, and the character of our resistance to their appeals, for we do resist them, is experientially similar. We feel them both as suspiciously sentimental, but find it hard to explain; the resemblance can be detected out of the corner of the eye, as it were, but slips away and proves elusive if the mind attempts to focus upon the matter.

The definition offered above puts content to one side and suggests that the similarity of our sceptical reaction, our attribution of sentimentality, to both the Bodice Ripper and the Bible is explained by the fact that both make an appeal to overwhelming significance without sufficient evidence.

Furthermore, while there can be no doubt that religions aim at transcendence, it is obvious that not all romantic literature goes as far and indeed most seems to stop some way short of this ultimate appeal. Yet who would deny that religion and romantic literature are felt as experientially comparable and in some way similar in structure? Indeed, the matter is notorious.

Again, this powerful yet indefinite intuition of resemblance is explained by an abstract similarity, namely that both make claims to an extreme significance, sometimes but not always in the same terms, that is not supported by robust evidence. In other words, sentimentality is a palpable exaggeration of a degree of significance. More explicitly: the strength of our intuition of sentimentality is explained by the degree of exaggeration. In other words, our intuition that propositions or entire texts are more or less sentimental is determined by variations in the gulf between the evidence and the imputed significance, not the level of imputed significance itself.

This latter point is of the highest importance since it describes the otherwise intractable but well known observation that many of the most deeply sentimental propositions or artefacts make claims to significance that are only modest in absolute terms. For example, expressions of sympathy, observations on the altruism or naive charm of pets, the beauty of flowers, or, and this is a phenomenon novel in our times, the aesthetic experience of food. There may be a hint of an appeal to transcendence in such claims, but frequently there is none. Notwithstanding this we know them to be psychologically cognate to such extreme claims; they are definitely sentimental, and may even be the most nauseating examples of sentimentality, and they are so because the evidence supporting the claim is so weak not because the claim itself is of so great a magnitude. The extravagance is measured by the disparity between the justification and the claim, not the absolute magnitude of the claim.

Opening Savile's Works at random, Sortes style, I rediscovered a set of aphorisms on what Halifax believes is the much over-used term “Fundamental”, and towards the end of that persuasive chain of reasoning one may find following:
To say a Power is Supream, and not Arbitrary, is not Sense. It is acknowledg’d Supream, and therefore, &c. […]
There is then no other Fundamental, but that every Supream Power must be Arbitrary.
A very ill omen for a “Supreme Court”… and for those living in its power and awaiting its decision.

In the previous post I described the Hutchinson 1904 text of Shelley as largely 'obsolete', even in the form revised by Matthews in 1970. I was certainly trying to be in the swim, to show that I understood the value of all the subsequent and complicated textual revision, but this was not an empty gesture. – I am genuinely sympathetic to those who work on manuscripts to produce what they hope are better or at least equally valuable if different texts. I think we can safely presume that no one, mischievous pirates aside, and certainly no dedicated scholar, ever prepared a text with the explicit aim of making it worse than those that already existed. And they are usually successful, by their own lights at least. When competent editors go to work the result is generally an improvement. The Matthews and Reiman editions of Shelley, still in progress, are almost certainly superior.

But 'obsolete' was a bad word, and I am tempted to go back and provide an alternative. However, the word is certainly defensible from the point of view of university employees. A text that is no longer au courant in the field is a liability to the career of anyone carelessly quoting from it without very good reason. But that is a narrow professional concern, and indeed would not worry all professionals; those established in their positions might positively relish the ability to cite such antique sources without neurotically trotting down to check punctuation and layout in the university library copy of X, Y, and Z's recent edition, acclaimed in all the journals as 'definitive' (until next week when A, B, and C, publish their own text). Reference to the authoritative source is an arbitrary mark of academic rectitude, and ever-shifting as such absolute standards of quality tend to be. – The passwords have to be changed regularly, otherwise Tom, Dick and Harry might wander into the conversation without being identifiable, and if A and all professors through to Z can agree about anything it is that free and unimpeded access of this kind would never do.

All those considerations aside, is there any justifiable sense in which an old text, such as the 1904 Shelley, can be said to be obsolete? It is true that new editions sometimes bring forth previously unpublished and valuable work. But this happens very rarely, and, as I have noted elsewhere on Libellus, such research generally delivers the MRM, the Mechanically Recovered Meat, of literary scholarship, which is valuable more for bulk than flavour, and is unpalatable unless mixed with other more muscular tissue. Then again, an edition sometimes recovers censored text, or makes significant changes to accepted attributions. But these are special cases, hardly ever deeply important, and in any case infrequent. In the core, everyday instances, those representative of the central endeavour of text preparation, Hutchinson's 1904 edition of Shelley say, or the 1905 Sampson edition of Blake, the question is much harder to answer with confidence. Are these obsolete texts? Would you rather have the Hutchinson of 1904, reset in 1905, and again in 1935, frequently reprinted, read by everybody until Matthews corrected it, and still being read since there are so many of them in circulation. Or would you prefer to have Matthews 1970, which rather fewer people have read, or either of the editions by Matthews and Reiman and their collaborators, which are as yet incomplete, hard to come by in public libraries, and very expensive indeed to buy. The four volumes of Matthews et al. so far published would cost over £500 new in paperback; second hand copies are still priced at half that handsome figure. The three volumes of Reiman et al. come in at £350 in hardback, which in this weird company actually seems like a bargain (but I am, so far, resisting).

Expensive, but are they worth it? Yes, and then again, perhaps not. In one sense these editions are clearly better than Hutchinson 1904 and its reprints, and when themselves complete they will actually be more a Complete Shelley than Hutchinson, but that merit is years off, so for the present we commend them for being better annotated, closer to the manuscripts, as well as more carefully checked and ingeniously emended to bring out a sense. These are real attractions, but on the other hand they have the major disadvantage that they are not the Shelley known between 1904 and the date of the current editions. Indeed, even now in the public domain they are almost unread outside the universities. For practical purposes one suspects that they are as yet unread by anyone except their editors; they have almost no historical, populational standing whatsoever. Insofar as they differ from Hutchinson, and they must differ very significantly otherwise why undertake all this work, then they are a Shelley that no one yet knows. On the other hand, Hutchinson, for all its faults, is part of the cultural tradition. Many people have read it; it is the Shelley of the twentieth century. And before that, there is the historical standing of Rossetti's edition, and Mary Shelley's, and the Galignani texts, to mention only a selection. These texts are all obsolete in one sense, and then again indispensable to anyone wanting to understand the following that Shelley's poems acquired and which made it seem worthwhile for Hutchinson, and Matthews and Reiman after him, to spend decades editing them for new readers. Is there such a thing as an obsolete edition? From this perspective, clearly, no. But in reaching this decision, which ought to be a truism, we also arrive at the much less obvious point that some books are genuinely and in a powerful sense irrelevant, and these can be, paradoxically, the best editions available.

Latest Revision: 30 August 2019

One project stands out with particular though regrettable distinction from the listings of Oxford English Texts (OET), Neville Rogers' The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (Volume I, 1972, Volume II, 1975). Of four projected volumes only two were published, the edition being abandoned due to extremely critical reviews. It is true that there are other incomplete multi-volume sets in the OET lists, but these are still in progress (Browning, Wilde, and so on), and none have, at least officially, been abandoned (one does wonder about the Browning). The Rogers Shelley is an exception. I remember one of my friends, a specialist in the field, telling me, more than twenty years ago, that this OET edition was a "fiasco", but not being much interested in Shelley I accepted the view and thought no more of it. However, whilst working on the history of the series in some detail I began to wonder about the underlying causes behind this exceptional cancellation. No other edition seems to have failed in quite the same way. I was, of course, aware that the passage of time has left some of these works, outstanding in their day, well behind the frontier of knowledge, and that some, Saintsbury's Caroline Poets (1905, 1906, 1921) for example, were never regarded as completely reliable. I knew that not everyone liked the punctuation of the Darbishire Milton of 1955, and that, to summarise a long list of such observations, there are the usual scholarly niggles and reservations in regard to almost every single edition, perhaps all of them. But the Rogers edition of Shelley is, as far as I know, the only one that fell to earth and under intense attack. So unusual is it that the entire episode and the principal critical reviews are notorious within the field of textual study:

Kenneth Neill Cameron, Studies in Romanticism 12/3 (Summer 1973), 693–699. Review of Vol I.

Donald H. Reiman, Journal of English and Germanic Philology 73/2 (April 1974), 250–260. Review of Vol. I

Kenneth Neill Cameron, Studies in Romanticism 13/3 (Summer 1974), 271–274. Reply to Neville Rogers' comments on Matthews 1973.

Judith Chernaik, Modern Language Review 73/1 (January 1978), 166–169. Review of Vol. II.

A few quotations will give the flavour:

"an egregious example of how not to edit poetry" (Reiman)

"wrongly conceived and poorly executed" (Reiman)

"inadequate in respect to canon, bibliographical information, textual notes and explanatory notes" (Cameron 1973)

"fundamentally flawed [...] a major disaster for the Clarendon Press [...] no choice but to withdraw it and begin anew" (Cameron 1974)

"a disservice to a great English poet and a scandal to British scholarship" (Chernaik)

"the only sensible course would be to withdraw the volumes now in print and start over from the beginning" (Chernaik)

The TLS (2 March 1973) called it a "preposterous" edition, and another review referred to Rogers' "baroque love for fiddling and amending" (both  quoted in Cameron 1974). Rogers' handler at the Clarendon Press, Dan Davin, who had commissioned the Complete Poetical Works in the early 1950s and had nursed the financially insecure Rogers with advances and support over the two decades the work had taken to complete, thought the reviews "unfair", but he was now so senior in the Press that he was not well-placed to protect it further, an oddity of many hierarchical structures (see Dan Davin, "Neville Rogers", The Keats-Shelley Review, 2 (1987), viii–x). The late 1970s was also a very difficult time for OUP, and shortly after Davin's retirement in 1978, they undertook what he described as "severe financial retrenchment", with what he believed to be, with perhaps only a little exculpatory exaggeration, serious consequences for the Rogers' text:

“Influenced by this and to some extent by the hostile reviews which my successors took too seriously, it was decided by the Press not to continue with the remaining volumes. Much as I regretted this, there was nothing I could now do. Neville was justifiably indignant but was helpless also.” (Davin 1987)

Davin’s retrospective interpretation must be allowed some merit: “During the long gestation of the edition, a new generation of scholars and editors had appeared” and these people not only had “new notions of text and editorship” but  “tended to be ill-mannered in their expression”. In effect the edition was unsaleable, and though the third volume was completed it was not published. The Clarendon Press gave up, and the volumes already issued were quietly forgotten. Today they are out of print and even unlisted in the otherwise voracious Oxford Scholarly Editions series. Remarkably Rogers only admitted defeat in about 1985, four months before his death in that year (this and the following biographical details are derived from the University of Ohio library catalogue entry online, or from Davin 1987 cited above).

By then Rogers was a retired academic in Ohio, with many scholarly publications, almost all Shelley related, to his name. But he was not a lifetime university professional, a fact which may explain much. Born in London in 1908, Rogers studied classics at Birkbeck, and started his working life as a schoolteacher before serving in Royal Air Force intelligence during the second war. Demobbed, he returned to teaching classics in London grammar school, but also became associated with the Times Literary Supplement, and his enthusiasm for Shelley appears to have been the outcome of an acquaintance with Edmund Blunden formed while on TLS business in Rome. In 1951 Rogers published a series of articles discussing in some detail the recent donation of Shelley papers to the Bodleian:

"The Shelley-Rolls Gift to the Bodleian," Times Literary Supplement, 27 July 1951, p. 476; 3 August 1951, p. 492; 10 August 1951, p. 508.

One of these articles in particular, a discussion of "To a Sky-lark", caught the attention of the relatively inexperienced press editor Dan Davin, himself not long out of the armed services. Davin sought the advice of H. W. Garrod and F. P. Wilson, who had also read the TLS articles. They interviewed Rogers in Oxford, took a liking to him, and on the basis of a detailed research proposal were persuaded, apparently without much difficulty, that he was the right man to produce an Oxford English Texts edition to replace Hutchinson.

Rogers resigned his school teaching post, surviving on the advances on royalties that Davin secured, grants from academic foundations, a post, presumably temporary, at the University of Birmingham, and what Davin mysteriously calls “other less equitable expedients”. Some form of stable life was eventually secured when he moved to the United States to work at the University of Ohio, becoming a full professor in 1966, and from which he was recently retired when the edition eventually began publication in 1972. It would seem to be no exaggeration to say that his whole life, after accepting the commission of the Clarendon Press, was directed and dominated by the editing of Shelley.

With this level of dedication the ultimate debacle is all the more surprising. Many academic projects run into the sand, but this one burst into flames just as it was landing to what were expected to be fanfares of adulation, a sort of Hindenburg of an edition, the captain stalwartly declining to abandon his vessel. What went wrong? Firstly, the Press staff seem not to have given Rogers the sort of commonsense and cold-hearted criticism essential to an editor with his head down in manuscripts. Intense, desk-bound intellectuals think only what they want to hear, and it was the duty of his publishers to provide a cool preview of the way that the scholarly market might legitimately respond. But, as I have noted elsewhere in my comments on the Oxford English Texts, the series does not seem to have been administered in a rigorous or businesslike way – Davin admits to doing a fair amount of his work from the Victoria in pub in Walton Street, near the press offices – and the strength and uniformity of the reaction apparently came as a surprise to Rogers, and presumably also to the Press itself. It should not have done. Rogers, as Davin notes in his memoir, had long engaged in controversy with his colleagues, this being one of the reasons the work took so long. Davin and his staff could easily have inferred that there was likely to be resistance to Rogers' approach. But with managerial responsiblities now consuming his energy, Davin admitted, perhaps more than a little ruefully, that he had had no time to read Rogers “enormously long and closely argued letters […] about his antagonists in Shelleyan controversy and their heretical views”. Davin's successors, if they read the letters, presumably took the edition on trust – it had after all been part of the Clarendon Press furniture for decades – and if the editor had any doubts, and I rather think he was incapable of uncertainty, he would have assumed that since the publishers were happy, all must be well.

With the benefit of hindsight and also disengagement (I don't care for Shelley and have no professional face to save or to paint) I conclude that Rogers fell foul of two curses, one inevitable given his views, and the other avoidable. Reiman's remark, "wrongly conceived and poorly executed" sets out the ground. Taking the second of these two points first, it seems that the edition is indeed poorly executed. Rogers made a lot of mistakes, both of commission and omission. This was avoidable, but it is not surprising. Shelley is evidently a difficult author to edit, as witness the fact that since the termination of the Clarendon edition in 1975 there have been two separate attempts to undertake the same work, and both are still underway in 2019.

The Longmans Annotated English Poets edition, which began publication fourteen years after Rogers' second volume, has so far issued:

1989. The Poems of Shelley. Volume 1: 1804-1817: Volume 1 Edited by Geoffrey Matthews (Editor), Kelvin Everest (Editor)

2000. The Poems of Shelley. Volume 2 Edited by Kelvin Everest and Geoffrey Matthews (Editor), with contributing editors: Jack Dononan, Ralph Pite, and Michael Rossington.

2011. The Poems of Shelley. Volume 3: 1819–1820. Edited by by Jack Donovan (Editor), Cian Duffy, Kelvin Everest, Michael Rossington, with the assistance of Laura Barlow.

2013. The Poems of Shelley. Volume 4: 1820-1821. Edited by Michael Rossington, Jack Donovan, and Kelvin Everest, with the assistance of Andrew Lacey and Laura Barlow.

A fifth volume, The Poems of Shelley, Volume Five: 1821–1822, edited by Michael Rossington, Jack Donovan, Kelvin Everest, and Francesco Rognoni, is intended to complete the series. This final volume was announced in 2017 but then rescheduled for 2021. Overall, the Longmans text has so far taken over thirty years, and the labours of, all told, nine editors.

The other edition is published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, and commenced  publication 25 years after Rogers' last volume:

2000. The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Volume 1. Edited by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat.

2005. The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Volume 2. Edited by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat

2012. The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Volume 3. Edited by Donald H. Reiman, Neil Fraistat, Nora Crook, Stuart Curran, Michael O'Neill, Michael J. Neth, and David Brookshire

These three volumes, issued over thirteen years and involving seven editors, cover Shelley's output up to 1818. Shelley died in 1822, so there is a fair way to go, requiring, I imagine, at least one more volume and perhaps two or even three.

Extraordinary as it will seem, since neither of these attempts are finished, the standard complete though largely obsolete text remains that of Thomas Hutchinson, published in 1904 (discussed briefly in my note on the OET 1900 to 1939), and released in a revised and corrected form by Geoffrey Matthews in 1970.

It is obvious from this history that Neville Rogers took on an extremely difficult task, probably without quite appreciating its "formidable" nature (Davin 1987). Indeed, so exhausting has it proved that not even large teams of what one must presume are adequately funded and electronically supported professional scholarly editors have so far succeeded in bringing it to a close. Taken together, those teams comprise sixteen individuals. Assuming that both Reiman and Matthews, eminent and long-standing scholars of the poet, were interested in attempting the editing of Shelley as soon as they were aware that Rogers' edition did not address their requirements, in 1973 perhaps, these projects have taken over forty years each, eighty scholarly years in total, quite probably more. These are multi-generational undertakings, not unlike a medieval cathedral.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that even the life work of one man on such an extensive textual problem proved to be inadequate. A new edition of Shelley implies the construction of a vast textual edifice. To attempt such work without modern machinery and engineering qualifications is an affront to public safety. Or at least, it would seem so to rigorous and prudent textual masons such as Reiman or Matthews, who soon put a stop to the absurdly unprofessional and dangerous adventure of the dedicated but still in their eyes absurdly presumptious Neville Rogers.

I don't think Rogers understood this at all. Judging from his responses, and indeed his introductions, he didn't even feel that he was actually undertaking a completely new edition. Instead, he believed he was attempting to make an incremental contribution to the established tradition of editing Shelley, taking the Hutchinson text of 1904 as his starting point, as indeed Matthews had done in his relatively unambitious revision of 1970. All previous editors were, thus, his collaborators; he wasn't alone, he was part of a tradition. Rogers saw himself as adding his own research and, crucially, his poetic and textual critical judgment, a key term for him, to that of his predecessors in a cumulative effort. In this attempt he believed he was relying on the wisdom of A. E. Housman, whose essays on this subject are mentioned and praised in the Introduction to Volume I (p. xlvi) as a "permanent source of guidance about textual principles". Housman emphasised the supremacy of a transcendent editorial judgment in textual criticism, particularly the emendation of texts, which is a "gift of nature" not a learned skill: "criticus nascitur, non fit", writes Housman ("Textual Criticism", in John Carter ed. A. E. Housman: Selected Prose (Cambridge 1962)). I infer from this that years of immersion in Shelley's texts had convinced Rogers of his own gifts in this regard, and he emended Shelley's poems with the confidence of one who knew himself to be born to this business and not just taught. The friendships with Blunden, in Rome of all places, and with Garrod the legendary Merton scholar and editor of Keats, may have created a further intimation of apostolic succession. In this respect, assuming that I am right, Rogers was an aberrant exception to the norms of his time, which rejected such openly and mystically aristocratic claims to authority. Contemporary scholarship was (and still is) marked by something rather closer to Year One thinking, and has a consequently much greater confidence in the power of reason and scientific method in text editing, and correspondingly little time for the sense of mystical insight into the author and his text that Rogers seemed to be claiming. Mutual and utter incomprehension was all but certain.

However, the texts as published demonstrate that even when approached in his own peculiar way the undertaking had been too much for Rogers, and he blundered frequently, very frequently and very badly according to his critics. Housman would doubtless have been even more severe on these errors than the reviewers, taking it as sure proof that Rogers had a false sense of election to the craft. Approaching the matter more sympathetically and with reference to the glacial progress of subsequent and undoubtedly competent scholars, it seems that Rogers was overwhelmed. Misled by years of intense commitment to the mission, and comforted by a belief in his own calling, he just couldn't see the tangled muddle developing beneath his hands, and indeed never came to recognise it. Rogers' contemporaries, of course, not only found the flaws contemptible but also rejected the informing concept of a collectivist yet aristocratic and intellectually transcendent, quasi-mystical, engagement with text and author, part empathy, part tradition, part cold-hearted observation and steel-trap logic. In contrast, Reiman and Cameron thought editing was largely a question of the diligent application of learnable skills involving hard work of the sort that consumes decades of human lives, as it has in their own editions of Shelley. I tend to agree with them, and it is, in fact, possible to interpret Housman in such a way as to suggest that he would have done so too, perhaps protesting that by nascitur, non fit, he only meant that the ability to learn those skills, and the patience to apply them was rare and beyond teaching.

At first sight, the fiasco of this edition, as my friend called it, seemed to me a matter of mere incompetence. That isn't, I now think, quite right. The work was certainly beyond the abilities of one editor, but more importantly this was a clash of two incompatible views of mind and text, one bureaucratic, sober and cautious, the other emotionally enthusiastic, in the technical sense, and mistakenly reliant on a mystically inspired judgment to overcome what we now know to be editorial problems of an extreme difficulty. It is a very much stranger story than it appears to be at first glance, and while I do not feel sorry for Rogers, I no longer think it legitimate to despise him or his wrecked edition. At worst, Rogers was self-deceived, and his bizarre text of Shelley, essentially his own creation and surely a collectable psychological specimen, the mechanical product of a collision between delusion and reality.

Latest Revision: 3 June 2021

In a previous post I have listed all those volumes believed to be part of the Oxford English Texts (OET) series as published by the University Press up to 1939. The series has a significant role in the attempt to elevate the university subject of English Literature to an academic rank on a parallel with the study of the classical languages, the OET inviting comparison with the OCT, the Oxford Classical Texts. My earlier article described the emergence of the OET concept during the 1920s, the retroactive imposition of a common blue and gold livery at about the same time, and the first uses of the series title in 1934. The annotated checklist itself stopped with the publication of H. W. Garrod's edition of Keats, the dust wrapper of which is a useful piece of evidence in this account. Completeism can be a disease, but it has merits and there seems some justification for bringing the checklist up to date. This post attempts that work.

The extended list demonstrates the inherent instability of the concept underlying the OET, a project which began with the retrospective badging of a miscellaneous collection of previously published texts, and struggled to main consistency thereafter. Even when well underway the Press excluded editions that would on the basis of its previous decisions seem to be obvious candidates for selection, such as Harold Williams' edition of Swift's Journal to Stella (1949). At least, it seems very odd to admit Dorothy Osborne's letters to Sir William Temple (1928), which are pleasant enough but hardly works of the highest rank, and then pass over rather more striking work by the author of Gulliver's Travels. This arbitrary character was evident from the first, weakening the structural definition of the project, and has never been satisfactorily addressed. Indeed, it recurs throughout the record. Why include Clough (1951), but initially publish Helen Gardner's edition of Donne's Divine Poems (1952) as a free standing monograph? The press seems to have realised its mistake in that particular case, bringing it within the fold, but the criterion of OET designation was obviously poorly administered, and continued to be so. The poems of Dunbar and Henryson, 1979 and 1980 respectively, are sound choices, but the edition of 'Hudibras' Butler's Prose Observations (1979), though a real resource in my view, is more obviously an experimental research contribution than an established and core text.

It should be no surprise, therefore, that the series is now breaking down into what can only be described as absurdity, an absurdity betrayed by scarcely defensible collections composed of oversized volumes issued in preposterously bloated series, the publication of which is spread over decades. The prose of Edward Thomas did not merit inclusion in the OET, and much of it did not deserve republication in any form whatsoever, yet it appears under that badge in five gross bundles ludicrously entitled a "Selected Edition". Very good cases can be made for Oxford English Texts of both Browning and Byron, but why should they be published in sets extending to seven volumes for Byron, and for Browning some fifteen volumes, still incomplete over thirty years after the first instalment. A comprehensive collection of Milton's writings in prose and verse is obviously worthy (though the need can hardly be pressing even granting the bizarre definition of "need" that applies within the scholarly world); but a "Complete Works" of Oscar Wilde, currently standing at nine mega volumes, IX and X have 1,248 pages between them, is a tedious disgrace, a failure of judgment, a grotesque demonstration that, as is manifest to anyone familiar with the scenes behind departmentally closed doors, literary academics have no standards, no discrimination, and almost nothing to do.

But of course it is not difficult to see what the OUP is undertaking here. The Oxford English Texts series, arbitrary and inconsistent from the start, has now been superseded by the gargantuan and totalitarian ambition of Oxford Scholarly Editions, which seems to intend nothing less than the copyrighting for electronic sale of every word written by any and all marketable authors. The press is engulfing whole lifeworks as the whale swallowed Jonah, belching them out again for the usual consideration. The current paper publications, execrable pieces of printing and binding that do not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the earlier books, are stridently overpriced tokens trading on the reputation of the light blue paper wrappers and gilt blue cloth beneath. This is a sad ending to a misplaced endeavour, to a noble cause that was doomed from the outset to collapse "under the weight of its own contradictions". However, not all is lost; some of the ruins and the remaining statuary are truly spectacular; buy them while you still can.

The checklist that follows has been compiled from copies on my own shelves, and supplemented by reference to the Oxford University Press (OUP) website. I am aware the list lacks some information relating to corrected editions and I will add this material as time permits. If there are other Errors & Omissions, I shouldn't be at all surprised. Please submit corrections and additional information to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Oxford English Texts 1940 to the Present Day: An Interim Checklist

1940–1949

1940. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Volume I (Poems written in youth, Poems referring to the period of childhood). Edited by E. de Selincourt. The first of five volumes published as I (1940, II (1944), III (1946, IV (1947), V (1949). Unusually for the OET, these volumes were starred *, **, ***, ****, ***** on the spine, and were not otherwise identified, rather than numbered in Roman both on spine and title page. Second edition, revised by Helen Darbishire, 1952.

1941. The Works of George Herbert. Edited by F. E. Hutchinson. "Reprinted lithographically [...] from the corrected sheets of the First Edition 1945, 1953, 1959."

1941. The Poems of Samuel Johnson. First Edition. Edited by David Nichol Smith and Edward L. McAdam. Second Edition 1974.

1944. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Volume II (Poems founded on the affections, Poems on the naming of places, Poems of fancy, Poems of the imagination ) Edited by E. de Selincourt. The second of five volumes published as I (1940, II (1944), III (1946, IV (1947), V (1949). Second edition, revised by Helen Darbishire, 1952.

1946. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Volume III (Miscellaneous Sonnets, Memorials of various tours, Poems dedicated to national independence and liberty, The Egyptian Maid, The river Duddon series, The White Does and other narrative poems, Ecclesiastical sonnets). Edited by E. de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire. The third of five volumes published as I (1940, II (1944), III (1946, IV (1947), V (1949). Second edition, revised by Helen Darbishire, 1954.

1947. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Volume IV (Evening Voluntaries, Itinerary poems of 1833, Poems of sentiment and reflection, Sonnets dedicated to liberty and order, Miscellaneous poems, Inscriptions, Selections from Chaucer, Poems referring to the period of old age, Epitaphs and elegiac pieces, Ode: Intimations of Immortality) Edited by E. de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire. The fourth of five volumes published as I (1940, II (1944), III (1946, IV (1947), V (1949). Second edition, revised by Helen Darbishire, 1958.

1947. The Works of Sir Thomas Malory. Three volumes. Edited by Eugène Vinaver. 2nd Edition 1967.

1949. The Poems of Thomas Carew: with his Masque Coelum Britannicum. Edited by Rhodes Dunlap. "Reprinted lithographically from the corrected sheets of the First Edition 1957, 1964, 1970."

1949. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Volume V (The ExcursionThe Recluse Part I, Book I). Edited by E. de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire. The last of five volumes published as I (1940, II (1944), III (1946, IV (1947), V (1949). Second edition, revised by Helen Darbishire, 1959.

1950–1959

1951. The Poems and Letters of Andrew Marvell. Second Edition. Edited by H. M. Margoliouth. First edition, edited by H. M. Margoliouth 1927; Third Edition, edited by H. M. Margoliouth, revised by Pierre Legouis with the collaboration of E. E. Duncan-Jones, 1971.

1951. The Poems of Arthur Hugh Clough. Edited by H. F. Lowry, A. L. P. Norrington, and F. L. Mulhauser. 2nd Edition 1974.

1952. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Volume I (Poems written in youth, Poems referring to the period of childhood). Edited by E. de Selincourt. Second edition, revised by Helen Darbishire. First edition 1940.

1952. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Volume II (Poems founded on the affections, Poems on the naming of places, Poems of fancy, Poems of the imagination ) Edited by E. de Selincourt. Second edition, revised by Helen Darbishire. First edition 1944.

1952. John Donne, The Divine Poems. Edited by Helen Gardner. Not apparently initially included in the OET series, being issued in a binding with solid gilt rules at the head and foot of the spine, and the Oxford arms in gilt on the spine, instead of the standard OET form of foliate gilt decorations at head and foot, and the word Oxford in capitals at the foot of the spine.

1954. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Volume III (Miscellaneous Sonnets, Memorials of various tours, Poems dedicated to national independence and liberty, The Egyptian Maid, The river Duddon series, The White Does and other narrative poems, Ecclesiastical sonnets). Edited by E. de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire.  Second edition, revised by Helen Darbishire. First edition 1946.

1955. The Diary of John Evelyn. Six volumes. Edited by E. S. De Beer. 

1955. The Poetical Works of John Milton. Two volumes. Edited by Helen Darbishire.

1956. The Poetical Works of Robert Herrick. Second Edition. Edited by F. W. Moorman, revised with additions by L. C. Martin. Reprinted, perhaps with further corrections, 1963.

1957. The Works of Henry Vaughan. 2nd Edition, in one volume. Edited by L. C. Martin. First edition 1914 in two volumes.

1957. The Poems English Latin and Greek of Richard Crashaw. 2nd Edition. Edited by L. C. Martin. First edition 1927.

1958. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Volume IV (Evening Voluntaries, Itinerary poems of 1833, Poems of sentiment and reflection, Sonnets dedicated to liberty and order, Miscellaneous poems, Inscriptions, Selections from Chaucer, Poems referring to the period of old age, Epitaphs and elegiac pieces, Ode: Intimations of Immortality) Edited by E. de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire. Second edition, revised by Helen Darbishire. First edition 1947.

1958. The Poems of John Dryden. Four volumes. Edited by James Kinsley.

1958. The Poetical Works of John Keats. Second Edition. Edited by H. W. Garrod. First edition 1939.

1958. Thomas Traherne: Centuries, Poems, and Thanksgivings. Two volumes. Edited by H. M. Margoliouth.

1959. The Prelude or Growth of a Poet's Mind. 2nd edition, revised by Helen Darbishire. First edition, 1926, edited by E. de Selincourt.

1959. The Literary Works of Matthew Prior. Two volumes. Edited by H. Bunker Wright and Monroe K. Spears. 2nd Edition 1971.

1959. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Volume V (The ExcursionThe Recluse Part I, Book I). Edited by E. de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire.  Second edition, revised by Helen Darbishire. First edition 1949.

1960–1969

1962. The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney. Edited by William A. Ringler Jr. "Reprinted lithographically [...] from the corrected sheets of the First Edition 1965, 1967, 1971."

1962. John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. Edited by Roger Sharrock.

1965. John Donne, The Elegies and The Songs and Sonnets. Edited by Helen Gardner.

1966. The Complete Poems of Thomas Gray: English, Latin and Greek. Edited H. W. Starr and J. R. Hendrickson.

1967. John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Edited by M. J. Svaglic.

1967. The Poems of John Cleveland. Edited by Brian Morris and Eleanor Withingon.

1967. The Poems of Robert Southwell, S.J. Edited by James H. McDonald and Nancy Pollard Brown.

1967. John Donne, The Satires, Epigrams and Verse Letters. Edited by W. Milgate.

1967. Samuel Butler, Hudibras. Edited by John Wilders.

1968. The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns. Three volumes. Edited by James Kinsley.

1970–1979

1971. The Works of Sir John Suckling: The Non-Dramatic Works. Edited by Thomas Clayton. Forms volume one of a two volume complete Works.

1971. The Works of Sir John Suckling: The Plays. Edited by L. A. Beaurline. Forms volume two of a two volume complete Works.

1971. The Poems and Letters of Andrew Marvell. Third Edition. Two volumes. Edited by H. M. Margoliouth, revised by Pierre Legouis with the collaboration of E. E. Duncan-Jones.

1971. The Literary Works of Matthew Prior. 2nd Edition. Two volumes. Edited by H. Bunker Wright and Monroe K. Spears. First edition in 1959.

1971. The Complete Works of Thomas Chatterton. Two volumes. Edited by Donald S. Taylor, in association with Benjamin B. Hoover.

1972. The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Volume I (1802–1813). Edited by Neville Rogers. Volume II was published in 1975, with the expectation of two further volumes, but the edition was abandoned due to hostile reception.

1972. Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso: Translated into English Heroical Verse by Sir John Harington. Edited by Robert McNulty.

1973. Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (The Old Arcadia). Edited by Jean Robertson.

1973. Miscellaneous Prose of Sir Philip Sidney. Edited by Katherine Duncan-Jones and Jan van Dorsten.

1973. The Dramatic Works Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Two volumes. Edited by Cecil Price.

1974. John Gay, Poetry and Prose. Two volumes. Edited by Vinton A. Dearing with the assistance of Charles E. Beckwith.

1974. The Poems of Arthur Hugh Clough. Second edition. Edited by F. L. Mulhauser. Translations edited by Jane Turner. First edition 1951.

1974. The Poems of Samuel Johnson. Second edition. Edited by David Nichol Smith and Edward L. McAdam. First edition 1941.

1975. The Poems of Sir John Davies. Edited by Robert Krueger.

1975. The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley Volume II (1814–1817). Edited by Neville Rogers. Volume I was published in 1972. Two further volumes were projected, but the edition was abandoned due to hostile reception.

1976. John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University. Edited by I. T. Ker 

1976. The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan. Volume II (The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, and, I Will Pray With the Spirit). Edited by Richard L. Greaves. Set of thirteen volumes published as: Volume I (1980), Volume II (1976), Volume III (1987), Volume IV (1990), Volume V (1986), Volume VI (1980), Volume VII (1989), Volume VIII (1979), Volume IX (1981), Volume X (1988), Volume XI (1985), Volumes XII and XIII (1994).

1976. The Plays and Poems of Philip Massinger. Five volumes. Edited by Philip Edwards and Colin Gibson.

1976. John Arbuthnot, The History of John Bull. Edited by Alan W. Bower and Robert A. Erickson.

1977. The Early English Carols. Second edition, revised and enlarged. Edited by Richard Leighton Greene. The first edition of 1935 was not listed alongside the volumes that came to be known, probably from 1939 onwards, as the Oxford English Texts. This volume is anomalous in that the page size is six inches (w) by 9 1/4 inches (h).

1978. The Letters of Junius. Edited by John Cannon.

1978. William Blake's Writings. Two volumes: I (Engraved and Etched Writings), and II (Writings in Conventional Typography and in Manuscript). Edited by G. E. Bentley Jr. 

1979. The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan. Volume VIII (Instruction for the Ignorant; Light for Them That Sit in Darkness; Saved by Grace; Come, & Welcome to Jesus Christ). Edited by Richard L. Greaves. Set of thirteen volumes published as: Volume I (1980), Volume II (1976), Volume III (1987), Volume IV (1990), Volume V (1986), Volume VI (1980), Volume VII (1989), Volume VIII (1979), Volume IX (1981), Volume X (1988), Volume XI (1985), Volumes XII and XIII (1994).

1979. The Plays of William Wycherley. Edited by Arthur Friedman.

1979. The Divine Weeks and Works of Guillaume de Saluste Sieur du Bartas. Translated by Joshua Sylvester. Two volumes. Edited by Susan Snyder.

1979. Samuel Butler, Prose Observations. Edited by Hugh de Quehen.

1979. The Works of William Collins. Edited by Richard Wendorf and Charles Ryskamp.

1979. The Poems of William Dunbar. Edited by James Kinsley.

1980–1989

1980. The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan. Volume I (Some Gospel-Truths Opened, A Vindication of Some Gospel-Truths Opened, and, A Few Sighs from Hell) Edited with an Introduction by T. L. Underwood and with the assistance of Roger Sharrock. Set of thirteen volumes published as: Volume I (1980), Volume II (1976), Volume III (1987), Volume IV (1990), Volume V (1986), Volume VI (1980), Volume VII (1989), Volume VIII (1979), Volume IX (1981), Volume X (1988), Volume XI (1985), Volumes XII and XIII (1994).

1980. The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan. Volume VI (The Poems). Edited by Graham Midgley. Set of thirteen volumes published as: Volume I (1980), Volume II (1976), Volume III (1987), Volume IV (1990), Volume V (1986), Volume VI (1980), Volume VII (1989), Volume VIII (1979), Volume IX (1981), Volume X (1988), Volume XI (1985), Volumes XII and XIII (1994).

1980. The Poems of Robert Henryson. Edited by Denton Fox.

1980. The Poems of William Cowper. Volume I (1748-1782) of three volumes, published as follows I (1980), II, III (1995).

1980. Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works. Volumes I and II, of seven volumes, published as follows I, II (1980); III (1981); IV, V (1986); VI, VII (1991) Edited by Jerome J. McGann.

1980. The Poetical Works of Christopher Smart. Volume I (Jubilate Agno) of six volumes, published as follows: I (1980), II (1984); III, IV (1987); V, VI (1996). Edited by Karina Williamson.

1980. John Bunyan, The Holy War: Made by Shaddai upon Diabolus for the Regaining of the Metropolis of the World Or, the Losing and Taking again of the Town on Mansoul. Edited by Roger Sharrock and J. F. Forrest.

1980. John Donne, Paradoxes and Problems. Edited by Helen Peters.

1981. Sir Thomas Browne's Pseudodoxia Epidemica. Two volumes. Edited by Robin Robbins.

1981. The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan. Volume IX (A Treatise of the Fear of God, The Greatness of the Soul, A Holy Life). Edited by Richard L. Greaves. Set of thirteen volumes published as: Volume I (1980), Volume II (1976), Volume III (1987), Volume IV (1990), Volume V (1986), Volume VI (1980), Volume VII (1989), Volume VIII (1979), Volume IX (1981), Volume X (1988), Volume XI (1985), Volumes XII and XIII (1994).

1981. Godfrey of Bulloigne: A critical edition of Edward Fairfax's translation of Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata, together with Fairfax's Original Poems. Edited by Kathleen M. Lea and T. M. Gang.

1981. Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works. Volume III of seven volumes, published as follows I, II (1980); III (1981); IV, V (1986); VI, VII (1991) Edited by Jerome J. McGann.

1981. James Thomson, The Seasons. Edited by James Sambrook.

1983. Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler 1653-1676. Edited by Jonquil Bevan.

1983. John Gay: Dramatic Works. Two volumes. Edited by John Fuller.

1983. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. Volume I (Pauline, Paracelsus) of at least fifteen volumes published as I (1983), II (1984), III (1988), IV (1991), V (1995), VI (not yet published), VII (1998), VIII (2001), IX (2004), X-XIV (not yet published), XV (2009). Edited by Ian Jack and Margaret Smith.

1983. English Wycliffite Sermons. Volume I. Edited by Anne Hudson. Set of five volumes published as I (1983), II (1988), III (1990), IV and V (1996).

1983. The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy. Volume I (Wessex Poems, Poems of the Past and Present, Time's Laughingstocks). Edited by Samuel Hynes. Five volumes. Volume I (1982), Volume II (1984), Volume (III) 1985, Volumes IV and V (1995).

1984. The Later Poems of John Clare 1837–1864. Two Volumes. Edited by Eric Robinson and David Powell. See also: Early Poems (1989), and Poems of the Middle Period (1986, 1996, 1998, 1998, 2003).

1984. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. Volume II (Strafford, Sordello) of at least fifteen volumes published as I (1983), II (1984), III (1988), IV (1991), V (1995), VI (not yet published), VII (1998), VIII (2001), IX (2004), X-XIV (not yet published), XV (2009). Edited by Ian Jack and Margaret Smith.

1984. The Poetical Works of Christopher Smart. Volume II (Religious Poetry, 1763-1771) of six volumes, published as follows: I (1980), II (1984); III, IV (1987); V, VI (1996). Edited by Karina Williamson.

1984. The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy. Volume II (Satires of Circumstance, Moments of Vision, Late Lyrics and Earlier). Edited by Samuel Hynes. Five volumes. Volume I (1982), Volume II (1984), Volume (III) 1985, Volumes IV and V (1995).

1984. John Clare, The Natural History Prose Writings, 1793-1864. Edited by Margaret Grainger.

1985. Samuel Johnson, Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland. Edited by J. D. Fleeman.

1985. The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan. Volume XI (Good News for the Vilest of Men; The Advocateship of Jesus Christ). Edited by Richard L. Greaves and General Editor: Roger Sharrock. Set of thirteen volumes published as: Volume I (1980), Volume II (1976), Volume III (1987), Volume IV (1990), Volume V (1986), Volume VI (1980), Volume VII (1989), Volume VIII (1979), Volume IX (1981), Volume X (1988), Volume XI (1985), Volumes XII and XIII (1994).

1985. The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy. Volume III (Human Shows, Winter Words and Uncollected Poems). Edited by Samuel Hynes. Five volumes. Volume I (1982), Volume II (1984), Volume (III) 1985, Volumes IV and V (1995).

1986. John Clare, Poems of the Middle Period, 1822-1837. Volume II (Poems in Order of Manuscript). Edited by Eric Robinson , David Powell , and P. M. S. Dawson. The five volumes in this Middle periods set were published as Volume I 1996; Volume II 1986; Volume III 1998; Volume IV; 1998; Volume V 2003. See also Later Poems (1984), and Early Poems (1989).

1986. Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works. Volumes IV, V (Don Juan), of seven volumes, published as follows I, II (1980); III (1981); IV, V (1986); VI, VII (1991) Edited by Jerome J. McGann.

1986. The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan. Volume V (The Barren Fig-Tree, The Strait Gate, The Heavenly Foot-Man). Edited by Graham Midgeley and General Editor: Roger Sharrock. Set of thirteen volumes published as: Volume I (1980), Volume II (1976), Volume III (1987), Volume IV (1990), Volume V (1986), Volume VI (1980), Volume VII (1989), Volume VIII (1979), Volume IX (1981), Volume X (1988), Volume XI (1985), Volumes XII and XIII (1994).

1986. James Thomson, Liberty, The Castle of Indolence, and Other Poems. Edited by James Sambrook.

1986. The Prose Works of Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke. Edited by John Gouws.

1987. The Poetical Works of Christopher Smart. Volume III (A Translation of the Psalms of David) IV (Miscellaneous Poems, English and Latin) of six volumes, published as follows: I (1980), II (1984); III, IV (1987); V, VI (1996). Edited by Karina Williamson.

1987. The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan. Volume III (Christian Behaviour, The Holy City, The Resurrection of the Dead). Edited by J. Sears McGee and General Editor: Roger Sharrock. Set of thirteen volumes published as: Volume I (1980), Volume II (1976), Volume III (1987), Volume IV (1990), Volume V (1986), Volume VI (1980), Volume VII (1989), Volume VIII (1979), Volume IX (1981), Volume X (1988), Volume XI (1985), Volumes XII and XIII (1994).

1988. George Crabbe, The Complete Poetical Works. Three Volumes. Edited by Norma Dalrymple-Champneys and Arthur Pollard.

1988. The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan. Volume X (Seasonable Counsel and A Discourse upon the Pharisee and the Publicane). Edited by Owen C. Watkins and General Editor: Roger Sharrock. Set of thirteen volumes published as: Volume I (1980), Volume II (1976), Volume III (1987), Volume IV (1990), Volume V (1986), Volume VI (1980), Volume VII (1989), Volume VIII (1979), Volume IX (1981), Volume X (1988), Volume XI (1985), Volumes XII and XIII (1994).

1988. John Bunyan, The Life and Death of Mr. Badman: Presented to the World in a Familiar Dialogue between Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Attentive. Edited by James F. Forrest and Roger Sharrock.

1988. English Wycliffite Sermons. Volume II. Edited by Anne Hudson. Set of five volumes published as I (1983), II (1988), III (1990), IV and V (1996).

1988. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. Volume III (Bells and Pomegranates I-VI: (Including 'Pippa Passes' and 'Dramatic Lyrics')) of at least fifteen volumes published as I (1983), II (1984), III (1988), IV (1991), V (1995), VI (not yet published), VII (1998), VIII (2001), IX (2004), X-XIV (not yet published), XV (2009). Edited by Ian Jack and Rowena Fowler.

1988. The Works of Thomas Southerne. Volume I and II. Edited by Robert Jordan and Harold Love

1988. The Works of George Farquhar. Volume I and II. Edited by Shirley Strum Kenny.

1989. The Early Poems of John Clare 1804–1822. Two volumes. Edited by Eric Robinson and David Powell. See also: Later Poems (1984), and Poems of the Middle Period (1986, 1996, 1998, 1998, 2003).

1989. The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan. Volume VII (Solomon's Temple Spiritualized, The House of the Forest of Lebanon, The Water of Life). Edited by Graham Midgeley and General Editor: Roger Sharrock. Set of thirteen volumes published as: Volume I (1980), Volume II (1976), Volume III (1987), Volume IV (1990), Volume V (1986), Volume VI (1980), Volume VII (1989), Volume VIII (1979), Volume IX (1981), Volume X (1988), Volume XI (1985), Volumes XII and XIII (1994).

1989. The Works of George Savile, Marquis of Halifax. Three volumes. Edited by Mark N. Brown.

1989. Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living and Holy Dying. Volume I (Holy Living), Volume II (Holy Dying). Edited by P. G. Stanwood.

1989. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Volume I ('The First Partition') Edited by Thomas C. Faulkner, Nicholas K. Kiessling, Rhonda L. Blair, and With an Introduction by J. B. Bamborough. Initially projected as three volumes of text and two of commentary, the edition was eventually completed in six volumes, three of text and three of commentary, as follows: Volume 1 (1989), Volume II (1990), Volume III (1994), Volume IV (1998), Volumes V and VI (2000).

1990–1999

1990. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Volume II ('The Second Partition') Edited by Nicolas K. Kiessling, Thomas C. Faulkner, and Rhonda L. Blair. Initially projected as three volumes of text and two of commentary, the edition was eventually completed in six volumes, three of text and three of commentary, as follows: Volume 1 (1989), Volume II (1990), Volume III (1994), Volume IV (1998), Volumes V and VI (2000).

1990. The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan. Volume IV (A Defence of the Doctrine of Justification, A Confession of My Faith, Differences in Judgment About Water-Baptism, Peaceable Principles and True, A Case of Conscience Resolved, Questions About the Nature and Perpetuity of the Seventh-Day-Sabbath). Edited by T. L. Underwood and General Editor: Roger Sharrock. Set of thirteen volumes published as: Volume I (1980), Volume II (1976), Volume III (1987), Volume IV (1990), Volume V (1986), Volume VI (1980), Volume VII (1989), Volume VIII (1979), Volume IX (1981), Volume X (1988), Volume XI (1985), Volumes XII and XIII (1994).

1990. English Wycliffite Sermons. Volume III. Edited by Anne Hudson. Set of five volumes published as I (1983), II (1988), III (1990), IV and V (1996).

1990. The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe. Volumes I (All Ovids Elegies, Lucans First Booke, Dido Queene of Carthage, Hero and Leander), and II (Dr Faustus) of five volumes published as I, II (1990). III (1994), IV (1995), V (1998). Edited by Roma Gill.

1991. Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works. Volumes VI, VII, of seven volumes, published as follows I, II (1980); III (1981); IV, V (1986); VI, VII (1991) Edited by Jerome J. McGann.

1991. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. Volume IV (Bells and Pomegranates VII–VIII) of at least fifteen volumes published as I (1983), II (1984), III (1988), IV (1991), V (1995), VI (not yet published), VII (1998), VIII (2001), IX (2004), X-XIV (not yet published), XV (2009). Edited by Ian Jack, Rowena Fowler, and Margaret Smith.

1991. Lord Byron: The Complete Miscellaneous Prose. Edited by Andrew Nicholson.

1993, The Dramatic Works of George Lillo. Edited by James L. Steffensen, with the assistance of Richard Noble.

1994 The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe. Volume III (Edward II),of five volumes published as I, II (1990). III (1994), IV (1995), V (1998). Edited by Richard Rowland.

1994. The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan. Volume XII (The Acceptable Sacrifice; Last Sermon; An Exposition of the Ten First Chapters of Genesis; Of Justification; Paul's Departure; Of the Trinity; Of the Law; A Mapp...of Salvation and Damnation), and Volume XIII (Israel's Hope Encouraged; The Desire of the Righteous Granted; The Saints Privilege and Profit; Christ a Compleat Saviour; The Saints Knowledge of Christ's Love; Of Antichrist, and His Ruine). Edited by W. R. Owens and General Editor: Roger Sharrock. Set of thirteen volumes published as: Volume I (1980), Volume II (1976), Volume III (1987), Volume IV (1990), Volume V (1986), Volume VI (1980), Volume VII (1989), Volume VIII (1979), Volume IX (1981), Volume X (1988), Volume XI (1985), Volumes XII and XIII (1994).

1994. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Volume III ('The Third Partition'). Edited by Thomas C. Faulkner, Nicolas K. Kiessling, and Rhonda L. Blair. Initially projected as three volumes of text and two of commentary, the edition was eventually completed in six volumes, three of text and three of commentary, as follows: Volume 1 (1989), Volume II (1990), Volume III (1994), Volume IV (1998), Volumes V and VI (2000).

1995. The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe. Volume IV (The Jew of Malta), of five volumes published as I, II (1990). III (1994), IV (1995), V (1998). Edited by Roma Gill.

1995. The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy. Volume IV (The Dynasts, Parts First and Second), Volume V (The Dynasts, Part Third; The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall; The Play of "Saint George"; "O Jan, O Jan, O Jan"). Edited by Samuel Hynes. Five volumes. Volume I (1982), Volume II (1984), Volume (III) 1985, Volumes IV and V (1995).

1995. The Poems of William Cowper. Volumes II (1782–1785), III (1785–1800) of three volumes, published as follows I (1980), II, III (1995).

1995. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. Volume V (Men and Women) of at least fifteen volumes published as I (1983), II (1984), III (1988), IV (1991), V (1995), VI (not yet published), VII (1998), VIII (2001), IX (2004), X-XIV (not yet published), XV (2009). Edited by Ian Jack and Robert Inglesfield.

1996. John Clare, Poems of the Middle Period, 1822-1837. Volume I (The Shepherd's Calendar, Village Stories and Other Poems). Edited by Eric Robinson , David Powell , and P. M. S. Dawson. The five volumes in this Middle periods set were published as Volume I 1996; Volume II 1986; Volume III 1998; Volume IV; 1998; Volume V 2003. See also Later Poems (1984), and Early Poems (1989).

1996. The Poetical Works of Christopher Smart. Volumes V (The Works of Horace, Translated Into Verse) VI (A Poetical Translation of the Fables of Phaedrus) of six volumes, published as follows: I (1980), II (1984); III, IV (1987); V, VI (1996). Edited by Karina Williamson.

1996. English Wycliffite Sermons. Volumes IV and V. Edited by Anne Hudson. Set of five volumes published as I (1983), II (1988), III (1990), IV and V (1996).

1996. The Poems of Emily Brontë. Edited by Derek Roper and Edward Chitham.

1997. The Poems of A. E Housman. Edited by Archie Burnett.

1998. John Clare: Poems of the Middle Period, 1822-1837. Volume III (The Midsummer Cushion). Edited by Eric Robinson, David Powell, and P. M. S. Dawson. The five volumes in this Middle periods set were published as Volume I 1996; Volume II 1986; Volume III 1998; Volume IV; 1998; Volume V 2003. See also Later Poems (1984), and Early Poems (1989).

1998. John Clare: Poems of the Middle Period, 1822-1837. Volume IV. (The Midsummer Cushion Peterorough Manuscript A40 Northamption Manuscript 18 Pforzheimer Library, Miscellaneous Manuscript 196). Edited by Eric Robinson, David Powell, and P. M. S. Dawson. The five volumes in this Middle periods set were published as Volume I 1996; Volume II 1986; Volume III 1998; Volume IV; 1998; Volume V 2003. See also Later Poems (1984), and Early Poems (1989).

1998. The Poems and Translations of Sir Richard Fanshawe. Volume I. Edited by Peter Davidson. Set of two volumes published as Volume I (1998), Volume II (1999).

1998. The Collected Works of Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. Volume I (Poems, Translations, and Correspondence), Volume II (The Psalmes of David). Edited with Introduction and Commentary by Margaret P. Hannay, Noel J. Kinnamon, and Michael G. Brennan.

1998. The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe. Volume V (Tamburlaine the Great, Parts 1 and 2, and The Massacre at Paris with the Death of the Duke of Guise), of five volumes published as I, II (1990). III (1994), IV (1995), V (1998). Edited by David Fuller and Edward J. Esche.

1998. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Volume IV (Commentary up to Part 1, Section 2, Member 3, Subsection 15, 'Misery of Schollers') J. B. Bamborough with Martin Dodsworth. Initially projected as three volumes of text and two of commentary, the edition was eventually completed in six volumes, three of text and three of commentary, as follows: Volume 1 (1989), Volume II (1990), Volume III (1994), Volume IV (1998), Volumes V and VI (2000).

1998. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. Volume VII (The Ring and the Book, Books I-IV) of at least fifteen volumes published as I (1983), II (1984), III (1988), IV (1991), V (1995), VI (not yet published), VII (1998), VIII (2001), IX (2004), X-XIV (not yet published), XV (2009). Edited by Stefan Hawlin and T. A. J. Burnett.

1999. The Works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. Edited by Harold Love.

1999. The Poems and Translations of Sir Richard Fanshawe. Volume II. Edited by Peter Davidson. Set of two volumes published as Volume I (1998), Volume II (1999).

2000–2009

2000. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Volume V (Commentary from Part. 1, Sect. 2, Memb. 4, Subs. 1 to the End of the Second Partition)  and Volume VI: (Commentary on the Third Partition, together with Biobibliographical and Topical Indexes) J. B. Bamborough and Martin Dodsworth. Initially projected as three volumes of text and two of commentary, the edition was eventually completed in six volumes, three of text and three of commentary, as follows: Volume 1 (1989), Volume II (1990), Volume III (1994), Volume IV (1998), Volumes V and VI (2000).

2001. George Gascoigne, A Hundreth Sundrie Flowers. Edited by G. W. Pigman.

2001. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. Volume VIII (The Ring and the Book, Books V-VIII) of at least fifteen volumes published as I (1983), II (1984), III (1988), IV (1991), V (1995), VI (not yet published), VII (1998), VIII (2001), IX (2004), X-XIV (not yet published), XV (2009). Edited by Stefan Hawlin and Tim Burnett.

2001. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Volume I (Poems and Poems in Prose). Edited by Edited by Bobby Fong, Karl Beckson, and Introduction by Ian Small. The number of volumes projected is unknown to me.

2003. John Clare: Poems of the Middle Period, 1822-1837. Volume V. Edited by Eric Robinson, David Powell, and P. M. S. Dawson. The five volumes in this Middle periods set were published as Volume I 1996; Volume II 1986; Volume III 1998; Volume IV; 1998; Volume V 2003. See also Later Poems (1984), and Early Poems (1989).

2004. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. Volume IX (The Ring and the Book, Books IX-XII) of at least fifteen volumes published as I (1983), II (1984), III (1988), IV (1991), V (1995), VI (not yet published), VII (1998), VIII (2001), IX (2004), X-XIV (not yet published), XV (2009). Edited by Stefan Hawlin and Tim Burnett.

2004. The Plays and Poems of Isaac Rosenberg. Edited by Vivien Noakes.

2004. The Works of Mary Leapor. Edited by Richard Greene and Ann Messenger.

2005. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Volume II (De Profundis; Epistola: In Carcere et Vinculis) Edited by Ian Small; and Volume III (The Picture of Dorian Gray: The 1890 and 1891 Texts) Edited by Joseph Bristow and Ian Small.

2006. Samuel Johnson, The Lives of the Poets. Four volumes. Edited by Roger Lonsdale.

2006. Lancelot Andrewes, Selected Sermons and Lectures. Edited by Peter McCullough.

2007. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Volume IV (Criticism: Historical Criticism, Intentions, The Soul of Man) Edited by Josephine M. Guy.

2007. Plays, Poems and Miscellaneous Writings associated with George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham. Edited in two volumes by Robert D. Hume and Harold Love. Including Sir Politick Would-be, edited by Wallace Kirsop and translated by H. Gaston Hall.

2007. New Writings of William Hazlitt. Two volumes. Edited by Duncan Wu.

2008. The Complete Works of John Milton. Volume II (The 1671 Poems: Paradise Regain'd and Samson Agonistes) Edited by Laura Lunger Knoppers. The full intended extent of this edition is not known to me: Volumes II (2008), III (2012), VI (2013), and VIII (2012) have been published so far, according to the OUP website.

2009. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. Volume XV (Parleyings and Asolando) of at least fifteen volumes published as I (1983), II (1984), III (1988), IV (1991), V (1995), VI (not yet published), VII (1998), VIII (2001), IX (2004), X-XIV (not yet published), XV (2009). Edited by Stefan Hawlin and Michael Meredith.

2010–2019

2011. The Works of William Congreve. Three volumes. Edited by D. F. McKenzie.

2011. Edward Thomas: Prose Writings: A Selected Edition. Volume I (Autobiographies) edited by Guy Cuthbertson, and II (England and Wales) edited by Guy Cuthbertson and Lucy Newlyn, of five volumes published as follows (I, II (2011), III (2018), IV (not yet published), V (2017).

2011. The Collected Works of John Ford. Volume I, edited by Gilles Monsarrat, Brian Vickers, and R. J. C. Watt. Published as Volume I (2011), Volume II and III (2017).

2011. The Works of Lucy Hutchinson. Volume 1, Part 1. (The Translation of Lucretius: Introduction and Text). Edited by Ashley Reid Barbour, David Norbrook, and Maria Cristina Zerbino.

2011.The Works of Lucy Hutchinson. Volume 1, Part 2 (The Translation of Lucretius: Commentary, Bibliography, and Index). Edited by Ashley Reid Barbour and David Norbrook.

2012. The Complete Works of John Milton. Volume III (The Shorter Poems) Edited by Barbara Kiefer Lewalski and Estelle Haan. The full intended extent of this edition is not known to me: Volumes II (2008), III (2012), VI (2013), and VIII (2012) have been published so far, according to the OUP website.

2012. The Complete Works of John Milton. Volume VIII (De Doctrina Christiana). Edited with introduction, commentary, and notes by John K. Hale, and J. Donald Cullington. Additional material by Gordon Campbell, and Thomas N. Corns. The full intended extent of this edition is not known to me: Volumes II (2008), III (2012), VI (2013), and VIII (2012) have been published so far, according to the OUP website.

2013. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Volume V (Plays I: The Duchess of Padua, Salomé: Drame en un Acte, Salome: Tragedy in One Act) edited by Joseph Donohue; and Volume VI (Journalism I) edited by John Stokes and Mark Turner; and Volume VII (Journalism II), edited by John Stokes and Mark Turner.

2013. The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick. Two volumes. Edited by Tom Cain and Ruth Connolly.

2013. The Complete Works of John Milton. Volume VI (Vernacular Regicide and Republican Writings) Edited with Introduction, notes and Commentary by N. H. Keeble and Nicholas McDowell. The full intended extent of this edition is not known to me: Volumes II (2008), III (2012), VI (2013), and VIII (2012) have been published so far, according to the OUP website.

2014. The Letters of William Godwin. Volume II (1798–1805), of two volumes, published as I (2011) and II (2014).

2014. The Oxford Edition of the Works of Robert Burns. Volume I: Commonplace Books, Tour Journals, and Miscellaneous Prose. Edited by Nigel Leask. Published as as Volume I (2014), Volume II (2018), Volume III (2018), Volume IV (Forthcoming 2021).

2016. The Complete Works of Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder. Volume I (Prose). Edited by Jason Powell. The first of a planned two volumes.

2017. Edward Thomas: Prose Writings: A Selected Edition. Volume V (Critical Studies: Swinburne and Pater), of five volumes, published as follows (I, II (2011), III (2018), IV (not yet published), V (2017). Edited by Francis O'Gorman.

2017. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Volume VIII (The Short Fiction). Edited by Ian Small.

2017. The Collected Works of John Ford. Volume II, edited by Brian Vickers. Published as Volume I (2011), Volume II and III (2017).

2017. The Collected Works of John Ford. Volume III, edited by Brian Vickers, Christopher Adams, N. W. Bawcutt, Marcus Dahl, Eleanor Lowe, Martin Wiggins, and Rowland Wymer. Published as Volume I (2011), Volume II and III (2017).

2017. The Poetry of Charles Cotton. Two volumes. Edited by Paul Hartle.

2018. Edward Thomas: Prose Writings: A Selected Edition. Volume III (Biographies: Richard Jefferies and George Borrow) of five volumes, published as follows (I, II (2011), III (2018), IV (not yet published), V (2017). Edited by Jem Poster.

2018. The Oxford Edition of the Works of Robert Burns. Volumes II and III. The Scots Musical Museum. Edited by Murray Pittock. Published as as Volume I (2014), Volume II (2018), Volume III (2018), Volume IV (Forthcoming 2021).

2019. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Volume IX (Plays 2: Lady Lancing); Volume X (Plays 3: The Importance of Being Earnest). Edited by Joseph Donohue.

2021. The Oxford Edition of the Works of Robert Burns. Volume IV. Robert Burns's Songs for George Thomson. Edited by Kirsteen McCue. Published as as Volume I (2014), Volume II (2018), Volume III (2018), Volume IV (Forthcoming 2021).

2021. The Complete Works of James Shirley Volume VII. "The Constant Maid", "The Doubtful Heir", "The Gentlemen of Venice", and "The Politician". Edited by Eugene Giddens and Teresa Grant. Forthcoming September 2021.

James Lovelock’s new book, Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence (Allen Lane: London, 2019) should not be lightly dismissed. I was nearly put off by the fact that Brian Appleyard is named as the amanuensis (“with”), but that doesn’t, as I expected, seem to have made the book foolish. It’s just strange, as you would expect of Lovelock.
 
He presents an elliptical view of the Industrial Revolution story as one of increasing information, with Boltzmann specifically mentioned. This leads him to predict that we have now accumulated sufficient complexity to bootstrap an independent evolutionary trajectory for inorganic complexity. Newcomen looms large in the story:
 
“By the year 1700 we had unknowingly banked enough information to start [the Anthropocene]. Now as we approach 2020, we have enough to release it and to begin the Novacene."
 
He visualises the coming superbrights as conscious inorganic spheres capable of information processing beyond the wildest dreams of modern computer scientists.
 
Naturally enough it’s all tied up with Gaia, who becomes, with every succeeding book, more and more like a 1940s Mum, unflappably keeping the family together in spite of the war and the bombs and the rationing, and still finding time to look good when the occasion demands. The Spheres tolerate wet organic life because Mummy Gaia tells them that coexistence is the only way to keep temperatures down and so maintain habitable conditions on the planet for long enough to permit the Spheres to escape, and fulfil their  destiny in raising the universe to self-consciousness. Humans, tired but happy, must be satisfied with having played their part, and will wind down with Ovaltine and a story from Gaia before their (death) bed time.
 
Lovelock is very keen on discontinuities of all kinds, which seems to me a scientific as well as an historical weakness, though not a fatal flaw in his argument. Gradualists reluctant to adopt promiscuous identification of turning points and the like will need to make a mental adjustment to the text. Furthermore, information, in Lovelock's account, is perilously close to being a spirit. But, and this is why I say that we shouldn't dismiss the book, he stops just short of immaterialism.
 
I think he is trying to sketch a physicalist account of intellectual emergence that doesn’t slip over into sloppy, self-pleasuring trancendentalism. He writes often of the power of intuition, as opposed to linear logic, but on rereading the, to me, most objectionable sentences I concluded that he isn’t an irrationalist, but is instead proposing that our logic merely selects too rigorously or too narrowly from the sensory information actually available to us. This is still, in Quine’s words, a description of “stimulus to science”, though Lovelock becomes necessarily vague about what a “stimulus” is in his intuitional epistemology. I don’t like it, but I wouldn’t write it off.
 
Enough sympathy already: the book is perilously close to being holistic transcendentalism, and many people will read it in that way, and with very good reason. Lovelock, or is it Appleyard and the publishers, tacitly invites that approach without explicitly justifying it. It’s a dirty and detestable commercial trick.
 

Last revised 18 April 2021

The revision of 30 October 2020 was a substantial reworking of the original narrative drawing on new evidence from a May 1934 dust wrapper: Please send corrections and additional information to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This note covers the Oxford English Texts series up to 1939. For a checklist of subsequent editions see my further note, also on this site: "The Oxford English Texts 1940 to the present Day"

The series of scholarly editions known as the Oxford English Texts (OET) is familiar to most students of English literature, and to a modest extent to collectors, since these volumes are often pleasantly printed. Volume III of the standard History of the Oxford University Press (2013) covers the period 1896 to 1970 in great detail, and provides useful discussions of the series, from which I learned, for example, that R. W. Chapman was largely responsible for its development. However, I am not quite convinced by the History's observation that the OET series began in essence with Grierson's 1912 edition of Donne. As will become apparent from my discussion below, that is both too late and too early.

On other points the History is, quite understandably, elliptical; the eventual choice of a blue binding for the OET is noted but left undated, which is unfortunate since that decision tells us much about how the press saw the series. Furthermore, and again irreproachably, not all of the books related to the series are discussed. More information can perhaps be found somewhere in biographical discussions of the press employees or the University printers, or in another standard history not at present available to me, but in the meantime, and for my own purposes, I have been trying to form a view on the subject of the OET's genesis and evolution from examination of copies in my possession, bookseller listings on abebooks.com, and correspondence with booksellers such as Jarndyce and Peter Goodden Books. Crucial evidence has been obtained from the series listings printed on the dust wrappers of three copies. The first is a wrapper dated July 1932 on a copy of the blue cloth edition of the 1914 Vaughan in my possession. The second wrapper is dated May 1934 and was seen on a blue cloth bound edition of the 1912 Coleridge in the stock of Jarndyce (at 29th October 2020). This 1934 wrapper gives the first use of the series title, "Oxford English Texts", and describes 22 titles in 30 volumes, the collection being available as a uniform set for £18 10s. The third is the wrapper to my own copy of the 1939 edition of H. W. Garrod’s Poetical Works of John Keats, which lists 23 titles in 33 volumes, the set being available for £22 10s. This wrapper is reproduced below:

1. Oxford English Texts series listing as it appears on the cover of what I believe to be a first issue of the 1939 Keats.

The list on both the 1934 and 1939 wrappers contain a number of surprises. The 1934 wrapper lists H. C. Beeching’s 1900 edition of Milton, Hutchinson’s Shelley of 1904, and Clark's 1907 edition of the Shirburn Ballads, none of which are today considered to be in the OET series. The 1939 wrapper omits the 1907 Shirburn Ballads, but continues to list the 1900 Milton and the 1904 Shelley. However, these editions of Milton and Shelley disappear from subsequent listings in the post-war period. A full list of all titles that I have observed as described at some point by the OUP as Oxford English Texts is given below. The following discussion attempts to describe the emergence of the series as a publishing concept.

It seems that the Clarendon Press began to produce scrupulously edited and printed editions of major works of English literature with the Beeching Milton of 1900, but that the endeavour did not begin to approach its recognisable format until the first volume of Saintsbury’s Minor Poets of the Caroline Period in 1905 and Sampson’s superb Poetical Works of William Blake in the same year. The two volume edition of S. T. Coleridge's Complete Poetical Works of 1912 is also an important moment, and a testament to the growing ambition of the press, the earlier issues of this magnificent set being decorated with an expensively printed engraving of C. R. Leslie's portrait drawing of Coleridge. This engraving is on tinted Ingres paper and is tipped in. Later issues, even of the 1912 pages, print this drawing, I think lithographically, on regular paper.

For some time, the books, or at least most of them – the Hutchinson edition of Shelley of 1904 may be an exception – appeared bound in a stout terracotta buckram cloth with a paper label, and sometimes, but perhaps not always, in a wrapper. I have never seen such a thing myself, but some booksellers provide evidence of a wrapper on terracotta bindings:

2. Wrapper on a terracotta buckram copy of the 1927 Crashaw. Information and photograph from the website of the booksellers, Rothwell & Dunworth.

I have seen a photograph, in a bookseller listing, of one such jacket, which is dated 7/31 (July 1931; my thanks to Jim McCue for explaining this convention to me) on a copy of the 1900 Milton in a terracotta buckram binding. The rear panel of this jacket lists ten titles "In the Same Series", the latest of which is the 1930 Lovelace, and it is possible that wrappers were first applied to the terracotta bindings at or just before this time. However, the fact that there are no surviving wrappers on terracotta bindings that are known to be early, i.e. pre-1920, is not firm proof; the custom of retaining wrappers and even treasuring them is relatively recent, and not even universal today, some preferring, as I do myself, the hard outline and surface of a unwrappered book. There may have been wrappers before and during the First War, but purchasers simply threw them away as a matter of course.

It would appear that the terracotta binding was available up to and including the 1930 edition of Wilkinson’s Poems of Richard Lovelace, the last production for which I can find evidence of its application, though according to the 1934 wrapper terracotta cloth was still available on the entire series in that year.

It is not clear exactly when the press began also to bind in blue cloth, issuing in a wrapper of a dun colour with traces of blue fibre, nor is known blue cloth became standard and and terracotta buckram unavailable, but it seems that this was probably in the middle 1930s and certainly by 1939 and the Garrod edition of Keats. The adoption of blue cloth might be taken as a landmark in the conception of the series as such, inviting comparison with the already established Oxford Classical Texts, though there seem to have been other pressures.

3. Representative examples of terracotta buckram, and blue cloth, on identical page sets, in this case the 1915 Herrick.

I cannot be certain about this, and there is some evidence against the idea, but it seems possible that the press bound these books only in terracotta buckram up until the middle to late 1920s, then added the option of blue cloth, applying the new livery retrospectively to the earlier editions, right back to Beeching’s Milton, where they had unbound sheets held in stock.

My own copy of Beeching's Milton is bound in a recognisable OET blue, with gilt titling and head and foot spine decorations. This copy has been dated by an earlier owner: 18 June 1928. As far as I can tell, the blue binding of the Milton is very unusual, with terracotta bindings being relatively common, a fact consistent with the hypothesis that the blue binding is a late innovation. Furthermore, my copy of the 1928 Osborne, bound in blue cloth with gilt arms on the front cover, is dated 1928 by an earlier and possibly the original owner; blue bindings of this edition seem common, and terracotta bindings less so, which would be consistent with the hypothesis that the press regarded blue as the standard after the middle 1920s, and only offered terrcotta buckram on request.

There can be little doubt that unbound sheets were held for long periods before being bound. My own copy of the 1912 Deloney is bound in blue cloth, which as far as I can tell is a less common state than terracotta buckram, and was issued for sale in a highly unusual light blue Ingres paper wrapper with minimal printing. A small paper label is pasted on the spine noting that additional "war costs" had increased the price to 21 shillings, up from the 18 shillings indicated underneath and as listed on the wrapper of the 1939 Keats, so we can presume with confidence that the war referred to is that of 1939–1945. The blue cloth is of a slightly lower grade than those known to have been manufactured in the 1930s, and it may be a war time economy standard. (Curiously, this copy was sold new on the 24th of December 1954 in the bookshop of the University College of the Gold Coast, now Ghana.)

Additional scraps of suggestive but inconclusive evidence in support of the view that the blue livery was introduced between 1926 and 1928 and applied retrospectively to earlier editions can be found on the wrapper of my own copy of the 1914 Vaughan, a photograph of which can be seen below:

4. Jacket of my own copy of the 1914 Vaughan. 

The wrapper is clearly dated July 1932 ("[7/32]") at the foot of the listing.  Several other features may be noted. Firstly, the latest of the books listed is the 1930 Lovelace. Secondly, while the wrapper describes a "Series" this is not referred to as the "Oxford English Texts", and the listing, while acknowledged as incomplete, concentrates on recent editions, and is selective in regard to earlier editions. Thirdly, the spine clearly states that this is the "Blue Cloth Edition". A fourth, tangentially relevant, is the curious reference to an India Paper edition of the 1927 Marvell Poems and Letters, of which I had never heard let alone seen. A fifth, a minor point, is that the 1928 Bunyan is mistakenly dated 1929.

The reference to the blue cloth edition on the spine leads me to infer that this option was relatively recent and had not yet been fixed upon as standard, otherwise there would be no need to mention it in this way.

I suggest therefore, that this jacket is evidence that the Clarendon Press decided in or around 1926, when they were making a determined effort to build this as yet unnamed series, to offer blue bindings. These were applied to unbound sheets from earlier editions, such as the 1914 Vaughan, and even the Beeching Milton of 1900. Terracotta buckram was still available, and continued to be so certainly until 1934 and perhaps later.

However, it is obviously possible that this is mistaken, and that the press offered the blue binding from a much earlier date, but on the present evidence this seems unlikely. Perhaps a blue-bound copy will come to light with an early ownership inscription, but without such evidence we can for the time being assume that blue cloth editions were only available from the mid-1920s on.

The precise moment at which the terracotta livery was abandoned is not clear to me. The 1930 Lovelace is the last edition that I have seen in terracotta cloth. The 1932 revised impression of Selincourt’s edition of the Prelude (1926) was as far as I can tell only issued in blue cloth, and I can find no evidence of terracotta bindings on the 1937 Landor, the 1939 Keats, or of still later volumes in the series, such as the 1941 Herbert, or the 1941 Johnson. However, the May 1934 wrapper clearly shows that terracotta buckram was still available, at least on request. This wrapper also informs the reader that the book is part of the "Oxford English Texts", which is the earliest reference to the series that I have so far found. It adds that the series is "Uniformly bound in cloth with paper labels, or alternatively in blue cloth, gilt lettering". We can infer that there may be terracotta buckram bindings on all titles listed on the 1934 wrapper. Furthermore, I have seen a wrapper on the 1937 Landor that described the book as the "Blue Cloth Edition", suggesting that it is possible that the terracotta binding was still available as late as 1937.

With regard to the blue livery, I further suspect that the first release of a new edition (or the first release of an older edition now bound in blue cloth, if that is what happened) was honoured with the arms on the front cover being gilt, and in later issues only blind-stamped, but this is extremely speculative. All I can say with confidence is that some copies have gilt arms and some have blind-stamped arms. However, on the basis of comparison of two copies of the 1928 Bunyan, one with gilt arms and one without, I am prepared to say that it seems to me that the copies with gilt arms have bindings that are slightly superior in other ways, such as grade of cloth and rigidity of boards.

5. Cover of my copy of the 1923 Herbert of Cherbury, showing the gilt rather than the blind-stamped arms.

In summary, it seems that the Oxford English Text series as we think of it today, blue bound and on a par with the Oxford Classical Texts (OCT), only gradually took shape as a coherent project. It isn't clear precisely when the blue livery appeared, but, and in spite of the absence of evidence for terracotta copies of the 1914 Vaughan, I am drawn to the idea that the blue binding was introduced in the mid 1920s, after which it was applied to unbound stock of the earlier publications, but did not become standard until the mid or later 1930s. We know from the May 1934 wrapper that terracotta buckram was still available alongside blue cloth on all the titles then listed in the series, but it seems to have been uncommonly requested and may not have been available by 1939.

If this account is correct, it indicates an only gradual and somewhat hesitant emergence of a conceptually defined series on the lines that we now recognise, confidently asserting that there are English Texts on a par with Classical Texts. Judging from my blue bound copy of the 1900 Milton, with its 1928 inscription, that first retrospective binding could be in the years 1926 to 1928. I have a hunch, no more, that the 1926 Blake and Wordsworth texts may be a decisive moment. – Certainly, the period 1926 to 1930 saw a striking number of publications, seven editions in total, and some of them of landmark importance, the Marvell for example, which, as already noted, I have never observed in a terracotta binding. If the press was forming a view and making a determined effort to deliver an integrated series at this time, this would explain the decision to bind the 1900 Milton and others in the blue livery.

We can infer from the July 1932 wrapper that a relatively firm concept of a series of some sort was arrived at in the early 1930s, though it was not yet referred to as the Oxford English Texts, the May 1934 wrapper providing the first use of that form of words of which I am aware. It seems that at some time between 1932 and 1934 the press looked back over its stock, and its previous binding practices, and assigned 22 titles (30 volumes) to the OET series and advertised it in the latter year as comprising a set, available for the price of £18 10s, and, as noted above, uniformly bound in either terracotta buckram with paper labels or in blue cloth, gilt titling and decorations.

Then, for reasons that are unclear, the series became dormant, with nothing being added to the lists apart from the 1937 Landor, which a very unusual title of which I have seen only one copy, my own, which is in blue cloth with gilt arms. (The bibliography of this edition is also curious, but I will not discuss it here.)

The 1939 Garrod edition of Keats seems to have been an attempt to relaunch and bring into sharp focus the concept of the Oxford English Texts as an integrated whole. The series now amounted to 23 titles and 33 volumes, the Shirburn Ballads of 1907 having been mysteriously removed, perhaps because it was not only out of print but in little demand (copies are certainly hard to come by at present). On what principles the lists of 1932, 1934, and 1939 were chosen, and why, for example, Guthkelch and Nichol Smith's beautiful 1920 edition of A Tale of a Tub was not in included in the 1932 and 1934 listings, or why Harold Williams' three volume 1937 edition of Swift's poems was not included in the 1939 listing, is unknown. Presumably, Swift's face just didn't fit in the series as it was then conceived. Certainly, the OET is haunted by what Watts-Dunton called, in 1903, the Renascence of Wonder, indicating contempt for almost every writer between Marvell and Blake. That narrow conception, and what I feel is a prim and unjustifiable over-rating of the apparently transcendent, weakened a little – Johnson was added to the series in 1941 – but a canonising edition of Swift has been left, first, to Blackwells and now to Cambridge, and Pope was resigned to Methuen and Yale. 

The following checklist summarises the data available to me on which this note has been based:

A checklist of the Oxford English Texts Series up to 1939: Derived from the listings on the 1934 and 1939 wrappers described above, from copies in the author's possession, and from information taken from online bookseller listings (mostly abe.com). I am aware that this list omits some information relating to corrected reprints, and I will add this as time permits.

1900–1909

1900: The Poetical Works of John Milton. Edited by Rev. H. C. Beeching. Copies seen in terracotta buckram, and in dark blue cloth. Bookseller listings also provide evidence of copies bound in a red cloth with gilt lettering; judging from the style of Oxford arms used on the spine this binding is early, probably before 1910. My own copy in blue cloth, with gilt arms on the front cover is dated by the first owner 18 June 1928. This edition is not generally recognised as in the OET series, but it is referred to as such in the listing on the 1934 and 1939 wrappers described above.

1904: The Complete Poetical Works of Shelley. Edited by Thomas Hutchinson. This edition is not generally recognised as in the OET series, but it is referred to as such in the listing on the 1934 and 1939 wrappers descrived above. The original binding is not known certainly to me: I own a copy in a blue cloth binding which differs from the OET blue cloth style common after 1926, and may date from 1904. Evidence from booksellers listings and accompanying photographs shows that there were copies in a terracotta buckram, with a paper label, but whether these were issued in 1904 and, or, later is not known. This edition was reset and published, without the tipped in facsimiles of Shelley’s handwriting, in the Oxford Standard Author’s series in 1934, but in a Royal Octavo format uncommon, perhaps unique in the OSA series at that time. I suspect that the 1904 edition was reissued in a more recognisably standard OET blue binding, but I have not seen such a copy.

1905: Minor Poets of the Caroline Period. Volume I. For Volume II see 1906, and for Volume III see 1921. Sets seen in both terracotta buckram and blue cloth. My own set is in blue cloth.

1905: The Poetical Works of William Blake. Edited by John Sampson. Copies only seen in blue cloth, but bookseller listings provide evidence of copies bound in terracotta buckram.

1906: Minor Poets of the Caroline Period. Volume II. For vol 1 see 1905 above, and for vol III see 1921 below.

1907. The Shirburn Ballads 1585–1616. Edited by Andrew Clark. Copies seen only in terracotta buckram. Listed as an OET volume on the 1934 wrapper described above, but not listed as an OET volume on later wrappers, perhaps because no unbound sheets remained.

1909: Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Edited by J. C. Smith. Two volumes. Copies seen in both terracotta buckram and blue cloth.

1909: Campion’s Works. Edited by Percival Vivian. Copies seen only in blue cloth, but bookseller listings provide evidence of copies bound in terracotta buckram. My own copy has gilt arms on the front cover. Subsequent lithographical reprints were apparently not corrected..

1910–1919

1910: Spenser’s Minor Poems. Edited by Ernest de Sélincourt. Copies seen in both terracotta buckram and blue cloth.

1912: The Poems of John Donne. Edited by Herbert J. C. Grierson. Two volumes. Copies seen in both terracotta buckram and blue cloth. I have both, with my blue cloth copy, which is a shade lighter than any other of the editions, having the gilt arms on the front cover.

1912: The Complete Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge. Two volumes. Copy seen in terracotta buckram and blue cloth. My own copy is in terracotta buckram, and volume one is ornamented with an engraved frontispiece, a portrait of Coleridge drawn by C. R. Leslie, impressed on a light blue, very superior, laid Ingres paper, and tipped in to the volume. I have seen evidence of a later issue bound in blue cloth, and with a wrapper dated May 1934 (05/34), where the frontispiece is printed, apparently lithographically, on a white paper of regular quality. The text pages of this copy appear to date from 1912. I infer that though the press still had unbound 1912 text pages in 1934, they had exhausted their supply of the Ingres paper frontispiece.

1912: The Complete Works of George Savile First Marquess of Halifax. Edited by Walter Raleigh. Copies seen in both terracotta buckram and blue cloth. My own blue cloth copy has the gilt arms to the front cover.

1912: The Works of Thomas Deloney. Edited by Francis Oscar Mann. Copy seen in a blue cloth binding, with a light blue Ingres paper dust wrapper, with an additional paper label noting that additional war costs, the 1939–1945 war, had increased the price to 21 shillings. This wrapper has no series list or date. Bookseller listings provide evidence of copies bound in terractotta buckram.

1914: The Works of Henry Vaughan. Edited by Leonard Cyril Martin. Two volumes. Copies seen only in blue cloth, but bookseller listings provide evidence of copies in terracotta buckram. 2nd edition, in one volume, 1956. 

1915: The Poetical Works of Robert Herrick. Edited by F. W. Moorman. Copies seen in terracotta buckram and dark blue cloth. 2nd edition, revised and enlarged, edited by L. C. Martin, 1956.

1920–1929

1921: Minor Poets of the Caroline Period. Volume III. For volumes I and II see 1905 and 1906 above.

1923: The Poems English & Latin of Edward Lord Herbert of Cherbury. Edited by G. C. Moore Smith. Copies seen only in blue cloth, but bookseller listings provide evidence of copies bound in terractotta buckram. My own copy has gilt arms on the front cover.

1926: The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet’s Mind by William Wordsworth. Edited by Ernest de Selincourt. My own copy is in blue cloth with gilt arms, but bookseller listings provide evidence of copies in terracotta buckram. A second impression was produced in 1928, copy not seen, making corrections, and again in 1932, the latter, which I also own, being printed photolithographically and bound in blue cloth. 2nd edition, 1959, revised by Helen Darbishire.

1926: The Prophetic Writings of William Blake. Edited by D. J. Sloss and J. P. R. Wallis. Two volumes. My own copy is in blue cloth, but evidence from bookseller listings suggest that it was issued in terracotta buckram. The binding on my copy does not have the gold arms, and, oddly, numbers the volumes 1 (Arabic) and II (Roman), rather than I and II.

1927: The Poems English Latin and Greek of Richard Crashaw. Edited by L. C. Martin. Copy seen in blue cloth, but evidence from bookseller listings provides evidence of copies bound in terracotta buckram. 2nd Edition, 1957.

1927: The Poems & Letters of Andrew Marvell. Edited by H. M. Margoliouth. Two volumes. Copy only seen in blue cloth. No evidence has been found of binding in terracotta buckram. The 1932 wrapper describes this edition being available in one volume and printed on India Paper; I have not seen this issue. 2nd edition, edited by H. M. Margoliouth, 1951; 3rd edition, edited by H. M. Margoliouth, revised by Pierre Legouis with the collaboration of E. E. Duncan-Jones, 1971.

1928: The Letters of Dorothy Osborne to William Temple. Edited by G. C. Moore Smith. Copy seen only in blue cloth, but bookseller listings provide evidence of copies bound in terracotta buckram.

1928: The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to That which is to Come. Edited by James Blanton Wharey. Copy seen only in blue cloth. My own copy has the gilt arms on the front cover. Bookseller listings provide evidence of copies bound in terracotta buckram.

1930–1939

1930: The Poems of Richard Lovelace. Edited by C. H. Wilkinson. Copy seen only in blue cloth, but bookseller listings provide evidence of copies bound in terracotta buckram. Based on a two volume large paper edition printed and published in 1925. "Reprinted lithographically [...] 1953 from the corrected sheets of the first edition." The subsequent 1963 lithographic reprint was not apparently corrected. 

1937: The Poetical Works of Walter Savage Landor. Three volumes. Edited by Stephen Wheeler. Copy seen only in blue cloth. My own copy has gilt arms on the front covers.

1939: The Poetical Works of John Keats. Edited by H. W. Garrod. Copy seen only in blue cloth. My own copy has the gilt arms on the front cover. 2nd edition, 1958.