"Decline and Fall" query

Gordon Neavill aa3401 at wayne.edu
Mon Jun 25 20:40:57 EDT 2001

Sounds good to me, Joe.  First ML edition best describes the first
appearance of a title in the series, and that would be the 2-volume Gibbon
and the 3-volume Shakespeare.  Note that in my original message I didn't
refer to first editions at all but to first printings.  The first printing
of the the 2-volume Gibbon is the first ML edition.  The first printing of
the 3-volume Gibbon is ... the first printing of the 3-volume Gibbon!

"Edition" is one of the most slippery words in the language and means
different things to different people.  When collectors and booksellers say
first edition they usually mean the first printing.  Bibliographers define
"edition" in a technical and specialized way as *all* copies of a book
printed from a particular typesetting.  Bibliographically the first edition
= the first typesetting, the second edition = the second typesetting, etc.
For books printed from plates, an edition can include multiple printings by
the original publisher together with printings by other publishers like the
ML using the original publisher's plates.  When the ML commissioned a new
typesetting (for example, Faulkner's Sound and the Fury & As I Lay Dying) it
created in the eyes of bibliographers a new edition.  When it made its
printings from the original publisher's plates (for example, Faulkner's
Sanctuary and Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby), the printings are classified as
part of the original edition but are often described as a "subedition"
within the first edition.  Bibliographers would organize ML printings of
Flaubert's Madame Bovary into four editions: (1) printings of the Aveling
translation from the original ML typesetting in 1917, (2) printings of the
Aveling translation from the new typesetting that Cerf and Klopfer
commissioned in the late 1920s; (3) printings of the Steegmuller translation
made from 1957 RH plates; (4) printings made from the new typesetting made
for the relaunched ML in the early 1990s.

Bibliographers define edition in this way because of the tradition of trying
to establish the best possible texts of literary works.  Some typesettings
more accurately reflect the author's intentions than others.  First
printings are not always the best textually.  An example I particularly like
is Sinclair Lewis's Babbit.  The original publisher printed from plates and
in fact made two sets of plates from the original typesetting.  The first
printing (the one collectors want as the "first edition") contained numerous
misprints and  textually was the least accurate printing.  Successive
printings corrected more and more errors until we get to a particular later
printing (of no special interest to collectors) that contains the most
accurate text.  Unfortunately, the publishers made the corrections to one
set of plates only, and when those plates began to wear out they began to
print from the other set of plates, which still contained all the typos in
the first printing!  It's the second set of plates that was used by the ML
and other reprinters.  (Babbit printings were established and analyzed in an
article by the bibliographer and book collector Matthew Bruccoli at the
University of South Carolina.)

Sorry to have gone on at such length.  Getting consensus about the meaning
of "edition" is almost as hopeless as getting consensus about politics or


----- Original Message -----
From: "JOSEPH HILL" <GOODBOOKS at webtv.net>
To: <modlib at algol.owu.edu>
Sent: Monday, June 25, 2001 2:45 PM
Subject: Re: "Decline and Fall" query

> Can we then just agree that it is a matter of semantics?
> The three volume Shakespeare is theTRUE First Edition.
> The two volume Gibbion is the TRUE First Edition.
> By the way Barry,if you keep coming up with all that good stuff on the
> Web,I won't need your book. I do have a printer and will just  make
> copies and beat you to the publisher.

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