The text of Piers Plowman in British Library MS Additional 35287 tests the possibilities of hypertext, just as it tests the patience of its editors. No other manuscript of the poem has the density of correction, with some 5,000 erasures and over 3,500 additions by several hands. To transcribe the corrections and, where possible, the underlying text has proved time-consuming and frequently frustrating. To represent the two layers of text would have been impossible in conventional print, but both layers can be effectively represented with XML markup, as we hope to have shown. The labor, which has been considerable, is worth undertaking for two reasons. Firstly, though the majority of the corrections are trivial, they provide striking information about standards of spelling in Middle English when taken as a whole, revealing that professional London scribes of the early fifteenth century recognized quite strict spelling conventions and were prepared to go to considerable lengths to impose them.NSee Thorlac Turville-Petre, "Putting it Right: The Corrections of Huntington Library MS Hm 128 and BL Additional MS 35287," Yearbook of Langland Studies 16 (2002), 41-65; and Introduction, Section II. Secondly, the original text is an important witness to the B tradition, as Robert Adams has shown, arguing that M and L are the two most significant representatives of the beta family, as R is of alpha. "When both L and M agree with R (and F often provides confirmation for the same or a similar reading), it is virtually certain that their shared readings represent those of the common B archetype."NRobert Adams, "Evidence for the Stemma of the Piers Plowman B Manuscripts," Studies in Bibliography 53 (2000), 175. The manuscript, with all its corrections as well as a large number of marginal additions by later readers, is indeed a mess, but an interesting one that repays both visual and textual attention.
During the years we have been working on M, we have incurred many debts. Eric Eliason gratefully acknowledges funding from the Research, Creativity, and Scholarship fund of Gustavus Adolphus College, as well as extensive proof-reading help from Christopher Holstrom and Johnathan Keske. Thorlac Turville-Petre would like to thank the University of Nottingham and the AHRB for a period of study leave to complete his part of the edition. Hoyt Duggan is indebted to the University of Virginia's Sesquicentennial Fellowship program for a semester's leave to work on this and other manuscripts.
We are more generally indebted to the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia. We have been fortunate to have worked in the company of computer specialists who have understood the special needs of English teachers. First and most profound thanks are offered to John Unsworth, Dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, who until 2004 was a colleague in the English Department at the University of Virginia and Director of IATH. His support for the Archive has been both generous and unstinting. He has provided equipment, software, space, and monies for research assistants. Even more, he has given us his personal time and shared with us his vast knowledge. Other members of his staff have been unfailingly generous with their time and knowledge, especially Daniel Pitti, Project Director of IATH, who has also worked overtime to solve our problems. Thanks are due also to Shayne Brandon, Cynthia Girard, Susan Munson, and Stephen Ramsay, whose Perl scripts simplified many a complicated task we could not have done on our own, as well as to Robert W. Bingler, and Chris Jessee, all of whom helped us over many technical and conceptual hurdles, some of our own creation, with unfailing competence, courtesy, and charity. Joy Shifflette, Program Support Technician at IATH, helped us in innumerable ways. Peter Baker, in permitting us to use and extend his Old English fonts has made it possible for us to display non-standard characters such as yoghs, punctus elevatuses, raised points, etc. We are grateful to Gordon Braden, Chairman of the English Department at the University of Virginia, for his sponsorship of our 2004 and 2005 Workshops in Charlottesville and for casting a critical eye over transcriptions of the end leaves. We owe a similar debt to Gregory Hays and Ralph Hanna for paleographic assistance. In providing us with the Elwood Viewer Eugene W. Lyman has contributed immensely to the work of the Archive, not only in increasing the sophistication of display but also in showing us how to use Elwood in the process of editing.
We thank Dr. Clive Field, Head of the Department of Manuscripts, and Mr. David Way, Director of Publications for the British Library who gave us access to the manuscript and permission to make and publish digital images of the entire manuscript.
We wish to thank the graduate research assistants who have worked in Charlottesville with Duggan on M and another two dozen manuscripts of Piers Plowman. Those competent and energetic young scholars are named on the title page for their part in preparing this text. Very special gratitude is due to Janice McCoy, Patricia Bart, and Timothy Stinson who prepared all of the images for display in this edition. Their work and ours has been generously supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency.
No one who works with Piers Plowman can fail to be indebted to the labours of Professor George Kane and his collaborators in editing the Athlone Piers Plowman. First, the Athlone texts were produced to an almost impossibly high standard of transcriptional and collational accuracy. In nearly every instance, we have found their apparatus both full and reliable. Simple transcriptional accuracy is by far the hardest, most demanding, as well as one of the most important tasks facing any editor. After several years of checking their apparatus in a variety of contexts, we can say that it is practically perfect. Moreover, they have laid out in their detailed Introductions—with an explicitness and transparency unparalleled in editions of Middle English texts—their reasons for hundreds of their editorial decisions. We are accustomed to textual notes for such purposes, notes that call attention to difficult cases and that serve as synecdoches for the full process of editorial reasoning. By publishing these arguments in their introductions, the Athlone editors have austerely placed upon their readers the severe burden of recapitulating at least portions of their editorial project. They have laid out explicitly the evidence they take to be relevant to their editorial decisions, and they invite their readers to challenge their text or their argument of the evidence. More than is usually the case, the Athlone editors have played fair with their readers. We are grateful to them for their achievement and their example.
Eric Eliason, Gustavus Adolphus College
Thorlac Turville-Petre, The University of Nottingham
Hoyt N. Duggan, The University of Virginia
10 March 2005