Mercedes of Castile: A Digital Edition

A Project for the Rare Book School by Stephanie Kingsley

Textual Commentary

The Present Edition: Kingsley, 2014

This edition of Mercedes of Castile is an eclectic text built up from witnesses whose preparation Cooper had control over. These include the holograph manuscript in Cooper's hand (MS) and the Lea & Blanchard first American edition (A1), for which Cooper corrected proofs. Following the example of the Cooper Edition, I have adopted the MS reading in cases where its text was likely corrupted during typesetting, and the A1 reading in cases where the change was likely to have been the result of author revision in the proof stage. I have chosen to edit without a copy-text. The idea of a copy-text suggests one witness to be more authoritative than another, and in this case I judge the MS and A1 to be of equal authority. Furthermore, as G. Thomas Tanselle points out in his article "Editing without a Copy-text," the purpose of a copy-text is to have a witness that may provide a default reading, so to speak, when the editor otherwise does not know how to select a reading.[1] For every variant in my edition, I have been able to use my judgment to select what I deem to be the reading intended by Cooper; therefore, I have had no need of a witness whose readings I must default to.

Although this edition is built primarily from MS and A1 readings, in its preparation I collated all editions from within ten years after Cooper's death (1851), in order to take into account the possibility that he may have left instructions for revisions in subsequent editions. (As far as the extant witnesses and correspondence show, Cooper never revised Mercedes, nor did he intend to do so.) These included the Lea & Blanchard 1840 (A1), the first British edition by Bentley in London in 1841 (B1), and the first French English-language editions by Galignani and Baudry (F1).

Note on the Manuscript

Cooper's final-draft holograph manuscript (MS) is a part of the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, housed in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, at the University of Virginia. The MS is complete with the exception of about two chapters containing part of Columbus' westward ocean voyage. The MS is a set of folio sheets of lined paper, hardbound in blue leather. Cooper wrote in pen on the rectos of the leaves, in a very small, tight hand, which is legible but does create difficulty in distinguishing vowels and capitalization. Cooper left very little space unused on his MS, often running his words right to the edge of the paper. He often writes the epigraph, or "motto," as he calls it, on the verso of the sheet.

Cooper's revisions to the MS are best understood in two categories: draft-stage revisions and later revisions. While writing this draft, Cooper frequently made changes, sometimes striking out words immediately and writing new ones to the right of the deletion, and at other times coming back a moment later, striking through something, and then superlineating the new reading. Cooper also revised his MS after he had finished it, and these later revisions can be distinguished by the fact that they are generally darker and finer than the original ink, which appears to have higher water content, and is consequently of a lighter color. At certain points in the MS, the paper appears to have been damp during Cooper's drafting, as the original ink diffuses around the lines; yet the revisions themselves are sharp. Consequently, I was able to very easily tell which revisions were from drafting, and which were from Cooper's final editing. This MS thus represents two distinct stages of authorship, and is therefore excellent documentation of Cooper's writing and revision habits.

My digital transcription of the MS still requires a lot of work. I have not yet marked it up according to how a change was made, whether superlineated, added in-line, etc. The transcription presented here contains only additions and deletions. Nor have I been able to figure out how to style the darker revisions so that they display differently from the others. This is one of the next steps in the refinement of my digital edition.

First American Edition: Lea & Blanchard, 1840

The Lea & Blanchard 1840 first American edition (A1) was set from Cooper's revised MS. Many variants in the A1 result from compositors misreading Cooper's hand. For instance, when, upon seeing Ozema, Luis's thoughts suddenly "reverted" to Mercedes in the MS, in A1, they "resorted" to her—the compositor having misread Cooper's "ve" as "so." In another instance, Mattinao enters a realm where his "rule" is recognized in the MS, but it is his "will" that is recognized in A1. In such cases, through close examination of the MS, I have been able to restore the proper readings to the text.

Other errors result from compositors mis-setting as a result of Cooper's method of revision. For instance, in the Preface, Cooper superlineates the word fain before submit, in the following: "If any advantage can be fairly obtained over us, in consequence of this trifling discrepancy, we must fain submit." Although it is possible that Cooper added fain during revision of the MS and then decided to cancel it while editing proofs, I think it more likely that the compositor missed it—the addition not being part of the line of text itself. On another occasion, Cooper canceled part of his sentence but neglected to cancel a comma, which due to his changes on the whole, was no longer necessary in the sentence. The compositor retained the comma.

In all cases, I have emended faulty compositor readings according to the MS. However, in many cases of variation between the MS and A1, it was not compositor misreading but house styling that lay at the root of the change. Trademarks of Lea & Blanchard house styling include their use of British spellings, such as connexion, ardour, endeavour, and meagre (see the complete list on page 40) and more consistent lower-casing of titles, such as lord, lady, cacique, excellency, count, etc.

Another possible element of house style—but one which could also very likely be the result of compositor whim—is the emendation of Cooper's punctuation. As John Bush Jones makes clear in his article "Victorian Readers and Modern Editors: Attitudes and Accidentals Revisited," in the mid-nineteenth century it was common practice for compositors to freely rearrange their authors' punctuation.[2] It is very likely that Cooper's highly idiosyncratic punctuation—which appears as often to have been used to indicate pacing and emphasis as grammatical structure—fell victim to this practice. Cooper's loose comma placement was frequently changed by compositors, who added and left out commas according to their judgment, usually in favor of conventional grammatical usage. The majority of variants in Mercedes of Castile are variants in punctuation.

Cooper made many revisions to wording while editing the proofs for the A1 text. Variants between MS and A1 show Cooper polishing—never changing the wording substantially, or adding or deleting more than a word or two—but making many minor changes for the sake of removal of superfluity or redundancy, simplification, rewording to avoid repetition, and strengthening of vocabulary. Such revisions appear in purple in this edition.

First British Edition: Bentley, 1841

Although Cooper sent a set of proofs for to Richard Bentley in London for typesetting the British edition, there is no evidence that he was involved in the details of the edition's printing. In fact, most of Cooper's correspondence with Bentley deals with the publication schedule and issues of copy-right—not stylistic features of the work itself. For this reason, I consider the first British edition to be unauthoritative. Once the work was on the British press, it was fair game for house styling, as collation of the A1 and B1 texts reveals. While A1 renders titles lowercase nearly all the time, Bentley always capitalizes. Cacique is consistently capitalized in the B1 text, as is Count, Lord, Lady, Admiral, etc. B1 also freely changes punctuation—although not so freely as the A1 compositors. For instance, while Cooper sometimes uses the Oxford comma and sometimes omits it in his series—preferences which, amazingly, appear to carry over into A1—B1 always supplies the missing Oxford comma. B1 also employs British spelling in all cases but connection]connexion, in which case it employs the former, in agreement with Cooper but contrary to A1.

Although most variants in B1 are the result of such house styling, this text does feature certain anomalous variants in wording that are of great editorial interest for establishing a critical edition. In several places, the B1 text features a different wording variant from the A1 text, but one that agrees with the MS. As these are few, I will list them all:

What probably happened is that Cooper edited the first set of proofs, then had Ashmead, the printer, send him two sets of revises (new sets of proofs incorporating the changes made to the first set). Cooper then sent one set immediately to Bentley, who at this point was anxiously awaiting a new round of proofs to continue setting his edition. Then, Cooper probably skimmed over the second set of revises to see how his changes had been incorporated. It was likely at this point that he made a few final changes—those listed above. These were incorporated by A1 because, residing in Philadelphia during publication, Cooper could quickly direct that printer to incorporate the changes in the revises. Therefore, in any locations that feature this pattern, A1 is almost certain to be authoritative.

First French Edition: Galignani and Baudry, 1841

Collation of the Baudry and Galignani editions against each other reveals no variation; they were printed from the same setting of type, and no changes were introduced into the plates of either—if, indeed, the publishers had plates made for the novel, which is uncertain. Therefore, when I speak of the text of both editions, I refer to it as F1 alone, and mean both Galignani and Baudry.

The F1 text was undoubtedly set from the B1. Correspondence in the Richard Bentley archive reveals that Galignani was in the habit of purchasing English-language books from Bentley to sell or reprint in Paris,[3] and collation of the B1 and F1 texts corroborates that relationship: very few changes were introduced in the F1 resetting. French compositors appear to have clung very closely to their copy, adopting all of Bentley's styling, as well as its readings from earlier proofs (wall and besieged). Most variants between the two are almost certain to be compositor errors. For this reason, I do not consider the F1 text authoritative. Additionally, there is no evidence that Cooper communicated with Baudry or Galignani regarding publication of Mercedes; although Baudry and Cooper wrote each other in the late 1820s and early 1830s, no correspondence survives beyond those years to give evidence of an ongoing relationship. Thus, while the F1 text is of interest in terms of tracking the transmission of Cooper's text to Europe, it is not itself a source for authoritative readings.


1. G. Thomas Tanselle, "Editing without a Copy-Text," in Literature and Artifacts (Charlottesville: Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, 1998) 244.

2. John Bush Jones, "Victorian 'Readers' and Modern Editors: Attitudes and Accidentals Revisited, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 71 (1977): 49-59.

3. Colburn and Bentley, letters "To Messrs. A. & W. Galignani, Paris" in The archives of Richard Bentley & Son 1829-1898, British Library collection, reel 39, vol. 81 (microfilm published by Chadwick-Healy, 1976): 9 Sept. 1831 (pg. 63); 27 Sept. 1831 (pg. 66); 4 Oct. 1831 (pg. 67); 27 Dec. 1831 (pg. 72); 17 Mar. 1832 (pg. 80); 30 Mar. 1832 (pg. 81); 19 April 1832 (pg. 82).