Project History

History of the Shaftesbury Project

The first volume of the Standard Edition was published prior to the official birth of the DFG-funded Shaftesbury Project. Erwin Wolff had himself, in the early 1960s, hoped to produce an annotated edition and German translation of the Earl’s complete works, and this plan was revived in the late 1970s when Gerd Hemmerich, a lecturer at Erlangen’s Department of German, expressed an interest in producing a critical and bilingual edition of Characteristicks. Wolff was able to win the support of the publisher Günther Holzboog. The decision was taken to create a set of volumes which would present not only the works originally sent to press by Shaftesbury himself, but also the extant unpublished writings, manuscript drafts and, in addition, his vast correspondence.

The first such book appeared in 1981, financed solely by the Holzboog company. It contained Soliloquy, A Letter concerning Enthusiasm, and The Adept Ladys, the critical edition and translations prepared jointly by Gerd Hemmerich and Wolfram Benda. It was clear to all concerned, however, that one generous publisher alone could not cover the total costs of editing the texts to come, one simple reason being the travel expenses involved: Shaftesbury’s manuscripts and the bulk of his letters are deposited in English archives, for the most part in the Public Record Office (now The National Archives at Kew). Enter again Erwin Wolff, who turned to the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) for assistance. His application for funding was granted in 1982 and, with additional resources provided by the university at Erlangen, the Shaftesbury Project was able to take up its work in earnest.

Ten volumes of the Standard Edition have been published to date. Seven of these (see below for details) offer the first critical editions of all works published by Shaftesbury during his own lifetime, of the treatises, that is, which he united in his three-volume Characteristicks. By ‘critical’ we mean

a) that the earlier, separately published treatises collected and revised by the Earl in 1711 to form what he liked to call his ‘Brain-Offspring‘, remain visible alongside their later, ‘authorized’ versions, i.e. the texts found in the first edition of Characteristicks and revised anew for the second (printed posthumously in 1714/15);

b) that all manuscript traces of the intense limae labor to which Shaftesbury subjected his writings is also documented;

c) that all other relevant manuscript material found by us has been included (one example: a draft French translation of one of the treatises).

The volumes include our own translations of the principal texts.

Volume I 5 contains the first critical editions of all writings, documents and letters connected with Shaftesbury’s planned “Second Characters”; two of the texts, both published in the eighteenth century, are accompanied by a German translation. His “Plasticks”, the draft for a collection of writings on aesthetics (see below), is edited here for the first time in full.

Of our two most recent volumes the first, II 4, presents comprehensive critical edition of the Earl’s own editorial work on a selection of sermons by Benjamin Whichcote and, in conjunction, a collection of private letters published after the Earl’s death. The theme most visibly common to both of these ‘texts’ is, as we have tried to show in extensive introductions to both parts of this book, religion ― its role in society and in morality. Our edition explains the textual history of Select Sermons and of the 1716 Letters to a Young Man at the University. We have been able to show for the first time – using previously unknown documents – exactly how the sermons edited by Shaftesbury came into his possession, tracing the fascinating connection between the members of Whichcote’s congregation, as well as the Shaftesbury family’s personal interest in the man. We have also represented, once again, the editorial limae labor applied by the third Earl (no less furious here than when exerted for his own writings).

The 1716 Letters, it has always been assumed, were edited after Shaftesbury’s death and therefore without any kind of authorization. We set out to compare the Earl’s original, private letters to Michael Ainsworth – as private, that is, as a lord could be when writing to a local lad of low birth – with the texts printed in three years after their writer’s death, and we collected along the way a considerable amount of information about the “Young Man” whom Shaftesbury once hoped to see become a low churchman after his own heart. Nearing the close of our search we came across a new, or more precisely hitherto overlooked, manuscript version of the letters, one which caused us to revise our concept. Exciting as it always is when an unknown manuscript comes to light, the six-month delay in publication which this brought with it was rather painful. We do feel, however, that the finished result was worth the wait and perhaps even as exciting as the discovery of the manuscript.

Our most recent publication (II 5), the first edition ever of Shaftesbury’s Chartae Socraticae, offers a critical text with (we hope) exhaustive explanatory notes and an introduction covering all aspects of this complex manuscript draft. The work, or rather the plans for it were until now a virtual unknown, the text is a difficult one, but rewarding. Quite apart from the significance of the Earl’s understanding of Socrates – and of Xenophon – for his own thought, we see here Shaftesbury the classical scholar grappling with Greek, we see how he sets about ‘designing’ a book and, to return to his lima, compiling for himself a list of do’s and don’ts to consider when finally writing – even if the characteristic caution and thoroughness we have illustrated in other volumes make it seem unlikely that any amount of memoranda in these early stages would have spared him the labor later.

The sheer quantity of extant manuscripts and letters has meant that the past years have not only been spent doing the above-outlined editing (which was nonetheless every bit as complex as we may have made it sound here). We have also been reading and digitalizing the correspondence now kept at Kew, looking for (and finding, then digitalizing) stray letters preserved elsewhere, sifting through and recording manuscript sheets and scraps, notes written for example in almanacs or book margins – in short collecting all material relevant to the Earl’s published and unpublished works. Our foraging serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, the manuscript jottings etc. and, obviously, the correspondence, will be published in our next volumes – we are currently working on critical and annotated editions both of the Askemata (and appended texts) and of the correspondence (we already have roughly 1000 letters). On the other, the gathering we have done over the years will, we hope, enrich our commentaries to Characteristicks and Shaftesbury’s aesthetic writings – commentaries for which we now feel sufficiently armed. Our last two volumes could only appear complete with annotations because the texts in question were comparatively self-contained in terms of the explanations required. It has been clear from the outset, however, that the other works are an entirely different kettle of fish. Succumbing at the time to ‘publish or perish’ pressure, we have always published what we could in all conscience call finished as we finished it, although we would, if truth be said, rather have been able to wait and present critical text with its commentary. Our commentaries are now well under way (the first to appear will be for the Inquiry, The Moralists, and the “Second Characters”) and we will be able, over the next few years, to complete the task we set out to do.

The first volume of the Standard Edition’s correspondence series presents the extant letters from the period December 1683 to February 1700. Numbering one hundred in all, they appear here interspersed with biographical details from various other manuscript sources and are supplemented with six appendices that offer additional material designed, for example, to illuminate the future third Earl’s family background; the whole is accompanied by explanatory notes.

The picture thus created shows the young Shaftesbury emerging from a childhood that was to some extent overshadowed by the political career and fate of his grandfather, rapidly assuming responsibility for his immediate family and the management of the estate he was to inherit, as well as seeking to take the place in local and national politics his background and early personal sense of public duty demanded of him. Alongside all that, he can be seen pursuing from the mid-1680s, as often as possible, a rigorous course of intensive study—the reading, observing, reflecting, and discussing (frequently encouraged by John Locke and stimulated by his own growing awareness of the differences in their thinking) that developed gradually and consistently into the ideas he would begin to publish in the late 1690s. Many of the letters allow us to trace, moreover, Shaftesbury’s ties to Holland—his personal acquaintance, for example, with Pierre Bayle and Benjamin Furly—also his keen interest in the situation of Huguenot exiles.