The Life and Work of

Fredson Bowers

plishment and influence cause them to be the symbols of their age;
their careers and oeuvres become the touchstones by which the
field is measured and its history told. In the related pursuits of
analytical and descriptive bibliography, textual criticism, and scholarly
editing, Fredson Bowers was such a figure, dominating the four decades
after 1949, when his Principles of Bibliographical Description was pub
lished. By 1973 the period was already being called "the age of Bowers":
in that year Norman Sanders, writing the chapter on textual scholarship
for Stanley Wells's Shakespeare: Select Bibliographies, gave this title to
a section of his essay. For most people, it would be achievement enough
to rise to such a position in a field as complex as Shakespearean textual
studies; but Bowers played an equally important role in other areas.
Editors of nineteenth-century American authors, for example, would
also have to call the recent past "the age of Bowers," as would the writers
of descriptive bibliographies of authors and 'presses. His ubiquity in
the broad field of bibliographical and textual study, his seemingly com

possession of it, distinguished him from his illustrious predecessors and made him the personification of bibliographical scholarship in his time.

When in 1969 Bowers was awarded the Gold Medal of the Bibliographical Society in London, John Carter's citation referred to the Principles as "majestic," called Bowers's current projects "formidable," said that he had "imposed critical discipline" on the texts of several authors, described Studies in Bibliography as a "great and continuing achievement," and included among his characteristics "uncompromising seriousness of purpose" and "professional intensity." Bowers was not unaccustomed to such encomia, but he had also experienced his share of attacks: his scholarly positions were not universally popular, and he expressed them with an aggressiveness that almost seemed calculated to