This paper addresses a topic that relates to authorship
attribution and authorial anonymity. It examines the unresolved issue of the
authorship of the anonymous review of Coleridge’s Christabel which
appeared in the Edinburgh Review in September 1816. Since 1930, a number
of scholarly articles, relying on both external contextual clues and internal
textual evidence, have proposed solutions to this question but have ultimately
failed to reach a consensus. This paper will describe the authors’ use of
digital textual analysis and author attribution technology in order to bring a
fresh perspective to the debate surrounding the authorship of the article.
Reviewers in the Edinburgh often exploited the
journal’s policy of anonymity to pronounce severe or scornful judgements on new
works of literature. The review of Coleridge’s Christabel that appeared
in the September 1816 Edinburgh ranks among the most controversial
examples of this kind, but its uniqueness lies in its persistent anonymity.
Despite the Wellesley Index attributing the article to William Hazlitt, his
authorship has not been conclusively inferred and has instead been challenged
in the subsequent debate which has wavered between conferring responsibility on
Hazlitt or Thomas Moore.
Can digital textual analysis bring new evidence to
this discussion? Can an author be identified based on the presence or absence
of stylistic patterns or specific vocabulary in a text? Is ‘distant reading’ a
more objective or reliable means of attributing authorship that close and
contextual reading? Or are these apparently competing analytical perspectives
actually complementary? This paper describes the process and the results of a
new examination of the Christabel review based on digital textual
analysis and author attribution technology. Central to the authors’ focus is
the encoding, collation, and electronic textual analysis of Moore and Hazlitt’s
identifiable contributions to the Edinburgh Review for the period
1814-1816. They will outline their methodology, discoveries, and obstacles in
their search for a viable hypothesis for attribution.
The dispute surrounding the authorship of this review
is part of a larger story of personal and ideological quarrels between authors
that characterised the Romantic period. By addressing whether digital textual
analysis can contribute to traditional textual analysis, this paper contributes
important new information and perspective to this long-running debate.