Chapter 6 draws the consideration of Romantic literary manuscripts forward to the present moment, examining their shifting cultural status from the late eighteenth century onward, including their preservation and dissemination in print and now in digital form. Significant changes to the treatment and valuation of literary manuscripts began in the late eighteenth century, as they began to be preserved and collected as never before. The attention to contemporary manuscripts arose from a growing scholarly and public interest in ancient scripts and manuscripts, and a new devotion to handwriting and to handwritten manuscripts. The second half of this chapter turns to critical treatments of the period’s manuscripts in its textual scholarship, to ask how the privileging of the textual has impacted our engagements with the period’s literary manuscripts. It investigates the major scholarly critical editions of the last five decades to understand how editorial practice has grappled with the period’s literary manuscripts and the literary culture in which they were embedded. It examines how recent digital editions of the period’s manuscripts have improved our access to and revived our interest in literary manuscripts as bearers of cultural meaning beyond the textual.
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