1. Chronological list of letters
2. List of letters in order of addressees
3. List of publications of letters
4. List of compared (checked) publications
Till now we have not a complete body of published full and unmodified Sri Aurobindo’s letters. Indeed, very many of published letters are truncated, undated, without addressees (and who knows how many are still unpublished or even undetected!).
Largely this situation arose because of dominant tendency of publishing of fragments of the letters – not of the letters themselves – in some thematic compilations. These thematic publications have their place and advantage, but they – by their very nature – can not substitute publications of full letters, because they inevitably cut off most text of letters to suit the remnants with current topics. They are publications of derivative kind, not basic. It is only when we have all letters published in full length, we can feel themselves free to make countless thematic selections, but not vice versa. However up to this day we could find only three such basic publications (all letters arranged in chronologic order):
Nirodbaran.– Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo.– The Complete Set in 2 volumes.– 2nd ed. (the best publication for today, we believe);
Sri Aurobindo and Mother to Prithwi Singh;
Sri Aurobindo to Dilip.– In four volumes;
But these three publications does not change the situation in whole and untill we have publication of all letters in full-length, this cutting off “irrelevant” parts of the letters in thematic compilations remains the most disgusting spoilage and uncorrectable and grievous loss!
Also editors of thematic compilations freely combined (using sometimes invented insertions or modifying texts) passages from different letters inserting them into one text as if it were one solid letter.
Furthermore, these remained passages themselves also were modified by editors, who made innumerable “improvements” of the texts, when original words were replaced by more “appropriate” ones; articles changed most freely; the tenses of verbs, the singular and plural of nouns, an order of words, all was shifted here and there, and plenty explicate or decorative implantations were to make Sri Aurobindo’s text better1. All this inevitably deforms in some degree the meaning, intonation, nuance, manner, style, atmosphere of the text and therefore is inadmissible. This editorial work would be allowable only in footnotes or in square brackets – without slightest modifications of the text itself. After all, we need Sri Aurobindo’s words, not editors’!
Also there is possibility of publication of different although equally authentic variants of the same letter. But without their authentication by authorized unic identificator we will not know which variant is a result of editorial modification and which is a sound text.
Again, when different places are due not to editorial “improvements” but to different interpretations of illegible or unreadable words, it would be a good thing to know all these variants of interpretation. But without manuscript or explicit editorial note we will not not know the cause of this variation, is it a result of modification or of interpretation.
Thus Sri Aurobindo’s letters are still waiting for a time, when they will be republished without minute modifications, with dates and addressees, in sound order, with identification of different variants of the same letter, with appropriate indexes (thematic, name etc.). Of course, this work can be done only with manuscripts of the letters at hand. Meanwhile we can only point a problem and make some corrections.
For this purpose we split all found publications of letters into separate texts (more then 23000 ones) and started to compare these texts providing differing places with appropriate footnotes in our files. (By the way, this symbol by symbol comparison allowed us also to avoid most of misprints of scanning and OCR procedures.) And when this comparison does not make us sure which variant is authentic, we at least become aware of the fact and details of such variations.
Sometimes we also can separate artificially joined passages of different letters. And sometimes, when we find the full letter or most full fragment of it, we can provide all lesser fragments in other publications with a link to the larger variant.
To distinguish our numerous footnotes of that kind we used special style: (1) color of numbers of footnotes are dark red; (2) when cursor is placed over differing piece, its background is changed into light red (also it allows readers to easily compare differing place in a text with a pop-up hint that contains alternative variant). And for convenience of readers at the top of files an active line was added that enables them to hide or show all red numbers of such links in the text.
During this comparison, to avoid overloading of the texts by footnotes, we ignored differences of register, punctuation, paragraphs, variations of languages or transliterations of the same word, variations of spelling of proper names. Also we did not made any footnotes in cases of distinct misprints – just corrected them.
In the course of this work the thematic collections were slightly modified:
1. Fragments of letters were not replaced by full letters, because this would spoil these thematic collections. Instead, below every fragment a link was added to the full letter or larger (or earlier, or more credible) passage, when such passage was found.
2. All fragments were numbered. The numbers of fragments were put above them. But when a fragment was an artificial combination of several passages from different letters, it was split up into “sub-fragments” and every “sub-fragment” got together with common number of fragment its own number of “sub-fragment” (for example, 24-1, 24-2, 24-3).
3. Also every number of fragment is a link to the additional information (including links to other publications of the text).
4. An information (if we had it) about date and addressee was added below fragments.
NB. This work was started in April 1915 and still is far from its fulfilment. You can know about checked (compared) publications here.
1 It is quite astonishing, that text of the same letter can differ not only in different publications but within one edition, e.g. CWSA.