Archive for August, 2010

Using 18c Catalogs as finding aids in 18c BookTracker?

August 15, 2010

[x-posted on the 18th-century BookTracker Facebook discussion page]

As I was working today on BookTracker, I realized that there are quite a few catalogs etc. in Googlebooks, and I was wondering whether there might be a special section of the BookTracker devoted to such material. The rationale would be that there would be more information there than elsewhere about difficult to find titles. This is a type of information that to my knowledge is not getting aggregated elsewhere, but could be assembled pretty painlessly by the folks here, if the works contained in a catalog could be linked to a full catalog record. Thoughts?


Gale’s ECCO and BiblioLife: Print-on-Demand Initiatives

August 12, 2010

While recently searching abebooks for works by a particular eighteenth-century publisher whose titles I collect, I discovered a number of ECCO editions of his works available in “BRAND NEW COPIES”. Several titles offered the following additional information:

Brand New Book with Free Worldwide Delivery ***** Print on Demand *****
Editorial Reviews:
The 18th century was a wealth of knowledge, exploration and rapidly growing technology and expanding record-keeping made possible by advances in the printing press. In its determination to preserve the century of revolution, Gale initiated a revolution of its own: digitization of epic proportions to preserve these invaluable works in the largest archive of its kind. Now for the first time these high-quality digital copies of original 18th century manuscripts are available in print, making them highly accessible to libraries, undergraduate students, and independent scholars.
Western literary study flows out of eighteenth-century works by Alexander Pope, Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, Frances Burney, Denis Diderot, Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and others. Experience the birth of the modern novel, or compare the development of language using dictionaries and grammar discourses.


Curious about whether Gale was aware that a company was reproducing and selling their copies, I wrote Scott Dawson. He replied,

We are working with a print-on-demand vendor by the name of BiblioLife in Charleston, SC, to do this work. We have most of the ECCO works loaded into the system if our contract with the source library provides us POD rights. We are looking to add titles from some of our other collections over time. We looked at a number of ‘vendors’ for this work and decided on BiblioLife that specializes in these “long-tail books’ and have been quite happy with them. Note that the cover will not be the same as the actual as we have not captured the actual covers, so it is a graphic that corresponds to the general subject area from which the book came (history, philosophy, religion, etc.) along with a portion of the title.


Especially for those who lack access to ECCO, this development seems in some ways a welcomed one. The cost of the late eighteenth-century works that my search had yielded seem to average just below $25.00. Yet, more browsing reveal a range from $9.66 to $72.00. The high range prices seemed to be mostly for Bibles, and the same title can range a few dollars more or less depending on the bookseller. There of course is also often shipping charges. Scott’s comments about the cover are also clearly noted in the listing for most of these books. Yet, in the case of the titles I was searching for, it was not clear at all in most listings what volume of the series one would be purchasing or what individual titles were contained in the work being sold. Consider this note:

The below data was compiled from various identification fields in the bibliographic record of this title. This data is provided as an additional tool in helping to insure edition identification:
Bodleian Library (Oxford)


Volume title page, for issues to be bound together when a volume of serialized fiction is completed, follows the wrapper title in the last weekly issue of the novels for that volume. Volume title pages are engraved, with volume numbers, a list of works included in that volume, with a vignette above the imprint. An internal title page for the individual work is bound in the first weekly issue of the novel being serialized, and title page imprint includes year of publication for that novel. Imprints lack date; years of publication from reference sources. Imprints vary slightly. Weekly issue price: six-pence. At head of wrapper title: To be continued weekly. With frontis. plates in each issue for that novel. Some wrappers carry instructions to the binder for placement of plates. Includes serialized novels, histories, romances, or memoirs, including translations of foreign publications. Works are normally completed in three or four issues; volumes apparently appear three or four times a year. Description based on: [Vol. XII.] Number CLXXXIV. [1783]; title from wrapper.

London [England] : printed for Harrison and Co. No. 18, Paternoster- Row, and sold by all other booksellers, stationers and newscarriers, in town and country, . v., plates ; 23 cm (8°)


This note, evidently reproduced from the ESTC description of the series, clearly does not identify a particular volume and could suggest to some the very unlikely possibility that by paying $25.00 one would receive the complete series (that is, 23 volumes, containing over 60 individual novels). These descriptions, I should note, seem to be provided by the bookseller selling the title, and not by Gale.

Also troublesome is the description that accompanies other listings:

This is an EXACT reproduction of a book published before 1923. This IS NOT an OCR’d book with strange characters, introduced typographical errors, and jumbled words. This book may have occasional imperfections such as missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. More…that were either part of the original artifact, or were introduced by the scanning process. We believe this work is culturally important, and despite the imperfections, have elected to bring it back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide. We appreciate your understanding of the imperfections in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this valuable book.

Here we have no mention that the copies are twice-removed from the original book, having been digitized from microfilm.

I also investigated BiblioLife. Its home page presents a commendable view of the company as one dedicated to preservation and working with libraries, archivists, and those engaged in digitization projects. There’s also an indication that part of the purchase price would be put toward helping fund digitization efforts: “We have a vision that paying customers can fund the digitization of the world’s books and we think libraries are anchors of any healthy and vibrant community. And in this digital age, they serve an important role as a physical meeting place of culture. We think this program can further that vision.”

Yet, I did not see BiblioLife listed as the publishing partner with Gale in any of the abebook listings I viewed. However, I did see Nabu Press identified as the publisher in a few listings, and a search for this company uncovered an interesting blog post from an information technology professional, Yakov Shafranovich that indicates that Nabu Press is BiblioLife:

I took some time to check various state corporation databases and actually managed to find who Nabu Press is. They are … BiblioBazaar / BiblioLife, a company started by former BookSurge partners after they sold their POD company to Amazon. It is no surprise that they print their POD books through Amazon.
How do I know this – take a look at the SC filing for Nabu Press LLC…Nabu Press = BiblioBazaar

Shafranovich’s sleuthing is further confirmed by an April 2010 Publisher’s Weekly article“BiblioBazaar: How a Company Produces 272,930 Books A Year”. The article reinforces aspects of BiblioLife’s website description of its efforts and philosophy:

While e-books, iPads and Kindles have dominated the headlines, BiblioLife is one of a handful of smart, new, technology-enabled companies driving an exciting trend in the publishing world. Working closely with libraries, archives and aggregators, the company puts out-of-copyright books back into good old-fashioned print, one copy at a time, using print-on-demand technology.

And it also helps explain why we have not heard of the firm before:

So how has Bibliolife, despite its major production, flown under the radar until this year’s Bowker stats came out? For one, Davis says, the company simply isn’t seeking publicity as much as good solid relationships and content partnerships. “We aren’t a press release-centric company, and we are really focused on unique materials that are not part of mass digitization projects,” he said. “Who has that content and how we are getting it is something that is a competitive advantage.”

As Scott’s comments about POD rights and BiblioLife president Mitchell Davis’s remarks about content indicate, there’s much food for thought here about access and control of these reproductions of reproductions…of reproductions. Moreover, the listings offered again point to the importance of understanding what is really being offered and sold.

New Open-Source Tool!

August 5, 2010

Thea Lindquist sends the following note:

A colleague and I at the University of Colorado at Boulder are interested in the idea of adapting or developing an open-source tool designed for use with digitized historical primary sources and would be interested in your feedback. This tool would be aimed primarily at students and offer them enhanced opportunities to interact with the sources and collaborate with others, hopefully also from mobile devices. We feel that engaging student interest in this way is increasingly pressing as digital collections propagate; as students integrate Web 2.0 technologies into every aspect of their lives; and as close work with primary sources becomes an ever-more important component of humanities curricula. Depending on how things go, this tool could be the first in a suite of extensible, open-source pedagogical tools that will facilitate student engagement with primary sources.

We are considering a tool that will allow students to: view and annotate text-based primary sources as well as images such as maps, cartoons, and photographs; create linkages between documents within the collection and to outside resources; and save the augmented source as a new learning object that can be shared among classmates and (at the instructor’s discretion) released for broader consumption. This is just one idea – we intend to work with students to assess their needs but are also interested in the instructor perspective.

As a first step, we are creating a freely available digital collection of World War I primary sources to use as a test-bed and are now beginning to look into what sorts of tools are currently available or in development that aim to achieve the same sort of goals. That way we can contact potential collaborators and also be sure not to duplicate effort.

Response to Collaborative Reading of Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript

August 4, 2010

First, I would like to thank Anna for organizing this reading of my book and all the reviewers for taking the time to read and evaluate it so carefully. This is my first book, and I had expected a two- to three-year wait before reading reviews of it. I certainly did not expect to have encountered a set of seven thoughtful reviews within two months of its publication — one of the many virtues of online collaborative reviews, a subject Eleanor recently discussed. I’ve learned a great deal from these reviews and the comments that followed. In fact, because everyone has raised so many interesting issues, I’m finding it difficult to begin. I will try to address one central issue raised by each reviewer, weaving into my discussion some of the responses to those review posts. I will necessarily have to omit some of the points that have been raised.

Dave Mazella began the discussion by asking the important question of how we talk about eighteenth-century book history: “do we have, or need, an alternative to the unitary term ‘print culture’ in our analysis of the eighteenth century?”. I’m glad to have the chance to address this question, since for the most part I avoided doing so in my book. In fact, I use the term “print culture” only once (205) and then with scare quotes. My avoidance of the term does not signal that I think it has no use in scholarly discussions; rather, I think its value depends greatly on the context of the larger scholarly project in which it is used. Macro-level investigations that chart the major shifts between the pre- and post-Gutenberg eras will depend greatly on an operative term such as “print culture” (obviously I’m thinking of Eisenstein here). But since my book was limited to not just Britain in the first half of the eighteenth century but also to a single author in that milieu, I thought that such a micro-level study would help to show us the limitations and even misconceptions that such macro-level terms imply when used in a more limited disciplinary context.

To put this in more concrete ways: we should not expect that any coherent definition of print culture will encompass such widely different artifacts as a massive folio edition of Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion as well as a broadside poem or single issue of a newspaper. Permanence and ephemerality co-exist here, and the more that a conceptual term embraces paradox and contradiction the less utility it will have for the purposes of definition and argument. In addition, whenever examining any time period up close, one will find overlapping and competing “print cultures” that vary according to cost, format, genre, etc. Perhaps the ultimate lesson is that in such narrowed contexts the term has greater value in the plural form, evidencing a kind of multi-cultural media world.

And to answer Mazella’s question from another direction: it would depend on what else we know of other authors in the period, writing in other genres and not necessarily in metropolitan areas. I had hoped to suggest ways in which Swift was or was not typical of his age in regard to the use of print and manuscript, but I came to recognize that much more needs to be studied before one could begin to address that topic. Studying the examples that Eleanor and Al Coppola mention is one good place to start.

This issue connects to Eleanor’s question about the ability to conduct research in this field given the materials that have or have not survived, especially for non-canonical authors. When I started doing textually and bibliographically related research in graduate school, I had assumed that the major discoveries in this area have already been made and that there was little left to do. But I have come to learn that there is much more to find and many more questions to ask that haven’t been considered yet. In addition, there are now some great research tools for the study of manuscripts in our period, especially for manuscript verse. Eleanor alluded to Alexander Lindsay’s Swift entry for the Index of English Literary Manuscripts, a compendium that is limited to “major” authors from 1500-1900. But there are other resources to consult to learn about major and so-called minor authors from our period. Those interested in further study should consult the following:

I am not as aware of similar resources for non-verse material, but now and then something interesting will turn up while searching Archives Hub.

I would also like to acknowledge Eleanor’s especially perceptive reading of my title.

Ashley Marshall writes thoughtfully about the ways we might revisit Swift’s canon and his attitude toward his own canon, and suggests that Swift’s attitude might change, perhaps in unpredictable ways. I’m greatly interested in such issues as well, even though I mostly avoided dealing with them in my book. (I deliberately avoided addressing works that have a doubtful status in Swift’s canon; such doubtful attributions are receiving renewed scrutiny in the Cambridge Edition of Swift currently being edited and published). Ashley cites two examples: “Cadenus and Vanessa” and “On the Words ‘Brother Protestants and Fellow Christians.’” I think “Cadenus and Vanessa” deserves more investigation about its publishing and textual history, and I haven’t done the necessary research to comment on it at length — except to say that in publishing it in the joint Miscellanies Swift perhaps defused the appeal of those unauthorized collections that contained it.

The example of “On the Words ‘Brother Protestants and Fellow Christians’” shows just how variable a poem’s publication history can be. Ashely is correct that this poem appeared in Faulkner’s 1735 edition; it did so with this prefatory and canny remark: “The following Poem having been printed in London, we have thought proper to insert it here, not doubting but it will be acceptable to our Readers; although we cannot say who is the Author.” (A similar remark prefaced the lampoon “The Virtues of Sid Hamet” in the 1711 Miscellanies.) Bettesworth’s name was fully obscured by asterisks in Faulkner’s text, but the “Sweats-worth” rhyme still gives it away. And it’s worth noting that “On the Words …” was added quite late to Faulkner’s edition, as it appears in the final full gathering of volume 2. So we’re dealing with a situation in which a poem (written while Faulkner was printing the edition) appears in an authorized collection with a note explicitly questioning its canonical status (though with a nudge and a wink). Who exactly was involved in this decision? Did Swift suggest this poem’s inclusion? Or did he pretend he knew nothing about the poem, which shifted the decision onto Faulkner about whether to include it or not? In such situations, Ashley is right to wonder exactly how if at all authorial control is being exercised. Clearly, Faulkner ran a risk in printing the poem, and his boldness was repaid in 1736 when Bettesworth had Faulkner arrested for publishing some relatively mild comments.

A final thought about Swift’s canon: even if Swift did not think he was assembling a canon, some of those in his circle did. Here I’m thinking especially of Charles Ford, who was perhaps preparing an edition of Swift’s works long before Swift was (see the letters between Swift and Ford in 1733). We have here more material for a study of social authorship, a subject I pick up on below.

Randy Robertson rightly emphasizes the need for scholars, perhaps especially those working in seemingly dry subject areas such as textual studies, to craft narratives that engage their readers. And I agree that Robert Darnton is able to entertain his readers while also educating them in a way that I am still trying to master. Perhaps I did a better job with the narrative in Chapter 5 than in Chapter 4, but that is certainly for readers to judge. Often, and especially in the second half of my book, I am simultaneously working with two narratives: the narrative of those writing and publishing in the past and the narrative of reconstructing their activities and the complex textual histories that resulted. At times I found it a challenge to attend to both narratives; in a sense, I had to be true to the information available to us, including the often fragmentary nature of that information, and tell a story that would maintain the reader’s interest.

One issue I struggled with while trying to create appropriate narrative frameworks for these chapters was that I often lacked knowledge about how these texts (whether in print, manuscript, or a combination of both) were received by their readers. In Chapter 6 I attempted a necessarily speculative model about that reception and in Chapter 2 I could draw from readers’ recreations of Swift’s writings, but elsewhere I thought I didn’t even have a basis upon which to construct a speculative model. It seems to me that in order to create a compelling narrative in book history, one needs the perspective of both the producers (writers, publishers, etc.) and the consumers (“regular” readers, the political authorities, etc.). Attending to both will provide a dramatic element to sustain the narrative, and this may be one reason why Darnton’s writings are so enjoyable to read (in addition to his own skill as a writer).

While commenting about “The Legion Club,” Al Coppola wonders about the status of the final couplets added to the poem, shrewdly referring to their inclusion as “a moustache on the Mona Lisa.” I suspect those couplets will always remain a bit of a mystery as to who was responsible for adding them. I gave my arguments for why I believe Swift was responsible, though Coppola is right to explore other possibilities. I wish I knew of some way to solve this puzzle with greater confidence, but I don’t.

Coppola’s remarks gave rise to some interesting comments on the nature of social authorship as it relates to Swift. I’m glad that this topic generated such interest, since we need to do much more to situate works by Swift and other canonical authors in relation to works by lesser-known figures. For my current project, James Woolley and I are editing Swift’s complete poems for the Cambridge edition, and we plan to include the poems that Swift’s poems responded to (Harold Williams had also included such poems) as well as some poems that were part of a verse exchange that Swift’s verse participated in. We hope that doing so will allow readers to examine Swift’s poems in dialogue with those of his contemporaries, including those contemporaries whose identities are not known. We’re also going to pay careful attention to canonical issues and the extent to which we can attribute specific poems to Swift with varying levels of confidence and uncertainty. James has written of the need to free ourselves from “the tyranny of the individual talent” and take seriously the possibility and even likelihood that one of Swift’s contemporaries may have written a poem otherwise attributed to him (“The Canon of Swift’s Poems: The Case of ‘An Apology to the Lady Carteret,’” in Reading Swift: Papers from the Second Munster Symposium on Jonathan Swift, p. 246). In a brief entry on “Attribution” for the recent Oxford Companion to the Book, I referred to “the centripetal force of the major author” to describe the power that a major figure exerts on contemporary works of uncertain authorship. I also wrote that “scholars who offer claims of attribution would do well to remember that the vast majority of works are written by minor authors, including authors whose identities have long vanished from historical memory.”

A recurring phenomenon in studying historical reader response is the way in which readers adapt and use an author’s works for their own purposes, whether or not such purposes align with those of the author. That phenomenon is no less operative among readers of scholarly works today. I write this in part to justify David Brewer’s interest in taking my research on a ride of his choosing, while graciously welcoming me aboard. I would be very interested in knowing with greater clarity just which printed texts prompted readers to take up pen and annotate. Then as now I suspect some readers did not want to “mar” their personal copies; others perhaps couldn’t help doing so. It’s worth noting that for some time collectors (and thus libraries) viewed such annotated copies as less desirable, a trend not followed by collectors such as James Osborn, as can be seen by viewing the many items he collected now at the Beinecke Library. A brief research visit to the Beinecke will remind us how much more work there is to do with eighteenth-century manuscript materials (including annotated print copies). So one wonders if the surviving evidence in libraries is to some extent biased in a way that obscures the act of annotation. Interested readers might consult H. J. Jackson’s Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books, and (I hope) work by David in the near future.

Are there any copies of Tristram Shandy that in fact contain a sketch of the Widow Wadman on the blank page? I believe that David has researched this topic.

I’m also grateful to David for alerting me to yet another annotated copy of Swift’s “Verses.” James and I are always interested in learning about these. The ones that have escaped our attention are likely to be in libraries with good general collections but too rarely frequented by eighteenth-century specialists.

I’m somewhat relieved that David’s discovery doesn’t dramatically alter my argument, though as Anna notes, that is a possibility and one that I expect to happen at some point. I’m very grateful to her for making this truly collaborative reading possible. I’ve learned much from each of you, and want to thank you again for devoting part of your summer to my book.


Karian’s Conclusion, which Opens Doors

August 3, 2010

In her excellent review essay, “The State of Swift Studies 2010″ (Eighteenth-Century Life 34:2, 83-105), Ashley Marshall wrote that “we ought to be entering a golden age in Swift studies. Bibliographic problems are getting serious attention from several learned and meticulous critics.” Steve Karian’s Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript confirms that prophecy. In his “Conclusion,” Karian modestly hopes that his study “will be of value for studying the interaction between the two media in the early eighteenth century” (205). He achieves this goal, accomplishing additional goals in the process. The rich evidence Karian provides of Swift’s various reading communities, including a close-knit, educated, and in-the-know group of intimates as well as distant readers who lacked access to Swift’s intentions forces a new, more dynamic appreciation of the nature of Swift’s poems and of his collective sense of authorship. Scholars have, of course, conceived of these differing communities before, just as they understood that Swift’s poems were open texts. But Karian has lived with the manuscripts and printed versions of these poems long enough to provide credible and significantly more complex transmission histories than have been considered previously. The empirical evidence he provides regarding transmission and authorship will have to be taken into account by anyone working on Swift’s poems. He provides a vault of evidence that enriches and usefully complicates and enriches our understanding of Swift’s poetic habits of mind and particularly the view of satire that he and his circle shared.

It seems particularly fitting to have a collective review of a book that presents Swift as engaged in collective authorship. I would like to thank the reviewers for their thoughtful and informed posts. If Swift’s satire constitutes, as David Brewer calls it, the “exceptional normal,” if its “apparent oddity lays bare the norms and rules of a much more widely played game,” Karian’s book provides rich material for pursuing that claim. Indeed, the evidence Karian provides is, even with Steve’s methodical approach, both messy and conflicting. As Ashley Marshall and Randy Robertson suggest in different posts, Karian’s work is sure to inspire attempts at developing its findings even more fully. Drawing on the original sense of “manuscriptum,” Eleanor Shevlin wonders whether Swift’s efforts at counterfeiting his hand indicates “deeper cultural attitudes about agency, identity, hands, and names as rendered and negotiated by manuscript and print.” It certainly calls attention to Swift’s elusive use of masks. For Dave Mazella, Karian’s demonstration of the fluid interplay of print and manuscript calls into question the value of the unitary term “print culture.” For Al Coppola, that interplay also demonstrates the contingent nature of Swiftian satire. There are many other points to be made about the evidence presented by this book. The material Karian presents will continue to be reviewed, and it is fitting that his Conclusion closes by acknowledging the open-ended nature of such work:

All of my conclusions about the texts of these poems are based on the documentary evidence as presently available. Even one newly discovered manuscript or printed text has the potential to alter my interpretations of the textual traditiona nd thereby undermine the conclusions I present here. Such is the incomplete nature of textual study, and the key to its possible pitfalls and rewards.

That seems like the kind of open-ended conclusion that, judging from the evidence presented in Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript, Swift himself would enjoy.

Karian’s Chapter 6: The Authorial Strategies and Material Texts of “Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift”

August 2, 2010

Steve opens his final chapter with the frank confession that “as complicated as the textual histories of ‘On Poetry: A Rapsody’ and ‘The Legion Club’ are, that of ‘Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift’ (1739) is even more complicated”: “the early texts of this poem survive in a bewildering array of print, manuscript, and blank space” (166). Given that this chapter is likely to get more use than the preceding two (simply because it’s the only one which discusses a poem that makes it into the undergraduate classroom with any regularity), one might think that such bewilderment would be off-putting: a limit case, perhaps, from which we would gladly back away. I’d like to contend something close to the opposite. That is, the real utility of Steve’s patient survey of the “bewildering array” of versions of the “Verses” (beyond its lucid sketch of a ridiculously complicated phenomenon) lies precisely in the picture it paints of a world in which print, manuscript, oral performance, geography, and the varying degrees of knowledge and interest which readers bring to a text all not only intersect, but conspire to produce a situation in which “variability” is “integral to the work’s existence” (184). The “Verses,” for all their complications, are thus not a limit case so much as what Italian microhistorians like to call the “exceptional normal,” an instance whose apparent oddity lays bare the norms and rules of a much more widely played game. Steve doesn’t go this far and perhaps for his purposes he doesn’t want or need to do so. But the potential to use the “Verses” as a means of better grasping the “variability” “integral” to all sorts of eighteenth-century texts certainly exists and I, for one, would like to see what happens if we presume the normality, even the quotidianness of “bewildering arrays.”

I think the best way to launch, however speculatively, this line of thought is to start with the second half of Steve’s chapter, in which he reconstructs the busy life led by the “Verses” across the 1730s. Here’s the short version. It would seem that Swift first showed a manuscript of the “Verses” to his friends in Ireland, some of whom (like Laetitia Pilkington) memorized significant chunks of it and then repeated them around town to, in Swift’s words, “provoke peoples curiosity and a longing they had to see it in print” (Swift to Lord Carteret, 23 April 1733, quoted on 175). Then, once the poem had some oral currency in Dublin, Swift wrote a burlesque of it, “The Life and Genuine Character of Doctor Swift” and got it published, first in London and then in Dublin, with all sorts of non-Swiftean poetic and typographic flourishes, like italics, dashes, and triplets, in order to throw off those who might suspect its true authorship. Here, obviously, geography matters: Swift was attempting to trick those “Dubliners” who had “heard parts of the poem recited” into thinking that they “recognized the ‘Life’ as an inept reconstruction of the ‘Verses’” (179), whereas readers elsewhere would most likely regard it as a clumsy stand-alone attempt to ventriloquize the Dean. Several of Swift’s English friends then arranged for an edition of the “Verses” themselves (in part to counter the supposedly fraudulent “Life”), but, for various reasons, altered or omitted a number of lines and all of the notes from the text as, we think, Swift had written it, and inserted several (typographically glaring) passages from the “Life.” Finally, George Faulkner brought out a Dublin edition which included some of the material left out of the London edition. However, the printed editions all contained extensive blanks, both in the verse and in (in Faulkner’s version) the notes, which were to be filled in with some combination of guesswork and copying from various quasi-authorized manuscript additions to other copies in circulation. The result, as Steve’s figures 9 through 14 show, is indeed “variability”: “no two of the thirty-seven known annotated copies are exactly alike” (184).

Now Steve does a splendid job sifting through this mess (which is far more complicated than my little summary can convey) and showing what is lost when we read or teach the “Verses” in a modern edition which supplies all that in the initial editions was left blank or completed by hand. For example, Faulkner’s edition insists that “The          S—-, if you nam’d, / With what Impatience he declaim’d!” Depending on the copy one consults, these blanks are filled in as the “Irish Senate,” the “British Senate,” the “Bench or Senate,” the “cheating South-Sea,” or the “Whiggish Spirit.” All fit the meter; all are plausible objects of Swift’s “Impatience.” “Irish Senate” is probably what Swift actually wrote, but to simply print that in a modern edition forecloses the other possibilities in a way that is profoundly unfaithful to the experience of anyone encountering the poem in the late 1730s. So far, so good and it would certainly be enough to stop here, having (once again) demonstrated the abiding inability of most modern editorial practices to accurately represent the complexity of early modern textuality. But we’ve heard that critique before and most of the remaining problems are sufficiently intractable that I suspect further critique isn’t going to get us very far, so I’d like instead to see if we can push a little harder and come up with some useful ways of thinking about what I take to be the real implications of Steve’s work, the places Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript can take us (whether or not Steve wants to come along for the ride).

As an initial gambit, I’d like to pose two questions which come out of what Steve does in the second half of this chapter: 1) “When presented with a printed text (full of blanks or otherwise), what could induce readers to pick up their pens and write?” and 2) “Why should they do so so dramatically more with the ‘Verses’ than most other texts?” Seriously considering the first can, I think, help us better grasp the sheer “variability” at work here. It’s not just a matter of differing levels of knowledge or access to an authorized- or authoritative-seeming copy which one can transcribe; it’s also a matter of will and desire. If one gets a reference (say, that the two-syllable blank which rhymes with “Thing” and refers to someone who has a consort can probably be filled in with “the King”), then why bother writing it down, especially given the less than spontaneous technology of eighteenth-century pens? That is, Peter Stallybrass is probably right that print’s “most radical effect was its incitement to writing by hand,” but that incitement is remarkably variable. Compare Steve’s Figure 9 (from a copy at Penn) to the same page in a copy owned by Ohio State and to the British Library copy which was filmed and scanned for ECCO:

The Penn copy plausibly fills in the asterixed-out lines, but leaves the dashed-out names and the triple asterix standing in for “the Queen” blank. The Ohio State copy completes the names (perhaps incorrectly), but not the royal title or any of the whole lines of verse. And the British Library copy remains resolutely blank. How can we even begin to explain the differences between these copies, given that they are differences not simply of degree but of apparent interest as well? Yet it’s exceedingly difficult to gauge that interest on the basis of what made it onto the page, since there’s no reason to presume that, say, the readers of the Penn and British Library copies were incapable of coming up with a trochaic woman’s name beginning with S (whether it be “Susan,” “Suffolk,” or anything else). Perhaps they were; perhaps the allusion was so obvious as to be unworthy of being written down; perhaps actually recording one’s guess verged too close to libel (note how the Penn copy is still dashing out some of its more charged words); perhaps something else. I suspect that in most cases we can’t ever know with any certainty, but until we try, however speculatively and tentatively, to account for not only the complex relationships between “Print” and “Manuscript” as totalized entities, but also the emotionally fraught, idiosyncratic, geographically and generically varying reading, writing, and listening practices out of which those abstractions are created, we will continue to fail to do justice to “arrays” far less ostentiously “bewildering” than the “Verses.” Such an endeavor will, of course, be the work of many hands and it’s wholly unreasonable to expect Steve to have fully cleared the path. But he’s gone further than a casual reading of this chapter might suggest and I think that at least the beginnings of the kind of work I’m calling for (and, I hope, in my other writing engaging in) can be seen in his wonderfully shrewd passing comments on the ways in which the sheer size of the blanks (e.g., in figure 12) solicits a roughly proportionate amount of penmanship, even if it’s only squiggles as a kind of “etc.” by other means:

Perhaps we could start with something like “the blank proposes, but the pen disposes” and then start to figure out the circumstances under which such proposals are compelling or attractive (and when a blank even registers as such)?

Doing so will, of course, require us to pay close attention to the generic and rhetorical occasion of the blank-filling, since, as anyone who’s ever gone trawling for marginalia can testify, manuscript additions to printed texts are, shall we say, distributed rather unevenly. There are far more annotated almanacs and arithmetic books out there than annotated works of the sort which people in English departments tend to care about. But even within the latter category, the distribution is far from uniform: topical and satiric works, especially verse, get a lot more scribal attention than, say, most novels. Here’s where I think we could usefully bring in the otherwise anomalous first part of Steve’s chapter: his discussion of “Authorship in the ‘Verses on the Death’.” It’s an insightful account of the structure of the poem and usefully explains many things which have long puzzled us (e.g., why the speaker at the Rose should claim to be “no judge” of Swift’s “works in verse and prose” and yet spend most of his 180-plus lines praising their effects). But it’s curiously unintegrated into not only the rest of the chapter, but the book as a whole, unless (and this remains almost entirely implicit) we presume that it is no accident that the work which incited so much writing by hand was a work which meditates on the ways in which authors are entangled with and ultimately dependent on their publishers and readers. If so (and this is very much the ledge on which I want to go out; Steve need not accompany me if he doesn’t want to), then it would seem that one of the factors which might predict a particularly “thick” clustering of manuscript augmentations would be whether or not a text is concerned with authorship or otherwise rhetorically doubling the situation of its own reading. That is, it would seem (on the basis of Steve’s findings and my own ongoing research) that authors were particularly good to think with and that, in turn, seems, at least in some cases, to have translated into their being good to write with. Determining the logic underlying which cases were or were not useful or compelling in this way is a project still beyond us, but once again, I’d like to suggest, Steve’s work can at least cast some light down the proper path if we take seriously his closing contention that the various ways in which readers filled in the blanks of “The           S—-” “may reflect the readers’ own sense of which objects deserved the most abuse” (203), since the structure of not only that line but the entire poem makes the blank-filling tantamount to enlisting Swift on one’s own side, whether it be against Parliament, the Bench, the Bubble, or Sir Bob. If so, then one of the ways in which we can make sense of the “bewildering array” we find is to try to reconstruct not only the actual sociability which produced a given copy (e.g., who jotted down what after encountering which other copy or recitation), but also the imagined sociability between a particular reader, other readers, and the author—which obviously can, but need not, overlap with “what really happened.”

So how, ultimately, after taking Steve’s “bewildering array” and piling conjecture upon conjecture on it (perhaps making it all the more “bewildering” in the process), can I claim that the “Verses” represent a case of the “exceptional normal”? Two answers. The first is simply by fiat: as with all forms of conjectural historiography, the proof of the pudding will lie in the eating. If we can see things about “the normal” state of early modern textuality which we would not have otherwise been able to notice by treating the “Verses” as if they were the key to all (or at least some) mythologies, then they’ve done their work and so are “exceptional,” at least in this sense. And if we can’t, then they’re not, at least in this line of inquiry or these hands. But I would also appeal to the archival experience of the readers of EMOB (including Steve himself) and ask them to recall how many times they’ve encountered a printed text marked by an eighteenth-century hand or an account of a somewhat garbled oral transmission as a part of polite (or impolite) sociability or the trace of a reading which is clearly shaped by the uneven geographic dissemination of information. Such things have been a routine part of every visit to every rare book room I’ve ever made, not to mention a good chunk of my use of full-text databases, my perusal of countless letters and diaries, etc. In short, the world of the “Verses” looks a lot like the world of eighteenth-century reading practices, as I’ve come to understand them over the last decade and a half. If that corresponds with your own sense of this world, then I hope you’ll join me in applauding not only Steve’s very substantial accomplishment in this book, but also the even more promising vistas that his inquiry opens up. Like, apparently, the figure of “Dr. S—-, D.S.P.D.,” he’s awfully good to think with.

Karian’s Chapter 5: The Texts and Contexts of “The Legion Club”

August 1, 2010

Chapter 5 of Stephan Karian’s Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript offers thorough and deeply informed analysis of one important and bibliographically complex poem from late in Swift’s career: “A Character, Panegyric and Description of the Legion Club.” Karian offers us what is both a “contextual and textual” approach to the poem, whereby he spends as much effort sussing out all the many and complex targets that this satire is engaging with as he does on painstakingly reconstructing the poem’s complex composition, distribution and revision history. “The text of the poem,” he writes, “exists in a state of confusion. Eight lines exist in various manuscripts and not others” and no one has been sure if they are attributable to Swift.
Synthesizing these two evidentiary strains, Karian draws some important and original conclusions about “The Legion Club:” 1) the variability of the texts that have come down to us boil down to the fact that the poem circulated in two main manuscript traditions, one of which included extra lines that were added to the poem after it initially written and circulated; 2) Swift was “solely responsible for the variant lines;” and 3) the effect of the revisions is to soften the satire’s wholesale denunciation of the Irish parliament and to take the heat off a political ally. In carefully registering exactly what moves Swift made and when in first drafting, then distributing, and then revising this poem., and by making legible the key roles played by his friends and literary collaborators, as well as his booksellers, the chapter offers us something more valuable, to my mind, than the resolving of a textual crux in an important satire. The social nature of Swift’s authorship, and the impact of such local pressures of political expediency, censorship, and the social networks of the Anglo-Irish book trade come into stark relief here, showing the extent to which we need to see Swift as a canny and opportune exploiter of the opportunities and constraints placed upon him. In this case, manuscript circulation enabled him to not only distribute a politically explosive satire with plausible deniability of his authorship, but also to intervene in the text and to revise its attack when the political situation shifted.
“The Legion Club,” as Karian explains, is a poem that’s attracted more praise than serious study. One of a very few long satires written by Swift late in his career (1720s-1730s), it would seem to be a peer with major poems such as “On Poetry: A Rhapsody,” “Epistle to a Lady,” and “Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift.” However, with its highly topical focus on a specific controversy involving encroachments against the lower clergy by Irish landowners, and with its vicious and personal attacks on recognizable MPs, “The Legion Club” is a “straightforward assault” that “does not even gesture toward a profound moral or aesthetic pronouncement” (133). By traversing a truly impressive range of evidence, from Swift’s correspondence to earlier political satires and lampoons written by Swift and others in his circle, Karian shows that the context of this poem is most assuredly Irish and local, but it is considerably broader than the immediate controversy over the Parliament’s plan to strip the church of a suddenly lucrative tithe that it had traditionally enjoyed. In fourteen closely-argued pages, Karian shows that Swift’s provocations were many and various—stemming from his outrage at the actions of specific members, as well as specific policies pursued by the body—and that the poem is best understood as “the understandable culmination of contempt for a group of individuals and an institution that, in Swift’s mind, seemed bent on destroying Ireland” (134).

And the poem’s “savage condemnation” is savage indeed, at least in its initial form. One of the real strengths of Karian’s approach is that he makes, to my mind, a convincing, if partly conjectural, case for the dating of the various stages of the poem’s composition and circulation. Relying on internal evidence from the text, as well carefully culled hints in Swift’s correspondence, Karian shows how the poem was first drafted in early spring 1736 after the first salvoes of the so-called “tithe of agistment” controversy but before the vote on the measure was actually took place in March. This was an expressly “clandestine poem” (133) which circulated in its entirety in manuscript in Ireland, and Karian shows that while the tithe controversy may have been the proximate cause of the poem, the satire itself is a blistering series of lampoons on a range of Swift’s enemies which doesn’t comment all that directly on the specifics of the tithe controversy. Thus the anticipated outrage of the tithe-stealing provided the pretext to ferociously settle a whole range of scores. “Given his past experience with the Parliament,” Karian tells us, “Swift expects the worst.” And so he prepared a poem, in advance of its anticipated occasion, that reflected those expectations.
The thing is, the worst didn’t actually happen. While the measure did pass in prejudice to the clergy, there was a sizable minority that didn’t vote in favor of the measure. 52 MPs came out against the bill, and Karian argues that this prompted Swift to revise his text with a number of small but significant changes. For example, in the earlier version, the MP William Harrison was called out name; Harrison, however, ended up siding with Swift, and so a later version excises Harrison and invites, instead, a different MP, one Carter, to “souse…in [his] own ex-crements.” Additionally, an early line that casts the entire Parliament as “three hundred brutes / All involv’d in Wild Disputes” is recast so that it only reads 200. The overall effect, Karian says, is to shift the poem from a general attack on the entire House to a more qualified attack on the majority. In this vein, the most important was the change made to the poem’s conclusion. The original version ends “on a powerful note” (160), with the speaker saying:
Keeper, I have seen enough,
Taking then a Pinch of Snuff;
I concluded, looking round’em,
May their God, the Devil confound ‘em.
In the eight surviving manuscripts that reflect the Swift’s later revisions, there is a final added couplet that unexpectedly blunts this universal condemnation, which variously reads:

Except the righteous fifty two,
To whom immortal Honour’s due.

Except the Glorious fifty two,
to whom immortal honours due.

Take them Satan as your due
All except the fifty two.
(There are two other variants as well.)

These variants are not new discoveries—indeed, the standard edition of Swift’s poems duly notes these variants but uses the earlier version of the poem as the copytext and makes no claims about why these variants exist or who might have made them. Karian’s detective work however, would have us restore them to the center of our critical attention, insofar as they show that “Swift seemed to recognize that in writing this poem, he had gone too far and needed to qualify, however slightly, his wholesale indictment of the entire House of Commons,” making revisions “for local effect…that at times clashed with the original conception of his poem” (149).
I think Karian’s work here shows us a good deal more. For the one thing, it makes me understand Swift’s satire, at least in this poem, as fixed upon a medium range target—it’s not taking the long view in issuing a grand metaphysical condemnation of Human Corruption, nor is it only locked up in the extreme foreground of personal abuse and political controversy. He wrote this poem to attack the Parliament in toto, in light of its past documented abuses and in expectation of a fresh outrage—and so he was thinking characteristically, training his satire upon the nature of the Parliament. In doing so, this allowed Swift to “work ahead,” as it were, to craft a devastating satire well in advance of the crucial moment in which it would need to be distributed. That moment, Karian explains, was not selected casually. It had nothing to do, actually, with the date of the tithe vote or the question of who voted what, but rather with date that Parliament recessed. Once Parliament was prorogued an author (or supposed author) could not be arrested at an MP’s say-so for breach of privilege. That considerable power did not extend beyond the end of the session, while the other avenues of punishment available thereafter would have probably involved a public, embarrassing and uncertain jury trial (146). Swift then knew himself to be placed in a tricky situation—he could not circulate the poem until parliament prorogued, but it needed to be available for more or less immediate release so as to have the maximum impact when the controversies were still fresh and his targets were still in town and close enough to be shamed face-to-face in public. The question of whether it was 300 scoundrels, or just 200, is really beside the main point for Swift; at most its an emergent, stubborn fact of the poem’s context that could be corrected downstream if need be, and which need not disturb the poem’s central aim.
Karian’s fine work on the manuscript trail also has the effect of showing us just how contingent the poem was on the actions of the networks of friends, coterie readers and booksellers that had a hand in its transmission. According to Karian’s account—which I find plausible and illuminating, but which is, as he admits, in some key particulars only conjectural—Swift entrusted his holograph manuscript of the poem (without the later revisions) to his friend Thomas Sheridan, who then in turn likely provided it to Faulkner, who was undertaking the printing of Swift’s works. Falkner thought the poem too risky to publish right away in Ireland, but he did furnish a copy to his colleague and collaborator, the London bookseller Bowyer. It was this copy that was printed by Bowyer in 1738. Meanwhile, however, Karian suggests that a series of copies were already making the rounds in Dublin, and it was to this near-at-hand set of mss that Swift made his revisions (and which formed the copy text for some early, unauthorized editions of the poem in 1736 published in London, which Karian says speaks to the wide, essentially uncontrolled circulation of a new clandestine poem supposed by Swift).
The big question here, whether it really was Swift who made these changes himself, is ultimately, to my mind at least, not proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, although I do admit I’m inclined to credit most all of Karian’s claims. Who turned 300 into 200, and spared Harrison from the ordure? Karian says Swift himself, because the changes are so consistent across the mss he traces to Dublin in May 1736—texts which show “a highly centralized manner of textual circulation” that betrays the controlling hand of the Dean. Yet to do this, Karian has to waive away some seemingly important counter-evidence, namely that Swift in some of his letters to Sheridan speaks of the uncontrolled distribution of wildly emended and altered mss. That’s just smoke and mirrors, more bulwarks for plausible deniability if anyone was opening his mail, according to Karian, and he may well be right. But he isn’t certain. And these doubts start to really matter when we consider what really is the all-important final couplet that was added to the poem. Unlike the other revisions, this variant exists in very different forms across different mss. Karian says that this just reflects a slightly later stage of revision on Swift’s part, a last-second attempt to play politics and right the record, which he had to do once the poem was already circulating in multiple mss in Dublin. This is certainly possible, but couldn’t it also be a the work of one, or a few, or many other hands acting independently who felt the need to soften the blow before passing the text on to someone who might be unfairly involved in the general satire. None of the other revisions dramatically alter the force of the satire—Harrison, the 200, they’re all small changes to local concerns. But to suddenly end a poem this savage with “honors due” to the 52? That’s a moustache on the Mona Lisa. Why lay that at Swift’s feet, especially since he does complain of others’ altering his text, and since anonymous satire was a kind of participatory activity?
I should think it goes without saying that it is only due to Karian’s deep scholarship and thoughtful, transparent presentation that I can raise this concern at all.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 121 other followers