Karian’s Chapter 2: Manuscript circulation through 1714


Eschewing a colon and subtitle so common in the naming of academic works, Karian’s title Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript captures both his book’s subject and its logic. While habit of mind suggests an inverse order in presenting the two forms of media—“manuscript” and “print”—the transposition serves Karian’s purposes well. From the outset the titular ordering subtly disrupts traditional thinking about relationships between manuscript and print. Rather than connoting a stage of production that precedes print, manuscript here participates in an integral, complex relationship with print. As Karian explains, “For Swift, manuscript both competes with and complements print” (46).

The book’s organization enacts its title’s word order by devoting the first chapter to Swift’s print publication and ensuing chapters to his use of manuscript. Chapter two charts the role manuscript circulation played in Swift’s early career as a writer through 1714. Yet, it also supplies the rationale and methodology for such study. Noting that he is the first to undertake a study of Swift’s career-long involvement with manuscript, Karian establishes the need and merits for reconstructing this history. Swift’s career as an author is so intricately intertwined with manuscript that attending to print publication alone yields an inevitably incomplete understanding of his textual production. Besides affording a more comprehensive picture of Swift’s corpus, attending to the manuscript component also offers insights about readers’ responses to his works and his shifting status as an author during the period (44).

As Karian describes his methods for studying manuscripts, the challenges and labor involved suggest cogent reasons for the scholarly neglect of Swift’s manuscript circulation that extend beyond the privileging of print. Problems tied to the loss or destruction of manuscripts, uncertainty about the manuscript’s origins (is the handwritten text derived from manuscript transmission or from a printed text?), inability to identify the producer if the hand is unknown, issues related to dating, and the like underscore the amount of ingenuity and work such a task necessitates. Karian is a scholar up to the task, possessing intimate knowledge of bibliography, Swift, book-history matters, and textual criticism. He is also a careful scholar as illustrated by the pains he takes with presenting and assessing evidence, employing appropriate qualifiers in making claims, and recognizing freely that future discoveries may alter his conjectures and conclusions.

Because he is interested in only manuscript circulation that is independent of print, Karian employs textual collation and other tools to identify and eliminate those manuscripts whose roots are printed texts. His scope is also confined to “the initial stages of manuscript circulation (i.e., stages contemporaneous with the initial reception of a work),” noting that a late manuscript may nonetheless be relevant if its base text is an earlier but now-lost manuscript (47).

Beginning with the early 1690s and ending with the year 1714, chapter two presents several early phases in Swift’s use and views of manuscript production and his authorial development. Swift’s involvement with manuscript circulation dates from the start of his authorial career and coincides with his pursuit of print. Yet within this expanse of roughly two and half decades, only the years 1708 to 1710, a period book-ended by “his emergence as a known author” and the appearance of “his first authoritative collection,” record the circulation of his manuscript work to any large degree (70).

Although Swift partook in coterie manuscript circulation during the 1690s, his main involvement with manuscript circulation “may have been primarily for the service of others” (48). During his time in Lord Berkeley’s household (1699-1701 and intermittent visits through 1709) Swift gravitated toward social verse suited to the easy rapport he enjoyed with the family and their circle—a rapport that the manuscript works often capture. This period cultivated a conversational tone in his compositions that endured over the course of his career; these social verses also displayed his talents at impersonation. In discussing these works Karian offers some perceptive comparisons between the different effects rendered by the original scribal medium and the later printed form (52-53). This same perceptiveness found in his comparisons of the two media and his use of print as evidence carries over into his discussion of readers.

Remarking that the circulation of these verses was probably confined to the Berkeley circle until 1708, Karian plausibly suggests that the interest in Swift’s works generated by publication of the Bickerstaff papers and, particularly, A Tale of a Tub spurred, in turn, the wide circulation of Swift’s unpublished works between 1708 and 1710 (52-59). Among these manuscript works were ones Swift had composed and shared while residing with the Berkeley household. Although Swift no doubt had a large hand in this wider dissemination of his unpublished works, their circulation was not entirely within his control. Karian attributes the waning of Swift’s manuscript circulation after this period to several factors. For one, Swift’s experience with fame and Curll’s subsequent unauthorized printed editions of his works made Swift highly wary of losing control of his unpublished writings, resulting in his exercising a far tighter rein over them. Another factor was the 1711 publication of Swift’s authorized Miscellanies in Prose and Verse; its appearance satisfied the demand for his work that manuscript copies had formerly exclusively filled (67). From 1711 through 1714 Swift was employed writing propaganda for Queen Anne’s ministry. This role resulted in yet another form of ‘publication’: the private distribution of print. By distributing printed works gratis to a select few, the practice merged “the typographic element of print with the coterie climate associated with manuscript” (67). That Karian situates this practice within the context of manuscript and print enhances his discussion and enables him to offer broader points. Not only does the private distribution of print destabilize, as Karian asserts, “the public-private binary so often applied to print and manuscript” (70), but it also illustrates an aspect of the symbiotic relationship between the two media.

While this chapter provoked a number of thoughts and queries, I will pose just a few here and perhaps offer others in later discussions.

  • Swift’s counterfeiting his hand for social raillery (51) and his employing transcriptions for both “politically controversial works” (66) and pranks “because [Swift’s] hand was known” (66-7) seem worthy of pause. As Steve has rightly pointed out, “The typography of print standardizes the special features of a counterfeit hand or manuscript with two hands” (52). Yet I also find it quite interesting that the discussion of Swift’s being more angered by “Curll’s naming him” than by Curll’s “publishing works without Swift’s permission” (65) prefaces a return to discussing counterfeit hands and transcriptions. Perhaps this sequence is coincidental, but the issues of naming and hand seem not unrelated. One might argue that these incidents reveal deeper cultural attitudes about agency, identity, hands, and names as rendered and negotiated by manuscript and print. In terms of manuscript handwriting could act literally to “name” or identify a person. Although manuscript had come to acquire new meanings by Swift’s time, the practices associated with the word manuscriptum in the sense of its original meaning that I noted in commenting on Dave’s post (“documents which derived evidential value from being written by a particular person”) were still in play. The second “witness” called in Algernon Sidney’s 1683 trial was his handwritten draft of his “Discourses upon Government.” This sense of document as witness lingers today as a specific term used in textual criticism. That Swift, in an effort to protect unauthorized connecting of his name to unauthorized publications of his works in print, draws his manuscripts closer to him and becomes far more wary of their circulation, seems a conflation of name and hand.
  • Steve’s examination of Swift in print and manuscript demonstrates the crucial importance of considering not just print but manuscript circulation as well in ways that seem quite different from those presented in Margaret Ezell’s significant study, Social Authorship and the Advent of Print. Yet I was struck not only by the challenges Steve tackled in studying Swift’s manuscript production but also by the relative wealth of material available. As Steve notes, Lindsay has compiled over 500 manuscripts related to Swift, and that’s just one source. Swift’s canonical status today and his celebrity at the time have contributed to the preservation of such a large number of manuscripts, notwithstanding the number that has been lost to us. So I wonder the extent to which such a study could be undertaken for other eighteenth-century authors who exist on the margins of the canon? Perhaps the extreme paucity of manuscript materials I have been unable to uncover for my project is driving my query, for in comparison there seems to be an abundant wealth of materials.
  • I was quite struck by the type of detective work that provided the evidence for many of this chapter’s (indeed the entire work’s) arguments and by the case reconstructions that assembled this evidence. Part of the method employed reflects a willingness to search beyond traditional routes for evidence as well as to assemble sources in fairly fresh ways. While this type of work has always been with us (and indeed seems characteristic of eighteenth-century scholarship as well as bibliography), our digital environment appears to be fostering new areas of evidence-gathering across disciplinary boundaries that is invigorating painstakingly detailed investigations. Perhaps this roaming brought to mind other possible sources of evidence. Though perhaps outside the scope of or not even useful to Karian’s project, I was wondering about the use of paper as evidence in such a study of manuscript circulation. It seems as if investigating this aspect of materiality might result in unusual findings. I was also wondering about economic issues. For example, today one might prefer a photocopy or PDF of a selected portion of a work rather than purchasing an entire work. Would one prefer to write the verses one desired from a friend’s copy of Swift’s work rather than buy his or her own? While the publication of Swift’s Miscellanies did seem to offer one of several plausible explanations for the diminishing circulation of Swift’s manuscript works in 1711, I nonetheless found myself weighing just how strong a manuscript market might remain among some segments of potential purchasers if costs were considered.
  • 3 Responses to “Karian’s Chapter 2: Manuscript circulation through 1714”

    1. Dave Mazella Says:

      For a moment, I’d like to highlight the literary and canonical issues implicit in Eleanor’s post: we clearly have in Swift’s manuscripts and reputation a literary figure whose contemporary celebrity and subsequent canonization made his manuscripts valuable. But to what extent does this degree of celebrity hinge upon widespread print circulation? I am asking this because of the disparities in the amount of evidence for Swift as opposed to say, Mary Barber.

      I mention this because I’ve been thinking about the Philadelphia poet Elizabeth Graeme Ferguson, who offers all sorts of complexities in terms of her unpublished vs. published writings. In particular, I’m thinking about the arguments of those like historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who claims that there is in fact more documentation of women’s lives than we often realize, because of their dispersed locations. [Eleanor, I don’t know how to do links within comments, so forgive the long paste-job; Dave, I inserted link, but it takes those outside UH to an authentication page.]

      At the same time, I wonder how much the notion of manuscript “evidence” works with or against our notions of fixed canonicity: to get “evidence” about Swift, we have to review the writings of many, many other people, and sometimes that search uncovers writers like Mary Barber. So I’m wondering how this trope of the “fluid interchange between manuscript and print” might affect our notions of literary canonicity?


    2. Anna Battigelli Says:

      Thanks, Eleanor and Dave, for these fine overviews of Steve’s first two chapters. I have appreciated the questions posed by Dave and also Eleanor’s rich response to those questions. And I’m still thinking about Eleanor’s queries in her post.

      Do we need to acknowledge that authorship works in multiple ways, so that one can consider Swift to be a single creative mind, the drive (though not, perhaps, the lone drive) behind something like GT even as we also see, thanks to Steve’s good work, the more social nature of his work as a writer? These two identities or kinds of author-functions do not cancel one another out. As Steve makes clear, they enrich one another.


    3. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Karian’s argument responds, in part, to your query about widespread print circulation and celebrity: The print publication of Tale of a Tub generated wider interest in Swift’s non-published work. With the publication of Swift’s Miscellanies, however, the demand for his manuscript writings seems to have tapered. Print, of course, has an advantage in its potential for reaching more people. As for achieving canonical issues, many a writer has been popular in his or her day but not become canonical. And there are examples of the reverse occurring, too.

      Additionally, I view the canon as dynamic in many ways. While some figures are fixed, the ordering often changes and those ranking lower might slip in and out. This movement can be traced by examining anthologies from the 18th century on. A few years ago one of my MA students wrote a thesis analyzing the Norton Anthology’s treatment of eighteenth-century writers from its first edition to its latest. She performed several types of analysis including statistical number of pages devoted to each author. Despite shifts in the canon, the total amount of pages devoted to Swift were essentially maintained. It was not until Greenblatt joined Abrams as an editor that any real movement in the number of women included/pages they received occurred (and still the figure was low).

      Back to Dave’s remarks, though. Situating particular texts and genres within the larger field of textual production seems a quite useful pursuit. In other words, examining Swift’s “To Mrs. Biddy Floyd” within the context Mary Barber’s work and so forth, as Karian does, affords us a better sense of the larger textual exchange and literary dialogues of the time. In some cases this examination may result in reinforcing a particular author’s canonical status, but at other times it might cause assessments to shift. And on a somewhat related note, we might ask how knowledge of the widespread manuscript circulation of Swift’s “To Mrs. Biddy Floyd” affects our sense of Pope’s borrowing from it in his “Epistle to a Lady.”

      As for Ulrich’s claim of there being more out there than we realize because of their dispersed location, I would agree in many ways–and also add that this holds true for information about the lives of men who occupied more marginal positions in terms of class or status. A related problem is the brevity of catalog descriptions. While databases such as London Lives and improvements to A2Aare helping with making information easier to find, difficulties remain. Like the false sense of inclusiveness that databases such as ECCO or Burney can sometimes generate, this effect is present in these tools, too. Finally, while there is definitely more information “out there” than typically might be thought, the fact remains that often information, artifacts, and the histories of such figures have been lost to time because such material was not thought worth saving.

      It seems suitable to mention the following. Those interested in this overall discussion of the relationship between manuscript and print may also be interested in the panel that Eve Tabor Bannet is organizing for SHARP at ASECS 2011:

      “Writing and Print: Uses, Interactions, Cohabitation” (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing — SHARP) Eve Tavor Bannet
      Dept of English,
      U. of Oklahoma, 760 Van Vleet Oval, Rm 113, Norman, OK 73019-0240; Tel: (405) 325-4661;
      Fax: (405) 325-0831; E-mail: etbannet@ou.edu

      This panel invites proposals for papers examining interactions between print and manuscript writing. Possible issues include: how print represented, changed or impacted writing (and/or vice versa); when and how print inserted itself in areas previously dominated by writing (government records or club rules, for example); where and how the two were used in conjunction or treated as rivals; how writers for print sought to recreate features of writing in the new medium (in epistolary novels, for instance); how writing and print were used and conceived during the long eighteenth century. Papers may be individual case studies or more general, historically based, theoretical contributions.

      Proposers need not be members of SHARP to submit, but panelists must be members of both ASECS and SHARP in order to present. For questions about SHARP membership, please direct inquiries to Eleanor F. Shevlin, Membership Secretary, at eshevlin@wcupa.edu


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