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.