Karian’s Chapter 3: Manuscript circulation after 1714


Karian’s Chapter 3: Manuscript circulation after 1714

Let me say at the outset that as an aspiring Swiftian, I’m delighted to have the chance to participate in this already very fruitful discussion.  Chapter 3 of Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript, the companion to the chapter so usefully reviewed by Eleanor, focuses on the period after Swift’s “exile” to Ireland in 1714.  I share Dave’s, Eleanor’s, and Al’s enthusiasm for Karian’s learned, careful, systematic investigation of the origins and transmission of some of Swift’s texts.  Swift comes just late enough that—even in the wake of Harold Love and others—we do not think of him in terms of manuscript circulation.  Karian has made us mindful of the need to attend to the complicated textual history of Swift’s output, and any criticism of particular works or groups of works that does not take into account his analysis is likely to be at best incomplete.

At the end of chapter 3, Karian concludes bluntly that Swift “cannot be identified simply as a print author” (98).  That’s absolutely right.  In this chapter, Karian offers four categories of manuscript circulation, which seem to represent different authorial strategies and intentions.  The four categories of manuscript dissemination are: (1) circulation of a single manuscript (evidently) by Swift (evidently) among a small coterie; (2) manuscript collections to some extent participated in by Swift; (3) intentional manuscript circulation (evidently) by Swift and (evidently) for an audience wider than a coterie but more restricted than the book-buying public; and (4) manuscripts (evidently) circulated beyond Swift’s control. The bulk of the chapter is devoted to a discussion of examples of these four categories; the final section offers a useful, detailed explanation of the “convoluted textual journey” of Swift’s much-cherished History of the Four Last Years of the Queen, which existed in multiple manuscript versions but which did not see print until 13 years after Swift’s death.

Karian’s study is a very good illustration of the importance of considering bibliographic origins, textual problems, and circulation when carrying out interpretation.  What this book does, most broadly, is sensitize us both to the often complicated interplay between print and manuscript and to the particular complexities associated with Swift’s canon.  The two reviewers who precede me have raised important questions about the former; I want to speak mostly about the latter.

Chapter 3’s discussion of four kinds of manuscript dissemination depends very heavily upon premises about motive.  Karian’s sketch of the post-1714 output is eminently plausible, and he far from unaware of the difficulties of determining Swift’s intentions, but those difficulties sometimes seem insufficiently stressed.  Given the slipperiness and dishonesty and playfulness of the dean, we can rarely be certain that he did or did not intend a work to be published, and given his occasional bits of political innocence, misjudgments, and indiscretions, we cannot even safely assume that he could not have wanted a particular piece to travel beyond an immediate circle.  Neither can we afford to feel too confident—perhaps especially in the case of Swift, notoriously casual about much of what he produced—that we can fully reconstruct the circumstances of transmission.  Again, Karian is mindful of these problems, but the nature of his discussion might lead unwary readers into assuming that we can know a good deal more than we can.

What excites me most about Karian’s study is that it has major implications for how we talk about Swift’s output and self-definition as an author.  Karian does not really have time or space to pursue all such implications, and some of the questions are insoluble, but they are worth puzzling over.  Karian stresses the point that Swift wrote to particular audiences, a fact that cannot be emphasized enough.  Swift certainly wrote and immediately published many works for various general publics, but he’s highly topical and writes quite a lot of private pieces for various inner circles; those works necessarily need to be treated differently from something like Verses on the Death or The Legion Club—which mostly they haven’t been in the past.

Karian’s discussion made me a good deal more aware of some particular puzzles surrounding the publication of Swift’s works.  The situation often seems yet messier than readers of this book might think.  Let me take two particular examples.  Cadenus and Vanessa, Karian says, was probably “the most embarrassing poem of Swift’s to circulate in manuscript” (91).  That seems right to me.  But after Swift’s refusal in a 1726 letter to Chetwode (quoted by Karian) to print a “correct” version, the poem was in fact published.  And then—earlier chagrin notwithstanding—it appeared in the so-called “last” volume of the Swift-Pope Miscellanies (1727) and then again in the Faulkner Works of 1735.  I can’t imagine that Swift was anything but mortified by the manuscript circulation of Cadenus and Vanessa—but I’m not sure how we should take his letting the poem appear in later, authorized  collections.  Another type of complexity.  Karian’s third category includes touchy Irish political lampoons written for largely punitive reasons against particular enemies.  One such poem is On the Words ‘Brother Protestants and Fellow Christians’, a 1733 attack on Richard Bettesworth (a strong supporter of the petition to repeal the Test Act in Ireland).  That Swift would circulate this satire in manuscript is natural enough—but what are we to make of his decision to let it appear in the 1735 Works?  Maybe he imagined certain works “designed” for an audience more specific than the general public but did not always stick to initial design; maybe the original mode of circulation was incidental rather than deliberate.  The enigmatic dean left many puzzles, and what I would like to suggest is that Karian’s study, among other thing, highlights the problems and questions still remaining.  I for one seriously question whether Swift imagined himself producing a “canon,” comprising discrete periods and falling into categories.  Maybe we would do better to take each piece (topical, occasional, almost always provoked by a very particular event) on its own, realizing that individual items often have their own textual stories.

I confess to being uneasy about the automatic privileging by some scholars of either print or manuscript texts.  In the realm of Rochester, Love was probably right invariably to prefer manuscript, but Swift is distinctly later; he did publish quite a lot (albeit much of it anonymously); and he is a special case.  Even where we know or presume his involvement, manuscript collections remain treacherous ground.  Karian suggests for instance that the two manuscript collections—one done by Stella, one done by Swift and Lady Acheson at Market Hill—reveal “Swift’s ongoing effort to preserve his writings in manuscript volumes,” and that both volumes “demonstrate how the manuscript medium can be effective for preservation and collection, and how in some instances it can embody more permanence than print” (81).  Granting that manuscript versions of the poems—especially those transcribed by Swift—likely reflect authorial preference, can we safely assume that the desire for preservation initiated with Swift?  I also found myself wondering in what way manuscript collections offer more “permanence” than printed collections, and would be glad to have a bit more said about that.

Karian’s discussion is scrupulous, a painstakingly accurate and mercifully lucid account, one that in its essentials really cannot be argued with.  Swift’s texts circulated in quite different ways, likely for very different reasons, just as they were written in varying circumstances for varying audiences.  One can quibble over particulars, but Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript is a deeply informed book that is clearly going to—or at least should—change the way we talk about Swift.

15 Responses to “Karian’s Chapter 3: Manuscript circulation after 1714”

  1. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Many thanks, Ashley, for this thoughtful, lucid post on chapter three. It is especially good to hear from someone who is working extensively with Swift.

    Your comments about attending to motive and the subsequent difficulties of doing so, particularly in the case of Swift, caused me to re-think the nature of his agency in opting to use the private distribution of print for his ministry propaganda. The decision does appear to be a deliberate choice on Swift’s part, but I wonder if such distribution option was more a matter of its being the logical path for such work rather than a “choice” per se.

    The claim that manuscript collections offer more “permanence” than printed collections is a curious one that invites elaboration.

    In terms of broader issues your unease about the “automatic privileging” of either print or manuscript is a welcomed comment on several fronts, but especially in reminding us that it is not always print that is privileged.


  2. Dave Mazella Says:

    If we are talking about their value as evidence, manuscripts are (supposedly) less mediated, and therefore more valuable. This seems to be the direction that early modern history has been heading in for some time. I do wonder what would happen to literary scholarship if we felt that publishing scholars needed to master manuscripts as well as printed scholarship to do professional-level work for writers like Swift. There is an implicit argument for specialization at work here, is there not?

    But, as I have suggested, I do think that there is a disciplinary difference between the literary scholar who essentially synthesizes such information for “commentary,” and the historian who wishes to create a free-standing account of a particular figure or event or period. But perhaps this kind of work begins to dissolve that difference?


  3. jliedl Says:

    I’ve been catching up on this collaborative review and I must say that it’s very helpful for a historian who focuses on the earlier period. Learning about the importance of manuscripts in 18th century culture is particularly inspiring — I might have to order a copy of this book to share with my grad students as we’re tackling early modern media history.


  4. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks, Ashley, for this splendid overview of a chapter treating the period in which Swift’s manuscript circulation increased.

    I don’t know whether “agency” is the word I would use to explore the motive behind Swift’s turn to manuscript, but neither does his turn to manuscript seem to be a default choice, particularly for the series of satires of Irish bishops. It may be helpful to consider Roger Lund’s argument in “‘Public Conscience’ and the Privatization of Religion” (Prose Studies 18:3 (1995): 150-174), which takes issue with Habermas’s assumptions that the public sphere offered a space in which controversies could be resolved through debate. As Lund notes, Swift believed that religious controversies required an authoritative Church to overcome private disagreements. He was, as we know, intolerant of those departing from Church authority, and this would have placed interesting pressure on him as he criticized bishops from within. Manuscript circulation, which might have a more carefully selected and controlled readership, would be a logical choice for such an endeavor.

    So as Steve forces us to consider Swift in Print and Manuscript (Eleanor’s point above), he is also providing material for an interesting discussion of Swift’s view of the so-called public sphere.


  5. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    The issue of disciplinary boundaries is a timely one. A large number of literary scholars have been attracted to this field, far more it seems than those in history (a comparison of papers devoted to “book history” topics at MLA compared to those at AHA bears this out as does the high number of SHARP members who also belong to MLA). Methodologies can very greatly and are complicated by the need to be conversant in the methodological practices of multiple fields. As Karian’s work illustrates, many literary scholars (but certainly not all) who are conversant with book history are straddling several disciplines, including those of literature and history.


  6. Dave Mazella Says:

    –Anna, I think one of the most valuable insights that comes from Steve’s study is its complication of our usual binaries: private is to public::manuscript to print. With Swift, it seems difficult to regard any particular piece of writing as unequivocally private or public, for example, given these histories. But my sense of Swift is that there are many gradations of inside and outside in his treatment of politics and power, largely because he experienced it and aspired to it first hand.

    I suppose methodologically the difficulty of reconstructing what are essentially psychological factors like “motive” or “intention” is compounded, and the risks of speculation greatly increased, once we begin to incorporate additional actors into our reconstructions: we may feel that we know Swift’s motives, but what about those of his collaborators? So, inevitably perhaps, much of the investigator’s energies goes towards reconstructing the genetic process that resulted in the texts as we find them. Is that a fair description?


  7. Anna Battigelli Says:

    -Dave, can you say more about what you mean by genetic process? The kind of careful detective work that Steve presents in tracing manuscript production (which is what I think you mean) is a necessary first step and this kind of detailed and precise work makes his book valuable. But like any good book, it complicates questions rather than leading to conclusive answers, especially, as Ashley points out, questions of agency. With Swift’s satire, particularly satire of bishops, we get new questions–and a new set of textual motivations that need to be pieced together, though these likely involve cautious conjecture. Conclusive answers are probably not possible with Swift, but intelligent attempts fortified by the kind of work that Steve provides seem necessary.

    Ashley’s question–why would Swift circulate his satire of Richard Bettesworth in manuscript in 1733 but then allow it to be printed in his 1735 Works–interests me. As Dave points out, binaries like “private” and “public” become too crude if left unqualified, but that does not mean we shouldn’t try to guess at motive or habits of mind behind print and manuscript choices.


  8. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    The evidence Steve draws from letters, diaries, journals, marginalia and similar sources each represent cases of a “rhetorical situation.” Considering his motives within the context of these specific situations and the audiences they invoke is one means of handling the necessarily speculative nature of such piecing together. While I concur with Dave’s remarks about the slipperiness of public/private here, if by “genetic process” Dave is referring to a primarily textual reconstruction of manuscript production, Steve’s methods appear to encompass more than the traditional tools of textual studies.

    As for Ashley’s very interesting question, the initial manuscript circulation of this satire seems “natural” and appropriate. Swift’s decision to include it in his collected works two years later perhaps indicates his interest in presenting the complexities of his identity of as an author–offering a collected view not only of his works but also the authorial personas who created those works. According to Zionkowski, editorial intervention prevented Thomas Gray’s satires from being included in a collection of his works because such performances disrupted the authorial image the reading public had of him. Moreover, this case points to the altered expectations of reading publics, increased commercial nature of the literary marketplace and more that had occurred since Swift’s time.


  9. Ashley Marshall Says:

    @ Eleanor: You’re absolutely right about the apparent “naturalness” of Swift’s not wanting to print a nasty satire immediately, but then again he does so over and over throughout his career. Traulus is pretty hard stuff; The Legion Club is nasty. His earlier lampoon on Godolphin is sheer malice–a poem of revenge, he owns in the Journal to Stella. I can’t help but wonder if his casualness about composition and preservation, especially in the realm of the verse, sometimes produces “accidents” of publication or non-publication. Plus, he was absolutely churning stuff out at times—I wouldn’t be surprised if some things were passed around and he lost track of them. Of course there is the problem, too, as Steve says very clearly, that we can’t be entirely sure of just what his role in the Faulkner collection was. There is reason for believing that he struck Traulus (for example) late in the game, and I’m not sure why he would lose that one but keep Judas (for example). The obvious answers never seem wholly satisfactory. For me–and maybe only for me!–Swift only makes sense if I allow for a degree of indifference, sloppiness, inconsistency on his part.

    I guess what I’m most interested in exactly what kind of author Swift thought he was. His attitude toward his texts doesn’t somehow seem to fit with our sense of what his attitude toward his texts should have been. (And I’m speaking here not of Steve’s book but of criticism more broadly.)

    @ Anna: thanks for reminding me of Lund’s essay. Vis-a-vis the bishops, there are puzzles. You’re right, of course, that criticizing them from within makes for a complicated rhetorical situation. The MS audience is certainly smaller, but it doesn’t seem to be all that controllable, and he doesn’t often seem to be that interested in controlling it.

    Some things Swift clearly wanted to make very public; some things he very clearly wanted to keep fairly private. But there would seem to be a wide area in between, and I can’t say I see many patterns. I would want to look again at the particulars of publication of the many, many works before coming down hard on the issue, but my impression is that there are too many inconsistencies to make ascribing a clear-cut logic possible.

    This is great fun, by the way!


  10. Dave Mazella Says:

    @Anna, I think the detective work Steve engages in is absolutely necessary, and is of course conjectural and interpretive. It results in a particular view of the texts at hand, and their relation to what we know about Swift, his biography, the conditions of printing in his period, etc. etc. I called it “genetic” because I think that a large part of this work is attempting to reconstruct a process that seems to include quite a few individuals. The notion of this process as encompassing a “rhetorical situation” seems sound to me, because the actor Swift needs to do certain things for his writings to get into other people’s hands, and I’m not sure if all those things he does to make that happen can be described as “intentions.” I need to return to Steve’s book to clarify this, but I think Ashley’s example of the Bettesworth satires, which receive one kind of circulation at one point and a different one at a different point in time, a good one for thinking about how we might conceptualize those actions, or decisions, or whatever. My only point (which is elementary, I know) is that the larger the group of people involved, the less decisive any single actor’s will in how events proceed. That’s why I’m focusing on the notion of “process.” (this comes from my own recent thoughts about collective authorship, but I’d be happy to hear objections to this line of thinking)

    If Said’s notion of Swift as an occasional writer rings true, then perhaps we should not be surprised at the kinds of inconsistencies we turn up in his attitudes towards his own authorship. And it still remains very possible to identify consistencies or at least tendencies within an overall pattern of ad hoc behavior, right?


  11. Anna Battigelli Says:

    The Bettesworth example confirms Dave’s interest in excavating the full context of a poem’s authorship. Clearly Bettesworth suspected Swift to be the author of the satire, and when he threatened Swift physically, Bettesworth became the target of a series of lampoons by others (who knew about the satire, its author, and Bettesworth’s response).

    In this situation, it seems as if Swift’s authorship of a privately circulated manuscript became known almost immediately, and that the subsequent authorial game consisted of denying authority while continuing the attack on Bettesworth in letters and subsequent poems, some of which were written by others. So Swift’s manuscript satire of Bettesworth needs to be understood as part of a collective social-literary event, in which Bettesworth’s objections and even his name were co-opted, rather than simply a poem crafted by a poet working alone in his study.

    If we take Ashley’s meanness or aggression theory to an extreme, it might be possible that an anonymous manuscript would carry through its anonymity a sense of public outcry that might more powerfully signal indignation than a signed satire. Here John Mullan’s excellent essay “Dryden’s Anonymity” in Zwicker’s Cambridge Companion to Dryden seems pertinent. But, as Ashley notes, it may be impossible to tell. Still, this might explain why he allowed the poem to appear in print two years later.


  12. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Ashley’s point about “allowing for a degree of indifference, sloppiness, inconsistency on his part” seems on target and also is an impression that Steve’s book often conveys of him, an impression that may occasionally be obscured by Steve’s own very deliberate, methodical reconstruction of possible explanations.

    This discussion about Swift’s inconsistencies reminds me of Lennard Davis’s discussion of the differences between characters and actual persons in Resisting Novels; humans and their behavior are inconsistent, but characters are often not allowed that luxury. Sometimes in constructing views of a person as an author, we engage in this tendency to erase inconsistencies.

    The Mullan essay seems absolutely relevant here.


  13. alcoppola Says:

    This is a rich discussion indeed. I find most compelling the portrait that’s emerging of Swift here–an occasional, harried, even negligent,writer, whose authorship is established and exerted in conscious choices to be sure, but which is also articulated in manner that bears the traces of other persons’ conscious choices–a bookseller who excises dangerous lines, a friend who can’t forebear to circulate a poem more widely–as well as a whole range of other social and rhetorical forces that make some “choices” really not much of a choice at all, but rather simply what one must to say the things one wishes.

    I think Anna is right on in drawing attention to the force-field that is activated around satire, particularly anonymous satire, which for all its brutality (perhaps because of it?) becomes a kind of game that others take a hand in. Indeed, this would seem to be expected on the part of the satirist, and a key way of verifying the satire’s potency while also testifying to the social capital the satirist wields. If others take it upon themselves to join in and extend the satiric discourse, the satirist has all the more plausible deniability for any one lampoon, while also some objective proof that others “have his back,” as it were, in the dispute. Thus, we shouldn’t immediately assume that when a satire circulates anonymously it was because it couldn’t have worn the name of its author. Rather, to be “unauthorized” is to invite collaboration, extension, misapplication and all manner of other dirty tricks that might all the more effectively damage the target.


  14. Dave Mazella Says:

    The more powerful the target, the more anonymous the critique has to be to truly damage its target. An anonymous text or image, because it cannot be traced back to a particular source with particular interests, or with particular vulnerabilities. Think about the image, circulated by the Tea Party, of Obama as the Joker.

    It seems to me that the missing term in this discussion of collective/collaborative authorship, anonymity, and Swift would be “ideology.” Certain terms or images or narratives have particular resonance because they mobilize adherents of particular ideologies. This kind of framework seems like a very good way to talk about the circulation of polemical materials in political discourse, and would be the next step after reading Steve’s careful reconstruction, would it not?


  15. Dave Mazella Says:

    To give you a contemporary example of the effectiveness of aggressively anonymous images at moments of ideological conflict, I’m passing along a link to an examination of “Tea Party Comix,” which could either be a Tea Party production, or something designed to discredit the Tea Party.


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