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.