Karian’s Chapter 4: Censorship and Revision in ‘On Poetry: A Rapsody’


Randy Robertson sends the following review of Chapter 4 of Karian’s Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript:

In his new book, Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript, Stephen Karian studies the role that the manuscript medium played in the circulation of Swift’s work, thus caulking a significant gap in eighteenth-century scholarship. The “Print” of the title is an important but secondary consideration for Karian: after the first chapter of Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript, which is devoted to Swift’s printed oeuvre, the printed works usually provide a context in which to evaluate the manuscripts. To round out his project, Karian will publish an online digital archive, the Swift Poems Project, which “attempts to inventory and transcribe all texts of all poems by or related to Jonathan Swift through the early nineteenth century” (5), an impressive and valuable undertaking.

In chapter four, “Censorship and Revision in ‘On Poetry: A Rhapsody’,” Karian examines some forty-eight lines that the Earl of Orrery inserted into his printed copy of the poem. Karian notes that the extra lines “exist in manuscript form in seven contemporary copies and are always appended to a printed text” (103; cf. 115). He assumes, plausibly, that Swift was the author of these lines (Orrery says as much elsewhere), and he suggests that Orrery provided his authoritative copy of the poem to others for transcription (119-20). These forty-eight lines include pointed criticisms of the king. Here is a sampling:

How well his publick Thrift is shewn?
All coffers full except his own.

Still more daring is a thirty-six line verse paragraph that was supposed to appear after line 414 of the printed poem:

Perhaps you say Augustus shines
Immortal made by Virgil’s Lines,
And Horace brought ye tunefull Choir
To sing his virtues on ye Lyre,
Without reproach of flattery true
Because their Praises were his due
For in those Ages Kings we find,
Were Animals of human kind,
But now go search all Europe round
Among ye savage Monsters crown’d
With Vice polluting every Throne
I mean all Kings except our own,
In vain you make ye strictest View
To find a King all ye Crew,
With whom a Footman out of Place
Would not conceive a high disgrace
A burning Shame, a crying Sin
To take his morning Cup of Gin:
Thus all are destin’d to obey
Some Beast of Burthen or of Prey . . . .

On it goes in similar vein, and one can well understand why the passage was not included in Huggonson’s printed text of 1733; indeed, what Karian calls the “full text of the poem” was not published until 1758 (120).

It is curious that Karian is so tentative in suggesting that the lines were censored rather than merely excluded from early editions of “On Poetry,” referring to the claim at one point as a “hypothesis” (119). Not only is the omitted passage an obvious attack on George II—the line “I mean all Kings except our own” is transparently ironic and would have provided a flimsy bulwark against prosecution—but in a separate transcription of the lines, Orrery tells us that the passage consists of “Verses by Dean Swift, which ought to have been inscribed in the Rhapsody, if it had been safe to print them” (119). In a letter of 1750, eight years before a full edition of the poem was published, Thomas Birch reports the existence of “a Copy of the Rhapsody much more complete than the printed one, but too licentious for publication” (121). That the lines in Orrery’s copy were censored seems beyond dispute.

Sir Walter Scott had surmised in his 1824 edition of Swift’s Works that Swift himself was responsible for suppressing the lines. Karian rightly points out other possibilities: it may be, for instance, that the printer John Huggonson censored the offending lines. Swift’s booksellers had blotted and altered his works in the past—Gulliver’s Travels is perhaps the signal example—and, as Karian notes, Huggonson may have learned of the government’s intention to prosecute the publishers of Swift’s “Epistle to a Lady” before he printed “On Poetry.” Mary Barber had carried both poems with her to London for publication, and, in the event, the attorney general charged that the “Epistle” “intend[ed] to … scandalize and vilify … our Lord the King and his administration of the Government of this Kingdom and also to scandalize and discredit the Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Walpole … and also to traduce and vilify the Honourable members of the then House of Commons of this kingdom” (118). Huggonson may have concluded that he needed to prune the poem or risk imprisonment.

So much for censorship; Karian also addresses lines that he argues are later additions to the poem rather than part of Swift’s original manuscript. The lines appear in written form, along with a full transcription of the poem “Epistle to a Lady,” bound into volume two of Faulkner’s 1735 edition of Swift’s Works; Faulkner had printed the “Epistle” but cancelled it owing to its dangerous content. Apparently, the eight-leaf gathering that contained these extra lines of “On Poetry” and the transcript of the “Epistle” was “bound in with the original binding” (126). If, as was usual by this period, the book was bound before sale, the gathering was probably added just before publication, which dates the additional lines in the “Rhapsody” to 1734 or 1735 (126). Swift had finished the original version of the poem, however, in 1733.

Among the lines appended to “On Poetry” is the following couplet on the thresher turned poet Stephen Duck:

And may you ever have the luck
to Rhime almost as well as Duck.

As Karian observes, although Duck was a favorite of Queen Caroline’s, the lines are scarcely seditious, so rather than being censored from Faulkner’s edition, they were probably inserted into the volume after it was printed. Karian examines the other additional lines and concludes, more or less convincingly, that most of them were afterthoughts. He thus sharply distinguishes the forty-eight lines that were part of Swift’s original manuscript from the lines that were added in 1734-1735. He does not prove—to my satisfaction at any rate—that Swift was actually the author of the latter set of lines.

Karian also sets out to resolve a few bibliographical knots in the printing history of “On Poetry.” He raises the twin questions of when and how Faulkner obtained the forty-eight “extra” lines that he printed in his 1762 edition of the Works. Previous scholars have maintained that Faulkner had them in his possession from the early 1730s and simply cancelled them from his 1735 edition, but Karian remarks that “because some variants in Faulkner 1762 can be found in Hyde [1734] but not in Faulkner 1735, Faulkner’s 1762 source does not seem to derive directly from Faulkner 1735. The simplest explanation for this pattern is that Faulkner’s 1735 and 1762 texts derive from a common ancestor, now lost, and that that ancestor derives from Hyde” (123). As for the question of why Faulkner’s 1763 editions of the Works contain the censored version of “On Poetry” while the 1762 edition contains the full version, Karian neatly cuts the Gordian Knot: “Perhaps by the time [Faulkner] came to print volume X of his 1762 18mo edition, he had already printed ‘On Poetry’ in his 1763 editions. Therefore, despite the year on the title page of the volume, the 1762 text of ‘On Poetry’ may be Faulkner’s final printing of the poem” (125).

Karian’s discussion of “Upon Poetry: A Rhapsody” extends the insights of Margaret Ezell, Arthur Marotti, and Harold Love, who have taught us to look closely at the social contexts of manuscript circulation and who have highlighted the ways in which the censorship of manuscripts was far less rigorous than the censorship of print. He adds to their contributions a nice point about the intersection of print and manuscript in Swift’s corpus—especially in his poetry, manuscript supplemented and even completed the printed poems in some instances, at least for a coterie of Swift’s friends and acquaintances.

Although I profited from reading Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript, I cannot say that I always took pleasure in reading it. It reads, at times, like a textual introduction to an edition of Swift’s manuscripts. Books on bibliography and book history inevitably wade into technical issues that require patience to untangle. Yet surely a narrative structure of some sort would have enhanced the appeal of Karian’s book.

I hasten to add that Karian is hardly alone in producing occasionally dry scholarly work. Critics and scholars need to get better at telling stories; in the field of book history, Robert Darnton provides a superb model, combining a flair for narrative with scholarly rigor. Of course, one cannot fault Karian for not being Robert Darnton, and one can credit him with having written a well-researched and useful book.

–Randy Robertson (Susquehanna University)


5 Responses to “Karian’s Chapter 4: Censorship and Revision in ‘On Poetry: A Rapsody’”

  1. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks, Randy, for a fine overview of Chapter 4. I was interested in Steve’s distinction between the medium of print, which for Swift absorbed poetry into the brutal competition of a Hobbesian universe, and the medium of manuscript, which provides a friendlier “collaborative relationship between poet and audience” (107). But the existence of manuscript is not simply friendly. The forty-eight lines that Orrery inscribed onto the printed page of Swift’s poem clearly criticize the king; they also signal Orrery’s poetic intimacy with Swift. Here the manuscript supplement has a metonymic slipperiness–signaling both satire and friendship or insider status–that is worth noting.


  2. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Yes, many thanks, Randy, for this careful, well-informed consideration of chapter four.

    While I find Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript quite readable and “mercifully lucid,” as Ashley puts it, your sense that this work occasionally reads like “a textual introduction to an edition of Swift’s manuscripts” has a decided ring of truth to it. But perhaps such an effect reflects a rhetorical strategy (be it subconscious or not). Study of Swift has been entrenched in print, and adopting a “textual-edition” demeanor places Karian’s investigations on an equivalent plane of seriousness with that of his printed works. Nor do I find the work “dry.” Perhaps what you are deeming as dry is what I characterized as Steve’s extreme cautiousness and point-by-point deliberateness in his discussions. These traits struck me from the start, but as someone who has never worked extensively in verse or on Swift, I attributed this habit both to training and also perhaps to minefields of disputes of which I was unaware–-the latter especially was my reaction if a point was belabored.

    Darnton is incredible satisfying in terms of delivering a highly entertaining, substantive account. Yet, his stories, although bibliographically informed, focus more on social history, where I could not help but sense that Karian’s key story was in many ways bibliographically driven. (Perhaps a chicken-and-egg situation-–that is, the work seemed more bibliographically driven because of the style employed). In pursuing this focus, Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript, in my mind, delivers a more lively bibliographically-based account than many of its predecessors have done. In some ways the comparison between the two scholars echoes long-standing comparisons between the two threads that inform book history: bibliography and the annales-school tradition. The field is still trying to reconcile these two threads. For me, Steve’s work represents a form of initial engagement.

    To pursue Anna’s point that manuscript simultaneously embodies (or carries the potential to do so) both brutality and friendly collaboration, one could say that print possess such a capability, too. Benedict Anderson’s concept of print fostering imagined communities is one example; in terms of Swift, we might consider Ann Cline Kelly’s Jonathan Swift and Popular Culture Myth, Media, and the Man as offering examples. (Karian cites Kelly’s work and indicates that its presentation of the reception of Swift’s works complements his [46 n3]).


    • Anna Battigelli Says:

      Scholars would benefit from attending to both your point and Randy’s point about style and method. Darnton’s lively sociological study of mentalities is particularly wonderful for the profession because it reaches a broad audience and makes clear the significance of book history to a public that tends to dismiss it or see it as remote. Karian’s strict study of textual transmission may not have as broad an audience but it isn’t intended to: it is helpful because it demonstrates in an unembarrassed way the exacting labor involved in what we do. It should be noted that Karian is following through on Hermann Real’s suggestion eleven years ago that what Swift studies needs is

      more humble philological spadework, more strenuous immersion in the concerns of [Swift’s] age. . . . We need this all the more as the dean’s favorite mode of speaking was satire, and as satire requires exhaustive immersion in historicist reconstruction. . . . It is more scholarship, not less (least of all theory) that brings us closer to Swift. (Real, “Swift after Ehrenpreis: Is there Anything Left to Learn?” Anglistik 10 (1999): 102).

      What is emerging in our discussions is an acknowledgment of Swift’s elusiveness. That shouldn’t entirely surprise anyone, but it’s interesting that a project as empirical as Steve’s leads us to familiar problems of ambiguity and indeterminability.


  3. alcoppola Says:

    I couldn’t help hearing Randy’s criticism of the book’s “ocasionally dry scholarly work” as of a piece with his frank acknowledgment that he couldn’t credit Karian’s attribution of the later revisions to the poem to Swift. In doing the sort of work that karian has undertaken, it seems to me that there is never quite enough proof to go around, and some claims (for now, or, indeed, for all times) may just have to remain conjectural if they are to be made at all. I find this a strength of this book, to tell the truth, I’d much prefer a scholar to offer up an educated guess than a shrug of the shoulders. As part of this, though, it seems to me that Karian needs to do the painstaking, historicist spadework to set up those conjectures, and to let his reader know the full range of evidence upon which that claim is based, if only to allow that reader to make an equally informed decision to disregard it.


  4. Dave Mazella Says:

    @Anna: Well, yes, but the only thing that allows you to do the kinds of conjectural work on the basis of partial evidence is some kind o ftheory, or what we’ve been calling a conceptual framework. So all these interesting fine-grained facts have nowhere to go unless or until we begin to generate new or revised theories about Swift’s authorship.


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