Response to Collaborative Reading of Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript


First, I would like to thank Anna for organizing this reading of my book and all the reviewers for taking the time to read and evaluate it so carefully. This is my first book, and I had expected a two- to three-year wait before reading reviews of it. I certainly did not expect to have encountered a set of seven thoughtful reviews within two months of its publication — one of the many virtues of online collaborative reviews, a subject Eleanor recently discussed. I’ve learned a great deal from these reviews and the comments that followed. In fact, because everyone has raised so many interesting issues, I’m finding it difficult to begin. I will try to address one central issue raised by each reviewer, weaving into my discussion some of the responses to those review posts. I will necessarily have to omit some of the points that have been raised.

Dave Mazella began the discussion by asking the important question of how we talk about eighteenth-century book history: “do we have, or need, an alternative to the unitary term ‘print culture’ in our analysis of the eighteenth century?”. I’m glad to have the chance to address this question, since for the most part I avoided doing so in my book. In fact, I use the term “print culture” only once (205) and then with scare quotes. My avoidance of the term does not signal that I think it has no use in scholarly discussions; rather, I think its value depends greatly on the context of the larger scholarly project in which it is used. Macro-level investigations that chart the major shifts between the pre- and post-Gutenberg eras will depend greatly on an operative term such as “print culture” (obviously I’m thinking of Eisenstein here). But since my book was limited to not just Britain in the first half of the eighteenth century but also to a single author in that milieu, I thought that such a micro-level study would help to show us the limitations and even misconceptions that such macro-level terms imply when used in a more limited disciplinary context.

To put this in more concrete ways: we should not expect that any coherent definition of print culture will encompass such widely different artifacts as a massive folio edition of Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion as well as a broadside poem or single issue of a newspaper. Permanence and ephemerality co-exist here, and the more that a conceptual term embraces paradox and contradiction the less utility it will have for the purposes of definition and argument. In addition, whenever examining any time period up close, one will find overlapping and competing “print cultures” that vary according to cost, format, genre, etc. Perhaps the ultimate lesson is that in such narrowed contexts the term has greater value in the plural form, evidencing a kind of multi-cultural media world.

And to answer Mazella’s question from another direction: it would depend on what else we know of other authors in the period, writing in other genres and not necessarily in metropolitan areas. I had hoped to suggest ways in which Swift was or was not typical of his age in regard to the use of print and manuscript, but I came to recognize that much more needs to be studied before one could begin to address that topic. Studying the examples that Eleanor and Al Coppola mention is one good place to start.

This issue connects to Eleanor’s question about the ability to conduct research in this field given the materials that have or have not survived, especially for non-canonical authors. When I started doing textually and bibliographically related research in graduate school, I had assumed that the major discoveries in this area have already been made and that there was little left to do. But I have come to learn that there is much more to find and many more questions to ask that haven’t been considered yet. In addition, there are now some great research tools for the study of manuscripts in our period, especially for manuscript verse. Eleanor alluded to Alexander Lindsay’s Swift entry for the Index of English Literary Manuscripts, a compendium that is limited to “major” authors from 1500-1900. But there are other resources to consult to learn about major and so-called minor authors from our period. Those interested in further study should consult the following:

I am not as aware of similar resources for non-verse material, but now and then something interesting will turn up while searching Archives Hub.

I would also like to acknowledge Eleanor’s especially perceptive reading of my title.

Ashley Marshall writes thoughtfully about the ways we might revisit Swift’s canon and his attitude toward his own canon, and suggests that Swift’s attitude might change, perhaps in unpredictable ways. I’m greatly interested in such issues as well, even though I mostly avoided dealing with them in my book. (I deliberately avoided addressing works that have a doubtful status in Swift’s canon; such doubtful attributions are receiving renewed scrutiny in the Cambridge Edition of Swift currently being edited and published). Ashley cites two examples: “Cadenus and Vanessa” and “On the Words ‘Brother Protestants and Fellow Christians.'” I think “Cadenus and Vanessa” deserves more investigation about its publishing and textual history, and I haven’t done the necessary research to comment on it at length — except to say that in publishing it in the joint Miscellanies Swift perhaps defused the appeal of those unauthorized collections that contained it.

The example of “On the Words ‘Brother Protestants and Fellow Christians'” shows just how variable a poem’s publication history can be. Ashely is correct that this poem appeared in Faulkner’s 1735 edition; it did so with this prefatory and canny remark: “The following Poem having been printed in London, we have thought proper to insert it here, not doubting but it will be acceptable to our Readers; although we cannot say who is the Author.” (A similar remark prefaced the lampoon “The Virtues of Sid Hamet” in the 1711 Miscellanies.) Bettesworth’s name was fully obscured by asterisks in Faulkner’s text, but the “Sweats-worth” rhyme still gives it away. And it’s worth noting that “On the Words …” was added quite late to Faulkner’s edition, as it appears in the final full gathering of volume 2. So we’re dealing with a situation in which a poem (written while Faulkner was printing the edition) appears in an authorized collection with a note explicitly questioning its canonical status (though with a nudge and a wink). Who exactly was involved in this decision? Did Swift suggest this poem’s inclusion? Or did he pretend he knew nothing about the poem, which shifted the decision onto Faulkner about whether to include it or not? In such situations, Ashley is right to wonder exactly how if at all authorial control is being exercised. Clearly, Faulkner ran a risk in printing the poem, and his boldness was repaid in 1736 when Bettesworth had Faulkner arrested for publishing some relatively mild comments.

A final thought about Swift’s canon: even if Swift did not think he was assembling a canon, some of those in his circle did. Here I’m thinking especially of Charles Ford, who was perhaps preparing an edition of Swift’s works long before Swift was (see the letters between Swift and Ford in 1733). We have here more material for a study of social authorship, a subject I pick up on below.

Randy Robertson rightly emphasizes the need for scholars, perhaps especially those working in seemingly dry subject areas such as textual studies, to craft narratives that engage their readers. And I agree that Robert Darnton is able to entertain his readers while also educating them in a way that I am still trying to master. Perhaps I did a better job with the narrative in Chapter 5 than in Chapter 4, but that is certainly for readers to judge. Often, and especially in the second half of my book, I am simultaneously working with two narratives: the narrative of those writing and publishing in the past and the narrative of reconstructing their activities and the complex textual histories that resulted. At times I found it a challenge to attend to both narratives; in a sense, I had to be true to the information available to us, including the often fragmentary nature of that information, and tell a story that would maintain the reader’s interest.

One issue I struggled with while trying to create appropriate narrative frameworks for these chapters was that I often lacked knowledge about how these texts (whether in print, manuscript, or a combination of both) were received by their readers. In Chapter 6 I attempted a necessarily speculative model about that reception and in Chapter 2 I could draw from readers’ recreations of Swift’s writings, but elsewhere I thought I didn’t even have a basis upon which to construct a speculative model. It seems to me that in order to create a compelling narrative in book history, one needs the perspective of both the producers (writers, publishers, etc.) and the consumers (“regular” readers, the political authorities, etc.). Attending to both will provide a dramatic element to sustain the narrative, and this may be one reason why Darnton’s writings are so enjoyable to read (in addition to his own skill as a writer).

While commenting about “The Legion Club,” Al Coppola wonders about the status of the final couplets added to the poem, shrewdly referring to their inclusion as “a moustache on the Mona Lisa.” I suspect those couplets will always remain a bit of a mystery as to who was responsible for adding them. I gave my arguments for why I believe Swift was responsible, though Coppola is right to explore other possibilities. I wish I knew of some way to solve this puzzle with greater confidence, but I don’t.

Coppola’s remarks gave rise to some interesting comments on the nature of social authorship as it relates to Swift. I’m glad that this topic generated such interest, since we need to do much more to situate works by Swift and other canonical authors in relation to works by lesser-known figures. For my current project, James Woolley and I are editing Swift’s complete poems for the Cambridge edition, and we plan to include the poems that Swift’s poems responded to (Harold Williams had also included such poems) as well as some poems that were part of a verse exchange that Swift’s verse participated in. We hope that doing so will allow readers to examine Swift’s poems in dialogue with those of his contemporaries, including those contemporaries whose identities are not known. We’re also going to pay careful attention to canonical issues and the extent to which we can attribute specific poems to Swift with varying levels of confidence and uncertainty. James has written of the need to free ourselves from “the tyranny of the individual talent” and take seriously the possibility and even likelihood that one of Swift’s contemporaries may have written a poem otherwise attributed to him (“The Canon of Swift’s Poems: The Case of ‘An Apology to the Lady Carteret,'” in Reading Swift: Papers from the Second Munster Symposium on Jonathan Swift, p. 246). In a brief entry on “Attribution” for the recent Oxford Companion to the Book, I referred to “the centripetal force of the major author” to describe the power that a major figure exerts on contemporary works of uncertain authorship. I also wrote that “scholars who offer claims of attribution would do well to remember that the vast majority of works are written by minor authors, including authors whose identities have long vanished from historical memory.”

A recurring phenomenon in studying historical reader response is the way in which readers adapt and use an author’s works for their own purposes, whether or not such purposes align with those of the author. That phenomenon is no less operative among readers of scholarly works today. I write this in part to justify David Brewer’s interest in taking my research on a ride of his choosing, while graciously welcoming me aboard. I would be very interested in knowing with greater clarity just which printed texts prompted readers to take up pen and annotate. Then as now I suspect some readers did not want to “mar” their personal copies; others perhaps couldn’t help doing so. It’s worth noting that for some time collectors (and thus libraries) viewed such annotated copies as less desirable, a trend not followed by collectors such as James Osborn, as can be seen by viewing the many items he collected now at the Beinecke Library. A brief research visit to the Beinecke will remind us how much more work there is to do with eighteenth-century manuscript materials (including annotated print copies). So one wonders if the surviving evidence in libraries is to some extent biased in a way that obscures the act of annotation. Interested readers might consult H. J. Jackson’s Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books, and (I hope) work by David in the near future.

Are there any copies of Tristram Shandy that in fact contain a sketch of the Widow Wadman on the blank page? I believe that David has researched this topic.

I’m also grateful to David for alerting me to yet another annotated copy of Swift’s “Verses.” James and I are always interested in learning about these. The ones that have escaped our attention are likely to be in libraries with good general collections but too rarely frequented by eighteenth-century specialists.

I’m somewhat relieved that David’s discovery doesn’t dramatically alter my argument, though as Anna notes, that is a possibility and one that I expect to happen at some point. I’m very grateful to her for making this truly collaborative reading possible. I’ve learned much from each of you, and want to thank you again for devoting part of your summer to my book.



19 Responses to “Response to Collaborative Reading of Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript”

  1. Eleanor Shevlin Says:


    Many thanks for this eloquent response that displays the thoughtfulness and care demonstrated time and again in your book.

    You draw attention to a number of issues, three of which I wish to pursue briefly. The first involves the complicated use of the term “print culture.” As you rightly note, “print culture” is not monolithic and can refer to multiple situations, conditions, and the like–even when used to describe macro-level phenomenon. Interestingly, Eisenstein never defines the terms she identifies as traits of print culture in Printing Press as an Agent of Change, and this early definitional instability and ambiguity have led those to come after her to apply their own definitions (sometimes in agreement with her work, sometimes not).

    I am also glad that you detail the other sources of finding aids for manuscripts. I was struck, especially in the early sections, of the “collaborations” afforded by the scholars who have preceded or are currently working in Swift and related topics. I wondered what future scholars of academic research might make of the conditions of scholarly authorship in the late 20th-century and early years of the 21st. We tend not to see her own work as social authoring, but I think it is and has been for many years, long before digital tools emerged to encourage explicit collaborative exchange.

    Finally, I very much believe in the value of examining and reconstructing the dialog that exists between canonical and non-canonical authors. The tools we have for searching should assist us in these efforts, and it seems a line of work that will become increasing important in the years to come.


  2. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks, Steve, for this lovely and informative response. The links you provide will be helpful resources for readers.

    I am still mulling over the portrait of Swift you present. Reading your book, especially in this venue, has enriched my view of both his poems and his habits of composition.


  3. Kenny Cargill Says:

    As someone interested in the reader reception of early modern texts, I am glad that Dave touched on this topic towards the end of his post. In my seminar on the history of the book a couple of years ago I wrote on marginalia and the various other kinds of annotation left by late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century English readers. As part of my background reading I read Heather Jackson’s book on marginalia with pleasure. I would also recommend William Sherman’s Used Books: Marking Readings in Renaissance England. Sherman’s scholarship is commendable because it investigates not only the personal libraries of famous rubricators, such as John Dee and Ben Jonson, but also the marks of anonymous, middle-class readers.

    However, since a lot of the people active on this blog seem to be eighteenth century specialists, perhaps I should say something apropos to the immediate discussion. One of the things that I found striking in my readings about the history of printing was the argument that the eighteenth century marked the transition from “intensive” to “extensive” reading habits. (For example, this idea is developed by Rolf Engelsing). That is, reading material became cheaper and more available, and books and newspapers could be read through once and then disposed of. DeMaria in his Samuel Johnson and the Life of Reading makes the claim that Johnson typifies this new extensive extensive reader, literally destroying books as read through them with his “Scholar’s talons” (24). Indeed, if there really was such a reading revolution in the eighteenth century, then surely its impact is reflected in the state of the preservation of manuscripts and books from the time. Or perhaps did larger print runs make up for rougher reading habits?


  4. Dave Mazella Says:

    Hey Kenny, this is the other Dave. I think yours and David’s point about the close relation of reading and writing practice is something that absolutely makes sense, but I think the periodization problem that Steve points to is really important. We can talk about a culture-wide shift between intensive to extensive reading practices in much the same way we can talk about equally wide shifts between manuscript and print culture, but I would need to see more evidence (which I’m sure David is compiling) about how this could be broken down more concretely and tied to whatever evidence we have of such a large-scale shift.

    Not having read Engelsing, what kinds of evidence does he or his followers point to to make this kind of argument?


  5. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks, Kenny, for these comments and Dave for the follow-up.

    Yes, it seems that emob leans heavily toward the long 18th century more than the early modern period. In addition to Jackson’s and Sherman’s excellent work, you might also want to look at Ann Blair’s work on readers and marginalia. The Folger’s exhibit a few years ago, The Reader Revealed, curated by Sabrina Baron, was accompanied by a wonderful collection of essays edited by Sabrina (with Elizabeth Walsh and Susan Scola) and containing essays by Sherman and our own Anna Battigelli.

    Engaging with Engelsing and grappling with the issue of evidence, Reinhard Wittmann, “Was There a Reading Revolution at the End of the Eighteenth Century?” A History of Reading in the West. Eds. Guglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999) is definitely worth consulting. Reconstructing reading practices is notoriously difficult. William St. Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period offers a macro-level narrative to the issue and covers far more than its title suggests; Jan Fergus’s Provincial Readers in Eighteenth-Century England offers a micro-level approach. There are many, more works we could note, too. Stephen Colclough’s Consuming Texts: Readers and Reading Communities, 1695-1870 uses a variety approaches including diaries and more.

    Could you say a bit more about your query regarding manuscript preservation, Kenny?


  6. Kenny Cargill Says:

    Thank you Dave and Eleanor for the responses and the further reading suggestions.

    When I mentioned manuscripts, I was thinking of the record of reading found outside of the margins of books, namely in the genre of commonplace books. One of the things that surprised me when researching Renaissance English readers is that the commonplace books of completely average and even women readers have managed to come down to the present. (See this study, for example). But I was wondering that given the explosion in reading that happened over a hundred years later, was there also a similar increase in the output of this kind of reception? Or were commonplace books of this era just as disposable and ephemeral as contemporary books and newspapers, making them underrepresented in our libraries and archives today?


  7. Dave Mazella Says:

    Hi Kenny, the question you raise about commonplace books is something I’ve always wondered about but never had the time to pursue. At what point does commonplace writing begin to taper off? Maybe Colclough’s book discusses it. I’d be interested in it because something does seem to be happening with the formal teaching of rhetoric post 1750 (which provides at least one theoretical basis for “commonplacing”), but does the practice change along with that theory?

    This is one of those questions that would help answer what Steve Karian called the very long term macronarrative questions of reading/writing. I was just in Philadelphia reading the commonplace books of an American colonial-era poet, Elizabeth Graeme, and these felt very representative of a woman of a certain level of status and (self) education. But how widespread was a practice like this in the context of 18th century Philadelphia? And so forth. So, yes, I think these are very interesting questions, and would be eager to hear others’ thoughts on them.


  8. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    The practice of commonplace books does extend into the 19th century, and its history intersects with print, too. See, for example, Commonplace Books in Harvard Library’s site on “Views of Readers, Readership, and Reading History.” Colclough also addresses this topic in his chapter “Reworking the Word: Readers and Their Manuscript Books, 1695-1730” in Consuming Texts. My colleague, Rodney Mader, has been working extensively on Elizabeth Graeme and her circle, and he is been examining this topic at length.

    Also, the popularity of anthologies (see Barbara Benedict’s and Leah Price’s work) presents a form of ready-made “commonplace books” that could also double as models for readers to create their own.


  9. Dave Mazella Says:

    Hmm, I was noodling around on Google books, and I saw Locke’s New Method of Making Common place books recommended by Pycroft’s Course of English Reading in 1845.

    I should take a look at Mader’s work. Has any of it appeared in print?


  10. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    I don’t think any of Mader’s work on Ferguson has appeared in print yet–though something may be coming soon. I will check and report back soon. He has given several papers on Ferguson at EC/ASECS–and I believe abroad, too, and had been working on the project at Penn’s McNeil Center.


  11. Dave Mazella Says:

    OK, now I remember how I remembered that name: I picked up his piece on politics and pedaogy in the American Magazine from American Periodicals; he also has a piece on technological determinism and print culture in College English that looks apropos.


  12. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Well, the College English piece is a review of my co-edited essay collection, Agent of Change.

    The piece on politics and pedagogy deals with William Smith (he works on Philadelphia/Delaware Valley print and manuscript cultures).


  13. Dave Mazella Says:

    Saved that CE piece and will look into it.

    I don’t think Graeme comes into the politics and pedagogy piece, but she is part of Smith’s social circle Philadelphia in the pre-war period. She is certainly friends with some of his students and proteges.


  14. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    No, she doesn’t enter into this piece, but Graeme’s husband, as you no doubt know, was a royalist, and Mader deals with Graeme and politics in this context and its broader ramifications. I’ve invited Rodney to join this conversation, for you would have much to discuss, but I am not sure if he’s on email or has the time.


  15. Dave Mazella Says:

    Ferguson the royalist husband is a piece of work, though interestingly he exits the picture pretty early on. I’m interested in these folks because of their activities during my “snapshot” moment in 1771.

    Eleanor, you must have your own take on the “print culture” question: whether it’s a term that can still be usefully deployed in an 18c environment in which manuscript and scribal transmission still plays a role. Any thoughts?


  16. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    I indicated part of my position on this issue in comments to your summary of chapter one as well as in passing elsewhere. As I noted there, we often speak of our current moment as our “digital culture”–but print has not disappeared from our culture and still exercises important roles. The advent of print made “manuscript culture” visibile–just as digital culture today is drawing important attention and fostering a self-consciousness about print.

    The issue of terminology is a vexed one–and extends to the term “book history,” which for most practitioners today constitutes far more than the lable suggests and includes attention to perioidicals, broadsheets, ephemera and many more topics ranging from censorship and literacy to authorship and reading.


  17. rodneymader Says:

    Hi Eleanor; thanks for the invite. My ears were burning.

    Hi Dave. As Eleanor suggests, we do have much to talk about. I will post a few items here in response to some of the direct issues raised, in case there are scores of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson fans lurking eagerly for answers, and then maybe we should move off-line, as this seems pretty far from the original blog post.

    Commonplacing seems to have been widespread in the Delaware Valley in the mid-C18, but, as Eleanor indicates, it exists well into the C19. I’d say it morphs a lot. EGF seems to have been creating commonplace books for her friends (Benj. Rush, Annis Boudinot Stockton, Elias Boudinot) as late as 1800, effectively until she died in 1801 (and we can’t expect much more from her, I suppose).

    I wonder how much her use of commonplacing becomes retrograde or nostalgic by 1800. One thing that changes between her late 60s-early 70s heyday and her 80s-90s work is that the earlier commonplacing was a scribal counterpart to her salons and other local, ms. belletristic performances. By the 80s she was practically a recluse and had begun to publish pieces in magazines. Her commonplace books at that point are the only connection to an earlier literary and social world which is almost entirely lost to her. As you probably know, she was wiped out by the war, and she felt ostracized by her community.

    I don’t know whether the question of politics came up simply because you cited the title of my American Periodicals essay, or whether that is something you are really pursuing. One index of how political EGF was is a comparison to some of her circle. Annis Stockton and Anna Young Smith (EGF’s niece) both wrote a number of patriotic poems in the 70s, but I haven’t seen any by EGF. My sense is that she liked the ideas behind politics–see her poem about John Dickinson’s letters in her Poemata Juvenalia–but she was not as interested in intervening in ongoing issues, at least in a poetic way. She felt abused by the political system after the Rev, certainly, and she was horrified by the Terror, expressing a lot of sympathy for Louis XVI in 1793.

    Okay… lastly, you mention your focus on 1771. In a really important way, that was the last peaceful year of EGF’s life. She met Henry in December of that year, they were married in 1772, and it’s fairly clear he was insensitive to her needs from the get-go. But in 1771, she was at the center of a literary and cultural scene that rivaled anything in the British empire outside of London. It was probably the high point of her life.


  18. Dave Mazella Says:

    Hi Rodney,

    Thanks for coming into this conversation.

    First of all, about commonplacing: I take Steve Karian’s point that terms like “print culture” don’t mean a whole lot except for the very largest macronarratives, when so many different forms and practices coexist. But it seems to me that_social_ practices like commonplacing might provide some internal evidence and/or differentiation when we think about the state of “print/manuscript” culture at particular moments. For one thing, at least our evidence might seem more representative, if it’s shared by particular social actors in particular situations. And I’m curious whether you think commonplacing seems retrograde more generally around 1800.

    Second, about EGF: I’ve got lots more reading to do, but my impression is that she came from a group of people in the Philadelphia elite who were taken by surprise by the revolution and the way it reorganized local politics. The stories about her and Ferguson’s interactions with Washington reveal not just Loyalism, but what seems retrospectively like genuine cluelessness about their political situation.

    Anyway, I agree that 1771 seems to be a pivotal year for EGF, though I didn’t know that when I started investigating her. Your comments about her are very helpful. I’d love to correspond some more, if you’re interested. You can reach me at Best, DM


  19. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    A work that I just learned about at SHARP 2010 is highly relevant to our discussion here: David Allan’s Commonplace Books and Reading in Georgian England. Some emob participants may be already familiar with his essay, “Some Methods and Problems in the History of Reading: Georgian England and the Scottish Enlightenment” [The Journal of the Historical Society, 3 (2003), 91-124], and this essay informs his first chapter of this very new work. In addition to other books, Allan is the author of the excellent A Nation of Readers: The Lending Library in Georgian England (British Library Publishing Division, 2007).


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