Republic of Letters versus Republica Grubstreetaria, 1690–1711

  • Ann Cline Kelly

Abstract

In the 1690s, when Swift began writing, he mistakenly looked to his cousin, John Dryden, and to his employer, Sir William Temple, for guidance on how to make his mark as an author. Sir William Temple had achieved his fame as a courtier, diplomat, belle lettrist in another age, before the cultural center of England shifted from the country estate and court to the City of London, when printed literature targeted to a general audience became the most influential force in English-speaking cultures.1 Swift was unaware that the model Temple offered him was anachronistic. Swift s other beacon was his cousin John Dryden. On Temples Moor Park estate in Surrey, Swift, removed from the London scene, might not have realized that although Dryden had once been Poet Laureate and the epitome of Augustan high culture, he had, in essence, become a professional writer working in more popular modes by the 1690s.2 With Dryden and Temple as exemplars, Swift attempted to do what the “self-crowned laureates” (Richard Helgerson’s term) of the Renaissance (Spenser, Jonson, and Milton) had done before him: boldly define himself as the voice of his generation.3 Because times had changed in the quarter century since Milton wrote Paradise Lost, Swift s early annunciations did not have the dramatic effect for which he might have hoped. In apprentice pieces, Swift started to understand the new world constructed by the popular press and, through trial and error, eventually learned how to make himself an important part of it.

Keywords

Vortex Dust Mercury Mold Kelly 

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Hammond, Hackney, 8. See also Stephen Zwicker, “Representing the Revolution: Politics and High Culture in 1689,” in The Revolution of 1688—89: Changing Perspectives, ed. Lois Schwoerer (Cambridge, UK Cambridge University Press, 1992), 165–83.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Richard Helgerson, Self-crowned Laureates: Spenser, Jonson, Milton, and the Literary System (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 282.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Tom Brown, The London Mercury (London, 1692), quoted by Gilbert McEwen, The Oracle of the Coffee House: John Duntons Athenian Mercury, (San Marino, CA: The Huntington Library, 1972), 37.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    Swift was busy writing other odes during this time, but these were not published until after his death. Some of them—the ones about Sir William Temple—may have circulated in manuscript in the Moor Park household. A. C. Elias, Swift at Moor Park (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), 77–94.Google Scholar
  5. 18.
    For an excellent overview of the issues involved in the debate and a summary of the scholarship relating to Swift, see Joseph Levine, The Battle of the Books: History and Literature in the Augustan Age (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  6. 21.
    Alvin Kernan, Printing Technology, Letters, and Samuel Johnson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), 249–58, discusses the ideological stakes in library reorganization, a phenomenon directly related to the determination of “the canon.” Indeed, our current canon wars have been called “The Battle of the Books.”Google Scholar
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    See Sharon Achinstein, “The Politics of Babel in the English Revolution,” in Pamphlet Wars: Prose in the English Revolution, ed. James Holstun (London: Frank Cass, 1992), 14–44.Google Scholar
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    John Hawkesworth, in a note to his edition of the Tale (London, 1755), glosses this passage as follows: “By calling this disorderly rout calones the author points both his satyr and contempt against all sorts of mercenary scriblers, who write as they are commanded by the leaders and patrons of sedition, faction, corruption, and every evil work: they are stiled calones because they are the meanest and most despicable of all writers, as the calones, whether belonging to the army or private families, were the meanest of all slaves or servants whatsoever.” Quoted in Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub: to which is added The Battle of the Books and the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit, eds. A. C. Guthkelch and D. Nichol Smith, 2nd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), 238n.Google Scholar
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    I am grateful to Jayne Elizabeth Lewis’s “Swift’s Aesop / Bentley’s Aesop: The Modern Body and the Figures of Antiquity,” The Eighteenth Century 32:2 (1991), 99–118 for focusing my attention on the options in print culture Aesop offered Swift.Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    For further discussion of Aesop’s legacy, see Ben Edwin Perry, Studies in the Text History of the Life and Fables of Aesop (Haverford, PA: American Philological Association, 1936). The online English Short Title Catalog (ESTC) lists 17 eighteenth-century editions with a life of Aesop appended.Google Scholar
  13. 32.
    Roger L’Estrange, Fables of Aesop and Other Eminent Mythologists (London, 1692), Air, quoted in Annabel Patterson, Fables of Power: Aesopian Writing and Political History, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), 17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Phillip Harth, Swift and Anglican Rationalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 154.Google Scholar
  15. 37.
    Lawrence Lipking, The Life of the Poet: Beginning and Ending Poetic Careers (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 19.Google Scholar
  16. 38.
    David Hall, in “The World of Print and Collective Mentality in Seventeenth-Century New England” (Cultures of Print: Essays in the History of the Book [Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996]), characterizes this kind of reading as “intensive” reading, in contrast to “extensive” reading that satisfies a demand for novelty.Google Scholar
  17. 39.
    The myth that cheaply printed books, such as chapbooks, were underclass reading has been thoroughly debunked by scholarship, such as Margaret Spufford’s Small Books and Pleasant Histories: Popular Fiction and it Readership in Seventeenth-Century England (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1982). When the self-styled Republic of Letters ceased to have much influence on taste in the eighteenth century, works that were once considered “low” became mainstream. In an essay for The Tatler, Swift describes the phenomenon: In the past, he says, a “Grub-street Book was always bound in Sheep-skin, with suitable Print and Paper; the Price never above a Shilling; and taken off wholly by common Tradesmen, or Country Pedlars. But now they appear in all Sizes and Shapes, and in all Places: They are handed about from Lapfulls in every Coffee-house to Persons of Quality; are shewn in Westminster-Hall and the Court of Requests” (PW2: 174; italics omitted).Google Scholar
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    [Arthur Main waring], The Medley, June 18, 1711, in Frank Ellis, Swift vs. Mainwaring: The Examiner and The Medley (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), 487.Google Scholar
  19. 48.
    Much debate exists about Swift’s motives for orchestrating this elaborate scheme. Some argue that the Bickerstaff episode is a serious attempt to neutralize enemies of the church and intellectual mountebanks, while others view it as a trifling joke. See N. E Lowe, “Wliy Swift Killed Partridge,” Swift Studies 6 (1991), 71–82; Herbert Davis, “Introduction,” Bickerstaff Papers (PW 2: x–xi),Google Scholar
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  21. 49.
    For information on how almanacs shaped and reflected English popular culture, as well as specific details on John Partridge and the Bickerstaff hoax, see Bernard Capp, Astrology and the Popular Press: English Almanacs, 1500—1800 (London and Boston: Faber, 1979).Google Scholar
  22. 50.
    Richard Steele, The Tatler, ed. Donald Bond, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press and New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 1: 22–23. Bond notes that Swift was the probable author of this essay (22n27).Google Scholar
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    See George Mayhew, “Swift’s Bickerstaff as an April Fool’s Joke,” Modern Philology, 61 (1964), 270–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 56.
    [Daniel Defoe], The Ballad Maker’s Plea (London, 1722), Appendix B86 in Natascha Wurzbach, The Rise of the English Street Ballad 1550–1650, trans. Gayna Walls (Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 284. Ballads became one of Swift’s favorite genres: eighteen of his poems have the word ballad in their titles or the note “sung to the tune oft—”Google Scholar
  25. 59.
    I am speculating here based on a note in Curll’s copy of the miscellany he published in 1710 that says he got the manuscript from “John Cliffe, Esq.; who had them of the Bp. Of Killala, in Ireland, whose Daughter he married & was my Lodger.” Ralph Straus, The Unspeakable Curll (London: Chapman and Hall, 1927), 33–34. I am supposing an Irish ecclesiastical connection.Google Scholar
  26. 60.
    A discussion of the audience of Tonson’s Miscellanies can be found in Barbara Benedict, Making the Modern Reader: Cultural Mediation in Early Modern Literary Anthologies (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 98–104.Google Scholar
  27. 61.
    John Tanner’s almanac for 1707, for instance, alludes to “honest Dan” in a verse, with the presumption that the vast audience can easily decode the reference (Angelus Britannicus. An Ephemeris [London, 1707], B4r). On the relationship of Defoe and Swift, see Maximillian E. Novak, “Swift and Defoe: Or, How Contempt Breeds Familiarity and a Degree of Influence,” in Proceedings of the First Münster Symposium on Jonathan Swift, eds. Hermann Real and Heinz Vienken (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1985), 157–74.Google Scholar
  28. 63.
    Swift’s defenses of the church were often very indirect and full of discordant elements. In Project for the Advancement of Religion, for example, it is difficult to tell whether Swift is being serious. In contrast to the lack of response it received when it was published, there was a lively debate touched off by Leland Peterson, who argued that Swift was being ironic. Leland Peterson, “Swift’s Project: A Religious and Political Satire,” PMLA 82 (1967), 54–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 64.
    “Projected List of Subjects for a Volume, 1708,” in Ehrenpreis, Swift, (Appendix B, 2: 768). Swift’s imaginary table of contents resembles the real table of contents of Thomas Brown’s collected works, which had been published posthumously in 1707. Brown was a professional writer, vilified as a hack and a no-account by the self-styled Augustans. Benjamin Boyce, in Tom Brown of Facetious Memory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939), notes the extensive similarities between Brown and Swift, 178–88.Google Scholar
  30. 67.
    See Alan Downie, Robert Harley and the Press: Propaganda and Public Opinion in the Age of Swift and Defoe (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), 1979, 117–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 72.
    Sir George Macauley Trevelyan, England Under Queen Anne, 3 vols. (New York and London: Longman, Green and Co., 1931–4), 3: 254, quoted in Ehrenpreis, Swift, 2:500.Google Scholar

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© Ann Cline Kelly 2002

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