Printing Swift

George Faulkner's 1735 publication of The Works of Jonathan Swift established Swift as a prominent literary figure.

George Faulkner’s 1735 publication of The Works of Jonathan Swift established Swift as a prominent literary figure, PR3720.A1 1735 General.

While Jonathan Swift is well known for his novel Gulliver’s Travels, it was George Faulkner’s 1735 publication of The Works of Jonathan Swift that established Swift as a prominent literary figure. Faulkner’s edition was the first publication of all Swift’s written work, presenting Swift’s full literary accomplishments, including Volume I: Miscellanies in Prose, Volume II: His Poetical Writings, Volume III: The Travels of Captain Lemuel Gulliver, and Volume IV: His Papers Relating to Ireland. This edition created a continuous display of Swift’s literary contributions. The combination of his poems, prose, political pamphlets, and popular novel Gulliver’s Travels allowed literary society to recognize and credit Jonathan Swift’s skills across multiple fields.

Faulkner’s edition led to the publication of many of Swift’s works that had either been published anonymously, or had not been published previously. Swift had the opportunity to revise many of his works in the 1735 edition to ensure that they transmitted the message he desired, and he corrected unpublished works that never went through the revision process. Swift also had the opportunity to restore previously censored pieces. In Gulliver’s Travels, for example, he recreated passages his London publisher had removed or altered. Swift also included a new introduction where he had Gulliver speak to the readers about the revisions his publisher made to his work. The chance to rework his writings into their intended meaning influenced the study of Swift, especially since this version of Gulliver’s Travels is the most widely used today.

The Works of J.S. in Four Volumes, Burns Library PR3720 .A1 1735 GENERAL.

The Works of J.S. in Four Volumes.

The Works of Jonathan Swift in Four Volumes, also known as Swift’s Works, was published by Faulkner in Dublin. Despite its publication in Ireland, Faulkner attempted to model his printing press after London’s presses to reflect English standards of literary production. This is seen in his use of steel engravings created by the English engraver George Vertue. Aside from the ornamental blocks used to decorate the beginning and endings of chapters, the only other images in the text are the engraved portraits alongside the title page of each volume and maps printed in Gulliver’s Travels. Volumes I, II, and IV contain different portraits of Jonathan Swift, two of them created by Vertue. Volume III contains Gulliver’s Travels and, as a result, Faulkner used a portrait of the fictitious Lemuel Gulliver. English involvement in this text extends from the creator of the engravings to those who read the Works.

The books’ interior contents convey its previous ownership and their interaction with the text. The front cover of each volume has a bookplate of the Blackett family crest containing a hawk’s head. The Blacketts were a literary family based in northeastern England with a baronetage. Besides this attribution of ownership, the first two blank pages of Volume I contain notes written by one of the Works’ previous owners. These notes described the contents of Volume I: Miscellanies in Prose and praised Swift’s ability to enrapture his readers towards his stance on current issues. The owner interpreted Swift’s views and activities based on the contents of Faulkner’s edition, exhibiting the important role a printer had in establishing an author’s persona.

The books' interior contents convey its previous ownership and their interaction with the text. The front cover of each volume has a bookplate of the Blackett family crest containing a hawk's head.

The books’ interior contents convey its previous ownership and their interaction with the text. The front cover of each volume has a bookplate of the Blackett family crest containing a hawk’s head.

Faulkner established himself as the leading printer and bookseller in Dublin through his publication of Swift’s Works. He produced the first collected and corrected edition of Swift’s writings, an enterprising activity for an Irish printer, and unusual for the time. Becoming a successful printer was difficult in a place where literary culture, as Faulkner described it, was not yet “in Fashion . . . [since] more bottles [were] bought in a week than books in a year.” Dublin printers also worked in a true laissez-faire market where the most resilient or most opportunistic printer would have success.

Dublin’s print culture promoted piracy and the abuse of England’s copyright laws as ways to attain success, both of which Faulkner used to his advantage. Ireland’s lack of copyright laws allowed Faulkner to collect Swift’s writings and forced Swift to work with Faulkner on editing the Works. Swift did not want his work published in Ireland because he thought the Irish lacked the sparkling literary culture of England. But this “undeveloped” culture allowed Faulkner to print Swift’s work without the author’s approval. The 1710 and 1737 English copyright laws enabled Irish printers to pirate English works as long as they did not try to sell them in England. Freely printing and selling pirated works, Irish printers and publishers disregarded an author’s right to negotiate publication. Less ethical Irish printers were known for pirating English editions by bribing journeyman to steal sheets of forthcoming books so Irish printers could print cheaper copies and send them to England. Irish printers played a large role in establishing an author’s persona because, once publishers had a writer’s work, they established the writer’s reputation however they pleased. Swift’s inability to control whether or not his work was published led to his involvement in editing his works so he could control as much of the publication process as possible.

From The Works of J.S. in Four Volumes, Burns Library PR3720 .A1 1735 GENERAL.

From The Works of J.S. in Four Volumes.

After working with Faulkner, Swift began to respect the persistence and drive that led to his publisher’s achievements. Many of Swift’s letters praised Faulkner, dubbing him “Prince of Dublin Printers” since he quickly became the most successful printer of his time. The many subscribers of Swift’s Works’ provided Faulkner with a large profit from the publication, proving that publishing was not an enterprise of little merit as Swift originally thought. The Works was a source of great financial benefit for Faulkner because Swift was not concerned with remuneration. Swift saw how “booksellers ran much of the risk [and] they deserved to profit from their efforts,” since they were sometimes punished for the controversial pieces they published. Faulkner’s interests in profit and the enhancement of his reputation countered Swift’s great concern for the value and quality of his work. Despite this, their close relationship revealed the cooperation and collaboration Swift had with his booksellers. This edition provided Faulkner with the social recognition and financial benefits he sought and announced Swift as a canonized author, creating what many historians consider “the most important publication of Swift’s career.”

For more information about The Works of J.S. in Four Volumes, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu for more information.

  •  Jacqueline Delgado, A & S, BC Class of 2014.

This blog post is the last is a series of posts drawn from the exhibit “Making History Public: Books Around the World: 1400 – 1800.”   This exhibit was curated and organized by Professor Virginia Reinburg’s Fall 2012 HS600 class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.  From April – December 2013, the “Making History Public” exhibit is on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South. 

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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