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Swift's Verses on the Death of Doctor Swift H. Teerink
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Page 183

Swift's Verses on the Death of Doctor Swift
H. Teerink

IN The Book Collector's Quarterly, II (March, 1931), 57-73, Herbert Davis has drawn attention to the fact that there are three versions[1] of "On the Death of Doctor Swift":

  • (A) The Life and Genuine Character of Doctor Swift. . . . London, J. Roberts, 1733. This has 202 lines. Professor Davis says that it is to be taken as a seemingly spurious, but really genuine, production of Swift's pen, secretly handed by him to the press through the Reverend M. Pilkington, with an intention to show Pope his displeasure at the way in which Pope had edited Swift's works in the Miscellanies, vol. III, 1732.
  • (B) Verses on the Death of Doctor Swift. . . . London, C. Bathurst, 1739. This has 381 lines. Swift had entrusted the (C) version to Dr. William King for publication in London. King consulted Pope, and on the advice of the latter radical alterations were effected by the omission of about 160 lines and all the notes, and by the insertion of 60 lines from the (A) version. This is therefore "an edited and unauthorized edition."[2]
  • (C) Verses on the Death of Dr. S----, D.S.P.D.. . . Dublin, George Faulkner, 1739. This has 484 lines. It is the genuine version as Swift wished it published by King in London. In Faulkner's edition of Swift's Works, vol. VIII (1746), both the (A) and (C) versions were printed.

There were, however, some previously unnoticed clandestine editions of the (B) version in 1736, that is, more than two years earlier than the Bathurst 1739 edition listed by Davis. Here follows a list of them, preceded by two editions of Pope's Essay on Man to serve as material for comparison.

  • (I) An | Essay | On | Man. | In | Four Epistles to a Friend. | [rule] | Corrected by the Author. | [rule] | The Seventh Edition. | [rule] | [ornament] | [double rule] | London: | Printed for J. Witford, near the Chap-|ter-house, St. Paul's. Mdccxxxvi. Sm. 8° (4's): [A]4 B-F4 ([A]1 and F4 [blank?] missing). 2 pp. (title, verso blank). 4 pp. (contents) . [1]-37 (text). [38] (blank). This is No. 419 in R. H. Griffith's A Pope Bibliography. He considers it a pirated edition, pointing to the intentional misprint of "Witford" for "Wilford", the publisher of the genuine edition of 1733.
  • (II) The same title as that of (I) except: 'London: | Printed for J. Witford, near the | Chapter-House, St. Paul's. M.DCC.XXXVI.' 12° (6's): (unsigned) pp. [i-ii] (title, verso blank). [iii]-vi (contents). [7]-38 (text) This is Griffith, No. 420. He says that this is a different printing from (I), and probably pirated from it.

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    Page 184
  • (III) [caption-title, p. 3]: [decorated bar: stencils] | Verses | On The | Death of Dr. Swift. | Occasioned by reading the following Maxim | in Roachfoucault [sic]. | Dans l' adversite de nos meilleurs amis nous trouvons toujours | quelque chose, qui ne nous deplaist pas. 12° (6's): A6 (A1 wanting), pp. [1-2?] 3-12. Copy: Nat. Libr. of Ireland. Unfortunately the title-leaf is lacking. It is possible (?) that there should also be a frontispiece.
  • (IV) An | Essay | On | Man. | With some | Humourous Verses | on the | Death of Dean Swift. | Written by Himself. | [ornament] | Dublin: | Printed, & Sold by the Booksellers of | London & Westminster. | [rule] | MDCCXXXVI. 12° (6's): (frontispiece +) [A]1 B-D6 E2 (frontispiece +) χE6. 2 pp. (front.). pp. [i-ii] (title of 'Essay', verso blank). [iii]-vi (contents of 'Essay'). [1]-36 (Essay). 2 pp. (front.). 2[1-2] (title of 'Verses', verso blank). 3-12 (Verses). Copy: Univ. Libr. Cambridge (Hib.7.750.31). The title 'Verses' reads: 'Verses | On the Death of | Dr. Swift. | Occasioned by reading the following Maxim in | Rochfoucault. | Dans l'adversite de nos mellieurs [sic] amis nous trouvons tou-| jours quelque choses [sic], qui ne nous deplaist pas. | Written by Himself; Nov. 1731. | [ornament] | Dublin, Printed: | London: Re-printed, and sold by the | Booksellers of London and Westmin-|ster.'
  • (V) An | Essay | On | Man. | In | Four Epistles to a Friend. | [rule] | Corrected by the Author. | [rule] | The Seventh Edition. | [rule] | [ornament] | [rule] | London: | Printed for J. Witford, near the Chapter-|House, St. Paul's. M.DCC.XXXVI.

    12° (6's): A-D6 (D6 wanting). pp. [i-ii] (title, verso blank). [iii]-vi (contents of 'Essay'). [7]-38 ('Essay'—Finis at foot of p. 38). [39]-46 ('Verses').

    Copy: Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris (42481). The caption-title on leaf D2 for the Verses reads: '[decorated headpiece] | Verses | On The | Death of Dr. Swift. | Occasioned by reading the following Maxim | in Rochfoucalt [sic]. | Dans l'adversite de nos meilleurs amis nous trouvons toujours | quelque chose, qui ne nous deplaist pas.'

    This Mazarine volume contains three separately-paged pieces: (1) 'The Hind and Panther' (lacking two leaves in front, and a blank (?) leaf at the end), (2) The 'Essay' and the 'Verses' (as above), and (3) The 'Dun-ciad', London-Dublin, G. Faulkner, &c., 1728 (Griffith No. 206). The volume is preceded by a MS title: 'The Hind and Panther an heroic poem wrote by Mr Dryden with several other curious poems by the celebrated Mr Pope and Swift London printed in the year 1756.'

    It is impossible to say (1) whether these three pieces (and perhaps more?) were really published with a printed title dated 1756, or whether the MS. title only represents a plan for a made-up miscellany in that year; (2) whether the leaf or leaves lacking at the end of the Verses bear the rest of the poem only, or more.

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  • (VI) An | Essay | On | Man. | In | Four Epistles to a Friend. | [rule] | Corrected by the Author. | [rule] | A New Edition. | [rule] | [ornament] | [rule] | London: | Printed for, and sold by the Booksellers, | in Town and Country. Sm. 8°: A4 B-D8. pp. [i-ii] (frontispiece). [iii-iv] (title, verso blank). [v]-viii (contents of 'Essay'). [1]-35 ('Essay'). [36] (blank). [37]-47 ('Verses'). [48] (blank). Copy: British Museum ( The caption-title on p. [37] reads: '[decorated bar: stencils] | Verses | On The | Death of Dr. Swift. | Occasioned by reading the following Maxim | ['in' omitted] Rochfoucalt [sic]. | Dans l' adversite de nos meilleurs amis nous trouvons toujours | quelque chose, qui ne nous deplaist pas.'

A comparison of the texts of editions (III), (IV), (V), and (VI) — photostats of all these are in my possession—with the Bathurst folio edition shows the following variants:

    Bathurst fol. 1739

  • [1] (5) Rochfoucault
  • [1] (8) Rochfoucault
  • 2 (3) my Friend
  • 2 (16) the Case
  • 6 ( 3) their Tenderness
  • 6 (16) they talk
  • 7 ( 4) his Judgment
  • 7 ( 8) Prediction
  • 11 (18) Vole
  • 15 ( 5) slobber'd
  • 15 ( 7) Councils
  • 18 (11) Theirs the Blame

    (IV) U. L. C.

  • [3] ( 5) Rochfoucault
  • [3] ( 8) Rochfoucault
  • 4 ( 3) my Friend
  • 4 (16) the Case
  • 6 ( 7) his Tenderness
  • 6 (19) they talk
  • 6 (30) the Judgment
  • 6 (34) Prediction
  • 9 ( 6) Vole
  • 10 (39) slobber'd
  • 10 (41) Councils
  • 12 (27) Theirs the Blame

    (III) Nat. Libr. Ireland

  • [3] ( 5) Roachfoucault
  • [3] ( 8) Rochfoucault
  • [3] (22) my friend
  • 4 ( 6) the case
  • 5 (39) there tenderness
  • 6 (11) they talk'd
  • 6 (22) the judgment
  • 6 (26) predictions
  • 9 ( 2) vole
  • 10 (37) slubber'd
  • 10 (39) counsels
  • 12 (29) their, the blame

    (V) Mazarine

  • [39] ( 5) Rochfoucalt
  • [39] ( 8) Rochfoucalt
  • [39] (22) your friend
  • 40 ( 8) the cause
  • 41 (41) their tenderness
  • 42 (11) they talk'd
  • 42 (22) the judgment
  • 42 (26) predictions
  • 44 (40) whole
  • 46 (31) slubber'd
  • 46 (33) counsels

    (VI) B. M.

  • [37] ( 5) Rochfoucalt
  • [37] ( 8) Rochfoucalt
  • [37] (22) your friend
  • 38 (10) the cause
  • 40 ( 9) their tenderness
  • 40 (21) they talk'd
  • 40 (32) the judgment
  • 40 (36) predictions
  • 43 (20) whole
  • 45 (19) slubber'd
  • 45 (21) counsels
  • 47 (15) theirs the blame

An examination of these editions, which are all in different typesettings, reveals in the first place the similarity in the titles of (I), (II), and (V). They all have 'Corrected by the Author', 'The Seventh Edition', and practically the same imprint. Professor Griffith, pointing to the spelling 'Witford' for 'Wilford' (the name of the publisher of the original genuine edition of the Essay on Man, London, 1733-34), which he considers intentional, is of the opinion that (I) is a piracy, and (II) probably a piracy of (I). Though the titles of (V) and (VI) are different, the identical text readings show


Page 186
that (VI) must have been printed from (V), while the words 'A New Edition' may point to an edition later than 1736. It is clear therefore that (I), (II), (V), and (VI) are in some way related, and they may be said to form one group.

Another thing that strikes us is that (IV) is an altogether different venture. Internally, it is characterized by a wealth of capitals, against a great scarcity in the other three printings. It has a frontispiece (bust of Swift), a separate title for the Verses, and there is a greater attempt at ornamentation (ornaments on the title-pages; a headpiece and decorated capital on page 3 of the Verses). These details all make an impression of a production superior to the other three. Moreover, the title of the Essay is the only one that does not read 'Corrected by the Author', and also the only one that mentions the Verses specially, and adds 'Written by Himself, Nov. 1731', which goes back to the 1733 [A] edition. The imprint of the Essay says: 'Dublin: Printed', that of the Verses 'Dublin, Printed: London: Re-printed', which cannot but be a "blind",[3] because nobody in Dublin could have had command of the [B] version in 1736, unless it had secretly been sent there for publication, which is very improbable. The Bathurst folio of 1739 must have been printed from it. There is the same wealth of capitals. The text variations are the same; two corrections are for the better: 'their Tenderness' for 'his Tenderness', and 'his Judgment' for 'the Judgment'. On the whole the affinity is clear and unmistakable.

Only the National Library of Ireland copy, (III), remains. It is to be regretted that the absence of the title-page (and perhaps a frontispiece?) robs us of some valuable evidence. If a complete copy should ever be discovered, I should not be astonished to find an imprint with 'Dublin, Printed, &c'. It is a cheap production without ornamentation or capitals, carelessly set with several misprints, suggesting a slovenly manuscript, and lack of skill in compositor or proofreader. If I were allowed a guess, I should judge it the first printing of all, a separate publication, secretly handed to the press, and almost immediately reprinted as an addition to the Essay to both sides, (IV) and (V), with the advantage decidedly on the side of (IV).

Although we do not know the date on which Swift sent his manuscript of the [C] version to Dr. William King for publication in London, there is some indication as to this date in King's letter[4] from Paris to Mrs. Whiteway of Nov. 9, O. S., 1736, where he speaks of two manuscripts, (1) "the little manuscript", which he had already received, and which he intended to put to the press, "and oblige the whole English nation", on his arrival in London, after Nov. 20; (2) "the History [of the Four Last Years of the Queen]", which was not sent to King until some months later,[5] in July, 1737.


Page 187
It is safe to assume that "the little manuscript" was the [C] version of the Verses, because as we have seen above, some "edited" editions of it really appeared in 1736.

In a letter[6] to Swift of Jan. 23, 1739, when the Bathurst [B] version had just been published, King refers to "the form in which this poem now appears", making special mention of the omission of two passages, "the story of the medals", and "the designs of the Ministry on the death of Queen Anne", without, however, speaking of the 60 lines added from the [A] version, which makes us wonder whether he was aware of them or not; while in a letter[7] of Jan. 30, 1739, to Mrs. Whiteway he says that he had consented to the alterations "in deference to Mr. Pope's judgment, and the opinion of others of the Dean's friends in this country . . .". He also expressed his great fear that Swift might be dissatisfied with "the liberties I have taken", promising that he would still have the poem published in its original shape, if Swift positively wished it.[8]

We cannot waive aside the impression that King, beyond his function as a "publisher," for which in his letters to Swift and Mrs. Whiteway he accepted the responsibility, knew very little about the matter. He knew about the omissions, but he does not speak of additions. Apparently he had left the "editorship" entirely to Pope, probably even the proofreading. And it is certain that about the clandestine editions of 1736 King knew nothing at all. In his letter to Mrs. Whiteway of Jan. 30, 1739, occurs this passage: "It may not be amiss to tell you, that one Gally, or Gaillie, since this poem was printed, offered it to sale to a bookseller at Temple Bar; and I am now told that there are two or three copies more in London. Gaillie pretends that he is just come from Ireland, and that he had directions to publish the poem here; so that perhaps the whole may at last appear, whether he [i.e. Swift] will or not." From these words it is clear that King thought that Gaillie had a manuscript of the [C] version to sell which came direct from Ireland (it does not matter here that his fear was ungrounded, for this version was never published in London; and that as to the "two or three copies more in London", by which only the 1736 editions can have been meant, he reported no more than hearsay, not knowing what to make of it).

The evidence adduced yields a procedure similar to that in the case of the Letters Between Swift and Pope, 1714-1736, London, 1741, so ably described by Dilke and later by Elwin; with Pope as the auctor intellectualis, and King little more than a tool; namely: a pseudo-surreptitious printing to suggest that a stolen manuscript had reached the press, (III); followed by a reprint purported to have been derived from a Dublin edition, in order to be able to lay the fault there, (IV); and finally the 'genuine' edition.

The question may be asked: Was Pope to blame for the part he played? In his New Light on Pope (1949), the late Mr. Norman Ault has tried to


Page 188
exonerate Pope of several cases of trickery and deceit hitherto laid to his charge; and it cannot be denied that Ault has succeeded in several respects. But we are inclined to wonder if, with a critic's love of his author and his author's works, he has not gone a little too far. Mr. Ault sees no estrangement [9] in the friendship between Swift and Pope after the publication of Vol. III of the Miscellanies, 1732, a question which still requires a close investigation; and though he speaks of "the admittedly dubious affair of the Letters",[10] he finds a good deal of excuse in Pope's activities even here, and calls Dilke and Elwin's attempts to clear up this affair "diatribes".[11] If Mr. Ault had been acquainted with the case under discussion, he would no doubt have reasoned thus: Pope was so careful of Swift's Verses that he treated them as his own and "edited" them; but being also anxious about his friend's safety, he took recourse to clandestine publication, which had the additional advantage of ascertaining the reception of the poem by the public; only when he saw that the Government took no offence, he cooperated in the 'genuine' edition. For the sake of Pope's reputation let us hope that this is the correct interpretation. However, it remains strange that King was left uninformed as to the clandestine publications and that his suspicions were not even roused.



See the present author's Bibliography of Swift, Nos. 727, 771, 774.


Harold Williams, Poems, p. 553.


For similar cases see my Bibliography, Nos. 741-742, 744, 745: On Poetry, A Beautiful Young Nymph, and An Epistle To a Lady. Of these poems, no previous Dublin editions are known (in spite of the imprints), and they evidently never existed.


F. Elrington Ball, Swift's Correspondence, V, 392.


Corresp., VI, 39.


Corresp., VI, 109.


Corresp., VI, 111.


Corresp., VI, 107-110.


P. 265.


Ault, p. 10.


Ault, p. 15.