Dean Swift: The Politics of Satire

The Tercentenary of A Tale of a Tub (1704)

Conducted on 16-17/10/2004 at the Deanery of St. Patrick's, with Dr Robert Mahony in the Chair

A Tale of as Tub as an Irish text (Summary)

Andrew Carpenter (University College Dublin)

A Tale of a Tub is a highly unstable text and this paper suggests that - together with the two other texts which make up the 1704 volume - it might well be a coterie text which slipped, perhaps inadvertently, into print. Swift heard John Jones deliver the burlesque, parodic 'tripos' speech at the commencements ceremony at Trinity College Dublin in 1688; the paper investigates that 1688 text and concludes that it was clearly the work of a coterie, and was written by various members of the senior class of which Swift was a member. The paper puts forward the suggestion that, in the 1690s - years after he left Trinity - Swift, his cousin Thomas and other unknown friends might well have formed a similar literary 'coterie' in Moor Park and London. This, like the coterie in Trinity, would have generated various separate, unconnected texts which would have circulated from hand to hand. Drawing on Swift's own explanation of the genesis of A Tale in the 'Apology' of 1710, this paper concludes that many of the oddities and instabilities of the 1704 volume can be explained if one treats its various parts as coterie 'separates' which reached the printing press several years after they were current and, possibly, by accident.

The paper has appeared in Swift Studies volume 20, 2005.

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