News

January 24, 2008

Sean Gough ’09 Tackles Perplexing Literary Question

History and music double major investigated ‘Swift-Pope Miscellanies’ with James Woolley, Smith Professor of English

Getting to the bottom of a literary question more than 250 years old, history and music double major Sean Gough ’09 (North Plainfield, N.J) and James Woolley, Frank Lee and Edna M. Smith Professor of English, asked whether differences between two editions of a 1742 poetry collection were caused by the editor or by the typesetter.

The research focused on Volume 4 of the “Swift-Pope Miscellanies,” an 11-volume anthology published in London from 1742 to 1746. The Miscellanies are believed to be the work of Irish satirist Jonathan Swift and possibly edited by fellow satirist Alexander Pope.

“Over 50 of Swift’s poems are reprinted in Volume 4,” Woolley says. “We know that Pope revised Swift’s work in other publications. So, one of our research questions was whether Pope – or anyone else – revised Swift’s poems for Volume 4 of the Miscellanies.”

As for Woolley and Gough’s results, the differences between printings of Swift’s work turned out to be the changes a typesetter would make, not something a fellow writer would make during a revision.

“This finding is a negative one but, for the SPP, it is still valuable,” Woolley says. “Volume 4 helped spread the fame of Swift’s poems in the mid-18th century, but we discovered that it includes no new versions of the poems it reprints and that Pope was not, at least in this book, active as a collaborator or reviser of Swift.”

To further their work on the Swift Poems Project (SPP), Gough and Woolley used electronic transcriptions and software developed by SPP, comparing the first two editions of Volume 4 with the volumes’ sources. SPP is a long-term effort in which Woolley, John Irwin Fischer of Louisiana State University, and Stephen Karian of Marquette University are developing an electronic archive to support editorial work on Swift’s poems. Gough has had an appointment as an SPP editorial assistant, and his research will be credited in publications that are produced using SPP resources.

“I have had an abiding love for English literature since grammar school, and because of that, waited as long as possible to make the sad decision to narrow my focus to my two current fields of study,” Gough says. “I never would have gotten to know Professor Woolley if it hadn’t been for a 10-12 student Literary Questions class in the spring of 2006. So, plain and simple, it’s the first-rate faculty and small class sizes that make such interactions between students and faculty possible, and no other department is stronger in this respect than the English department.”

Gough says he’s grateful for everything he’s learned about textual transmission and has been happy to help Woolley in the process. He believes this experience will add to his post graduate studies.

When he’s not elbow-deep in 18th century poetry, Gough performs in the school’s Jazz Combo and the Ojespa Jazz Project, playing jazz piano at the Cosmic Cup, the Lafayette Bar, and Witch Brew, among other local venues.

Woolley and Gough collaborated through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, where students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research.

  • English
  • EXCEL/Undergraduate Research

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